Up to the neck in mire, no place to stand, no place to grab hold, deep waters, dry mouth, weary eyes, and constant waiting for God - this is what it means to be spiritual?
This is sometimes what it means to be spiritual.
" Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God."
We are being called to radicalism in the same sense that M. Scott Peck called himself a "radical conservative" - one who goes to the root of things and seeks to conserve that ideal.
Sometimes the roots are buried deep beneath the surface. Sometimes they are in plain view. Always, they provide the strength and stability to the life they support.
To determine what the radix of the Jesus message is, one must focus on the person, work, and message of Jesus in His context and beyond His context.
No one was ever more forgiving; yet no one was ever more brutally truthful. His judgment did not condemn and His forgiveness let no one off the hook of personal or collective responsibility for their choices.
It is going to take some radical and disturbing voices to bring us back to true center and remind us that the standard for orthodoxy cannot be found in the last 100-200 years of the church as wonderful as some of those years might have been and as mighty as many of their preachers were.
Nostalgic faith can only carry us so far back into the history of God's salvific work in affairs of humankind.
The quest for roots must go back much further than that and be reexamined in light of timeless truths revealed by God. The message must be contextually and linguistically translated to each new generation without losing its core.
Then, concepts such as forgiveness will be meatier and more potent and the personal message of pietism and spiritual vitality will be seen within a Kingdom context.
We have some digging to do to get to the root of things and that can be uncomfortable.
The conviction that we need, besides the obvious conviction of our sins, is a deep conviction that "it" is all about God and not about us.
Perhaps that will be one of the contributions of a new generation of radical believers.
What is common ground and why do we need to cultivate it?
Finding common ground never means having to surrender the ground where you feel you must stand based upon principle.
It is finding and recognizing the ground you share that overlaps the irreducible minimums of core beliefs.
More so, it is recognizing and respecting the human beings who share that ground and finding language to communicate commonalities as well as uniqueness.
For the "good-news-ist" (evangelist) it means finding and exercising an opportunity, with integrity, to communicate our good news and listening to the message of the other.
The antithesis is answering questions our neighbor has not asked or assuming presuppositions that they do not hold. Our words fall on deaf ears and interactions create an atmosphere that is opposite of the Kingdom of God.
And Incarnation ....
Incarnation is and was hard ...seeing from everyone's point of view, feeling the pain of all sides, calling forth intercession, glimpsing divine eternal perspective, knowing that others do not and cannot know and feel what you know and feel.
God did it and does it and invites us to share a piece of the action ... which depolarizes us and unnerves us and takes away all sorts of safe hiding places where we might retreat.
Jesus had no name that any could understand to define or confine him, so he most often called himself, "Son of Man."
That is incarnation and it calls for identification with all suffering and allows for no comfort zone with which to label oneself.
“And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” – Psalm 55:6
It was November 21, 1783 in Paris, France. Physicist Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes fulfilled the dreams of generations when they became the first humans to fly. Rising to a height of 3000 feet, they drifted for 25 minutes before landing 5 miles from where they started in a hot air balloon.
For as long as human memory has been recorded, men and women have admired the great birds of the sky and wondered what it would be like to soar above the clouds.
Helen Keller said, “One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar.”
The psalmist mused about the possibility of soaring above the cares of life, above his circumstances, and above his limitations until he came to a place of rest and fulfillment.
The psalmist longs for wings. He is earthbound. He is tragedy-laden. He is caught in a cycle of living and dying, longing, yearning, and groaning without fulfillment. But still, he dreams and reaches beyond his own limitations and imagination.
His heart cries out for rest.
Rest is fulfillment.
Soon after the Paris flight, ballooning became a popular recreation. Yet still today, it is cause for amazement and imagination. To fly away and see our little worlds below from the vantage of eternity is a longing that God has placed in our hearts.
To rise above our impossibilities is a God-shaped and God-sized dream.
Where God places a longing, God plants the possibility and the power within us. He has not made us to be ordinary, sedentary, or earth-bound. He has made us to soar.
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field … He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; “ - Matthew 13:24, 37-38
The sower grabs a handful of seeds and tosses them. He does so generously and in a manner that may seem to some to be indiscriminate. It is called scattering and was a common way of sowing seeds in Jesus’ day. I have planted gardens by placing each individual seed in the ground and covering it carefully. And I have planted grass in the manner described by Jesus.
The Son of Man sows good seeds and sends forth His disciples to sow good seeds as well. He does not require that good seeds fall only among other good seeds. Not only is that not His way, it is not necessary. Every seed eventually reveals its own true nature. That’s what seeds do.
