Friday, March 31, 2017

Ps 119.90

Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you established the earth, and it abides. Ps 119.90 

The earth has been around a very, very long time. Some say over 4.5 billion years, but who’s really counting? It existed long before people came to be, and will still be here long after you and I are gone.
Nevertheless, we have it on good authority that this world and its ___ are passing away.
It’s all going to burn at the end of the age when the Lord produces a new heavens and a new earth.

Is that contradictory? Not at all. This earth will abide as long as God has ordained it to last, and then it will pass away. God is nothing if not faithful to his word. If he has spoken it, it will be. He spoke and created the world. He spoke and that Word became flesh. In fact, all God’s promises are yes in Christ. And if we know God is faithful on a cosmic scale, can’t we trust that he will be just as faithful on a personal scale? For this is what the Scripture is telling us.

The faithfulness of God is a sweet theme that runs throughout the Bible. When God undertakes a commitment, he is faithful to it. He has never broken a promise. Joshua told the people when they were finally established in the land that every word God had spoken to them had come true, that not one of his words had failed. This is true of every covenant, whether with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Israel, or the whole world.

The New Covenant in Christ’s blood was made not because God gave up on the old Mosaic covenant. In fact, the people had long since broken it, yet God remained faithful to it. He ended up sending his people into captivity, as he had promised, but he never abandoned them. The only way he could put it aside was to fulfill it, and this he did in Christ. By the sacrifice of his unblemished life, he set aside forever the yearly need to atone for sin. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Under this New Covenant, however, God is finally able to be as faithful to us as he is to himself, because he now lives within us. That’s the sweetness of the New Covenant, which will never pass away. As far into the future as we can see in Revelation, God’s delight resounds from the throne, that at last, the dwelling place of God is with his people. It sounds as though he is looking forward to the new heavens and new earth as much as we are.

Are you, though? What about the new creation excites you? John Piper asks, if God were not in heaven would you still want to go there? We often answer tritely, of course God is in heaven. But Piper is really asking if the center of our hope and the joy of our eternity is rooted in God’s presence, or if we are only looking forward to the blessings of his nearness—the comforts, the rewards, the good things.

For myself, I can honestly say that while, yes, the pictures of heaven in Scripture are appealing, I don’t really know what it will be like. I think of those verses that talk about how no mind can conceive what God has prepared for those who love him. Or that we don’t know what we’ll be like except that we’ll be like Jesus. Or that we will be raised imperishable, immortal. What does any of that look like?

I don’t know. But this I do know. It’s not going to matter so long as God is there. I spend most of my prayer time talking with Jesus about what it means to reign with him, because I’m in training for an eternity of it. I don’t know what that means outside of time. Of course not, as I’m still in time. But I believe that this world is the time to learn how to reign with him. He who is faithful in a little, Jesus said, will be given much. And he was talking about authority. He was talking about reigning. So I bring all my prayers to him in this light—how does this situation help me learn to reign with Christ? What should I do, how should I do it, what do you want to happen in this situation, Lord? Such questions have tuned my heart to his will.

I choose to spend this life preparing for the next. That’s not some pie-in-the-sky attitude that this life isn’t important. It’s a kingdom mentality that says every good deed I do, every act of kindness, self-sacrifice, justice, or love has an effect on my eternity because that’s how I take ground away from the enemy here. What if that’s the ground I’m destined to have dominion over in the eternal kingdom of Christ? What if that’s how God rewards his good and faithful servants, by giving them ten cities for stewarding their ten talents?

David tells us that God’s faithfulness endures to all generations. He could not have seen that regarding God’s covenant to give him a royal house forever,. But he had seen it in the Lord’s faithfulness to Israel. And like Abraham before him, David trusted that if God gave his word, he would keep it. He didn’t need to understand how God would do that. It was enough that God had promised.

What about you? Are you willing to take God at his word and trust his promises to you?
The earth still stands, David would tell you, because God covenanted in the days of Noah that he would never again destroy it with a flood.
He promised seasons and years, which have turned into centuries and millennia.
God’s word will outlast them all.
We have reason to trust the faithfulness of our God.

Ps 119.89

Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven. Ps 119.89

I wonder if we appreciate this truth for all it’s worth.
Think what it means that what God has said is already established in the spiritual realm.
Not just that after he speaks, one of his servants hops to and gets it done. No, the sense here is that he spoke once and from that utterance forward, heaven responded and continues to respond in accordance with the divine decree. The very nature of heaven, all that happens there, who all is there and what all they do and are, every institution and edifice and power and principality and ruler and authority—all of it exists and performs according to a word spoken once upon a time, back before there was time. (Sounds like the opening line of a novel.)

In one sense, this shouldn’t surprise us, since every word God speaks, by virtue of being from his mouth, will come to pass.
He calls things that are not as though they are.
Has he said, and will he not act? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?
As he told Habakkuk, the vision may yet be for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, it will surely come.

In another sense, to us who belong to a temporal world, it’s hard to fathom anything fixed and truly unchanging. The most enduring things we know, like the earth and the mountains and the stars, do change. Maybe not in our lifetimes but we recognize that they have come to be and will one day cease to be. Closer to home, technology changes culture and health and the human lifespan and communication. What was once considered fact, or mystery for that matter, changes with discovery—at an alarming rate in the early 21st century.
Nothing lasts forever, we’ve been told, and so it is.
Nothing except the Word of the Lord, that is. Because it’s already settled in heaven.

