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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The Psalms: Living Life in the Light of Eternity

photo http://www.bbc.co.uk

Like Moses did for the children of Israel, the writers of the Psalms often contrast the Way of Life and the Way of Death and declare that the choices we make in this life have eternal consequences in the next. For example, in Psalm 1, after contrasting the path of righteousness with the path of sin, the psalmist tells us that the wicked:

“…are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:4b–6).

This passage tells us that, on the Day of Judgment, the wicked will, so to speak, not have a leg to stand on, and will not be included in the heavenly assembly of the righteous. This sentiment is echoed  in Psalm 5:5. Such passages serve to motivate the reader to live his or her life in the light of eternity and to see others as eternal souls who have one of two destinies. In order to do this we must see life through the correct lens.

Too often we look at life through an Earthly Temporal Lens (ETL) and not a Heavenly Eternal Lens (HEL). Consider the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16: 19–31. If we look at that story through an ETL, the rich man is a winner, Lazarus is a loser; he is rich and Lazarus is poor; the rich man is first and Lazarus is last; he is a success and Lazarus is a failure; the rich man gets invited to exclusive cocktail parties while Lazarus is shunned. The biblical narrative, however, looks at the story through a HEL and the roles are completely reversed in heaven. Like the Laodicean Church in the Book of the Revelation, the rich man is poor, wretched, pitiful ,blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). He is tormented in hell while Lazarus is cradled in Abraham’s bosom and there is an unbridgeable gulf between the two.

In many cases it is unwise for the believer to make judgments concerning the eternal destinies of the people we encounter in this life. We don’t know their hearts and we don’t know how they will react to the mercies of God in their final hour: it’s above our pay grade. However, we can, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, try to look through a HEL as much as possible and do everything we can to introduce them to our Redeemer, adorning the gospel with exemplary lives and speaking the truth in love.

 

ybic, Jonathan

 

 

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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My Lifeguard: Psalm 54

For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time the Ziphites came and said to Saul, “We know where David is hiding.” To be accompanied by stringed instruments.

Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!
    Defend me with your might.
Listen to my prayer, O God.
    Pay attention to my plea.
For strangers are attacking me;
    violent people are trying to kill me.
    They care nothing for God.  Selah

But God is my helper.
    The Lord keeps me alive!
May the evil plans of my enemies be turned against them.
    Do as you promised and put an end to them.

I will sacrifice a voluntary offering to you;
    I will praise your name, O Lord,
    for it is good.
For you have rescued me from my troubles
    and helped me to triumph over my enemies.

Psalm 54, (NLT) 

All of us are facing a considerable, unrelenting assault. It really doesn’t matter if you are a believer, or not. One of my favorite “Far Side” by Gary Larson is two deer talking in the woods. One of them has a humongous target on his chest. The other comments, “Bummer of a birthmark, Larry.”

We are all born marked. We each have something on us we can’t get rid of. Think of it as a  bull’s-eye,  that the enemy has trained his spiritual weaponry upon. This occupied planet, full of deep darkness and black sin, is a dangerous place to live. We are being stalked.

David touches on this in this particular psalm. He knows physically which we can know spiritually. That there is a violence that focuses on me. Something quite wicked that will show me no mercy or pity.

Commentary

V. 1 puts us at a point of dependency in all of this. Martin Luther, in his best hymn wrote,

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.”

This is the very first thing we must assimilate. On our own, Satan will chew us up, and spit us out.

V. 2, having the ear of God is what we should truly covet. We must have His attentive ear. We must be heard! “God! Please listen to me. Look at me, I need you desperately.”

V. 3, this is no fairy tale world full of glee and flowers. David grasps the situation without illusion. People want to kill him, to assassinate him. He isn’t being paranoid or deluded. He has a big target on him. He is hated and despised.

V. 4, “But God is my helper.
    The Lord keeps me alive!”

Praise has an element of boastfulness in it. That is its compelling power. When you stand in this remarkable Grace, you can face down anything. Perhaps David at this moment is remembering his showdown with the giant, Goliath. That was a bold approach then, and now another one is now needed.

