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

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

Psalm 138:23-24,  NCV

 

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

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

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

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

Discipleship must always be intimacy at its a basic level. 

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

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

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No Apologies— Psalm 14

no_apologies_title

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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My Lifeguard: Psalm 54

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

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

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

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

Psalm 54, (NLT) 

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Use the Psalms as a Touchstone in Your Life

TouchStone

There are many compelling reasons why we should read the Psalms. One reason takes the believer to perhaps what is an unexpected passage in I Corinthians 3:10–15. In these verses the apostle Paul exhorts church leaders to take heed how they build the house of God, because at the judgment seat of Christ, their work will be evaluated by fire. It will either endure and be rewarded as gold, silver, and precious stones or it will be consumed as worthless wood, hay, and stubble.

Such a future examination should be sobering to Christian leaders everywhere and at all times. However, there’s no reason to believe that the laity or non–leaders will not also receive a similar evaluation. In the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible of the New Testament on page 288, a scholar’s comment reads: “Although Paul is speaking directly to ministers of the gospel, his words apply to all Christians inasmuch as all are called to ‘build up’ the Church in love (I Cor. 14:4; Eph. 4:11–16; I Thess. 5:11…).”

Because God is loving and merciful, he wants every believer to stand before him and be rewarded for a substantial “body of work” that endures the fiery test. He wants no one to endure the shame of seeing their total life’s thoughts, words, and deeds consumed in the revelation of their own pride and vanity. Because of his generosity, he has provided his sons and daughters with Touchstones to help them judge their life in the here and now so that their final Day of Judgment will be a time of great joy and not sorrow.

According to dictionary.search.yahoo.com, a touchstone is “a hard black stone, such as jasper or basalt, formerly used to test the quality of gold or silver by comparing the streak left on the stone by one of these metals with that of a standard alloy.”

The streak left by gold and silver represents thoughts, words, and deeds that are pleasing to God; the streak left by the alloy is like the wood, hay, and stubble that are works that are substandard and not approved.

The Psalms are Scripture; they are inspired by God and give us a Touchstone through which to test our lives. II Timothy 3:16 describes this Touchstone as being, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” We read the Psalms, meditate on their meaning, and take a look at what kind of streak our lives are leaving on the stone.

Over the years the life of David as revealed in the Psalms– both as a luminous life of passionate devotion to God and as a great sinner– has become in many ways a Touchstone for me. Simply read Psalm 63. He fervently thirsts for God in dry and thirsty land where there is no water. He has seen God in the temple in his power and glory and has found the loving kindness of God to be better than life itself. God himself has satisfied him like a banqueting table full of the choicest of foods.

When I test my life on this Touchstone, it reveals both my own authentic devotion but also all my half–hearted religious gestures, “playing church,” going through the motions, and everything that is perfunctory, artificial, and hollow.

David the great sinner is also like a basalt or jasper stone to test my own confession, repentance, and brokenness.

After his famous moral debacle involving adultery, lying, and murder, he offers God a broken and contrite heart. He is like the publican who beat his breast and said, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” or the woman of ill–repute who cleaned Jesus’ feet with her tears.” They gave God the sacrifice that he really wants: true repentance with godly sorrow. When my life rubs up against this Touchstone it reveals my own genuine brokenness but also all my rationalizing, blame shifting, phony apologies, and lame excuses: “The dog ate my homework.” May the Psalms as a Touchstone help us to put away such childish things and move on to maturity in Christ.

ybic, Jonathan

If you liked this post from Jonathan, you may also like his book that can be purchased at this link:

http://lettersfromfawncreek.tateauthor.com/

 

 

 

A Very Long Shadow: Psalm 32:1-5

A Maskil of David.

 1 Oh, what joy for those 
      whose disobedience is forgiven, 
      whose sin is put out of sight! 
 2 Yes, what joy for those 
      whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt,[b] 
      whose lives are lived in complete honesty! 
 3 When I refused to confess my sin, 
      my body wasted away, 
      and I groaned all day long. 
 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. 
      My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 
                         Interlude

 5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you 
      and stopped trying to hide my guilt. 
   I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” 
      And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Psalm 32:1-5, NCV

What really is your source of joy? We can look and find many possibilities around us. Family, hobbies, work, music or art.  But there is far more than just that.  I believe that our deepest source of joy is the forgiveness of God for our sin. King David enters fully into this experience. I contend that joyful Christians  are those intensely aware of their salvation from sin.

