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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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

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.

Psalm 42: 1–2: God’s Greatest Gift

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1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

As a young pastor several years ago in Alaska, I was privileged to have a woman in my church who had done missionary work in our little town decades before I began my pastorate. She was well into her 80s and her love for God and zeal for his kingdom had not diminished since she became a Christian in her youth at a famous Pentecostal church on the coast of Washington state.

Her husband was a World War I veteran and suffered seizures after his service from the mustard gas that he had been exposed to during that conflict. She bore this trial with patience and grace. When I met her in the 1980s, God was still using her, especially one–on–one, to hold forth on the deeper Christian life.

She shared with me and others a vision that the Holy Spirit had given her that I will never forget. It wasn’t a vision like Ezekiel or John the Apostle experienced and shared in their writings, but was more of a deep mental image that she believed she hadn’t generated from her own imagination.

First she saw a large room with a banqueting table that was filled with all kinds of gifts wrapped in attractive wrapping paper. Scores of people entered the room and enthusiastically took the gifts they wanted and left.

In the second frame, she saw the same room and banqueting table with all kinds of delicious fruits. They were shiny, heaped, and displayed with all the skill of a veteran grocer. Again, a large group of people came in and obtained the fruit with much vigor and left.

In the third scene she saw a much smaller table with a green fern on it. Two hands reached out and pulled back the leaves of the fern to show two items that were hidden. What was revealed was a communion cup and unleavened bread. A much smaller group of people than the first two groups came into the room and partook of the cup and bread.

Her interpretation of this vision is probably obvious to many readers. Many Christians are zealous for the gifts and fruits but a much smaller group seeks intimate union with God. There’s nothing wrong with finding our gifts in life and in the church and exercising them. None of us would benefit from an excellent Bible teacher, administrator, or someone used in mercy if those people didn’t first discover the abilities God gave them and practice them.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring the fruits of the Spirit. For example many Christians find their relationships unraveling because of a lack of the fruit of the Spirit and find them restored when they grow in the character of God. Marriages are healed, friendships are mended. However, it is possible to pursue the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit and give short shrift to pursuing a communion with God where our hearts cry out like the psalmist, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

We need to constantly remind ourselves that while God has given us wonderful access to both the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit, the most important gift he has given us is himself. If we find ourselves today in a utilitarian relationship with God where the fruits and the gifts are merely a means to some end, it’s never too late to cry out to him in humility, acknowledging our obtuseness and asking him to increase our hunger and thirst for him as an end–in–itself. “Lord, make us like a deer who longs for its favorite stream and is not distracted on its journey to that stream.”

 

ybic, Jonathan

 

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

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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 127:1: Unless the Lord Builds the House

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1 Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stand guard in vain.

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There are definitely situations we run into in life where we say, “If God’s in it, it will happen.” This passage should be a good safeguard against pride because it talks about our success and protection coming from the Lord. We could add to that list our health, talents, treasure, and good name in the community. Every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1). We are helpless, contingent beings and are upheld by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). These passages are tonic for the malady of arrogance and put us in our place as weak, dependent creatures whose every breath comes from the Almighty. We may think we built the house, but we really didn’t.

Local churches and the Church Universal are sometimes called the house of God. Individual Christians are also called the house of God. What’s often overlooked in all these cases is that just because a house is blessed by God doesn’t mean that God inhabits that house. This concept I learned from the ministry of Rick Joyner of Morning Star Ministries. Think of the time of Ezekiel. The temple in Jerusalem was well-furnished and carried out all the rituals and sacrifices, but, because of egregious sin, the glory left the temple (Ezekiel 10–12).

In some local churches and denominations, there is a sacred trinity: Budget, Building, and Attendance. If all three of those are in good shape, it is assumed that God is blessing the work and that he is in it. He may be blessing it but he is not necessarily inhabiting it. Ever go to a highly successful church but feel something is missing? You may be impressed with the church in many ways, but you can’t say what Jacob said at Bethel: “Surely God is in this place!” Ever been in a church that is struggling in the areas of budget, building, and attendance but you left there rejoicing after having encountered the presence of the Living God?

When people don’t discern the difference between the two churches, it usually reveals an idol of success in their heart. They are so smitten with building, budget, and attendance they forgot to notice that Someone was not in attendance: God.

ybic, Jonathan

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 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

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

Psalm 133: Catching Lightning in a Bottle

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www.earthporm.com

1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,

running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.

3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forever more.

One wonders how often this chapter has been quoted and used in sermons and homilies since it was first written by David. My guess is hundreds of millions which makes it a bit daunting to try to post on it and say something fresh that doesn’t sound trite.

I like the King James Version for verse one: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” One gets the sense that this is a rare and wonderful situation as if lightning has been caught in a bottle. It certainly had been for King David who had seen all manner of disunity: persecution from Saul before he was king, palace intrigue, treachery and betrayal from evil men, and worst of all, violent opposition and betrayal from his own son, Absalom. Unity was so wonderful to him that he compared it to the anointing oil on Aaron’s beard and the dew that falls of Mount Hermon. Both are symbols of blessing and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

It certainly must be a wonderful sight to God. One of the things that brings the most amount of grief to parents is when their children don’t get along. Conversely, one of the things that brings them the most joy is when all their kids have a harmonious relationship. God the Father has the same heart. Proverbs 6:19b lists as one of the seven things God hates: “…a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Once again, David and God share the same heart.

