Striving to be Intimate: Psalms 73

23Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalms 73,  ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control. But the promise is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, or no jumping about.  God is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25.  An understanding of who and what is real.  The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  He is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  We can hold nothing.  But, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  “Eternal life…” John 3:16.

 27For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But 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.

Psalm 73

Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  But being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, for good cause.  But down deep it implies ‘denial’.  But unfaithfulness is an umbrella word or concept.

The Psalmist again deals with proximity.  The closer we come, the further our unfaithfulness recedes.  (But don’t give up!). The Psalmist applauds his nearness to God.  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that must be ’made’.  There is some effort that must happen.  He makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a  bomb shelter or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.  We carry that with us– the seeds of our redemption.

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Get Ready For Your Exam: Psalm 138:23-24

“God, examine me and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 24 See if there is any bad thing in me.
       Lead me on the road to everlasting life.”

Psalm 138:23-24,  NCV

 

“Examine me |  Test me | See me | Lead me.”  When we think about an examination, we are never happy or relaxed about it.  In our thinking an examination could mean the exposure of weakness.  And that is exactly what we want to avoid.  Funny though, the psalmist puts himself under the microscope.  He invites full disclosure, he anticipates God’s x-ray machine.  He wants it.

But his life isn’t perfect or complete.  There are fears, and anxieties laying deep inside his heart.  Many times this would divide us, and split us from Him.  Anxiety will often become a strong wall, that would grow into an issue of some significance.  The psalmist moves into God’s presence.  So much in him had to be extracted.  Understanding that the Father is incredibly aware of us is only the first step.

Examine me |  Test me | See me | Lead me.  Four words that we must get to know.  The Christian life “pivots” on these four words. The four brought together, get dynamically linked into our hearts.  These four concepts will become quite critical as we come closer to Him.  There is a synergy, when the elements of discipleship are mixed together.  For example, if we extract “the examine me” part of this equation, we will not be able to conclude the situations we face very effectively.

I once made a couple loaves of bread where I mistakenly substituted sugar instead of flour.  I was frustrated because the lump of dough, was not responding.  So what did I do?  I added more “flour” which was really powered sugar, from the unmarked canister.  Later, what I buried in the backyard was a big lump of something that would never, ever work.   Not even if I wished it very hard.

Discipleship must always be intimacy at its a basic level. 

That takes God examining my life, full disclosure of everything.  We need to be intimate, by being astonishingly open to Him.  The things we share will be confidential.  And it will also be essential.

“May it be the real me who finds the real You.”

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Quality Control: Psalm 15

quality-control-approved

psalm of David.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
    Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
    speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip
    or harm their neighbors
    or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
    and honor the faithful followers of the Lord,
    and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
    and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.

Psalm 15, NLT

Some commentaries view this Psalm as a kind of an initiation for worshippers in the Jewish temple. A process that must be taken before the worshipper can offer up his sacrifice. The person just didn’t saunter in and slap up a lamb on his own accord. He most likely was ‘interviewed’ by the priest who was on duty at the time, before he could enter.

Commentary

V.1,  Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
    Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?”

God’s grace is free, but it is not cheap. Often we feel like God’s presence is like a candy store, it’s full of the tastiest things— and we are children who have been given full liberty to gobble down whatever (and whenever) we want. No rules, a ‘free-for-all.’ David asks the question, “Who may worship…?”

Vv.2-3, “Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
    speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
   Those who refuse to gossip
    or harm their neighbors
    or speak evil of their friends.”

Verses 2-5 are a description of the ideal worshipper. These verses describe an inward holiness that must supersede legalism. If we are counting on adhering to a legalistic code that is all of these things— we will fail. We cannot do these things on our own. It takes the Holy Spirit inside. It is His fruits growing in the interior that enable us to please God. Every Christian’s heart is a ‘green-house’ producing good things for the master gardener— we are to be, fruitful.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:22

Vv. 4-5, “Those who despise flagrant sinners,
    and honor the faithful followers of the Lord,
    and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
    and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
   Such people will stand firm forever.”

Now the “works of our flesh” make us unacceptable and unable to “enter in.” Galatians 5:19-25 are a description of an unholy man or woman. We “work” in our flesh in a very awful way. We lie, cheat, get drunk, murder, steal, and lust all because we refuse to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

Galatians 5:16-17

The ideal worshipper isn’t perfect yet. But under the direction of another, (the Holy Spirit) we will meet God’s ‘quality control.’ As we are infused with the Spirit we will begin to see holy fruit growing. But be aware: God’s presence will never be shared with a person filled with the works of the flesh— no matter how pious and sincere we might want to be. You truly can not please God in this way.

God loves brokenness, He draws near to the humble.

Admitting your sin, confessing it will open up the door into His presence. He is Holy, and we are not, but He truly wants to us to change. We take off our nasty rags, and receive the white robe of righteousness by faith.

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Take a Second Look at Psalm 37:4: The Pearl of Great Price

4 “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4

Sometimes an interpretation of a biblical passage is like a ravenous dog that is loose and wreaking havoc in the Body of Christ. It needs to be put on a leash, kenneled, and taken to dog obedience school before it’s ready to be out in public again. Such is the case with popular interpretations of Psalm 37:4.

When I was a new Christian in the 1980s, I  held up to close scrutiny what is/was called the Prosperity Gospel and found that they used this verse to justify what could only be described as idolatrous materialism. Their basic premise was that if you love God, he will give you the lifestyle of the rich and famous or at least make sure you make the jump from poverty to middle class or middle class to upper–middle class and even beyond. Mansions, Mercedes Benz cars, Armani suits, and diamond rings were all part of this religious landscape. God became their Shield and Butler. As in Paul’s day, godliness was associated with financial gain.

Such a deceptive doctrine could only be developed in a country like the US that has had unparalleled economic prosperity in the history of the world since World War II. Sometimes being insulated from poverty for extended periods becomes the spiritual Petri dish for all manner of false doctrines. Such teachings did not gain much of a following in America during the Great Depression in the 1930s or in war–torn countries like Poland that have a history of suffering material want under authoritarian regimes.

