Friday, April 30, 2010

The Cross - Power for Living

I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galations 2:20)

Paul pens these words to the Galation church with the definite intention of calling attention to the fact that a follower of Christ lives a transformed life – a life affected by the cross. The cross is a place of execution – a place where something is put to death, or the power of it is destroyed. That is what those opposed to Christ’s ministry on earth hoped would happen when they hung Jesus on a cross all those years ago – they thought his power and influence in the lives of the people would be destroyed. They put him on the cross with the hopes that the “status quo” he had so dynamically challenged would be allowed to continue – things would go “back to normal” and life would go on without having to change.

The Christian is called to allow the cross to affect their lives – but it has to be embraced in order to be effective in our lives. We are called to crucify (apply the cross to) several influences that create compromising “tugs” on our hearts and “cloud” our minds from seeing clearly (as God sees a situation or person). Let’s explore just a few things that the Scriptures teach us about the cross in our lives.

Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. (Gal. 6:14) Paul knew that the world had an appeal for each of us. It is different for each believer depending on the influence of how we were raised, what we have come to believe about ourselves and others, etc. The glamour and glitter (what I call the hype) of the world promise all kinds of potential “power” for us. We think, “If only I had this…” or “If only I was better acquainted with….” At best, the world offers a make-believe power through status, acclaim, honor, or stature. The belief that we can “fit in” if we follow the pattern outlined by the world is just an illusion. None of these really matter in God’s economy – our status is found in Christ, the acclaim we enjoy in his presence is because of Jesus’ blood applied in our lives, and the honor all goes back to Christ, not us. Paul wants us to understand that our Christian walk is more than the world not having a significant pull in our lives, but it is that its pull is a “dead” thing in our lives – it no longer influences our desires, our attitudes, or our responses – we no longer strive to “fit in” according to the world’s definition.
 Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20-21) Ego no longer central – speaks volumes, doesn’t it? How does this happen? Paul gives us the answer – not through our own doing, but through Christ living in us – empowering us to live above the pull of our own self-centered ego. The power of God became pre-eminent in Paul’s life as the cross was allowed to be applied to the very center of his self-centered drives, habits, and responses. In our self-centeredness, we long for, and actually go after, things that are clearly outside of God’s will for us. Self makes huge demands on us – but God calls for us to not be drawn away by self. The sooner that we realize that our “self” (that part of us Paul calls ego here) misdirects us and keeps us from living righteously, the sooner we can learn the value of living lives separated from the world’s influence. Living separated from the world does not mean that we go off into some communal living relationship in the backwoods. It means that we don’t respond to the influence of the world’s pull to conform to the values it portrays – instead, we pursue and embrace the values of the kingdom of God as Scripture portrays them. Self brings us into bondage – keeping us in a place of fear and affords us ample opportunities for failure. We must learn to embrace the cross in order to overcome the influence of our own misdirected ego.

When we embrace the cross, we can expect to see its influence in our lives – first in the power it produces in us and second in the separation it creates in our lives. The power produced by the cross is different from the power offered by the world – it cannot be easily understood by our intellect. The world’s power is something we see, feel, and understand with our minds. The power of the cross is something we trust in, base our every move upon, and count on to transform us. When Paul describes living no longer by his own efforts or will, he is giving us a hint about the power of the cross – it is a place of total dependence on Christ accomplishing in and through us whatever is to be produced in our lives. The separation the cross produces is a direct result of the power of the cross being applied to our lives.

The effect of “Christ living in me” is that I am changed – everything that acted as a substitute for holiness in my life falls away and true holiness is produced. What types of things act as a substitute for holiness in our lives? For some, it may be that they work, work, work their way to heaven – believing that their involvement in the “right” works will keep them secure in their salvation and “buy” them entrance into the kingdom. For others, it may be self-abasement – thinking that if they just lower themselves to a place of total “non-value”, then holiness will be produced. Both are totally damaging and wrong concepts. Holiness is not a “thing” – it is not earned. It is a condition of heart that is produced through the power of the cross – the Holy Spirit working in us to bring about the heart and mind change that affects our priorities, influences our choices, and transforms the way we interpret life.

As we dedicate ourselves to the purposes and plans of our holy God, we are determining to live godly (holy) lives. We are determining to embrace the cross. This dedication is not a one-time thing – it begins at a point in time when we submit to the work of the cross in our lives (we call this the justifying of a sinner). It continues in a daily submission to the work of the cross in our lives (we call this the sanctifying of a sinner). Justification is a one-time event (we are made right with God through the blood of Christ at the point of our accepting Christ into our lives). Sanctification is a life-long process (cross being applied daily to our choices, our values, and our actions). The cross is a place of consecration – we give it all. In exchange, we get it all. No other influence in our lives produces what the cross does – no other influence has the power to transform like the cross. Embrace the cross – it may be painful, but the cost is worth the outcome it produces.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be still and know

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

Events in life can creep up on us, our schedules become so filled that we don’t really know when we will have time for even one more thing, and before long, things are spinning out of control. That is when we need to breathe in these words, letting them sink deep into our spirit and refresh our soul.

“I am God” is a declaration that he is first our refuge - our place of shelter or escape when all seems to be caving in around us. As our refuge, he is our covering – guarding us against attack and penetration from forces that we would otherwise be very vulnerable to. He is our protection against danger and distress – both spiritually and emotionally. Not only is he our place of shelter, but he is our place of resort when life becomes more difficult than we imagined. He is the place we run to when we are looking for help – he is the place of all resource.

“I am God” is a declaration that he is our strength – the provider of all endurance, the one who gives us the ability to resist force. It is through God’s empowerment that we are able to experience “potency” in our walk and “intensity” in our stand. We are given a spiritual backbone to stave off the tendencies of our natural man to pull us into compromising situations.

“I am God” is a declaration that he is our conqueror – the one who is able to help us overcome each and every obstacle. He is the one what provides us with the means and power to overcome everything that stands in our way or blocks our path spiritually. He has already mastered every opposition we face – whatever is acting as an antagonist in our lives. As the one with the power, he is the possessor of all control, authority, and influence. As such, he is able to act so as produce a permanent and overcoming affect in our life.

The words “I am God” is an exhortation for us to get to know God for who and what he is. We do this by first believing in him – being fully persuaded of his ability, power and might. As we get to know him in this manner, we become fully persuaded of his willingness to do what he says he will do in our lives. God expects that we will relinquish control of our inner man – becoming dependent on him for our very existence and sustenance. In turn, he asks us to be in service to him – being of use to him, waiting in his presence for what he brings in the moment.

“Be still” carries the idea that as we get to know God in the way outlined above, we bring ourselves to a place where we are no longer in motion – constantly bouncing between this plan and the next. We settle down spiritually, emotionally and physically – allowing God to begin to show us his plans. In the silence, when we even cease to usher up our utterances and pleas, and really begin to listen with a hearing heart, he speaks. He is asking us to make the effort to free ourselves from the “turbulence” of our lives – settling down to listen, being calm in our inner man long enough to see his movements.

Stillness of our inner man involves being free from the turbulence that our past brings into our lives. He asks for us to incorporate his forgiveness and allow the guilt and shame of those past events to be removed completely from our remembrance. In so doing, we open up afresh to what he wants to speak into our present. God also expects us to become still concerning the present – that which is in progress in our lives – knowing that he is sufficient. He is all we need to meet the present demands of the situation we are in – he is more than enough to reach the end with something left over. He is our supply – satisfying our needs and keeping us each step of the way. He supports us and maintains us – giving us stability and endurance.

Be still and know that I am God – in that which is to come – in all that is going on now – in that which has happened in the past. Count on the fact that “all things” – not just some of the things – but all things work together for the good of them that love him. God does all things well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Restored Foundations

In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua son of Jozadak, in company with their brother priests and Levites and everyone else who had come back to Jerusalem from captivity, got started. When the workers laid the foundation of the Temple of God, the priests in their robes stood up with trumpets, and the Levites, sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise GOD in the tradition of David king of Israel. They sang antiphonally praise and thanksgiving to God: Yes! GOD is good! Oh yes – he’ll never quit loving Israel! All the people boomed out hurrahs, praising GOD as the foundation of The Temple of GOD was laid. As many were noisily shouting with joy, many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads who has seen the first Temple, when they saw the foundations of this Temple laid, wept loudly for joy. People couldn’t distinguish the shouting from the weeping. The sound of their voices reverberated for miles around. (Ezra 3:8, 10-11)

The temple rebuilding effort was finally begun in the second year of their return to their own land. The government appointed leader (Zerubbabel) and the Jewish religious authority (Jeshua) banded together to oversee the work. The priests and Levites each had their part to play in the restoration project – some were direct builders, others were overseers of the work, while others were instruments of praise and celebration to their God. Each had a part, and each played that specific part.

Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part of any project. There are a variety of reasons for our inabilities to "get started"s – some very well-planned, others simply because we drag our feet. Making a start requires action – purposeful, deliberately thought-out movement on our part. The people of Israel did not move ahead of God’s timing – they were commissioned for the work, but they were also sensitive to the preparation necessary for that work. They prepared for each phase of the work – laying up the necessary lumber, finding the skilled craftsmen, providing all the necessary items for the completion of the project.

The second month would have been Heshvan, the time of wheat and barley sowing. This occurred from mid-October through mid-November according to the lunar calendar. The laying of the foundation began at the time of sowing. It is interesting to see that the laying of the foundation occurred in a season when the Jews were sowing the seeds into the earth. Perhaps we could say that the foundation being laid was symbolic of the “seeds” of what was to come. In this case, the foundation was laid for the restoration of worship, fellowship, and communion with their God. Nothing of value is built without laying the foundations well. It is an arduous work – requiring diligent preparation, significant investment, and sacrificial use of our time and energies. It is interesting to see that the response of all involved was to give praise to God – to celebrate his goodness, to extol his greatness, to raise his name high.

God is good! This was a frequent phrase in the worship and celebrations of the nation of Israel. David had penned this very phrase repeatedly in the psalms of worship and praise he is noted to have composed under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The people are celebrating the “hesed” of God – his care that was so lavishly bestowed upon them. They celebrated their return, now they celebrated the beginning of the restoration of their personal and corporate communion with God. “He’ll never quit loving Israel” is a phrase expressive of the extreme mercy and favor of the God of covenant – the unfailing, permanent God of compassion and tender mercies. We should never lose perspective as it pertains to God’s tender care, mercies beyond measure, and faithful keeping of his people. It is worthy of our heartfelt celebration.

The people were swept up into jubilant praise combined with loud weeping. The noise carried throughout the land – reverberating from mountainside to mountainside. Oh, that our worship would be a sweet sound that reverberates in the land in which we reside today – celebrating our God, drawing others into his presence, and opening the gates of heaven to those who seek rest. I can only imagine the joy combined with sorrow in the hearts of the older members of the company of Jews that day. They had seen the former glory of the Temple of Solomon. They had worshipped in its courts, sacrificed offerings on its altar, and enjoined the sight and sounds of thousands in corporate praise and worship in its shadow. Theirs was probably a mixed emotion of both sorrow for the loss of the old and celebration of the new beginnings that stood ahead of them.

New beginnings are sometimes difficult for us. Sometimes, we can become so caught up in what was lost that we never really celebrate what comes out of that loss. The foundations of this restored Temple would not produce the same elegant structure that once stood on that hallowed ground during the the time they had worshiped there befoe. Yet, in God’s mercy, there was cause for celebration – the foundations were being laid for God to inhabit his people once again. Out of loss comes growth. Out of loss comes reconstruction. Out of loss comes hope. The perspective of the builders was different from that of the priests and Levites – one saw the former and mourned the loss; the other saw the work begin and celebrated with deep, passionate hope in the restorative work of their God.

Our perspective determines our response – do we simply bemoan the losses in our lives, or do we embrace the grace God extends in providing for the tools and ability for the rebuilding of what lies ahead? Do we truly see the goodness of God in rebuilding foundations torn down by sin’s destructive power? Do we yearn for the old, refusing to see the value of the new? Oh, that God would help us to embrace change graciously and to celebrate jubilantly the work he begins when the foundations are laid anew in our lives.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Free-Will Offering

An offering is something presented as an act of worship or devotion. It represents sacrifice for the one bringing it. Some offerings of the Jewish nation were required – God stipulated that they were to be given at certain times, with a certain purpose in mind. They were usually taken from what the Jew could raise in the form of crops, as with the farmers, or in the form of a member of the flock / herd, as with the ranchers, shepherds, or those that raised animals.

Some of the heads of families, on arriving at The Temple of God in Jerusalem, made Freewill-Offerings toward the rebuilding of The Temple of God on its site. They gave to the building fund as they were able… (Ezra 1:68)

The free-will offering was something brought without compulsion or demand. It was given from the heart, not because you had to, but because you wanted to. It was a sacrifice of a part of your assets, crops, herds, or self (as in your time or energies). These men and women were prepared to go, to give and to work. Theirs was a sacrifice of their comfort, their belongings, and their time.

God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything; more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one writer of the New Testament puts it, "He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God." (2 Cor. 9:7-11)

Paul describes the extreme delight God experiences when giving is done in the spirit of willingness, joy and abandon. These Jews gave to the rebuilding of the Temple of God in such a manner: 
  • Willingly – readily, as a matter of their own personal choice and without any reluctance. They were not giving out of a sense of compulsion or demand. They gave because they were burdened to be a part of the work.
  • Joyously – with great pleasure or delight. They knew what they desired and had a hope of possessing once again that which had been such an integral part of their lives – and they were moved to acts of sacrifice because of this prospect. 
  • With abandonment – giving up what once they had a claim to, but would no longer place claim upon. Theirs was a sacrifice of unrestrained support. They had an enthusiasm in their giving that stirred them from within. 
The promise to those who give in this free-will manner - whether it is of their means, their talent, or their time - is that God will pour out blessings in astonishing ways. I want to be “astonished” by God – held in awe by his greatness, his love, and his acts of deliverance. I want to be “surprised” by God – truly captured by his awe, taken unaware by his grace. God give us the heart to give with this freedom of heart. 

  • They stood ready to go – they were ready to put feet to the yearnings of their heart.  What is God calling us to "put feet to" in our lives?  What is he asking us to "stand ready" to do?
  • They had hearts responsive to give – not out of their excess, but out of their daily provisions. They were living in exile in a foreign land. They had no lands of their own from which to replenish their riches – yet they gave.  What emotional, spiritual, or physical assets is God asking for us to be willing to give?  Remember - to give out of our excess is really not sacrificial.
  • They had the willingness to work – not as a labor of necessity or burden of compulsion. It was a sacrificial desire to be involved in the work of the Lord. To be part of something that they believed in so deeply that they were willing to dig in, investing time, talent and the work of their physical bodies to accomplish.  Dig in and see what God can do with your free-will offering today.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Waiting on God

Psalm 27:14 “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!”

Waiting is a process of learning to remain in our present circumstances until we get further direction. Webster’s defines waiting as both the process of looking forward expectantly and remaining stationary in readiness or expectations. It carries the idea of being ready and available – watchfulness. Waiting can be difficult for even the best of us – we wonder if God is late in his reply or if we are too early in our expectations. The whole “timing” issue of waiting is not easily grasped by those of us with “Type A” personalities – we are not easily settled in our waiting, but chafe a little under the “pressure” of waiting.

In our waiting, we can become discontent with God – wondering if he even has the power to change the circumstances we are in. When this occurs, we jump in to do things our way – in our own strength or power. We may think God has given up on us, forgotten about the need we are experiencing. It is not easy remembering that God has a specific reason for our waiting. Our primary purpose in waiting is always to learn to trust God even more than we have before. If we fail to develop our trust in God, we will find ourselves constantly trying to work things out on our own – in our own way.

In exploring the process of waiting, it is important to recognize that there are some key reasons that we “wait” in our walk with God. First, we wait because we often only get clear directions from God when we are willing to wait. He knows that the world’s expectation is that we jump out there and respond with definite assurance each and every time – responding to the situation even when we are in doubt. Sometimes, we would be better to take our time in responding rather than making a rash decision. Rash decisions are tactics our enemy, Satan, uses to get our eyes off of God’s direction for the situation at hand. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye.” I know that it is difficult to wait in trusting confidence and not find ourselves complaining bitterly about the wait. God desires to instruct us in the way we should respond – to be guided by his watchful eye. This does not happen when we jump out in those moments of rash decisions.

Second, God uses the time we spend waiting to get us in step with his timing. You don’t have to walk with God for very long before you become acquainted with the fact that God’s timing is quite different from our own. It is important to rely upon God’s timing in order to avoid the disappointments and painful struggles of moving out in our own timing. When we are “in time” with God, moving as he would have us move, we have a sense of peace and calmness of spirit that guides our steps. If you are realizing that you have been stepping out in your own timing because you have a total lack of peace, it may be time to pull back and wait on God.

