I appeal to God’s mercy…

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Psalm 7:3 O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my ally with harm
or plundered my foe without cause,
5 then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,
trample my life to the ground,
and lay my soul in the dust. Selah

6 Rise up, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,
and over it take your seat on high.
8 The LORD judges the peoples;
judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.

What strikes me in this psalm is David’s confidence in his innocence before God. He’s not asking for the Lord to come to his aid out of mercy – to overlook his trespasses and save him anyway. No, he’s asking God to act “according to the integrity that is in me”. That is a bold request.

I don’t think I could make a request like this as I don’t have David’s self-confidence. My sins are too great for me to overlook, or ask God to do the same. Rather, this morning I ask for God to give me aid as an act of mercy. I am broken and far short of God’s holiness, but I genuinely belong to God. I am his own, and so I trust in his great love for me and for all who call on his holy name.

Do not sin…

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Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.

4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.

David is the author of this psalm. He begins v.1 addressing God directly, asking for the Lord to hear his prayers. Then he turns toward his adversaries in verses 2-3, warning them that God would come to his aid soon enough.

Then in verses 4-5 it seems David addresses the faithful among the people, offering some important words of advice. The Hebrew word translated as “disturbed” may also be translated as “angry”. When we are angry/upset we can be tempted to do things we know to be wrong. Sin. We can do things or say things that are hurtful or even violent. David understands this impulse. After all, he was a warrior who made a name for himself doing violence to the enemies of God.

Instead, David says to “ponder it in your beds, and be silent”. The Hebrew word for “ponder” can also be translated as “expect” or “believe”.  Then v.5 says “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord”. What kind of sacrifices is David talking about? Considering these are sacrifices likely made in bed, I’m thinking he means sacrifices of prayer. The idea is to entrust the matter to God in prayer rather than act out in anger and sin.

I don’t tend toward violence, but I do tend to want to act first, think later. Entrusting things to God is hard for me, no doubt. As is true of many things related to life of faith, this is a simple idea that is hard to actually do. Kyrie eleison…

Better together…

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Acts 9:26 When (Saul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

First, I’m struck by v.26, how the disciples in Jerusalem (which I expect included some of the original apostles) were afraid of Saul because of his reputation as an enemy of Christians. The rest of the book of Acts records many miracles and discernments performed by the apostles. How could they not know Saul was a legit believer? IDK. Puzzling to me.

Secondly, I notice that what helps put the minds of the Jerusalem leaders at ease regarding Saul is advocacy from Barnabas. Barnabas served as a person of peace for Saul in this situation. Saul didn’t know any of the Jerusalem believers, but Barnabas did. His testimony related to Saul opened the door for Saul to be accepted. Then of course Saul’s powerful witness to the gospel confirmed what Barnabas said about him. He was a true believer.

Lastly, I’m drawn to the last verse. It says there was peace among the Christians in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. I wonder how long that peace lasted? V.31 also said that the church “increased in numbers”. Unity is a powerful thing for the church and everywhere else. When we work together as believers we are a great witness to a doubting world. Unfortunately unity is hard to come by. Our human nature is often to see differences rather than unity.

Heavenly Father, you took a relative handful of people and started a movement that now includes well over 1 billion Christians across the globe. Yet the truth is that we’re often at odds with one another rather than unified. Send your Holy Spirit to bring us closer to one another and to you. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saul – from persecutor to apostle…

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Acts 9:10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house.

Ananias was understandably hesitant at the mention of Saul, who at the time was a well-known persecutor of Christians. Saul would later become known as “Paul” the apostle to the Gentiles. It was Paul who would establish several of the earliest churches outside of Jerusalem and would write much of the New Testament scriptures.

Saul is such an outside the box choice here. Ananias was like, “Are ya kidding me right now Lord?!” But that’s how God works throughout the biblical narrative. God is continually choosing the least likely sorts of people to do the work of the Kingdom.

This story gives me hope because for most of my life I’ve felt like the wrong kind of person to be a church leader. I don’t have the life-long Christian resume as others do. I wasn’t brought up in a home of strong faith. I don’t have others in my family who are clergy. I didn’t go to Christian camps or Christian college. Yet here I am serving as a pastor, making plenty of mistakes but getting it right sometimes too – by the grace of God.

You may sense God’s prompting to serve the Kingdom in some meaningful way. but you think you’re the wrong sort of person for the job. Surely God must be mistaken. Isn’t there someone else better qualified? Today’s story illustrates why you may be exactly the sort of person God would choose. You don’t need the right background or resume. All you need is for God to tap you on the shoulder and give you grace to say “yes”.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

Trusting our trustworthy God…

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Psalm 11:1 In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to me,  “Flee like a bird to the mountains; 2 for look, the wicked bend the bow,  they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. 3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” 4 The LORD is in his holy temple.

As is often the case, it would appear David is in trouble. His enemies “bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string…”. In other words, they are poised to defeat David and his people. Reading the psalm it seems to me he is addressing these words to someone on the inside, perhaps one of his advisers. And it would seem he’s being advised to “Flee like a bird to the mountains.”

When the enemy is at the gates ready to kill, rape, pillage, and plunder running for the mountains can be sound advise. Yet rather than flee, David chooses to stay. Why? Because God isn’t in the mountains. “The Lord is in his holy temple.” I love this. As one of my commentaries explains, God had repeatedly proven himself trustworthy over the course of David’s life. While it may have seemed crazy to others, it was perfectly logical for David to trust his trustworthy God. So, rather than flee the house of God, David remained.

I want to be like that. I want to trust the Lord when everything in me wants to run for the mountains – which is more often than you might think. What about you? How has God proven himself trustworthy over the years of your life? Where are you being tempted to flee? What would it look like for you to remain and trust the Lord instead of run?

Lord, grant us grace to trust in you when we want to run for the hills. Amen.

P.S., Happy New Year! Thanks for starting the year with me in this space.

A time of opportunity…

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Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from writing, a time of rest of sorts, but wanted to write today. The text above isn’t the appointed text but I thought it appropriate for New Year’s Eve. The Old Testament, of which the book of Ecclesiastes is part, was originally written in Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated into English as “time” in our passage can also mean “an opportunity”. I find that interesting.

Many people, including myself, will adopt at least one New Year’s resolution – which is another way of acting on an opportunity to change something important. I joined a gym recently as a vehicle for investing in my physical fitness in 2019. What opportunity lies before you? Will you take it?

Lord, there is indeed a time for everything under heaven. Give us grace to say yes. And thank you for the blessings of 2018, even if it is strength to endure hardship and loss. You are good to us Lord and we are grateful. Amen.

 

Lord, listen to your children praying…

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Psalm 145: 17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. 

The part that got my attention this morning is in v.18 “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” What does that it to call on the Lord “in truth”? I did a little word study on the Hebrew word translated here as “in truth”. The word is “emet” which can also mean “with faith”. In other words, to call on the Lord in truth is to have faith that God can and will respond to the prayer. There’s no special formula required here. The simple act of prayer is a demonstration of faith, even if it’s a very small amount of faith. Jesus said that if we have the faith of a tiny mustard seed, God would respond with power to move mountains.

This is a gift for me today because sometimes prayer is hard for me. I start to doubt when my prayers appear to go unanswered. I wonder if somehow I’m doing it wrong. Or if God is listening. But the words of the psalmist today contain no qualifiers. It says that Lord is near to ALL who call on him. So today I’ll keep that in mind as I pray. I can trust that I won’t be excluded from God due to a technicality, or doing it wrong, or having too little faith.

Lord, listen to your children praying. Amen.