Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 181: Psalm 105, 106, 107 and 108

Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion. (Psalm 106:43)
Notice in Psalms 105 and 106 how the exodus story is retold yet once again. This was the defining moment in the life of Israel. In 105 the writer recounts the incredible event of the exodus itself. Psalm 106 tells of Israel's disobedience in both the wilderness and the Promised Land.
Could this have been written to a nation in exile? Israel in Babylon? It is likely that the exodus story was a favorite of Jews relocated to the land of Persia. It would have been a natural way for a disenfranchised people to remind themselves that their God had delivered them before, and that he would come through for them again.
Then Psalm 106 narrates Israel's unfaithfulness. Could this perhaps be a warning to not make the same mistake once they were delivered from the Persians? The lesson: God freed our fathers from Egypt, but they soon forgot to be thankful. When God frees us from Babylon, let's not make the same mistake.
Have you ever said, "Oh that could never happen to me"?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 180: Psalm 101, 102, 103 and 104

If anyone secretly says things against his neighbor, I will stop him. (NCV, Psalm 101:5)
Every single one of us has been hurt by people talking about us. But if we're honest, we'd also have to admit that we've all said things we shouldn't, often about people who weren't there to defend themselves.
The first step to vanquishing gossip is to keep our mouths shut. Our mothers were right: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
But what should we do when a gossip tries to engage us in a conversation about someone else? It takes two to gossip: one to speak, and another to listen. There are things we shouldn't say, but there are also things we shouldn't listen to.
What if someone tried to gossip, but no one would participate?
When someone tries to engage you in gossip, try active non-participation. Say, Excuse me; Bill's my friend, and that's not something I want to hear. You shouldn't talk to anyone else about this either, but if it's something you feel strongly about, go talk to Bill - just between the two of you. Of course, there's always the ever popular option of responding with Plan B: Hey, when I talk to Bill later today, I'll be telling him everything you said.
I'd be really surprised if you need to have that conversation with someone more than once. Of course, it won't stop them from talking about you.
What's your plan to confront gossip?

Day 179: Psalm 97, 98, 99 and 100

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)
Did you know that Scripture contains God's address? But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel (KJV - Psalm 22:3). The New American Standard Bible reads: Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Either way, this passage confirms that God is present in the praises of his people. If God seems distant, praise him and he is there.
If God's address isn't good enough, today's reading contains a map to his house... like an early Iron Age GPS: Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
In Moses' time, worshipers entered the tabernacle with a blood sacrifice. The bronze altar was directly in line between the entrance of the courtyard and the door to the Most Holy Place... God's presence. There was no bypass, no detour.
Jesus became our once-and-for-all blood sacrifice - our access to God. Again... no bypass, no detour. It is through Christ that we offer our gifts of thanksgiving and praise. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name (Hebrews 13:15).
When was the last time you experienced God's presence?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 178: Psalm 93, 94, 95 and 96

The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. (Psalms 93:1)
Geocentrists interpret this verse and others to suggest that the earth is at the center of the universe and does not move - neither does it rotate on its axis nor does it revolve around the sun.
Though I crinkle my forehead at their scientific conclusions, I applaud their high view of humanity as God's creation. If mankind truly is God's crowning creation, why wouldn't the earth be at the universe's center with the sun revolving around it?
In Carl Sagan's 1997 film Contact, astronomer Dr. Eleanor Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) recalls a conversation with her father. Do you think there's alien life in the universe? His reply: If there's not, that's an awful waste of space. He might think a diamond engagement ring is an awful waste of money. Whether there's other life in the universe or not, I don't know; although I'll go on record to say I really don't think so. I think the stars in the heavens are a beautiful bauble created by a loving groom as a gift to his bride.
While I don't think the earth is necessarily the center of the universe or that it remains solidly planted in space, never moving or spinning, I rejoice that we are the center of God's universe. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
How has God shown his love for you?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 177: Psalm 89, 90, 91 and 92