Another purpose in waiting is that God often knows we are unprepared for the answer. The time of waiting actually prepares our hearts to receive the answer he is about to bring. It is in that waiting period that we learn to do what is best – not just what feels good. It strengthens our faith and proves our character. God is most intent on developing our character – he is definitely not focused on maintaining our comfort. One of my Bible College professors once told me, “God has to disturb your present in order to improve your future.” In the time of waiting, our “present” can get pretty “disturbed” – if we remember that it is for the purpose of improving our future, the wait can be endured. God wants our hearts readied to receive what he brings next. When we are unprepared for the answer, we may resist it or even miss it.

It is in the waiting that our motives are sifted – kind of like a sorting process where the impure ones begin to rise to the surface so they can be skimmed off. In the waiting process, we have time to focus our attention on areas of our heart attitudes that may have been hidden by all the busy stuff of life. Our heart becomes evident and God is able to deal with the things we have there that are out of place or damaging us.

Once we understand the purpose of waiting, we need to discover how to wait – what is it that we “do” in our waiting? It is important to understand that waiting is not a “passive” thing – it is very active. When we think of waiting, we picture ourselves in a long line of others that are waiting, just biding our time until it is “our turn”. God wants our times of waiting to be purposeful – with directed attention on what God has for us in the present moment. His intervention will come when we are doing what God asks us to be doing – until he tells us differently, the best place for us is in doing what God wants us to be doing.

Our discernment is sharpened in the waiting – we begin to sense and know the way God moves. We see evidence of his movement in fresh ways. We may discover his movement during times we are in study of the Word. I want to give a word of warning here – using the Word of God to justify our movement can be dangerous. We have the innate ability to “find” a Scripture that fits perfectly the circumstance we find ourselves in and then believe that it is the perfect or total answer to the situation.

When we seek God’s leading, the Holy Spirit “tunes” our heart to hear what God desires next - to see how he is moving. If we just use the Scripture to “fit” our circumstances apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit, we could be on a tangent God never intended in that season of our lives. Sometimes changes in our circumstances are subtle leadings from God to follow a different course in our lives. We need to be open to those changes – they could protect us from harm down the road, or set the course for greater blessings.

If we struggle with waiting, we could get off-course – be moving in total disobedience or outside of God’s plan. That movement could actually serve to delay the blessing God has for us. It could lead us into times or circumstances that only cloud our lives with lots of confusion and mayhem. We could even find ourselves in places where we lose the sense of his direction and leading – feeling like the prayers we lift are simply hitting a brass ceiling and bouncing back unanswered. When we learn to wait, as God directs, we experience rich rewards. It is in the waiting that his will becomes evident – we see clearly what once was a little unclear to us. In the wait, we receive energy and strength (Is. 40:29-31). Impatience actually robs us of our energy – making us weary and worn down by all the wrong moves we make. Want to see God working on your behalf? Learn to wait patiently on him – then rise up on wings as eagles.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Price of Drifting

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled into their towns, the people assembled together in Jerusalem. Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brother priests, along with Zerubabbel, the son of Shealtiel, and his relatives, went to work and built the Altar of the God of Israel to offer Whole-Burnt-Offerings on it as written in the Revelation of Moses the man of God. Even though they were afraid of what their non-Israelite neighbors might do, they went ahead anyway and set up the Altar on its foundations and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings on it morning and evening. They also celebrated the Festival of Booths as prescribed and the daily Whole-Burnt-Offerings set for each day. And they presented the regular Whole-Burnt-Offerings for Sabbaths, New Moons, and God’s Holy Festivals, as well as Free-Will Offerings for God. They began offering Whole-Burnt-Offerings to God from the very first day of the seventh month, even though the Temple of God’s foundation had not yet been laid. (Ezra 3:1-6)

The seventh month for Israel was Nisan, a period of time from about mid-March through mid-April, when the moon aligned for the beginning of the barley harvest. The people of Israel were once again settled into the places of their residence. Life had a sense of order for those who had returned from captivity. The people began to assemble together in Jerusalem – the center of their worship.

Jeshua was the designated High Priest of the time. Jeshua was of the Levitical order of priests. He was a direct descendant of Levi, the third son of Jacob. The Levites had been given a special place of privilege and great responsibility for the Jews – they were appointed by God to carry out the offerings, sacrifices, and special feast days for the nation of Israel. They were to live a purified and set apart life, dedicated to the service of God. They did not receive a portion of the land when God divided the nation of Israel among the 12 tribes – they received their provision through the tithe, portions of sacrifice, and their places of service.

The first act of restoration that occurred was the rebuilding of the Altar. Without an altar, no sacrifice could be offered. The first sacrifice they offer is the whole burnt offering. This offering was referred to as both the burnt offering and the whole burnt offering in Old Testament writings. It marked the offering that would be wholly consumed on the altar, with no portion of it going to the priests. The purpose of the offering was atonement – the bringing of the reconciliation of God and man through the sacrificial death. It was symbolic of the sacrificial death of Christ that would come many years later. The idea of the sacrifice is one of repairing relationship, satisfying debt, or making amends.

Their first act as a restored people was to ask God to repair their relationship. They yearned for the debt of their sin to be fulfilled. They had wandered into many practices that God had identified as those that they should avoid and had paid a great price of the loss of freedom, loss of land, and loss of their center of worship.

The same thing occurs for us when we selfishly choose our own way, ignoring the warnings God gently provides. We drift ever so slowly into a place of compromise, choosing that which satisfies our immediate urges. We gradually begin to shift in our attitude toward God, his Word, and his worship. We are not sensitive to his opinions that are clearly outlined in the scriptures – choosing instead to shift our opinions to those that will fit our mood, situation, or deep-seated heart desires. We cease to give God his rightful position in our lives – choosing to be leader or controller of our destinies.

The price of our subtle drifting is greater than we first imagine:

The loss of freedom – becoming completely bound to that which we choose over obedience to what God desires; constrained by that which entices us away from sacrificial obedience to God’s revealed will.

The loss of locale – as drifting begins to occur, we soon lose interest in the things of God that once pulled us close with his people, kept us close to his breast, and filled us with such a sense of unique identity.

The loss of our worship – compromise always affects our worship – for what is at the center of our focus is that which we will ultimately bow down to.

The whole burnt offering was the normal sacrifice that the Israelite would offer when they were in right relationship with their covenant-keeping God. It was offered every morning and evening. The sacrifice was always a lamb – wholly consumed by the fire, with nothing left for human consumption. The people who returned with Ezra were beginning to re-establish the normal course of their spiritual life – the system of sacrificial worship was important to the Jew because it was the method they connected with God.

We no longer offer animals upon a physical altar. We no longer have to perform these sacrificial offerings of blood sacrifices, drink offerings, grain offerings, or scapegoats. We simply come before a holy God, hearts open, spirits ready, based on the sacrificial work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He was the perfect sacrifice – the perfect blood offering. Yet, God calls us each to come before him sacrificially – presenting ourselves as an offering to him, avoiding the tendency to become so affected by our culture around us that we forget that he has called us his holy people.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to our culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Rom. 12:1-2)

The sacrifice we offer in coming before God in worship and praise is a yielded life - a life unaffected by the culture around us; a life that embraces all that God designs and provides. The restored Jews were simply worshiping in this manner. They were returning God to the center of their daily practice again. They were yielding to his purposes. The best we can do is to yield – fixing our attention on him, recognizing his hand upon our lives, and then trusting him for the restoration he so freely brings.

The feasts or festivals were significant seasons of dedicated worship to God. They were originally established during the time of Moses and point toward specific components of God’s character, his plan of redemption and the special graces he extends to his people.

The Feast of Booths is also referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles. It was celebrated at the end of the harvest season for Israel (usually in mid to late October) and was held for a period of eight days. It has a historical significance of reminding the Israelite of the time their forefathers wandered in the wilderness, dwelling in tents. This was a very jubilant time for the nation – many sacrifices were offered during the celebration. It was the last feast celebrated each year for the Israelite.

