Psalm 113 ~ Distances

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Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? Psalm 113:5-6

In this brief recital of God’s great glory, the careful reader notes the psalmist’s use of contrast in the verses. As you read and meditate on the verses you are struck by the various ‘distances’ that bookend the effusive worship.

Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. (v2)

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, (v3)

the One who sits on high, who stoops down to look (v6)

He raises the poor from the dust (v7)

The God of All, seated in the Heavens surveying all in His domain is also the intimate God. He is seated next to you in trouble, He is present in His full glory no matter the distance we attempt to place between us. He is timeless; there was, is, and never will be, a time in which we are not His beloved. Bending a knee in humble adoration does not call Him screaming across the heavens to be with us, He is already present, His heart overflowing with love.

In our Lenten reflections we focus on the redemption that has transformed our lives. This same distance applies to our forgiven sins..

Let our sins be forgiven and forgotten, both now and forevermore..

Let us walk in the light of God’s glory from the rising of the sun to the time at which it sets..

Let us be mindful of the One who sits on high, who desires to look down on lives of holiness..

Let us remember always that we are the poor and lost who He raised from the dust…

 

Grace and peace to you..

image Horia Varlan

Psalm 80 – Restore Us, O Lord God Almighty

imageRestore us, O God;

make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Ps 80:3)

This plea for restoration  echoes three times in the psalm, and it is very familiar to readers of the psalter. Israel pleas for God’s love to return to her and to save her from her enemies. In many of the preceding psalms we have heard this same petition sounded on an individual basis, as the king asks to be relieved of the many enemies who come against him. The corporate plea is of the same timbre, how long God? How long will your punishment last?

Israel’s petition takes the path of covenant reminders. She reminds God of what He has done for her in the past, reminding Him of her special status in His eyes. Yes, we’ve been bad God. Yes, we’ve deserved punishment. But how much God? How long will you punish us for the sins of our fathers?

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Though we are forgiven of all, past, present and future, we are not given to license. Should our choices lead to consequence, we ask our Lord for relief. How long, we ask. How long must we suffer the consequence of our choice? We often follow the same pattern in pleading for relief. We remind God—as though He has forgotten—how he saved us. We remind Him of all that He has done to change our circumstance. We may even try to convince God that all of this punishment makes Him look bad.

We rarely see Israel and her unfaithfulness in ourselves.

Grace and peace to you.

Ted Haggard (mis)Interprets James

imageAfter doing immeasurable harm to the brothers and sisters of New Life Church, the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to the Church of Jesus Christ at large, Ted Haggard is again placing himself into a leadership position as he plants the new St. James church in Colorado Springs. The new body draws its name from the Epistle of James from which Haggard quotes verse 2:17 “..faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and witnesses to the number of times in the past three years that he and wife Gayle have been the recipients of love in action. This is a noble application of the verse Ted, but what is the definition of faith? Is it to sin boldly so as to receive more grace?

Apparently he didn’t read any further in the book. Verse 3:1 of this practical letter says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” There’s a higher standard Ted, a standard for those who influence the lives of so many others. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) How true! None of us is sinless but we pursue holiness with a vigor that is unmatched.

And we do it every day to the furthest extent of our Spirit-led abilities so that when we step up to pulpit we have the integrity to look into the eyes of those that God has seated before us and to speak the Gospel into their lives…

…without having to worry about our hidden lives being revealed.

Are those who take to seats in St. James church going to know that Haggard has been pursuing holiness rather than drugs and sexual liaisons? What accountability will he have this time that he did not before? The nagging question that burns in the minds of many right now is whether or not the standards of holiness will be relaxed to accommodate the very behaviors that precipitated his previous fall. Will the standards be such that God will be present when the body is gathered?

As a brother in Christ I take seriously my responsibility to Ted. I love him and extend all measure of grace to him and his family and pray for nothing but redemption in his life. I believe that the Lord’s grace has blanketed and forgiven his sin and worked to knit together the Haggard family and make it whole. On the other hand, I don’t believe that he should be stepping back into the pulpit and leading a new body at this time. Had he placed himself under the leadership of another pastor and the accountability of another Elder board for some time to demonstrate a restored soul and measure of integrity this move would make sense but not this way. If God has called him back to the pulpit then I’m moving out of the way as fast as I can. If Ted has called himself back to preaching, it’s my responsibility to take his measure in accordance with the scriptures.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Psalm 73 – It is Good to Be Near God

image But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from the burdens common to man; (Psalm 73:2-5a)

We rarely hear of the Seven Deadly Sins within our Protestant tradition but we intuitively know that envy is not good. Whether it be the Ten Commandments, selections from the Proverbs, or passages such as Ephesians 4:17-32 being preached, we have undoubtedly been warned against the subtlety of the sin of envy. All sin starts in the mind as we toy with it, roll it over in (what we think is) a safe, hidden environment. The psalmist reflects on this game we all play, allowing the envious fantasy to play about in our minds while, at the same time, dismissing the danger.

What danger? The peril inherent in the truth we know but avoid; the step from thought to action is the shortest of all of our strides. We lose our foothold when envy makes itself at home in our thoughts.

