Saturday, September 22, 2018

Probabilities vs. Possibilities


We tend to tie our expectations to probabilities. Probabilities are extensions into the future based on what we have witnessed in the past. If there were wars in the past, it is probable that there will be wars in the future. If compound interest worked in the past, it is probable that it will work in the future.

But God is not merely the God of probabilities. He is also the God of possibilities. That is, He often works in patterns, so that what He has done before we may be able to expect Him to do again. But He is also the God who is able to do something brand new; something that we would not dream of Him doing. Not probable, but definitely possible. 

When we live as though God is absent, or when we live as though God does not matter, then we are confined to this world of probabilities. Peter quotes the “mockers” in his second letter, who say, “all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” God’s promises and God’s warnings can be treated lightly because we haven’t seen Him break into reality lately. With regard to the future, the godless “probability” thinkers say, “Tomorrow will be just like today, but even more so.” 
This kind of living is not according to faith. It is not according to promise. It is not according to God’s Word. It discounts both the plan and power of God, and discredits the truth that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” 

God, who existed from eternity past, created the heavens and earth. Probable? No. Possible? Definitely. God called Abraham out of all the worshippers of pagan gods to a worship of Himself. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. Probable? No. Possible? Well, yes, because it happened. And God’s Son, who came the first time to purchase salvation, will come a second time to reign over a new heavens and new earth. Probable? Well, it’s never happened before, so it is hard to imagine it happening now. But possible? Yes, according to God’s promise; according to God’s Word.

So how about you? Can you change from the way you are into the likeness of Jesus? Can you experience victory over that stubborn sin or selfish streak? Well, based on your past failures, it may not be probable. But based on the promise and power of God, it is definitely possible, not because of your own resources, but because of what He is able to do and because of what He wants to do.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Our God Both Big and Small


One aspect of God’s bigness is His smallness. That is, He is so great, His greatness must invade even the smallest of places. Using other terms, not only is God transcendent. He is also immanent. He is not either/or. He is both/and. 

Yes, God is big. As far as the universe stretches, He is bigger. The unit of measure, of course, is not the same. God is not measured by miles or light-years. He is unbounded. One mile or a million are both the same to Him. But we have to say, limited as we are by human language and human minds, that God is bigger. Likewise, God is older than the universe. He was and is before all things. But again, God is not measured in years. He is not old. It is just that all times are in His hands, as He is timeless. 

If these ideas about God’s transcendence are reality-rattling to us, then also are ideas about His immanence. To think that God has His fingerprints on every square inch of this world is an amazing thought.

Let’s think of it this way: God created all that there is with one, over-arching purpose: that all creation would glorify Him. That is, every bird that sings, and every frog that croaks, sings or croaks to the glory of God. The sun that shines does so to the glory of God. The flowers that beautify do so to the glory of God. All creation, though shadowed by sin, seeks to glorify God, or, is frustrated that it can’t.

And so, every piece of tissue in your body was designed to glorify God. Your mind was created to reflect and contribute to His glory. Right down to your molecules and cells and DNA, all designed and desiring to contribute to the song of the ages that glorifies His name. Or, frustrated that they do not.

You see, when God creates, it is not some distant project. If God has a serious design for creation that relates to His own glory, this whole “heaven and earth” project is not like that old shed you built in your back yard. God cares, and He cares deeply about the outer edges, and the inner workings, of this creation.

What should shake us about this is that we were built to glorify God in every aspect of our being, and we so scarcely acknowledge it. We so often suppose that we were built for ourselves, and for our own purposes. And then we find that this God is watching each thought, each reaction, each breath. And we are frustrated that we fall so far short.

Friday, September 07, 2018

The High Calling of Loving our Difficult God


Our Trinitarian God is big. He is complex. He is not easy.

If God were easy, then He would be easy to love. We could as easily wrap our minds and hearts around Him as we could wrap our arms. But our arms don’t reach, and neither do our minds or hearts. And so, we are tempted. 

We are tempted to take our big, complex God and make Him small and simple. We are tempted to refashion Him in our own image, so that He nicely aligns with our pleasures and preferences. We are tempted to shave off His “rough edges,” to make Him more comfortable, easier to live with. 

When we succumb to this temptation, we are no longer worshipping “the one, true God.” Instead, we are worshipping a false god of our own making, of our own imagination, and we become guilty of idolatry. God says in Psalm 50:21, “You thought I was just like you.” It is clear that what we thought was wrong. 

When we puzzle about God in our minds, it is easy to imagine God as we want Him to be. But then, when we read our Bibles carefully, as for the first time, we begin to see some things that don’t fit well with our god-formulas. 

The Bible shows God to be sovereign, and we want a sovereign God, just so long as He is not too sovereign. But a God cannot be “kind-of” sovereign. Either He is, or He is not. And so, when we take steps to limit God’s sovereignty, we are taking steps toward idolatry.

But on the other hand, the Bible also shows God to exhibit amazing flexibility in his dealings with men and women, so much so that it seems that our immutable, unchangeable God actually … changes. And so when we contradict what God has revealed about Himself, we are, again, guilty of idolatry. We must be careful.

And, we want a God who is universally honored. And, He is not. He is mocked, not universally, but widely. His existence is denied. His character impugned. And certainly, His worship is neglected. We want a God that we can look up to. And it would sure be a lot easier to look up to Him if everyone else did as well. And they don’t.

But not only is he not honored, but He actually humiliated Himself, in the death of His Son, according to His own purposes - part of His sovereignty; part of His flexibility; part of His mercy - and for all these reasons, and more, we should love Him - our difficult God.

Friday, August 31, 2018

It Started with a Kiss

I was referred to a news story from a daily blog post - a news story I probably would have missed otherwise: “Couple’s love story began with a CPR kiss.”Yes, it does have a bit of a tabloid sound to it, but it could be worse.

It’s the story of a man training for one of those endurance athletic contests - this one involved a paddle board. He had run 10+ miles the day before. Toward the end of this session, he had burning in his chest, and just hoped to make it back to the car, which he made, but not quite. He collapsed, and then had no heartbeat for 17 minutes. 

A woman friend who had also been training and was trained in CPR, immediately began administering air to his lungs, supplying oxygen until paramedics could get his heart going again. It took six defib shocks, and then he was on the road to recovery. But without CPR, without that first kiss, he wouldn’t have made it. 