The implications are double for us. We not only bear in our own lives the fruit of His seed, but we also are called to accept the challenge to be co-laborers in His field. The call to sow seed requires us to accept the enormity of the challenge, while resting completely in His grace and trusting Him for the fruit. We may sow freely, liberally, and with joy knowing that there is contained within each of God’s gospel seeds the power to change lives, families, communities, and nations. Scatter at will.
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” - Matthew 13:31-35
It’s not how we start, but how we finish that matters most to God.
There is no intrinsic virtue in starting big. Quick starts, bursts of energy, and strategic advantages can be helpful in God’s plan, but they are neither normative nor necessary. God is exalted in the growth of seeds and the expansion of yeast planted in the center of His purposes. Pastor Theodore was disappointed when only a few faithful souls came to the widely announced, much anticipated prayer meeting for revival. But they kept coming and remained faithful. And as they prayed, God began to work in them, transforming their lives and relationships. As they radiated the love, reverence, and joy of the Lord, others were affected and they also came and joined in the prayer for revival. The original prayer warriors were encouraged to continue to grow and God’s grace radiated from them even more. The kingdom’s influence was growing God’s way. Do not be discouraged by small beginnings. Take the challenge to grow.
TRUSTING GOD FOR OUTCOMES
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”- Matthew 13:47-50
I hope you come to this point somewhat puzzled. The scripture and the title of this devotion do not meld on the surface and it demonstrates your attentiveness that you noticed. But here is the reconciliation: We are fishnets, not fish inspectors. God is the fisherman and He uses us as fishers of men, but He does not authorize us to judge the quality of the catch. That is His role.
We cannot and need not evaluate another person’s sincerity, genuineness, or honesty with God in our evangelism. What we must do is remain faithful and trust God to sort everything and everyone. Our net must be broad enough to sweep the ocean of humanity. Our faith must be vital enough to leave the results to God. We may attract people whose motives are questionable, whose commitments are superficial, and whose lifestyles are unstable, but God is able to work in their lives to accomplish His will.
"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." - C. S. Lewis
So, there is no referendum on this issue. It either is or it is not.
What we believe does not alter reality. What we refuse to believe does not nullify it.
Are we angry with God then, or with people who profess a belief in God? Are we angry with books and sermons and institutions because we do not like the character that they describe?
The importance of personal belief lies in what happens inside of me when I believe and identify with that which is ultimate. The current flows with overwhelming and sometimes invisible force in whatever direction it will.
I cannot change that. What I can change is whether it will sweep me away or if I will flow with it for the ride of my life.
He really loved his power and authority and thought a great deal of himself.
He shared a name with others who were addicted to power, position, and wealth.
Though his ego was over-sized, his heart was not cold enough to be frozen. He held a fascination with John the Baptist. He was able to recognize that something in him that was different from other people.
It confused him. His ignition switch for God-consciousness was shooting out some sparks, but the conflict within him always kept the engine from turning over.
He had fear and fascination and they could have led somewhere ... they could have led to faith and repentance, but it would have cost Herod more than he was willing to pay.
John merely lost his head from his shoulders. Herod lost everything.
" for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly."
(Mark 6:20 ESV)
Question - What is the fair market value of power, position, and wealth? What is the personal cost? What does it cost others for us to crave it?
Bigger Question - What is it really worth?
Question -What delusions must we cultivate to accumulate these fleeting commodities?
Bigger Question - When "all" is lost, what will you have gained?
I walked into a room of 8-10 young people and was stunned by the silence. They were sitting together and not saying a word, a room full of people with a common goal to serve the people in the hospital, waiting in silence for their next assignment.
I broke the silence.
It is so quite in here .... not my lifetime experience with teenagers with whom I have engaged for a lifetime.
The young man behind the desk said, "They are all chatting with their friends."
I love this medium. I truly do. It helps me to make many, many new friends and stay in touch with others, but all the wonderful energy and the great bank of ideas and experience in that room and none of the people were benefiting from it by getting to know each other and look into each others eyes and clasp hands in new friendships.
"CIVILISATION is not to be judged by the rapidity of communication, but by the value of what is communicated." ~G.K. Chesterton: "Illustrated London News," 'America and Barbarism.' Feb. 16, 1907.
I am sure that much of value was communicated, but, in that potentially wonderful community of the moment, much was lost.
So much more could have been said and so much more than could be said, might have been conveyed if we had but lived in the moment and celebrated the physical presence of those around us ... by being present ourselves.
Does anyone think it's over? Have you given up or are you about to give up? Do you feel you are out of options? Are you empty, drained, and devoid of strength. Has your inspiration fizzled, your motivation taken a vacation? Are you derailed, demoralized, or depleted? It is not over, friend. You may have to limp or crawl a while, but you will arise. You will stand up, mount up, and rise up and ... You will soar! Keep on during the hard times, keep plugging, and keep gazing at the prize. It's not over, beloved. It's not over!