As Israel entered the Promised Land, they were instructed to commemorate the Feast of Booths as a remembrance of those long years living in their tents. It was symbolic for Israel of entering into the rest that is only possible as a means of redemption. During the Feast of Booths, the whole burnt offerings were given. The priest would prepare the offering by cutting it, washing it, sprinkling the blood on the altar, and then lighting the fire that would ultimately consume it. Just prior to the fire being lit, the priest would lay his hands on the offering’s head as a means of identifying with the offering. These offerings signified surrender – surrender of the one giving it and the one offering it. This type of offering was considered to be an offering given as a means of “approach” – they secured the people’s access to a holy God. The animal offered had to be without spot or blemish – perfect offering.

It was symbolic of the perfect offering of Christ – a life given to satisfy God’s requirement of a blood sacrifice for the atonement of man’s sin. The Israelite could only look forward to this through the symbolism of their worship – we can walk in this through our connection with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. In the offering, we can see a picture of the surrender of the entire being – self no longer at the forefront, but yielded in submission to a holy God.

They gave money to hire masons and carpenters. They gave food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians in exchange for the cedar lumber they had brought by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, a shipment authorized by Cyrus the kind of Persia. (Ezra 3:7)

There was a personal investment in their restoration. They gave of what they had to provide for the rebuilding of the Temple. The best we can do is to give of what we have. We must never lose sight of the underlying cooperation of Cyrus to provide for this work. Scripture clearly tells us that God orchestrates the leaders of the land. He was using Cyrus as a means to accomplish his purpose of re-establishing his people and his worship.

It is also interesting to note that the returning Jews were a little concerned about their non-Jewish neighbors – afraid of what they would think of their return, of their worship, of their rebuilding. It is almost always an uncomfortable thing for us to “stand out” among people as unique. Yet, God has always called his people to stand as a unique witness of his glory and honor – and in so doing, he uses us to win over those we stand as a witness among.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. Friends, the world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of you soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. (I Peter 2:9-12)

Obedience costs us something. Sometimes it is our physical property – such as a monetary offering. At other times, it is our reputation, time, or just a sense of security. Regardless of the price, the sacrifice of obedience yields a greater return than the selfishness of concerning ourselves with what “the neighbors” will think.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Mercies

As we continue with our wrap up of Psalm 119, we will now focus on some of David’s prayerful pleas to the Lord. His frequent requests of the Lord express much of what he is dealing with in his heart. More importantly, they express the attitude of a surrendered heart in earnest need of God’s direction for his life.
  • Turn my way, look kindly on me, as you always do to those who personally love you. (vs. 132)
  • I called to you, "Save me so I can carry out all your instructions." I was up before sunrise, crying for help, hoping for a word from you. I stayed awake all night, prayerfully pondering your promise. In your love, listen to me; in your justice, GOD, keep me alive. (vs. 146-150)

David asks God to turn his way and look kindly on him. This is based on David’s assurance that God desires personal relationship and responds positively to those whom he loves. God may not respond in the way we expect – often his response is quite different from what we ever imagined possible. David’s assurance is that God will definitely extend both a listening ear to him and an honest response to the issues at hand.  

It is apparent from David’s next prayer that he is in some type of personal anguish or trouble and needs God’s definitive direction and intervention so he can understand the situation and respond appropriately. He is seeking with intensity – day and night. His words reflect a heart that is in desperate need of an answer, but it appears that God’s answer is delayed – not coming as quickly as David would like. David expresses strong feeling, even some tension in his plea. He may find himself crying for help because he is out of solutions in his own strength or ability and recognizes the need to cry out to the one with endless strength and unfathomable ability.

  • Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word. Give my request your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of your promise. (vs. 169-170)

Based on David’s personal relationship with God, he is confident that his words will be ushered into the very presence of God. He is honest with God and in turn, he asks God to give his concerns his personal attention. His confidence is founded on both what he has learned of God from the Word and his personal experience of seeing God intervene in his life over-and-over again. David is seeking insight – he wants God’s perception of the situation he is facing. His own perception may get a little clouded at times because of the difficulties he is facing and how his emotions may want to interpret those difficulties. He knows that God’s perception will bring clarity and assist him in understanding the steps to be taken. 

  •  For those who love what you reveal, everything fits— no stumbling around in the dark for them. (vs. 165)

Everything fits – what an awesome feeling to enjoy – all the pieces of life fitting together in perfect order, not stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of every new development. David’s confidence is based on his simple trust in what God reveals – through the Word, in biblical teaching, and in times of earnest prayer. He finds hope that his path will be guarded and safe for him. He enjoys enlightened passage as he makes his journey. He receives ample provision and protection regardless of how taxing the journey may be.  

  •  Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you've taught me the truth about life! And let your promises ring from my tongue; every order you've given is right. Put your hand out and steady me since I've chosen to live by your counsel. I'm homesick, God, for your salvation; I love it when you show yourself! Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. (vs. 171-175)

David’s closing words of this Psalm reflect a lifetime of service and a growing relationship. He has been taught – in turn, he wants to reflect what he has been taught. He wants his words to reflect the truth he has received – not tainted by doubt or worry, but confident and assured of God’s faithfulness. He has made a determination of heart to serve his God – an act of his will to live by the counsel God reveals. In turn, he asks God to invigorate him and to give firmness to his soul. His delight has been God – nothing else has satisfied him like Jesus. He has tried many times to live life on his own terms – always returning to his Lord with pleas of repentance and cries for mercy. His heart has come to the place that it cries out:

  •   Your mercies, GOD, run into the billions; following your guidelines, revive me. (vs. 156)

I find hope in the truth that God’s mercies are innumerable – they really cannot be counted; they are beyond our human comprehension. We come, repeatedly seeking mercy and grace to be extended in our lives, and find mercies new each and every time we come. In each extension of God’s mercy is a revival of our inner being.  

We were beat down by our sin, bound by our past failures, instinctively choosing what brought repeated agony and defeat in our lives. When we reached out to God, asking him to enter into our daily existence as the Lord of our lives, we asked for him to become the lifter of our heads. It is impossible to have “lifted heads” when our hearts are burdened down with all kinds of guilt, shame, and painful memories. The faithfulness of our God is expressed in the loving way he lifts that guilt, erases the shame and renews our minds. 

David was commended by God as a man after God’s own heart – not because he lived life perfectly or was some “super-saint”. It was because David recognized his need for a Savior, embraced the mercies of God fresh each morning, and chose to submit his life to the truth revealed in God’s Word. It begins one step at a time – one simple step in the right direction – line upon line. Each step takes David (and us) one step farther from a life of sin and one step closer to a life of holy living. Each step brings a new revelation of God’s grace and a new hope in God’s ability to deliver us from our past. As with David, the cry of our heart should be “revive me”. As we close this Psalm today, let’s find comfort in knowing what David penned as the closing words of this Psalm:

  •  And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I'll recognize the sound of your voice. (vs. 176)

Even in our wandering, God still seeks us. When we take time to really cry out to God, opening ourselves to hear from him, we become acquainted with his voice, just as the smallest of lambs learns the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd is always attentive to the sheep’s wandering. He may allow us to get out on our own a little, but he never loses sight of us. In his mercy, he reaches into our lives, tenderly directing us back to his watchful care. In his grace, he restores us and revives us. May your day be blessed. May you enjoy the mercies that are innumerable. May you be revived in your spirit, renewed in your mind, and uplifted in your soul.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rewritten Books

As we explore the remainder of Psalm 119, I am going to jump around a little to focus on some of the central themes of what David brings together in this last half of the Psalm. As we read the verses from 129-176, we can see that David recounts the benefits of being in service to the King of Kings – Jesus Christ.

Every word you give me is a miracle word— how could I help but obey? (vs. 129)
You are right and you do right, GOD; your decisions are right on target. (vs. 137)
I call out at the top of my lungs, "GOD! Answer! I'll do whatever you say." (vs. 145)
Take a good look at my trouble, and help me— I haven't forgotten your revelation. (vs. 153)
I've been slandered unmercifully by the politicians, but my awe at your words keeps me stable. (vs. 161)
Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word. (vs. 169)

David has focused intently in this Psalm on the importance of the Word of God in his life. It has been a steadying and reliable force for him in times of great political conflict, emotionally charged relationship problems, and spiritually draining seasons of personal challenges as it relates to his integrity of character. Repeatedly, he focuses on hearing from God as he explores the Word – allowing God to direct his course of response when he is in a quandary or so emotionally distraught that everything seems to be closing in on him. His response to the Word is one of continual obedience. The manner in which he approaches the truths contained in the Word is awe – a sense of wonder and reverence. The hope he has in studying and applying the Word is repeated insight.