Then I took a look at the interpretation of this verse in church circles that do not belong to the Prosperity Gospel.  In general, these circles avoided gross materialism but still had one thing in common with the “name and claim it, confess it and possess it” crowd: the desires of the heart that God grants the believer were more often than not created things.The early chapters of Genesis tell us that God’s creation is good and he likes to share that goodness with his children. Spouses, homes, jobs, vacations,  and landing trophy–sized rainbow trout are all part of his generosity.

 What is not underscored enough in the Church are the desires of our heart that are related to the Uncreatedour relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Psalm 37:4 has an inescapable theo–logic. Question: If I delight in the Lord, then what are going to be the desires of my heart? Answer: What I delight in–God himself; the Giver more than the gifts. 

The greatest gift God can give us is when he gives himself to us in intimate, loving communion. This is the Pearl of Great Price. The First Adam gave Eve a rib; the Second Adam (Christ) gives us his Body and Blood (John 6:53, 54) in an offer of intimacy that goes beyond anything in the biblical narrative. The two become one; we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Genesis 2:23). We become a partaker of his divine nature (II Peter 1:4) and begin to resemble him in:

  1. Character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control. (Galatians 5:22,23)
  2. Power: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation.
  3. The Three Offices of the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King.
  4. Supernatural Graces Mentioned in Isaiah 11:1–2: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of God.

Ever notice how couples in long, happy marriages start to look like each other? We enter into a similar experience with Christ. Out of our deep communion with him, we are conformed to his image and likeness and become the Face of Christ to the watching world, a Bride preparing herself for a wedding feast on the other side of eternity.

your brother,

Jonathan

Use the Psalms as a Touchstone in Your Life

TouchStone

There are many compelling reasons why we should read the Psalms. One reason takes the believer to perhaps what is an unexpected passage in I Corinthians 3:10–15. In these verses the apostle Paul exhorts church leaders to take heed how they build the house of God, because at the judgment seat of Christ, their work will be evaluated by fire. It will either endure and be rewarded as gold, silver, and precious stones or it will be consumed as worthless wood, hay, and stubble.

Such a future examination should be sobering to Christian leaders everywhere and at all times. However, there’s no reason to believe that the laity or non–leaders will not also receive a similar evaluation. In the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible of the New Testament on page 288, a scholar’s comment reads: “Although Paul is speaking directly to ministers of the gospel, his words apply to all Christians inasmuch as all are called to ‘build up’ the Church in love (I Cor. 14:4; Eph. 4:11–16; I Thess. 5:11…).”

Because God is loving and merciful, he wants every believer to stand before him and be rewarded for a substantial “body of work” that endures the fiery test. He wants no one to endure the shame of seeing their total life’s thoughts, words, and deeds consumed in the revelation of their own pride and vanity. Because of his generosity, he has provided his sons and daughters with Touchstones to help them judge their life in the here and now so that their final Day of Judgment will be a time of great joy and not sorrow.

According to dictionary.search.yahoo.com, a touchstone is “a hard black stone, such as jasper or basalt, formerly used to test the quality of gold or silver by comparing the streak left on the stone by one of these metals with that of a standard alloy.”

The streak left by gold and silver represents thoughts, words, and deeds that are pleasing to God; the streak left by the alloy is like the wood, hay, and stubble that are works that are substandard and not approved.

The Psalms are Scripture; they are inspired by God and give us a Touchstone through which to test our lives. II Timothy 3:16 describes this Touchstone as being, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” We read the Psalms, meditate on their meaning, and take a look at what kind of streak our lives are leaving on the stone.

Over the years the life of David as revealed in the Psalms– both as a luminous life of passionate devotion to God and as a great sinner– has become in many ways a Touchstone for me. Simply read Psalm 63. He fervently thirsts for God in dry and thirsty land where there is no water. He has seen God in the temple in his power and glory and has found the loving kindness of God to be better than life itself. God himself has satisfied him like a banqueting table full of the choicest of foods.

When I test my life on this Touchstone, it reveals both my own authentic devotion but also all my half–hearted religious gestures, “playing church,” going through the motions, and everything that is perfunctory, artificial, and hollow.

David the great sinner is also like a basalt or jasper stone to test my own confession, repentance, and brokenness.

After his famous moral debacle involving adultery, lying, and murder, he offers God a broken and contrite heart. He is like the publican who beat his breast and said, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” or the woman of ill–repute who cleaned Jesus’ feet with her tears.” They gave God the sacrifice that he really wants: true repentance with godly sorrow. When my life rubs up against this Touchstone it reveals my own genuine brokenness but also all my rationalizing, blame shifting, phony apologies, and lame excuses: “The dog ate my homework.” May the Psalms as a Touchstone help us to put away such childish things and move on to maturity in Christ.

ybic, Jonathan

If you liked this post from Jonathan, you may also like his book that can be purchased at this link:

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A Very Long Shadow: Psalm 32:1-5

A Maskil of David.

 1 Oh, what joy for those 
      whose disobedience is forgiven, 
      whose sin is put out of sight! 
 2 Yes, what joy for those 
      whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt,[b] 
      whose lives are lived in complete honesty! 
 3 When I refused to confess my sin, 
      my body wasted away, 
      and I groaned all day long. 
 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. 
      My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 
                         Interlude

 5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you 
      and stopped trying to hide my guilt. 
   I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” 
      And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Psalm 32:1-5, NCV

What really is your source of joy? We can look and find many possibilities around us. Family, hobbies, work, music or art.  But there is far more than just that.  I believe that our deepest source of joy is the forgiveness of God for our sin. King David enters fully into this experience. I contend that joyful Christians  are those intensely aware of their salvation from sin.

This was St. Augustine’s favorite psalm, and he had it written on the wall next to his death bed, so he could read it over and over. This psalm is a “maskil,” which defined it as a teaching psalm. I think David saw his sins (2 Samuel 11) as something to be learned from. His evil was sufficient to bring him the death penalty, according to levitical law. He became an active teacher of redemption.

