Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Journey Through The Psalms: Psalm 3

I am starting to get the idea that David was either constantly under attack, or simply paranoid. It seems as though those who are against David are great and number, and he is feeling overwhelmed. No matter whether David is paranoid, or the threat is real, it is safe to say we have all had the feelings he is expressing. There are times when we feel like the world is conspiring against us, and at every turn there is someone who is out to get us. Interestingly enough the times in my life when I feel this are the times when I am growing in my relationship with Christ the most.

Maybe its chance, or perhaps it is dumb luck but I do not think so. When I am allowing God to be more active in my life, the challenges seem to get greater. I wonder if anyone else is going through that kind of experience right now? Every step forward seems to be met with great opposition, whether in our relationship with Jesus, in our earthly relationships. David offers great comfort and hope in this Psalm.

Verse 5 states, "I lay down and slept. I woke up in safety for the Lord was watching over me." There is not promise of things being easy, and there is not promise there will not be enemies and difficult times. The promise is the Lord is watching over us. We have safety and refuge from what might try to do us harm. We must remember the strength and victory are not ours but the Lord's. If we try in our own strength we will get defeated every time. When we run to the Lord for refuge, we find safety and victory.

So, keep running to the Lord. Trust in the protection offered by God. Live with your eyes focused on the King. Trouble will come, do not fear the victory is in the Lord.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Journey Through The Psalms: Psalm 2

Turn on the news and there is no shortage of stories about war throughout our world. The staggering reality is we are only told selectively about the war which is being wagged throughout creation. Everyday people are dying for the sake of earthly wars. I find it completely fascinating the Psalmist who penned Psalm 2 would speak to the situations of today even writing several thousands of years ago. Reading verse one is enough to stop and ponder, "Why do nations rage? Why do people waste their time with futile plans?" The violence in our world, war or otherwise, is a result of humanity pursuing their own plan rather than submitting to God.

Often the claim against the Old Testament is it shows a God which is too violent and seems to condone violence. This Psalm reveals a little of where the responsibility truly lies. Whenever I read the Scriptures where humanity has a choice to make between obedience to God, or human wisdom, if the people choose human wisdom violence is the result. War and violence which the writer of the Psalm calls futile. All of it traces back to our human longing to live life on our own terms. When we live for ourselves alone there is bound to be conflict with another person who is living the same way. At some point my self interest and yours are going to clash, then what?

Another way to journey is to trust God and follow the path God has set before us. Not everyone has the same path, and not everyone is gifted in the same way, yet we all journey with the same leader, Jesus Christ. God is more than willing to direct our paths if we are willing to allow it. It should not be thought this will mean things will be easy and there will never be conflict. The difference is when we submit to the Lord, the conflict finds even ground more quickly as we together seek the Lord, not our own interest.

So as much as it depends on you, focus on God not one your own interest. Let God be the one who leads and you who follows. Invite the son of God to walk step by step with you through this life, that we may all join together at the Heavenly Banquet table celebrating the feast of the Lamb. There seems to be nothing violent about that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Journey Through The Psalms: Psalm 1

The collection of songs, poems and sayings we call Psalms starts out reminding the reader the delight which comes from follow God rather than all the other influences pulling on us. I love the image of the tree planted by the river which bears fruit without fail. Trees are a wonderful gift of God, which I often take for granted. While in Haiti last year I was struck by the lack of trees on the hillsides and almost everywhere. Yet at the church we were working at there was a huge Mango tree which provided physical fruit, it also provided a place for the fruit of relationship to blossom as it was a refuge from the scorching heat. When we focus on the work and teachings of God the result is bearing fruit in our lives. When we focus on other things in life we find we wither and no longer bear fruit. We must find ways to plant our hearts in the heart of God.

Another interesting note in this Psalm is how the judgement of God works. In our current culture we judge people based on many things, Their gender, sexual orientation, age, race, socioeconomics and many other things. When we look at Psalm 1 we find a picture of judgement based on one thing, and one thing alone, the path we follow. Verse 6 reminds us "For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction." I wonder how often I think I am on the godly path based on the before mentioned qualifications instead of asking whether I am trusting the Lord more than anything else. Not simply trust, also obedience to the guidance of the Lord. The reality is I have a great ability to misjudge my own actions much less the action of others. Further my role is not to judge the path of others, I must be certain to do the what I must to be on the path of the Lord.

An amazing thing happens when we do the work of ensuring our path, we become the tree planted by the river, and many gather to receive the fruit offered. Our challenge today is to delight in everything the Lord wants. This speaks of conforming our hearts, mind, soul and strength to God and not ourselves.