V. 5,  “May the evil plans of my enemies be turned against them.
   Do as you promised and put an end to them.”

Not only is our enemy defeated, but his planning and strategies actually work against him. When we were in language school in McAllen, Texas, my young son came down with a terrible fever. Lynn and I were quite anxious, we were completely broke. There was no money for a visit to the ER. Zilch. I went upstairs to his room. I got down on my knees at his bedside, and I began to pray. When I laid my hands on him, he was burning up. So I prayed some more, pleading for God’s intervention. A few minutes later, I laid my hands on him again, and he was completely cool! It was God’s miracle (It certainly wasn’t mine). My faith soared.

V. 6, When joy is present, really there, there is no such thing as a demanding sacrifice. We give, without counting the cost. When I am truly grateful, I will feel no pain, and never consider any issues of value.

V. 7, ” For you have rescued me from my troubles
and helped me to triumph over my enemies.”

Two phrases that connect like puzzle pieces; “rescued me, and helped me.” When I think about this, I think of a lifeguard watching swimmers on a beach. He’s on duty, and on the beach all have his complete focus. Everyone is under His care.

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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

As Good As It Gets: Psalm 66:1-5

praise

1 Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
    Sing about the glory of his name!
    Tell the world how glorious he is.ee
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
    they will sing your praises,
    shouting your name in glorious songs.” Interlude

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!

There is an idyllic here. We trample down an idea of what should be, but not quite yet. Many things are being thrown apart, and a certain reality is being infused by our steady awareness.  We stand alert of such incredible awareness. It’s about the “goose-pimple” awareness that affects us sometimes turns into an object of praise.

So much is being declared. The power of the Lord is being praised, and we should back off and let Him take our praise in. God does absorb our praise and worship. He needs nothing, but takes all we give Him.

“Shout ‘ is a loud word. We are speaking out loud here. And we rest in all that is spoken. We suddenly start speaking in the very language of heaven. The things God does is worthy of our praise, we look upon them and we are astounded. Only He can merit such devotion.

The basic idea here spins off of the idea of worship. Can we really praise him who rules a complicated universe? So much is foul, and things let askew are misplaced. Where is the God who has arranged these things? This psalm is been a voice for sanity.

We worship because it is what we should do so. Yet we seem to accrue obstacles to block our worship of such a fine God. Why is this? Perhaps it is we feel threatened. He seems to claim too much glory, and after all, can’t we share? But this is not ‘biblical’ nor is it logical. We are not God, nor will we ever be.

He claims to do miracles among His people (v. 5). brings Perhaps that alone is reason to accept His ongoing care over our souls. He has cared over us, far more than we admit. We are His, and we will accept no other God.

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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:

http://lettersfromfawncreek.tateauthor.com/

 

 

 

What a God! Psalm 111:4-6

4 “He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.”

Psalm 111:4-6, NLT

If you are God, I suppose you can take things into your hands. (Who will complain?) Yet He does work in our hearts, to provoke in us the things He really wants. I suppose we put far to much weight on our own wills and efforts. The Father purposefully works so that we may remember. Discipleship, if I look at it, is as much of God’s work as it is our doing.

When we gaze into our own salvation, we will see hand prints that are not ours. They are God’s. He is working to bring us into heaven. It’s a long and deep journey, but He intends to bring us home. I’m glad. Very glad!

flourish15

Commentary

V. 4, He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!

Romans 8:31 declares that God is with us. “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” He is energized by this final effort. He fully intends to bring us to His side. As I grow older, I see more and more of His security. He seems more sure of His effort than I am of mine.

The psalmist defines Him as “gracious and merciful.” We would do well to weigh out these words, and give them the significance they truly do deserve. These are “two ringers” and the Psalmist rings them loud and clear on his anvil.

K

V. 5, “He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.”

For everyone who fears the Lord there comes a meal; something good to eat. For us who inhabit the “first world” we can’t remember going without lunch. But it seems to me that the “food” that He gives us doesn’t originate from this world system. (Press on this idea, and some good will come of it.)

A god who keeps his covenant is worth His weight in gold.

K

V. 6, “He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.”

I suppose power must be seem (and considered) before it becomes something valuable. The power can not be avoided, or deflected. God’s people do see it, and all of it is visible and quite truthful. I do believe He is blessed when we acknowledge this “great power.”