This is a companion psalm with Psalm 51. That psalm is a “jack-hammer” and this one is the shovel. There is a sharp breaking in  51. We learn how powerful repentance is really. But in 32 we clean the mess up. David is now our model, and from the nastiness of his past life will come life. Someone once wrote the truth as he saw it:

“We were all whores before Jesus touched and forgave us”

 

Commentary

V.1, communicates a blessing, or having special favor with God. If you don’t want blessing, your nuts! It is one of those things we are all searching for deep down, but now it has a name.  When you have it, nothing else will really matter. The word “joy” is actively used. And so is “disobedience” and “sin.” But the most significant word is “forgiven.”

V. 2, when you repeat yourself it is usually to make a point. It makes what your saying emphatic. There is wagon full of joy here. But it is only for “guilt cleared people.” Once I had a police record, and actually spent a night in jail. Things were put on my record, which was inviolable, I couldn’t change a thing on it.

V. 3-4, there seems to be a deep reluctance and a dark aversion to admitting our true state. We avoid doing this at all costs. We will not be labeled! But there are very clear consequences to this constant posturing. Our lives become hollowed out shells, full of darkness, sickness and grief. This is the price we pay to live a false life.

There is a real sense that God is in on this. It seems that He is concentrating on us, we are God’s target. All His arrows are meant for us, we turn and God is right on our tails. He is taking all the credit for this miserable state we’re in.

V. 5, perhaps this belongs in the special collection of wonderful verses. It is a sponge that is completely saturated with light. “Finally, I confessed…” There are limits to what we can handle. We end up agreeing with God. “Stopped trying to hide.” And we are such good hiders, we can hide so well we end up lost even to our own selves.

There is a profound sense of amazement here. Confession brings it to us. But to be so lost, and than found is staggering. It changes everything. “You forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” Realizing this will bring you incredible peace and joy. You will never, ever find it anywhere else.

 

Out of Sight: Psalm 32:1-3

joy

“Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.”

Psalm 32:1-3, NLT

This psalm has a personal contrast. King David has an understanding of the extremes, going from elated joy to deep sorrow. He experienced both first-hand. He describes the joy in plain terms.

“Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!” (v. 1).

David never denies his sin and guilt. However, he is aware of the mercy God has for him; he is indeed guilty of the sin of a murderous adultery. He has irrevocably harmed several people and that sin will affect his entire life.

And yet, David comes out clean and true. His sins have been forgiven, and forgotten. (Pretty remarkable, isn’t it?)

“Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (v. 2).

Joy is the true response to confessed and forgiven sin.

The guilt may have been great, but there is no sin immense enough to thwart God’s mercy. And their is no transition time; sort of a purgatory where you must prove yourself worthy. Grace is grace; we don’t know why or how it comes, but it brings joy to our souls. That joy of forgiveness fuels our new walk of obedience. That joy is needed to power your new life in Him. joy-of-the-lord

 “When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.” (v.3).

I encourage you to reread David’s story of his sin in 2 Samuel 11-12. This is a sad and evil act by David; motivated by sexual lust, he betrays everyone close to him. Perhaps he felt like being a king gave him certain rights to bed with Bathsheba, and murders her husband. Verse 3 must be understood as the pressure he endured living with sin unconfessed and unrepented.

We have this beautiful psalm of joy reminding us, that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

 

aabryplain

 

 

We Are the ‘Word People’: Psalm 119:1-8

“The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” Ps. 119:130

א Aleph

 1 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, 
   who walk according to the law of the LORD. 
2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes 
   and seek him with all their heart. 
3 They do nothing wrong; 
   they walk in his ways. 
4 You have laid down precepts 
   that are to be fully obeyed. 
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast 
   in obeying your decrees! 
6 Then I would not be put to shame 
   when I consider all your commands. 
7 I will praise you with an upright heart 
   as I learn your righteous laws. 
8 I will obey your decrees; 
   do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1—8, NIV

This psalm has many unique characteristics.

#1, there are 22 paragraphs. Each one focuses on a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

#2, And to make it even more interesting, every verse in that paragraph begins with that same letter. Example vv. 1 — 8 all start the verse with the appropriate letter of the alphabet.

#3, There is a complexity in this psalm, which we certainly don’t see in English; but we do see it in the original Hebrew.

#4, There is an obvious awareness of the Law, or “torah.” But there is a total of nine other synonyms that have a connection to the ‘Torah’. They’re other translations of these words— law, statutes, ways, precepts, decrees, commands, promises, word. These are all different words, each have a different connotation. And they are changeable. I suppose this has to be is a divine intelligence beyond our comprehension, and far beyond our human ability to manipulate. God’s ‘fingerprints’ are all over this psalm.

Commentary

V. 1 — 2, the word “blessed” is used. But that is only the core idea. It has the broad idea of peace, confidence, and happiness in one’s new place or position. There is a place, but it seems to come to the blameless. And just so you know, being blameless is not being sinless. We sin, constantly. But we can be blameless in that place. V.2 has put an emphasis on two verbs— keeping, and seeking.

V. 3, “They do nothing wrong,” as far as I can see the believer is lifted out of a lifestyle of hopeless sinning. It is no longer the compelling momentum that energizes us. We are now to be walking the avenues that the Lord has made for us.

V. 4,  God has taken an active role in our salvation. We can look at His precepts as a burden, or as a help. They word, “obey” gets used.  (I suppose that that word obedience is the ‘neutron bomb’ of theological terms.) Yet, it is a necessary attitude if we want to lived blessed lives.

V. 5, Is an ejaculatory cry for deliverance. It has the spirit of Romans 7 all over it. The heart that is truly following God will understand this, it is the profound desire to be more like Him. Our spirits should yearn to be like our Father in heaven.

V. 6, deep inside the writer of this psalm should be a kindred spirit for us. The driving thought in this verse is that of having a true heart, a faithful heart. In a sense the psalmist realizes there is a day of accountability and judgement for himself.

V. 7, When I read this verse I have a wonderful sense of the mechanism of Christian transformation. We see praise building as the disciple is obeying, and vice versa. Obedience is linked into praise; and praise builds obedience! One feeds the other, and they are both strengthened.