Lord, you have been our home. (Psalm 90:1)
Sometimes when Janelle and I think about the challenges of ministry, the most difficult thing is that we don't have a place to call home. Ministry has taken us to Kansas, Tennessee, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and most recently Oregon where we trust we'll be for a long time.
And I understand; it's not just pastors. Everyone knows we live in an increasingly mobile society. Lots of people feel the lack of roots that comes from living here today and somewhere else tomorrow.
My wife's family still lives in the Kansas City area. She has her mom, a brother and two sisters, their spouses, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins all within the metro area. If I were pushed, I guess I'd say Kansas City feels more like home to us than anywhere else. But we left Kansas City almost thirty years ago.
That's why we take comfort in this passage: Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Before the mountains were born and before you created the earth and the world, you are God. You have always been, and you will always be (NCV, Psalm 90:1,2).
In an increasingly rootless society, no matter where we live, we can sink our roots down deep into Christ. How much stability can we have if our foundation is location, career or people? Everything changes... everything, that is, except for God. That's why God is our home.
Where's your home?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 176: Psalm 85, 86, 87 and 88

Great is your love toward me. (Psalm 86:13)
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me (vv. 11-13).
The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is God's kindness that leads us toward repentance (Romans 2:4). John writes: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Nothing but love will produce a lasting change in the heart. Cash payments won't do it. Keeping a list of rules and regulations won't do it. Threats of eternal damnation won't do it.
The psalmist asks God to teach him his way that he might walk in obedience; not out of obligation, not from hope of reward, and not out of fear, but out of the dawning realization of God's love for him. Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. Translation: Give me perfect love for you that I may give you the reverence and obedience your name deserves. Why? Because great is your love for me.
Only love begets love. And we don't initiate it; God does. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
What wondrous love is this!
How have you experienced God's love this week?

Day 175: Psalm 81, 82, 83 and 84

I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. . . . But my people would not listen to me. (Psalm 81:6,11)
This is a sad psalm where the writer voices the sentiments of Yahweh. These few verses thumbnail the entire Israeli experience: slavery, exodus, wilderness, choice. The first commandment reads: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). In the days before their river crossing into Canaan, Moses gave his farewell address, admonishing the people to choose wisely. Their choice could be summarized as: Choose Yahweh or choose the gods of Canaan.
On the game show Let's Make a Deal (NBC/ABC 1963-1976), host Monty Hall tempted contestants to trade the prize in their hands for an unknown prize behind Door #3. Once they made their deal, the door was opened and the result of their choice was displayed for all to see.
Likewise, time after time the Israelites rejected the prize they had (Yahweh), trying to trade up by choosing Door #3 (foreign gods).
Although they made a big show of affirming their fidelity to Yahweh, in reality, at almost every turn they went the wrong way, following other gods. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts (v. 12). In other words: You get to choose, but you have to live with the consequences.
Have you ever been warned about the consequences of making a wrong choice, and made the wrong choice anyway?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 174: Psalm 77, 78, 79 and 80

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. (Psalm 77:11)
Here we have the prayer of a man struggling with faith. He wants to hold on in trust, but pain and doubt chip away at his confidence, and he wonders if God will ever deliver him. When the heavens appear silent and no relief is in sight, he launches a faith resuscitation effort. I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . . I will meditate on all your mighty works and consider all your mighty deeds (vv. 11,12).
Nothing bolsters faith like rehearsing all the times God came through for us in the past. The writer doesn't limit his recall to events in his own lifetime; he engages his generational memory and takes it back all the way to Israel in Egypt: Your path led through the sea... (v. 19).
When you're struggling with doubt, take a walk down memory lane. Relive the times you saw no way out, yet hung on to find God faithful. Recall stories from your youth, told by parents and grandparents, and other older saints who could also testify to God's mercy and grace. Read the Bible: When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 53:6).
The same God who has answered prayer since the beginning is answering prayer still.
Recall a time God came through for you. What do you need today?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 173: Psalm 73, 74, 75 and 76

Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them! (Psalm 74:11)
This psalm was likely written in the confused time after the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. They smashed all the carved paneling . . . they burned your sanctuary to the ground (vv. 6,7). The psalmist asks the question of God: What's it going to take to get your attention? If the destruction of your temple doesn't wake you from your slumber, what will?
There are times we get to the end of our rope, thinking, God has got to do something now! And we are met with silence. It feels like we're completely alone. Sometimes the rope breaks and we still don't hear from God. What's with that?
We just plod along, forcing ourselves to place one foot in front of the other, until finally we've reached a safe place. And then somehow we recognize that God has been with us all along. Even when it seemed we had been abandoned, God was doing his best work on our behalf.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
One of the hardest things in the world is trusting God when we don't understand what he's up to.
Have you ever given up on God, only to find he was there all the time?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 172: Psalm 69, 70, 71 and 72