This was St. Augustine’s favorite psalm, and he had it written on the wall next to his death bed, so he could read it over and over. This psalm is a “maskil,” which defined it as a teaching psalm. I think David saw his sins (2 Samuel 11) as something to be learned from. His evil was sufficient to bring him the death penalty, according to levitical law. He became an active teacher of redemption.

This is a companion psalm with Psalm 51. That psalm is a “jack-hammer” and this one is the shovel. There is a sharp breaking in  51. We learn how powerful repentance is really. But in 32 we clean the mess up. David is now our model, and from the nastiness of his past life will come life. Someone once wrote the truth as he saw it:

“We were all whores before Jesus touched and forgave us”

 

Commentary

V.1, communicates a blessing, or having special favor with God. If you don’t want blessing, your nuts! It is one of those things we are all searching for deep down, but now it has a name.  When you have it, nothing else will really matter. The word “joy” is actively used. And so is “disobedience” and “sin.” But the most significant word is “forgiven.”

V. 2, when you repeat yourself it is usually to make a point. It makes what your saying emphatic. There is wagon full of joy here. But it is only for “guilt cleared people.” Once I had a police record, and actually spent a night in jail. Things were put on my record, which was inviolable, I couldn’t change a thing on it.

V. 3-4, there seems to be a deep reluctance and a dark aversion to admitting our true state. We avoid doing this at all costs. We will not be labeled! But there are very clear consequences to this constant posturing. Our lives become hollowed out shells, full of darkness, sickness and grief. This is the price we pay to live a false life.

There is a real sense that God is in on this. It seems that He is concentrating on us, we are God’s target. All His arrows are meant for us, we turn and God is right on our tails. He is taking all the credit for this miserable state we’re in.

V. 5, perhaps this belongs in the special collection of wonderful verses. It is a sponge that is completely saturated with light. “Finally, I confessed…” There are limits to what we can handle. We end up agreeing with God. “Stopped trying to hide.” And we are such good hiders, we can hide so well we end up lost even to our own selves.

There is a profound sense of amazement here. Confession brings it to us. But to be so lost, and than found is staggering. It changes everything. “You forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” Realizing this will bring you incredible peace and joy. You will never, ever find it anywhere else.

 

Escaping Death, Psalms 116

death1
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!

flourish15

Commentary

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

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

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

K

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

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

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

K

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

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

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

*

ybic, Bryan

The Snare of the Fowler: Psalms 91

caged-bird (1)

“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.

aabryscript

Psalm 42: 1–2: God’s Greatest Gift

deer-1

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

 

Where No Enemy Can Reach: Psalm 62:5-8

Chimney-Rock
Chimney Rock, Nebraska, U.S.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge.    Interlude

Psalm 62:5-8, NLT

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Verses 5-6 are ‘almost’ duplicates with verses 1-2. I have used this thought before, but verses that seem repetitive suggest something to pay extra attention. I see them as ‘laminates.’ They come together, and become stronger.

Through these verses, David is exclusively focused on God’s excellence. His words are winsome and his zeal is admirable. David really doesn’t want to talk about anything else– he is the ultimate rarity: he is a God-intoxicated man.

y

Commentary

V. 5, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.”

This is a repeat of verse 1. I think it is repeated as an emphasis for us. Waiting quietly is not easy for us. Our impatience and our pride sabotage the process. We just feel too self-important to wait for anyone.

V. 6, “He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.”

This is a repeat of verse 2. When a songwriter finds a theme in his work, he’ll write it in a “chorus.” This chorus usually is repeated a few times through the song. Perhaps that is what is taking place through David, in this psalm?

V. 7, “My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.”

David sees himself as being evaluated by God alone. Anything of value (victory, and honor) will come as a exclusive effort from the Lord. David isn’t going to look for these things anywhere else.

A refuge is a “place of safety.” It is the place of immunity, and a place of utmost protection. Back in verse 3, David disclosed details of murder plots. When your life is threatened you’ll need a safe place to go.

V. 8, “O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. Interlude”

I think David is speaking as a king here, to his subjects. He advocates a constant trust in Him. He exhorts his people to pour out everything to God, and hold nothing back.