“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. “ - Matthew 20:16
The landowner needed workers. He needed more as the day went on. According to his rights, he recruited throughout the day and negotiated a salary with each. At the end of the day, he payed what he had promised and all received an equal share – even those who had come late to the task.
Those who came early resented his generosity and grumbled. The landowner was appalled at their attitudes. After all, it was his money, his field, and his prerogative to be generous. He was not paying the early recruits less than they deserved, he was paying the late-comers more.
Some people come early to God’s kingdom and some late. It is not always a matter of time, but often a matter of cost. It costs some people more to follow Jesus. Some bring more energy, commitment, and perseverance and less “baggage” and may be tempted to think of themselves as a higher class of Christian. They are prone to resentment when they discover that God loves and blesses the latecomers as much as them.
We must abandon, once and for all, our score-book, time-sheet mentality with regard to Christian service. Service is all about the One we serve and not about getting our just deserts. We are not rewarded for our efforts or longevity, but on the basis of a covenant relationship, for faithfulness by grace. We are not in the service of the Lord for the praise of men, for financial rewards, or recognition. God has already erased a great debt we could never pay. If we had to serve on an eternal chain gang, we could never achieve equity in our relationship with Him. How could we ever call Him unfair by comparing ourselves with other people? It is beyond even limited human reason to do so. It is ridiculous by any eternal standard. We serve out of gratitude and grace and because the very nature of our relationship with the Master compels us.
"A tomb now suffices him for whom the world was not sufficient." - Purported epitaph on the tomb of Alexander the Great
It is uncanny how one's world can shrink from the spacious opulence we consider our birthright to the minuscule confines of a grave.
If it was true that Alexander wept because there were no more worlds to conquer then what of the weeping when all the worlds collapse into the vacuity of death?
One has no standing to make spiritual pronouncements on the life of another, but his own epitaph makes an indictment that stings with irony.
"What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose the essence of who he is?" asked Jesus (and I paraphrase).
Death equalizes those shells we confuse with or true lives and the possessions we hope will define us. No high office nor certificate of accomplishment is carried into eternity toward which we all progress. Even our legacies in this world are often evaluated without respect to those accomplishments we deemed most significant.
"It is appointed unto man once to die and after that, the judgment ..." (Heb. 9:26-27)
Thus comes the final evaluation, the ultimate assessment of who we were and what we did.
Alexander valued conquest. Whatever we value will write our epitaph for us. Our lives will be summed up in a few short words or a short dash between two dates.
Perhaps it can be said of all conquerors that ultimately, they conquered nothing. At the same time, there are men and women who are building legacies that will be go on blessing others long after they are gone. They will have lost themselves to find themselves. They will have invested themselves in something eternal and infinite and, in doing so, in the lives of other.
Those who say that does not count are as pitiable as Alexander. Those for whom it matters, can never be confined. They are truly free and truly fulfilled now and forever.
The best kept secret in the world is the Law of Grace.
I was reminded of this today and have updated it a tiny bit.
Grace is just about the most powerful force in the universe. We are saved by grace, liberated by grace, and empowered by grace to love, live, laugh, and dream. We swim in a sea of grace not of our own making. God's grace not only compensates for our shortcomings, but lifts us and moves us to greatness.
Within the context of grace and beyond our understanding, God honors and sometimes overrides the laws of the universe that He has created. His overrides are almost always in our favor and His enforcement is a source of blessing to all who discover and practice those laws whether in faith or in ignorance of faith.
God is a dreamer. He has a dream for the world and a dream for each of us. It His desire for us to dream with Him. He is intentional about these dreams and the greatest significance in life comes from discovering His dream and living in it as we pursue it and give ourselves to it. In other words, it matters what God wants!
Dreams are realities. They have lives of their own and they have legs. When we dream and follow our dreams, we activate divine laws that are extremely powerful and deeply fulfilling.
Dreams without thought, commitment, and perseverance are pipe dreams and fantasies. Real dreams take work and time.
The power of positive thinking is a scientific reality. More so, it is a divine invention. It is real because God made it real. It is not an ultimate reality apart from divine providence and declaration.
You can often get what you want now by applying the principles that seem to be divorced from any specific commitment to God's will, like the Law of Attraction, but real fulfillment and eternal significance come through aligning oneself with the God who created all natural laws in an intimate and committed relationship. This is the message, ministry, and work of Jesus Christ.
Whatever life is now, it can be more as we discipline and elevate our thinking, expectations, and faith and become true dreamers, committed to a vision that is grander than self or personal ambition. The sky is the limit. There is no ceiling to the greatness possible in your life.
Do you have glossophobia, a fear of public speaking? Is it holding you back in your personal and professional growth?