The desert tribes will bow before him. . . . All kings will bow down to him. (Psalm 72:9,11)
This psalm was possibly written for Solomon's coronation and then used in future coronation celebrations. It blesses the king with majesty, longevity, power and justice. Some scholars have asserted that the exaggerated language reflects expectations of a messianic king. [1]
The desert tribes will bow before him. . . . All kings will bow down to him. Even though separated by verse 10, this is almost certainly a case of parallelism, an ancient literary device used in Hebrew poetry, which either compares or contrasts two thoughts.
In this case the contrast clarifies a truth. In the first line, the word translated as bow is the Hebrew kara (kaw RAH). In the second line the word is shachach (shaw KAWH). The words carry two different connotations. Shachach implies the kings of the earth bow out of reverence and respect. This is the word used for bowing in worship. Kara is the word one would use to describe a defeated foe bowing with his conqueror's boot on his neck. No reverence, respect or worship there.
God exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:9,10).
When you bow, is it prompted by a spirit of worship or defeat?
[1] C. Hassell Bulloch, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 143.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 171: Psalm 65, 66, 67 and 68

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5,6)
Today is Fathers Day.
On Fathers Day my thoughts turn to those who have lost their dads, or even worse, those who never had a proper father figure in their lives. I wrote in Day 161 about my dad and how his life was completely changed (for the better) between when my siblings were born and when I was born. The Dad I grew up with was a different Dad than than the one they knew in their early years.
Today's verse reminds us that God fills the holes in our lives. If someone never had a good dad, or if his father passed away before he was ready to say goodbye, God is there to fill that empty space. If a woman has no husband for whatever reason, whether he left or died, or she has just never married, God is there for her, ready to come to her defense and supply her needs. God even has a family ready and waiting for the orphan and the lonely. In love he predestined us to be adopted (Ephesians 1:4,5). The church is the new family, the new community for the people of God.
Even when we feel lost there is a place and a people for us.
Are you fatherless?...widowed? ...alone? God's heart has room for you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 170: Psalm 61, 62, 63 and 64

You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. (Psalm 61:5)
Our heritage is something that has been passed down from preceding generations. One definition simply puts it: something that can be inherited. [1] This brings to mind two questions: What can those who fear God inherit that others cannot? What can those who fear God pass along to their children that others cannot?
From my parents I inherited a love for the church. It has always had and will always have a special place in my heart and in my priorities. I have a love for older saints. I see in them a devotion to God and a spiritual maturity born of faithfulness in adversity. These are things to which I aspire.
What can I pass along to my children? Hopefully the same things. I also want my kids to utilize the brains God gave them to ask hard questions while keeping their minds open that they might discern truth. I want them to know that despite difficult times God has always been faithful to me, and they can count on him too.
But this verse is more about what we receive as children of God than about what we receive from our parents. "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)."
What do you have coming to you?
[1] Heritage. Unabridged. Random House, Inc.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 169: Psalm 57, 58, 59 and 60

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1)
As I write this, oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon well. It's been leaking for over a month and no end is in sight. What started as a personal catastrophe for the families of the eleven men killed in the explosion now ranks as the world's worst man-made environmental disaster ever.
Disasters come in different forms. In addition to environmental disasters - both man-made and natural - there are international conflicts, financial blow-ups, relationship meltdowns and the list goes on. Illness and injury,violence and crime; none of us escapes disaster at some time or other in our lives.
David experienced more than his share of disaster. As a young man his king put a price on his head, forcing him to seek refuge with his enemies. Losing a battle with lust led to adultery and murder. His son, motivated by resentment, seized David's throne forcing him to run for his life yet again. His daughter was raped, his son was murdered, and another son died from illness in early childhood.
No doubt you've known disaster in your life too: investments crashing, retirement plans losing their value, children making bad choices, crime, accidents, or bad news from your doctor.
Today's reading holds two relevant promises: 1) During dark times we have a refuge; and 2) the disaster - whatever it is - will pass.
Do you need a refuge?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 168: Psalm 53, 54, 55 and 56