What difference this makes to us personally depends on whether or not we accept that we are under the sovereign rule of God. We can pretend that he doesn’t exist, or we can trifle with his rule, seek his help when we’re desperate, or live intentionally to please him. No matter, only one Person runs the universe, and no amount of scientific discovery of how it works will change that.

So why doesn’t everyone embrace God as sovereign? Leaving the Father of Lies out of it for the moment, to accept that God is in charge leaves us feeling out of control. And that ought to make us ask what God is like. Given the false ideas of God out there (Father of Lies again), a judgmental, short-tempered, or uncompromising deity running things offends us. Likewise an incompetent, uncaring, or remote God at the helm inspires no confidence. Either way, questions of evil and suffering and aimlessness lack satisfactory answers.

It’s far more comfortable to believe in randomness than a personally knowable deity who fails so miserably to communicate with the masses and the Mensas.
Unless we know God personally, of course, which can only happen if he chooses to reveal himself.
Here’s where the sovereign part hits home. To whom does he reveal himself? Anyone he chooses.
People have no say in this whatsoever. He created some of us for glory and some of us for… let’s just call it, less noble purposes. The doctrine of sovereignty is inseparably linked to the doctrine of election. A word of warning, though. If you’re one of the elect, it has nothing to do with your qualifications. You can’t make him love you more. Or less.

But knowing God personally doesn’t make his sovereignty easy to swallow. Those questions remain regardless of our eternal destiny. And I think that’s what all this boils down to. Why does God choose some and not others? Why do some get a happily ever after and others end up weeping and gnashing their teeth? Why do some die young, or of cancer, or end up broken in body, mind, or spirit?

Nobody knows, and no amount of looking on the bright side really makes sense of such tragedies. All we can know for sure is that God is good and all his ways are good. We know this because of his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.
We may not know the details of that purpose, but we do know it’s about heaven. And that is settled in heaven.
I find it interesting at this point to recall that Jesus taught us to pray that our Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus had something more in mind than our obedience to the divine will. He invites us to ask God to speak a word that he will establish here on earth. Let’s not take that privilege lightly. Partner with God and bring his established word to earth. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ps 119.88

Revive me according to your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of your mouth. Ps 119.88 

Who can’t relate to David’s desire to be revived according to the lovingkindness of God?
We know what it’s like to be exhausted by life in this world, let alone the way trials and tribulations wear us down.
Relationships that really matter develop friction and even outright conflict.
Our strength is soon sapped by the pace of life. We sleep poorly, eat unhealthily, and get little beneficial exercise.
We go through the motion of church, but have no time—or interest—for prayer, the Bible, or personal worship.
We find ourselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually running on empty.
Nice people don’t help. Vacations don’t help. Religions don’t help.
We need rest, heart and body and soul.

I’m with Augustine. You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

The obvious question, I suppose, is how? How do our souls find rest in God?
Sadly, most spiritual disciplines only feel like more work. Or if we start down the path toward solitude, silence, stillness, well, we fall asleep.

Times like these, what we really need is the presence of God. Nothing else will restore us.

In his presence our hearts are refreshed, saturated in divine love that first fills us, then overflows through us. When we can’t conjure another smidgeon of affection or patience or kindness for even one small need, the infinite love of God spills over, heals our hurts and moves us in grace and forgiveness toward those we’ve wronged or those who’ve wronged us.

In his presence, our bodies submit to the righteous plan of God for everyday life and obedience. We make better choices with how we spend our time, what we eat, how we move. Lifestyle choices of leisure and work, community-building, and career take on an eternal perspective that makes such decisions easily kingdom-oriented and God-centered.

In his presence, our souls indeed find the Sabbath rest of total dependance on the Creator to satisfy and sustain. Our minds focus on truth, our wills determine to do righteousness, our spirits breathe the air of heaven and come away saturated in life and goodness and grace.
This is true spiritual restoration, but it’s only the beginning of revival hinted at in today’s verse.

Revival has to do with taking the life of God outside our selves and our churches to the dark world that so desperately needs light.
But this is categorically impossible without the Holy Spirit constantly quickening us. Apart from him living his life through us, we end up Pharisees more concerned with keeping the letter of God’s Word than experiencing the freedom Christ purchased for us. We can strategize and plan and cast vision to our hearts content, but unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. Exhausting.

Do you want to be part of what God is doing on the planet these days? Being quickened by his loving kindness is a crucial first step. It’s the seed that grows and multiplies and produces a crop thirty-, sixty, or even a hundred-fold.
You don’t need to go to foreign mission fields or write books or speak publicly. What you do need is to hear the voice of God and obey it when he tells you to act for someone’s good. Even a cup of water given in his name is noteworthy. Jesus promised to recognize you as one who feeds the hungry or clothes the naked or houses the stranger in his name. By the same token, he’ll reject you as one who does not.

All the Law and the Prophets are summed up in this, Paul tells us, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the great testimony straight from the mouth of God.

May God revive his church so that we can live it out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ps 119.87

They almost made an end of me on earth, but I did not forsake your precepts. Ps 119.87

Ever wonder what Jesus’s last thought was before he gave up his spirit on the cross? It might have been this verse.
Knowing he was in the will of God surely strengthened him to endure his darkest hour, not just with a hope for future joy, but for every painful breath along the way.

Jesus on the cross is one of my favorite themes (if you haven’t noticed yet).
His absolute unworthiness to suffer such a death is matched only by the absolute worth of his sacrifice.
We know this. We hear it often. But I love to ponder the heart of this precious man who went the distance for the sake of love. As John said, having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end.