King George VI of England had it and is was a major impediment to his ability to rule until he overcame it.
We can learn from his willingness to humble himself and get the help and coaching he needed to be an effective king in difficult times.
To tremble at the thought of standing in public to speak is a common anxiety and there is an uncommon solution, a path to personal progress and professional advancement.
I contend that there are Five Reasons You Should Visit a Toastmasters Club Next Week.
Toastmasters International is an octogenarian organization (the club, not the members) that teaches leadership and communication skills in an atmosphere of fun, acceptance, dignity, and collegial support.
You should visit and then, you should join.
You begin where you are today. There is no judgment, no harsh criticism, and no big surprises of the embarrassing sort.
Here are five reasons not to put this off.
1. Sometime this year, you will be called upon in your work or community to make a presentation. If you are a Toastmaster, you already have a group of supportive friends who will help you prepare.
2. If you put it off to another week, it will become easier to continue putting it off until you forget altogether.
3. The club really wants you. Your presence will bring added value to the club and its members know it. You have unique gifts and experiences from which others can benefit.
4. There are people already meeting weekly with whom you need to network and you can meet them all in one place.
5. You have friends to meet, experiences to share, learning to be accomplished, ideas to share, skills to prefect, and recognition to achieve. There is no better time than right now.
You are invited to visit: Federal Toastmasters in Fresno on Fridays at Noon at the University of Phoenix, Room 307.
We dream; we grow; We move; we flow; We laugh; we glow. While here below, We live in anticipation Of pomp and circumstance And graduation. We are matriculated in the school of life Articulated by toil and tears and strife. We are students of all that passes Work and play, day by day, our classes. We are classmates with our fellow creatures. These also are our students and our teachers. And this is our assignment: Absolute and total realignment. And someday through the pain and stress of it. We will celebrate the gain and success of it. We dream; we grow and by God's grace we move and flow And laugh and glow While here below, We live.
Live well. Live Long. Prosper and overcome. Be all that you can be. You are more special than you know.
Urgency is a poor substitute for priority. When we establish an understanding of what is truly important based upon God’s abiding principles and mission, we need to stick with it. The reality is that the moment we prioritize our ministries, diversions will emerge, distractions will appear, and urgency will shout in our ears, “Stop and take care of me NOW!”
Charles E. Hummel suggests a helpful grid in his work on the Tyranny of the Urgent and Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent. The ability to distinguish what is important and urgent, urgent and unimportant, neither urgent nor important, and important and yet, not urgent is vital to time management and purpose driven living.
We need to be able to say “no” to urgency any time it steps outside the boundaries of our priorities. Yes, there will be emergencies that must be faced as they arise. There will be extraneous details that must be handled. The problem arises when every urgent matter presents itself with the same emergency motif and ministry life becomes one great series of emergencies. We have fire departments to put out fires.
What is your focus? Make sure it receives a prominent place on your calendar and that you do your best to follow your calendar. Leave time for incidentals. Leave cushion for emergencies. Live by grace because you won’t meet all of your goals. But, know this, if you heed every urgent cry, you will meet none of them because your life will be controlled by something far less than your God-given priorities. Follow Rick Warren’s advice and lead a purpose-driven life.
“For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” – Psalm 36:9
One of the first lighthouses ever built, certainly one of the most famous, was the Lighthouse of Alexandria in 280 BC. Situated on the Egyptian island of Pharos, it was at one time thought to be the tallest structure on earth at 383 - 440 feet. Many lives were rescued because of its existence.
Its purpose was the same as that of all lighthouses: to warn ships away from dangerous shores and guide them in the night.
No ship’s captain ever complained about a lighthouse getting in his way or inconveniencing him in his journey. Many a lighthouse has saved many a life.
James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Man-made lighthouses point us to the reality of God’s gracious willingness to warn us and guide us because He loves us. He desires life for us and in His light we see light.
Philippians 2:15 says, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”
Not only does God provide light for our journey, but He appoints us as His people to shine in a dark world where there are many unseen dangers and unmarked shores. By taking this stewardship of light seriously, the church and its people have helped to lead many a lost ship and crew into a harbor of safety.
Napoleon Hill said, “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now."
Adrian Rogers said, "It's always to soon to quit, never too soon to start. "
So start where you are right now and build faith into your life and thinking.
The first challenge is to FIND A REASON and to FOCUS on the dream God has placed in your heart, the one thing that you must do, become, and achieve in life.
A Way without a Y (WHY) is a WA – meaningless concept. God has placed a big dream in each person’s heart just as He has a dream for you, your church, your business, and for His world. Will you commit to seek Him for that dream one week?
Let's use F-A-I-T-H as an acronym for the steps (weeks, months) we need to devote to this process.
