Sunday Devotion- Psalm 13.1 and Resting on the Lord

June 28, 2009

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from m
e?” -Psalm 13.1

Would it be in us to pray this anymore?  Up against the thought that God had abandoned us forever, would we think to pray anyways?  Our culture celebrates self-sufficiency, autonomy, ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’, but this is not where Scripture takes us.  Our hope is only in the Lord and coming to him in humble request is the only way we are given to overcome whatever ails us– even if it seems like he’s not there.  As James tells us, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5.16b).

How should we then take this?  How much is faith and how much is action?  We must not attempt to replace the power of God working through prayer, but we also must not be completely passive.  How do we discern the boundary here?  Where is the line at which we are depending too much upon human strength and not enough upon divine power?  No matter where we decide that it is, and I believe it will be different for different people and different situations, we best not forget that in all circumstances, “[God's] grace is sufficient for [us]” (2 Corinthians 12.9b).

To Dwell in The Temple Forever- A Devotion on Psalm 27.4

June 22, 2009

(Note: I am currently attending the SBC meeting in Louisville Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will not be making as regular posts as normal until it is over.  However, when I return there will be several days commentary on the convention and all of the outside events which I will be attending during the week.  Please stay tuned.)

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. ” (Psalm 27.4)

These words sound so beautiful when put in a song (i.e. Better is One Day), and earnestly we will sing them on a Sunday morning at church, but when it comes down to it, have we not forsaken this idea altogether?  Does anyone ponder the goal of the Christian life anymore?  If they do, do they do so with the Scripture in front of them?  What is our endgame?  Where do we see ourselves when this is all over?

God’s promise to us, delivered by Jesus to John, is that “the dwelling place of God [will be] with man [and] he will dwell with [us], and [we] will be his people, and God himself will be with [us] as [our ] God” (Revelation 21.3).  Does anybody want this anymore?  Clearly David did in Psalms 23 and 27.  We sound like we do in hymns and prayer.  But do we really? 

It is important that we regain this desire to meditate in the presence of God once more, to gaze upon his beauty.  This is where we’re headed.  I pray that we’re not too sorely disappointed when we get there.

Instead of a Show- What God Seeks and Has Always Sought from His People

May 1, 2009

In my lessons for Sunday School I have finally come to the end of Isaiah (no, I didn’t teach the whole thing.  We’re on the LifeWay plan which only covers about 10 chapters) and this week will be teaching out of Isaiah 66.  As I read through this I was immediately struck by the first four verses and decided that was where I would camp out for the week.  Here’s what it says:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”

The first thing we need to remember in looking at this passage is the context.  It is being delivered as a prophecy through Isaiah to a collection of Old Testament Jews.  These were Jews who both had the temple in front of them and were fiercely committed to the Levitical law.  Then armed with that information, standing in the sandals of 8th century B.C. Israelites, to hear God say, essentially, that the temple is foolishness and those who make sacrifices are wretched must come off as quite a shock.  It doesn’t take much searching to find the places in Scripture where God actually ordained these things in the first place (cf. 2 Samuel 7.12-13 and Leviticus 1-7 resp.).  So, what gives?  Why do we now find the same God who instituted the temple and the sacrifical offerings calling them out as inadequate and evil?

The key of course comes in what is said at the end of verse 2:

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

In this verse God is giving us the (new?) criteria by which he judges the works of our hands.  He will not accept them unless proffered by those coming in humility and contrition (specifically in light of their personal sin and unrighteousness).  We see this same thought echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God area broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51.16-17)

Still, in light of the fact that we understand why he says this now (in Isaiah 66), the question remains over the seeming about face from earlier in his commands.  Does God now (in the Old Testament) not only seek offerings but also seek the right spirit in offering them?  Well, yes and no.  To some extent this is new, but to another it is the way things were always meant to be and through God’s progressive revelation of the truth it just took time for it to be expressed physically, even though it was always expected.

Most importantly, it points them forward to the New Testament and the final sacrifice for sins that will eternally satisfy God– that being the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 10.1-7 speaks loud and clear about this event and how it was shadowed by the instructions for the Old Testament period.  Thus, it is an abomination for us to perform sacrifices for iniquity by our own hands since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10.4), yet this is exactly what the offering of Christ on the cross accomplished.