Well, the man and woman are now a “thing,” and any future kisses are due to that first kiss.
The Gospel tells us that we were dead in trespasses and sins, and without that “first kiss,” that initiative from Jesus that was completely outside of our power or control; without his entry into this world and submission to the sacrifice which saved us from our sins; without our hearing of the Gospel and the Spirit opening “the eyes of our understanding” to see and receive the truth; without all this, there would have been no hope.

Another strange parallel to the story was that, in a way, Jesus was not the one who gave the first kiss, but rather the one who received it. But that kiss was not a kiss of mercy, or help, or rescue. It was a kiss of deception, administered by one of his disciples, who should have been for him, but proved rather to be against him. Our salvation started with that kiss, that Jesus knew was coming, and received it anyway, so that we could have life.

There are a few lessons here:
  1. there are different kinds of kisses: CPR kisses; kisses of betrayal; holy kisses, etc. Not all are the same.
  2. some of our best relationships are not planned out by us, especially our relationship with God through Jesus
  3. endurance training guarantees … nothing

Friday, August 24, 2018

Every Day Sweeter


We used to sing a chorus in Sunday School, “Every day with Jesus, is sweeter than the day before.” It’s poetic. But is it realistic? Can each subsequent day actually be better than the day before? Because that’s not how it normally happens in this world.

This world is subject to a number of downward forces - things like gravity, and frailty, and entropy. By nature, things fall. Old things fall .. apart. Energy evaporates, or leaks.
It happens in relationships. The burdens of life weigh heavily on a couple, and, though they once glided along with their hearts in the clouds and their feet scarcely touching the ground, now they are being ground down into the dirt. Their zest for life gives way to recliners placed far from each other across the room. There is scarcely energy to talk anymore. Maybe just grunt.

But a relationship with Jesus is different. For one, he is not from below, but from above, and so the relationship is not subject to the same gravity as that with another sinner (and, we are all sinners, save, of course, Jesus). He is not frail or fading, but eternal. He is our energy resource, a “spring of water welling up into eternal life.” It truly can be the kind of relationship in which “every day is sweeter than the day before.”

Two illustrations: Jesus turns the water into wine. But the story is not about whether you prefer water or wine. It is about the quality of the wine, better than the best wine that the proud papa had provided at the beginning of the wedding, because what Jesus supplies is always better than anything else you have experienced before. A relationship with Jesus will similarly outstrip the best of what this “passing away” world is able to offer.

The second illustration is Ezekiel’s stream - not exactly Ezekiel’s, but God’s, which streams from the holy city, and, as it flows, it becomes, not more shallow, but deeper, exactly what you would not expect. Further, as this water flows richer, fuller, deeper, it reaches the sea, and, instead of becoming salty when coming into contact with the salt sea, it has a freshness that makes even the sea waters fresh as well. If “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul,” then the fresh water of the Lord is pure, converting the sea.

Perhaps those words are not merely poetic. Perhaps they are, in addition, prophetic - because, with Jesus, every day is sweeter than the day before. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Failure to Land


There is a phrase out there in popular culture called “failure to launch.” I suppose the stereotype would be the son who graduates from college, but lives at home, unable or unwilling to begin a career and form meaningful (family) relationships. But this story is not about “failure to launch.” It is about “failure to land.” 

Richard Russell, 29, a member fo the ground crew at Sea-Tac airport, without formal flying lessons, learned enough online to take a commercial plane for an unauthorized spin. He had studied to learn how to take off and to do some rather elaborate maneuvers given the size of the plane. It became clear in conversation with air traffic controllers that he was not prepared to land the plane safely, nor did he intend to. This was to be his only flight.

It’s a heartbreaking story, especially since he refers to himself as “just a broken guy.” But it strikes me that his flight is not all that much different from that lived by men and women all over the world. We learn how to engage in this flight called “life,” and perhaps to undertake some rather interesting projects, but as we approach the end, we have to admit that we have made no preparations whatsoever to land this thing. It’s a two-part story: live large; then, crash and burn.

We find such a man in Jesus’ parable of “the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man lived large, until the end. And then he “failed to land.” He finds himself confined to Hades, in torment, and is informed that the preparations for avoiding that end should have been made before, not after the point of his passing.

There are a million books on “how to live well.” Not so many on “how to die well.” But there is a good one, called the Bible, and a Person, a Guide, Jesus, who, having died and rose again, never to die again, can prepare us through “the landing” so as to make sure that this flight is not your last; that this is not all there is; and that you are prepared to live and enjoy not only this brief life, but also life that is eternal.

The news report concludes with this line: “The flight lasted about 75 minutes before the plane crashed into the tiny Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, ..” And so many other “life stories may similarly read, “This life last about 75 years, before he/she crashed ..” due to “failure to land.” 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary


This is a bit of a book report, titled above, and written by J.D. Greear, a Southern Baptist pastor who was recently elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention (they often elect pastors as presidents). The church he pastors, Summit, in North Carolina, is in the “mega-“ category. He is 45 years old.

His thesis is that a clear, captivating understanding the Gospel is essential for Christianity to exercise its power in the lives of Christians and churches. Mere religiosity will not do. Theological convictions, while necessary, are not the vehicle of power. Rather it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not to grow up and go beyond the Gospel. Rather, we are to go deeper into it.

As a personal tool, Greear has developed and explained this “Gospel Prayer.” It is not magic. Rather, it is a tool that he uses to daily set his mind in a Gospel frame. It guides him in how he thinks about God and himself; what he really needs in order to be fulfilled and happy; what is his calling or mission; and what are the limits (or, lack of limits) of what he should expect God to do through his life and ministry.
  
“In Christ, there is nothing I can do 
that would make You love me more, and nothing 
I have done that makes You love me less.”

“Your presence and approval are all 
I need for everlasting joy.”

“As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
“As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross 
and Your power by the resurrection.”

If we were to sit and have some honest, deep-reaching discussions about how our Christianity works (or doesn’t work) in our lives, we would have to admit that we are at odds with this prayer at certain points. We sometimes fall into thinking that we have to “earn” God’s love. We often find that our desires are wrapped around lesser things than God’s presence or approval. We measure our obligations to others by how they have treated us, rather than how God has treated us. We think small, forgetting that God loves to blow out expectations and do the unthinkable.