Step 1: F - FIND a reason, a far-reaching goal that takes you beyond yourself and FOCUS on that dream. Hebrews 1:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Step 2: A - ADJUSTMENTS and ATTITUDES: Philippians 2:5 - Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
Step 3: I - IMAGINE new possibilities and INVEST your life in what God is doing in and through you. Ephesians 3:20 – Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to His power at work in us…
Step 4: T - TRUSTING God: Psalm 37:3-5 – Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn; the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Step 5: H - HARVEST the Fruit: Galatians 6:9 –Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Actually, as unkind as it may seem, I do pray that lying lips with be mute and I ask that those who speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt would be silent. i ask this knowing that it might, sometimes, shut me up. I may be the guy whose pride and contempt color the truth so that it becomes a lie. It might even be someone, whose opinion I agree with, in principle, but whose methods or attitudes are, at least for the moment, deceitful.
I pray this in love - love for the truth, love for God, love for hearers, love for my communities and, even so, love for those whose lips are co-opted by the spirit of deceit.
I cannot refute every untruth, half-truth, and partial truth. I cannot dismantle every system of institutionalized lies and every narrative of hate, bitterness, and ignorance.
I want to, but I cannot. I cannot keep up with it. I can only do my tiny part. I can only contribute a piece of me -- fearfully and carefully lest I enter into the same trap of slander and contempt.
I can pray, speak truth, pray, live truth, pray, and long for truth and the God of truth will always prevail.
We shall often be misunderstood, misjudged, and mistreated by the characterization of our honesty as something other than what it is, but in the end, truth always prevails.
What say your tired, weary bones? Soul, are you depleted? Have your resources dried up? Are fresh out of all you need to keep going?
It is a good place, not a comfortable place, yet, a comforting place. It is a hard place, this school of reliance and trust. It is a rocky path with curves and tunnels, uncertain trails, and slippery slopes, but it is a prestigious school.
You cannot afford the tuition and you bring nothing of value to the bargaining table. Your enemy is too strong for you. He robs you of all you have left.
You are drained dry.
Your bones ache and you cannot move another inch.
Then ... you start singing with the ancient singer,
" All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”"
In 1 Samuel 21, David eats holy bread and shares it with his hungry soldiers. It is a clear violation of law and tradition, but he does it and convinces the priests to help him do it. He makes a good case, but the essence of the argument is need. Later, Jesus cites David as an example when the nit-pickers are nit-picking his disciples' lax attitude toward picking food to eat on the Sabbath. It is not that Jesus is disrespecting law and tradition; nor was David. He was going for essence. To what does law and tradition point? Indeed, what is the point? God's glory is primary, but God's glory is manifest also in God's goodness, grace, love, and attention to humanity.
Who did Jesus call? Those he desired. He took his best buddies to a high mountain and called them out to something great and adventurous, dangerous, and intimate. He called them to be his closest followers and friends. He called a band of buddies.
Later, we would call them "sent ones (apostles)"
Here, they are "the called who came."
He called them to him to send them out.
And then, they would come back.
And then, sent out again.
He gave some of them new names --- two of them, teasing names ... "Sons of Thunder!"
I wonder what those guys were like.
And one ... was a betrayer.
There is at least one in every crowd ... even in a band of buddies.
"And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
Psalm 9:1-5 - I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.
When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.
For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right.
Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.
God reigns and we bow before Him in praise. He stands beside us and with us and leads us in all of our struggles, protects us in all of our conflicts, and encourages our souls when our souls are maligned and attacked. When we are powerless and faced with overwhelming forces staring us down, exercising and abusing temporal power, we are lifted in the knowledge that all power flows from and, ultimately, returns to God who holds all sway over the affairs of the cosmos.
Psalm 9:6 - Endless ruin has overtaken the enemy, you have uprooted their cities; even the memory of them has perished.
The wrath of God is not gentle or sentimental. He does not do a halfway job of dealing with evil. Nor ought we to desire Him to do a partial work of sanctification within us. He knows the enemy that dwells within our hearts and He is aware that His enemy within us is also our enemy. He loves us enough to deal ruthlessly with that which destroys our souls. May the cities of evil within our lives be uprooted and their memory perish.
Psalm 9:7 - The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
Perhaps we have the notion that God's judgment is some sort of negative force - like "the dark side of God." This could not be further from the truth. It is the ultimate expression of His sovereignty and power, which fuel His grace, mercy, and love. His judgment means that He reigns. He is in charge. He determines, once and for all, what is true, acceptable, and right. As Christians, let us rejoice in His judgment. Facing the cross, Jesus said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now is the prince of darkness cast down … and … if I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me. Because God is the sovereign judge, we have hope.
Psalm 9:8 - He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.