V. 8, Here we see “commitment.” We observe the hungry heart of the psalmist to obey. “Obey” is always his critical word for us. In his mind this is the pivot on which everything turns on. There exists a holy resolve to comply and to heed His will.

Psalm 131:1: Relax, You Don’t Need to Know Everything

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1 “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

No one can deny that knowledge is essential in our progress in the kingdom of God. For example, if a husband is wondering how he should relate to his wife, Ephesians 5:22–33 will be very helpful in exhorting him to lay down his life for her as Christ did for the church. Scripture, church tradition, experience, reason, other people, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit all provide us with knowledge that helps us navigate the tricky waters of a fallen world.

However, there are times in life when we encounter situations where knowledge gives way to mystery. We must humble ourselves and confess with David that something is simply beyond our comprehension. If our heart is proud we will have a difficult time with this, because, in saying “I don’t know,” we feel like our stature is diminished. If we’re a person that always has to be in control, we will have a hard time embracing mystery because saying “I don’t know,” makes us feel like we are out of control. There are times in our walk with God when he wants our restful trust of him more than understanding a situation and knowing exactly what to do.

Here are some common situations that believers face where knowledge should give way to mystery:

(1) Guidance. The psalmist says that the word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. In biblical times this lamp would illuminate the path for a person only a few feet ahead of where they were walking. The word is a lamp not a high–powered searchlight that lightens the path 100 feet down the trail. In a certain situation, God may show you what to do for that day and that day only. You may not have the benefit of divine guidance for next week, next month, or next year.

(2) Ministering to Hurting People. When people go through trauma (e.g., loss of a loved one) or suffer loss, often one of the most damaging things we can do is explore the question why it happened. The truth is often we really don’t know the reason why. At times like this people don’t need our theological and philosophical reflections; they need a caring and loving presence. They don’t need Job’s awful comforters; they need wounded healers.

(3) Judging Others. Let’s say it comes to light that a woman we barely know was unfaithful to her husband and had a six month affair with another man. There’s nothing wrong with us assessing that behavior as sinful because it is sinful. However, after that it is best to suspend judgment because you don’t many of the details. Perhaps the husband had such a pattern of neglect and abuse in the marriage that it created fertile soil for adultery. Perhaps she had a terrible childhood that also made her predisposed to such behavior. We don’t know her heart; only God knows her heart and, therefore, should render judgment in the situation. Practice mercy and God will be merciful to you.

If you liked this post from Jonathan, you may also like his new book called Letters from Fawn Creek that is now available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic,

Jonathan

Psalm 17:15: Make Sure Your Spiritual GPS is Working

Salmon_Jumping

15 And I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

Psalm 17:15

From nature we learn that salmon have a kind of GPS– related to their sense of smell and the earth’s magnetic field– that lead them back to the stream where they were born. On their way back to their native stream, salmon must escape different predators before they arrive home to spawn: commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, larger fish, birds, large mammals, and lots of hungry bears.

In this passage from the Psalms, David has a preeminent goal in his life that acts as a spiritual GPS: he wants to make it to heaven where he will see God’s face and arrive home bearing the image and likeness of his Creator. Like the salmon this goal will give him a single focus which he will need to prevail against the men who are enemies of his soul, whom he describes in verse 12 as being like a lion who is hungry for the prey.

A wonderful companion passage in the New Testament that fulfills the yearnings of David in Psalm 17:15 is I John 3:2–3 where the apostle John talks about the hope within the believer to behold the face of God and to appear before God bearing his image and likeness. This is what Paul called being conformed to the image of Christ.

“2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

John goes so far to say that this hope purifies us. I think that is another way of saying that the goal and hope of heaven and personal godliness acts as a spiritual GPS that helps us navigate the difficulties of this life. Whereas this GPS helped David overcome his physical enemies, it helps us overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil on our way to our heavenly homeland. Like the salmon we overcome our enemies, return to our native stream (heaven) and, like Christ, out of our death comes life as we hatch the eggs of the next generation.

Think about how all–consuming goals shape one’s behavior. A person who wants to be an Olympic athlete makes great sacrifices to achieve that goal. A person who wants to be accepted to an elite college works extremely hard to achieve academic excellence so their application is accepted. A person who wants to be Christ–like and behold him in his glory will also make great sacrifices to hear, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

Unfortunately, sometimes we get our eyes off the prize and our spiritual GPS is not working. Again, the apostle John is helpful in identifying the three primary causes for a broken GPS:

  • the lust of the flesh,
  • the lust of the eyes,
  • and the pride of life, (I John 2:16).

These three things caused Adam and Eve and the nation of Israel to lose their way. Many throughout church history have succumbed to their wiles. May the God of all grace keep us single–focused for our journey back to our native stream.

 

If you like this post by Jonathan, you may also like his new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that can be purchased at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic, Jonathan

http://www.openheavensblog.com

Psalm 137: 1–6: Discipline That Brings a Harvest of Righteousness

psalm137-400

Psalm 137

1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
    as we thought of Jerusalem.
2 We put away our harps,
    hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
3 For our captors demanded a song from us.
    Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
    “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
4 But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a pagan land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget how to play the harp.
6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
    if I fail to remember you,
    if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

7 O Lord, remember what the Edomites did
    on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem.
“Destroy it!” they yelled.
    “Level it to the ground!”

In the background of this psalm, the children of Israel in 586 BC have been led into captivity to Babylon because of their obstinate rebellion and idolatry against the Lord. Their captors are taunting them by asking them to sing songs of Zion in a foreign land but this they cannot do. They are reaping what they sowed and are being disciplined by the Lord through their bondage in Babylon.

This is probably familiar territory for those of us who have walked with the Lord for several  years. Of the many trials that we endure in this life, at least some of them are the discipline of the Lord. At one time or another we all get taken to God’s woodshed. Here are some helpful guidelines to help us while we are in the disciplining process:

(1) Israel endured discipline during this time because they were the chosen people of God; we endure discipline because we are his beloved sons and daughters. Discipline reveals our identity. Hebrews 12:8 goes so far as to say that if we are not disciplined, then we are “illegitimate children and not true sons.”