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend. (Psalm 55:12,13)
One can feel the betrayal in this psalm of David. In his song Why?, Michael Card makes the observation: Only a friend can betray a friend / A stranger has nothing to gain / And only a friend comes close enough / To ever cause so much pain.
It's only with our friends - people whom we love and who are supposed to love us - that we are this vulnerable. Letting one's guard down sets us up for heartache. But that's not the end of the story. That vulnerability (and the trust it fosters) is the essence of relationship. We cannot experience love without taking the risk that we might get hurt.
God himself has experienced that hurt. Jesus was betrayed by both Judas and Peter. And how many times has God been betrayed by me? How many times should God have been able to count on my commitment, only to catch a glimpse of my back as I walked away?
But then love isn't love if it's on a leash.
When were you last betrayed? When were you last the betrayer?
[1] Why? W/M: Michael Card, Copyright 1984 Mole End Music.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 167: Psalm 49, 50, 51 and 52

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble. (Psalm 50:14,15)
Through the psalmist, God outlines the standard forms of worship: burnt offerings of bulls and goats. Then he reveals the worship he prefers: 1) be thankful and demonstrate gratitude; 2) keep your promises; and 3) call upon me when you're in trouble (vv. 14,15).
How often are we reminded that proper prayer proceeds with worship before going on to a shopping list of needs and concerns? And that's important. John Stott writes: It is always wise, before we pray, to spend time deliberately recalling who [God] is. Only then shall we come to our loving Father in heaven with appropriate humility, devotion and confidence. [1] In other words, beginning wth worship and a recounting of God's name and character emboldens us to approach the throne of grace with a right heart and an expectant attitude.
But here we find straight from God's heart that complete worship includes thankfulness, integrity (obedience) and dependence. We know from 1 Samuel: To obey is better than sacrifice (15:22), so the first two elements we understand. But the psalmist writes that even our prayer requests are received as worship. We should never be ashamed of presenting our needs before our loving heavenly Father. There is something about acknowledging our dependence on God that puts us in the right posture to receive.
For what do you need to ask God's help today?
[1] John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove: IVP, 1978), 146.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 166: Psalm 45, 46, 47 and 48

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
There is nothing more difficult than being still. Most of us are more Martha than Mary. Too often, in order to quiet my body, I engage my brain with a book, music or television (although one could make the argument that watching television does anything but engage the brain). The point is that I even sabotage the quietness with noise... if not externally, then internally. Thoughts start racing through my head: what's coming up next at church, worries, things I should be doing, pressures. That's not being still.
In the newest Karate Kid movie (don't worry, no spoilers here especially if you've seen even one trailer), Dre (the Karate Kid portrayed by Jaden Smith) and Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) are conversing. Mr. Han tells Dre to be still. Dre says he doesn't want to do nothing. Mr. Han replies, There is a big difference between 'being still' and 'doing nothing.'
Being still is intentionally stepping away from the hustle and bustle of everyday activities without replacing it with other forms of noise, not to empty ourselves, but to engage and be engaged by the heart of God. It is in being still that the full awareness of God's power and majesty, as well as his love and care, can be ours. In short, this is the way we can know God.
When was the last time you were truly still before God?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 165: Psalm 41, 42, 43 and 44

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak. (Psalm 41:1)
Some people are weak, some are strong. Some people are poor while others are wealthy. Some don't have enough to eat while others enjoy plenty. Some people struggle at math while for others it's a breeze. Some fall to addictions while others celebrate sobriety. Some people have holes in their clothes and others run out of closet space for clothes they don't even wear anymore.
Blessed is he who has regard for the weak. Or we could say: It is the moral responsibility of the strong to care for the weak... the 'haves' for the 'have nots'...
A real man does not take advantage of those weaker than himself; he protects them. Those with plenty should do more than just say, There but for the grace of God... They should share. Those for whom things come easy should help those who struggle. The sober should help those who want to be. Do we build bigger closets or clothe the naked?
Do you have regard for the weak, or just avoid eye contact?