“For God is our refuge. Selah.” 

#

ybic, Bryan

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Psalm 46:10, 11: Being Still in a Restless Age

murrayriverappeal.blogspot.com

10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:10-11

As I write this my heart goes out to everyone who is struggling to find serenity in an age filled with restlessness. Been there done that. You feel the pressure on all sides. There’s too much month and not enough money. Your marriage is showing signs of fraying around the edges. You have a sullen teenager who doesn’t relate to the biblical Christianity that you have embraced. You have plenty to do but not enough time to do it. Debt seems to be piling up and the house may soon be underwater. Your job feels unsatisfying and your boss plays a big role in that. New health problems have emerged that you didn’t have in the days of your youth. In short, life hasn’t turned out like you thought it would and inner stillness and peace seem elusive.

In speaking from my heart, I just want to begin by saying that God loves you much, much more than you know. You may want inner stillness but he wants to give you that peace infinitely more than you want it. Imagine yourself as his anxious child. He will not forbid the children to come to him. You can crawl up onto his lap and tell him all your problems. Do you see his loving eyes as you’re talking to him? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you Christ’s loving eyes, because if you can see those eyes, it will help you with fear and anxiety, because perfect love casts out all fear according to John the apostle (I John 4:18). If you can’t do this, then think about someone you know who really loves you without any strings attached. Doesn’t God love you at least twice as much as this person? Of course he does and infinitely beyond that. This is the God whose lap you’re sitting on.

Please know that in all your prayers, there’s no guarantee that God will change your circumstances. The struggling business you run may not survive. The unhealthy marriage may not get better and the child with leukemia may not get healed despite your prayers and fasting. God may not change your circumstances, but he will give you the grace to triumph during your time of affliction. He will you give you a supernatural peace that transcends understanding. You will know it didn’t come from you, but, instead, its origin is divine. Guard your heart against offense because many Christians become offended at God when he doesn’t change their circumstances.

If your prayer life is almost non–existent, I don’t write this to condemn you. However, if you want inner stillness and serenity, some kind of quiet time with God is a must. Prayer is the context by which we give God our anxiety and he gives us his peace. This is where we cast all our cares on him because he cares for us. It’s a salutary exchange that we can’t live without. The Holy Spirit is a gentle teacher and will lead you into a robust prayer life. Start small and don’t despise small beginnings. 5–10 minutes is okay to begin with for awhile and then add to it as God’s grace increases in your life. If you try to pray for an hour right off the bat, you’re liable to burn out. God is patient with you so be patient with yourself.

ybic,

Jonathan

Tripping Over the Museum: Psalm 25:15–18

14 The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
    He teaches them his covenant.
15 My eyes are always on the Lord,
    for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

16 Turn to me and have mercy,
    for I am alone and in deep distress.
17 My problems go from bad to worse.
    Oh, save me from them all!
18 Feel my pain and see my trouble.
    Forgive all my sins.

Psalm 25:14–18, NLT

These are delicate verses, each one is soaked with salty tears. We slam through them so quickly, and completely disregard the meaning and purpose. It would be like taking a 10 minute tour of the National Gallery in London.

The content of these five verses alone are made sacred by suffering. They seep blood and stink of sweat. Their source is found in a broken and hurting heart (which makes up most of the human race.) Take these four verses, and compare just then with any other religious texts. There is an obvious dearth between the Christian Bible and anything coming out of comparative world religions.

flourish-small

Commentary

V.14., Golly. The very well-being of this Psalm focuses on this  conspicuous fact. You just might say that our faith also depends on this– being a true friend with God. Indirectly this connects us with Abraham– he was known as “a  friend of God.” He also is brightly tutored into God’s covenant and His ways. (See James 2:23.)

V. 15,  the writer tells us things we must know about himself. There is a settled fact in his mind; he is always looking for the heart of God. He diligently continues to look at his Father’s eyes. I get the sense that this is one of those enduring habits he had decided to do “before” and he has trained his eyes to look. The idea is that there are “traps” just accentuate the urgent need. Traps only intensify the deep urgency of getting it right (and avoiding pain.)