(2) Discipline in not an end–in–itself; the purpose of discipline is restoration and reconciliation. This is why Israel would not let themselves forget Jerusalem because it represented home and the restoration of their fortunes. Again, Hebrews 12:11 tells us that discipline will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

It’s interesting to note that Israel had its own harvest of righteousness: after their exile in Babylon, there is strong evidence that the problem of foreign gods was never a widespread problem again for many years.

(3) While you are going through the discipline of the Lord, expect demonic opposition to increase in your life. Notice how Israel is tormented by their captors in verse 3. The Edomites also encouraged Babylon to do great harm to Jerusalem during the fall of Jerusalem.

The greatest strategy of the devil is this: convince the believer being disciplined that they are so defective and have sinned so greatly that they are not worthy of God’s tender mercies. This is a lie: his mercies endure forever. Remember Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

(4) How much better it is to be disciplined now in this life, and be purified than to have to stand before Christ, without having gone through the Refiner’s Fire. Our weeping will endure for the night (this present life) but joy will come in the morning (eternity).

If you liked this post by Jonathan, you may also like his book ,Letters from Fawn Creek, that is available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

ybic, Jonathan

The Unfailing Love of God: Psalm 63:2–5

Broken_Hearted_by_HopelessSoul

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory.
3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 63:2–5

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When David was in the Desert of Judah, he made an amazing statement. He said that knowing God’s love was better than life. Only here in the Old Testament is anything prized above life itself. We find a similar passage in Ephesians 3:14–19 when the apostle Paul prays that the Ephesians will know the many dimensions of the love of God and, as a result, be filled with all the fullness of God. Nothing in this life is more wonderful than the experiential knowledge of God’s love for us, that he delights in us and holds us close in his arms as sons and daughters of God.

In just a casual survey of the Psalms, I found several references to the “unfailing love of God”: 6:4; 13:5; 33:18,22; 119:41; 147:11. Truly, one of the central dramas of David’s life was trusting in the unfailing love of God despite evidence to the contrary. In the furnace of affliction, whether it be in a military battle, opposition by evil men, or the betrayal of his own son (Absalom), David needed to trust in the unfailing love of God even if he didn’t feel that love. His faith superseded his feelings.

In the muck and mire of his own egregious sin with Bathsheba– against God involved an unholy trinity that reeked of adultery, lying, and murder, David, in repentance and contrition, had to trust in the unfailing love of God for his forgiveness, and reconciliation with God ( see both Psalm 32 and 51). Like the apostle Paul, he knew that nothing could separate him from the love of God, but sometimes our greatest doubts about this come when we feel our own sins stand between us and God and we doubt that his mercies endure forever. Dear believer, his mercies do endure forever!

We all know John 3:16– it declares that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” to die for it. We accept the concept of God’s love for us in our sin before conversion but often struggle with experiencing his love for us in our sin after conversion.

One of the bad fruits of not trusting in the love of God is that we take things into our own hands. If I’m concerned about one of my kids walking away from the Lord and don’t  trust in God’s unfailing love, then I will become what people call a “helicopter parent” that is hovering constantly over their child’s life, meddling in their affairs in such a way that will drive them away from the kingdom of God. If I trust in God’s love and that he is in control, I won’t do this. There’s still no guarantee that my child will serve God, but at least that meddlesome influence has been removed and I can stand before the Lord with a clear conscience.

We must love and trust, when unbelief seems to be our only transportation.

If you liked this post, you my also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now available to buy at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic, Jonathan

Check out the good doctor J at his own blog, http://www.openheavensblog.com/

Something All Lit Up: Psalm 42

all-lit-up

“Oh Father, I want us to be swallowed up in this Psalm. Not that it’s a happy place to be. But to learn how to be in an unhappy place is what we need. And this Psalmist does it so well. He is miserable so well. I want You to teach Your people how to be struck down, well. How to be in turmoil, well. How to be downcast, well. How to have waves break over them, well. And the Psalms, and this one in particular, is so well suited to help us. So grant that we would know how to feel and how to think with You in the Psalms. Through Christ I pray. Amen”

~Dr. John Piper, referencing Psalm 42

Psalm 42 is a distillation of a wonderful theology. It is quite profound in the certain ways it understands God.

These 11 verses carry us into presence of God, and these 11 verses put us into His presence. What more could we ever want?

Vv. 1-3, establishes  the incredible hunger (whether or not we see it) we as humans have for God. Hunger and thirst are the particular desires, and these are strong needs. Don’t underestimate them. They’re quite intense.

Vv. 4-7, carries a special awareness of a cluster of memories. They somehow remember of how things once were, a long time ago. Any frustration, or discouragement should never become the very method of living. It’s  just temporary, and never something to lock down on. Too many believers could lose faith at this moment.

V. 8 presses on to us by God’s great love and power. He reacts to us, as we ourselves reacted in v. 1-3. He presses us, just like we insisted earlier.

V. 9-11, we work over the language of earlier verses. So much is simmering here, and so much to consider.  We do indeed to wrestle through so much resistance, but yet, it can be expected, if we are who we say we are.

All together, we see that the complete spectrum is covered. Psalm 42 meets us, in whatever frame of mind/heart we find ourselves. It’s precisely what we need, no matter where we find ourselves. We are His, because He wills us to be. His own love, carries us to His side. )

ybic, Bryan

U

The Real Complexity of Happiness: Psalm 1:1-3 and 16:11

joy-happy-man

1 Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather.

2 But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night.

3 And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity].

 

Psalm 1:1-3, Amplified Bible

11 “You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Psalm 16:11

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In the very first verse of this passage, a more accurate translation than “Blessed” is “Happy.” Happy is the man or woman who does these things. The same is true in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1–12. It is more accurate to say “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In meditating on the above passages and others, I was reminded what a complex issue happiness is and thought a few observations may bring some clarity:

(1) Because I know and have known Christians with mental illness and neurobiological imbalances, I find it very insensitive to tell these believers, “Hey, simply do these three things and you will be happy.” Instead we need to honor the cross they carry and encourage them to be “wounded healers” with the people God brings into their lives. They are, in some ways, the mourners who will be comforted in the life to come and don’t need “Job’s Comforters” to make matters worse.