I cry rivers of tears because nobody's living by your book! (vs. 136)
The way you tell me to live is always right; help me understand it so I can live to the fullest. (vs. 144)
I've known all along from the evidence of your words that you meant them to last forever. (vs. 152)
Your words all add up to the sum total: Truth. Your righteous decisions are eternal. (vs. 160)
I follow your directions, abide by your counsel; my life's an open book before you. (vs. 168)
And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I'll recognize the sound of your voice. (vs. 176)

David is anguished by the spiritual “drift” of those in his community – they have drifted away from living by the standard God had established for them, choosing instead to follow their own devices. In time, the tiny nation of Israel would come to a place of great division, splitting into two kingdoms – the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. David could not know that when he penned these words, but he recognized that choosing one’s own way opened the nation to great calamity if they continued that way.

His trust in God was established firmly upon the revelation he had of God from the Scriptures. He had read the Words contained there, stood on them, and observed their keeping and restorative power. More importantly, he had learned a great deal about the “boundaries” established in the Word – those things put there to keep us safe – and was distraught when he saw people choosing willfully to live outside of those boundaries. He had seen first-hand what “living outside the boundaries” had done in his own life. He was able to recall the deep darkness of depression that overcame his soul when he chose the path of adultery and the tremendous exaltation of spirit that arose within him when he confessed his sin before God, finding there mercy and grace to be restored.

The accounting of David’s own willful disobediences and his trek back to living within God’s boundaries is recorded for us in Scripture. David had come to recognize the sound of his God’s voice – he had come to trust that God would seek him out – even when he wandered outside those boundaries. He didn’t deliberately purpose to go outside those boundaries knowing that it would all be okay in the end because God would seek him - but when he did wander, he was blessed repeatedly by the mercies of God in bringing him back.

David lived with his life as an open book before God. There were times when he probably wanted to keep a few “chapters” hidden – not too proud of what God would find contained there. There are times when we want to keep some of the “chapters” of our life closed to God – like a diary with a little lock on it, hidden from view. We have become so secure in our insecurities – choosing to “deal with those issues” on our own. Tucking them away into the recesses of our minds and hearts, we mark them “off-limits” to God’s tender, healing touch. We struggle with the anguish they cause in our inner soul, but cannot find the courage of heart to let God into those “chapters”. If we would just recognize that it is only when we give God access to those hidden “chapters” that he has the authority and ability to “re-write” the ending of those issues in our lives. When we give them to him, he takes what we have labeled as hurtful and turns it into something hopeful. When he touches those areas, he brings beauty out of what we (and maybe others) call ashes. He brings truth where untruth has been embraced.

God’s desire for us is to open up to him – have lives that are open books. His promise to us is that he will re-write what needs to be re-written. He doesn’t take away those hurtful chapters of our lives, but he does change their affect on us. In the end, the “book” of our lives becomes a thing of glory – pointing others to find the same hope and freedom in Christ that we have come to enjoy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rebuilt, Renewed, and Restored

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites – everyone, in fact, God prodded – set out to build The Temple of God in Jerusalem. Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically with silver, gold, tools, pack animals, expensive gifts, and over and above these, freewill-offerings. Also, King Cyrus turned over to them all the vessels and utensils from The Temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had hauled from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods. (Ezra 1:5-9)

The nation of Israel was divided into tribes. Within each tribe were multiple families who each had leaders of the households. Judah and Benjamin were the tribes who initially occupied the Southern kingdom of Judah when the Northern tribes split from the Southern. Priests and Levites were necessary because they were needed to oversee the rebuilding of the temple in the right pattern and then to perform the acts of worship that would ensue. The nation of Israel had been taken into captivity and now were being allowed to return to their land to rebuild.

Ezra sets off with a large group of people – perhaps more than 42,000 individuals – all ordered by their genealogy or family. Those who could not prove their direct connection to a particular family were allowed to go with them, but they could not partake of the sacrificial offerings. The company included the priests and Levites, as well as the temple servants that ministered to the needs of the priests. It is not likely that the group of workers included any foreigners of the land who would return with them to do the work. It is important to remember that restoration was occurring here – God would not be calling the foreigner into the work of restoring what they were not originally part of.

Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites, began the work of restoring the temple while others, both Jews and those Gentiles of the nations Cyrus had reign over, rallied the financial support of the efforts. We cannot underestimate the value of how the builders were chosen – God prodded them. He stirred their hearts to action – to produce the results he designed to be accomplished through the actions of a worldly king. God can even use a worldly leader to accomplish his unique plans of restoration. These were people motivated by the Spirit of God. They did not self-select for this mission of rebuilding, but rather were Spirit-selected. Just as God had moved upon the heart of Cyrus to make the original decree to allow the rebuilding, God moved upon and stirred deeply the hearts of those involved in the work.

The people were given the old vessels of worship. When God’s Spirit moves upon his people to perform a new work, there is always a tie between the old and the new – something of the former remains as the new is ushered in with all the intensity of that awakening. God was not re-establishing the old form of worship Israel had previously experienced – he was merely bringing together the old with the new – the former reminding them of the power, love, and mercy of their delivering God. The Southern tribes likely had no idea what lay ahead of them as they began their venture to restore the temple – they simply had the memories of the past glory of the temple to bolster their enthusiasm to rebuild.

Sometimes we allow the enemies of our soul to take captive (bring under servitude) our minds and our actions (our temple). In doing so, we allow the foundations of our first-love worship to be destroyed. Some of us have allowed the foundations of the temple of our lives to lie in ruin long enough. As God prods or stirs our hearts, we set out to rebuild according to what we knew of God in the past. Yet, we can never lose sight of the fact that God usually has a different plan for this precious restored temple of his presence.

He may not rebuild us in exactly the same manner or form that we would interpret as “rebuilt” or “restored”. The process of restoration carries the meaning of restoring to an unimpaired or improved state. In other words, what is rebuilt is a representation or reconstruction of the original – the bringing back or putting into use again of what has been dormant or unused. It is God being put into possession again of what he once had control over – our minds, our spirits, and our emotions – even our relationships. God’s desire is that we recognize the brokenness of our condition. Then we allow him the work of calling us, ordering our lives for the process of rebuilding, and then actually seeing what takes form within us as God does the work of rebuilding what we have lost through compromise in our lives. Our part is obedience – his is to refill, renew, and regenerate.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Servants of the King

Psalm 119: 121-128 (The Message)  "I stood up for justice and the right; don't leave me to the mercy of my oppressors. Take the side of your servant, good God; don't let the godless take advantage of me. I can't keep my eyes open any longer, waiting for you to keep your promise to set everything right. Let your love dictate how you deal with me; teach me from your textbook on life. I'm your servant—help me understand what that means, the inner meaning of your instructions. It's time to act, GOD; they've made a shambles of your revelation!
Yea-Saying God, I love what you command, I love it better than gold and gemstones; Yea-Saying God, I honor everything you tell me, I despise every deceitful detour."

David recognized better than many of the Israelite people of his time that he was a servant of God. His life was wholly dedicated to the service of the only true God. Yet, David comes to God and asks God to personally help him to understand what it really means to be a servant of the Most High God. This word “understand” can be translated as three words: understand, comprehend and discern.

To understand implies that David is asking God to give him a thorough exposure to the concepts of service through God’s Word – what a servant does, how a servant responds, what attitude of heart a servant exhibits. He wants to experience all God has for him. As he experiences the Word of God, through frequent exposure to the words contained there and by practical application of them, he learns that he can count on them with a certainty that surpasses all ability to understand service to God in the “natural” sense. He is looking deep into God’s Word because he wants more than the “surface” knowledge of service or acquaintance with some other servant’s understanding of service to the King – he wants to know the “inner meaning” of God’s instructions himself.

To comprehend implies that David brings into his daily practice what he reads. He incorporates it into the analysis of his heart responses when he is feeling “beat down” by life’s issues. He uses it to direct his choices and thereby affect his actions. To this, David asks God to add discernment – the ability to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong, and to choose wisely each and every time. He is asking God for the ability to “sense” his direction, his appropriate response, and his overshadowing protection as he steps out in service.

All around David, the nation of Israel was struggling with their heart response to God. At times, they would be eager to embrace each and every move God made, trusting whole-heartedly and being unwavering in their response to God. At other times, the people would murmur about their circumstances, complaining bitterly that God must have deserted them, and living any way they chose despite their “head knowledge” of God’s commands. They would turn their back on God, questioning the validity of his commands and the reality of his promises. To this, David responds, “Lord, it is time for you to act!” He knows that their “head knowledge” is not sufficient to keep them in service to the King.