But still there is something remaining.  Christ satisfies the sin and guilt and peace offerings (cf. 1 John 2.2, Colossians 2.13-14 and Romans 5.1-7 resp.), but there is one sacrifice which is left for us to perform: the thanksgiving sacrifice (Leviticus 7.12-15).  This is our responsibility to offer as mentioned in Romans 12.1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Of course, the same restriction applies.  We must bring forth our offering in humility and contrite spirit for it to be acceptable to God; yet this is exactly what we can and will do “by the mercies of God,” who gives us hearts which can see beyond the darkness of ourselves and into the light of his glory.

Looking at this I am excited by the language of the Old Testament and the pictures it leaves which now, on the other side of the cross, we can look upon and see what God had intended through their use all along.  There can be no doubt that God is sovereign over all creation and has divinely appointed all the times and seasons from before the foundation of the earth when one looks at how clearly God’s heart for his people in the New Testament was revealed to those under the law in prior days.  God is good!

I will close by leaving for you guys a video of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman singing a very appropriate song entitled “Instead of a Show.”

Resting from My Fears- An Encounter with Psalm 131

February 27, 2009

For today’s post I want to do something a little different.  The other night I was sitting in a Steak & Shake, waiting to go pick my daughter up from gymnastics, and I just felt led to read the Psalms.  Because I tend to always read the early ones, I started from Psalm 150 and went backwards.  So, I ate, and read, and journaled.  And then, I decided I would stop reading at Psalm 135, pay, and head out.  Yet, for some reason I keep going.  Psalm 134.  Psalm 133.  Psalm 132.  And finally, Psalm 131.  It is short, just 3 verses, but what it said was just really powerful to me.  It has been an up and down week.  Good news, bad news.  Back and forth.  Till finally, alone on a Thursday night, I am just worn out, kind of depressed, and thinking way too hard about things that I probably can’t deal with right now.  And I read Psalm 131 and it makes it all clear.  

So, I don’t want to commentate, don’t want to make any additional comments, I simply want you to read Psalm 131 and think about how it might apply to your life and the things that get you down, just as I did when God so providentially led me to it.

Psalm 131

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
     my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
     too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
     like a weaned child with its mother;
     like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
     from this time forth and forevermore.

A Burden Too Much!- The Question of True Repentance

January 6, 2009

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” -2 Corinthians 7.10-11

Looking at the way in which the indwelling sin of my flesh has grieved me so, I think another major hang-up I have come across is the question of genuine repentance.

When I commit a sin, say for instance by speaking harshly to my wife (Colossians 3.19), there is almost instantaneously a part of me which knows that I should not have done that. But I did. And what’s more, I rationalize it and explain it away, both to myself and to my wife as to why it happened. Then, most always, there comes a point at which I stop trying to rationalize it and accept that I did something wrong and that I need to repent over it. So I do, apologizing to my wife, maybe even apologizing specifically over it to God, and then I move on. However, when the next day comes, or the next stressful situation, I find myself speaking harshly to my wife again. Why?

It is this that troubles me. Was I not genuinely repentant the day before? I felt that way. It seemed to me that I had an honest assessment of my own failure, of my own need for forgiveness, and for my own necessity to confess and repent what I’d done. But, turning around and doing it again such a short time later makes me question that initial experience. Was I truly repentant? Did I sincerely see my sin and desire that it be gone?

This is the reason I believe a lot of people get into Free Grace theology, arguing that it is alright for a “Christian” to live like hell as long as they have “trusted” in Christ. But as I have stated before (and before) this approach just doesn’t hold water for me. Just looking at the penitential psalms which I addressed yesterday we see that God desires true repentance (Psalm 32.5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin“; Psalm 38.18, “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.”). Then if this is so, it is true repentance, and not just temporary grief that I must find.

So, with this in view, I turn to 2 Corinthians 7.10-11 (above) because I know this passage makes the distinction most clearly. What does Paul tell us true repentance causes? Earnestness, eagerness for cleanliness, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, punishment (i.e. a feeling of being distraught). All of these characterize true repentance. It is through this lens that I must view my actions. Was I appalled by my treatment of my wife? Was I afraid of the vengeance of the Lord upon my sin? Was there a longing to do better than I had? Yes, I did fail again (and most certainly again and again), but these successive failures neither invalidate my repentance nor destroy God’s grace. Is it alright for me to live however the hell I choose? No. Flatly no. But at the same time, there is still a warring in my flesh (Romans 7.23), there is still an evil lying “close at hand” (Romans 7.21), and though “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4.13) I am not always very quick on the draw to seek his strength.