V. 16, is  such a personal prayer to a personal God. (This is what I meant earlier when I talked about the superiority of the Christian writings.) The persistent question must be asked, “How personal is God to your soul?” Can you be this truthful or honest with Allah, or the Buddha? Are you just connecting on a superficial level, or our you in a true intimacy with the true God? Christians will talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This phrase tries very hard to make an intimacy real and authentic.

V. 17, ” My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all!”
Wondering  this will lead you through a lot of twisted theology, and logical anxiety. The stark reality is our faith was never meant to relieve us from the issues of living life. The psalmist seems to think that things may have gotten worse. I’ve read somewhere that birds in a cage will actually sing louder. It strikes me that the purpose of life is not to find your freedom– but your master. (We easily look for “so-called” freedom.)

V. 18, Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins.”  Most of us would agree. We must put the “best foot forward.” We really try to clean up, and do the right things to be accepted by God. Hide the dirty dishes in the oven, and spray air freshener all over. But, this is pretty much unacceptable.

But acceptance by this (neurotic behavior) is never the basis for His love. It can’t be! We will never do enough good things to outweigh our bad. God has “junked” His scales, you will never see them in His courts. He will never measure the good you’ve done. And the all the bad– well, that has been dropped into the Mariana Trench.

“He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.’

(Micah 7:19)

(“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion… I want all that God has or I don’t want any.” )
― A.W. Tozer

kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us)

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His Hands Hold Me: Psalms 16

 Psalm 16

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

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

Psalm 16:1-6,  New Century Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ybic, Bryan

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

noise-speakerss

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

Psalm 83:1-3, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 6:10-12, NLT

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on me.)

What To Do When You Are a Persecuted Minority, Psalm 3:1–8

tree-shiny

A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom.

1 O Lord, how many are my foes!

How many rise up against me!

2 Many are saying of me,

“God will not deliver him.”

3 But you are a shield around me, O Lord;

you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

4 To the Lord I cry aloud

and he answers me from his holy hill.

5 I lie down and sleep;

I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

6 I will not fear the tens of thousands

drawn up against me on every side.

7 Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!

Strike all my enemies on the jaw;

Break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the Lord comes deliverance.

May your blessing be on your people.

The historical background of this psalm is when David, fled Jerusalem because his son Absalom was coming to usurp his kingdom. Through cunning and treachery, Absalom had turned the hearts of a majority of the Israelites away from King David and toward himself. David must flee for his life; he, and those loyal to him, are now a persecuted minority. In commenting on the decline of Christian influence in the Bible Belt, Russell Moore, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention said,”...we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.”

When I was first married in Alaska, I went out and  worked as a laborer on a construction crew. I was the only Christian on the crew. and was reminded of that fact everyday through the other workers’ coarse language, and derisive comments about Christians. I admit, their use of profanity, and especially the f–word, as nouns, verbs, heard in adjectives, adverbs, etc., definitely showed unusual creativity. They really liked to “bait” me, by saying provocative things to see how I would react. As the Apostle Paul says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

What do we do, when we find that we are part of a persecuted minority? King David’s response is exemplary:

For David, who in such a furnace of affliction, what’s really in his heart was revealed. Character or virtue is not only formed in such adversity; it’s also revealed. Out of a heart of humility, David cried out in radical dependence on God and God heard him. In times of severe testing, we often turn to our idols, but David didn’t put his trust “in chariots, horses, alliances, or other nations” but in God alone.  But you and I must decide.

His extremity became God’s opportunity. His fervent prayer and desperate clinging to the Lord resulted in confidence in God’s protection, (v.3) And a peace of mind  while he slept and while he approached the battle (vv.5 and 6).

David was free of despair and could walk with his head held high (v.3b). And like all of God’s best friends, his concern was not just for himself but for the welfare of all of God’s people: “May your blessing be on your people” (v.8b).

David expected to be delivered and he was. Should the believer always have such expectations? Not really. Stephen, the first martyr in the Christian faith, didn’t. The Christians that were thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum didn’t. Think of the three children of Israel who were a persecuted minority, and were thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. They told Nebuchadnezzar that whether God delivered them or not, they would not worship false idols. Not being delivered was a very real possibility to them.

What God wants more than anything else from us is not that we have an assurance of his deliverance; it’s that we have a heart that abandons itself to his providence and echoes his Son’s words: “Not my will but your will be done.”