There is something very “tangible” about this next thought. God has designed reality to work out this. The “lands” have become something solid and real and tangible about the graciousness of God. He turns over these lands to His covenant people in order to communicate His grace and amazing power.

*

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 119:165: When His Heart Becomes Our Heart

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“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

Psalm 119:165

This passage tells us two things about people who love the law of God:

  • they will have great peace and,
  • a spirit that cannot get offended

The absence of peace is worry, anxiety, and even fear. Believers often  experience these disturbances of the soul when they don’t really believe that God is in control of their lives and that all things really do work for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Or they may experience these emotions through no fault of their own because they have a chemical imbalance).

It’s often overlooked that even though some believers really do believe that God is in control, they still experience diverse anxieties because deep down they don’t really believe God loves them.They think he relishes the opportunity to rain on their parade. I’ve known of Christians who had physical ailments who said, “I know God can heal me but I feel like he doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to heal me.” This kind of heart characterized many of the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1:26, 27 who balked at God’s command to take possession of Canaan land. Moses spoke to them and said:

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.'”

Reading, meditation, and study of Scripture or the law is a bridge to intimacy with God. Put another way: knowing and loving the Word (Scripture) often, though not always, leads one to knowing and loving the Word (Jesus Christ). This leads to peace because you become intimate with the one who passionately loves you and is in control of your life. Scripture tells us that his eye is on the sparrow and that the hairs of our heads are numbered. We are precious to him (see Psalm 139). When this is written on our hearts, we then rest in his providential love and can say with Mary, the Mother of God, when she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus:

“…Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NAB).

Loving the law or Scripture can also lead to cultivating a spirit that cannot be offended at God or other people. Through the Holy Writ we come to know that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” In C.S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, the character Aslan, who is Christ, is good but he is not safe. What Scripture teaches us is that we cannot give God a script for our lives and expect him to fulfill it like putting our order in at a restaurant. He is not our Shield and ‘Butler.’

In Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11:32–38, our lives may turn out to be like the heroes who conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword or they may turn out to be like the saints who were tortured, faced jeers and flogging, imprisoned, stoned, and were sawn asunder. Scripture teaches us to have a heart that can accept either of these outcomes and resonates with Job who said:

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” ( Job13:15)

When you love the Bible, you also love the difficult sayings of the text. This prepares you for anything life may dish out and gives you a heart that cannot be offended. You grow to love the One who was rejected by his own creation, abandoned (temporarily) by his Father on the cross, and suffered an unspeakably brutal death by asphyxiation on the cross. But he never became offended or embittered. His heart becomes our heart as we love his word and encounter the vicissitudes of life.

 

 ybic, Jonathan

 

 Jonathan’s own website is at http://www.openheavensblog.com.

Psalms 1:1–3: What It Means to Prosper

photo: mydailydevotionalorg.blogspot.com

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

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Job’s friends, with the exception of Elihu, were sorry comforters. They poured salt into the wounds of a grieving and shattered man by telling him, in so many words, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. It would be easy for some readers of this passage to do the same thing. This psalm is talking about a person who is on the straight and narrow path, meditates on the law of God, bears fruit in season and does not wilt in the heat of tribulation. Whatever they do prospers.

I remember reading about the dynamic of “redemption and lift” years ago in the lives of new Christians. Studies seemed to indicate that many new Christians who eschewed their old, self–destructive ways and embraced a new lifestyle were lifted into a new socio–economic status. It only makes sense that if you’re not blowing a lot of money on drugs and alcohol or superfluous expenditures but are instead working harder and saving your money, your finances will improve. The same principle also holds true for your health and marriage and family life. As far as health, all one has to do is compare the health statistics of a morally permissive place like Las Vegas to someplace like Salt Lake City to see the difference.

Yet Psalm 1:1–3 was never meant to be a formula that applies to all Christians in all situations for all times. My experience tells me that I have seen godly people experience great blessing in the area of health, finances, and relationships and I have seen godly people suffer great loss in those areas. I’ve seen saintly people experience both ends of the spectrum in one lifetime. Hebrews 11 recounts the great heroes of the faith. “Some of these heroes subdued kingdoms, closed the mouths of lions, and were made rich like Abraham. Others were commended for their faith for being stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, and wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and tormented “(Hebrews 11:37). If the idea of prospering is limited only to the areas of health and wealth, these folks weren’t doing very well.