Day 164: Psalm 37, 38, 39 and 40

The Lord laughs at the wicked for he knows their day is coming. (Psalm 37:13)
The psalm begins with the admonition: Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong (v. 1). The context of this statement is that sometimes it looks like those who care nothing for God or God's people go on their merry way with no consequences; in fact it seems like they are rewarded with long life and prosperity.
There is a warning: Do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil (vv. 7,8). The psalmist writes that when we get preoccupied with why others - any others - have it so good when we struggle to get by, we are asking for trouble.
You shall not covet . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17).
Wanting what someone else has shows disdain for all that God has given us. Besides, such an attitude shows a serious case of shortsightedness. Their day is coming... and so is ours.
Is there anything for which you've neglected to say, 'Thank you,' to your Provider?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 163: Psalm 33, 34, 35 and 36

Look for peace and work for it. (NCV, Psalm 34:14)
Jesus said: Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Both of these passages teach us that, as God's children (those who would carry on the family business, so to speak), we have a responsibility to actively pursue peace. Peace never comes by following the path of least resistance.
What if I refused to stoke a conflict, applying water rather than gasoline to smoldering fires? What if I actively advocated for peace, a smoothing hand to ruffled feathers and a soothing voice to frenzied spirits? And what if I had the kind and volume of peace in my heart that overflowed to those around me?
The antithesis of this peacemaker ethic is hiding behind my right to not get involved. That's what the priest and the Levite did when they happened upon a crime victim in the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Samaritan, on the other hand, simply got involved and did what he could to heal the ravages of violence. He didn't end a war or free a nation; he just reached out to another human being.
Where would God have you get involved in the pursuit of peace?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 162: Psalm 29, 30, 31 and 32

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2)
Deceit (dih SEET) n. 1. The art or practice of deceiving; concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading. [1]
Why is there no deceit in the spirit of this man whose sin the Lord does not count against him? Why does he not feel the need to hide who he is, or at least bend the truth to make himself look better?
There are two reasons we might pretend to be someone we're not: 1) We are not secure in God's love and acceptance; or 2) we are not secure in our friends' love and acceptance.
The believer in Christ who has received God's grace need never be insecure. She has been accepted not on the basis of her performance, but because of God's great love. On the other hand, friends sometimes do judge us not only by our present performance, but often by our past performance as well. The person who is truly confident in God's love need not put on a mask for her friends. Her transparency, and assurance of God's forgiveness, may be the very thing God uses to make them aware of their own need for grace.
When did you first comprehend grace?
[1] deceit. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 11 Jun. 2010. (accessed June 11, 2010).

Day 161: Psalm 25, 26, 27 and 28

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalm 27:10)
My father committed his life to Christ when I was three weeks old. That day marked the end of being controlled by addictions to alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. He never touched any of them ever again - he was miraculously changed... literally. My brother and sister, who are 10 and 12 years older than me, grew up with the old Dad; I grew up with the new one. The new Dad was a different person, and a different parent.
Not everyone has the benefit of being raised by loving parents. The Bible's emphasis on God as father is lost on them, because they haven't experienced what a father is supposed to be. Many adult children have stood next to open graves conflicted about how to mourn the loss of a parent who never acted like a parent. They are often counseled to mourn the relationship they should have had, but was for them denied.
While we may not have had Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons - ABC/CBS 1960-1972) for a dad, hopefully we have enough exposure to healthy family relationships to understand the concept of parental love. The psalmist is saying that as unlikely as it may be, even if the people who love him most were to turn their backs on him, he knew God would always be there with open arms.
Did your parents model God's love to you? Do you model it for your children?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 160: Psalm 21, 22, 23 and 24

He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24)
This lament of David betrays a time when his suffering was all but unbearable. He is confused why God does not seem to be present, let alone come to his rescue. We know that Jesus identified with this psalm as it provided his cry on the cross: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" - which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46)?"
Loneliness is the essence of suffering. When we are hurting to the depths of our soul, we cannot help but feel like we are walking that path alone. And yet, even when it appears God is deaf and blind, we can draw strength from the knowledge that he hears and he sees.
God is not unaware of or unmoved by your suffering; it pierces his heart.
Have you experienced times in your life when you thought God had abandoned you, only to find out later he was there all the time?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 159: Psalm 17, 18, 19 and 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress. (Psalm 20:1)

For today I thought I would share the lyrics to two simple worship songs that come from today's reading.

