Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Impressive but inviting

Sometimes things that are impressive can be intimidating.
Things that are amazing in their size and scope will cause us to feel awe - and sometimes fear.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. (Psalm 36:6)

God is the standard for what is righteous. He always plans what is right, and He also always does what is right. He tells us that He is holy, and that He expects us to strive to be holy.

The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and just is He. (Deuteronomy 32:4, NASB)

Declare and present your case;
Indeed, let them consult together.
Who has announced this long ago?
Who has long since declared it?
Is it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me. (Isaiah 45:21)

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'  (Leviticus 19:2b)

To say that God's righteousness, and His holiness, are like the mighty mountains is to say that His standards are massive - immovable - impressive, because these are rooted in His character. 

When David says God's judgments are like a great deep, he means that they may be unfathomable. Hard to understand. God's ways are not our ways. We have difficulty sometimes, understanding what He does, or getting our heads around the "why" of what He does. It's hard to understand many of the trials that He brings into our lives.  And when we read of a drunken Herod chopping off the head of a godly John the Baptist, we ask why? Why does He allow James to be executed, and other martyrs to be killed? It is hard for us to get the words out, "It was for His sovereign purpose, for His plan."

But David's next words offer us comfort:

    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. (vs. 6)
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (vs. 7)

I think the reason that David mentions God preserving both people and animals, is that he wanted to stress that if he looks after the animals, then surely He will care for our needs. Jesus repeated the concept:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

I wonder if in his mind, David was picturing some of the highest mountains. Perhaps he was thinking of looking into the deepest water he had seen, that seemed to go down, down, and no one knew how far it was to the bottom. He felt that God's righteousness and justice were just that large, just that incredible. But in spite of how impressive these characteristics of God were, David was overwhelmed with the fact of how delightful God is -- how precious and how inviting His lovingkindness is! It's as if he "shifts gears" from things that are so immense they are difficult to comprehend, to the personal details of God's love. How foolish of the sinner to miss out on God's immense and intimate love. To pursue sin instead of His blessings is the greatest of follies!

God's love is inviting. David pictures for us a mama hen, opening out her wings and clucking tenderly to her chicks. She is inviting them to come and nestle against her feathers, to take refuge and protection from danger underneath her wings as she closes them gently over the babies. It's a picture of God's love. It's incredible; it's impressive. But it's also intimate and inviting. God opens His arms and speaks to us tenderly, inviting us to find refuge and protection in His love.

This is His promise:

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4)

Let this be our prayer:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Prayer requests


I've spoken to so many people recently who are burdened, some beyond belief, with cares and trials.

Some are caring for loved ones who are ill. Some are fighting illness themselves. Some are bowed beneath the weight of depression, an illness in and of itself. 

Some I have talked to are worried about finances. Today's inflation and creeping prices have them wondering if they will be able to make ends meet.

Others are concerned about the nation they live in. They see forces at work that are blatant about their desires to tear down current governments and to persecute Christians, as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, prayer warriors all, it is time to get on our knees for ourselves, our friends, our loved ones, and our countries. 

Recently in the United States (May 6) we observed a National Day of Prayer. Allen West, a combat veteran and former member of the United States Congress, told the stories of George Washington at Valley Forge, and George Patton at the Battle of the Bulge . . . each of these men famously included prayer in their battle preparations.

Mr. West went on to say:

While we may not be facing enemies at the gate, we are clearly in a battle for the heart and soul of our nation. We must follow the extraordinary examples of these two historic figures who were so pivotal in winning and preserving the freedoms we enjoy today.

We can join them on our knees, pleading for our Lord and Savior’s intervention once again in our beloved country’s plight, asking Him to turn hearts toward him and ignite in each of us a renewed love for our fellow man. 

The enemies we face today are not so visible – cynicism, hopelessness and distrust – but could just as easily lead to the loss of our liberties if we fail to pray for one another, our nation and its leaders as we ought.  

Our enemies today are also stress, worry, financial woes, health concerns, and more. Our Father can, and will, intervene in our plight. 

You will pray to him, and he will hear you,
    and you will fulfill your vows. (Job 22:27)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8) 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Faithful, loyal love


There have been many saints of God that have left us wonderful instructions on delighting in the Lord. We don't have to wonder about what it means, or how to do it. George Muller was a man of faith who never relied on human help or intervention to secure the needs of his orphanage - instead, he was a warrior on his knees and in the Word. In his writings, Muller emphasized that the FIRST business of every morning should be to secure our happiness in God, by spending time in God's Word and spending time in prayer. He wanted everyone to know that God alone could satisfy our needs and also satisfy our souls.

Corrie ten Boom survived the hell of the holocaust and wrote that she learned "to know the Lord Jesus as a tender, loving Friend, Who never forsakes us or casts us off when we are bad, but rather helps us to gain the mastery over sin."

David stresses that we should delight in God in our psalm for this week, and in the very next psalm, too, as he tells us:

Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NSAB)

The delightfulness of God. Let's dig in to this . . . .