Envy, for the Christian, is an especially challenging issue because the enemy preys on our sometimes immature sense of fairness. Our hearts are tempted to look upon the riches, health, and ease of life the ungodly enjoy and compare it to our struggles or relative poverty and ask, how is this fair God? Why do those who express an open malice toward God appear to have riches that remain out of the grasp of the believer?  The psalmist expresses our moments of doubt well;

This is what the wicked are like—always carefree, they increase in wealth.

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (vv 12-13)

We’ve all been there. We may have even expressed it out loud. Some have stepped over the line to create their own ‘fairness.’ Our hearts have been led astray but Spirit has brought the majority of us back from the edge. Our faith has been renewed as the eventual destination of the wicked becomes clearer in our sight and we realize that nothing is worth the separation it creates between ourselves and our Father.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (vv 21-23)

We have faith into eternity, it lasts beyond the next few weeks, months, or years. The Spirit gives us a glimpse of eternity and the wisdom to understand that it is better to be close to God and know His glory forever rather than to enjoy material wealth now and separation later. Doubts approach us from all directions but we give them no harbor. The Lord is our refuge.

Grace and peace to you.

image Bright Star

Lent Spent with the Psalms Day One

imageWe’ve all spent time in the psalms. They are a source of challenge, comfort, and promise for us today in the same way that they were for the people of Israel. At times pleading and others praising, God and His incredible works remain front and center in this poetry. The Church enters the season of Lent today, a period of pointed reflection on the Lord that moves day by day toward the celebration of Easter. We meditate on the bloody and horrible cost of salvation, how the perfect Seder lamb had to be sacrificed so that you and I might be saved. It is at the same time a sober and celebratory time.

Psalm 85 expresses our need and desire perfectly. The psalmist pleads,

Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger through all generations?

Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. (vv 4-7)

Begin our walk through the desert toward Calvary by asking yourself, what am I contributing to prolonging God’s anger?  What must I shed on this trip through the wilderness? Our goal is to reach the cross rid of the dead weight  and dross that interfere with our relationship with the Savior.

Grace and peace to you.

 

image wolfgang staudt

Psalm 51 Create In Me a Pure Heart

David and BathshebaYou do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (vv 16 – 17)

This truth has very nearly become obsolete in the modern church. We have replaced contrition and brokenness with ministry busyness, our ‘offerings’ and church attendance. Sin has become rule-breaking rather than a personal affront; it has become external instead of internal. Repentance has become little more than ‘I’m sorry…’.

Psalm 51 is traditionally seen as being composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) and then being confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12). We know how the single transgression of Bathsheba leads to further abhorrent behavior on the part of the King and we know all too well the horrible price that he pays for this string of evils. We don’t know how an exemplar like David can succumb to sin in this fashion but we do know that, if it can happen to someone so close to God it can happen to us as well.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (vv 1-3)

Is God moved to offer pardon through this string of praise? Exclaiming God’s unfailing love, His great compassion, and His mercy, is this proclamation of what must be entirely self evident to Him what will invite Him to offer grace? He must view these prefaces to our admission of guilt much as we do our teenager’s statements that they love and respect our household standards: we ask them why they performed such and such and act if they hold such great respect for our rules? No, we should believe that God is moved when our hearts finally arrive at the core truth of our relationship with Him voiced in verse 4.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (v 4)

We must restore the proper understanding of sin in our lives and in His Church. Sin is properly viewed as being personally enacted against God. We have been lured to see sin as an external act, sort of a third party action of simply breaking a rule in which no one gets harmed like running a few miles over the speed limit. No harm, no foul. This is not how God views sin however. He views each act against His holiness personally, as though we look Him in the eye and while defiling His throne. It becomes even more serious when imagine how God must see our sin in the shadow of the Cross.

Statistically, few people read these posts on the Psalms. More people are interested in the Calvinism-Arminianism argument or my posts on the Hebrews warning passages but my prayer is that more will take the time to at least return to their Bibles and prayerfully consider this Psalm. Doctrine is important and it is valuable time spent considering the facts and searching the scriptures for the truths that underlie the doctrines but this cannot be at the expense of our relationship with God and our personal holiness. Far more important in our lives should be a plea similar to David’s:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (vv 10-12)

Psalm 38 – Come Quickly to Help Me

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For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me.

I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.

May are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous.

Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good. (vv 17-20)

Modern readers are tempted to dismiss this psalm as the product of ancient superstition and ignorance of the source of bodily infirmities. The psalmist attributes the overwhelming pain and agony of his suffering to a personal attack by God due to his sinfulness. We understand disease and the decay of body from a scientific perspective but we should be slow to allow this knowledge to color our understanding of God’s hand on our lives.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in you anger or discipline me in your wrath. (v1)

Our actions have consequences, good and bad. Should the Lord prevent us from suffering the consequence of our choices because of his deep love for us? We do this for our children, more often than not. God wants us to grow and mature in our holiness and sometimes that requires pain to enter our lives. The pain reminds us of the choices that we made and gives us an incentive to make better choices in the future. On the other hand, there are numerous pains that are significantly disconnected by time and distance from their original source and we can mistakenly attribute them to chance or label them unexplainable. Anger with God can mount: why God, why? Why would you allow this into my life now? These moments, when we most desire to understand, are the times when our knees should hit the floor as we seek understanding.

O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.

Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior. (vv 21 –22)

 

Photo by Patrick Denker

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