Daily Psalms – Psalm 67

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 67, a short psalm with a powerful reminder. But first a bit about poetic form.

Psalm 67, as well as a number of other Biblical passages (both poetic and not) form a chiasm or chiasmus. I use the analogy of going up and back down stairs to try to explain this. If I ascend and descend three stairs, then the pattern is thus: 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. So in a chiasm both verses on “step 1” are bookends of the poem, and are related. Same for “step 2”, and “step 3” would be the pinnacle, or main point of the poem. Psalm 67 forms a chiasm with three steps.

To show the pattern I’ll use our example of steps from above.

  • Step 1 – vs. 1-2
    • Step 2 – v. 3
      • Step 3 – v. 4
    • Step 2 – v. 5
  • Step 1 – v. 6-7

Let’s look at the relationship between each step, the main point, and what it means for us today.

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may he make his face shine upon us
Selah
so that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

Psalm 67: 1-2 CSB

Notice that the purpose of the blessing to “us” is in order that God’s salvation be made to “all nations.” This is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures that Israel often missed. Their purpose (and ours) is to proclaim God’s good news and salvation to those who do not know him, “all” of them!

The central claim of the psalm is God’s goodness and fairness toward the nations which should result in praise of everyone!

Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy,
for you judge the peoples with fairness
and lead the nations on earth.
Selah

Psalm 67:4 CSB

This central statement about God is bracketed by step 2 in verses 3 and 5 with the same call to praise by “all the peoples.” And the psalm closes with another blessing for “all” peoples.

The earth has produced its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67:6-7 CSB

Over and over the psalmist reminds us that the purpose of God’s people, the purpose of God’s blessing, the knowledge of God’s salvation, and the role of God and his people in the world is to make Him known to all peoples! Every one of them!

So what are you doing to reach all peoples for God? What are you doing to teach all nations about him? How much time do you spend with those who look different than you, act different than you, believe different than you, etc?

The great fault of Israel is they chose to isolate and insulate against the world rather than reach out to them for God’s glory. Is the church today guilty of the same?

I leave you with a quote from the late British missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin.

“Christians have no effect in the world as long as they refuse to engage the world.”

Lesslie Newbigin

Looking At Ruth And Seeing God

This week we continue our sermon series called Great Is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the character of God revealed to us in the life and actions of widowed pagan foreigner by the name of Ruth. We looked at Ruth in our sermon and our auditorium Bible class back on July 14th. But I think it’s a point that is important enough for us to look at again. But before we look at Ruth, let’s begin by looking at God.

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NRSV

The phrase steadfast love is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s how God introduces himself to Moses. It’s the very character of God and can be described as a “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. When Moses is reminding the people of God’s covenant with them in Deuteronomy 7, he once again reminds the people that they serve “the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments…” (Deut. 7:9 NRSV) Again…hesed.

Now to the story of Ruth. Naomi has lost her husband, and her sons. She is going to return back from the land of Moab to Bethlehem in Judah to live out her days. She bids farewell to her two daughters-in-law (somewhat successfully) by saying “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”  (Ruth 1:8 NIV)

Hopefully the bold words have tipped you off. The Hebrew word there is hesed. Notice that Ruth and Orpah are commended for showing hesed to Naomi and their husbands. Naomi is blessing them by asking Yahweh to do hesed to them as they have already done hesed to her and her sons.

This would be shocking to the original Israelite readers of this short story. The characters that most embody the character traits of Yahweh are not Israelites, nor faithful worshipers of Yahweh, nor wealthy, nor are they males. They are Moabite widowed women. Orpah quickly exits the narrative and we hear from her no more, but Ruth continues to be an example of Yahweh’s hesed through her relationship with Naomi.

Many different applications can be made here. But for now I want us to consider this one point. As we were reminded by the Deuteronomy 7 passage above, a clear example of God’s faithfulness is his hesed. To quote Bobby Valentine, “[Hesed] is the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the ’Jesus Creed.’” We discussed that last week. Sometimes God’s hesed is brought to us through our neighbor’s actions and faithfulness toward us and others. And we too are called to bring that hesed to others through our actions and relationships. 

When we look at the faithfulness Ruth shows Naomi, we begin to see a glimpse of the faithfulness of our God. To quote Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)

The Problem With the Ten Commandments

The Decalogue, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, have impacted the world in ways that very few things have. They are the basis for many legal systems, they are foundational to our understanding of God, and unfortunately they are the source of much controversy in our day and time. They are a small portion of the sum of God’s Word given to Moses, and yet everyone seems to know (or know about) them. 

And still I think they are greatly misunderstood. The Decalogue is referenced throughout Scripture, and is present in its entirety in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And yet even in these two passages there are differences between the two lists. They are ten “words” to be literal with the Hebrew language, and even what exactly those ten are is debated. Jewish readers will tell you the first command is:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Deuteronomy 5:6 NIV

If one counts this as a command rather than an introduction, then you wind up with 11. Various groups have debated on how to settle that discrepancy, some by uniting 2 & 3 (Dt. 5:8 & 11), while other groups combine 1-3 as one command and divide up the last command into two parts (Dt. 5:21).

In reality, determining the exact grouping is not as important as the text itself. But even the text is problematic when removed from the context of the Torah…after all the Decalogue isn’t independent of the rest of Torah, and really serves as more of a summary, or a statement of understanding before we get into the more technical parts of the law. What kind of killing is defined as murder? That detail is not in the Decalogue. We need the rest of the Torah for that.

