Quality Control: Psalm 15

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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

Escaping Death, Psalms 116

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Thanksgiving for Escaping Death

 1 I love the Lord, 

       because he listens to my prayers for help.
 2 He paid attention to me, 
       so I will call to him for help as long as I live.
 3 The ropes of death bound me, 
       and the fear of the grave took hold of me. 
       I was troubled and sad.
 4 Then I called out the name of the Lord. 
       I said, “Please, Lord, save me!” 

 5 The Lord is kind and does what is right; 
       our God is merciful. 
 6 The Lord watches over the foolish; 
       when I was helpless, he saved me.
 7 I said to myself, “Relax, 
       because the Lord takes care of you.”
 8 Lord, you saved me from death. 
       You stopped my eyes from crying; 
       you kept me from being defeated.
 9 So I will walk with the Lord 
       in the land of the living.
 10 I believed, so I said, 
       “I am completely ruined.”
 11 In my distress I said, 
       “All people are liars.” 

 12 What can I give the Lord 
       for all the good things he has given to me? 
 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation, 
       and I will pray to the Lord.
 14 I will give the Lord what I promised 
       in front of all his people. 

 15 The death of one that belongs to the Lord 
       is precious in his sight. 
 16 Lord, I am your servant; 
       I am your servant and the son of your female servant. 
       You have freed me from my chains.
 17 I will give you an offering to show thanks to you, 
       and I will pray to the Lord.
 18 I will give the Lord what I promised 
       in front of all his people, 
 19 in the Temple courtyards 
       in Jerusalem. 

    Praise the Lord!

Really, no one knows for sure who the writer of Psalm 116 was. Some advance the idea that it was Hezekiah,and others firmly believe it was David. What I see that it was probably the former, but hey– all I know it was a godly man with a holy perspective regarding many things.

This Psalm is quite profound. It also has a deep awareness of things that are significant. We see that the writer has a discernment and awareness to see his heart and the things that are important. Psalm 116 is a masterpiece, the writer “shapes” things that are significant, and then he intends to let us know what he has been processing. And it’s a beauty!

Because of the length of this particular psalm I will simply attempt to think about it in a broader  sense.

Commentary

V.1 is a declaration to the world of his relationship to the Father. Things are quite obvious and exceptionally clear about things that really matter. The psalmist puts tremendous value on an attentive deity.

Vv. 2-4, comes directly at us,  the writer seems to be terribly aware of two things. The first, is the Father’s awareness of his cry. He is sadly desperate and quite aware that everything he calls out for, hinges on the Father’s action on his behalf.

The Father builds within him a confidence and assurance. The writer fully understands the myriad of attack on his soul. He sees cords that are wrapped on him. These cords are quite problematic, and to emphasize this situation he develops a deep and sincere “fear of death and dying.” Many believers, who are aware and sure, “hiccup” at this point. Death can never be handled without faith. But there is a breakthrough of sorts. He pierces his own apathy and finds his voice.  Quivering and quavering his voice is heard in the halls of heaven, “Please, Lord, save me!” 

Vv. 5-7 creates an assurance of the character of God. All that he knows about Him is that He can be trusted, no matter what! The key words are “kind”, “right” and “merciful”. This knowledge does not come to us except by the dealings of God inside our hearts.

V. 8 illuminates the realization that God has intervened, “saved” and “stopped” and “kept”. These are not minor things. They all require an action of God. He is the only one who can intervene. All I can say, is that His active presence changes everything.

V. 9 is the quiet sense of a person who is trusting the Father to be the Father.

V. 10-11 are difficult. They don’t work out smoothly in our New Testament theology of faith. Today, when we read them they are chopped up and rather odd. I suppose we can try to milk “the old cow” but I don’t think we will get much.

V. 12-14 shouts “gratitude”. Somehow the work of the Holy Spirit has done something. The writer jumps into this place where he enters his gratitude and appreciation of everything that has been done for him. He seems eager to show the goodness that has now come his way. There is a sense here of declaring to others the work of God inside his heart. If necessary he will do this publicly.