(2) We need to be on our guard that we don’t get into a “Come to Jesus and he will make you happy” philosophy. Our relationship with Jesus is not a means to some end; it is an end–in–itself. We’re called to be like Mary who sat at his feet, not the members of the crowd who were there for the loaves and fishes or the next entertaining miracle.

(3) If we do buy into (2), we may get offended at God because happiness is not guaranteed in this life, only in the next life. Along with Christians who have neurobiological imbalances, what about Christians who are being persecuted and even tortured in other countries? Haitian Christians or believers in sub–Saharan Africa who haven’t had a thing to eat for three days? Christians who are in constant pain because of an injury or illness?

happiness-key-small(4) However, for people that do not have these special circumstances, there is, in general, an inheritance of happiness that awaits the believer. There is joy in his presence and eternal pleasures at his right hand (Psalm 16:11). The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but is an inheritance of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Study after study (see Gross National Happiness by Arthur Brooks) offers compelling evidence that spiritually engaged (I mean prayer, Bible reading, church attendance) Christians have much higher levels of happiness than their secular counterparts.

(5) What was said in (4), can have profound consequences for every day decisions in the ‘shoe–leather’ of life. For example, we may be tempted to pass on a morsel of gossip to a friend about someone who we find arrogant and annoying. Our primary motivation for not doing this would be that such an action dishonors God, whose name we represent, and simple trafficking in hearsay can damage someone else’s name and even can break one of the Ten Commandments by bearing false witness.

A secondary motivation is that such an action will diminish our own happiness because of the conviction and guilt we will experience in the aftermath. It is not selfish to consider your own happiness in making these daily decisions no more than was it selfish for Thomas Jefferson to write about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. 

(6) One reason that it is not selfish is because being a consistently happy person is a concrete way to serve others–family, friends, acquaintances, co–workers, etc.. People, in general, like to be around upbeat, grateful people with positive attitudes especially in a culture more and more characterized by ingratitude and entitlement. May the joy we experience in God’s presence be contagious and passed on to others!

 

If you like this post by Jonathan, you may also like his new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that can be purchased at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

8

ybic, Jonathan

Endangered Species: Psalm 12:1-4

Lies Concept

For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by an eight-stringed instrument.

Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing!
    The faithful have vanished from the earth!
2 Neighbors lie to each other,
    speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts.
3 May the Lord cut off their flattering lips
    and silence their boastful tongues.
4 They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content.
    Our lips are our own—who can stop us?”

Psalm 12:1-4, NLT

Entire cultures can be evaluated in this way. How does our society measure its health? What are the things that are necessary to a people? David evaluates his nation by the presence of godly people. He is disturbed by a “holiness shortage.” The faithful people have become an endangered species, and you walk down the street and into the marketplaces and everyone you meet has an evil agenda.

We’re not used to seeing our communities in this way. Some would suggest that it isn’t right for us to judge in this way. It seems coarse and rude. The discernment that is used seems just a touch insensitive to other people’s lifestyles. However, David does make a clear distinction. He does think this through.

He is stricken by the shortage of “people of faith.” In verse 2 we read of people who are liars, who only flatter, and trick their neighbors. The neighborhood has become dangerous, and truth and faith can’t be found anywhere. This is disturbing to David, who pleads to God with a solid awareness of the effect on his society.

I can only suggest that verse 3 is hyperbole– and yet as desperate as the literal. But note, it is not David’s place to deal with the liars. This is the Lord’s place and His prerogative alone.  Rather than mount a crusade, he simply prays. David has the discernment to see his kingdom heading to the sewer, but he refuses to get medieval on these evil people. He prays and rests on God’s perfect judgement. And that is a peaceful wisdom to have.

“Godliness makes a nation great,
    but sin is a disgrace to any people.”

Proverbs 14:34, NLT

 

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 14:1: The Heart of a Fool

atheist-thought

1 “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Polls indicate that 90–92% of Americans still believe in God. Over 2,500 years ago, David said you were a fool if you didn’t believe. Recently as I looked at evidence for a finely tuned universe, I had to conclude that to not believe today, in light of this evidence, makes you more of a fool than in David’s day. The factors and the constants in the universe have to be incomprehensibly precise to support life. This points to an Intelligent Designer who created the universe.

For example, if the moon was just a little bit closer to the earth, the tides would sweep over the continents; if it was just a little bit further away, the tides would be so weak that they would not flush out the tidal estuaries that are so vital to fish breeding areas.

Gravitational force and electromagnetic force are finely tuned. If they were changed just one part in 10 to the 40th power, both biological life and the existence of stars would end.

If there’s even the tiniest of deviations in the earth’s gravity, axial tilt, rotation period, magnetic field, crust thickness, oxygen/nitrogen ratio, carbon dioxide, water vapor, or ozone level, life would not be possible.

This led former atheist and legendary scientist Sir Fred Hoyle to say, “…commonsense interpretation of the facts is that a super-intelligence has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces in nature.”

There seems to be a blindness in modern atheism that denies the obvious. Perhaps Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian of the Catholic Church, was summing up atheism for all times and seasons when he said, “To one who has faith no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” 

It’s interesting that David followed his declaration of the foolishness of atheism by saying, “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one that does good.” I know atheists and agnostics who are ethical people, and, sadly, sometimes more ethical than some Christians I’ve known. At the same time, the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century–Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot– that accounted for the deaths of approximately 100 million people, were atheistic. They are now on the scrap heap of history and their foolishness is exposed for all to see.

To sustain the belief that there is no God, atheism has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, “I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.”  Ravi Zacharias

 

Blessings, Jonathan

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Psalm 84:10: Overcoming the Greatest Temptation

temptation-of-jesus

10″ Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

This may be one of the most profound verses in the Psalms, if not in the entire Bible. In it David is saying that he would rather have the most humble place in the house of God than the highest position among the godless. This proclamation is the exact opposite of what Satan said in John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” What makes this passage so weighty is that it encapsulates the greatest temptation of created beings from before the creation of the world to the present day.