In light of these passages I offer the reader my definition of prospering: doing the will of God. If your preeminent desire in life is to please God and do his will, you are prospering no matter how the rest of your life might look. In fact you may have more trials if you are on the straight and narrow. St. Thomas More said, “Tribulation is a gift from God–one that he especially gives his special friends.” Sometimes I must admit that I want to be a close friend of God like Moses or Elijah but I don’t want the trials that come with that relationship. It’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God and easy to get offended and bitter if we expect to receive only roses without thorns.

 

ybic, Jonathan

 

Psalms 149: 1–4: More Thoughts on Entering a Heavenly Worship Service

1 Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.

2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their king.

3 Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with the tambourine and harp.

4 For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

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An observation was made in a post published on April 5, 2014, called Entering a Heavenly Worship Service that when the writers of the Psalms talk about worshipping in the temple, they mean the Jerusalem Temple. Secondly, the post took a look at what the apostle John saw in Revelation 4 and 5 when the curtain was rolled back and he witnessed the worship service that was going on in heaven.

What was striking was that the figures and fixtures one finds in the Jerusalem Temple in the Old Testament, one also finds in the heavenly worship service in the last book of the Bible: a Throne, seven torches (menorah), a sacrificial Lamb, golden bowls, etc.. The profound conclusion that we can draw from this is that when both the Old Testament saints and especially the believers under a new covenant worship God here on earth, they are in some mystical and very real way joining the worship service in heaven. They have a dual citizenship.

When this is embraced by faith, it should turn hollow, mechanical worship into a dynamic experience. To thoroughly compare Psalm 149:1–4 with Revelation 4 and 5 would take several posts so I will limit my observations to three things:

(1) When you worship God at your local church, always remember you are coming to the Throne of Grace.

Look at the language in verse 4: ” For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.” This is the language of grace. In Revelation 4:1, the apostle John looked and beheld an open door in heaven. In Revelation 4:3, there is an exquisite rainbow around the throne that hearkens back to the covenant of Noah when God promised never again to flood the earth. Again, these are images of God’s grace and compassion and mercy on our lives.

I realize that what I just wrote has been repeated so often from pulpits and from worship leaders that it may sound like a cliché; however, I still meet Christians from time to time who are bound by the fetters of legalism, guilt, and shame and can’t seem to find the Throne of Second Chances (and third chances and fourth chances and fifth chances…ad infinitum). If you’ve done some big sinning, what a blessing 1 John 1:9 is for you:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Hebrews 4:12 tells us to draw close to the Throne to find mercy and grace in a time of need.I know this is basic Christianity but I never get tired of hearing the good news. We may get tired of asking for forgiveness but God never gets tired of granting it. Wanting to enter into the heavenly worship service can be good motivation for confession, repentance, and making things right with the people in our lives so that we can draw near to God and better experience his delight in us.

(2) When you enter the heavenly worship service, your worship will be directed towards God the Creator.

Check out Revelation 4:11:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

We owe God our very existence. It is better to exist than not to exist and God deserves our praise for all that entails–the pleasant gifts, the neutral gifts, and the painful gifts–because it is all working for good in order to conform us to the image of his Son.

Psalms 149:2 tells Israel to rejoice in their Maker. When we look at the creation we see the glory of God and it causes us to bow before him in the light of his Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. A majestic mountain range reveals a majestic God; a vast ocean displays his infinity and all the flora and fauna remind us that he is the Living God who sustains all things by the word of his power.

(3) When you enter the heavenly worship service, your worship will be directed towards God the Son who according to Revelation 5:10 was slain and ransomed men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Psalm 149:4 says that we are to praise God “who crowns the humble with salvation.” All we need to do to elicit praise and worship in our lives is think about our lives before Christ and after Christ and think about what it would be like to be eternally separated from God for eternity. All we need to do is meditate on the incomprehensible love of God who endured such a heinous death to bring us into relationship with him and gladly usher us into a worship service that will go on for all of eternity.

ybic, Jonathan

 

Psalm 149:1–4: Entering the Worship Service in Heaven

1 “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of saints.