Try praying this prayer for a few days. See if it changes how you view yourself and your world.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Christ crossed the World, and it Led to the Cross


Christ crossed the world. He did not show proper respect to the respectable. His true righteousness poked holes in their religiosity. He did not walk the party line. We are familiar with this story. But we forget that others besides Christ and Christians pay a price for crossing the world.

A.W. Tozer said “I do not see why the world has any attraction for anyone. Anybody who can read anything about history will understand that the world always destroys its own.”

I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent sermons songs by Seals and Crofts (1970’s era). I mentioned their song “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” and then “King of Nothing.” Much less known is a song called “Unborn Child.” In accordance with their Bahai faith, an eclectic religion that seeks to accept and integrate all religions, they sang for the value of life, and pitched a song which begged for this consideration among mothers. The lyrics are not subtle: 

Oh unborn child, if you only knew just what your momma was plannin’ to do. 
You’re still a-clingin’ to the tree of life, but soon you’ll be cut off before you get ripe. 
Oh unborn child, beginning to grow inside your momma, but you’ll never know. 
Oh tiny bud, that grows in the womb, only to be crushed before you can bloom.

You might remember that Roe v. Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973. “Unborn Child” was released in 1974. S&C’s “Summer Breeze” was at the top of the charts. But this new song was boycotted on radio stations. Their concerts were picketed. Why? Because it’s not profitable to cross the world.

Our value for human life is grounded in the Biblical teaching that humankind was made by God, in the image of God, to represent Him and bring Him glory. Though humankind’s fall into sin left that image marred and distorted, it is not erased. Humans have value as image-bearers. Further, this distorted image is restored by faith in Jesus, Himself the express image of God who faithfully fulfilled what it means to be a human in the image of God - by faith in this Jesus, we are being restored as we become more like Jesus. Our reverence for life is grounded in the fact that humans, in creation, and then in redemption, are image-bearers. 

The world, on the other hand, is fully committed to a radical expression of one’s individual freedom, more valuable than the life of another, and certainly more valuable than a life in the womb. If you want to sell records, don’t cross the world. And if you want to save the world from itself, realize that it involves bearing a cross.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Optimism is not the Same as Hope


Are you a “glass half-full” person rather than a “glass half-empty?” Are you a member of “the sunny-side-of-the-street” club? That’s great. But as good as optimism is, it’s not hope.

Optimism may have to do with a personality type. Some people, by makeup, are more optimistic. Or, optimism may have more to do with environment. You may have learned optimism (or pessimism) from your parents. With some learned skills, a person can probably train themselves to become more optimistic, or less. 

Optimism has benefits. Of course there are benefits for you. Who wants to be always down, expecting the worst, negative about the possibilities? Optimism may rub off on others. Your optimism may inspire others to try things they would not have otherwise. That’s good. But it’s not hope.

Optimism’s benefits are limited to life lived in this present world. If this world in its present form is heading for an ugly end, the reality of that end will not be mitigated by your rosy view of things. If the boat is sinking, optimism will not make it float.

Hope, on the other hand, is a personal attachment to a promise. Granted, the hope is only as reliable as the promise, and so there can be false hopes, in that there are empty promises. But when our hope is personally attached to the promises of God, “who cannot lie,” then we have a rock on which to stand, in contrast to either a bright and positive spirit, or a mere silly, sappy optimism.

Biblical hope is the conviction born of promise that God will ultimately be glorified. He will be glorified in the vindication and exaltation of Jesus Christ, who is coming again to be forever united with His body, peoples from all nations, from across the generations, who have placed their faith in the only Faithful One. Biblical hope confidently expects a new heavens and new earth, in which only righteousness dwells. Biblical hope looks forward to a society in which there is love without end; joy without diminishment. Biblical hope fuels an enduring faith and a self-giving love, because we have so much to look forward to, and the evidence for this new world is already apparent in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the presence of His Spirit in churches and believers in this present age.

Now, can a person be both full of hope and also optimistic? Of course. What would be more surprising would be a Christian who is pessimistic. But actually, what is most appropriate is the person who is hopeful, and realistic - who realizes that we live in a bent, sin-sick world, but that this is not all there is, and we hope for something better.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Showers of Blessing


A recent portion of our summer has been dry. Parts of Michigan are suffering “officially” under drought conditions (they have ways of measuring this sort of thing). The grass in the church yard is bright yellow.

And so as I write these words, the sounds of rain falling outside the window do indeed sound to me like “showers of blessing.” God is good.

I don’t understand a lot about meteorology. Sometimes I suspect that the meteorologists don’t either. But our faith informs our understanding of how things work. And yes, there are high and low pressure centers that affect the weather, fronts that carry along sweeping weather changes, jet streams that section off temperatures and storms, and ocean currents that steer larger weather patterns. But behind it all, above it all, there is the God who gives “showers of blessing.”

I do not believe that God is continually tweaking the weather, fiddling with this front or that current. He is bigger than that, older, in a sense. His purposes are not reactions to sudden situations, but rather eternal intentions that deeply shape our lives. We roil with the changes, but God is ever in control, never shocked or surprised.

But God does indeed give rain, or withhold, according to His mysterious purposes, that, at times, He reveals in His Word: “Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains” (Psalm 147:8).

It seems that behind every physical and material thing, there is a spiritual truth as well. And while rain made of real water is really important, “showers of blessing” are certainly not restricted to water falling on thirsty fields. Just as “real,” and even more important, are the showers of blessing that fall on thirsty souls.

Are you dry inside? Is your soul shriveled? Has it been a long time since you have been refreshed by showers of blessing that produces endurance and resilience, that fosters growth and fruitfulness, that energizes in such as a way that you are glad to creatively serve? Has it been a long time since you have fallen in love with Jesus all over again, amazed at His kindness and grace, impressed with our triune God who, at the same time, is both majestic and merciful? May you experience showers of blessing today. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

There are Always More for Ministry


As a pastor waits weekly on a congregation to gather, we might be impressed with David’s ability to attract a crowd. Here he is, on the king’s hit list, running for his life, and he is joined by these, characterized as “distressed, indebted, and discontented.” You can always build a ministry if you don’t mind working with the three D’s: distressed, indebted, and discontented.