We go through similar times of “up-and-down”, “hot-and-cold” response to God, his Word and his Holy Spirit. In those times, we find ourselves drifting from our straight course – not really attentive to the one we serve. We are driven along by some force or forces that appear to have a “louder” voice than God, or a more appealing message for us to embrace. We forget that we are God’s servant – making ourselves available to other pursuits or other interests before we make ourselves available to God and his interests. David reminds us that the heart of a servant comes back to the faithful Master (God) over and over again – seeking to be instructed, and ultimately, molded into faithful service to his Master.

We come, seeking to avoid the detours in our service, relying on God to show us how to avoid those things that distract us from being available to serve our King. In turn, God reveals his covenant promises to us – reminding us that they are reliable, trustworthy, and founded principles for our daily walk. He teaches us the obedient response of a servant. He unfolds the principles of waiting on the Master’s call before we move. He creates within us expectancy and a sensitivity to even the subtlest move of our Master – all the while readying us to respond as the Master would desire. As with David, let us seek to understand, comprehend and discern the meaning of being a servant of the Most High God. Treasure the Word. Give it priority in your walk. Let is mold your responses and “tune up” our sensitivity to God’s every movement.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Retreat

Psalm 119:113-120 (The Message)  "I hate the two-faced, but I love your clear-cut revelation. You're my place of quiet retreat; I wait for your Word to renew me. Get out of my life, evildoers, so I can keep my God's commands. Take my side as you promised; I'll live then for sure. Don't disappoint all my grand hopes. Stick with me and I'll be all right; I'll give total allegiance to your definitions of life. Expose all who drift away from your sayings; their casual idolatry is lethal. You reject earth's wicked as so much rubbish; therefore I lovingly embrace everything you say. I shiver in awe before you; your decisions leave me speechless with reverence."

Life is filled with all kinds of relationship challenges, but probably one of the hardest to deal with is when someone is two-faced. They act one way to your face, but behave completely different when your back is turned. The term David uses here lets us know that he is dealing with people who are false in their character – they are double-dealing, as it were. In the NIV translation, this term is rendered as “double-minded” – not really settled on one course of action, sometimes deceitful or misleading in their attitude or motivation. In addressing these relationship challenges, David says God is his refuge and shield – something he puts his hope in.

A refuge is a shelter or protection from danger or distress – a place that provides a means of resort for help in difficult circumstances. David has learned to look to God as his “resort” in difficult relationships. He comes to God as a place of quiet retreat – finding the strength to deal with the double-mindedness of those he is faced with. Not only is God his retreat, but he is his defense – his shield. You only need a shield when stuff is coming at you that may hurt you, penetrate your vulnerable parts. David uses God’s Word as a shield to keep his enemy’s “arrows” from penetrating him where he is most vulnerable and having a negative effect on him.

Double-minded people are more than somewhat dangerous to associate with. They have a tendency to bring confusion into a situation, misleading and distracting us from our straight course. Just by the very nature of their on-again / off-again behavior, they present unique opportunities for us to respond without malice or evil intent, to live according to God’ plan, and to not get wrapped up in things that will take us drastically off-course in our daily walk. We cannot face the challenge of discerning their “real” heart-intent without the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We see the two-faced, or double-minded, for what they really are (as God sees them) when we are seeing them through the discernment of spirit that comes when we have the correct “spiritual filters” applied in our lives. David says he finds those “filters” in God’s Word, in running to God directly as a refuge he can rely upon.

David describes the process of retreating into or toward God as his refuge in tough relationships. To many, the idea of retreating is to withdraw from that which is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable. David is not saying he just “up and leaves” every relationship that is too difficult or disagreeable to him. He is moving to a place of safety – getting alone with God so he can regroup in prayer, meditation, study of the Word, and receive the instruction he desperately needs to know in order to respond in those relationships. He doesn’t “bail” – he finds the right perspective, keeps his heart right, and learns how to respond with the heart and mind of Christ in those difficult relationships.

The most remarkable and telling portion of this passage is David’s heart attitude – you stick with me, God, and I will be all right! The situation is difficult – there are tough times, difficult people to be around, and lots of opportunities for being “tripped up” – but if I have you on my side, I cannot fail! He knows that God will be there all along the way to expose those double-minded for what they really are – he doesn’t have to worry about that because his heart is secure in knowing that God is with him every step of the journey. When we face those tough relationships in life – we need to run to God as our refuge and our strong shield. As we do, we will be able to stand like David, knowing well that with God as our shelter, we are protected, made strong where we are most vulnerable, and will “come out all right” in the end.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

Psalm 119:105-112 (NIV)  "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.  I have suffered much; preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.   Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.  Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law.  The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.  Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.   My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end."

There are times in our life when it seems like the pathway we are on is covered in darkness and the way just does not seem clear to us. The twists and turns of life’s circumstances present obstacles for our safe passage, trying to trip us up at every opportunity. David knew something about dark times. He spent the first months after being anointed the new King of Israel on the run from the then reigning King Saul. His life was a series of ups-and-downs that would have made the majority of people just throw in the towel and walk away from it all.

He spent months in service to Saul – playing sweet melodies on his stringed instrument, trying to calm King Saul whenever a fit of rage would come over him. Saul would launch into one of his “fits of anger” and do everything in his power to kill David, yet David served and honored him as the King of Israel, appointed by the hand of God. Even when he was forced to flee for his life, hiding in caves and living off the land, David would not touch the anointed of God. He had every right to the throne himself – he had been anointed as the successor to the throne. He could have rightfully “taken” the throne, but he waited on God’s timing, God's plan, and God's protection.

In that time of waiting, his path may have seemed a little “dark” and riddled with all kinds of opportunities to get “tripped up” along the way. David had something that kept him focused and secure in his times of trial. He was committed to God’s plan for his life during his waiting to take the throne as the next King of Israel, and throughout his entire reign when times of deep emotional pain and loss swept over him with the loss of close companions, the treachery of betrayal by those he loved dearly, and the agony of his own family dysfunction - David had learned that God’s Word had a “keeping” and "illuminating" power that no other source could provide.

It was a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. A lamp in Biblical times was a simple device, often made of clay, which contained a little oil and a simple hemp wick. The little lamp would often have a handle, small spout from which the wick would protrude, and a small reservoir for the oil. It provided illumination about as bright as would illuminate the size of an average bedroom in a house built today. It did not function to illuminate far off – not like a spotlight or a high beam on your car. It was for the immediate place in which you were standing at that very moment. The Word of God gave David the illumination for where he was at the very moment he needed it. It lit up his path, step-by-step, carefully outlining every perfectly orchestrated turn he was to make.

I think David was a regular guy, just like you and I. He struggled with the regular stuff of life, like jealousy, fear, rejection, and lust. He knew hardship, and he enjoyed good times. He was up one day, down the next. His friends were there for him one moment, and then gone the next. He suffered the loss of an infant son and endured the pain of rebellious teenagers. He was a regular guy, taking his life into his own hands over-and-over again, believing he knew the next steps to take, only to fall flat on his face when his way didn't work out as he planned. One of his great strengths as recorded in Scripture was his ability to acknowledge his failures to trust God.  When he struggled with his trust in God, he poured out his heart to him in honest exposure of his inner struggle of faith, his confession of his own obstinance, and his deep anguish of soul when failure caused deep loss.

David had established that the Word of God would be his heritage. It would be his strong tower today, his shelter tomorrow, and his wall of defense way into the future. A heritage is something that is received – it is not earned, but rather it is a gift of a great benefactor. For David, his benefactor was God himself. For generations to come, the legacy that David left as the King of Israel, the anointed of God, would live on - but not as significant as his legacy as a child of God. His life became a shining example for others to learn from. His psalms of praise became a legacy he passed on to future generations as “messages from his heart” to God himself. Perhaps David’s greatest legacy is what God himself said about David – “He is a man after mine own heart”.

We have no greater legacy to pass on to our family than our relationship with our Lord. We have no greater example to set, no brighter light to shine, no illumination to bring into life’s tough times brighter or more enlightening than God’s Word. There is no greater legacy than being spoken of by God as a man or woman after his own heart. Let his Word illuminate your path, giving secure passage for your feet so you don’t stumble along the way and a joy to your heart all along the way. Remember, his Word illuminates what you need to see for this very moment – it may not illuminate the entire course you will travel all at one time – but it will reveal your immediate course. Light for your feet (the immediate course) – step-by-step, building a legacy of your life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One single blessing

Psalm 103:1-2  (The Message) "O my soul, bless GOD. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless GOD, don’t forget a single blessing! He forgives your sins – every one. He heals your diseases – every one. He redeems you from hell – saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy – a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness – beauty eternal. He renews your youth – you’re always young in his presence."