2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.

3 Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.

4 For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.”

 

Every Christian at one time or another in his or her walk with God find themselves just going through the motions. Giving to charity is reduced to cutting a check, evangelism becomes a “have to” instead of a “want to,” and praise and worship look an awful lot like what Isaiah described as drawing close to God with our lips but our hearts are far from him. Usually when this happens one of the important ingredients that is missing is faith.

For example, in many psalms like Psalm 149:1–4, we are exhorted to praise and worship the Lord, but this exercise can become lackluster if we don’t believe or forget that, in doing so, we are entering into a worship service in heaven. We have both feet planted on the earth but also are, in both a mystical and real way, simultaneously worshipping God in heaven with all the angels and saints that have gone before us.

When the psalms talk about worshipping God in his temple, the writers are talking about the Temple of Jerusalem. In Revelation 4 and 5, the curtain is pulled back and John the apostle is shown what worship looks like in heaven. What’s striking is that what we see in Revelation 4 and 5 is similar to the figures and fixtures that we find in the Jerusalem Temple:

  • the Throne (ark, 2 Sam. 6:2);
  • the seven torches (menorah, Exodus 25: 31–39);
  • the winged creatures (cherubim, Ezek. 1:10);
  • the glassy sea (I Kings 7: 23–26);
  • the golden bowls (I Kings 7:50),
  • the Lamb (Ex. 12:21), etc. *

The Temple of Jerusalem was an earthly representation of the sanctuary of God in heaven. Therefore, when the Old Testament saints worshipped God in their Temple, they were glorifying God simultaneously in the heavens. How much more is this a reality for those of us who are under a new and better covenant!

Through faith this truth is written on our hearts and turns our mechanical worship into a dynamic reality. Our God is so merciful that if we lack this faith, we can come to him and say, “Help me with my unbelief.” He will give us a gift of faith, so that we can enjoy our dual citizenship, both here on earth and, more importantly, in heaven.

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*This post was informed by the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible of the New Testament in it’s notes on the Book of the Revelation on page 498.

 

If you liked this post by Jonathan, you may also want to check out his new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, at this website:

http://lettersfromfawncreek.tateauthor.com/2014/03/22/his-name-is-mercy/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For example, in Psalm 149:1–4, we are exhorted to praise and worship

 

Psalm 116: 1–7: His Name is Mercy

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1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me;

I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me.”

5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our Lord is full of compassion.

6 The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.

7 Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Over the years I’ve become convinced that gratitude is a spiritual discipline just like prayer, Scripture study, fasting, or partaking in the sacraments. Gratitude has many dimensions but one definition could be “a meditation on God’s mercy in our lives.” Sometimes when I want to meditate on God’s mercy,  I focus on sins God has delivered me from and sins that I could have very easily fallen into but didn’t because of his grace. I would liken this to the psalmist talking about the “cords of death that entangled me.” These sins did not threaten my physical life but they would’ve, if not repented of or embraced, threatened my spiritual life eventually.

For example, in my early and mid–20s, I had a fault that is typical of this age group in Christendom: possessing much zeal without knowledge with definite strains of legalism and self–righteousness. There’s a reason some pastors and priests have joked that a new, on–fire Christian should be locked up for five years first before turning them loose on both the church and the secular world. The wedding between religion and pride is a lethal combination: it keeps others from entering the kingdom of God.

Then I think of the sins–“cords of death”– I could’ve fallen into but didn’t because of his mercy. Just observing other men is enough grist for the mill for this meditation: men who placed achievement and money far above relationships and have suffered divorce, alienation from their kids, and friendlessness later in life because of such idolatry; men who have fallen into various addictions: chemical dependency, sexual addictions, gambling, etc.; men who got offended at God because the script they had written for their lives did not happen and either are now not serving Christ or are mired in mediocrity. I know myself and how weak I am and just how easily these cords of death could’ve become my reality: “Except for the grace of God there go I.” Such meditations cultivate gratitude and gratitude is the source of happiness and happiness and joy adorn the gospel.