May we journey together to be a tree planted by the river which never fails to produce fruit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conditions of The Heart

Matthew 6:16-24
Most of this section deals with money if we look at it from just the surface. Going deeper it really is dealing with matters of our heart. Pastoring a church I know there really is not a church that ever has too much money, yet the issue is usually not about money it is about the heart of the people. We give our hearts, make commitments, to many different things. We can see what those commitments are in terms of where we spent our time, talents and our treasures. Looking at these three reveal the condition of our heart. The ways we spend our money whether we have little or great amounts, shows the condition of our hearts. When we hoard it, we are saying we trust money more than God. This is not to say we should have zero savings, what I am saying is are we going beyond savings into hoarding what God is calling us to release, this is not just a money issue, it is the condition of our heart.

Acts 9:1-19
During the formative years of the church it could be argued no one had a harder heart toward the Way of Jesus than Saul. On his way to arrest followers of the Way, Saul has a dramatic encounter with Jesus. More than a physical blindness is the result, there is a change in heart. His heart of stone is exchanged for a heart of flesh (see Ezekiel). After the divine heart surgery Saul becomes Paul and goes on to be the most effect church planter in all of history. Like with heart surgery on our physical bodies careful follow up is required. From time to time we need to have a check up on the condition of our hearts, is the stone coming back? What's the condition of your heart?

Psalms 15
What is required for worship? That is the opening question of the Psalm. Notice the answer, it has nothing to do with the appropriate clothing, nothing to do with financial status, in fact it has very little to do with outward appearance, it is about the heart. Worship is not about style of music, what the preacher says or does not say, what is included in the service etc... Worship is a matter of the heart. We can say and do all the "right" things yet never have our hearts meet with the heart of God. The requirement for worship, willing heart.

Genesis 34-35
If you have been following along our soap opera now turns to additional generations. Dinah, Jacobs daughter, is taken and raped by the people in the land where they live. As you might guess this becomes problematic. Before long there are brothers oozing testosterone plotting and killing all the men of the city. First however, they tricked all the men into circumcising themselves. Tragically, the only mention of Dinah is the violation of her. Not attention is paid by the Scripture writer as to what was happening in Dinah's world. Yet we have revealed the heart of her brothers. Rather than allowing God to avenge the violation, they take matters into their own hands. The reveal they are ready for killing at a moments notice. Jacob who had been down a similar road has his heart broken by what has happened to his daughter and what his sons have done. It seems he had learned from the past and his heart was in a different condition.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Salvation From God At The Center

Matthew 6:1-15
It is not only the law Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. Spiritual disciplines is also part of the teaching. Insight is offered in how to conduct ourselves when we fast and when we offer acts of righteousness. In this section we find what is commonly called the Lord's Prayer. Not offered as the only way to pray, or even the exact words, the prayer is offered as a model for the areas of prayer. Unfortunately over the centuries the prayer has become a repeated verbatim. This has caused in some cases a lose of meaning behind the prayer. Next time you say the Lord's Prayer I invite you to really think about the words you are saying and not blindly offer the words because it is what you do.

Acts 8:26-40
The story of Philip is one I greatly enjoy. Another one of the Deacons from chapter 6 is now found going around preaching, teaching and being a conduit of God's work. Philip finds himself on lead to a place where he teaches the Ethiopian about who Jesus is that Isaiah points to. Conversion happens and they stop to baptize the Ethiopian. Once the baptism happens Philip is take to another place by the spirit. There are many things we could look at in the passage, the one I want to highlight today is the evangelism of Philip. It would have been easy for Philip to say I am only a deacon, set apart to serve the widows their food, and not tell people about Jesus. Yet he was so in love with Jesus and so full of the Spirit he could not help himself. Often we do not engage in evangelism because we have a greater relationship with this world and fear than we do with Jesus.

Psalm 14
Salvation is from our God and God alone. No matter how hard we try we cannot save another person, and we are not working to convert people to our kingdom. God is the one who will care for the evildoers, God will care for judgment and revenge. So what is our role, praise God and so fill our lives with the Spirit of God, that people see God not us first.

Genesis 32-33
In the midst of Jacob meeting up with his brother whom he deceived several times, there is a wrestling match with God. One of the possible interpretations of the wrestling match with God has to do with Jacob and God coming to terms on the way Jacob has conducted his business up to this point. From this point on in Jacob's life there is no more deception on his part. In fact as Jacob emerges with a limp and a new name, there is a difference in how Jacob conducts his business. While most of his life Jacob followed after God, this wrestling match became a conversion moment. God was a part of Jacob's life yet there was much Jacob took into his own hands. Once he is names Israel, the reliance on God increases exponentially. Perhaps our struggles are producing a greater faith in our lives.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

God's Ways Are Not Ours

Matthew 5:33-48
Once again Jesus takes the established law which the people then and a now for the most part like, and turns our understanding. In all the cases presented in today's section the law seems to permit returning wrong for wrong. Jesus shows that is not how it works in God's world exactly. When we are wronged we are to return wrong with good. Returning with good actually brings about shame to the person who wronged us, not because we have done harm to them. The shame is from our blessing them when their intention was harm. I wonder how that would look today?