V. 15, this is indeed a revelation. Many of us wrestle almost continually with the subject of “death.” In hard moments, we struggle quite deeply (and yet subliminally) with dying. It is the dog who can’t stop nibbling at our heels.

V. 16 is nothing less then a declaration. In the mind of the writer, he knows his place. He won’t reach for the “top shelf”. He absolutely understands who he is and isn’t. Such a work is being done that he would never ever dream of being someone he really isn’t.

V. 17 is his declaration that the Father has done an exceptional work inside. The writer knows this, and he just won’t let it slide away. His life becomes deeply saturated with “thanks” and “prayer.” And then I say “whoa!” My own life is quite shallow, and it comes no where close to the psalmist

V. 18, “I will give the Lord what I promised  in front of all his people” Sometimes we , out of necessity, punch out the things which are not only important, but quite significant. “Giving” is a key word. And “promised” is another. (Strange, they are so close to each other, in this verse.) But the writer doesn’t process these issues, he only flows with them.

V. 19 focuses us at whatever might happen. The writer completely understands the importance and the significance of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. In a sense, he solidifies this particular place, as the accurate arena where all of the above is processed and configured. It all ends with a “praise to the Lord.” I suppose that ultimately this is the place we all end up. We are “praiser’s” or we are not.

ybic,

Bryan

 

The Snare of the Fowler: Psalms 91

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“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.” 

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV

This psalm focuses on intimacy.

Throughout the entire chapter we see personal pronouns used. In contrast to other psalms that are directed to the nation, this one is written to an individual. This personal focus makes this a favorite psalm for many.

Shelter and shadow, refuge and fortress are the opening ‘word pictures’ used very elegantly. The psalmist writes what he knows, and it is apparent that he understand the needs of the human spirit, and for protection. Each of these four words creates a common link between believers. Each of us need a working understanding of all four protections.

Dwelling, resting and ‘saying’ are necessary elements for the word pictures to work. I should ‘dwell’ in God’s sheltered care. All too often, I wander out past the security of the Lord (or maybe I’m lured out?) But there is safety in having God so close to us. His proximity is for my protection.

“Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Psalm 91:3-4

silhouette-bird-on-branch-grangerV.v. 3-4, maintains its personal or familiar tone. ‘Save you’ (salvation) is far more that a theological term.  For the psalmist however, it’s not about ‘doctrine’; rather the psalm is an embrace. He is rescued from the trap, and the sickness that seems so contagious never touches him. Moving from metaphor to metaphor, he engages our imaginations to ‘see’ God’s salvation. The writer knows his stuff.

The Lord is pictured as a protective bird that covers his chicks (Ex.19:4). We have a sure confidence as we gather together in that warm and safe spot under His wing. Whatever is after us has to go through God first. His presence is formidable. In His company is found our only safety.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”

Romans 8:31, 33

It appears that all of heaven is rallying for your well-being. You are sure of this based on your faith in God’s own word. He has ‘busted us’ out of a dark cage, and now defends you against all your enemies. And that is a very good thing.

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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 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 126: Bringing in the Sheaves

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1 When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

Psalm 126:1-6

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Like Psalm 137 the historical background of this psalm is Israel returning from years of captivity in Babylon. For Christians today, captivity can mean many things that are not physical. It may mean bondage to a particular sin that really has become an addiction. It may mean the reality of a loved one who doesn’t believe and is a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil. It may be a prolonged trial that we didn’t cause or maybe one that we did. Captivity has many faces.

In verses 2 and 3 the people of Israel are so blessed by their release that they feel like they are in a dream. Their fortunes have dramatically changed and other nations have taken notice and confess that they are experiencing divine favor. The blessing of the Lord’s deliverance has been exceedingly above what they could ask for or think. Sometimes because of the disappointments of life, we become pessimists and don’t have faith for such a blessing. Something good happens and we sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop. Often this can limit what God can do in setting the captives free because our unbelief negates the power of God. Jesus couldn’t heal or perform miracles in his hometown because of unbelief. Lord, help our unbelief.