My meditation starts where Jesus knew Judas had betrayed him to the rulers. The time had come. For this reason he had set his feet toward Jerusalem.
He and his disciples ate their last supper together, sharing the very important Passover meal before the angel of death brought judgment against the sins of men. With no servant among them, the King of the Universe got down on his knees and washed their dirty, oh-so-human feet.
Anticipating their terror and confusion at his coming execution, he tried to prepare them with words of hope and comfort, most of which went over their heads.
He led them to their special place—the place where David also bid goodbye to Jerusalem.

In the garden, he went on alone to pray. Three times.
Betrayed by a kiss, healing a slashed ear, led away by a mob of soldiers—while his most ardent defender denied him. Three times.
Questioned at mock trials. Three times.
Found innocent by the Roman procurator. Three times.

Condemned to die, not once did he speak in self-defense.
They whipped him and mocked him and put a crippling crown of thorns on his royal head. Still he said nothing.
They led him away to Golgotha, so broken by the beatings that, despite his rugged life as a carpenter and an itinerant, he could not carry the weight of his cross. Like a lamb led to slaughter, he opened not his mouth.
But he did speak to the daughters of Jerusalem who wept along his way.

Suspended at last on the tree, he still had Messiah work to do.
He saved a thief at his side.
He gave his mother a son, and his beloved disciple a mother.
He ignored the taunts of those who doubted his identity.
He interceded for his crucifiers.
He made sure every prophecy was fulfilled.
He cried out to his God as a son of man.
And he died as the Son of God.

Why? Because that’s what he was born to do. He knew this from the Scripture.

How did he do it? Again, through the Scriptures. By clinging to the precepts of God.
Jesus was the Word-made-flesh, yet he learned the Scriptures as a man and quoted from them often, aptly applying them with wisdom and grace. He wielded the Sword of the Spirit before it had been fully forged and tempered.
This trust—in God’s plan, in God’s will, revealed in God’s Word—carried him through death and beyond.
Every force of pain and shame was laid against Jesus’s body and soul until, as the psalmist said, they almost made an end of him in this world.

Maybe in a feeble effort to maintain his sanity as he hung for six hours one Friday in Jerusalem, his body in unspeakable agony, Jesus kept his mind focused solely on a memorized list of scriptural prophecies about the Messiah.
This is not vain imagining on my part. How else could John say that Jesus, “knowing that all was now finished, cried out” about his thirst “in order to fulfill the Scripture” (Jn 19.28), unless Jesus told him after the resurrection? 

I’m glad for him that he knew the Scriptures so well.
If he had been many a modern American Christian, he’d have looked at the difficulties arrayed against him and concluded that he'd misunderstood God’s plan for his life.
Instead—oh thank God—instead, he took comfort from the very Scriptures that foretold not just that he would die, but how. Ps 22 (which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) tells us that they pierced his hands and feet, centuries before Rome brought crucifixion to Israel. This and so many others confirmed to Jesus that he was the Christ, and that these things were accomplishing God’s eternal purpose through him.

Such knowledge might not be ordinary comfort, but it is real.
I’ve been in situations when just knowing  I'm where God wants me, doing what he wants me to do, strengthens my spirit. This alleviates my fears and calms my sorrow or dismay. My flesh can bear the pain and make it through difficult circumstances, if only God’s Spirit remains with me.
I learned this from the psalmist, as Jesus did before me.
I cling to the Scriptures as a lifeline in troubled seas.

Those who hope in your Word, oh Lord, will never be put to shame.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ps 119.86

All your commandments are faithful; they persecute me wrongfully; help me! Ps 119.86 

The spiritual realm we live in can be confusing. To do battle there is perilous. Although more real than the natural realm, being invisible, it evades easy mastery, which is what makes it dangerous.
Yet as has been the great theme in every epic and legend through the ages, the battle is between good and evil, for the sake of love.
Fortunately, we also have the age-old assurance that while Evil pretends to be more frightening and destructive, in the end, Good will always win.
There’s a reason for that, and it isn’t just our craving for happily ever after.

I grew up thinking of good and evil as equals. They’re not.
Good is infinite while evil is a hollow shell, the mere capacity for a lack of good.
Good is the essence of the Creator, while evil is but a by-product of creation.
Furthermore, the Author of Creation cannot separate his creation from its goodness—six times he declared it good and once, very good.
Evil, on the other hand, is an interloper simply tolerated until the day when it is put away forever. Then will the Creator wipe every tear from every eye, and mourning, crying, pain, death itself will be no more.
In the seemingly eternal battle, these two great foes are by no means equals.

I made a similar association between God and Satan, I suppose as the figureheads of good and evil. Satan, once subject to God, rebelled and was thrown out of heaven. He now lives here on earth, retreating occasionally to his headquarters in hell to keep an eye on the eternal punishment of his victims. Although a creature, his evil was, if anything, stronger than God’s good, because look at all the wickedness and harm in this world.

Later I learned that at the cross Jesus defeated Satan and his kingdom of darkness by destroying his one weapon, death. Of course that didn’t do much to mitigate the effects of evil in this world, which we’d just have to live with until Christ returns and burns the whole thing with fire.
Hang on ’til then, my soul. Your redemption draweth nigh.