One of the praise songs goes:
All the poor and powerless, And the lost and lonely
And all the thieves will come confess
And know that you are holy.

Why is it this way? Well, perhaps because the rich are too busy building their bigger barns to enlist in ministry. Perhaps the powerful have empires to operate, and the weight of their responsibilities leaves precious little energy for worship and service. Perhaps those who are at ease have difficulty seriously considering difficult thoughts, and those who are comfortable and contented can hardly imagine the lives of those who aren’t.

Paul reminds the uppity church in Corinth of something similar. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” 1Cor. 1:26-29

If ministries were to follow Hollywood’s advice, we might recall that all we need are “a few good men.” The Bible seems to indicate that God would rather employ a mess of not-so-good men and women; men and women who are a mess. Why? So that the glory produced from the required redemption and restoration of such characters would not go to heroic, human figures, but to God. 

Oh, and those distressed, indebted and discontented characters that surrounded David. It appears that they were the raw materials developed into those of whom stories were told and songs were sung - into David’s mighty men, who lived, not for their own glory, but for the glory of their King. As we share ministry with those who need mercy, we pray to see lives so changed and God so glorified.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Table Manners


Jesus uses three stories to teach us about life in and around His kingdom. I call it “Table Manners,” since all three stories have to do with a formal dinner.

I recall an old poem that went something like this: “Mabel, Mabel, bred and able, get your elbows off the table.” “Bred” refers to training. A “well-bred” person has been taught manners and decorum. An “ill-bred” person has not. Those who will fill the kingdom are being fitted for the kingdom. Am I? Are you?

The first story has to do with the behavior of those invited (Luke 14:7-11). They come into the room, prepared and beautiful, and they must decide how to situate themselves. Which table will get their food first? Can we go and sneak something off the dessert table before the best stuff is gone? Where are the best seats? Jesus would train us to attend such a dinner, not as a collection of barnyard animals, but as a company of the redeemed, willing to honor others, even at the risk of sacrifice to ourselves.

The second story (Luke 14:12-14) has to do with making up the guest list. Hey, this is going to be a classy event. We need to invite classy people. Plus, it is going to cost us a great deal. Let’s invite people who can at least bring a nice gift, or who may one day throw a party to which  they will no doubt invite us. But no, in the kingdom, we find that it is often the lowly who are invited, and entrance is not based on what a potential guest can contribute. 

The final dinner story in this trilogy (Luke 14:15-24) features unheeded invitations. Many are invited. Few show interest. Those who are first invited come up with a bushel of excuses. They are willing to trade common experiences for the high honor of attending the king’s banquet. Others are invited, and yet there is room. The king orders his servant to “compel” others to come. He wants his house to be full. 

Perhaps you have received an invitation to which you were to respond with your intention to attend. Perhaps you forgot. You showed up, and your name wasn’t on the list. Or worse, perhaps you said you would attend, but then, with place reserved and dinner provided, you didn’t show up. There sat your name on the table, but no participation, a loss of honor for you, but also a bit of a smear on the host. 

Too bad your mother didn’t teach you any table manners.

Friday, June 22, 2018

We Need Each Other


Our culture celebrates individuality. We are drawn to the guy or girl who pulls him/herself up by their own bootstraps. But there is usually more to the story, and God designed for us to work together. He created us in such a way that we need each other.

Psalm 145 demonstrates this need. I have been reflecting on psalms, looking for patterns of how we (individuals) engage with God. This psalm says that we don’t do it alone. We need each other. 

We need generations. The younger need to learn from the older, and the older certainly need the freshness and inspiration of the younger. Churches that continually segment the congregation by age work against this biblical principle.

We need testimony. We need to hear the stories that people tell, of how they got in trouble, and then how God them out of trouble. We need to hear what they learned about God during trials, that God always comes through, oftentimes just in the nick of time. 

We need to hear Scripture from one another, quoting those foundational verses that anchor our faith in something deeper and wiser than our own intuitions or trendy notions. All of these things happen in planned and unplanned settings, as believers fellowship and relate on a spiritual level with one another.

We need to challenge one another to share God’s glory and grace, not only in our own circle, but outside that circle as well, with those who do not know God or the Gospel. We are not called to judge them or to correct them, but to”make know to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. They need to know.

We need each other to remind each other that this is not a human operation, but a divine one, and that any growth in grace, any victory, is due to Him, not us.
We need to pray with each other, to bend knee and bow head in this most counter-cultural of activities in which we “call upon” the Lord. As we see in the verses, it is the common activity of those who fear Him; of all who love Him. Our goal, as we all work together, all of us, is that “all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.”

We need each other. Let’s work together.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Early Check-Out


We’ve stayed in hotel/motels a number of times. On several occasions we have asked for a late checkout. I don’t recall ever asking for an early one. 

You might want to stay late for any number of reasons. Maybe you have somewhere to go in the morning, and then want to come back and clean up or change clothes before checking out. Maybe you just want to sleep in a bit and avoid the long line at the waffle maker. 

I have a harder time justifying an early checkout. If the room (or the neighbors) are objectionable, one might choose to leave the hotel, but with a full refund in hand - not an early checkout. In fact, even if you have to leave for the airport and 3 a.m., you just get up and go (no waffle). There’s no early checkout. 

But in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a number of early checkouts, not from motels, but from life. We prayed for the family for whom I conducted a funeral for their 26-year-old son. We have read about the fashion accessories lady whose name will now outlive her life. And there is the chef/world traveler, who by all accounts, was the nicest guy you could hope to meet - he also took an early checkout. In fact, all of these, and so many more that we remember, were delightful people in so many ways. With some, there may have been indications of trouble, but with others, this was a surprise.

Early checkouts seem to indicate that, for the individual involved, they believe that the darkness of the night will only get darker, and that morning will never come. The pain of the moment will persist, and the hope of peace is too faint to, well, hope for. Those who would help have been found to be not near enough helpful, and the loneliness of this decision is made alone, solely for oneself, as though others were unaffected. 