We also need to remind ourselves that most captivities don’t last forever. Tradition indicates that a major saying in Solomon’s arsenal of wisdom was “This too shall pass.” He knew that whether we are in a time of blessing or trial that it wouldn’t last forever. The addiction you have now will probably become a vanquished foe months or years from now. The trial you have now will probably become yesterday’s news next month. This too shall pass.

In verse 4, the psalmist asks God to restore their fortunes again like streams in the Negev. The Negev is actually a dry river bed. Why is the writer asking for this; hadn’t they already experienced a wonderful deliverance? He’s asking this because God’s work in their life is far from over. The recovering alcoholic who is now clean and sober knows there is much more work to do if he is to remain sober and become all that God wants him to be. The couple who almost divorced but is now experiencing a marriage renewal knows that God still has much to do in their lives besides keeping them out of the divorce courts. Water in the Negev is a miraculous happening and we will need his supernatural grace until the day we die.

Verses 5 and 6 talk about sowing in sorrow and reaping in joy, planting with tears but later harvesting with great happiness. Another way of summing up this passage is to say, “No birth without travail.” Monica cried many tears during her prayers for her pagan son Augustine who would go on to become one of the greatest church fathers. I know a mother who cried many tearful prayers several years ago for a son bent on destruction. He is now a solid, mature Christian and devoted family man. Often there is much mourning over our own sins before we are delivered of them which Paul calls “a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” This repentance is a harvest of righteousness born of sowing seeds with tears.

ybic,

Jonathan

Psalm 131: Like A Weaned Child

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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.

2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel put your hope in the Lord both now and forever more.

The vibrant spiritual life is defined by a relationship with God where we know who God is, who we are, and we know our limitations. He is the Creator, we are the creation. He is in heaven, we are on earth. And, as verse 2 of this psalm emphasizes, he is the parent and we are the weaned child. In verse 1 David says that he humbles himself and does not concern himself with great matters and things that are beyond his understanding. He knew that to do such a thing is the very moment when we begin to move from life to death.

This is what happened to Satan when he decided that being a high–ranking angel was not enough. He wanted to rule and reign like God himself. This is what happened to Adam and Eve when they decided that serving God in Eden wasn’t enough; they wanted to be like gods. This is what happened when Israel decided that God their Bridegroom was not enough; they decided to pursue other lovers (idols).

David saw this up close and personal with Saul. For Saul the simple command of Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekites was not enough. He had to take things into his own hands, he had to concern himself with things that were beyond his understanding, and disobey Samuel’s command.

In contrast to all these examples of failure, David says that he has stilled and quieted his soul like a weaned child. He rests in the arms of his loving parent. He is dependent on that parent for everything. The child doesn’t try to leave the arms of the parent and concern himself with great matters that are beyond him. He snuggles into the grace and mercy of the parent and accepts his utter helplessness. He puts his complete trust in the parent.

In verse 3 David tells Israel to put their hope in the Lord. In an unspoken way, he was really encouraging them to be like a weaned child. In their history they had been just the opposite. Instead of a weaned child, they had been like a rebellious teenager–sullen, ungrateful, and disobedient. However, for David, it was a new day and he was calling them to a new relationship.

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

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

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

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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/

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

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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 23:1: I Shall Not Want

sheep-shepherds-shoulder2

1 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

Recently I heard an Irish Catholic priest challenge his congregation after reading Psalm 23 by asking, “You know the psalm but do you know the shepherd?” It’s a question I must ask myself everyday. Do I know the Shepherd and trust him to meet my needs–“I shall not want”– or do I depend more on created things (idols) to fulfill me?