Writer Marian Friedrichs has an excellent definition of mercy: “Mercy is love that bends down, grabs hold, and lifts up. In other words, when a soul is crushed under some weight–usually guilt, oppression, or weakness–mercy is the arm of love that scoops that soul off the ground, embraces it, kisses it, dusts it off, dries its tears, and sets it on its feet again.” One of the hallmarks of mercy is that it is undeserved for the recipients. Doesn’t the above definition sound like Christ on the cross?

Mercy is not an emotion or a feeling or a theory or a principle; mercy is an action. Being able to write a 300 page doctoral dissertation on the theological attribute of mercy will do us no good if our lives don’t have concrete manifestations. God has called all of us to be Signposts of Mercy. Taking the above definition by Friedrichs as a launching pad, we are called to be like the Good Samaritan. This doesn’t necessarily mean being involved in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter though that is a noble calling; what it does mean is letting the Holy Spirit make us acutely aware of people in our lives who need the mercy of God, whether their need is physical or spiritual or both.  Perhaps this should be our rule of thumb: the more undeserving, the better.

ybic, Jonathan

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

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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 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

The One Important Thing, Psalm 27:4

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4 “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple.”

It’s interesting to compare this passage with other places in Scripture where one thing was emphasized. In Luke 10:41 Jesus tells Martha, who is anxious and worried about many things, that only one thing was necessary and Mary was doing just that: sitting at Christ’s feet and learning of him. In Philippians 3:13 and 14 the apostle Paul declares that he is focused on one thing and that is knowing Christ. All three of these passages have a common theme: they all emphasize the supreme good of pursuing an intimate relationship with God and his Son, Jesus.

Sometimes I don’t envy a new believer who’s entering the life of the church for the first time. Often they hear a cacophony of voices that will try to take them away from the one thing. Here’s a sampling:

(1) Sometimes a relationship with Christ is emphasized but not as an end in itself, but, instead, as a means to some other end. This is like the people in the crowd who followed Jesus around to see a miracle or to get another fill of the loaves and the fishes. They were way more into the gifts than the Giver of the gifts. The message here is “Come to Jesus and he will give you more financial security, a better marriage, and/or more success at work.” It’s not about him but what he can do for you. Christ is utilized but he is not worshipped.

(2) Part of the cacophony of voices a new believer is likely to hear are the many emphases that are trumpeted concerning the Christian life: evangelism, social justice, spiritual warfare, the love of God, tithing, etc.. These are all well and good but can lead one away from the one important thing if they are over–emphasized in an unhealthy manner. This is an error by emphasis.

(3) Anything in the Christian life can become a “religious idol.”  Zealous adherence to a particular doctrine or devotion to a particular church denomination can eclipse our devotion to Christ if we’re not careful. Many people think they are home free when they’ve given up their secular idols (e.g., Money, Sex, and Power), but religious idols can be just as corrosive to our souls.

(4) Related to (2) and (3) and  is what some have called “Bible–olatry.” Jesus told the religious leaders of his day that they search the Scriptures to find life but they wouldn’t come to him and sit at his feet as Mary did and find that life. They were lost in the wonders of exegesis or more accurately “exit Jesus.” In all their Bible studies, somehow Jesus had left the building. Bible study should be merely a means to this end: fervent devotion to Christ.

In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” What’s sometimes overlooked is that this was addressed to Christians, not unbelievers. May God give us the grace, amidst a cacophony of voices, to eschew both secular and religious idols and open the door to communion with him.

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

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ybic, Jonathan

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His Hands Hold Me: Psalms 16

 Psalm 16

1 Protect me, God, 
       because I trust in you. 
 2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord. 
       Every good thing I have comes from you.”
 3 As for the godly people in the world, 
       they are the wonderful ones I enjoy.
 4 But those who turn to idols 
       will have much pain. 
    I will not offer blood to those idols 
       or even speak their names.

 5 No, the Lord is all I need. 
       He takes care of me.
 6 My share in life has been pleasant; 
       my part has been beautiful.

Psalm 16:1-6,  New Century Version

This Psalm is profound, and the themes it discusses are definitely significant.  The Psalmist has a steady and direct confidence in all that swirls around him.  He knows that God is available and perched to protect him.  To a certain extent he thinks that as he gives himself over to Him, he will be protected and watched over.  He sees that God’s innate goodness is available to the needs his soul has.