We often use this word today to mean something a bit more shallow than what David had in mind, I think. If I go to my bookshelf (yes, I'm an OCBN, an Official Certified Book Nerd) and choose one of my dictionaries from the 1800's, I see delightful can mean "highly pleasing, affording great satisfaction," and another adds "giving contentment to the mind or senses."

I definitely think that David was pointing to the pleasure, satisfaction, and contentment that can be found in our Father God. He is our source for every blessing.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,

    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:5-9)

David first reminds us of the blessings of God's lovingkindness and His faithfulness. In fact, he mentions God's lovingkindness in three places: first, he says it's huge; then he says it is priceless; and then in verse ten, we will see him praying for the Lord to continue giving it to us.

I just love that word, "lovingkindness." Putting together the words love and kindness is an awesome way to think of the Lord. And the word itself is just an incredible lesson, in itself! The word that is translated "lovingkindness" is "hesed." It's often mentioned in the same phrase with "faithfulness." That's important! The Hebrew word for the bird we know as the stork comes from hesed. Whaaaaat? Yup. The Hebrews observed the tender care and loyalty of the storks. Storks were a familiar sight as they migrated through ancient lands; unlike some other species, male and female white storks remain paired for life, and they even return to the same nests that they have used before - usually high in the evergreen trees to make the nest secure from predators.

There the birds make their nests;
    the stork has its home in the junipers. (Psalm 104:17)

Both male and female birds share in the incubating duties for the eggs, and in the feeding of the young hatchlings, too. They spend so much time on the nest and caring for the babies that sometimes they lose their feathers! There are stories of one parent being killed and the other taking over all the responsibilities and rearing the young. The storks show "loyal love," and "faithfulness" to their babies. (Ever looked at a nest full of birdie babies? Just about all you can see is scrawny bodies and open mouths, squawking for food! Kinda sounds like us humans, don'tcha think? But God shows His love and faithfulness by caring for us and providing for all of our needs. No wonder the Hebrew people used that word for the storks!)

God's faithfulness means that He ALWAYS keeps His promises. He is never changing. Always the same, always consistent. David said that God's lovingkindness and faithfulness extend to the heavens -- he means that these qualities of our Father God are immense.....inexhaustible. 

We can keep coming to Him for more of His love. He never runs out of it!

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday slowdown

Let's truly slow down today and consider our own hearts. This reverent hymn can be our prayer.

  1. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
    Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
    Mold me and make me after Thy will,
    While I am waiting, yielded and still.
  2. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
    Search me and try me, Master, today!
    Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
    As in Thy presence humbly I bow.  (Adelaide Pollard, 1907)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Preoccupied with pursuit


What are you and I thinking about, and running after?

The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
    they fail to act wisely or do good.
 Even on their beds they plot evil;
    they commit themselves to a sinful course
    and do not reject what is wrong. (Psalm 36:3-4)

Are our thoughts and the things we work for and run toward, the right things? The things that Christ would be pleased with? 

In the two verses we focus on today, David shows us just how wrapped up in deceit the sinner really is. We studied yesterday that sin deceives us so that we forget about God, and then flatters us into thinking that our sins are not really so bad. It gets so bad that we think we aren't even sinners, and can't even see that the things we do are sinful. 

David says that we sinners can't even talk "straight," for the words in our mouths are wicked and false. Even we believers have times that we fall into the old ways of lies and false words. And when that happens, we are in a spiral downward - we may have had some semblance of common sense and good behavior before, but we abandon it! 

Now, rather than delighting in our holy God, and thanking Him for the salvation He gives us, we spend our time thinking about our next sin. We may be planning just how to do it. What is the path that will get us there . . . even when we are drifting off to sleep, we are planning. We are preoccupied with sin - and not in a good way. Instead of just drifting into sin, or falling in spite of our efforts to do right, we are deliberately planning it.

Do not those who plot evil go astray?
    But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness. (Proverbs 14:22)

Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
    because it is in their power to do it. (Micah 2:1)

If someone says they are a Christian, but their thoughts are preoccupied with how to get their boyfriend or girlfriend into bed, or how to sneak a few minutes for pornography, or how to get the next drink, then David is describing that person!  Believers are supposed to delight ourselves in God. Followers of Christ are supposed to despise evil; instead, they may be planning how to do it. The secret thoughts that only God knows about, the preoccupations, and the plans reveal the truth.

would not God have discovered it,
    since he knows the secrets of the heart? (Psalm 44:21)

Verse four tells us that the sinner's preoccupation bears fruit. The sinner pursues the sin he/she planned. David says they commit themselves to a sinful, wrong course.

a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil, (Proverbs 6:18)

The sinner will pursue sin like the hunter pursues the deer. Sin deceives the sinner and flatters him or her into thinking that this is the most wonderful prize - run after it! Pursue it! Capture it and make it your own!

Praise the Lord that David changes his focus in the next few verses!