Save Me from My Enemies (Psalm 20)
I call to the Lord who is worthy of praise
And I am saved from my enemies
I call to the Lord who is worthy of praise
And He saves me from my enemies
Save me, Lord
Save me, Lord
Reach down from on high
And lift me out of these deep waters
Save me, Lord
Save me, Lord
Save me from my enemies
Copyright 1992 - Tim Irwin
Psalm 20 - Benediction
May you hear the voice of God
When you find yourself in trouble
May His sanctuary rest where you are
May the mighty name of God
Rise up to protect you
May He give you the desires of your heart
And when all your plans succeed
We will shout for joy
At your song of victory
Copyright 1994 - Tim Irwin
I look forward to hearing your victory song.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 158: Psalm 13, 14, 15 and 16

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? . . . [He] who keeps his [promise] even when it hurts. (Psalm 15:4)
Ever heard one of these? Hello? Wow! I was just going to call you!; I'll feed it and take care of it - you'll never even know we have a dog!; We'll play catch tomorrow; No! That dress doesn't make you look fat; Let's do lunch.
Would you believe it if someone said any of these things to you? Have you ever made one of these promises to someone else and not really meant it? Paul wrote: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:14).
We say things like: Cross my heart and hope to die... or On the eyes of my sainted mother. Do these words make us more likely to tell the truth? [1] John Stott writes: Swearing is really a pathetic confession of our own dishonesty. [2] The reason we have to swear oaths is our tendency to lie.
As believers, we shouldn't need to sign our name, or cross our heart, or produce collateral. Our lives should be enough to convince people they can expect us to tell the truth.
Can you commit to always telling the truth? If no, why?
[1] I am indebted to Pastor Stephen Sizer of Christ Church - Virginia Water, UK, for some of this article's seed thoughts. I can no longer find the source material.
[2] John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove: IVP, 1978), 102.

Day 157: Psalm 9, 10, 11 and 12

The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men. (Psalm 12:8)
Regarding sin's downward spiral, Paul concludes: Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:32)
Have you noticed how our heroes have changed? Saturday afternoon TV westerns featured Roy Rogers wearing a white hat and crusading for justice. Marcus Welby was not only a brilliant physician, but a good man. The town of Mayfield was home to Ward and June Cleaver and their kids Wally and Theodore. They were good kids even if the Beaver did have a knack for getting in trouble.
Were those shows to be remade today, Roy Rogers would be running from his past, Dr. Welby would be addicted to painkillers, and Leave It to Beaver would be retitled The Adventures of Eddie Haskell.
There actually might be something healthy about realizing our heroes are just regular men, women and children with all the faults and shortcomings inherent to humanity. Pedestals are too easy to fall from.
At the same time, are we living in a time when what is vile is honored among men? If we are, things may not be that different after all than they've always been. Apparently, 2500 years ago the psalmist was experiencing the same thing.
How can we encourage noble behavior from our children when their heroes do not?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 156: Psalm 5, 6, 7 and 8

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4)
Many years ago I was in a discussion when a man in the group said rather snobbishly: I don't believe in an interventionist God. And I thought: How sad for you.
The Psalmist here acknowledges not only man's smallness compared to the vastness of the heavens and earth God has created, but also draws attention to the truth that God takes special notice of humanity... his crowning creation.
This highlights God's transcendence (his otherness - he is above and separate from the created order) and his immanence (the idea that God is close to and involved with his creation).
Thinking of God's involvement with his creation always takes me back to the story of Hagar in the desert when she spoke to God: You are the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13).
What is man that you are mindful of him? The writer is literally declaring that God's mind is filled with thoughts of and care for you.
How does it make you feel to know that you are on God's mind?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 155: Psalm 1, 2, 3 and 4

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)
Meditating on God's Word is not reading it, memorizing it, or even studying it. It's chewing on it, turning it over in the mind, percolating and letting it become part of us.
On what are you meditating? It's been said that the mind wanders every seven seconds. [1] When idling at a red light, standing over a sink full of dishes, or sitting at your desk, where does your mind go? Wherever it goes is probably what you're meditating on.
It is in meditating on the law, God's Word, that it really becomes a part of us.
Where does your mind go when it wanders?
[1] Scott Wenig, "Using Scripture In Our Lives,"