Based on what I’ve since learned in Scripture, I missed a few key points.
For instance, evil is not nearly as powerful as I thought, and the kingdom of darkness is not as permanent.
Satan has less freedom and his reign has indeed ended.
This holds true for everyone in the whole world, saints and sinners alike.

But for saints, the news is even better.
Death, with its great, gaping maw, far from devouring finally, simply transfers us into a new and better world.
Satan, while worthy of respect, is not to be feared. As Jesus said, greater is the One with power to cast into hell, who is not Satan, who will himself be cast into the Lake of Fire. His menace is mere posturing,
If we look deeper into the accounts of Satan in Scripture, we see that he must ask permission of God to do what he does, whether Job or Peter or Jesus he set his eye on. He knows his time is short. He does not know everything, or he would not have let Jesus be crucified, for God designed the cross as the means of salvation.

So who is greater, and whose ways triumph?
God is good, we have seen, and all his ways are good.
That, my friends, is why good always wins over evil.

But still we cannot say that evil is without effect. We see it all the time in the news, around the world, in our own hearts. The cruelty, inhumanity, selfishness and pride that cause so much pain and ruin are undeniably evil. But we can’t attribute them entirely to an invisible spirit-being called the devil. From Jesus’s own lips we know that the evil done by men (and women) comes out of their own hearts, whether evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, or blasphemies.

And here’s the secret I learned from Scripture: Satan has no power to act independently in this world.
He is constrained by the need to use people to do his work.
He takes advantage of one’s unrepented evil and magnifies it to serve his own schemes. Consider Herod slaughtering the baby boys in Bethlehem, an atrocity predicated upon his uneasiness in wearing the crown of Israel. His fear of a rightful prince was the evil in his heart that Satan exaggerated in his attempt to cut off the Christ child as soon as he was born.
Likewise, the crucifixion of Christ, the grossest miscarriage of justice, was predicated upon the religious rulers’ (evil) antipathy to losing their self-righteous position of influence.
Judas Iscariot was a known thief, whose betrayal of Jesus was predicated upon his greed. Too late he realized what he had exchanged for coin. 

How does this relate to us today? We are no less riddled with evil than people in Bible times. We have the advantage of the indwelling Spirit, thank God, but apart from constant submission to him for transformation into the image of Christ, we can—and will—be used by Satan and his minions to achieve his lying, stealing, killing, destroying purposes in the world. This is what’s behind every church split. Every family conflict. Every broken relationship—in the church and in the world.

Therefore I urge you, saints of the Most High, bring your heart every day, every hour, to the throne of grace. Let him cleanse you and replace your brokenness, your ignorance, and your unmet needs with his power and truth and love. These are not nice-to-haves in the happy hereafter. They’re crucial armor in the here and now. Let’s not be those who put ourselves and our desires first, and end up serving the kingdom of darkness.

And the next time you’re caught in confusion between the goodness of God and the wickedness of others (even Christians), turn to God and simply cry, “Help me!”
Be assured that there is no one like our good God, who rides the heavens to help his own.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ps 119.85

The proud have dug pits for me, which is not according to your law. Ps 119.85 

This reminds me of the Swiss Family Robinson movie in which the little boy built a tiger trap by digging a pit and covering it with reeds. The family pooh-poohed his scheme, until they had a real live tiger on their hands.
This is the kind of trap that the proud were building for David. His enemies set up seemingly safe situations to ensnare him and bring him down. One of the hazards of being king, I suppose, or of being God’s chosen instrument. More than once, David was betrayed by enemies who thought they knew better than God.

I wonder if we aren’t sometimes like that with other Christians. We assume that the way things are is God’s perfect plan. After all, did God not send Samuel to anoint Saul?
But God also sent Samuel to anoint David, and not everyone knew that.
Doeg the Edomite didn’t, so he reported that David had been to Nob. By his hand, eighty-five priests were slaughtered at the command of God’s enemy, the reigning king of Israel.
The people of Engedi, and again the Ziphites, likewise reported to Saul when David hid in their areas. Thanks to David’s own integrity, he would not harm the Lord’s anointed king. Both times, God showed David to be the better man and under divine protection.

In fact, God used Saul for specific purposes in establishing the kingship in Israel. He did not make a mistake in choosing him, nor did he have to resort to Plan B because Saul turned out to be inadequate. I think this may be what David understood, and what stayed his hand when he might have destroyed Saul. He trusted that God knew what he was doing with two anointed kings at once, and that only God could know the right time to pass the crown.

But if we are like Saul, who thought the throne must be held by his own merits, or like his supporters who saw David as a threat, we may find ourselves opposing God himself. It has happened before, and to the best of men.

I refer to Jesus, of course. The religious leaders of his day could not fathom that this backwater itinerant preacher was anything more than trouble. They were the righteous keepers of the Law, the ones whom God favored—with the wealth and position in society to prove it. Surely if Yahweh were doing something in Israel, he would do it through them, or at least let them in on it. Therefore, they concluded, Jesus was not from God.

Could they have been more wrong?

They could not deny that Jesus was a man with unprecedented power over the natural and supernatural realms. He cursed fig trees and they died. He calmed storms. He multiplied bread. He stretched withered hands and healed chronic illness.
He also sent demons into pigs and released people from unclean and evil spirits. Demons actually spoke to him, and he answered them, and they obeyed him.
No, Jesus was not an ordinary man, but since he could not have been sent by God, he must therefore be working under the power of the devil.
Jesus called this ridiculous, for so it was.
Still they did not challenge their first conclusion about God’s ways.