Such a psalm should cause us, by the grace of God, to want to purge all that is nominal, lukewarm, half–hearted, and double–minded from our faith. As we go deeper into the last days and Christians become more of a persecuted minority even here in America, devout souls like David will stand firm in their faith but the lukewarm will have a tendency to compromise and cut deals with the “Absalom majority.” Unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will bow to the gods of this present age. May God grant us the mantle and spirit of David so that we will remain faithful in the day of great testing.

&

ybic, Jonathan

Jonathan’s website is at http://www.openheavensblog.com. It is a good site, and worthy of your attention.

Even When I Don’t Feel Grateful: Psalm 100:1–2

be-grateful-billboard

1 “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;

2 Worship the Lord with cries of gladness; come before him with joyful song.”

I must admit sometimes, that when I encounter psalms of thanksgiving or exhortations in Scripture to be thankful, I just balk at the idea,

I simply don’t feel thankful. Then I remember that the Christian faith isn’t based on my feelings, but it is an act of my will which is empowered by the Holy Spirit. So many happy Christian couples will testify that love is a choice. Once the heightened feelings of the newlywed days are over, you will have many days when you will have to put aside your feelings. You will choose to love your spouse, even without those feelings. Please, you need to see this as well. Thanksgiving is also a choice, and it is a spiritual discipline that must be practiced with regularity.

When I finally shake off my spiritual stupor, I find there are at least three different kinds of gifts for which I am grateful. The first are what I call pleasant gifts. These are things like God’s provision, protection, and deliverance. A delicious meal, an entertaining DVD, a walk in the woods, an enriching friendship, making love, the pleasure of learning something new, and satisfying work, are all pleasant gifts that cause us to give thanks.

Second, there are the painful gifts that many of us, and certainly myself, often struggle to recognize as gifts. These are all the experiences that involve adversity and pain whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual. They are gifts because of the effects they have in our lives. As C.S. Lewis said, “pain is sometimes God’s megaphone” that he uses to get our attention, and keep us on the straight and narrow.

Fiery trials purify our character just as gold is refined in the fire. Painful gifts create fertile soil for intimacy with God, as we are driven to his side for comfort and guidance. Sometimes adversity will leave emotional and spiritual wounds. From these wounds we should heal others as wounded healers.

Third, there is the gift of eternal life. This is our most precious gift. We may feel like a magnet for trials, and seem to be pelted with adversity from every direction,  but knowing this, that our lives are short–lived and we evaporate like the fog in the noonday sun. If we know Christ, we have our sins forgiven and eternal life. But if we have Christ, we have everything forever!

There is no greater gift than this, and it should be a source of great rejoicing. It is the great hope of heaven. “We are blessed with every blessing in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 1:3). “Eye hasn’t seen, nor has ear heard, nor has entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for them that love him”, (I Corinthians 2:9). This is  the hope that sustains us during our struggles here on earth. They are passing ‘like a shadow.’ This is the main reason I suppose, that despite our tribulations, we can enter “his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts, and his courts with praise.”

 

If you like this post by Jonathan, you may also like his 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

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ybic, Jonathan

Psalm 40: 1-3: Our Independence Day

freedom-broken-chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ybic, Jonathan

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

Restore the Sparkle: Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

Psalm 13, NLT

Life can really get complicated– really, really fast. David finds that there are no easy answers. If we look objectively at his life, we can see the frayed ends where confusion rules. It was never meant to turn out this way. But truly, isn’t that how life works sometimes?

The Short and Sweet of this Psalm

V. 1, David believes that he has been forgotten. Note a  phrase is repeated four times, “How long?”  It does seem that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we find ourselves turning to surrogates to fill the gap.

“Never was a faithful prayer lost. Some prayers have a longer voyage than others, but then they return with their richer lading at last, so that the praying soul is a gainer by waiting for an answer.”   William Gurnall

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V. 2, “Struggle…anguish…sorrow, everyday.” These all are “pain words.” And  somehow David is alert enough to recognize the work of the evil one. We were never meant to serve sin or encourage Satan.

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V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” David knew that life could be quite exceptional. And there is much more than breathing to life. He speaks of being restored. He waits for newness of God’s sparkling presence. (Do our eyes “sparkle?”)

“Wherever you are – be all there.”   Jim Elliot

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V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is interesting word. It has the idea of boasting, or relishing someone else’s failure. (I hate it when my opponent decides to gloat.)