Acts 8:1-25
Here we find humanity acting to slow down Christianity before it really gets going. From our human understanding if we want to stop something we attack it. God takes the attack of humanity and uses it to spread Christ throughout the region. As the religious leaders of the day tried to stop the spread, the message of Christ spread all the more quickly.

As the spread happened there were people who received the message, believed and were baptized yet still did not quite get it. Simon is given as an example in this text. He sees the Apostles do great works and wonders, and he wants in. Rather than seeking after God and forming the live God is calling him toward in Christ, he tries to buy it from the Apostles. Simon is using a human method to accomplish what only God can do.

Psalms 13
I am sure you have noticed by now that our timing and God's timing are different. When things are going what we would call well time seems to move too fast. When we are struggling time seems to move too slow. In reality our interaction with our situation has nothing to do with time. Time passes as it will, the difference is in our perception. I am sure you would join me in saying we like life to work out how we plan it and prefer it. The challenge is we do not always know what is best for our life. God knows what it will take to form and mold us into the person we are being called to be. So when we cry how long o Lord, I can hear the response, until you are who I called you to be.

Genesis 31
The soup opera continues. We last saw Jacob tending the flocks of Laban while engaging in a little genetic engineering to build his own flocks. In this episode we find Jacob packing up his family and running away from Laban. In the process Rachel steals the household gods of her father. After several days Laban catches up to Jacob and his entourage. After some good arguing and name calling an agreement is reached. Interestingly Rachel continues to lie about possessing the household gods. This could be written about for house, not the space or time, suffice to say it is not good. In the end Jacob and Laban go their separate ways and murder is avoided for the time being. As all this is happening we are finding out about the character of the people God is using to establish a people. Honestly, their character is suspect at best, lying, cheating, stealing, some pretty flawed people. Still God works with and through their brokenness to establish the people of God. I guess their is hope for the rest of us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

And I Thought I Had Problems

Matthew 5:21-32
Jesus continues his midrash, interpretation of the Jewish law. In each case the establish standard is recognized, then raised to a new level. Previously Jesus commented that he did not come to abolish the law, rather to fulfill it. Apparently fulfilling it meant going a lot deeper than simply doing and not doing the right things. Jesus moves from actions to the motivations connected with those actions. Our thoughts are brought into the equation. Further the ways in which we deal with things is more drastic. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. I am grateful for a non-literal reading here, yet the point remains get rid of the sin in your life and be ruthless about it.

Acts 7:36-60
Stephen continues his defense before the council. At first the story they expect to hear is continued, and then Stephen turns the tables. From a legal defense standpoint Stephen made a tragic mistake, he confronted his accusers about their murder of Jesus. As might be guessed this was not a popular thing with the high council. Before the chapter ends we find Stephen getting stoned to death with this guy named Saul watching and approving. Stephen held his ground and made his stand. There were many ways he could have avoided death, yet he knew he must make his stand. Interestingly right until the end Stephen is seeking God's forgiveness for those who are killing him, the words uses are similar to ones Jesus uttered at the cross, forgive them they do not know what they are doing. What a witness of faithfulness in the midst of persecution.

Psalms 12
I suppose Stephen could have written this Psalm, if not write it I am sure it was in his mind and heart at some point in the above described trial. It can seem like all the godly people are gone and all we see is death and destruction. Oppression, poverty, hunger and deadly disease seem to prevail, yet God speaks in the midst of it all and says I will protect. I have no doubt happens in a supernatural way, I also have no doubt this happens when we, the people of God, take up the mission of God in the world as taught by Jesus Christ.

Genesis 29 and 30
As I read these pages I am convinced I am reading something written for soap opera television. Jacob falls in love and is deceived. Then he has two wives which becomes four. Before it is all said and done he has four wives and twelve children. Still living in his mother's homeland tending his uncles flocks, Jacob prospers. There is a confrontation brewing between his father-in-law, Laban, and Jacob over the work agreements Laban had not fully honored. While all this is going on God is at work putting together the family that would be the base of the twelve tribes of Israel. Looking at it this is one messed up family. Dysfunction seems to be everywhere. There are half brothers and step children, all totaled a very confusing family system. Still God is at work. Even when we think our lives are messed up, and they might be, we are not unusable by God.