April 20, 2015

Psalm 79:9-10 Help us, O God our Savior,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins
for your name’s sake.
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”

The best thing about this cry for help is that it puts the focus on God. We tend to put the focus on ourselves, poor little me, but that isn’t very productive. That said, the problem with this cry for help is that in historical context, the answer to the question posed here is that the Jews had denied their God and followed all sorts of lies, and what they were going through was the natural consequence of that. The writer does acknowledge that they had sinned, and he very rightly basis his request for forgiveness not on human righteousness but on the reputation of the Name of the Lord. God doesn’t have an ego to be bruised, but He does desire that people know His character so that they will be more likely to turn to Him. That’s why He did indeed answer this prayer, though not with the timing and methods the psalmist probably had in mind. All of this certainly brings America today to mind. No other nation apart from Israel has been so boldly founded on “the laws of nature and nature’s God” as America, yet today there is a concerted effort to deny that that was the intention of the Founding Fathers at all. As part of that, there is also a strong denial of “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” to a degree that violates all logic and common sense. Why would you throw out and degrade marriage, which is the foundation of civil society, and even the biology that under-girds it? Those in America who call on the Name of the Lord in truth need to repent of taking His Word lightly and call on Him for His mercy, much as the psalmist did here. Only then will the nations recognize that the God America has claimed since its founding is the Creator and Savior indeed.

I am at a physical remove from America, but the Internet keeps me more aware than I would like to be of the current level of degradation. Like Daniel, I am to pray for God’s mercy on the nation regardless of my personal righteousness, while at the same time recognizing that any righteousness I have is only by His grace. I am saddened to have to tell Japanese that at present America is not a Christian nation in practice, but my focus should not be on man and his actions at all. Rather, I am to focus on God, in my prayers and in my daily living. I am not to “cast the first stone,” but rather cry out to God for His mercy on us all.

Father, life on this earth is such a mixture: joy and sorrow, holiness and obscenity, obedience and rebellion. As the song says, it makes me “long for heaven and home.” However, as that song also says, I know You are watching me. Help me rest in that knowledge, seeking and receiving forgiveness as necessary and walking in obedience and submission to You, doing Your will on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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April 19, 2015

Psalm 78:36-37 But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.

This whole rather long Psalm is a litany of how Israel would go through cycle after cycle of obeying God and then rebelling against Him, and how God put up with it all. This particular snippet from the Psalm describes the hypocritical stage of that cycle. We human beings have a remarkable ability to say and do one thing on the surface and be something entirely different underneath. This Psalm makes it clear that doesn’t work, because God always sees through whatever sham we put up. Jesus’ harshest word against people was to call them hypocrites. God doesn’t want our ceremonies, He wants our hearts. We can be so stupid, thinking that God doesn’t notice things, when actually He is aware of every little detail. When you come right down to it, when you consider how perfectly pure and holy He is, it’s a wonder He doesn’t zap us all! That’s why the Bible talks over and over about God is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7) The problem is, we tend to presume on that, forgetting that when God gave that description of Himself He went on to say, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7) America is at what I would hope is a peak of rebellion at this point. (I don’t see how it could get much worse.) God’s clearly expressed laws and standards are being flouted in more ways than I could list. As someone has said, if God doesn’t bring judgment on America, He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah! One of Satan’s lies is that the individual is powerless in the face of all this filth in society. However, society is made up of individuals, and it will change only as individuals decide to be different. Not until individuals choose to walk in personal holiness will society move away from being so profane. This is most evident in homes, where parents need to set holy examples for their children, not pretending to be perfect but always having the standard of Christ, of the Bible, before them. As Paul said, we are to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

I’ve got to be as careful of this as anyone, if not more so, because as a pastor I am an example to many. The world constantly pulls us to conform to it, and we become hypocritical without even recognizing it. Statistics show shockingly little difference between Christians and non-Christians in a wide range of attitudes and behaviors. I am not to accept that lying down! Legalism is not the answer, but I must always call people to purity and devotion, to placing Christ ahead of the world on every level. And calling others to do it, I must do so myself!

Father, thank You for Your amazing patience and mercy. I have taken your grace for granted more times than I like to think about, and really, more times than I know. I ask Your forgiveness, and I thank You for Your promise of cleansing. (1 John 1:9) May I walk in pure devotion and lead others to do the same, so that we will not deceive ourselves (James 1:22) but live as Your children indeed, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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April 18, 2015

Psalm 77:12 I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

The Bible is clear that even saints get depressed. That should be a comfort to us today. Asaph was losing sleep over his situation until he realized he needed to shift his focus, from himself to God and from his situation to all that God had done. That’s still essential today. The more we focus on ourselves the more depressed we are likely to become, because in the final analysis we have very little ability to change anything. However, when we focus on God, His possibilities are literally infinite, because He is infinite. Asaph decided to meditate on all that God had done in the past, essentially the Biblical record. The thing is, most people today are largely ignorant of the Bible, and what they do remember of the Biblical narrative is likely confused with Disney or whatever. That makes it pretty difficult to meditate effectively! Christian meditation is not an emptying of the mind, the way Zen Buddhism teaches, but rather meditating on something good. Actually, we meditate a good bit on one thing or another, and some of it is not good at all. Most major crimes and sins happen only after the person has thought about it over and over, meditating on it, actually. That’s a major reason pornography is so bad, because it encourages meditation on impure things. Paul put it very clearly: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Nothing fits that description better than what God has done for us in Christ.