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V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens.

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V. 6 is really beautiful. Singing and praising the Lord in awareness of  His nearness. It really is what we were made to do. David certainly comes through some really hard issues.

“It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”   C.S. Lewis

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

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Psalm 103:15 –18: “This Too Shall Pass”

beach-sand-sea-grass
All we can really do, is to smile back.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting,
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children–

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

Change can be unpleasant; life is fleeting. We watch ourselves grow older physically and mentally and are reminded of the broken dreams of our youth. People that we were close to in our 20s have become strangers to us now with the passage of time and their change in values, religion, politics, interests, and vocation. We see our 401K become a 201K.

We see some good institution, that we gave our blood, sweat, and tears to, experience a precipitous decline, because it has been taken over by incompetent and corrupt leadership. The pristine forest that we played in as a kid is now a strip mall. A good friend dies in the prime of life.

The transience of life also has an upside. Many readers are familiar with the universal proverb, “This too shall pass.” Jewish folklore tells us that this proverb was central in the wisdom of Solomon and discloses the truth that all conditions in life, whether positive or negative, are temporary.

David in Psalm 37:2 tells us that evil men will pass away like the withering grass. Where are Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, or Idi Amin today? They’re in their graves and their regimes are on the scrap heap of history. Not long ago many of us saw Saddam Hussein apprehended on television.

On a less grander scale, many of us know that the trials we have today, in whatever area of life, we won’t have tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. This should comfort those given to worrying. Years ago, on talk radio, I listened to a guy who had just written a book on the topic of worrying. He said that 85% of the things we worry about will not happen. The 15% of things that do happen, more times than not, we can handle and these trials usually don’t last as long as we think they will. “This too shall pass.”

What I’ve noticed over the years about wise men and women of God is that they are able to turn unpleasant realities into painful gifts. This is what David does in this passage. After surveying the depressingly fleeting nature of life, he turns to the everlasting and unchanging love of God for those who fear God and keep his precepts. The impermanence of life drives David to cling to the immutable God and his love, a God who will never leave us or forsake us.

In Psalm 63:4, David says that experiencing God’s love is better than life itself. In all of the Old Testament, nothing is prized above life except God’s love. Thus, an awareness of the downside of impermanence is not such a bad thing if it makes us acutely aware of this love. Let all the changes come our way because, “This too shall pass.”

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carpe diem, Jonathan

y

Related articles

Psalm 19:7 and 51:6: The Wisdom of the Word, part 1

wisdom big
Our deep search for Wisdom

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19:7--“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”

51:6–“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

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Imagine a scenario that plays out in your life.  A new Christian is reading the Bible one morning and comes across Proverbs 3:13–15,where Solomon encourages his audience to acquire as much wisdom as he or she can, because it is more valuable than gold, silver, or rubies. This Christian has become your friend and knows that you have spent more years in the kingdom of God than they have. You see them at church, and, after church at the local diner, they ask you what they need to do to become wise.

I’ve had some of these kind of exchanges with new believers over the years and they haven’t always gone as well as I wanted. Sometimes the problem is you have so much to say that you really don’t know where to start. Another problem is that because you want to avoid clichés and formulaic approaches that often blow up later in the heat of the battle in the real world, you struggle to find words that don’t sound “canned.” A third problem may be that you have made so many mistakes in your life that you don’t feel qualified to weigh in as a wise man or woman.

If you don’t feel like a wise man or wise woman, perhaps it would be easier to start with an example of someone else. For example, in my years as a Christian, I’ve often encountered people in the Body of Christ who had very little formal education but turned out to be some of the wisest people I’ve ever met. They never went to college but had a doctorate in Wisdom. If you put all these people in one room and questioned them, you’d find that they had many things in common, but, because of the lack of space, I will only mention three.

First they have a profound fear or reverence of God and “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). They know that, if they are to navigate the tricky waters of this life, they must look to an authority higher than themselves for guidance. Radio talk show host and virtuoso thinker Dennis Prager is on–target when he says that he finds the secular world often to be long on knowledge and short on wisdom.