One reason why the unity of the brethren is such a rare and beautiful thing is because of the weakness and fragility of the human condition. The Book of James asks the question “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” The writer answers that it is corrupt desires that rage within us. We want what we can’t have and then ask God for things with impure motives.

Think about how this plays out in a local church and the seeds of discord it sows. A church leader can be there for all the wrong reasons. He wants to build his own little kingdom rather than building the kingdom of God. The people are there for him instead of him being there for the people. Disunity will be the putrid outcome.

Another common scenario: three or four families have held power in a particular church for years. A new pastor or priest is installed and, being led of the Holy Spirit, wants to take the congregation in a new direction. These families now feel like their power is threatened and their misguided motives will taint everything they do. Again, next stop: Discord City.

Compare this with the model for unity the apostle Paul sets out in Philippians 2: 1–11. Here unity is cultivated and maintained by each person doing “nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Humility is the fertile soil unity grows in. There are no shortcuts here; all pride and vanity must be crucified on the cross. The resurrection life that emerges out of this will be fragrant like the precious oil poured on Aaron’s beard. It will be refreshing, like the dew of Hermon.

Unity of the brethren is like catching lightning in a bottle. Without God it is impossible; Lord help our unbelief!

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

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

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

Learning from King David’s Mistakes in Fighting Sexual Sin: Excerpt from “Letters from Fawn Creek”

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Both Psalm 32 and 51 concern David’s repentance after it came to light that he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and that he lied to cover it up and arranged for the demise of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, on the battlefield.

Father Augie Lattimore is a Trappist monk and fictional character in Letters from Fawn Creek, who before he became a priest, struggled with substance abuse and sexual addictions. In the excerpt below, he gives his readers some advice on battling sexual sin that would’ve certainly helped King David in his day of testing. Father Lattimore has much more to say beyond this excerpt on this subject, but you’ll have to buy the book to find out. LOL :

In battling a disordered sexuality, one of the obvious things that is so often overlooked is the importance of avoiding the occasion for sin. Another way of saying this is that you cannot sin if you don’t put yourself in the position to sin. You can’t get eaten by a rampaging bear unless you put yourself in close proximity to it. I’m embarrassed to admit how long this took me to learn.

For example, if you’re in a restaurant and there is a very attractive waitress that is causing your mind to go places it shouldn’t, then sit facing the wall. Preferably a wall without a mirror. If you have problems with soft–core pornography late at night on cable TV, then call the cable company and arrange your programming so it’s 100% clean. Or forget cable and TV altogether. Do the same thing with the internet. Put filters on your computer that make it difficult for pornography to come in to you or for you to go to pornography. If you’re traveling on a business trip, only stay in at a motel or hotel that has clean cable programming at night.

Sometimes you may have to end a relationship or get eaten by the bear. This happened to me about six months after I became a Catholic. I began to date a very attractive woman who I thought was on a similar path as mine. After several years in the fashion industry, she had become disillusioned with “Vanity Fair” and was pursuing a more spiritual direction.

She claimed to be a Christian but later said that she had given up on trying to abstain from premarital sex a long time ago because it was simply too hard when she met someone she loved and trusted. Physically, the relationship went too far. Way too far. She had a lot of wonderful qualities, but it became clear that I either would have to end the relationship or be “bear food” as long as I stayed in it.

Being accountable to other men for your sexuality is invaluable in the battle. Even now as a Trappist monk, especially because of my past, I’m accountable to another priest for my thoughts and actions in this arena. If I travel, I will call him and check in and he makes sure I’m staying on the straight and narrow. Men can get in trouble if they are away from home and have time on their hands. The old saying, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop,” didn’t gain currency for nothing.

The primal sexuality within each of us is powerful and it’s helpful to have to answer to someone else besides God: ‘Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up’” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10)

If you liked this excerpt from Letters from Fawn Creek, you may also want to purchase the book at this link:

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

Letters from Fawn Creek

What Radical Dependence on God Looks Like: An Excerpt from “Letters from Fawn Creek”

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One of the major themes of the Psalms is the importance of a radical dependence and restful trust in the grace of God to navigate life in a difficult, fallen world. God wants our hearts to be broken and contrite (Psalm 51:17); he wants us to acknowledge that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Below is an excerpt from Letters from Fawn Creek where a fictional uncle gives advice to his fictional nephew on the importance of radical dependence on God by using an analogy from history to make his point:

Think of yourself as a young man growing up in Europe in the 19th century.  You are frail and sickly and come from one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in the country.  You grow up in a socio-economic cocoon that both pampers you and insulates you from hard work and what common folk call “the real world.”An older man and adventurer that you respect returns from his year in America and regales you with splendid food, spirits and stories about the American West and the gold and silver mining that is going on there.  Feeling both stultified by the aristocratic subculture you inhabit and possessed by the wanderlust of youth, you ask your father to bankroll an adventure to look for gold with the older man in northern California.  At first your father says no but then reasons that “Time abroad would be good for you.  It would make you a man of the world and perhaps force you to grow up.”