It’s interesting that this has come up as I have been feeling depressed over my own failures. Meditating on what God has done isn’t an excuse not to act, to do what I need to do, but it should put everything into perspective. My weaknesses in no way negate God’s power and love. I am to be faithful to do each task at hand, not running from the unpleasant but recognizing that God will use whatever I yield to Him for my ultimate blessing and His glory. I sometimes get overwhelmed by the huge variety of demands on my attention. The answer is always to fix my attention first on God, and let Him filter everything else. When I fail to do that I am subject to “the tyranny of the urgent,” as it has been called. When I do it in humble obedience, I am able to apply what God has supplied and so deal with each task in turn, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this very timely reminder. You’d think I’d remember it better by now! Help me deal with each thing today holds with a song in my heart, because my heart is fixed on You. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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April 17, 2015

Psalm 69:1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.

This verse has always struck me for its plain, unvarnished honesty. Everyone gets into situations sometimes when the brain says, “OK, now it’s time to panic.” We think we have faith, but push comes to shove, and we decide our faith isn’t so strong after all. That same experience is recorded about many of the “saints” of the Bible, but David is perhaps the most open about it. Feeling this way doesn’t mean we have failed or that we’re bad, necessarily, but rather that God is going to take us to another level in trusting Him. Jesus’ disciples remembered verse 9 of this Psalm, “Zeal for Your house consumes me,” when Jesus drove the merchants out of the temple, (John 2:17) and Jesus certainly wasn’t bad! Feeling misunderstood by everyone but God, and consequently wondering if you’re doing things right, isn’t that uncommon, even if it’s hardly pleasant. We should not put up a pious front but rather be honest, especially with God but also with those close to us. If they are in the faith, chances are they’ve experienced something similar!

I’ve had my moments like this, but some people look at me now and don’t believe it. I’m not to be talking constantly about how bad off I was, but I am certainly to be honest, both in sermons and in individual encounters. Everyone has different trials, and some people feel that because your trial wasn’t identical to theirs, you can’t understand their pain. That’s simply not true, but I have to be careful I don’t make people feel put down for what they are going through. I often remember the song “Through It All,” by Andrae Crouch. That is certainly truth set to music! I need to help people indeed “learn to trust in Jesus, learn to trust in God” because of what they are experiencing. I keep having to assure people that God isn’t mean and He doesn’t pick on us, but He’s more interested in our character than our comfort, and He loves us too much to spoil us. As I have experienced in my own “up to my neck” moments, God’s love and power are far greater that whatever the difficulties are, and His grace is indeed sufficient for me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Father, thank You for all You’ve allowed me to experience. Some of it has been delightful, and some has been no fun at all, but You have used it for my good. Help me not get into unnecessary messes by my own stupidity and unfaithfulness, but when trials come for other reasons, help me look to You and give You the praise, trust, and thanks that only You deserve. Thank You. Praise God!

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April 16, 2015

Psalm 57:2-3 I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me;
God sends his love and his faithfulness.

David was very much a “type A personality,” someone who got things done, who got an idea and followed through with it. However, he was also very aware that it was God who enabled him to do things. The NIV supplies [his purpose] in this passage, but the Japanese simply goes with the Hebrew and says, “He accomplishes for me.” In other words, it’s because of God that things get done. We find references to this way of thinking in a lot of David’s Psalms, and that tells us a lot about why he was a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22) It’s not at all bad to be someone who presses forward, who dreams great dreams and strives for their fulfillment, but we have to be aware that it is only by God’s power that we can do anything at all. Moses pointed that out before the Israelites ever got to Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:18) specifically in the area of wealth. We are so prone to think otherwise that Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to make it into heaven. (Luke 18:25) When we trust in what we have, not realizing that it was given to us, much less Who gave it to us, we are in real trouble. That applies not just to finances but also to abilities and to everything else. If people would realize, for example, that their bodies were a gift from God, they would take better care of them and use them more responsibly. If they realized their families were a gift from God, they would value them and cherish them. I think God allows difficulties in our lives precisely to wake us up to this reality, but all too often we are incredibly dense about it all. It’s not at all wrong to be able to accomplish something, but we need the foundational awareness that it is God who makes it all possible.

I’ve struggled with conceit for most of my life. It’s not that I’ve accomplished anything, particularly, but that I thought I could do anything I set my mind to, simply because I was the one doing it. There’s actually a delicate balance there. I feel like I was enormously blessed that my parents never said, “You could never do that.” They did say, “You may not do that,” or even, “That’s illegal,” but they never gave me the idea that anything was beyond me in terms of ability. I see so many people who never try things because their parents weren’t like that, and it’s sad. However, I could have used a little more emphasis on the fact that it was God who gave me my abilities, and that I was accountable to Him for my stewardship of them. As a pastor I deal with people all the time who won’t volunteer for anything because they think they could never do it right. Then there are those who will do anything you ask them, or at least try, as a gift to the Lord. They are a real delight! I’ve got to be careful to encourage and not be demanding, expressing appreciation for effort even when the results aren’t exactly as I might have liked. I’ve made some real mistakes in that area! I need to help the believers understand that God wants to use them to do things, and when He’s doing it, there are no limits.