Thanks be to God who both tears us down and builds us up in his Word. He tears down our worldly comforts and builds up in us an obedient heart. And I thank him for the sufficiency of his revelation, that it truly is “profitable . . . for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16) and is “a lamp to my feet” to walk in his ways (Psalm 119.105). Amen.

A Burden Too Much!- Overcoming the Weight of Indwelling Sin

January 5, 2009

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” -Psalm 38.4

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11.29-30

Over the past several months I have found myself in very unusual place spiritually. Since November 2007 God has been doing a mighty work in my life and at every turn he has been changing my perspective, changing my attitude, changing my expectations. And along the way, in seeing these new things, I have become extremely wrapped up in the depravity of man. Not in an experimental way, but simply in that I have been learning afresh the myriad ways in which the human heart is wicked; how even though we view these days as being peculiarly evil, they are, in fact, no more evil than all the days which man has inhabited the earth. And focusing on mankind’s wickedness I started focusing on my own, and every little slip, every misstep, every wrong thought in my head or angry word spoken to my wife or daughter hit me more and more acutely than they ever had before. I began to read and meditate on the penitential psalms like Psalms 6, 38, 51, and 130. My sin, as David says in Psalm 51.3, was ever before me, and it depressed my spirit.

I think this depression was aided by my attitude towards certain ideas. I am always weary of resting on those light and optimistic verses like Philippians 4.12 or Jeremiah 29.11 because I have been jaded at their rampant misuse in the “Church-ianity” of our day. Yet in taking this attitude I also managed to miss out on the optimistic words that were lying at the end of the very psalms I was reading and being brought down by.

Take Psalm 38. It starts out, “O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! . . . there is no health in my bones because of my sin . . . My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (v.1, 3b, 5). So, I would read these words and ruminate on how ugly my wounds are, how deserving I am of God’s discipline and wrath, and it tore down my soul. And in my arrogance I did not spend time in the closing lines, “But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. . . . Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (v.15, 22).

Or what about Psalm 6: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes” (vv.6-7), and yet, “The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer” (v.9).

I saw the sadness, the brokenness, and cried out with the psalmist about the burden of my own sin. I was broken, beat down by the weight of my own lingering filth, even after God’s transforming work on my heart. I was just so frustrated at the remaining flesh warring, and many times winning, against my spirit. But it wasn’t until the other night when God lifted the veil, removed the temporary blinders I had put on and forgotten about the glory of grace. It was my flaw, my failing, that I had become so upset about my own unrighteousness that I neglected Christ’s righteousness.

This is so difficult and I can’t say as I have fully rectified all that I am thinking. There is such a fine line between the obedience we are called to and the holiness that we cannot on our own attain. There is so much frustration in my bones when I find myself as Paul saying, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7.15). And yet, at the end of the day, the one amazing truth is that “God made [me] alive together with [Christ], having forgiven [me] all [my] trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against [me] with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2.13b-14).

I thank God for opening my eyes to better appreciate his grace, which, though I was unable at first to see it, he so providential wrote about right next to the very words that had fed my depression.

Unable to Stand- A Prayer on Psalm 130.3

December 1, 2008

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” -Psalm 130.3

When I sin, the knowledge that my sin would remove me from God’s presence destroys me.  There is a desire, enticed by temptation, which makes me want to sin.  But beyond that there is a longing to follow after God in all his commandments.

My flesh and my spirit war within me.  Whenever my spirit, under the law of grace, gains an advance, the flesh is quick to launch a counter-offensive.  In the moment I feel closest to God, it is then I’m most vulnerable.  My flesh abhors the peace my spirit has in this communion.

And O how weak am I!  To the slightest charge of the flesh my defenses buckle.  I feel content, uncontested, when I draw near to God.  And then, in arrogance, I give a little ground.  Then some more.  Then more again.  Until finally I find myself back inside the barricades of the flesh.