Day 154: Job 40, 41 and 42

If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! (Job 41:9)
In the final chapters of Job, after Job has pleaded his case and his friends have arrogantly and at the same time naively spoken for God, God speaks: Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation (38:4)? Have you entered the storehouses of the snow (v. 22)? Can you bring forth the constellations in their season (v. 32)? Do you know when the mountain goats give birth (39:1)? Does the eagle soar at your command (v. 27)?
And Job admits he is no match for the Lord God Almighty (40:4).
God then proceeds to illustrate his own glory and majesty by pointing to some of his creations that man cannot tame: Look at the behemoth (probably an elephant; possibly the hippopotamus), which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox (v. 15). Can you pull in the leviathan (probably the crocodile) with a fishhook (41:1)?
You gotta laugh at this imagery: If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Though never backing away from his claims of innocence, about this time I'm sure Job was thinking to himself: I challenged God once, and I'll never do that again either!
Have you ever made a hasty and foolish challenge only to think better of it after it was too late?

Day 153: Job 37, 38 and 39

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)
How often do we... let me start over. How often do I presume to speak for God? This is a danger to which pastors are especially prone. In today's world, the closest thing to the Thus saith the Lord of the Old Testament prophets is the Sunday morning message preached from pulpits all over the world.
We go to school to ensure we are interpreting the Scriptures correctly, and speak with confidence that we are representing God accurately. Yet at the same time, we must be careful to leave our dogmatism at home, for we are human and our understanding of God's word and God's ways are dynamic (at least it should be), shifting over time as we grow deeper in knowledge and in relationship with our Creator.
When Jesus said, It is written... (Matthew 4:4), he left it at that, but on other occasions he said, You have heard that it was said . . . , but I tell you... (5:21,22). He spoke with an innate authority (which we will never have), refuting the law's popular interpretation, yet never refuting Scripture itself.
Rather than darkening God's counsel by presuming to speak for him with words without knowledge, we must be careful rather to let the voice of God speak through a correct and responsible interpretation of the scriptural text.
Do you speak for God, or do you allow God to speak for himself?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 152: Job 34, 35 and 36

His thunder announces the coming storm. (Job 36:33)
Three friends sat silently while Job grieved, and then opened their mouths causing him to suffer even more. Elihu, a younger man, accompanies them sitting quietly out of respect for their age and standing in the community, but he has reached his limit; he can hold his tongue no more. Chapter 32 tells us he was angry with Job for not admitting his guilt, and angry with his three elders for their inability to convince Job of his need for confession.
Elihu expresses his conviction that God cannot possibly do wrong (34:10), and asserts that a man's suffering must be interpreted as punishment for wrongdoing. Since God rewards the upright and punishes the sinful, suggesting a just man might also suffer is the same as accusing God of evil.
As far as Elihu is concerned, God is not hard to figure out. Do right and prosper, do wrong and suffer. There is just no other explanation for suffering than punishment for wrongdoing. God is easy to read. Just as thunder is a sure sign of an approaching storm, suffering is a sure sign of God's displeasure.
As we get older, we find out things aren't always so black and white.
Are there opinions you held strongly in youth about which you've learned to be more flexible with a few years under your belt?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 151: Job 31, 32 and 33

I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31:1)
In the 1983 film WarGames, Matthew Broderick plays a teenage computer whiz kid who accidentally hacks into the missile defense of the United States. Thinking he's found his way into a computer game company, he's eager to sample their newest product. He comes across such files as Tic-Tac-Toe, Chess,... and a very intriguing Global Thermonuclear War.
The computer asks: Do you want to play a game? And before he knows what's happening, the computer locks him out and initiates a countdown to a preemptive nuclear strike.
While the countdown progresses, the kid challenges the computer to a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Because two evenly matched players can play Tic-Tac-Toe all day and neither of them ever win a game, the computer soon learns the concept of stalemate. It starts looking ahead through all the possible outcomes of nuclear war and comes to a conclusion:
The only winning move is not to play.
The control room at NORAD breathes a collective sigh of relief, the world is saved, and the delinquent computer genius becomes the hero.
We may think we can play the game of lust and come out a winner but we cannot. There are always consequences for playing this game. Job had taken precautions to protect himself. When it comes to sexual fantasy and lust, the only winning move is not to play.
How are you protecting yourself? ...your marriage?