Blessing #1: He forgives our sins – every one.

David is recounting the blessings of God in his life and he starts with the pardon of God. He excuses the offense by releasing us from the penalties of that offense. Our offenses are great, but God’s pardon is even greater. God gives up his claim to requital – no longer demands payment or restitution for the offense. The payment or restitution was already made in his Son’s death, burial, and resurrection. All we need to do is to walk in that forgiveness. Complete forgiveness is granted. We have been given an official decree of release, allowing us to pass into his presence without any fear of punishment. God is not just tolerating us, but welcoming us as his redeemed creation into the very throne room of his presence.

Blessing #2: He heals your diseases – every one.

Healing is one of the miracles of salvation that we should marvel about. He is making us sound or whole in body, soul and spirit – every part of our being affected by the touch of God. He restores us to our original purity and integrity (in Christ), no longer subject to the limitations of our sinful nature. God is in the business of doing much more than a “patch up” job – it is a total make-over of our character. It is complete healing of all our diseases – more than just illness or frailty of physical body. It is health for all manner of trouble we face – counteracting everything that works to impair our performance or harm our development as his children.

Blessing #3: He redeems you from hell – saves your life!

God is in the business of purchasing - buying us back from our sinful condition, from our slavery to the prince of this world. He frees us from all that brings distress and harm in our lives. He frees us from every manner of captivity in our daily lives - freed completely, not in part. This freedom is from the consequences of sin – those things that tear us down, make us undesirable in his presence, or keep us in slavery to the desires of our sinful nature. We are converted into something of value once again - made to stand worthwhile in his presence. It is interesting to note that in times past, a coin could have been referred to as a “worth”. The significance of the coin was its weight - the “worth” of the coin was its original weight. As the coin circulated, the “worth” decreased. It became “worth-less” as it circulated more and more, wearing away at its weight or value. Our “worth” or our significance is worn away by what we are circulated through and through in the course of our daily lives. Our “worth” is restored in the redemptive work of Christ – giving us back our full value, merit, or excellence.

Blessing #4: He crowns you with love and mercy – a paradise crown.

A crown is a reward of victory and a mark of honor for the one who is adorned with it. It imparts splendor and honor to the one who is adorned with it – there is an investment of dignity and power. Let us see that we are adorned with no ordinary crown – it is the paradise crown. It is a crown of love and mercy – we are doubly crowned. Love – making us an object of his supreme desire. Love – positioning us as the focus of his devotion. Love – encompassing us with his unselfish concern and care. Mercy – making us no longer subject to the punishment we deserve. Mercy – bestowing on us favor we did not earn; position not gained by any merit of our own. Mercy – promotion we are not capable of achieving on our own. This is no ordinary crown – it is the paradise crown. One crowned or adorned in such a manner is surely a very honored member of his court.

Blessing #5: He wraps you in goodness – beauty eternal.

Which one of us would not jump at the opportunity for lasting beauty? It is a much sought after state in today’s society. Thousands seek it in cosmetic appeal, more seek it in physical exercise, while still more seek it in surgical intervention to change what they view as uncomely in their physical appearance – yet all seem to recognize the inward condition of their soul that affects so deeply the outward condition of our appearance. We are wrapped – embraced by, surrounded by, or enveloped by God’s goodness. Goodness – all that is worthy of praise and is beneficial to our well-being – and it lasts! This is not a fleeting beauty – but one that is certain to last – because it brings to our inner man all that is profitable and pleasant. Providing us every manner of virtue – making us “just” or “commendable” in his sight. It gives to us permanent “worth” – no decay or diminishing value, even when circumstances would seem to try our character.

Blessing #6: He renews your youth – you’re always young in his presence.

The thought of renewal is one of being made new. God renews – makes us new spiritually, allows us to begin again, making extensive changes in us that afford the opportunity for rebuilding / restoration. We are made young again - subject again to the first stages of growth or freshness of growth in our inner man. This is a work of making us tender in spirit, moldable in character, open to newness of life. We are brought before him, opened in his presence, and there, we lay our will at his feet. There, in his presence, we learn to lean heavily on his experience and abandon ours for the freshness of blessing that is provided. In his presence, the rebuilding process opens us afresh to the vigor of youth.

God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet. He showed Moses how he went about his work; opened up his plans to all Israel. God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag or scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as or sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. Psalm 103:6-10

Bless God – what a promise for those who believe him! He makes everything come out right – placing us back on our feet, opening for us the plans of heaven. God is not a nagging God – he is a nudging God. David exalts God because he knows the keeping power of his creator. The psalm starts with the words “bless God” - give him praise – exuberant, heartfelt, joyous praise. Glorify him – lifting him high - speak graciously of him – not just of his deeds, but of his character. David is challenging us to protect and preserve his name and his reputation among the nations. There is untapped potential in praise – it rights the soul and challenges the spirit.

“O my soul” - every part of my being that animates me from within; every active and essential part of who and what I am; all that arouses emotion, sentiment, and fervor within me – this is what is to be used in exalting the name of God. David says that we are to praise God from head to toe – with every part of our being. Never forgetting one single blessing - it is good to take inventory of what God has done, what he provides, what he creates.

David describes the creation embraced by the Creator – in turn, embracing him with all we’ve got. We are challenged to never forget – memory is a powerful tool against the enemy of our soul. It is a weapon he wields to keep us in captivity – it can be a weapon we use to recount the blessings of God that stand in complete opposition to the bondage of his captivity. David is speaking of more than just the loss of a memory – he is speaking of that which comes in us that causes us to cease movement - to cease from doing what he made us to do. Memory is an active process – not forgetting God’s blessings is a participative process.

It is our lack of involvement – being inattentive or overlooking what is right in front of us; that intentional disregard for the things of God – that present to us the opportunity to modify our focus, alter our perspective. No longer noticing the blessings of God in our lives is risky business. This can come through neglect – neglecting the presence of God, his Word, his worship, or his people. What we have once known, those things we have once been affected by, can become things of our past – distant memories – if we do not recount them.

David does not challenge us to review the long laundry lists of blessings that God has done in our lives – although this is not a bad idea. He challenges us to focus on one single blessing. Some blessings stand alone, seemingly insignificant in the larger scheme of things that affect us each day. While others could never escape our notice – breaking upon us with such significant impact that there is no escaping their reality or effect. The littlest blessings can often prove to be the most rewarding. Count your blessings – they ALL add up to great things in God.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Expecting our fill of good things

Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, and also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all. (Psalm 65:1-2)

Silence is the absence of sound or noise; a perfect stillness – absence of motion. Too often, we find ourselves requiring “noise” or “movement” to know we are “connected” with God. We think it is impossible to make a connection with him if we are not doing something or saying something about or to him. Yet, God inspires the Psalmist to write the words, “Silence is praise”. David had learned that even in the quietness of waiting in his presence, we praise our God. When we can stop long enough to just simply admire him, we connect with him afresh. This is a tough thing for us in our modern world of busy lifestyles – but it is worth more to our soul and spirit than any other pursuit.

David does not stop at acknowledging silence as a form of praise to our God, he also focuses on our obedience. We rarely equate obedience to praise – but God does. Obedience is submission to the control of another. It is a truly blessed person that realizes that God’s control is sometimes more rewarding when we just hush long enough to enjoy it. We spend so much time and energy trying to regain control of what we claim to have given to God. Yet, in learning to leave those things rightly at his feet, we learn to celebrate God in a fresh way.

In our silence and in our obedience, God hears the prayer in it all. Even in silence, prayers are lifted. David is trying to help us to see that prayers are more than words. They are an opportunity for us to commune with God. God knows us intimately and connects with the silence of a submissive heart.

We all arrive at your doorstep sooner or later, loaded with guilt, our sins too much for us – but you get rid of them once and for all. (Psalm 65:2-3)

We all arrive. It is a fact than no one is exempt from needing God in their lives – we are drawn to his doorstep by the power of the Holy Spirit and the desperation of our own need. It is a destination with a purpose – but the journey is unique to each individual that comes. David reminds us that sooner or later…we all end up at his doorstep. Some accept his invitation to come and enjoy a life of liberating grace and mercy – while other resist the invitation until it is way too late. We’d do well to listen to his invitations sooner. We’d save ourselves a ton of issues, loads of disappointments, and a lifetime of anxious pursuits.