God I thank you for your mercy.  I thank you that you do not mark my iniquities.  That in your eyes I am justified and glorified, though here I am not yet perfect.  I’m sorry for how I fail you, how I do not flee when you’ve said to flee, how I do not put off what you’ve said to put off.  Lord, draw me close to you.  Lift me out of the sinful lusts of my flesh.

You are glorious, merciful, and to be feared.  And I, though wretched and worthy of death, am the most blessed of men that Christ gave his life in my place.

I am Weak!- A Prayer on Psalm 38.4

July 31, 2008

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” -Psalm 38.4

God, my sins are too heavy for me, my burden is too heavy for me. I am such a failure. I wrap myself in your word and in prayer and yet the smallest hole in my armor allows the flooding waters of sin to drown me. I can’t take one step without your presence, without your strength carrying me.

Why do I run and embrace the rotten fruit when the eternally good tree is right in front of me? I plead to you for forgiveness and can only take comfort in the fact that I know your mercy is greater than mine. If it were on my power I don’t think I could forgive someone after so much wrong against me, yet I delight in the knowledge that you will.

Protect me God. Receive my repentance and bury me in your arms. Shield me from the Devil. Turn my eyes only to you and my lips solely to your praises. Carry me, Father. I am weak!

My Shame in My Sin- Thoughts on Psalm 51:9-10

July 1, 2008

“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:9-10

While I was reading through Psalm 51 the other day, David’s Psalm of repentance for his sins regarding Bathsheba, this verse really struck me as speaking to exactly what I feel when my own sins are in front of me. Whenever I lose my temper with my wife, whenever I lie to cover something up, whenever I say or think things that are angry or lustful, and afterwards I reflect on what I’ve done, my first desire is that whoever knows what I did would strike it from their mind and never recall it happening again.

And this is even higher when dealing with God, who sees everything that I do, and so knows all the myriad of ways I fail him in one day alone. I think of all the things he has blessed me with, all the wonderful things that he is doing in my life and the amazing ways in which he has been revealing himself to me, and then I think about the way in which I have totally denied everything that he has shown me by behaving in the way I did, and I just want him to forget about it all. I want him to turn his eyes away from the way in which I have dishonored him, to not dwell on the fact that I have just spit in his face when I knew all along what I was commanded to do. And I fear that knowing my sin he will remove himself from me and his glorious presence from my heart (knowing that I can’t lose my salvation, but that I could lose the active voice of his Spirit in my life), so I long that he will cast away my sin while still keeping me close.

Yet I am comforted by his Word that he will. I am comforted that through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has “cancel[ed] the record of debt” against me by “nailing it to the cross” with Christ (Colossians 2:14), that not being in part but in the whole of all sins I will ever commit. It is such a fearful thing to stand knowing that I have willingly disobeyed the God who went to such great lengths to redeem my soul, and so I am thankful that his Word reveals that, by turning in repentance, that he will hide his face from my sins, that through the power of Christ’s blood which flowed from the Cross I can be renewed and restored, like Peter (John 18:17, 21:19) and like David (2 Samuel 12:13), and that by the cleansing of this defilement (2 Corinthians 7:1) I may be grown and strengthened by his grace (2 Timothy 2:1).

The Purpose Behind Suffering- Thoughts on Psalm 119:71

June 30, 2008

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” -Psalm 119:71

In reflecting back on my testimony which I have shared here over the last two weeks, one recurring theme seems to jump out to me. It is the same idea being expressed here by the psalmist, that all that has happened to me, self-inflicted or not, has served to turn me more and more to the Word of God. Every major frustration or struggle in my life so far has seen as its eventual end a thrusting of myself closer and closer to God. Beginning with my parents divorce, through my multiple bad relationships, and even into the the recent depression at being removed from the comforts of home, every time God has seen me afflicted he has used that as occasion to bring me nearer.

I recall that this thought provided great comfort to me as a child, knowing that if my parents had not split then my mother would not have dated that guy, and I would not have gone with his son to the church camp where God granted my salvation. To see the anger and embarrassment and turmoil of my parents divorce and how God used this to redeem me for eternity, it truly embodies for me Genesis 50:20 where Joseph tells his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Satan meant it for evil that I would be devastated in heart and spirit by the disintegration of my family, yet God used it for good that I may be saved. And so truly today I can proclaim that it has been good for me that I was afflicted!