What is lost in the early checkout is the chance to see a sunrise so beautiful that it would make the darkness worth it; to meet a person so gracious that it would make one almost forget the pain; to meet one so fascinating that you are more taken up with that person than with self. “Well, that’s unlikely to happen,” you might say. In response, consider that it is rendered impossible by the early checkout. 

And further, many have come to know Jesus, and have found in Him that darkness-destroying sunrise; the One with grace so contagious that it penetrates and heals; that One so interesting that you would not want to waste a single day of getting to know Him better.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

He Waits


On a plane of equals, one expects consideration. One expects courtesy. It is not one’s place to put to the test; to try one’s patience; to prolong one’s suffering. 

But we operate not on a plane of equals. We engage with God, and with His Son, Jesus. And that engagement is not between mere mortals. As God, His wisdom is of a different order. He has designs that are lost on us, though they may be designed for us. Our judgments concerning considerations and courtesies carry no weight. And so we should not be surprised, when He waits. 

John 20 shows Mary to be the first to arrive at the tomb where Jesus had been buried on that Sunday morn. This Mary, the one from whom Jesus had cast out the demons. This Mary, who loved Jesus much, for she had been forgiven much, from much delivered. And so she was first, to honor the life of Jesus by honoring him in his burial. It was early, still dark. But she had not slept all night, or the night before, fearful and fitful at the departure of her Lord. He, the holder of her hopes and dreams, her forgiveness and freedom - now dead, stolen away by hatred and unbelief. 

But it would be a difficult task, seeking to anoint his body through tear-filled eyes and grief-stricken soul. We do not know for sure, but even as she arrived, we suspect that the gardener watched. 

Mary enters the tomb and finds it empty. She runs, tells the disciples, and they come running. They stoop to enter the empty tomb, and then off they go, to tell the others that Jesus is missing. It seems quite possible that the gardener, unnoticed, stands and observes. 

Mary remains. She came as the undertaker. She has departed as a messenger. She now returns, and she is at a loss, heartbroken. She looks in the tomb and speaks with .. angels? But does she even know that they are angels? “Why are you weeping?” She cannot comprehend. 

Then she notices the gardener. Perhaps he knows. “If you have carried him away ...” And then he says, “Mary.” He reveals himself. Her eyes are opened. 

Why did Jesus wait so long? Why not reveal himself early, right away, and spare her the grief, the confusion? We do not know. But he waited until just the right time, that her discovery might be mature, complete. And perhaps that is why he waits in your case as well. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Lonely Bird


Our world is filled with troubled souls. The troubles come with many shapes and names, but certainly you know a number who are tormented. Psalm 102 is the testimony of one of these.

The personal lament of this psalmist extends, beginning at verse three, through nine verses. He uses vivid language, speaking of “a pelican of the wilderness,” far from his watery home; “an owl in waste places,” away from his forested home; and then this, “like a lonely bird on a housetop,” isolated and alone.

One mistake that troubled souls tend to make is that they do not read far enough. While the lament is long, the psalm goes on for another sixteen verses, offering perspective and hope. Paul Harvey had that radio spot in which he would recall a familiar story, and then provide more information, ending it all with, “and now you know “The Rest of the Story.” We need to see the whole picture, the rest of the story, rather than thinking that what we sense in the moment is all that there is, and all that is going to be. 

You may also notice that I began with verse three. Troubled souls are in trouble if they neglect the first two verses: “Hear my prayer, O LORD! .. Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; .. answer me quickly.” Perhaps we skip these verses because we do not believe anyone is listening. We do not know that God is there, and that He cares. Perhaps there is just some deep-rooted stubbornness in us that keeps us from reaching out to the One whose mercy is deep enough to reach us in the depths, and wide enough to grab hold of that lonely bird on a housetop.

Over in the New Testament, Hebrews 12:2 we are invited to consider “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” See, he knew the rest of the story. That the present was dreadful, but the future would be glorious. And so we are later encouraged to “not grow weary and lose heart.” We are to follow him on that path, in that pattern.

Some troubled souls are difficult to deal with. They may be up and then down, pleasant and then perturbed. They may feel like we don’t understand, and, we probably don’t. Most of us are like drivers on the freeway, where we want the other drivers to be predictable. And troubled souls can be erratic. We regard them as dangerous. But Jesus, the one who knows both the Beginning and the End, is able to hold on to us and bring us home, safely; able to save us from our own troubled souls.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Robotic Repentance


This post is part 2 of what I began earlier, called “An Automated Apology.” This is intended to be a reminder that true religion can never be robotic; that faith is more than intellectual assent and that repentance is more than saying “sorry.” The heart of God has been shown to have moved us-ward, and the only proper response is that our hearts are to be found to moved God-ward.

Let me start with a story, from a different time and a different place. I was serving as a youth pastor, being pretty much a youth myself, and I found myself naively caught in a power play at the church board level. A deacon who ran the church and the pastor decimated me in a board meeting when I presented an idea that the pastor and I had discussed and agreed upon. We were coming to the board for approval, but this board member didn’t like it that he wasn’t given opportunity to veto the idea before the rest of the board heard it. I slunk away that night from that meeting to our apartment, licking my wounds. It was apparent that the offense toward me was real by the fact that another deacon stopped by the apartment that night, and I received a couple of phone calls from others. There was internal discussion, and it was agreed that I should meet with a small group in order for this man to apologize. This never happens. And, this never really happened. Because what he said to me that night was simply this: “I hope I didn’t say anything that you can’t get over.” That was it. No apology. No repentance.

The point of hearing about robotic repentance is that we might consider what true repentance is. It is certainly not a pious act by which we gain God’s favor. It is rather a grace (free gift) that can only be expressed as a grace - a sorriness for our own sin based on a God-given regard for Himself, and a discovery of how hateful that sin is to this holy God. True repentance is the grace by which we find ourselves more in love with Christ than with our sin. It is the side of faith associated with broken-heartedness and contrition. It is the condition by which we are properly humbled even as God, in our hearts and minds, is properly exalted.

