The Psalms: Living Life in the Light of Eternity

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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

 

 

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

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

Psalm 138:23-24,  NCV

 

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

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

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

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

Discipleship must always be intimacy at its a basic level. 

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

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

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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/

 

 

 

Psalm 51: 16, 17: On Sin and Forgiveness

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16 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

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The background of these verses is the familiar story of David’s fall from grace and subsequent confession, repentance, and forgiveness. David committed some big sins (lying, adultery, and murder) and his confession and repentance resulted in a big forgiveness from God that in turn resulted in his big gratitude and love towards God for his tender mercies.

In Luke 7:36–50 we have the story of the sinful woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed his feet with alabaster. Jesus makes the point that this woman loves much because she has been forgiven much. We see this same dynamic at work in the life of Mary Magdalene who had been delivered of seven demons and had a sordid past.

I have to admit that some of my favorite Christians have been big sinners--people who had done some really bad things, knew they had done some really bad things, and walked in the gratitude and humility of a forgiven sinner. I like being around them because they are usually free of self–righteousness and I know they won’t judge me harshly for my flaws. Usually, the mercy and grace that God has extended to them, they, in turn, freely extend to others.

I have to wonder though what goes through some Christians minds. They have been Christians all their lives, and, though they aren’t perfect, have always been on the straight and narrow and have never or rarely strayed into what we would call gross sin or what Catholics call mortal sin. I’m sure some of them must wonder “Can I love God much even though I haven’t been forgiven much? Do I have to be like Mary Magdalene in order to love much?”

The truth is they have been forgiven much. My advice for these Christians is to pursue intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When you do this, you will enter the presence of God, and when you are in the presence of God, you will see that all your righteousness is as filthy rags. Our hearts are like a living room window that hasn’t been cleaned for a year. From a distance it may look okay, but, when we make a closer examination with the sun shining in, we see all the dirt, streaks, dead bugs, hand prints, and  hard water stains. This is what happened to Peter when he first met Jesus in the aftermath of catching many fish: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” To our knowledge, Peter wasn’t involved in some mortal sin; he was simply in the presence of the Lord. The same could be said of Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1–6.

Another piece of advice I would give these Christians is to broaden their definition of sin. I’ve noticed in some local churches over the years that a big deal is made when an unmarried high school girl in the church gets pregnant, but little is made of the church gossip, who, in my opinion, commits the greater sin. Sometimes Christians make a big deal about sexual sin and various addictions but overlook many of the “cold–blooded” sins: gossip, envy, self–righteousness, competition, religious idolatry, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, etc.. These are gross sins too and should lead us to the same brokenness David and Mary Magdalene exhibited.

Therefore, when someone comes to your church for the first time, and, carries all the signs of coming out of a sinful lifestyle, you can look at them and say to yourself,”Hey, I’m going to go over there and greet that person. We have a lot in common.”

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

Gratitude and Humility: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

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Over and over again in the Psalms, the reader is exhorted to be thankful and humble. We are to enter his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psalm 100:4). We are told that the real sacrifice God wants from us is a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). In this brief excerpt from Letters from Fawn Creek, we are shown how the two virtues are related and how they protect us during our sojourn here on earth. On our journey to hearing Christ say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant,” we are like adventurers coming out West in the late 1840s to prospect for gold. Gratitude and humility will protect us on the journey like two divisions of Union soldiers until we strike gold. In Letters from Fawn Creek, striking gold is symbolic for hearing Christ say to us, “Well done you good and faithful servant.” Here’s the excerpt; enjoy:

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Gratitude is the offspring of humility. Humility acknowledges that we are nothing without God; gratitude gives thanks for everything we receive beyond nothing: physical existence and its gifts (pleasant, neutral, and painful) and the gift of eternal life that is inaugurated in this life and is fulfilled in heaven where we receive everything forever. Gratitude and humility are not one-time events but are disciplines that need to be regularly practiced. That’s why your grandmother emphasized the importance of counting your blessings.

If we are journeying from New York City to northern California for the gold rush of 1849, having gratitude and humility dominant in our lives is like having two divisions of Union soldiers along for the journey. That’s 24,000 soldiers providing protection, provision, wisdom, and guidance as our wagon train heads west. If bandits, outlaws, unfriendly Indians, wild animals, inclement weather, and scarcity of water (the world, the flesh, and the devil) try to afflict us, we will still make it to the gold rush (“Well done, you good and faithful servant”). The world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us to see the journey through the lens of entitlement, ingratitude, and victimhood rather than the prism of humility, gratitude, and victory.

If we have an unbroken series of pleasant gifts, the world, the flesh, and the devil will try to entice us with pride and complacency. In contrast, humility and gratitude will constantly remind us that we are nothing without God and that every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights (James 1:16-18).

If we encounter adversity and trauma, humility and gratitude will try to lead us on a journey where we realize that our scars are painful gifts and that the redemptive workings of God through us to others come mostly through these scars. Everything humility and gratitude try to teach us, the world, the flesh, and the devil will try to teach the opposite.

If you liked this excerpt from Letters from Fawn Creek, you may be interested in purchasing the book at this link:

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

Letters from Fawn Creek