It is important to see how we arrive…loaded. Carrying more than any one person was ever meant to carry. We come to his doorstep weighed down, burdened under the weight, full of guilt. We don’t even arrive in good shape or worthy of entrance.

We carry with us a full load of blame and condemnation - maybe not fully aware of the violations of conduct we have committed, but sensing the associated guilt anyway. Our sins too much for us…we come to his doorstep. We were never meant to bear the guilt of our sin - the cross did that. We are just meant to lay that guilt down, walking away free in his presence, free by his grace, free in his love. As we come, he gets rid of those things that burden us down - completely, thoroughly, without a trace that they existed at all (in his sight). It amazes me that we struggle so often with “memory” disease – we remember what he forgets / what is no longer in his line of sight – recreating our guilt and placing upon our shoulders again a weight of guilt and shame that rightfully belong to him now.

Blessed are the chosen! Blessed the guest at home in your place! We expect our fill of good things in our house, your heavenly manse. All your salvation wonders are on display in your trophy room…Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” (Psalm 65:4-8)

A guest at home in his place – imagine the privilege of being “at home” in God’s presence. A visitor to our homes feels rather odd – just comes inside, to the sofa perhaps – and they never really get to know more of us than what is revealed in that “front room” of our home. A welcome friend feels very comfortable – at the kitchen counter, in the backyard, or even in the intimate privacy of the den. That is how our Lord welcomes us into his presence – opening to us the very intimate parts of his courts to us. Intimate friendship with God is only possible when we extend ourselves in relationship with him. What type of a visitor are you in God’s home? Do you barely make it to the sofa with God? Are your visits with him stiff, or impersonal? Is your movement in his home uncomfortable, making it difficult to explore all that he holds for you? Do you feel conspicuous in his presence? Or do you make yourself at home? We are given total access, but we need to make the move beyond the sofa to the kitchen. He provides our fill of good things - in the kitchen, we get our fill.

David speaks of another room in God’s house - the trophy room. The purpose of the trophy room is to display memories of battles won. The room acts as a memorial, and offers displays of honor and conquest. What trophies does God display on your behalf? Trophies are treasures placed in a place of significant view and honor. There are lessons in our lives that we have learned, dreams that are finally fulfilled, and deliverances provided that all stand as trophies of God’s grace, mercy and gracious love. In the “filling” of the kitchen moments, God turns the tragedies of our lives into the trophies of his great treasure. We don’t become treasures on the sofa – it is in the free intimacy of the kitchen, the deep exploration of the den, and the comfortable enjoyment of the backyard that God creates those trophies in our lives. For many of us, it way past time for us to move beyond the sofa and to allow ourselves access to more of God than we have ever experienced before.

We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do YOUR work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy…God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (Colossians 1:10-13)

Live well for the Master – become trophies of his grace. We learn more about him in the “kitchen times” than at any other – in turn, we share what we have been fed – we become workers in his orchard. Learn how God works…and you are guaranteed to learn how to do YOUR work. Not just “a” work, but the specific calling God has placed on your life - the very reason for which you were created. We have a tendency to begin well, but then to wane in our commitment to what God calls us to do. Paul writes to the Colossian church to encourage them to stick it out. Yet, he is not encouraging them to do everything God calls them to do in their own ability or strength. We fail miserably whenever we try to become treasures by our own strength. We become polished treasures on display for him through his “glory-strength” alone - rescued from dead end alleys and set up – a thing of display and honor to our heavenly Father. Out of the pit – no longer looking up to see the light, but fully glorified by the light. Polished regularly so we don’t repeat the sins of our past.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your back turned to God…but now…Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the message, careful not be distracted or diverted. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Each of our lives could be called a case study. The “study” is only as good as the author – if God authors the work, the results are assured. We are a case study of his grace, mercy and everlasting love. So, we need to stay grounded - in trust. We stay grounded by being constantly attentive to his voice / his every command (remember the words of the Psalmist…silence is praise, obedience, as well). We must remain carefully focused on the one who welcomes us to his doorstep. It is only in the directed focus of our obedience that we becomes treasures – trophies on his mantle – displays of his honor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are you hungry?

This morning, I would like to “sum up” what we have learned from our Psalmist thus far in our study of Psalm 119. There are some common themes that run the entire length of this Psalm and recalling them can help to “cement” them in our memory.

David repeatedly refers to his desire to serve God with his entire being – following the course God sets out for him without any wavering. We have explored the truth that a desire is something that we long for or base our hope on. When we have a desire of heart, our heart is moved toward that which we desire with the hopes that we will find absolute fulfillment and enjoyment in what we are moving toward. We are looking for satisfaction of heart, thrill of our soul, or touch of our spirit. That desire “drives us” or gives us a conscious impulse to move in a particular direction.

Part of desire is the idea of hunger. Hunger is most often thought of as a craving for something that promises fulfillment. It carries the idea of urgency – if we don’t get something to satisfy the craving, we might not make it! Hunger differs from appetite. Our appetite is what we tend to “prefer” when we are given a choice. Hunger is a force that demands satisfaction. Many of us refer to our “hunger” as a “craving” – inward yearning for something that promises to meet that intense desire we have at that moment.

All of these terms are inter-related, yet expand upon the other, in describing our hunger, or desire, for the things of God. When we are following God with a determined heart, we have a re-centering of our desire. We begin to focus on different things in which we will find our satisfaction. The things that once brought us fulfillment may no longer seem appealing.

I want to provide an acrostic this morning to help us look at what God longs for our “desire” to be as Christians. He longs for us to have:

• Disciplined lives – a truly hungry Christian will desire training that corrects, or molds, his life. He will yearn for the instruction that gives correction of wrong attitudes, superficial motivations, or impure thoughts. The touch of the hand of the Creator will become the craving of our soul and spirit.

• Equipped lives – no longer settling for the “hand-me-downs” of what other Christians have learned or gleaned from God's Word, but the ability to be furnished with all that will make us fit for service and action in the Kingdom of God. In the pursuit of all that God graciously provides for our daily walk, we receive an equipping for service – learning to rightly divide the Word of God for ourselves, receiving revelation of God’s character in our lives from our times of study and meditation.

• Sanctified lives – not settling for the mediocre in our lives, but pursuing the best. David had learned the value of allowing God to point out the “marks” that sin had made in his life - those things that "scarred" him. He allowed God to show him where his life did not “add up” to things that really amounted to much in the sense of living a pure life. Then, he applied what God taught, embraced the grace God freely gave, and moved out in the God-provided strength to live free from the pull of sin in his life.

• Intimate lives – longing for close association with our Savior, craving contact with him - urgently needing to know him and to be known by him. Intimacy brings us to the idea of transparency – being real about how we feel, how we are interpreting what we are presently experiencing. Intimacy brings us into an awareness of each other that helps us to grow in our relationship. Without intimate sharing of our lives, there is no depth in our fellowship. God’s desire is for us to become so transparent with him in every facet of our lives that we are "comfortable" in his presence, being fully exposed without fear or an inability to trust him with our "exposure".

• Renewed lives – freshness in our walk that revives our inner being. Through times of intimate sharing, necessary discipline, and the embracing of the grace of God in our lives, we come to a place where we are made “vigorous” in our walk. Sin tears us down and saps us of our spiritual energy and excitement. God desires to revive us so that we are flourishing and prosperous in every area of our body, soul and spirit. As we are, we become “active” in our walk – pursuing with intensity, yearning to be satisfied like never before.

• Enlightened lives – not able to stay in the “dark” or to tolerate any darkness in any corners of our lives anymore. There is an intense craving / longing for illumination. When illumination comes, exposure is sure to follow. Enlightened lives are sanctified lives. Sanctified lives are disciplined lives. With enlightened spiritual eyes, we behold truths from God’s Word with a freshness that renews us and draws us closer to the Lover of our soul (Jesus). God holds back nothing when our desire is to be enlightened in every area of our lives – his movement is sensed, his gentle reminders are heard, and his tender nudging of our hearts is heeded.

DESIRE – deeply responding to the intense drive of our hearts to know and experience God at every turn of our day. That is the crux of the message of our Psalmist thus far. Learn to respond to the craving of your heart for more of God! It is a rewarding hunger.