Jesus also spoke with authority about the things of God. Time after time they sent representatives to listen to him and question him about what he was teaching. They were certain that he must be teaching contrary to the Law of Moses, since he was not from God. Yet he repeatedly pointed to the Law and the Prophets whenever they set up their quizzes—about resurrection, about righteousness, about taxes, about eternal life. He agreed or corrected based on the Law. He told the people to do what the Pharisees said because they represented the Law.

More than that, they watched his behavior and found fault with many human traditions regarding the Sabbath—but never with the Law itself. They observed that his disciples picked grain as they walked. They didn’t like that he healed in the synagogue, or told the healed paralytic to pick up his mat and go home, or restored sight to a man born blind. All this bothered the Pharisees, but did not violate the Sabbath.
Likewise they did not like that Jesus and his disciples failed to respect other traditions, such as fasting or ritual hand-cleansing.

From the curious among them, like Nicodemus who inquired at night, to the fearful who would not speak of him lest they be put out of the synagogue, Jesus forced the issue of righteousness through faith in him or by keeping the Law. As time went on, and Jesus grew in popularity and more directly opposed religious hypocrisy, they became desperate. They created traps for him, like the woman caught in adultery and brought before him to see if he would contradict the Law.

Rightly the psalmist calls such people proud and self-righteous, ultimately hypocrites who in the name of the Law do not uphold the Law.

Let’s not be one of them.
Leave room for God to be doing more than we see. For others to have another place than we can fathom.
Remember Paul’s admonition that God uses the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong.
And if we boast, let it not be in our wisdom or strength or wealth but in our knowledge and understanding of God as one who delights to practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.
That, after all, is what the Law is all about.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Ps 119.84

How many are the days of your servant? When will you execute judgment on those who pursue me for harm? Ps 119.84 

We in our 21st century western world don’t relate well to the culture of the Bible.
It seems harsh and irrelevant compared to our fast-paced, technology-centered way of life.
They’re farmers.
They offer animal sacrifices.
They habitually fall into idolatry.
They throw rocks at people until they’re dead.
They’re always at war.
The list goes on.

No doubt this explains why many people have a hard time reading, let alone understanding, the Old Testament. I have to say, though, that while this was once true of me, it is no longer. I got past it when I started to see the Old Testament as an earthly depiction of spiritual reality. It became less about facts, like dates and names and places and history and geography, although that’s all in there, and more about what it tells us about who God is, how the world he created works, and what it’s like to be his chosen people. Because that’s what we are in Christ.

So go back to our list of disconnects.

Reality—The spiritual realm has nothing to do with technology, and being outside of time, has no sense of hurry or worry. We live in a day when the kingdom of God is already and not yet. Christ has been raised to the right hand of the Father and rules all things according to his purposes. He has defeated his enemies and is even now preparing a new heaven and a new earth for his chosen ones to inherit. This is the frame for all we experience in this world, fitting us for our eternal destiny either with him in glory, or with the devil and his angels in the Lake of Fire. This will come to pass as surely as the day dawns and the evening star shines. Whatever we humans get up to in the course of the planet’s history makes no difference to the purposes of God which he accomplished in Christ.

Agriculture—Planting, harvest, seeds, rain water, trees, vines, wineskins, olive pressing. Scripture uses them not because Israelites farmed but because farming models the way life happens. Things grow in nature but this is chaotic. For societies (read, the kingdom of God) to grow and prosper, a suitable food supply is essential. They need good soil, and sunshine, and water. In due time, crops appear and the harvest matures. That’s Life in the Kingdom, not just ancient agriculture. Spiritual life works on the same principles and watching nature helps us understand that.

Blood sacrifices—Giving the best of one’s flock was truly a sacrifice, as it represented future prosperity. Furthermore, only blood can atone for death-meriting offenses. We all know the spiritual parallel between Christ who offered his body and blood for the sins of the world, and the yearly atoning sacrifice of an unblemished lamb for the sins of the chosen people.

Idolatry—We may not bow down to statues, but just watch people at the Super Bowl. Or checking their stocks. Or constantly on their cell phones.
We sacrifice our children to our goals and leisure, whether we abort them or neglect them or abandon them altogether.
We live as if the medical system gives health, the education system gives wisdom, finances give security, sex gives love, and so on for many other false gods.
We spend our time and money and effort and every other resource pursuing the “favor” of these gods, and end up like the people in Jeremiah’s day, with broken cisterns that hold no water when we could have had the true fountain of living water.

Law—We may not literally stone sinners, but if we’re honest, we’re quick to hold others to a code of law, whether it’s how a good Christian should behave, or what sins non-Christians commit. We judge and condemn without mercy. We bar sinners from our “camp” and have nothing to do with them. We look at people in our families and communities, in our nation and our world, and turn our backs because they are “spiritual Gentiles.” Jesus died for them, yes, but it’s not our place to live with them. We’re supposed to keep ourselves apart, aren’t we?
That’s all wrong, and the Old Testament tells us so. Just as the Israelites were aliens in the foreign land of Egypt, so we were once alienated from God until he delivered us into his own Kingdom. Dare we exclude others from a privilege none of us deserve?