In many ways the young man is the most unlikely candidate for a successful adventure.  He has significant physical limitations and his upbringing has not prepared him for the obstacles he will face in the coming year.  At the same time, he has a willing heart and seemingly unlimited financial resources to make it happen.  He has the money to pay for the expensive medicine that helps him physically.  He can foot the bill for the older man and take the best boat for the trip across the Atlantic.  When he arrives in New York, he can purchase any good and/or service he needs to make the trip to California successful, and once there, hire the best prospectors to find the gold.

We are like this young man.  We are very weak (“…without me you can do nothing”) but we have access to plentiful and amazing resources because “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power” (II Peter 1:3).  Whether Roman Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox, we need to know that these “plentiful and amazing resources” are not some abstract concepts but are a Person living through us, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Remember, to gain a supernatural end you must have a supernatural means to achieve it.  You want to know Christ intimately, be conformed to His image, and hear Him say, “Well done you good and faithful servant,” but nothing less than a radical dependence on Christ living through you can achieve this.

If you liked this excerpt from Letters from Fawn Creek, you can purchase the book at this link:

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

Letters from Fawn Creek

Psalm 19: Stars and Scripture

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1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run the course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes it circuit to another; nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the Lord are right , giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.

The ordinances of the Lord of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

10 They are much more precious than gold, than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my heart and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Once again, this is a psalm that someone could write a book on and its treasure trove of riches can be mined over and over in future posts. The first thing to be noticed about this passage is what abundant riches of revelation God has given us through (1) the starry host above us (vv. 1-6) and (2) the written word of God (vv. 7–11).

As someone who lives in a rural area in northeast Washington without the “light pollution” of the cities and suburbs, I  wholeheartedly agree with David that the heavens above us declare the glory of God. There are nights out here on the back deck of my cabin that truly feel like heaven is intersecting with earth and you half expect to see a host of angels descend out of heaven like they did for the shepherds at the birth of Jesus or maybe ascending and descending on Jacob’s Ladder.

I think ecological degradation makes Satan extremely happy because it robs the human species of this uplifting experience. Environmental issues are a political football that have been tossed around for decades but all Christians should agree that we are called to be be responsible stewards of the earth we have inherited. It redounds to our benefit: we see the face of God in the beauty of his creation.

In observing the grandeur and majesty in the Milky Way and the Orion Nebula, we get a glimpse of the grandeur and majesty of God. In seeing the intelligent design of how the heavens have been arranged, we brush up against the greatness of the Intelligent Designer. It’s just a shadow of a greater reality, but, even as a shadow, David is right in saying that they abundantly declare the incomprehensibly sublime nature of God. Centuries later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul would proclaim this in Romans 1:20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Apparently atheists won’t have a leg to stand on when they appear before God in the hereafter. There’s plenty of evidence in the cosmos and on earth to believe in God.

The wondrous riches of God have also come to us through Scripture, his written word, that David gives different names– law, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances–that describe different dimensions of the word. The psalmist also revealed what salutary effects the word has on us: it revives our soul, makes us wise, gives joy to our hearts and light to our eyes, and admonishes the man and woman of God to stay on the straight and narrow.

Stars give us a general revelation of who God is; Scripture is more specific and also answers the question, “How then should we live?” Scripture also gives us the most important revelation: the life and teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of the One who created the starry host: Jesus Christ.

Every Christian who has had even just a few years logged in the kingdom of God can attest to how the Holy Spirit illuminating the written word has changed their lives. Just the other day I was under a lot of stress and was greatly helped by Psalm 20. A good time of Bible study can put a spring in your step and keep you from making mistakes you’ll regret later. We’ve all heard sermons that have changed our lives or have been transformed by a biblically–based book or a series of teaching  tapes or CDs rooted in the Holy Writ. Scripture truly is more precious than much pure gold (v.10) and is never more precious than when it is foreshadowing (Old Testament) or revealing Jesus Christ (New Testament).

What’s obvious to me in vv.12–14 is that David didn’t merely encounter truth about God through the starry host and Scripture, he encountered God himself. These two avenues of revelation were bridges to greater intimacy with God for David. This is evidenced by his preoccupation in these verses with hidden faults, willful sins, and wanting to be blameless before God in thought, word, and deed.

I’m convinced David beheld the holy face of God in the starry host and in Scripture, saw his own sin, and emerged wanting to please God in every area of his life. These twin sources of revelation were like a mirror that showed him his blemishes and hidden faults. May the same thing happen to us when we gaze into the riches of both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.

 

If you like this post from 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

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic, Jonathan

http://www.openheavensblog.com/

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 Unfailing Love of God: Psalm 63:2–5

Broken_Hearted_by_HopelessSoul

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

Psalm 63:2–5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic, Jonathan

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

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

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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