What temptation would cause Satan, an exalted angel who dwelled in the presence of the glory of God for eons before his fall from grace, to rebel and inaugurate his own kingdom of darkness? What enticement would cause a significant number of angels (probably one–third; see Revelation 12:4), who also dwelt in the exquisite splendor of God, to follow him in this rebellion? What temptation would provoke Adam and Eve, who lived in Edenic paradise in unbroken communion with God, to disobey God’s clear command and go their own way? What enticement led the nation of Israel, who had amazing, supernatural provision and a special relationship with the Almighty, to reject their Creator and worship other gods?

Satan, the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, and the nation of Israel all succumbed to the same temptation. It goes by different names but I will, for lack of a better word, call it godship. Godship is rooted in pride, the root sin of all sins, and its nature is to make oneself God and to pursue an autonomous existence apart from God and his will. It means taking God off the throne of our hearts, and, in self–exaltation, putting ourselves on that throne.

Satan and the fallen angels did this, and, in the spirit of Milton’s poem, essentially said, “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” Adam and Eve made their proclamation of godship when they ate the forbidden food because they thought they would become like God, knowing good and evil. Israel’s sin of godship is vividly revealed in Judges 21:25, a passage that describes their entire history:

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

David’s proclamation in Psalm 84:10 is a watershed moment because he is gazing into the face of the history of fallen creation and is saying, ” I will not join the Rebellion; I will not commit the sin of godship; I would rather have the lowest place in the house of God than rule in the tents of the ungodly.” David would go on to commit egregious sins in his life (adultery, murder, etc.), but he was still a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and would not commit the most egregious sin of all: godship.

One reason Roman Catholics venerate Mary is because she also submitted herself to the will of God. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Savior and said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”

After fasting for forty days and forty nights, the devil tempted Jesus to commit the sin of godship and live a life autonomous from God and his will. Jesus also stared into the face of the history of fallen creation and said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'” (Matthew 4:11). He did this again during his Passion when he said to the Father, “Not my will but your will be done.”

Dear reader, by the grace of God, we can all follow in the footsteps of David, Mary, and especially our Lord. We can get up each morning, look into the mirror, and start our day by saying, ” Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of another day of life. By your grace I choose to be a doorkeeper in your house instead of taking my fate upon myself. I reject the deception of godship and choose to be your servant.”

&

ybic, Jonathan

O

Lord! You Are All Mine– Psalm 119:57-58

glorious-light

57 “Lord, you are mine!
    I promise to obey your words!
58 With all my heart I want your blessings.
    Be merciful as you promised.”

 Psalm 119:57-58, NLT

What certainty, and what confidence in these two verses. Within these verses we encounter a faith that excels over all that could disturb it. Verse 57 implies a pronounced boldness,  “Lord, you are mine! I promise to obey your words!” Obedience for the Christian, can only settle us. We step into it, very much sure and confident of His love for our souls. “You are mine.” This can only be a distinct work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts.

We declare our love by our obedience. They are chained together like inmates on a Georgia prison farm. Love, and obedience should move as one.

There are two who are making promises. The psalmist promises to obey God’s words in v.57. And God in an active act will respond–a promise of a living mercy. Now all vows, or promises are part of any relationship of significance we have.  We call this “devotion,” God devotes Himself first, and we in turn dedicate our lives in obedience.

The idea of ‘blessings’ must be worked into all of this wonder– “With all my heart I want your blessings.” Now if  you feel you can skip this special touch, you may do so, but at your own personal loss. The Lord is quite patient, but both sin and Satan are quite aggressive. And the world will fight you ‘tooth-and-nail.” There is no such thing as uncontested territories. It’s not mere hyperbole when we say this. It is our opportunity to leave unreality for good–forever.

flourish-small,

“Lord, whatever you want, wherever you want it, and whenever you want it, that’s what I want.”   Richard Baxter

“Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe. ”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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ybic, Bryan

Psalm 51:14–17: What God Delights In

rebellion-seen
I am lost without you

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Both Psalms 32 and 51 are about David’s sorrow and repentance because of his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who David purposely placed on the front lines of military battle, where he would surely die. In verses 14 and 15 he asks God for forgiveness for the murder (“bloodguilt”) so that he can sing of God’s righteousness and offer him praise. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, is helpful here in suggesting that David wants to extol God for his righteousness because he (David) sees God’s crowning achievement being making an egregious sinner like David righteous!

In verses 16 and 17 it’s obvious that King David has learned from his predecessor King Saul’s mistakes. This insight is often overlooked in sermons and commentaries. Saul was given clear instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekites and he disobeyed these instructions. He spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of the livestock so he could offer sacrifices to the Lord. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul essentially said, “Don’t think these sacrifices impress God. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Your disobedience is similar to witchcraft and idolatry. Sacrifice is good but it means nothing if your heart isn’t right.”

The parallels to our present age are legion. Anytime someone is involved in religious activities–i.e. “sacrifices”–but their heart is wrong, they are following in the footsteps of Saul. One thinks of the Pharisees, both in the time of Jesus and now, who were/are more engaged in religious activities than anyone, but their hearts were full of pride and self–righteousness.

As a Roman Catholic, I often hear complaints from fellow parishioners about “cradle Catholics,” who were born into the faith, and do many of the right Catholic things–“sacrifices”–but their hearts are not humble and contrite and they are far from an intimate relationship with Christ. This is a kind of empty “cultural Christianity” that exists in every denomination.

Movements come and go within Christendom.  Some local churches emerge to ride the next big thing.  They become the most fashionable place to be involved. Sometimes the reason some of the members give their time, talent and treasure–“sacrifices”–to these churches is not to advance the kingdom of God; no, it’s because their involvement makes them feel hip and a part of a special group in comparison to all those boring, generic suburban Christians. And they get to rebel against their un–hip parents, who they are angry with, as part of a package deal!

