Which is the true God?

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Psalm 139: 19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me — 20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

It’s hard for me to read this passage and not think of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What a contrast right? I realize the words here are attributed to King David, not Jesus – or even God himself, but they articulate sentiments associated with righteousness as it was practiced in ancient Israel. David wrote these things because he understood them to be in alignment with God’s wishes.

So imagine you were brought up reading words like these and being instructed to take them to heart – and then Jesus comes along. On the one hand he performs great miracles indicating the power of God is with him. Yet he is continually breaking the rules Jews had tried to observe for centuries and teaching others to do the same. As an example, teaching people to love their enemies rather than hate them. How could that not be confusing? People like the Pharisees (teachers of the rules of God) are characterized as villains in the gospels, but I’m not sure that’s altogether fair.

Heavenly Father, I’m confused. Truly. How is it that scripture portrays your heart for non-Jews so differently in the new and old testaments? What am I missing in all this? Give me grace to understand. Amen.

Fearfully and wonderfully made…

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Psalm 139: 13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 

This is such an intimate portrait of God creating people. It’s done with care, one piece at a time. I am particularly drawn to the words in v.14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.

The Hebrew word translated here as “fearfully” means to anticipate evil. I’m not sure if I have this right, but it may refer to the likelihood that people will rebel against God in their lifetimes. But then there is the Hebrew word translated as “wonderfully” which means to be set apart. It’s a similar idea to the word “consecrate” which means to be set apart for a holy purpose. We consecrate bread and wine for the purpose of holy communion. The idea in this psalm is that people are created to fulfill God’s purposes.

It’s an interesting tension isn’t it? People are created with the potential to both fulfill the purposes of God on earth – and to rebel against God. In the same lifetime. Sounds pretty on-target to me. What do you think?

Lord we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I pray this morning that we would reflect much more of the latter than the former. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“You don’t belong here.” – God

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Psalm 139: 7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 

In Psalm 139 the writer is describing God’s omnipresence. He asks, “Where can I go from your spirit?” The implied answer is “nowhere”. Of course what was true of King David (who is believed to have written this psalm) is true of you and me. Through Jesus Christ we have been adopted as children of God. As such our heavenly Father follows us wherever we are, providing both support and accountability along the way.

Years before my call as a pastor, I invited a good friend of mine out for a beer on his birthday so I asked him where he wanted to meet. He said he wanted to go to a gentleman’s club not far from where we worked. Well, okay. On the appointed day and time I showed up to the place but my friend hadn’t yet arrived. I was seated at a table next to one of the stages where women danced. I ordered a beer and waited. And waited.

At some point I got up to give one of the dancers a tip. I held the money in my hand and the dancer approached me at the edge of the stage. She squatted down prepared to take my money – or so I thought. Instead she looked me in the eye and said with a voice of surprising clarity and authority, “You don’t belong here”. Then she straightened up and continued her dance, leaving me with money in my hand. I was absolutely stunned. And yet I knew she was right. I didn’t belong there. I called my friend and told him we needed to meet elsewhere, which we did.

I know this is going to sound crazy, but I believe it was the Lord who spoke through this woman to tell me something I needed to hear. For a whole host of reasons I didn’t belong in that place. Why do I tell you this story? Because the last place I ever expected to hear a word from the Lord was in a gentleman’s club – but it turns out God is Lord there as well. There is truly no place we can go where God is not.

Gracious Lord you are Creator of heaven and earth. Thank you for your faithfulness to accompany your children wherever we go. Amen.

I will pour out my spirit…

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Joel 2:28 God said to the people, “Then (after enduring God’s wrath as punishment for sin) I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

Joel takes a break from spilling bad news for the Israelites to reassure them God will not give up on them entirely. Will they suffer? Definitely. But then there is this amazing promise. God will pour out his spirit “on all flesh”. Not SOME flesh, but ALL flesh. All people will be blessed by God after the time of trial. It would have been expected for God to pour his spirit on the men as well as the free people. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it was a cultural reality in ancient Israel. But women? Children? SLAVES?! Wow!