Father, thank You for yet another point for the book You’re having me write. I pray that I would be sensitive, obedient, and diligent, as a good servant, so that You will be able to say through me what You intend, to tear down the lies of the enemy and set people free, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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April 15, 2015

Psalm 56:3-4 When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

Everyone has times of fear, because fear is a natural safety mechanism. There are a lot of things we had better be afraid of! However, there are levels and types of fear. It has been well said that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather acting in the face of fear. Some people are fear junkies, going for horror movies or “extreme sports” or the like. That aside, fear can be paralyzing, and it can certainly rob us of a great deal, starting with peace. The antidote for fear is trust. The people and things around us are trustworthy to varying degrees, with some of them being completely untrustworthy. God alone is worthy of complete trust; here the problem is in our failure to trust. David is outlining the correct course of action: choose to trust God. The way we know we can trust God is by His Word, so David praises that Word. With that choice made, fear is dealt with. After all, what is a human enemy in the face of God? That’s not to say that people can’t do us damage in the temporal realm, but Jesus spoke directly to that. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Any damage incurred on this earth, up to and including death, is no big deal on the eternal scale, so if we are secure as children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we’ve got nothing to sweat. If we fear God, that is, understand that He is perfectly holy and that we are accountable to Him, then all other fear becomes unnecessary and a waste of emotional energy. Fear is exhausting!

I have feared various things over the years, most recently being the fear of having my ministry cut short, because of already having outlived my father despite having a genetic predisposition to the heart disease that took him. A recent thorough heart check cleared that up and helped me realize how much it had been hanging over me. As a pastor I deal with fearful people constantly, and some of them are really messed up by fear. My task is to turn their attention from themselves and their problems to the One who has already overcome those problems. (John 16:33) Some of them can be remarkably fixated on their problems, feeling insecure if they don’t have something to worry about! I can’t straighten them out by my wisdom and strength, but I can speak the truth to them in love without fearing their reaction, and that is what I need to do. As David told Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) I am to pray for and encourage believers to open themselves up to the full flow of the Holy Spirit, because He will deal with all the issues I can’t touch.

Father, thank You for being totally trustworthy. Thank You for the things You’ve been doing recently to show people that things they had feared aren’t so bad after all. Help us all trust You more and more, seeking Your kingdom and Your righteousness rather than being anxious about anything at all, so that we won’t allow fear to rob us of any of the abundance You have prepared for us. Thank You. Praise God!

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April 14, 2015

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

This whole Psalm is thoroughly familiar, and for excellent reason. It is interesting, and so like Him, that God has used David’s horrible sin and turned it around to speak to, guide, and bless countless people. It is a perfect example of Romans 8:28, of taking something that had no good in it intrinsically and making it a blessing to those who love Him. That should be a comfort as we observe the horrible things that are going on in the world all around us in these days. That said, what David says here specifically is certainly worth considering. In the first place, He asks God to “create in [him] a pure heart.” There is recognition that he can’t clean himself up sufficiently, and that his old heart is dirty beyond repair. That is a very important truth, and one we forget too often. God is the Creator and it’s no problem for Him, but so often we labor at trying to clean ourselves up, when what we need to do is throw ourselves on God’s grace and mercy. I think it’s rather like our stomach lining. If we didn’t continuously grow a new one, our digestive juices would eat through the entire stomach and kill us in short order. (I had an aunt to whom that almost happened.) We are bombarded with filth constantly, and we need the renewing work of the Holy Spirit just as constantly, or we go under. David also asks for an unshakable spirit. Lots of things shake us. The only way we can stand is to stand on Christ, because everything else is unreliable. Lines from two hymns come to mind: “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand,” and, “Built on the Rock the Church doth stand, even while steeples are falling.” Mental illness is on the rise around the world because the pace of change is so extreme that people cannot keep up emotionally. It is only in Christ, who never changes (Malachi 3:6) that we can find the stability we need and crave.

Well, this certainly applies to me! I don’t need to go through a litany of the filth that comes my way. By God’s grace I have an increasingly “non-stick surface,” but that’s not perfect by any means. I certainly need the constant renewing that is available only in Christ. Likewise, I have my own problems with the pace of change. At 66 I am living in a world that was science fiction, if that, in my youth. Even national boundaries are being redrawn as I write, and the possibility of nuclear conflict is greater than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Persecution of Christians is more intense than at any time since Constantine, and it is far more widespread than it has ever been. As I observe the world on the micro and macro levels I’ve got to remember Who I belong to, and find my stability in Him. I also need to be aware that the time available for evangelism is short, and make every effort to bring as many people as possible with me into God’s kingdom.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I ask for wisdom and clear guidance in how to apply this in my daily living, so that I will indeed live as Your representative so that Your name may be recognized as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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