What does David mean in verse 17 by saying that God wants a broken and contrite heart? Because Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Matthew 25:1–13), sometimes it helps to understand biblical principles through the marriage relationship. When a husband has sinned against his wife and knows it, often he will engage in a flurry of activities–“sacrifices”– in order to extricate himself from the doghouse. Suddenly he’s bringing home flowers and candy and is doing home–improvement projects that she wanted done several months ago. However, what she really wants is not a whirlwind of goodwill gestures; no, what she really wants is an apology marked by humility and sorrow for what he did. She needs to know that he is truly sorry, not because his carelessness put him in the doghouse, but because what he did hurt, and was a sin against, her.

It’s never too late for the Pharisee, the “cultural Christian” or the “Christian hipster.” Or me, for that matter. We can still offer sacrifices that God will delight in if we come to him with a broken and contrite heart for the many ways we have offended him. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

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ybic, Jonathan

Psalm 15: The True Israelite, # 2

wonderfulray
In Psalm 15, He focuses on us

 

In part one of our meditation on Psalm 15 we concluded by asking the question, ” Why does God’s heart grieve so greatly when His children do harm to one another?”

Part two simply states: The answer to this question is probably related to the truth that people are made in the image and likeness of God; they have incalculable dignity and worth. Because they are ‘God-like,’ to harm them with our words and deeds is in a sense to harm or offend God. Any parent knows that when their child has been slandered or cheated, they themselves feel slandered and cheated.

The Apostle John goes so far to say that “…anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen” (I Jn. 4:20b). This is why Christ said, “If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me,” and why Mother Teresa of Calcutta was utterly convinced that her ministry to the poorest of the poor was really a ministry to Christ Himself.

Here’s how all this relates to Psalm 15— If someone harms their brother or sister in word or deed, they offend the entire Trinity– “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” In doing so, they alienate themselves from God’s presence and will need confession and repentance of their sins in order to acquire forgiveness and re-enter that presence. David was familiar with these truths, and that’s why, in the aftermath of his adultery and committing murder, he said to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).

Finally,  I can now understand how many Christians, including myself, can be intimidated by Psalm 15. I can imagine a brother in Christ telling me, “Jonathan, I came from a very messed-up family. I’m not making excuses but I have a lot of unresolved anger because of what my parents said and did to me. Because of this, in the heat of the moment, I’ve said hurtful things to my wife that I can’t take back. I feel terrible about how I’ve hurt her and wonder if I’m forever separated from God’s presence. I certainly feel separated from hers.”

I would respond, “No, you’re not forever separated from the presence of God. The Psalms say, ‘His mercies endure forever.’ There’s a common teaching among practicing Catholics that God’s mercy is his greatest attribute and simply overwhelms all his other attributes (e.g., justice) just like the Pacific Ocean overwhelms a sea bass. I John 1:9 says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’  “ It’s good that you feel sorry about what you said, but let this sorrow lead to repentance and a real reconciliation with your wife. Please, dear one, make amends and always remember, His mercies are tender, unfathomable and inexhaustible. Put your trust in His unfailing love.”

David concludes the Psalm by saying that the person “who does these things will never be shaken.The true Israelite will be at peace. This kind of believer will sleep well at night and can look himself in the mirror. He has evidenced his love for God by loving his brother. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment” (I Jn. 4:18). If we’re living right with God and our neighbor–i.e loving them, then what do we have to fear? The true Israelite has an inheritance in the kingdom of God that “is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

&

ybic, Jonathan

Psalm 15: The True Israelite, # 1

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Psalm 15 (NIV)

A Psalm of David

1 Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?

Who may live on your holy hill?

2 He whose walk is blameless

and does what is righteous,

and speaks the truth from his heart

3 and has no slander on his tongue,

who does his neighbor no wrong

and casts no slur on his fellow man,

4 who despises a vile man

but honors those that fear the Lord,

who keeps his oath even when it hurts,

5 who lends his money without usury

and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things will never be shaken.

Many biblical scholars regard Psalm 15 as a kind of “entrance liturgy” where those Israelites seeking to enter the temple court are made acutely aware by a temple priest what kind of conduct is necessary to enter these sacred precincts. God is holy and requires those who want to enter his temple and dwell in His presence to also be holy (Lev. 11:44). Jeremiah 7:5–7 echoes this Psalm in that the Lord tells his people that He will only dwell in the temple with them if they “do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood or follow other gods…”

The person described in Psalm 15, who qualifies to enter God’s holy presence, is first and foremost a person of sterling character and integrity. Verse 2 shows that what he says and what he does are one in the same. Verse 3 reveals that he has control of his tongue and verse 4a and b disclose that his assessment of other people’s character is accurate and commendable. His dealings with others are above reproach concerning oaths, lending money (no interest), and taking bribes (v.5). Please notice how this list of qualities is weighted heavily towards how one treats their neighbor: Our access to the presence and fellowship of God is inextricably linked with how we fulfill the Golden Rule.

Talk radio show host and virtuoso thinker Dennis Prager, who is deeply committed to Judaism, says there is a strong tradition in his religion that our judgment and reward from God in the hereafter will be mostly based on how we treated other people.

In Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, there is much focus on the Seven Deadly Sins–Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust–as Dante himself, the protagonist, takes a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. What’s relevant for our study is that in the poem, sins like Pride, Envy and Anger are regarded as worse than sins like Sloth because they take delight in harming others.

Think of Christ Himself dividing up the sheep and goats at the end of the age in Matthew 25:31–46. One group, the sheep, are granted eternal access to the presence of God while a second group, the goats, is eternally banished from the presence of God. The criteria that Christ uses for making this judgment is how each group treated others, specifically whether they extended works of mercy to the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, alien, prisoner, and the sick.

Think of a good parent’s heart and family dynamics. Few things grieve the heart of a parent more–or God the Father–than their kids fighting, doing harm to one another, or withholding love and care to a sibling because of indifference or malice. This observation leads to the question, “Why does the abuse or neglect of our brother grieve the heart of God so, even to the point, in certain cases, of denying a person fellowship with His wonderful presence? We’ll explore that question in part 2 of our study.

ybic, Jonathan