Repentance is not merely saying ‘sorry.’ Any robot can be programmed to do that. Any graceless, guile-filled Pharisee can do that. Any 3-year old who wants to make the unpleasantness disappear can do that. We can all do that, and we all have done exactly that - treated our sin like it doesn’t matter, and we sincerely desire that we haven’t done anything that God can’t get over. But we are not to live like robots. Rather, like children of God.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

An Automated Apology


We have all had the experience of being on the phone with “someone” called “customer service.” A common experience would be for the person on the line to apologize for the wait which you are about to endure. In these days when we are becoming increasingly aware that machines are rapidly replacing people, we may come to the realization, as I did, that the apology you just received was automated. It very well have been a digitally produced sound spoken by “no one,” addressed to any old person on the other end of the line (that, by the way, is you), and there is absolutely nothing personal at all in the exchange. It is an automated apology, and the only person who is sorry is you.

We don’t know yet all of which robots may eventually be capable. I read that they are now being desired to provide company for elderly and lonely people. They are coded to respond properly with words of affection, care, and concern. They can offer a loving touch. Oh, except for one thing. They are incapable of affection, care, and concern. And their touch cannot be loving. They are designed to mimic was is truly human. But be sure of this. They are not truly human, and true humanity cannot be mimicked.

But the question that begs asking is this: Do you respond in less than human ways when you apologize? Do you fake your expressions of affection, care, and concern? Is your “loving touch” really something else, something less? In such a case, you are more like an automated machine than a human. But don’t miss this point: While that machine, as machine, is not morally responsible for its actions, you, as a human created in the image of God and thus accountable ultimately to Him, - you are morally responsible.

There may be many things at stake as we progress into our “Brave, New World” (a reference that Albert Mohler makes regularly on this podcast, and an important book to read as its prophetic viewpoint becomes reality in our own day). Even more prophetic would be these words from 2 Timothy: “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” Automated apologies, and the like, are not the product of a powerful Spirit.

And one other note: Is it possible as we begin the act and talk and think like robots (mimicking the very machines that were designed to mimic us), that we think of God in that way as well? Note these verses, and notice the correction that we need: 


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stooped, but Straightened (Luke 13:10-17)

The little old lady comes into the church building and sits in her usual place. It is, after all, her usual place, because she is there just about every, single Sunday, and she has been there as long as anyone can remember. Young people cannot remember a time when she wasn’t there.

Nor can the young people remember a time when she was not stooped over (after all, she has been this way for eighteen years). If she wanted to look at you in the eye, she would have to turn her head sideways and force her chin up. On a clear night, there is no way that she could see the stars. But she sure knew where the weeds were .

Perhaps our lady in Luke 13:10-17 is even worse off than this. Maybe she is bent double in the shape of an inverted “L.” Our text uses a term for “bowed,” as when the disciples “bowed down” to look in the empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. But then this - it was not just arthritis; not just a physiological condition. This affliction was the result of a spirit - “a spirit of affliction."

We have no reason to believe she brought this on herself. She did not deserve this. But cast down she was. Stooped, not only physically, but spiritually as well. And was there more. Perhaps mentally? Emotionally? Many of us who stand up straight can resonate with her condition. 

The psalmist says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” I would guess this woman had prayed that prayer. Perhaps she sang this song as well: “When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,  beneath God’s righteous frown, - Christ laid aside His crown - for my soul, for my soul.”We tend to pray these prayers and sing these songs more when we are in a state of thlipsis, of anxiety; of trouble and turmoil; of distress and despair. We discover the depths of God’s love when we can’t look up, but we can only look down.

For this woman in Luke 13, this isn’t the end of the story. Unbidden by her, Jesus touches her, releasing her from this bondage to bent-ness. And then she does what she had always wanted to do. She does what she was created to do. She glorifies God. Not only that, but as the crowds look on, they also rejoice at this glorious thing, that Jesus has a heart for those in despair, bent over by the weight of spirits we do not understand. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Abundance of God beats out the Abundance of Me


I recently read a book called “Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They seek to make a case, in contrast to the “gloom and doom” crowd, that, largely due to technological advances, our best days are ahead of us, and we are up to meeting the challenges of poverty, climate, water, disease, etc. While many of the things that they describe are indeed exciting, their motto could be “In Technology We Trust.” 

I was drawn to their use of the word “abundance.” Some have said that you can quickly tell the difference between people who have an “abundance” mentality vs. those who have a “scarcity” mentality. The one is optimistic and opportunistic. The other is pessimistic and on guard against the worst. In that light, we should all have an “abundant” mindset. But not necessarily in the way they think.

From a Biblical point of view,  what is quite obvious to us is that sin abounds. There is corruption of all kinds all around us. It seems as though even the best things of our culture are now tainted with iniquity. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we find that same corruption in our own souls. Yet we read that great verse in Romans 5, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Even though, as Chesterton said, sin “is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved,” it is the grace of God in Christ that pays the penalty of our sin and breaks the power of sin, so much so, that one day even the practice of sin will be removed from us and we will be removed from the very presence of sin, - it is this abundance which most amazes us.

Once we have discovered that the God of the Bible is a God of abundant grace, then we quickly also realize that His abundance is not limited to His grace. He is also abundant in power. He is also abundant in wisdom and knowledge. He is also abundant in right judgment, but also abundant in mercy. He is the super-abounding God, so much so that the authors mentioned above should be ashamed that they did not have a chapter on this God in a book entitled “Abundance.” They missed the best part.

But let’s address our own selves. We live in great prosperity; in an abundant society. It affords us great security, and we are persistently  and  persuasively tempted to trust in our own abundance rather than in God’s. And when we do that, we are not much different than the authors above, because the abundance of God beats out the abundance of me. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Rich Dad, Poor Dad


I recently read the book “Rich Dad; Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki. It is a story and manual on how to follow “rich Dad’s” advice on securing true assets (rather than liabilities) that will act as money-making machines in the future. It is a book about worldly-wise investing. That’s not all bad. But it is also only half the story.

I’m not intending to say anything negative about the author. But when I read a book, I tend to want to “baptize” it. That is, I try to think through the story and advice from a Biblical point of view. Many others could weigh in on this, and may certainly come up with other observations or different conclusions.

The author honored his neighbor/friend’s father who mentored him. That would be “rich dad.” His own, biological father. Not so much. His own father was a university professor who advised his son to study hard, find a good company/employer, and stay put. “Work for your wage.” “Earn your retirement.” That is the slow, incremental approach. It also sounds Biblical. It is not that the Bible forbids making money and having wealth. But the Bible clearly honors hard work that lasts a lifetime. We are not to be like the man building bigger barns, saying to himself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy.”

