Psalms

Tuesday Devotional: Psalm 68

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A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.
God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah:
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.
10 Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.
11 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

-Psalm 68:5-11

Fatherless.  Widows.  The Solitary.  Those bound with chains.  The weary.  The poor.  These groups have nothing to do with nationality or ethnicity.  These are conditions of people all over the world.  God LOVES these people.  Often the work of Christians or churches fails to do the work Jesus Christ has prepared and commanded us to do.  Christians are very busy people and churches are very busy places.  However, today too many people who have no father are left without any positive male figure in their life.  Too many widowed woman are left without emotional or financial support.  Too many people die in overcrowded prisons with no visitors, no correspondence and no hope.  Too many people are burdened and weary from overwork and stress, no one to lean on or share the burden.  Too many people have no homes, no food and no shelter, left unassisted in the hopeless world of poverty.

It is a fair statement that we as Christians and we as the Church are not doing our job.  Instead of making excuses or pointing the finger, we must repent to God and to our neighbors.  It is not good enough to have a portion of a ministry dedicated to these people. These people are our ministry.  Many people are suspicious of the gospel and the Christians that carry it.  They are angered by the hypocrisy.  They are angered by the judgment and hate.  They are angered by the lack of constructive and effective efforts to create change in neighborhoods, communities, cities and the world.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news not because it helps us to get what we want.  It is the Good News because it is the final answer of hope for everyone in want.

Instead of working on how to refurbish the image of Christianity and the Church we must each turn our eyes upon Jesus and ask Him to show us each how we have failed to carry out His command to love.  The only way to resurrect the image of Christianity, to be in the crowd or”great company” of those that publish the Good News, is to refocus our attention onto God, who loves those people, and Jesus Christ, who became these people.  Our image and the world’s perception of us is not the issue.  The issue is our disobedience and our reckless mishandling of Christ’s message.  We begin to worship and honor God by loving the broken, weary, lost people. By loving these people we will again be the bearers of the best news, not only because these people need help, but because when we were in their condition, Jesus Christ helped us.

 

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Victory

This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here

The Power of the Victory

We are born with complex and demanding desires. As we grow beyond infancy, our desires grow rapidly beyond physical needs and move into the realm of the sinful desires of the flesh. We begin to want more than we need. We begin to want what we forgot we already had. We begin to want what we don’t need. We even begin to want the things we know will harm us.

Sin has devastating power when allowed to mingle with our human desires. As we grow, these irrational and illogical desires grow too. Although we read that God is enough and that he supplies our every need, we easily become dissatisfied with his provision and turn to the world for what we “need.” The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not simply a return to our Creator. It is a return to who we were at the time of that creation. At that time, all we knew was our Father; all we knew was how much he gave us. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not simply illuminate the satisfaction in Church fellowship, Bible reading or positivity toward the world. We become deeply satisfied with God. The baptism of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the deception of worldly satisfaction and gratification. Where in the past our desires were for our relationships, jobs or money, the baptism of the Holy Spirit reveals the truth: that sin has deceived us into believing that we truly need those things when in fact we were never designed to have any of them. Originally, we were designed to have God and God alone.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, we are reintroduced to that original design.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
Psalm 62:5-12

Upon being baptized by the Holy Spirit, all else fades in the presence of the Creator God who knows our name, has called us, has saved us, and continues to bless us. While we can still find joy in our jobs or relationships, they simply further illuminate the love we have for God. We love our job because in it we can share the Gospel or glorify him in our responsibilities. We love our relationships because in them we can grow to be more like him and see the deeper love he possesses toward us. God is and has always been at the center of why we are here and why we are the way we are.

