Thursday, November 28, 2013

 

Psalm 138: Things to be thankful for from David

I was reading through my blog tonight, and I found the following post from 2009.  The list seemed rather appropriate for today, so I thought I'd share it.  Here are some things to be thankful for according to David.

Psalm 138
1 A Psalm of David. I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. 2 I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. 3 On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul. 4 All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD, When they have heard the words of Your mouth. 5 And they will sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD. 6 For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. 8 The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands. 

 Since this is Thanksgiving, and since I seem to hear more complaints lately (most of them coming from my own heart), I decided to post a list of things I am thankful for based off of some words from David about Thanksgiving. Psalm 138 above describes a Hymn of Thanksgiving. With David, I'd like to remind myself to be thankful for the following:

1. There is no god like the God of the Bible. The Triune God is not a part of his creation, nor is his subsistence dependent on it. He is above all things, and by him all things exist. In fact, Paul tells us in Colossians 1 that Jesus holds all things together and is the author of creation. There is nothing outside of God's authority.

2. God's lovingkindness and truth are available to all of us. Jeremiah reminds us that God's mercy is new every morning. The Psalmist reminds us on numerous occasions that God is patient and longsuffering, showing mercy and lovingkindness unto many generations. His love is such that he gave us what he treasures most: Jesus, his only Son. His lovingkindness not only gave us life, but it also provides us with all we need to live this life and to obey his ways. His mercy is amazing! His truth is convicting. God does not lie. He reveals truth inside humans, but he also makes truth known in nature itself. Even God's very attributes are observable in nature around us. God has made Truth known, and he is the very essence of Truth. All truth points to him, and he alone knows all truth. His truth and lovingkindness lead to salvation.

3. God has given us a Word that will never fail. He has magnified, valued, advanced, enlarged, even exalted his Word above his own name. If the name of God is the name above all names, then his Word must be the Word above all words. He has revealed himself in Jesus who is the Logos, the Word of God in flesh, the exact representation of the image and character of God himself. The Word God has provided for us is active, alive, and powerful. It can bring knowledge, life, and salvation. God has given us his Word!

4. God answers prayer. When we call on God, he is faithful to respond. And his response emboldens us and gives us courage. Conversation with God leads to conversion of our souls. His response to our requests shows his presence, his love, and his great kindness towards us. He hears when we call, and he responds.

5. God is friends with the humble, but he is an enemy to the proud. I am grateful that even though our God is so exalted, yet he finds it satisfactory to dwell with those who are humble and lowly. He is not at home with those who think too highly of themselves, but he chooses to dwell with those who humble themselves to him.

6. God will be with us in trouble. There is no obstacle or problem that can separate us from God (Romans 8:28-39). His love for us is never ending and his reach cannot be blocked. No matter the circumstances in your life, God is faithful. He will walk with his child in the midst of problems and provide what is needed to live a life of godliness even in hard circumstances (Psalm 23). He does not always deliver us from trouble, but he never abandons us in it. Like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, God is with us in the midst of our trials, troubles, or problems. He bears them with us, he walks with us, he gives us his joy in spite of our trouble, and he never fails.

7. God will complete the task he has begun (Phil. 1:6). He will not forsake the works of his hands. He will accomplish all those things that pertain to me. He will not fail. He is constant, kind, considerate. He will finish what he starts and will bring to pass all that he has promised (Isaiah 66:9). His Word is true and he is faithful to complete it. Not a single stray mark of his Scripture will fail to happen. If God speaks it or if God begins it, it will be done in his time and by his outstretched hand. There is nothing too difficult for God, and he is worthy of our praise and our thanks!

Because of these things and so many others, I want to develop a grateful and thankful heart. May we all find comfort in God's character, Word, and love this season. May we give him the thanks and praise he deserves!

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

 

A Blast from the Past: Our Stories Matter (More than We Think)

Hello y'all:

I was reading some notes from my blog today, and I came across a short article entitled "Our Stories Matter."  I thought it was about something else, so I read it.  As I read the post, I couldn't help but think how appropriate it is even today (almost 10 years later). So I thought I'd share it again (with a bit of editing).  Enjoy!