Perhaps one of the greatest lies perpetrated on the human race by the devil is that he doesn’t exist. In this deception, he is able to kill, steal, and destroy in an anonymous capacity, and let others take the blame. He always works best in the shadows.

Perhaps one of the greatest lies perpetrated on Christians is that we need to pursue something we already have. Sometimes I will catch myself in idolatry and feel a lot like a man who has 100 billion dollars in a savings account but goes out and robs a bank because he’s afraid he won’t be able to make this month’s mortgage payment. Other times, when I become over attached to some created thing, I feel like a man who leaves his wife for another woman but finds out that the grass isn’t greener on the other side and that he had everything he needed in the first relationship.

That’s the foolishness of idolatry for the Christian: trying to get something from an idol that has already been given to us from God. We have a Shepherd that can meet our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs–“I shall not want”–but we just look somewhere else.

This is what happened in the Garden of Eden. The Lord was Adam and Eve’s Shepherd. All of their needs were met in this Edenic paradise. Everything the serpent promised them theyrecite-19175-1419221276-1r86qx7 already had.

He promised them that they would be like gods. They already were like “gods” in the sense that they were the highest order of God’s creation. He promised them that they would become wise, but they already had wisdom inherent in their harmonious relationship to God. They reverenced God and that’s the beginning of wisdom.

As much as God meets our needs during our earthly journey, we will not be completely satisfied until we get to heaven. As Augustine says, we were created for heaven and won’t be totally fulfilled until we get there. We live in a foreign country now as aliens, but in heaven, we will be home. We get the salad, appetizer, and bread now, but in heaven we will get the steak, baked potato, lobster and New York cheesecake for dessert. We are engaged to Christ the Groom now but in heaven there will be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

The bridge between our earthly existence and the hereafter is Hope. One thing we can do when idolatrous urges come upon us is to ask God to replace them with hope, a looking forward to heaven when all our deepest needs will be completely satisfied. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”–both on earth and in heaven.

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ybic, Jonathan

image can be purchased from the artist, http://www.etsy.com/listing/107662512/the-lord-is-my-shepherd-lamb-on-shoulder

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 40: 1-3: Our Independence Day

freedom-broken-chains

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.

For Americans, tomorrow is Independence Day. On this holiday we celebrate our independence from Britain and the tyrannical rule of King George. We honor the men and women who made sacrifices to preserve our liberty (e.g., people who serve in the military) and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy that others in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes do not. For example, we should all be grateful that we can speak our mind without getting put in the Gulag or a concentration camp.

In the above text, David is also celebrating his independence day. No one knows for sure what he was delivered from–sin, sickness, sorrow, military trouble–but he is praising God for the victory. Additional to celebrating the  holiday tomorrow, it would behoove us all to give thanks and praise to God for all the independence days (plural) we’ve been so fortunate to enjoy. For each and everyone of us have found ourselves confined to slimy pits, mud, and mire.

According to Scripture we were slaves to sin and Satan, but we have been bought with the blood of Christ.  We are now translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Our personal spiritual Declaration of Independence comes in many ways:

Sometimes it is financial and we experience his provision; other times it is an addiction and we are delivered to sobriety. Sometimes we are lonely and he brings us friends or a spouse; other times we mourn and he brings us comfort. Sometimes we are sick and he brings us his healing; other times we have been falsely accused and he works to exonerate us. Sometimes we are estranged from a loved one or friend and he brings us reconciliation; other times we have a “thorn in the flesh” and he removes it.

Whatever the case, be sure to take a moment this 4th of July and acknowledge all of his wondrous works and all the freedoms you enjoy because his mercies endure forever. When he said, “It is finished,” your own Independence Day began.

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ybic, Jonathan

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Come visit me at http://www.openheavensblog.com/. I really think you will be blessed.

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.

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“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 78: 9-11: Turning Back in the Day of Battle

"White Feather" The Universal Symbol for Cowardice
“White Feather”
The Universal Symbol for Cowardice

 9 The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle;
10 they did not keep God’s covenants and refused to live by his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.