Day 150: Job 28, 29 and 30

Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. (Job 28:3)
Job describes an awesome, scary picture of ancient mining operations. He writes about cutting a shaft through the rock, dangling from ropes, and working in pitch blackness, illuminated only by the miners' lamps. No bird or animal has ever seen what man discovers there in the cave's loneliness.
But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell (v. 12)?
Job is telling us that wisdom is more valuable than even silver or rubies, and that we should be willing to go to greater lengths to find wisdom than we do to dig up sapphires and gold.
Our hero is also comparing the toils of his life to the search for riches. He has worked harder and sacrificed more than any treasure hunter. And he has discovered the hard truth that wisdom is more difficult to find than a vein of gold.
Do you treasure wisdom enough to keep going until you find it?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 149: Job 25, 26 and 27

I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. (Job 27:5)
One after another, first Eliphaz, then Bildad, and finally Zophar, Job's three friends spout off the same age-old retribution wisdom. If you're suffering, it must be because you sinned. Humble yourself and be restored.
But Job couldn't humble himself. He had nothing to confess. To feign guilt just to gain relief wouldn't have been right. Job was not about to allow God off the hook just to ease his own discomfort.
Is there a lesson here for us? How often do we fall on our own sword, when we know we're not in the wrong, just to make peace? If Job is a theodicy, a defense of God's justice in the face of seemingly contradictory evidence, then it is also a study in the ethics of conflict.
How many times have I taken one for the team? While it sounds noble, it may be no better than a prizefighter taking a dive. Romans 12:18 reads: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone, but avoiding conflict isn't always the ethical thing to do. Standing our ground may be more Christian than retreat. Winning a battle for my own glory certainly does not display a proper Christian attitude, but falling to the mat just to avoid the unpleasantness of conflict doesn't either.
Have you ever kept the peace and lived to regret it?

Day 148: Job 22, 23 and 24

If only I knew where to find him. (Job 23:3)
St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul to describe the painful and lonely journey of an individual seeking spiritual maturity. John wrote his treatise while imprisoned by his own monastic brothers for his attempts to reform the order. It symbolizes a spiritual crisis in which God seems far off and unapproachable.
Watchman Nee, the Chinese church planter who died in 1972 after twenty years in prison, wrote about the brokenness of the outer man in The Release of the Spirit. He talked about how God uses struggles and hardships in our lives to break the shell (the personality or the soul) that binds the inner man (the spirit). Nee and St. John could have been reading each other's emails.
We talk about times when God seems to be hiding and our prayers bounce off the ceiling, times we cry out to God but get no answer. That's what Job was experiencing. He was seeking, but God was nowhere to be found.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent (Psalm 22:1,2).
It seems that Christ also experienced the dark night of the soul.
Have your cries for God ever been answered only with silence?

Day 147: Job 19, 20 and 21

Why do the wicked live on? (Job 21:7)
There's the crux of the matter. I know bad things happen to good people, but if it at least seemed like the scales were balanced and that the wicked suffered as much as the righteous, then I could say, Well, trouble comes to us all in equal measure.
But that's not how it seems. While I'm struggling to pay my bills; while I'm suffering through illness and injury; while my kids are making bad choices causing me to lose sleep; my neighbor just bought another boat. Why does he need two boats? How is that fair, God?
It's not so much that good people suffer, but that bad people so often seem to get a pass. Why do they have the advantage?
Near the end of the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character Roy Kinsella confronts baseball right fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson. Kinsella complains how he did all the work and went to all the expense to build a baseball field in the middle of his struggling farm, and he's about to go under.
Kinsella: I never once asked "What's in it for me?"
Jackson: What are you saying, Roy?
Kinsella: I'm saying... What's in it for me?
Looking at the seeming disparity between the lifestyles of the rich and famous and the lifestyle of the average believer, can you understand why Job thought life seemed unfair?
Have you ever asked, "What's in it for me?"