Proverbs 20:6-7
6 Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?
7 A righteous man who walks in his integrity —
How blessed are his sons after him.
NASU

Frederick Buechner describes the Word of God as a portrait of a Lover pursuing his beloved, of God’s pursuit of all of us in love, of our failures and his successes. I’m sure that he is right. Once I find myself (by God's grace) to be participating in the biblical story (i.e., when it becomes MY story), then I in some sense begin to live out in real life the written word of God so as to complete the mission that Jesus started (and finished) so many centuries ago.
Didn’t Jesus say to us that he will send us in the same way that the Father sent him? Didn’t he tell us that we would do greater works than he did? Why are we so unwilling to enter the story, to become willing participants in the great work and story of almighty God?
We 21st century, post-modern humans are sometimes such idiots. We analyze and scrutinize the structure of everything from newspapers to movies, we even do the same to the Bible, and yet we are constantly missing the point! We are so out of sync with God’s story as to be totally missing his “Once upon a time” and “happily ever after.” John Eldredge is (to a degree at least) correct to point out to us our loss of story, our loss of God’s great epic being told even today. Take the verses quoted above—in today’s post-modern culture, the idea is to win at all costs no matter who may get hurt.
But if we live without faithfulness or without integrity, we are genuinely hurting the generation after us. Politicians may fume and fuss about this or that “personal situation” or whatever, but when our leaders (and we ourselves) show a remarkable lack of integrity, it sets the bar lower for the next generation. Guess what? The next generation will live down to our expectations if we continue in this outrage. Why? I’ll tell you why, it is because they have seen a remarkable lack of loyalty and integrity in us.
In other words, we will really reap what we sow.  If we continue to sow a life of pure selfishness; if we continue to sow lies and call it "transparency"; if we continue to sow a lack of integrity and loyalty and call it "success"; then in the end we will reap a crop (or a crop failure) that will not be what we hoped.  I really cannot expect others to live a life of transparency, honesty, or integrity if I am willing to push the "Easy" button in my own life and be a hypocrite just to gain whatever "success" the world claims is out there.  My story matters if for no other reason than the reality that my story includes hundreds of others whose stories somehow become intertwined with mine.  As they do, my failure has a negative impact on their story. 
Do I want the generation behind me to be transparent, honest, and compassionate?  Then I can't live as a hypocrite who lies and doesn't love others.  They will be infected by the virus of my lack of integrity and will marvelously fail at living to the standard I expect.  In other words, if I don't live it, then I really can't reasonably expect that they will.  How I live the story that God is telling in my life sets a standard for others.  It’s true, and in our honest moments we know it! It is the story of life.  So, how are we doing?
 Well, there it is.  I only want to add one thing:  Jesus never asked us to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself.  Why do I think I should set any other standard in my own life?  If I want to lead, I must serve.  If I want to be like Jesus, I must learn humility and love.  I must serve others.  If I don't, then why do I expect my children to do better?

I am sometimes a magnificent failure--of that I am sure.  Nonetheless, I know that God has called me to a life not of mediocrity but of excellence in his grace.  His kindness, his mercy, his humility beckons to me to come and die--to lay down my life for others that they might live.  Certainly this idea is counter-intertuitive, but it is also biblical.  "Unless a grain of wheat . . . "

So, I'll ask again:  Do we want integrity?  If so, are we willing to walk in it?  Desiring it and actualizing it are not the same thing.  "Integrity" has as one of its meanings "the state of being complete and undivided."  James 1 reminds us to avoid double-mindedness, and this chapter describes righteousness as pursuing with complete and undivided attention the things God values.  What does God value?  He does NOT value dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance, or pride.  So, how am I doing?  Do I want to be "whole" in Christ, or do I want to continue in double-minded hypocrisy?   How I live the story God is telling makes a difference.  How you live your story matters too.

May God forgive our hypocrisy and lack of integrity, and may he grant us the focus of Paul in Philippians 2 to pursue Christ's humble mindset with single-minded passion!  May Jesus become our one true obsession!  I long for that day.

Won't you join me in praying for and pursuing it?

Thanks for reading, dear pilgrim!  Keep pressing on to know the One who tells Epic stories! 