Psalm 78

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In reading this passage I’m reminded of pithy sayings I’ve heard over the years such as, “Adversity not only builds character in a person; it reveals character.” The same has also been said about involvement in sports. I’d like to add a third to the collection: “Experiencing signs and wonders can change a person’s heart but it can also reveal what’s in a person’s heart.” We’ve all heard stories of agnostics, atheists, and lukewarm Christians who became devout followers of Christ after witnessing a miracle or a healing. However, sometimes hearts were left unchanged or a change occurred that didn’t bear lasting fruit.

As a young Christian I was mystified by the behavior of the children of Israel in the years that followed their deliverance from Egypt. They saw the Ten Plagues, the Red Sea divided, the manna from heaven, the pillar of fire at night, the cloud of protection by day, and water coming from the cleft rock. And yet with all these signs and wonders, they did not enter God’s rest in the Promised Land and remained a stubborn and rebellious people.

Jesus ran into a similar problem in his ministry and condemned entire towns because of it: “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than you” (Luke 10:13,14). Korazin, Bethsaida, and not to mention Capernaum, followed in the footsteps of the children of Israel.

After several years of being a Christian, my experiences with people and their responses to the supernatural agreed with the biblical narrative. While living in Minnesota, I met a couple whose youngest son was healed of a rare disease through a Christian ministry and it changed the whole family from having a tepid faith to whole-hearted devotion. And yet, in other cases, I’ve known people who, despite experiencing the supernatural, displayed a heart similar to the men of Ephraim. What they saw did not have long-term benefits for them and they faltered in the day of testing. The faith of some has even been shipwrecked.

In my time as a Christian, I have seen another group emerge that I believe is especially dear to Jesus: they have seen very little or no dramatic supernatural activity and remain devoted to and in love with Jesus all their lives. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ until he saw his Lord in the flesh. Jesus said,“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

We should all strive to be in this group of disciples, because, unlike the men of Ephraim, they will not turn back in the day of battle. We may feel like we will never belong to this group, but we can always ask Jesus, like the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit, “Help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). He will not deny us. He will not give us a snake when we ask for a loaf of bread.

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ybic, Jonathan

http://www.openheavensblog.com/

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You Have Chosen Wisely– Psalm 113:5-7

5 “Who can be compared with the Lord our God,
who is enthroned on high?
He stoops to look down
on heaven and on earth.
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.”

St. Ambrose c. 340-397
St. Ambrose
c. 340-397

We often make comparisons. And I honestly think it is a good thing. When we compare one thing to another, we almost always choose the better over the inferior. Will it be Chinese or Mexican tonight?  That depends. Do we attend this church or another? God lead me. Wear a sweater or a coat? Maybe a raincoat? Choices will often define us, whether they are small or large. We make 100s of them everyday.

The psalmist wants us to make a comparison. In his mind there is no one around that can come close to Yahweh, that sits on the throne supreme. But the psalmist asks the question anyway. He assumes that we will agree, and settle ourselves in this truth aware.

The question gets asked in verse 5. And the verses that follow (v.v. 6-9) are a true and accurate descriptions of our incredible God. Reading these will give God shape. These are profoundly remarkable, in scope and merit. He is an excellent God. He stoops and lifts the poor and needy. Most Sovereigns try to protect their thrones, and maintain an image of power and control. They clearly avoid any unscripted spontaneous contact with their “unwashed” multitudes.

Our Heavenly Father does not do this. Actually, He does the opposite. Truly remarkable.

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Ambrose’s Prayer

“Lord who has mercy upon all, take away from me my sins,

and mercifully kindle in me the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Take away from me the heart of stone, and give me the heart of flesh,

a heart to love and adore you, a heart to delight in you,

to follow and enjoy you. For Christ’s sake. Amen.”

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ybic, Bryan