While the author never expressly condemned his “poor dad” father, neither did he commend him. Measured in purely monetary terms, his dad did not do so well as others. But we know, don’t we, that there are other measures that are surely far more important? And so for all that Robert may have been able to communicate about his father, if we were to meet him based on our available information, he is simply “poor dad.” That’s poor honor.

Also, nobody gets rich alone. The author was coached and trained to ask the right questions and do the right things in order to make the most of opportunities. It was not merely given to him. He worked for it. He is smart and ambitious. Nothing wrong with those things. But as he advocates to his readers his own lifestyle, we need to realize that nobody gets rich alone. Those small-cap investments? There are lots of little people putting in long hours doing hard work to generate earnings. And they are earning daily wages. Those apartments he owns? There are plumbers and other maintenance specialists working daily/hourly toward their retirements. 

We are all put together a little differently - different gifts and life situations. Surely, to those who are given much, much is required.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Used to (Psalms 42 and 43, pt. 2)


It is not uncommon in the psalms to find that the psalmist begins at a low point. He then processes the problem, finds some perspective, and ends at a high point. Perhaps we should all be psalmists - people who thoughtfully, even slowly, process our problems in the light of our own sins; in awareness of our enemies; while engaging with God, and recognizing Who He is.

But the pattern of the psalmist, beginning low and ending high, is not always repeated in our lives. Sometimes we start high, and then muddle through lives of decline. The psalmist admits as much in 42: 4 - “I used to …”

What did you “used to” do that nourished your relationship with God, that you no longer do? Perhaps you “used to” serve, and you “used to” be enthused and energetic in that service. But for some reason that has faded away. Maybe you “used to” pray for unsaved friends, and seek opportunities to share Christ with them. But perhaps you were rebuffed, or didn’t see progress, and you pulled back, content to repeat old news about non-eternal issues.

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews (Jewish Christians scattered abroad) has a way of addressing this problem: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39 NAS95) This letter called “Hebrews” is full of warnings. And this is one of them. Don’t be a “used to” Christian. Avoid “shrinking back.”

If I’m correct in finding a progression in the psalmist’s thought, he later says “I shall again …” That is, someday I’ll get around to doing what I “used to” do. People say “I’m working on it” when they really aren’t doing anything. But there seems to be a bit more determination in a yet later statement, when he says “I shall yet …” There is hope, and perhaps a plan. 

It is only as we move from Psalm 42 to 43 that we see a clearer picture of a hopeful resolution. The psalmist says, “I will …” in 43:4. He is purposefully and openly proclaiming the prospect of engaging with God in positive ways, now referring to God as “my exceeding joy.” The psalm ends with a bold statement, “I shall again praise Him.” 

Is the story of your present state a case of “used to?” The proper pattern for the believer is not to “shrink back,” but to “see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.”

Thursday, April 12, 2018

O my God (Psalms 42 and 43)


The psalmist is clearly struggling with himself. Perhaps you can relate. We could call these psalms “the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.” Have you been there? It affects your whole body.

The “my’s” of the psalm are striking. Regarding himself, the psalmist refers not only to his soul, but to his tears. He is breaking down. Not all of us respond the same way. Perhaps you are beset by bitterness. It affects your whole outlook. Or perhaps you are operating with a simmering anger, ready to boil over. You could substitute your undesirable state of mind here.

When our soul hurts, so do our bones. Our emotional or psychological state (the word “psyche” is a transliteration for the Greek word, “soul”) hurts physiologically. The psalmist says that his bones hurt, because of his enemies. And the disturbed soul sees enemies everywhere - not that they aren’t real. But he is not in a good place to discern real dangers from false.

The psalmist is in despair over “my case.” Of course, my situation is exceptional. And it is, because it is mine. Not that others’ cases are any less. But there is a feeling that no one understands what I’m going through - the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.
Finally, twice, the despairing soul expresses itself in the downcast countenance. Smiles have flipped to frowns. As Naomi retorted on her return to the homeland, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Her neighbors could see the storm clouds coming all the way from Moab.

As we explore these linked psalms, then, we are exploring our own souls, because many of us have been there. But thankfully, it doesn’t end there. Are you willing to push further?

These psalms consistently refer to “God” rather than “LORD” (except for 42:8), which is unusual. But at the beginning, the psalmist refers to just “God,” until verse 6, where it then changes to “O my God.” We find the psalmist digging deeper, moving from God-in-the-abstract to engaging with “the living God” who is at the same time “my God.” This problem of whole-self disturbance will be addressed, and will be solved, not alone, and not through self-help, but with serious and respectful engagement with “my God.” Let’s dig deep. Let’s engage.  - O my God.


Friday, April 06, 2018

Transformations (Psalm 34)


What do you think of the person who is consistently boasting about his/her accomplishments? Some might admire. Some might envy. Most of us wish he/she would just go away. Sure, they may be telling the truth. But we suspect that their boasts are bigger than their accomplishments. It’s really tough to undersell yourself in the midst of a good boast. Or how about those who magnify themselves, always wanting to appear as someone bigger/better than they really are? Reality just isn’t good enough. They want to look larger. Or those who exalt themselves, most often by putting others down?

Strangely, these three words: boast; magnify; and, exalt - these three words are all used in a positive sense in Psalm 34:2,3. The difference is, they are not used in reference to self. The psalmist uses them in reference to the Lord. He boasts in the LORD. He magnifies the LORD. He seeks others who will exalt the name of the LORD with him. He was either humble to start with, or, he had experienced a transformation that turned him from self-promotion to God-praise.

What do you think of a person who is fearful? What are they so afraid of? Are they afraid of failure, so that they avoid risk? Our psalmist says in v. 4, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.” But then, the next four references to fear in the psalm are transformative. Now he is not so captivated by his fears, but bound by a proper fear of the LORD (vv. 7,9,11). It gives him a proper perspective on life and its perils, and he can stand firm and unashamed.

Let’s look at one more transformation. This psalm is addressed to those who “the brokenhearted” and “those who are crushed in spirit” (v. 18). We often think that when we are crushed by the boulders of life, it is a sign of our condemnation. But this psalmist is to realize that to be crushed is not to be condemned. Rather, “those who hate the righteous will be condemned,” and “none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned(vv. 21-22).