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

 

A Lesson from the Sermon on the Mount: Rich or Poor?

A few days ago I lectured on the Sermon on the Mount to my Life of Christ class at seminary.  Today I was reading through some old posts here, and I came across one that dealt with one of the statements in Matthew and Luke.  I wanted to share it again (it has been a few years since I posted this material), and I want to add some stuff too.  So, here is an old (and rewritten) post entitled:  "Rich or Poor?"

In the Beatitudes, Jesus states “Blessed are the poor” or “Blessed are the paupers” (or in Matthew:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit").  Jesus (especially in the Gospels of Luke and John) is quite concerned with the poor.  He speaks of them often and works with them regularly.  He encourages his disciples to show compassion to the poor, but he also reminds them that poverty will always be an issue in this fallen world.

Jesus also mentions rich people.  They don't fare quite as well as the poor in Jesus' words, but he shows compassion for them as well and wishes salvation and blessing for them as he does for the poor.  Jesus states in the Gospels that it is difficult for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, the "poor" are blessed, but the "rich" have a hard time entering heaven.  Have you ever wondered at the juxtaposition of those two thoughts?

I know the traditional interpretation of both sayings, and I am aware of the devotional literature that surrounds them as well. What I want to consider for a few moments today is the abject difference between the two.

The poor are blessed, but the rich have a difficult time entering God’s kingdom.

Why?

Most of us have been “poor” at some point in our lives. Oh, we may not have been as poor as the poorest of the world, but we had to do without due to our lack of means. Maybe our stomachs even growled and our heads hurt a little bit from hunger. Perhaps we even had to bypass the purchase of a particular item we desperately wanted or even needed. Yes, we have known some form of poverty. Did we feel blessed? Really?

Did you feel “happy” during those times of poverty? In all likelihood, we looked forward with some measure of pleasure/joy to the day when we wouldn’t suffer such setbacks. We prayed and wished for a time when we would have abundance and would not have to “do without.” We didn’t feel blessed, we felt miserable.

Some of us today are rich, or at least, we aren’t as poor as we used to be. In fact, the poorest people in America are still better off than the poorest people in other parts of the world.  I know that is no real consolation, but it shows how blessed we really are in this nation.  Nonetheless, many of us today are richer than we were in the past, and we can pretty much get what we want or need when we want or need it. We don’t have to “do without” unless we choose to do so. As an example, a few years ago I took my family to Walt Disney World, something I could never have done when I lived and worked in Waco, TX. I am no longer “poor"! Do I feel far from the kingdom of God? Do I feel unhappy or a lack of blessing? If I answer honestly, I'd have to say, "Not really."

What could Jesus mean then? Was he just speaking rhetorically or do these words tell us something important?

Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” as opposed to simply “Blessed are the poor.” I like what Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest.

“The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man—the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our arrogance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to him as paupers and receive from him. ‘Blessed are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility—I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says—Blessed are you. That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works. . . . Jesus Christ never asks us to decide for him, but to yield to him—a very different thing.. . . If I know that I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says ‘Blessed are you,' because it is through this poverty that I enter his kingdom. I cannot enter his kingdom as a good person, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.”
In other words, as long as I think of myself as offering some gift or blessing to God, I cannot receive his free gift or blessing. Unless I recognize the poverty of my own will and spirit. the poverty of my own abilities to give God anything he needs, I cannot humbly receive what God has to offer. Like a little child, I must recognize my limitations in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. "Rich" people like us think we can buy or earn what we need or want, that somehow we can give God something without which he cannot possibly accomplish his plans. "Rich" people think that God needs them on his team, that God is "lucky" to have them on his side.

God says that the kingdom of heaven is for those who realize that they cannot enter on their own abilities or initiatives. God reserves blessing for those who know they do not deserve it. Faith in Christ starts with futility in self. To the degree that I think I can save myself, to that degree the blood of Jesus is ineffective for my salvation. If I think I can save myself, why do I need God? God's grace is free to those who realize their need for his kindness (it is his kindness that brings us to repentance, right?)

Thanks be to God for the grace to enter! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift in Jesus Christ!

Thanks for reading!

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