Warfare—Sadly the modern church is so confused by spiritual warfare that we range from denying the devil even exists, or at least that he’s at work, to being obsessed with every little misfortune as a demonic scheme. This is perhaps one of the areas where the Old Testament can be most helpful to us.
It shows all sorts of enemy strategies to harm the people of God and to thwart his purpose on earth, from invoking curses like Balaam to raising empires like Assyria and Babylon.
It also shows all kinds of ways that God sends his people to defeat the enemy, from ambushes to feints to head-on clashes of armies.
God himself often intervenes in various ways, from shouting from heaven to stirring the tops of trees to drowning them in the sea.
Don’t be na├»ve. We are at war even now in the spiritual realm. Learn to fight from the warriors of old, the mighty men who rallied to the Anointed King.

In this context I submit today’s verse. Those who “pursue us for harm” are not necessarily people. In fact they rarely are. Remember we do not wrestle with flesh and blood. That is, people aren’t the enemy. They are instruments in the hand of the enemy. Like David who had physical enemies, we sometimes face the future with discouragement because of the things in our life that still trip us up. We ask like him, when will God execute judgment against our enemies?

Remember I told you that Jesus has already triumphed at the cross? He has.
Nevertheless his enemies are our enemies, and during this window of time called the Church Age, they run about in this world making war on the saints. They’re a defeated foe yet still holding on to their battle strategies.
It’s our job as Christian warriors to rout them and destroy their plans. We’re here to invade the kingdom of darkness, to push past even the gates of Hell to do it. Our victory is assured despite skirmishes and full-out clashes of armies, whether it’s one little life that’s delivered or one nation won for the Gospel. Powers and principalities will bow at the Name of Jesus, and enemy strongholds of oppression, greed, malevolence or whatever will tumble. Jesus has already won.

Know that your days as a servant are numbered. Oh please, don’t waste them! Use each one to invade enemy territory—in the life of a child, in politics, in kindness, in any way you see the darkness winning.
Don’t be bound by enemy schemes or paralyzed by a sense of powerlessness.
The truth is, as Moses told ancient newborn Israel, the Lord is a warrior, and he will fight for you.
His omnipotent right hand works righteousness for his people.
You will not wait forever to see his vengeance on your enemies. He comes quickly to release you so that you may serve as his child in the kingdom of his Son.

If you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament and see.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ps 119.83

For I have become like a wineskin in smoke, yet I do not forget your statutes. Ps 119.83 

The first thing I did was google “wineskins in smoke.”
It turns out that this phrase refers to the ancient practice of hanging wineskins among the upper tent supports. Because smoke collected inside the top of the tent, this unintentionally exposed wineskins to drying and hardening. Not a good thing.

To what use, then, does David put this metaphor?
Pretty simply, he’s talking about the wear and tear of serving God in the everyday.
Yes, life is hard and troubles come. We embrace seasons of suffering knowing God will make us better people.
But if we’re honest, even simple service, doing good and helping others, gets old. It takes its toll, and we lose the natural vibrancy of peace and willing servanthood.
We start to show the effect of being “hung up in smoke.”
If it goes on too long, our souls become parched and shriveled.
We don’t want to care about anyone else, and couldn’t if we tried.
We don’t want to give one more… anything, time, money, prayer, effort.
It’s all so exhausting because we don’t have any reserves left.
Worse, even the capacity to be restored seems gone.
The effort involved in getting to a place of rest feels like more than it’s worth.
This is not just burnout, this is wineskins in smoke.

And, it has nothing to do with whether or not we read our Bibles, or put on worship music or go to church or pray. It’s about the impact of the ongoing drain of protracted service on the psyche. Christian life is one of service but we are not primarily the Lord’s servants. Keeping our eye on our true calling as sons and daughters is a start but not enough if we don’t know how to live like one.
Without time dedicated just to being with Christ, we will end up unusable and fruitless.
This is more than squeezing devotionals in around ministry demands. I’m talking about walking away from the whole business, leaving others to manage as best they can while we get away to whatever recharges us.
Personally, I recommend Jesus.

This is perhaps one of the greatest dangers of leadership, Christian or otherwise. The souls of those who lead need  tending, but so often it’s the last consideration. Whether it’s Moses setting up some lower courts, or Jesus getting alone to pray on a mountain through the night, great leaders distribute the work so they can get alone with God for extended times of renewal and vision-catching.

Here’s the key. What exactly renews the soul? What sends us back ready to labor on with fresh energy and inner strength? Is it not a view of God and what he can do through us? Is that not vision? And where do we find these except in the unadulterated presence of God himself?

Well, wouldn’t you know, there’s a double meaning in the word for smoke, sometimes translated cloud.
Think of the pillar that accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness. By night it was fire and by day a pillar of cloud/smoke. Of course it wasn’t earthly smoke or water vapor, but the visible presence of God.

Moses went up the mountain into that cloud. Forty days later, he still had not returned, but when he did, his face shone from the glory of God to which he had been exposed. That’s what happens to godly leaders who spend time in the smoke, not of extended service, but of God’s glorious and holy presence. His glory shines on our faces.

From that time on, whenever they talked, the Lord appeared in this cloud over the Tent of Meeting as long as Moses visited.

When the ark of the covenant was first brought into the Tabernacle, the presence of the Lord took up residence in the Holy of Holies in the cloud. Think about it. His presence was so real and so powerful that the priests could not conduct their service.

The same thing happened when Solomon finished the temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the Lord. The cloud again filled the temple, keeping the ministers from fulfilling their duties.