Although sin has marked our worldly image, through Jesus Christ we are allowed to return to the image before sin ever corrupted what was originally holy. The baptism of the Holy Spirit allows for that return and releases the life that follows. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to truly know God as we were created to. Without it a Christian life is tragically incomplete.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Promise

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Promise

For many, there is a disconnect between the stories of the Bible and everyday life. We read stories in the Bible that are supernatural, unbelievable when compared to our own experiences. However, amidst these stories we also read God’s promise to never change his nature, although time passes and people change. Repeatedly God promises that he was, is and always will be the same:

Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Psalm 119:89-93

If we are to actually take the Word of God seriously, and believe in it with our whole hearts, these promises should not feel fantastical or far-fetched. Rather, if our experience with the living God is real, it stands to reason that our experience with the promise of God must be real as well.

Now, that is not to say that since God separated the waters of the Red Sea for Moses, he will respond in precisely the same way for us today. However, it does mean that the personal and intimate experiences that Moses experienced with God in person are there for us to experience as well. In Acts, while gathering in the Upper Room, the Apostles experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Acts 2:1-13

Their experience was unique in that it found them speaking in various tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit moving among them. While the act of speaking in tongues easily becomes the focus of their baptism, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that marks their experience as being baptized by the Holy Spirit. They were being personally introduced to the living God that knew them at their most personal level. In that moment they became powerfully aware that God knew them, that the God of old who made promises throughout the ages had always known them. Thus it is for anyone today who is baptized in the Holy Spirit. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit we realize that the promises in the Word are not simply words to hope in, but are words intent on being found, experienced and fulfilled in us.

Serving the King: Strength

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Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Strength (Psalm 62)

When it comes to serving people or doing good deeds, the old debate springs up if any truly selfless act exists.  Most people acknowledge that behind every act of goodwill is always some self-serving motivation.  As we do good things or serve others, motivation is always in question.  If our motivation is for ourselves, we negate self-less service for others.

But God in Scripture demands selfless service from his followers. This makes us wonder: does God not understand to whom he is talking?  Does he not understand our limited ability to do such things?  The answer to this comes through the word of God, where we can see that God does know exactly to whom he is talking, and he fully understands our limited potential without him.

Service can usually be divided into two categories.  On one side, you serve to gain something for yourself.  On the other, you serve to pay what you owe.

Serving with the hopes of gaining something in return for the service is, at its core, selfish.  The true motivation behind this has everything to do with you, rather than those you serve, making this so-called “charity” sinful at its core. Unfortunately, this is the outlook of many churchgoing Christians.  Behind the façade of their busy “service” schedule is the desire to ultimately cash in on all of the good deeds for future rewards.  Going to church is a way to gain points.  Sharing the Gospel with people on the street gains points.  Opening the door for a co-worker gains points.  Regardless of the method, selfishness and self-centeredness lurk behind each righteous deed.  Serving God in this way has nothing to do with God at all.  In all honesty, God is simply the man at the carnival stand who cashes in your tickets for stuffed animals and goofy pens.

Serving to pay a debt comes with entirely different motivation.  Serving because we expect something in return allows us to occupy the center of all of our deeds for others.  However, serving because you are in debt puts the focus on the one you are serving, rather than on you.  Awareness that you are heavily indebted to someone adjusts the heart and soul into “payback” mode.  For example, if someone went two hours out of their way to help you on the side of the road because your car broke down, you would naturally have a desire to do something, big or small, to thank them for their assistance and effort.  The most effective way to feel love is to give it. The most powerful motivation to serve is to receive outrageous mercy and love.

In Psalm 62, repeatedly the psalmist refers to God as a “rock” and a “fortress.”  The psalmist repeats that in God alone are safety, strength and hope.  The psalmist has clearly experienced the personal, tangible power and mercy of God, and stands boldly upon this foundation.  It is clear to the writer that it was not in his own strength that he was serving God, and it was not as a result of his strength that he was so cared for and protected.  This individual understood that the true strength came from one place alone.

Each Sunday Christians pour into churches around the world under the banner of Christ.  The question that lies at the foundation of this fact is, “Why?”