So have you experienced the transformation from haughty to humble? If not, then a change deeper than you can accomplish all by yourself needs to happen. You need to come to Christ. Is your life captivated by your fears? Could you imagine a life lived in the shelter of One so great and fearsome, that none of your little fears pose a real threat? Do you sometimes suspect, perhaps resent the fact that you might stand condemned? Come to Jesus. Receive from him the transformation that births you into a truly transformed world.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Seeing Jesus in the Psalms


As we read the psalms and ask how it is that we, like the psalmists, may properly engage with God in prayer - we try and climb into the mind of the psalmist. Many times, we are at a loss. I often look for repeated words or ideas. I try and discern an outline or a pattern. And sometimes it clicks. It makes sense. But other times…

Another way of reading the psalms is to see Jesus there. He is the fulfillment of what is written in the Old Testament. He is greater and better than any previous figure. And so, in the psalms, we find that the psalmist often struggles with his own self. And we can relate. But Jesus does not. So not every phrase pertains precisely to Jesus’ experience. But at least portions do. For instance, here is Psalm 30:2-3 - “O LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.” Here we can see Jesus in his passion, in the garden, in his trial and death. But God did not keep him alive. Jesus gave his life for us. And then God raised Jesus to new life. Jesus outstrips the original context, but we are able to see hints of him.

In Psalm 31:5, we are pressed to see Jesus, in that Jesus himself quotes the words of this psalm from his own mouth on the cross at the end of his earthly life: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit;” and then completing the verse, “You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth.” The first phrase certainly pertains, though in the second phrase, we understand that it was Jesus himself who, in dying on the cross, was himself the ransom for us. We are the ones ransomed by his sacrifice.

In this Easter Sunday edition of the newsletter, let me give you one more verse from Psalm 30, in which we try to work with a psalm by seeing Jesus in it. Psalm 30:5 says, “For his anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” Our understanding of this verse can only be enriched by thinking about the experience of Jesus on the cross and in his death, and then his resurrection on that third day. We can enter into the experience of the disciples and other followers of Jesus as they are beset by disappointment and disillusionment at the loss of their Lord. But then comes the angelic announcement from the tomb - He is not here; He is risen, just as He said. And we get it. It has become a psalm, a prayer, that we ourselves can pray.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Talking about God, and Talking to God (Psalm 19)


It’s not wrong to talk about God. In fact, it is essential. Also, it’s not wrong to talk about prayer. But there is the danger that in all of our talking, we often don’t get around to praying. Sometimes, we sit around and talk about God, but forget to talk to God.

Psalm 19 illustrates this for us, with an appropriate and happy ending. It is a beautiful psalm made up of two large parts. The first part (vv. 1-6) rejoices in the grandeur of God in creation. Here we see God bursting forth in His creative energy and power, and the psalmist is bursting right back in his enjoyment and praise. The second half (vv. 7-11) is a tender reflection on the value of “the law of the Lord.” It’s tone is much more restorative - “restoring the soul;” enlightening the eyes;” “making wise the simple.” The psalm confesses that we are a people with damaged souls, limited perception, and sometimes downright stupid. But God steps in and gives us a revelation of Himself and His character that can identify our sins and provide direction for recovery. (Remember, the Law does not save, only Jesus does. The power of salvation is in Christ, but the Law points us in that direction).

All of these verses (1-11) are talking about God. But in the end (vv. 12-14), the psalmist is compelled to talk to God. He prays.

There are four requests (commands) from the mouth of the psalmist in light of God’s grandeur and tenderness:
        a) Acquit me of hidden faults. 
        b) Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; 
        c) Let them not rule over me; 
        d) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,  

In light of God’s creative and restorative powers, both His grandeur and His tenderness, the psalmist acknowledges his smallness and inability; his dirtiness and unworthiness.  Reading the psalm over and over will not cure the problem. In fact, it will indeed exacerbate it. But it leads him to prayer. And God, in grand and tender fashion, provides the solution.

The mechanism for redemption, - for a) acquittal, and  b) changing the heart’s desires, and c) breaking the yoke of sin, d) so fashioning our words and thoughts that they are actually welcome in the courts of heaven - this is all possible because of the Gospel - that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins and be raised as the Lord of glory; to then send His Spirit from heaven to inhabit the hearts of those who believe, so that, we can not only talk about God, but talk to God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Staying Power (Psalm 15)


When David wrote the opening words to Psalm 15, “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” - most people would assume that his question amounts to this: “Lord, how can I get in?” “What is the rite of passage?” Or, as we find in the New Testament, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

The question could indeed have to do with permission of entry. But I don’t think so. I think the question has more to do with ability to remain. How can I stay there? Or, as its reads, “who may abide..?” 

David had found fellowship with God. He had experienced what he says in Psalm 32:1,2 “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.” He had not earned his way in, or worked himself into position. He was blessed with the gift of a right relationship with God through faith in His promises.

But now, having visited this fellowship, how does he remain there, since the temptations of life and flesh constantly tempt us to wander away? David now lays out 6 couplets which provide safeguards for abiding, for dwelling in fellowship with God.
  1. walk and work (v. 2). The one precedes the other. Practice walking with God, and only then let the proper works of love and service flow from that walk.
  2. watch your language (vv. 2b,3a). Do not indulge yourself in telling your own self lies. Self-deception is a huge problem. And then, don’t talk bad about others.
  3. Be the good neighbor that Jesus himself has been to us (3b), and then be the kind of friend that defends in public and tells the truth in private (3c).
  4. Know the difference between good and evil (4ab), and don’t allow those lines to become blurry. Make sure that the influential persons in your life are “those who fear the Lord,” and understand that “a reprobate,” though perhaps prosperous or popular, will only cause you trouble.
  5. Keep your promises (4c), even when it’s not convenient. Our promises are heard by humans, but witnessed by God.
  6. Don’t let money run your life (vv. 5ab), either by using it to leverage others, or allowing it to leverage you. You cannot dwell with God and serve and be mastered by money.
Finally, in the last phrase (5c), the psalm ends with the promise that, by observing these things, we will avoid the paths that lead us away from continued fellowship with God. We will not be shaken.