Daily Psalms – Psalm 84

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 81-85

How happy are those who reside in your house,
who praise you continually. Selah

Psalm 84:4 CSB

Psalm 84, perhaps my favorite of the songs of Zion, focuses on this point. Being in the presence of God, where he resides, is our ultimate goal and longing.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming a desire to be where the presence of Yahweh is, and then moves into an almost play-by-play of a pilgrim traveling to the temple (vs. 5-10). Each verse brings us closer and closer to God’s presence until the arrival in the temple courts.

Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than live in the tents of wicked people.

Psalm 84:10 CSB

The presence of Yahweh dwelt in the temple. In the Israelite context, do draw near to God meant a pilgrimage to the temple. But to the Christian, you and I are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God because of the atoning blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4ff).

So how do we encounter the presence of God? It starts with Jesus. We can only enter through Christ. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah to Israel. This fulfillment of God’s promise changed the way God interacted with his people! When we commit ourselves to Christ, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and we can and should ask God for his Spirit to be ever present and powerful in our lives. He also promises his presence when we gather together with other believers. (see Rom. 8:9ff, John 14:6-7, 1 Cor. 6:19ff, Acts 2, Luke 11:13, Matthew 18:20)

We should all long for the presence of God daily in this life, to gather in his presence with fellow believers as often as possible, and to dwell eternally in his presence in the next life.

Happy is the person who trusts in you,
LORD of Armies!

Psalm 84:12 CSB

Daily Psalms – Psalm 75

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Is the judgement of God a good thing? According to Scripture, yes it is!

The judgement of God is what separates the righteous from the wicked. The judgement of God is the bringing about of God’s justice, to right the wrongs of this world, to remove the wicked from power and to exalt those who are faithful to God.

The judgement of God is a very good thing…unless you are unrighteous.

Psalm 75 begins like a praise song, and then moves into the forthcoming judgement of God. It also includes a divine speech, the words spoken by God himself.

“When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the one who steadies its pillars.
Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.’ ”

Psalm 75:2-5 CSB

The imagery of God as judge pouring out his judgement is seen in verses 6-8. It’s not something that the wicked can escape. They will judged. But for the righteous God’s judgement brings forth praise! (v. 9)

The final promise of the Psalm is another quote from God himself about justice.

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

Psalm 75:10 CSB

As you can see from this short Psalm, the righteous have nothing to fear when it comes to God’s judgement. It should cause thanksgiving and proclamation (v. 1), and continuous praise (v. 9) from God’s people. God has promised to judge fairly. (v. 2) God’s judgement is indeed good news!

If the judgement of God does not sound like good news, that’s a good indication that there are some changes that need to be made in your life and relationship with God. Here’s what Jesus had to say about the coming judgment.

“The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

John 5:22-24 CSB (emphasis added)

The judgement of God is good news! And Jesus has told us how not to fall under that judgement! That is very good news!

Now what are you going to do about it?

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)

“Can God Hear the Prayers of Sinners?”

“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.”

John 9:31 NIV

Upon first glance that seems like a pretty definite statement doesn’t it? “We know that God does not listen to sinners.”

I have read an article floating around Facebook recently that asserts basically the same thing. It cites many verses indicating that God hears the prayers of the righteous (and he does.) It gives examples of God’s promises to look out for the righteous (and he does.) And the article gives the impression that if one is “unrighteous” or a “sinner” that God doesn’t/can’t hear those prayers. In fairness to the context of the article, it seems the reason for its writing was to refute the idea that all you have to do to be pleasing to God is say a prayer. I would agree with that last statement, but let’s not argue an accurate point by stating an inaccurate point.

Context matters. The verse quoted above from John’s Gospel is not stated by Jesus or his apostles. It is an assumption on the part of the blind man that Jesus healed Jesus, and he uses that assumption to back his claim that Jesus is working through the power and will of God (which he was.) But that leaves the question, does God hear the prayers of sinners? Let’s look at a few passages.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…”

Exodus 3:7-8 NIV

The question is “were the Israelites unrighteous/sinners when God heard them?” That’s a good question. Context seems to indicate that they did not know Yahweh at this point in history because Moses would need to introduce them to their God (Ex. 3:13-15). Also note that the text does not say that Israel cried out to Yahweh, simply that they cried out and Yahweh heard them. What is clear is that God did hear their cries, and it had nothing to do with their righteousness, but rather the mistreatment they were receiving a the hands of the Egyptians.

One day at about three in the afternoon [Cornelius] had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. 

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”

Acts 10:3-4 NIV

The timeline in the story of Cornelius is very clear. Cornelius worshipped God and prayed to God under what he knew through the Jewish worship practices. It seems clear that Peter’s presentation of the Gospel is the first time Cornelius and his family have heard this (Acts 10:47-48; 15:7-11). Cornelius was not saved by the blood of Jesus because he didn’t know about the blood of Jesus, yet God heard his prayers.

I share these two examples with you so that you think about the question a little, and maybe ask a better question. The Bible nowhere limits what our God can do. He is not limited to work in a certain way, and he is not bound by any rules we place upon him. So to ask the question if God can hear the prayers of sinners is shortsighted. Let’s stick with the question that one of the heavenly visitors asks Abraham:

“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

Genesis 18:14 NRSV

Our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one that brings 90 year old women and 100 year old men supernaturally born children. He’s the God that sends an 80 year old man with a stick to free his people from Egypt. He’s the God that parts the Red Sea. He’s the God that raises the dead. He’s the God that poured out his Spirit at Pentecost. He’s the God that appears to unsaved gentiles and then pours out his Spirit on them too. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and nothing is too wonderful for the LORD!

Of course he can hear the prayers of anyone who cries out to him! And making that statement does not negate what the Scriptures teach about salvation.

5 Reasons Not To Obey God – The Calling of Moses

Last week our focus was on Jacob and the faithfulness God showed by keeping his promises, even while wrestling with Jacob. He also gave Jacob a new name, Israel – one who struggles with God.

This week we will talk about Moses, a complex character just like Jacob. Moses had been hiding out for about 40 years as a shepherd because he had committed murder back in Egypt. Now, at roughly the age of 80, Moses saw a burning bush and God called him to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery (Acts 7:23,30).  There are several points to ponder in this great text, but I want to focus on just one area: Moses didn’t want to do it!

At least 5 times in Exodus 3 & 4 Moses comes up with excuses for why he cannot do the job. “Who am I…what shall I tell them…what if they don’t believe…I have never been eloquent…” And the final excuse makes it abundantly clear what Moses wants:

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Exodus 4:13 NIV

To state that Moses was a reluctant participant in the work of God through the Exodus is an understatement. He did not want to go! The text tells us that Moses made God angry through his excuses and hesitation, but once again notice the faithfulness of God through this statement:

“I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.”

Exodus 4:15 NIV

Even though Moses was not the most eager participant, God promised that he will “teach” Moses and Aaron what to do. God wasn’t going to just toss them to the wolves, he would be with them and would teach them.

Life is often difficult. And if we’re honest, God has called the church to do things that most of us don’t want to do. We would prefer being called to sit in the pews instead of obeying the command to make disciples (Mt. 28:19) Most of us can think of a hundred reasons why we aren’t qualified to do what God has called the church to do, but we forget that God is also a teacher at heart. 

There’s an old saying that I love:

God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.

That’s the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses…and it’s our story too. We don’t have to rely on our own abilities if we are obeying the work God has called us to. He will prepare the way, he will take care of all the variables, and he will teach us as we go (Lk. 12:12, Jn. 14:26, 1 Jn. 2:27)

(Sermon text for 9/29: Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15; Mark 12:26-27)