It's as if the thought of this deception, this flattery and sin and wickedness is just too horrific to keep thinking about. David abruptly shifts to the delightfulness of our Father. He begins to tell us that our preoccupation, our pursuit should be to make God our own. He is the source of every blessing, and so we should be seeking Him, not the wickedness that we thought about before we knew Him.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

We'll study more about this next time, for it is a joyful thing to focus on - God's abundant blessings to those who seek Him.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Sin - that old flatterer


An old, old story with a teaching inside it is sometimes called a fable. Do you remember the fable about the hungry fox and the crow? Picture this, if you will . . . . the crow is safely above the fox's head, about to carefully eat the morsel she has found. She is safe on her branch - the fox cannot reach her or the food, either. But the fox is, after all, as sly as his name implies, and so he begins to flatter Mrs. Crow. He tells her how pretty her glossy black feathers are, and then tells her that her song must be just as lovely as she. After a while, Mrs. Crow becomes convinced that the fox is correct, and to show him how beautifully she can sing, she opens her mouth and takes a nice, big breath . . . . . but the moment that she opens her beak, the morsel of food falls to the ground and the fox snatches it up. 

The fox used flattery to deceive Mrs. Crow. Flattery is just one kind of deceit, which is another word for lying, misleading, hiding, or distorting the truth. 

And she fell for it.

We went far afield to talk about deceit -- here is why. In our focus psalm, David warns us about the deceitfulness of sin. He also talks about the delightfulness of God; it's the flip side of the psalm coin. We are not told the circumstances that prompted David to write Psalm 36 but there's a lot here for us to learn!

Let's look back at our psalm:

I have a message from God in my heart
    concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
    before their eyes.

 In their own eyes they flatter themselves
    too much to detect or hate their sin.
 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
    they fail to act wisely or do good.
 Even on their beds they plot evil;
    they commit themselves to a sinful course
    and do not reject what is wrong. (Psalm 36:1-4)

David says that sin deceives men and women so that they plan it and pursue it. These four verses show us a synopsis, if you will, kind of like the "Cliff Notes" we used to read in college. These were small books (WAY fewer pages to read than the books we were assigned) that gave a snapshot or overview of the longer, larger book. Here's the characters; here is the plot; now write your paper. (Grin)

Verses one through four show us the progression where sin begins in our hearts and then expresses itself in our words and our deeds. The first change in our hearts is that sin flatters us into forgetting to fear God. 

What does this mean? Well, at the very root of sin is a lack of understanding of Who God is - and so the sinner does not fear Him. If we do not understand God's absolute holiness, then we won't believe that He will judge all sin. 

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44a)

Many people today think that God is a "good ole boy" or the "man upstairs" and that He winks at sin -- or at least, He is tolerant of all but the most heinous sins. They view God as loving, but not as a just and righteous God. That way, they feel like He will be lenient on any upcoming judgment Day. How do we know this? Polls verify it: most Americans think they will go to heaven when they die, no matter what they have said and done in this life.

The second way that sin flatters the sinner is that it makes him/her think that they are not really a "BAD" sinner, and so the result is that they don't hate their sin. After all, they theorize, we are not child molesters, or murderers, or any of those really bad things. So they excuse their lying, their lust, greed, gossip, and more. Those aren't SO bad, are they? Everybody does those things.....those are more acceptable sins.

In 1703, a baby boy was born who would only live for fifty-five years, but who would stir the passions and the consciences of millions of people in his own era and in the years to follow. Jonathan Edwards was such an inspiring preacher, with such a command of the English language, that his words move us today. In his sermon on verse two, Edwards points out several ways that sin flatters.

Jonathan Edwards says that sin makes sinners flatter themselves in these ways:

1. Some flatter themselves with a secret hope that there is no such thing as another world.
2. Some flatter themselves that death is a great way off, and that they shall hereafter have much opportunity to seek salvation.
3. Some flatter themselves that they lead moral and orderly lives, and therefore they shall not be damned.
4. Some make the advantages under which they live an occasion of self-flattery (he refers to those who live in a Christian country or raised in a Christian home, who think they are thus right before God).
5. Some flatter themselves with their own intentions - they intend to seek God later
6. Some flatter themselves that they do (and have done) a great deal for their salvation
7. Some hope by their strivings to obtain salvation of themselves
8. Some sinners flatter themselves that they are already converted when they are not.

Edwards' words are just as true today as they were almost three hundred years ago! We sinners must remember that it's not anything WE have done!

 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (Ephesians 2:8)

All of our study today begs the question: since sin is so deceitful through its flattery, how can I know whether or not I'm being deceived by it?

First, do I fear God? Do I (as we studied last week) revere Him?

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

Because everything is laid bare before Him, and He knows my heart, do I judge my own sin quickly? When I read my Bible and see the holy standards there, do I apply them to my own heart? Or do I just think they should be applied to others?

Am I growing in Christ to identify and hate my own sins more and more, the more time I spend in His Word?

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21)

Paul is telling us that even redeemed Christians make mistakes. We sin because we are at constant war with our old, sinful nature. That nature is trying to regain its place of influence in our lives. We must not allow sin to flatter us; we cannot afford to let sin climb back into the driver's seat. Sin will steer us away from God -- it will flatter us and make us forget to fear God, and it will flatter us into thinking our sins are "not so bad." 

The deceitfulness of sin should cause us to seek the delightfulness of God, David tells us. We'll study this more next time.