For some, perhaps, this devotion is motivated by hope of future reward or praise.  Going to church is simply a requirement by which to garner favor with God and admittance into heaven. But the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, indeed the whole body of the Scriptures, shows that no one person can ever do enough to justify admittance into heaven. Nor can we receive any righteous reward out of human effort.  The truth is that we are ultimately and completely justified only by the perfect sacrifice.  Only by his wounds, his selfless service, are we completely healed.  Serving God can never stem from a desire to earn our reward or our glory.  Serving God the way that Jesus preached is by God alone and for God alone.  It is in Jesus we find a reason to serve. It is in his life that we find the strength to serve.

Born Again: Trouble (Psalm 102)

Welcome to Week 2 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what Psalm 102 has to say about “Trouble.”

Read Psalm 102

When someone is suffering, a typical recommendation is to read the Psalms. While this is an excellent idea that I completely endorse, we first have to realize that most Psalms are separated into two parts.

The primary reason we tend to recommend the Psalms in times of trouble is the “hopeful” sections. It’s great to be able to read how others before us have also suffered and endured pain like our own. However, without the hopeful conclusion at the end of many Psalms, all we are left with are groups of people sharing pain together, which is not that encouraging.

As I read Psalm 102, I wish I knew more about the anonymous psalmist, the “afflicted person” who is struggling and in despair. Why? What happened? What brought this man down to such depths that he feared the absence of God more than anything else?

While this question captivates my attention, yet more astonishing is the eventual turnaround in his spirit. The final two-thirds of the Psalm are nothing but praise for God. Not only that, but this writer is so confident in his hope of a new world with people who will worship and commune with God in new and wonderful ways.

This man didn’t have the Psalms!  Nor did he have the encouraging words of the apostles, and even more, he didn’t have Jesus and the Gospels!  Yet, he believed with his entire being in “the Gospel,” the “the good news.”

Psalm 102 is the prayer of a person in trouble, without a solution or happy ending, without the rich fulfillment of prophecy that would come in the ensuing centuries. Yet we, with our plethora of Bibles and Bible resources, tend to so easily let ourselves be overcome with despair and trouble to the extent that the mere mention of hope in a better future gets our eyes rolling. Many hallmarks emerge from a born again spirit and, while all are important, none amount to much without joy and hope. How often are Bible studies, church services or prayers marked with somber silence and not joyful laughter? Do we run into the future that God has prepared for us with feet like the deer? Do we fly into the unknowable future with wings like eagles?

Whether we do or do not, this man apparently did. And he managed this without the foretaste of the Kingdom of God delivered in full by the Son himself.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, the process of discipleship starts with suffering, but always ends in hope. And hope never disappoints. Hope brought this man out of the darkness. A person born again by the Spirit has taken hold of the Son and his Gospel never to let go.  Troubles only have the ability to control our lives if we ignore the One who offers us a way out.  Living without the joy of salvation and the hope of heaven leaves us futilely wrestling with our troubles.  When we are born again, we know that trouble will come, but will never be a match for the hope we have found in Jesus.

Tuesday Devotional: Psalm 63

bible1 You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
    they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
    and become food for jackals.

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
    all who swear by God will glory in him,
    while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

A relationship with God will always be grounded in two behaviors: a desire for more, and a fear of less.   We all have cravings.  There are moments in our days when we absolutely must have something.  Cravings arise out of an expectation to be satisfied.  We crave because we feel that we need.  We feel that we need because we feel dissatisfied.  It is in satisfaction that we find the pleasure that we ultimately crave.  We are not allowed to “like” the gospel of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus must either lead one to love and crave Him without ceasing or to hate and utterly reject all that he stands for.  A relationship with God confronts our predictable limitations while revealing and glorifying His perpetual steadiness and strength.  A relationship with God produces a steady stream of consistent reminders of his wisdom, providence and power, as a result of which one arrives at a place where life is simply not possible without him.  A relationship with God leaves us needing nothing else and nothing less.