How God judges differentiates Him for all earthly representatives of justice. All that He does is absolutely right and true. He deals fairly with every issue that comes before Him. We can trust Him to help us sort out the ambivalence in our lives. We can rest assured that when He interprets our meaning of our days and guides us in the paths He has set before us, we are safe and we are walking in His righteousness and justice. In the last judgment, His pronouncements will be the final word on the matter. Let no one else judge your life, but submit it to Him daily for His final word of the day.
Psalm 9:9 - The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
The oppressed are very dear to God. A rabbi once said that God must truly love the poor because He made so many of them. So it is with the oppressed. And the story is bigger than we imagine on the surface. We are all among the oppressed. Temptation, sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil oppress us on all sides and from within. When Israel was at the sea and the Egyptians were in pursuit, God called on Moses to lead His people into a wilderness of refuge. There appeared to be no walls and no shelter, but God had a plan to protect His people. He was their refuge and stronghold and He is ours. We, like them, must move toward Him in faith even when what is ahead looks like a vast wilderness without wall. God is your protector from all that oppresses you today.
Psalm 9:10 - Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
One of the gifts that God gave to Israel was His personal name. It was a secret that was not available outside of the covenant. It was a source of power, strength, and belonging. It was so sacred that no Jew would pronounce it or even consider it without the deepest reverence and awe. And yet, every Jew knew His name and to know it evoked a profound trust and stirred up memories of His faithfulness throughout the generations. To know His name was and is to know Him. We have, through Jesus, free access to our Heavenly Father and know Him by that name. In knowing Him, we trust Him. In trusting Him, we seek Him. And He never forsakes us. Nor shall He forsake you as you seek Him in trust today.
Psalm 9:11 - Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.
We must proclaim, not only amongst ourselves, but also among the nations all that our God has done. As we praise Him openly, we practice worship evangelism. Our sincerity, exuberance, and devotion all bear witness to His glory and His mighty deeds. Praise holds up His character, grace, and love for all to see. Praise declares the sovereignty and reign of God and announces His Kingdom with authenticity and believability. If we will praise Him with our whole hearts and let His joy and power flow through us, we will bear witness in a manner that is compelling and truthful. Many do not know. As we worship Him transparently and openly, they will see and hear of His wonderful works and be drawn to Him. But remember this is not a show that we produce for the world. It is real praise that we direct to Him with the world looking on. If we keep these first things first we won't be able to avoid the fruit of evangelism.
Psalm 9:12 - For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.
Who can forget the image of old Jewish elder, disgusted with the injustices of the world, shaking his fist in prayer to the God he loves and adores, demanding God's attention and justice? And God does not strike him dead. In fact, God hears his cry for it comes from one of his faithful servants. Perhaps we would recommend an attitude of greater humility before a holy God, but we would not forget His willingness and determination to hear the cry of the afflicted. God forgets no injustice without remedy. He does not sweep the blood of martyrs under some cosmic rug and wipe their pain from His memory. God deals with it. Look at the cross. God is dealing with it there. He is remedying the injustice. He is correcting the wrong. He is answering the prayers of the afflicted for restoration and He is hearing your prayers as well.
Psalm 9:13-14 - O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up form the gates of death, that I may declare your praises in the gates of the Daughter of Zion and there rejoice in your salvation.
When we are burdened and persecuted, is this the nature of our cry that of this psalmist? Are we seeing an end result in God's mercy merciful rescue that culminates in greater and more heartfelt praise for Him? Do we envision rejoicing that ultimately honors Him and brings glory to His name? How wrapped up are our own wishes, emotions, and requests in His purposes, will, and desires? How deeply do we long for His will to be done and His reign to come on earth as it is in Heaven? Let us not cease to cry for mercy and deliverance - for we are in great need - but may we grow to see that our salvation is something intimately connected with the worship of God.
Psalm 9:15 - The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
Like the nations, we have often fallen into puts we have dug or have become entrapped in nets of our own making. This probably does not come as news to you since it is so common to our human experience. If we are honest we will admit to our contributory role in our own troubles. Whenever we devise clever and sinister plots it is we ourselves who enter into forced servitude to the very forces that drove us to ambition. So powerful are the snares and false promises of success and competition among humans that we are lured into their captivity by a wink, a nod, or an image. The antidote is focus - clear and centered upon God through Jesus Christ. We face grave danger today if we lose our focus and untold possibilities for blessing if we keep seeking Him.
Psalm 9:16 - The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
Have you ever considered the reputation of God? That fact that He is known by His justice is a telling sign. Before we encounter the love and grace of God, we already understand that He is fair and righteous and truthful. We also know that in the grand scheme of things, poetic justice dictates that their own devices ensnare the wicked. If the world already understands this dimension of God and His ways, we have good news for them. Jesus came to brings us, as Paul Harvey says, “the rest of the story.” That story is that this same God passionately and jealously loves us with a love so deep that mercy and grace flow in unbroken succession from His heart. Do not wince at the justice of God, for it is His justice that leads us into His arms.
