Quality Control: Psalm 15

quality-control-approved

psalm of David.

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

Psalm 15, NLT

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 5:22

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

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

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

Galatians 5:16-17

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

God loves brokenness, He draws near to the humble.

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

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No Apologies— Psalm 14

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For the choir director: A psalm of David.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.[a]
No one does good,
    not a single one!

Will those who do evil never learn?
    They eat up my people like bread
    and wouldn’t think of praying to the Lord.
Terror will grip them,
    for God is with those who obey him.
The wicked frustrate the plans of the oppressed,
    but the Lord will protect his people.

Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel?
    When the Lord restores his people,
    Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.

Psalm 14, NLT

It seems that v.1 monopolizes this particular psalm of David. It is as a bold and clear statement on atheism that you can find in all of scripture. Psalm 14:1 is the ‘go-to’ verse for dealing with those pesky unbelievers. It defines and declares unequivocally the foolishness of those who won’t believe.

But this psalm has six other verses! They aren’t as well known as verse 1, but they certainly are valuable to us. Simply put, they are significant as well.

Commentary

V.1,  “Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!”

The human heart is the seat of either faith or unbelief. It operates by the decision of the will, and it effects our actions. Whatever is in our hearts leaks out into what we do. David passes an opinion on atheism— it only ends in folly, and the consequences of ‘no-faith’ are a twisted and a corrupted life.

David makes no apologies for verse 1. It is an analysis of what he sees and comes from his experiences.

V.2-3, “The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.[a]
No one does good,
    not a single one!”

God is always watching. We see each other on such a superficial level— we really can’t see more than ‘skin deep.’ But God can, and does. To go further— the entire human race is infected with the sin of unbelief. God makes the effort to do a detailed search; only to find a complete absence of wisdom. There are simply no ‘worthy’ people on planet Earth.

V.4-5, “Will those who do evil never learn?
    They eat up my people like bread
    and wouldn’t think of praying to the Lord.
Terror will grip them,
    for God is with those who obey him.”

I think David is perplexed by the presence of evil. He sees it triumph over goodness, at least temporarily. The basic unteachableness of unbelievers poses a problem. In this confused world it is the believers in God who are often the victimized.

V.6-7, “The wicked frustrate the plans of the oppressed,
    but the Lord will protect his people.

Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel?
    When the Lord restores his people,
    Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.

Again— no apologies. The wicked are alive and well on planet earth. The people of God will be given protection (which is something the unbelievers don’t have.) The ‘rescue helicopters’ have been dispatched, and His people will be saved. A full scale restoration will commence; there will be no more sin (other verses tell us this.) Joy is to become the overwhelming characteristic of those who are being fully redeemed.

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Escaping Death, Psalms 116

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Thanksgiving for Escaping Death

 1 I love the Lord, 

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

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

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

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

    Praise the Lord!

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ybic,

Bryan

 

What a God! Psalm 111:4-6

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

Psalm 111:4-6, NLT

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

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

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Commentary

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

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

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

K

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

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

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

K

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

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

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

*

ybic, Bryan

The Snare of the Fowler: Psalms 91

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

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV

This psalm focuses on intimacy.

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

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

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

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

Psalm 91:3-4

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

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

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

Romans 8:31, 33

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

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One Solitary Verse: Psalm 23:5

Eat up!
Eat up!

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Psalm 23:5

The six verses of Psalm 23 are truly a wonder. Even the secular world acknowledges their powerful presence. What they contain can’t be found anywhere else. This psalm exists to encourage the faltering and fearing. The heart of a ‘broken’ Christian can find solace and comfort in each verse; the peace given truly lights our darkness like nothing else. Yet verse five is my favorite. The Father is revealed as the “hostess with the mostess.”  A waiting table is set for us. I assume it is full of wonderful things– things that are delicious and delightful. It looks inviting. And we are His guests.

“In the presence of mine enemies,” tells me that I’m not dining alone. The word for ‘presence’ is literally ‘in the face of.‘ Satan is so aware of our blessings. Also note: the enemies are plural. This motley bunch have become witnesses of God’s grace and mercy on a sinner. I am a man who feasts while they can only watch.

To be ‘anointed with oil’ evokes the Shepherd’s care for His sheep. The oil would not only be medicinal, but also defining. It would define ‘ownership.’ Only His sheep would receive this tender care. And again, the enemies see this.

“My cup runneth over,” is the ultimate blessing. We find ourselves being given the best metaphor of an overflowing life. I once picked apples and used a five gallon bucket; I had so many apples the bucket wouldn’t hold them all. That’s the way the Kingdom of God works. We’re always blessed with a ‘super-abundance.’ And all is grace.

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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