No one is excluded from this promise.

As Christians we understand the promise to have been fulfilled at Pentecost some forty days after Jesus rose from the grave. Why does this matter? It means we Christians have access to God the Father directly. We don’t need someone else to be our intermediary. We can pray to the Lord and be heard. We can listen for the voice of God in response. We can seek insight and wisdom, forgiveness and healing, strength and peace. We can express our gratitude and love of God. We might even prophesy or see visions!

Thank you Lord for the grace you pour out on all believers. Amen.

 

The plague of locusts…

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Joel 1:2 Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors? 3 Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. 4 What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.

Joel is interpreting for us a terrible plague that hit the people of Israel. Locusts. Lots and lots of locusts. V.4 tells us the locusts basically stripped the land bear of any vegetation, including much of the food sources of Israel.

In reading this chapter of Joel one can’t help but think of the plagues God brought upon the Egyptians in the book of Exodus, one of which was a swarm of locusts like the one Joel describes. It’s hard to fathom that God would do the same thing to his own people as a means of punishment for their unfaithfulness, but that’s what happened.

The difference in the case of the Israelites is that God was ultimately willing to withdraw the plague and restore life. The swarm was sent as a means of compelling the Israelites to humble themselves and seek God once again. Pray with me.

Lord today we don’t often have prophets like Joel to interpret “plagues” that come upon our world. Yet we know we are called to humble ourselves and seek you in all things. Give us grace to not be found faithless in your sight. For it is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Praying through the storm…

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Psalm 138:1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. 3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

It’s likely that the psalmist was in distress as he was writing this passage, but God responded to his cries which gave him strength, confidence, hope. It doesn’t say God delivered him, but that God strengthened him on the inside. This passage reminds me of the teaching of Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 in which he says “Do not worry…” but to pray instead. David isn’t praying, but worshipping with a similar result. It’s a focus on the Lord rather than on the problem. This is a great word for me today.

Lord give us grace to keep our eyes upon you in the midst of the storms of life. For there is no problem on earth you cannot handle. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

Not the happiest season of all…

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Psalm 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”4 How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?

After many years of unfaithfulness to God, the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Babylonians and (those who didn’t die in the conflict) were sent to exile in Babylon. It was a terrible time. It would be 70 years before they (more realistically their children and grandchildren) were permitted to return to rebuild Jerusalem.

In this passage the writer documents what it was like to be taunted by their Babylon captors. In fact, they weren’t just asked to sing the songs of Zion (their homeland) but were “asked for mirth”. I can imagine one of the Babylonians yelling out, “Hey you! Sing us another of those songs of Zion – and be happy about it! Haha!” And so fearing punishment or perhaps even death they would comply, singing with feigned happiness about their homeland which lay in ruins.

Strangely I think many people this time of year are asked to do something similar. People are expected to be happy and joyful despite their lives laying in ruins. Loved ones have died and are missing. Relationships are broken, families scattered, finances lacking, bodily health a distant memory. And yet people put on brave faces because that’s what people are supposed to do. It’s supposed to be the happ, happiest season of all!

But what if it’s not?

This is the first year my family is experiencing the holidays without my step-father who died in February. I was afraid our gathering yesterday would have a heavy pall of grief over it, but that was not the case. Well, not entirely anyway. We did gather to reflect and remember, to give thanks, to offer a prayer. I’m glad we did that. Much of the rest of the day was quite pleasant. Yet I know for many people this was not the case. It was a day filled with grief and loss and bitterness – which promises to continue through the rest of the holiday season.

And so today I pray for all people whose hearts are broken, who feel anything but happy, who would prefer we just skip right into January. If that’s you, please know you can cast your cares on Jesus through prayer. He is ready and willing to walk with you through the sadness of the season. Lord, let it be so. Amen.