Psalm 9:17 - The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God.
There is no future for those who forget God. There is nothing that godlessness offers us but death. Even if we are saved by grace, nothing that we invest in sin will stand the tests of time of eternity. God will not circumvent His own ways in our lives to achieve His purposes. He is consistent and true to Himself and to His Word. Count on it and count on Him to be trustworthy and scrupulously committed to integrity in His dealings with us. If He declares that X + Y = Z, then we can plan our lives around the principle. That is not to say that He cannot and will not intervene in His grace, but we must not presume upon His character. He loves us and pines for us, but He will not force His love upon us. If we reject it and to the extent we reject it, we are left to our own devices which lead to death.
Psalm 9:18 - But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.
We have a God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts. He reverses the power of conventional wisdom and defies the accepted truisms of society to make His own order. He simply does not forget the needy. He has a bias for them. He will not abandon the afflicted. For those who are hopeless, He offers hope. Let us proclaim hope daily – first to our own defeated souls, weighed down with the worries and cares of life, discouraged in well doing, spent and depleted. Then let us proclaim the same message with the authentic credibility of a person who has embraced hope in his or her own life to a needy and broken world. May hope exude from our pores. May it be the aura that surrounds our lives, the given pitch that tunes our voices, the color of our countenances, and the tenor of our words. The good news of hope is the one word that broken people cannot create from wishful thinking. It is not denial; it is reality. May we live it and speak it daily.
Psalm 9:19 - Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in you presence.
Man’s ways can be very frightening. The history of mankind is peppered with incidents of mob violence and injustice that was condoned by the crowd. Majority rule has often ruled out righteousness and minorities have been oppressed by masses simply because they had the power to do so. The prayer of the righteous man or woman always includes the desire for justice, for limits on evil, and for God’s restraint and ultimate judgment of all that goes against Him and His ways. We can pray this way with confidence because we are assured of the character and promises of God to set all things aright in His own timing and according to His purposes. Do not grow discouraged and do not stop praying for the right and for God’s will. And do not be alarmed when the evil one seems to be directing the political forces of the world. Evil shall not prevail. God wins – always.
Psalm 9:20 - Strike them with terror, O Lord; let the nations know they are but men.
There is a kind of terror that is to be desired within us and among men and women. It is that terror that absolutely melts our souls under the glaring reality of God. It is that terror that teaches us that we are but mere men. As we grow in grace, may we keep a sense of that terror. Even as we flourish in the wonderful awareness of God’s love, acceptance, dignity, and value of us as His children, may we avoid the conceit that marginalizes Him and maximizes our own importance. We are only human. That is not an excuse and not a put-down; it is basic truth. We do not overcome sin in our own strength. We do not grow in Christ because we have the best motives, the purest thoughts, and the most attractive personalities. We are absolutely, utterly dependent upon God. We are but men – male and female. It is a life-affirming and esteem-building exercise to realize this in the light of the truth that God, who also knows this, chooses to love and grace us.
It was in an atmosphere of persecution and derision in an environment of prophetic generosity, that disciples were first called "Christians." It may or may not be significant that the text says that they were called as if the name came from the outside. Only one other use of the name appears in the scriptures and it is associated with persecution and suffering. One might surmise that to take the name "Christian" is to embrace ridicule, hardship, suffering, a persecution as a disciple of Jesus.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians." At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
We were so young. We acted young. We thought young thoughts. We had young feelings. We had very young hopes and dreams. We did and said the things that the young do and say. We imprinted the memories of our youth upon faces we memorized. Those were the faces of those who were young with us. Then, we moved away ... And we lived .... We lived much and we faced many obstacles. But the faces in our memories did not change. 'They remained young and ... Part of who we were remained very young with them. In that place of face and that space of grace we still ... Are, act, think, feel, hope, dream, and speak as youths ... Until ... Until we see our friends on Facebook and the faces change And we see ourselves in the mirrors of their faces, experiences, and maturity ... And we wonder how old we must be ...
... But it is all good ...
Because we memorized our own faces from those days and in those faces ...
We never age and ...
We are forever young.
Keep dreaming, reaching, living, serving, seeking, hoping and imprinting new faces, young and old upon your heart.
In the first place, I take it as a matter of faith that there is no nothing.
"The earth WAS without form and void and darkness covered the face of the deep."
Not now and never again.
There is always something.
What we perceive as nothing, that which is beyond our comprehension, is not formless and void (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוtohu - wa -bohu ) Even "in the beginning," before form, there was Word and Word created wisdom.
So, when there was nothing, there was all that would be, existing as something in the Mind of God.