We operate and function completely surrounded.  There is no way we can diminish God’s goodness.  It’s the way He functions–He will never be bad, but only and completely good.  The Psalmist goes on to proclaim the wonderfulness of God’s people.  They are outstanding, they are terrific.  He loves those who belong to Him.  The Psalmist understand these two incredible concepts:  God’s goodness and God’s people.  These two resources will help him deal with the future.

The Psalmist abhors the falseness of idolatry.  When you have truly experienced the reality of God, just being with  idols will truly bring you to despair and futility.  In the piercing light, we cannot imagine a substitute.  He knows that God rules and directs.  The Psalmist will not budge or falter.  God sits on the throne, exclusively, and He doesn’t share it with an idol.  Nothing can change that, especially no false maneuvering or manipulation here on earth.  He will still be God.  The Psalmist speaks,

No, the Lord is all I need. 
       He takes care of me. 
 6 My share in life has been pleasant; 
       my part has been beautiful.”

He has a “razor’s edge” understanding of all that has been given him.  God Himself is his source.  God is the well he draws water out of.  God is the complete source of all his needs.  Can you say that?  Will God, your Father provide for you when you struggle so hard and so poorly?

As we analyze this Psalm, we are brought into this sense that the believer has been led into a confidence, and an assurance of God’s exceptional goodness.  The writer clearly speaks of “pleasantness” and “being beautiful.”  Without a doubt, these key words will adjust to us, and assist us to savor His grace.  He has made things to be pleasant and beautiful.  We must take this confidence, and weave it into our lives.

 

ybic, Bryan

It’s Getting Noisy Down Here, Psalm 83:1-3

noise-speakerss

“O God, do not be silent!
Do not be deaf.
Do not be quiet, O God.
2 Don’t you hear the uproar of your enemies?
Don’t you see that your arrogant enemies are rising up?
3 They devise crafty schemes against your people;
they conspire against your precious ones.”

Psalm 83:1-3, NLT

Someday, someone is going to invent a tactile/sensory function for the Psalms. I’m thinking of a whole audiovisual experience that you could download. You could reach out and feel the dampness of a cave, or smell the incense burning at the Temple Mount. That would be pretty cool. But I suppose in a way, God has given us an imagination for these things. We just need to practice, and learn to use it.

V. 1, Right out of the chute, this Psalm starts us off. We hear someone stepping forward before the Lord. And it sounds like this person has a real issue with God. Or at least His silence. But it really, truly does trouble the Psalmist, enough so is that he defies religious protocol and etiquette, steps up and unloads. The speaker is quite disturbed by how quiet God seems to be, the silence itself is disturbing. Is He deaf? Why don’t you say something? Anytime Lord– we are waiting!

When you “mash” these three verses together, I get the distinct feeling that the Psalmist wants God to “go nuclear.” (I don’t think the speaker would object in the slightest.) In v.2, the writer moves from making direct statements (v. 1), to asking serious questions (v. 2). But these questions are those that are “leading” in nature. They are asked with the idea that the answer is very obvious. (Its like asking a five-year old if he wants chocolate ice cream– of course he does!)

The words, “uproar,” “arrogant” and “uprising” are some pretty inflammatory words. But these are on the “front burner” for the Psalmist, and he uses them to persuade God to act. As I think of this one’s boldness, I think I would distance myself from him. I would be scared of the lightning strike that would be inbound any moment. (Or maybe the “ground opening up and swallowing trick.”) But I suppose the lesson would be for us always to come forward step up, and speak out. “Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”

V. 3, “They devise crafty schemes against your people; they conspire against your precious ones.” God’s own people have always been attacked by evil, crafty people. It started when Cain slew Abel, then came Noah, Lot, and then Joseph got his turn. Evil and wickedness has always tried to destroy every godly soul. One of the key words is “conspire.” My dictionary tells me that the verb form is “to agree together, especially secretly, to do something wrong, evil, or illegal.” It is always evil, (although I suppose one might be a “conspirator of good,” but I think that might be pushing it.)

The truth is that “light and night” are serious factors. They are locked with each other. We think we can stand aside, relax and avoid the carnage, but all of a sudden we realize, “Hey, this is about me; at least, it seems like it, and the Book of Ephesians. But in chapter 6, we clearly see a serious war, and the armor necessary to survive. Wow, maybe my heart is at the center of this mess?” The answer is obvious, “You better believe it.”