What about us? When’s the last time God showed up so strongly we couldn’t carry on with church as normal?
Church buildings aside, when’s the last time you dedicated your ministry to the Lord and he showed up with so much presence that you couldn’t keep doing business as usual? Of course this isn’t an everyday occurrence. It only happened a few times in the history of Israel. But it ought to happen once in a while.
How different this is from our usual pattern. Instead of going on vacation or taking more leadership classes, we need to seek God’s manifest presence in our ministries. I promise, he will show up. We will be restored, and those to whom we minister will be helped.

If we start with the premise that we’re merely vessels of God’s grace, we will never find ourselves working hard to get refilled. In wisdom we return to the fountain, as often as necessary, and allow the Spirit to fill us and pour us out.

Think about this. Wineskins that are full do not dry out no matter how long they remain in the smoke and heat.

Ps 119.81

My soul faints for your salvation, but I hope in your word. Ps 119.81

It surprises me a little that David does not say that he has faith in God’s words. Or trusts in them. Rather, he puts his hope in them. I think there’s a big difference.

We as Christians think of salvation primarily in terms of eternity. We want to escape eternal damnation, and so we put our trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice applied to our sin. This is good, and effective, and everyone should do the same.

But this is not how David, or indeed any of the Old Testament characters thought of salvation. I say this because Jesus himself said that they longed go see and hear what his disciples saw and heard, and did not. The had heard of Emmanuel—God With Us—and wanted to experience him. But none of them imagined, not even Isaiah himself, that Emmanuel would be the ransom for humanity’s sin.

So what did they think salvation was, when they cried out to be saved? More often than not, they were in a muddle. Or in danger. Or under oppression. They wanted relief from the difficulties of this world. They were in over their heads and could not help themselves out of the quagmire.

That was the job of a god, after all. Gods are the ones who control all the stuff that’s bigger than puny little humans. Weather, crops, natural disasters, enemy nations, even love and wine… you name it, gods are in charge of it.

Trials are exhausting, emotionally and spiritually. With even a little maturity, we manage to hold on, putting a good face on it, planning to persevere until God shows up. When he doesn’t come, it gets harder and we push ourselves with prayer and Scripture. When he still doesn’t come… It gets old. I’m not necessarily talking about a few days or weeks or months. Some of us struggle for years with a trial that we cannot control. Like Job, we know we don’t deserve it, but that’s as far as our faith gets us. We end up learning a lot about ourselves and about our God in such circumstances.

But none of that makes it any easier to endure. When your soul is so weak you can barely pray, what are you supposed to do? Faith, if we have it at all, hangs on by a thread. It certainly doesn’t sustain us. Trusting God is meaningless because we start to doubt his presence and, if we’re honest, we sort of believe he’s responsible if not for causing our trouble than for not preventing it or ending it.

This is when David chose to put his hope in God’s word. He did not look at his circumstances but in what God had already made known—about his character and his ways. Listen to the song Israel sang as they went to meet God, “I   wait for Yahweh, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in Yahweh! For with Yahweh there is steadfast love.”

Is your situation making you faint with longing for relief?
Remember that our God saves even now, not just after we die.
Do you know what Jesus means? Yahweh saves.
This is the name the angel told Mary, and later Joseph, to give him.
Put your hope in God’s word and start to sing. Salvation that counts is found in no other Name, both in this world and in the next.

Ps 119.82

My eyes fail from searching your word, saying, “When will you comfort me?” Ps 119.82

Have you ever searched Scripture so hard longing for comfort you couldn’t find?
We’ve talked about comfort in the past, but there are times when nothing will comfort us. That kind of heartache wearies us. I don’t know if it’s the crying or the reading that burns our eyes out, but that is exactly the phrase David used here. His eyes were consumed searching God’s word.

I can think of at least three times in David’s life when he knew this kind of inconsolable despair.

Once, when Saul and Jonathan were killed. He lamented, “The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places. How the mighty have fallen! The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, and the sword of Saul did not return empty. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished.”

Once, when his and Bathsheba’s son lay dying. He later explained, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

Once, when Absalom was killed. Deeply moved, David went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. As he went, he said, “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

It’s helpful to examine just what Scripture means by comfort. It isn’t necessarily relief from the circumstances, but more like an inner knowing that someone capable and kind is in control. This comforts us.

We learn all that from the Bible. The Word of God is infinitely valuable as a means by which God communicates with us and through which we in turn can communicate with God. God’s words encourages and instructs us in good times and bad. But sometimes the written word is not enough, mostly because it has become too familiar. We need more than ink on paper. Our spirits need a living Presence.

You know how the Spirit can intercede for us at times when we don’t know how to pray as we ought?
He does the same sort of thing when our hearts cannot reason.
When our pain or loss or need is too deep for words.
Then he comes as our Paraclete, one called alongside to be with us through the storm. As any good comforter, he does not use words—written, inspired, or otherwise—to ease our distress. Instead he relies simply on his presence. Just being with us is all the comfort we need. This is Biblical comfort.

I remember when my daughter was about two years old. One day she was very sad because Dad said no to something she wanted. Pretty normal in the life of a toddler, but this day, she was inconsolable. I took her on my lap and said, “Let me make you happy.”
Do you know, to this day she still asks me to “make her happy.”
She did not get her way, mind you, she simply found joy in being snuggled.

I wonder if that isn’t what the Father of All Comforts intends for us.
No matter what problem we face, no matter the loss or pain or crisis, there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from his love.
By his Spirit he snuggles us in.
Go to his embrace. Ask for it. You are never too old.
Be the little child of God just for that moment. Climb up on his lap, turn your face to his chest, and cry.
Feel the everlasting arms surround you and hold you.