It’s difficult to accumulate wisdom if you don’t start with the fear of God. Prager said that this became abundantly clear to him when he attended the venerated Ivy League school, Columbia University. Early on, some of his professors asserted that, except for their sexual organs, there really was no difference between men and women. All the other differences were imaginary and socially constructed. Raised in Orthodox Judaism, Prager knew better and would go on to find more foolishness in the halls of academia.

A healthy fear of God will result in at least two things: (1) An immersion in the Word of God (Scripture); and (2) an intimacy with the Word of God (Christ). Both lead to greater wisdom.

Psalm 19:7 says that “the law of the Lord is perfect…making wise the simple”. This sentiment is echoed in the New Testament when the apostle Paul tells Timothy that he, Timothy, has known the holy Scriptures from his infancy that are able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Being transformed by the renewing of our minds through Scripture can deliver us from the folly that Prager found at Columbia University and many other things that are actively destroying Western civilization: consumerism, materialism, sexual immorality, the breakdown of the family, narcissism, and many other idols described in the Bible.

King David, after going through an intense and intimate experience with God over his sin of adultery described in Psalm 51:7, declared that God taught him wisdom in his innermost being. This truth is confirmed in I Corinthians 1:30 when the apostle Paul says that, for the believer, Christ has become for us wisdom. To partake of him as our “Daily Bread” is to partake of wisdom. He doesn’t have wisdom; he is wisdom. If he is being incarnated in you, that means Wisdom is also being incarnated in you and will help you with making prudential decisions in this life.

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ybic, Jonathan

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Psalm 51:14–17: What God Delights In

rebellion-seen
I am lost without you

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise

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.

Both Psalms 32 and 51 are about David’s sorrow and repentance because of his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who David purposely placed on the front lines of military battle, where he would surely die. In verses 14 and 15 he asks God for forgiveness for the murder (“bloodguilt”) so that he can sing of God’s righteousness and offer him praise. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, is helpful here in suggesting that David wants to extol God for his righteousness because he (David) sees God’s crowning achievement being making an egregious sinner like David righteous!

In verses 16 and 17 it’s obvious that King David has learned from his predecessor King Saul’s mistakes. This insight is often overlooked in sermons and commentaries. Saul was given clear instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekites and he disobeyed these instructions. He spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of the livestock so he could offer sacrifices to the Lord. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul essentially said, “Don’t think these sacrifices impress God. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Your disobedience is similar to witchcraft and idolatry. Sacrifice is good but it means nothing if your heart isn’t right.”

The parallels to our present age are legion. Anytime someone is involved in religious activities–i.e. “sacrifices”–but their heart is wrong, they are following in the footsteps of Saul. One thinks of the Pharisees, both in the time of Jesus and now, who were/are more engaged in religious activities than anyone, but their hearts were full of pride and self–righteousness.

As a Roman Catholic, I often hear complaints from fellow parishioners about “cradle Catholics,” who were born into the faith, and do many of the right Catholic things–“sacrifices”–but their hearts are not humble and contrite and they are far from an intimate relationship with Christ. This is a kind of empty “cultural Christianity” that exists in every denomination.

Movements come and go within Christendom.  Some local churches emerge to ride the next big thing.  They become the most fashionable place to be involved. Sometimes the reason some of the members give their time, talent and treasure–“sacrifices”–to these churches is not to advance the kingdom of God; no, it’s because their involvement makes them feel hip and a part of a special group in comparison to all those boring, generic suburban Christians. And they get to rebel against their un–hip parents, who they are angry with, as part of a package deal!

What does David mean in verse 17 by saying that God wants a broken and contrite heart? Because Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Matthew 25:1–13), sometimes it helps to understand biblical principles through the marriage relationship. When a husband has sinned against his wife and knows it, often he will engage in a flurry of activities–“sacrifices”– in order to extricate himself from the doghouse. Suddenly he’s bringing home flowers and candy and is doing home–improvement projects that she wanted done several months ago. However, what she really wants is not a whirlwind of goodwill gestures; no, what she really wants is an apology marked by humility and sorrow for what he did. She needs to know that he is truly sorry, not because his carelessness put him in the doghouse, but because what he did hurt, and was a sin against, her.

It’s never too late for the Pharisee, the “cultural Christian” or the “Christian hipster.” Or me, for that matter. We can still offer sacrifices that God will delight in if we come to him with a broken and contrite heart for the many ways we have offended him. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s 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

 

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ybic, Jonathan