That which can neither be created nor destroyed occupies the vastness of unknown and uncharted territories of space. There is that which we perceive to perceive not - empty space, but space is something - if only possibility.
There is no nothing ... only what we perceive as nothing or cannot perceive or conceive at all. Can we not receive what we cannot perceive?
What we cannot know, we can contemplate, celebrate, and cogitate.
Better still, to meditate and anticipate and thus, receive as a gift.
The great gift of nothingness is the "somethingness" of it all. The vastness of spaciousness is the space to celebrate grace. The wonder of life is wonder itself which we enter into as worship of the One.
It makes no "sense" to us and need not. It leads to trust and trust to childlike embrace. We enter into the embrace of grace through faith and never stop exploring.
If that is all true, and I take it to be without fully comprehending even my own thoughts or words, then there is also that inner space to be explored. There is that realm of possibility where we perceive only emptiness and void. It is taking form because Word has spoken there is no nothing there.
We might feel inclined to be "know nothings," but we exist in a universe where there is no nothing.
The most uplifting, worshipful, and heart stirring choral piece I believe I have ever heard or sung, has only one word.
ne of the most devastatingly beautiful symphony pieces ever composed. Dvorak was a deeply spiritual "gatherer" and interpreter of themes. He came to America from Czechoslovakia, visited the cities, villages, and churches and then composed his 9th Symphony - From the New World. This is the crowning moment in the symphony, sometimes known by its folk hymn theme, "Going Home."
After the death of Moses the a servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. -Joshua 1:1-2, ESV
What Moses is now dead in your life that you must rise and do something?
Moses was the great leader of his time and for his time - but you are the only you there is for your time and in your time.
What must YOU do?
Stop leaning on that which was wonderful and is now dead and rely upon the God that empowered the one you most admire.
In any given scenario, the space between response and reaction can be telling. The question of whether to go the distance, close the distance, keep one's distance, or dramatically distance oneself is descriptive and predictive.
And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. - Luke 23:48-49
Pilate, the crowds, the loyal women, and Joseph of Arimathea all chose in the moment of crisis.
It was not their final choice, but it was pivotal in the moment.
There will be moments of decision today.
What is your predisposition as pertains to your distance from Jesus in His utmost humiliation and identification with broken humanity?
It is likely to drive your proximate choices and will drive you one step further toward your ultimate choices.
Necessity may indeed be the mother of invention, but it has, at times, been the mother of injustice.
William Pitt observed, " Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
Pitt spoke as the ally of Wilberforce in their quest to end slavery in England. Against their efforts were all sorts of arguments including those of necessity.
"We have no other choice."
"We have to protect ourselves."
"We know it is wrong, but now is not the right time to correct things."
"If we do this now, everything will collapse."
There has never been a convenient time in history for doing the right thing. It has always been against the tide to stand for the rights of others. Liberty has never been practical. Freedom has never been feasible. Truth has seldom seemed profitable. Justice has never been easy. Light has never been appealing to those whose eyes have grown accustomed to the dark.
Our shortcuts can always be justified by expediency. In business, public affairs, and personal relationships, we can make our case for walking over other people and nations if we can establish that it is in pour best interest do do so.
When we do, we ultimately lose.
It is as if we have created a Greek god, named him "Necessarius," and bowed to him without knowing he is no god at all and will keep none of his far reaching promises.
Only what is right and true and just and compassionate will last beyond the moment.
All else is as fleeting as our notions of necessity.
"God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. " Psalm 7:11 ESV
God is a different sort of judge. He can actually make a decision in the healthy balance between truth and passion. It is always the right decision.
The idea of God as a judge must be processed through an understanding of courts and systems and what was in the minds of Paul and his readers. Then, it must be unpacked and reassembled into a vision that stands in contrast with our understanding.
Are Paul's people picturing a judge of ancient Israel who was more than an arbitrator, but a leader and moral force? Was he a Roman judge with a court that we might somehow recognize as such? He certainly was not the paper-shuffling, process-moving, elected bureaucrat of modern times whose job is to read long, boring edicts and declare, "Next case," with a yawn.
Human judges must filter their judgments through volumes of considerations, interests, and rules of procedure.
A divine Judge simply has to be right. God is always right.
Judges always have some legitimate doubt.
They also need to remain detached from their cases and compartmentalized in their lives. Good is never detached. He takes all of His work home with Him.
Righteousness walks hand in hand with reconciliation and restoration and is just without emotional ambiguity. However, that does not mean that God is dispassionate.
One who would be involved with and among us becomes indignant with indignities as we must.
We need the rules and procedures to keep us right and true. We need emotional engagement to keep us human, fashioned in the image of God.
When faced with the need to make decisions, we have a model to remind us to aim for righteousness and to be fully engaged.