“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:10-12, NLT

&

kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on me.)

When The Fear Gets Too Much: Psalms 143

Psalm 143:

A Prayer Not to Be Killed, or Something Worse

A psalm of David.

1 Lord, hear my prayerlisten to my cry for mercy. Answer me because you are loyal and good.

The writer stresses the truth that God listens.  A listening God is a God of wonder.  Elijah on Mt. Carmel had focused the people on a hearing God who was the real God.  The writer then reveals his trust in the inherent goodness of God.   He listens, He never ever puts His phone on call forwarding. We will reach Him, 24/7 everyday.

2 Don’t judge me, your servant, because no one alive is right before you.

We are all in the same predicament, we are sinners.  The writer doesn’t need to be convinced of this.  All he can do is appeal to God. He knows his place though–a servant of the Lord.  He understands that he is what he is.  He accepts what is real, and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise.

3 My enemies are chasing me; they crushed me to the ground. They made me live in darkness like those long dead.   4 I am afraid; my courage is gone.

We all have enemies.  They are the satanic evil spirits that are the wholesalers of evil and its devices and they mean to harm us.  David feels the pursuit, and his paranoia must have doubled.  These sinister antagonists get close enough to strike at him.  He confesses fear.   His life has been far too influenced by their dark ministry.  He is being pressed to the point of being overwhelmed.

5 I remember what happened long ago; I consider everything you have done. I think about all you have made.   6 I lift my hands to you in prayer. As a dry land needs rain, I thirst for you.  Selah

The psalmist has a spiritual history to ponder.  He thinks of all the past events and draws out his strength.  He “remembers” in the truest sense of the word.  It is good if we can just remember all of the issues and battles that we have already faced. Verse 6 declares his proper response to v. 5.  The hands go up, and he imagines himself to be a desert–dry and desolate.  He thirsts (desires) not for rain, or an oasis, but for the Lord God.  

7 Lord, answer me quickly, because I am getting weak. Don’t turn away from me, or I will be like those who are dead.

The writer has evaluated his situation, he is weak and he is dying. His spiritual pulse is “weak and thready.”  This seems to be a deteriorating condition.  He is discerning enough however to draw conclusions.  Doctors tell us that hearing is the last faculty to depart a dying man.  Perhaps to a spiritual man, discernment is the last to go?  Somehow we know what the truth is until we are completely senile (spiritually, that is).

8 Tell me in the morning about your love, because I trust you. Show me what I should do, because my prayers go up to you.

The writer affirms his personal connections to the Lord.  Love should be an intimate word, saturated with hope and a future.  This love comes as a result of trust/faith (the word, “because” is key).  The psalmist requests help for his particular situation.  He sees his prayers, like arrows reaching heaven.

9 Lord, save me from my enemies; I hide in you. 10 Teach me to do what you want, because you are my God. Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Save me…teach me…lead me.

A “triune” aspect of the Spirit’s work.  Each believer can realize this ministry.  He is like a bodyguard, a tutor, and a professional guide to each of us.  Verse 10…”level ground”; nothing is harder on a tired soldier then marching on hilly terrain.  Flat and level is the best, and its not wrong to ask for an easier path.   Sometimes we stumble because we haven’t asked for level ground.

11 Lord, let me live so people will praise you. In your goodness save me from my troubles. 12 In your love defeat my enemies.Destroy all those who trouble me, because I am your servant.

This should be the cry of the Christian heart–let me be an example that will lead others to worship.  Let me be a reason to them to sing, and give you glory.  Notice that God’s goodness is specifically pointed out to be the starting point for salvation. “Since He is good, I will be saved”.  In verse 12 we are reminded that out of that matrix of love, God can conquer.  “God so loved the world”…John 3:16.  Love is the reason, and not just a vague, general sense of love but a love that rolls up its sleeves and jumps in and pounds my enemies.

flourish-small Text taken from New Century Version (NCV) The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. If this post has been a blessing to you, and you would like me to do more of this, won’t you let me know.  Thanks!

ybic, Bryan