Many government buildings have had statues, or monuments removed because the Decalogue was printed upon them. And while I can understand the Christian’s desire to see these monuments remain, I’m also puzzled. If we want God’s Word present at these government buildings, then why not seek to have the Sermon on the Mount put on a monument instead of the Decalogue? Or better yet, why not the Greatest Commands?

When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was he gave two, not one. They are connected and inseparable. I would suggest you cannot fully keep one without the other. Fully loving God requires loving your neighbor, and truly loving your neighbor requires you know and love God. 

I think it’s worth noting that neither of the commandments Jesus gave came from the Decalogue. Rather they come from the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) as well as the eighteenth verse of the various laws found in Leviticus 19.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 

Mark 12:28-31 NIV

Jesus said all the laws and prophets hang on these two commands (Mt. 22:40). Even the Decalogue falls short when compared to the Greatest Commands. Love God with all of your everything. Love your neighbor as yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” 

The real problem with any commandment from God is that if they simply exist in writing, they are useless. These monuments with the Ten Commandments inscribed have done little to prevent our culture from turning further and further from God.

Perhaps our world would be better served by Jesus’ followers living out the Greatest Commands instead of relying on words carved in stone. 

(Sermon text for 10/6: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-31)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 146

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 146-150

Psalm 146 is one of my favorites. As the psalter comes to a close today, we are reminded of many important beliefs and practices through these praise psalms.

I attended a funeral service yesterday that was life changing for all who were present. It was a celebration of a Christ-centered life well lived. As I read this psalm this morning I couldn’t help but recall all of these themes from yesterday’s service.

I will praise the LORD all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Psalm 146:2 NIV

We are called to praise our God as long as we live, no matter what life holds. In the good times and the bad, in joy and sorrow, in health and in death, we are to praise God!

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Psalm 146:3-4 NIV

Life is short. We are all from dust and to dust return. Nothing in this life lasts, therefore our trust should be in God alone.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

Psalm 146:6 NIV

This is difficult to remember at times. When chaos seems to affect our lives it’s difficult to remember God is faithful. Yet he always has, and always will be faithful and we are called to join him in this faithfulness. No matter what life hands, no matter how much hurt or pain or destruction comes in this life, God is faithful. We are called to be faithful as he is faithful.

The LORD watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:9 NIV

This is a key theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God is one who looks after the widow, orphan, and foreigner. We are called to do the same. God is compassionate and cares for those in need. We are called to do the same.

Today I am thankful for who God is and for what he has done. Though I don’t always understand why things work out the way they do, he is sovereign and faithful. He loves the sinners and abhors the sin. He cares for the needy and those whom society has forgotten. He is faithful forever, and loves us in spite of our faults. And he calls us to be just like him. And for that we praise the LORD.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 106

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 106-110

Psalm 106, in many ways, is the “other side” of Psalm 105. Where 105 calls us to recount the blessings that God has given us, Psalm 106 calls us to acknowledge our sins by telling the story of our failures.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
    we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

Psalm 106:6 NIV

While harm can come from ruminating on our failures, acknowledging them in recognition of God’s grace is important. Here the Psalmist starts with praise (v. 1-3), petition (v. 4-5), confession (v. 6), and then begins the story.

The first episode recounts God’s salvation. Even though Israel forgot forgot Yahweh, he did not forget them. He saved them out of slavery and defeated the Egyptian army. Israel saw the might of Yahweh and believed! (v. 6-12)

From here the psalmist recounts many of the episodes that led to Israel’s exile. “How did we get here?” This is the confession that the psalmist makes: Yahweh asked us to do these things and time after time we did not. But that’s not the end of the story!

Once again the psalmist returns to the grace of Yahweh, and tells of his goodness, mercy, and future favor.

Many times he delivered them,
    but they were bent on rebellion
    and they wasted away in their sin.
Yet he took note of their distress
    when he heard their cry;
for their sake he remembered his covenant
    and out of his great love he relented.
He caused all who held them captive
    to show them mercy.

Psalm 106:43-46 NIV

How does this captivity come to an end? It isn’t anything that the people do, but the unmerited favor of God. It is God’s faithfulness to his covenant! Our faithlessness does not nullify God’s faithfulness! (Rom. 3:3-4) He is faithful! And because of God’s faithfulness, we have hope in him for salvation!

Save us, LORD our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 NIV

Once again, we end on a petition for rescue, not for our own benefit, but for bringing glory to Yahweh in praise. He alone is our hope. He alone is our salvation. He alone rescues us, and so we give thanks to him in praise.

It is good to tell our story. It is good to remember our past. How did we get here? Where are we going? These questions recall God’s continued blessings and our continued need for them. We must never think we have “arrived” in our walk with God, but always remember, analyze, and adjust our walk as we move forward. Yahweh is good and faithful. Don’t forget this. Live accordingly.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
Let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord.

Psalm 106:48 NIV

You Are What You Love – 2018 Blog Tour

Today’s post is part of the 2018 Blog Tour from Thomas Pruett.

I sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…

“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…

“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…

“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…” 

For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today. 

In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing. 

Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him. 

What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus? 

Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.

Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day. 

 * Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (p. 5). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Regaining the search for the Search – 2018 Blog Tour

I’m excited to share with you a guest post from John Dobbs as part of our 2018 Blog Tour. Our theme for this year is “What are you seeking?” 

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do!

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

“Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today. “This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.” Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this? Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.” ― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -Hebrews 11:6 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely? How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit?

I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics. Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free. Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us? What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve. Have I been quiet? No tv, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.) Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside? Contemporary Christian group Building 429 sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

 Resources:
Overstimulated And Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, And Depression http://www.yoursunshine.org/overstimulated-and-overwhelmed-sensory-overload-anxiety-and-depression/