Trust me, there is no greater joy than finding your loving Father faithful in your pain.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ps 119.80

Let my heart be blameless regarding your statutes, that I may not be ashamed. Ps 119.80 

I think this is where the Pharisees went wrong.
I’ve often wondered how they could be so committed to the Law and yet so opposed to Jesus, who understood and practiced the precepts of the Law. He honored God and did good to everyone he met. What was his offense that so provoked the religious leaders?

It came down to this: they could not both be right. Either the Law made us righteous, or Christ had a righteousness apart from the Law.

After the cross, God’s covenant with his people is still rooted in sovereign choice, but it has changed from outward observance to inward transformation. Paul described the difference as circumcision of the flesh vs circumcision of the heart.

It’s important to understand that the need for a new covenant does not mean any change in God. God’s heart was always to make a people for himself who would know him and love him, and express it in the way they carried his name in the world.
Under the Old Covenant, God gave explicit directions for how to do this, which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai as the Law. This way of acting was called righteousness, or as God told Cain, doing what’s right. But because it was only ever  outward behavior, it did not meet the spiritual criteria for personal intimacy with God.

God had more than this in mind.

So in the fullness of time God sent his son, Paul says, born as a human being, born under the Law. This son, because he was also God, would bridge the outward observance of legal righteousness and the inward spirit of true righteousness. While Jesus lived every breath purely in his humanity, he did so by the power of the Holy Spirit who came to him as a dove on the day of his baptism. All the power for miracles and authority for teaching came from his perfect oneness with Yahweh—which is what confounded the Pharisees.

Their concept of Yahweh was so far beyond anything mortal that it defied comprehension for God to appear in human form. Yet this is what Jesus claimed for himself. Over and over again, he demonstrated that he had an authority greater than the Law, and a righteousness more absolute. He loved and served the children of Israel with kindness and mercy. He met their needs for healing and help in every way. For all the pomp and ritual of the ruling class, they could not do this. When they tried to challenge Jesus’s authority, or get from him a sign, or test him under the Law, they failed to stand up to his wisdom and grace, the truth of his statements and the evidence of his good deeds. In the end, they had to use false witnesses to condemn him for a crime he did not commit.
Them or him, as Caiaphas said to the Sanhedrin that day.

So what changed? What about the God-man made the Old Covenant obsolete and instituted the New? If you know Christianity at all, you know God sent his son as a Lamb to take away the sin of the world. We might (mistakenly) think of this as the sum of all sins ever committed, as if God rendered their collective sentences, and Jesus endured the cumulative punishment.
I say this is mistaken for biblical reasons.
Each sinner is destined to endure the exact same punishment—eternity in Hell, where the fire is not quenched, the worm does not die, and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. For one sin or countless sins, each sinner merits the same. This is what the Bible calls the wrath of God, and this is what Christ endured as his Lamb.

But here’s the thing. Jesus, although a man, endured the Father’s wrath as the Father’s Son. There was never any offense in Christ, so there was never any corruption to be consumed.

Remember when he hung on the cross, the last thing he said? “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This was not the Holy Spirit being sent back to heaven. This was a human spirit forged in the crucible of life on planet Earth. No amount of humiliation or pain had broken him. Sinless to the end, he died in absolute obedience not just to the letter of the Law, but to its spirit as well. Even when unjustly executed, the son of creation’s Sovereign submitted—not just as God to men, but to God as a man.

Think of that moment! Jesus stepping into the consuming fire of God’s unapproachable being. For the first time—and for the last—a human being entered the unrestrained presence of God on his own merits. And the Father welcomed him, not only as the beloved Son of God, but as the redeeming Son of Man. No wonder there’s no other way!

That union took away the otherness that separated us from God. I know this because in the immediate setting, God tore the veil in the temple that separated him from all people. Tore it from top to bottom, lest anyone think men had done it. Likewise, Pentecost marks the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh. Through indwelling, God unites with his people from the inside out. From within, the Spirit transforms our sinful patterns and conforms us to the image of Christ.

Only in this way can our hearts be blameless regarding his statutes. And we will never be ashamed.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ps 119.79

Let those who fear you turn to me, those who know your testimonies. Ps 119.79 

I feel like the psalmist is moving into a new thing here. We started to see it when he recognized that those who feared God would be glad to see him.
Here, he goes a step further and invites those who fear the Lord to turn to him.
Why would they do such a thing? Because they’re the ones who know God’s testimonies. And those testimonies involve him.

The significance of this for us is huge. We are the saints of God in whom he delights, and that should make us noteworthy. Everything about our life ought to testify to the reality of God and his presence in this world. Our lives should be riddled with the effects of God’s nearness. The warmth of our personality, the integrity of our character, the openness of our hospitality, the depth of our commitment to local needs, the extent of our service to the advance of the gospel right where we live.  Our whole community should be able to answer the stranger’s question, “Where can I find someone who fears the Lord?” by pointing to us.
That’s an amazing proposition, no? And yet it stirs my spirit more than a little to want it to be true of me.

I wonder what circumstances found the shepherd heart of David breathing this prayer.
Was he rallying the mighty men? Was their coming to him its answer?
Was he protecting the citizens of Israel by raiding the Negev under the Philistine noses?

Anyone who knew anything about God could see that David was a protector of Israel.
As a shepherd he had learned to fight enemies and care for the needs of the sheep. Read Ps 23 and you’ll soon see how he did that.
Whether he waited for the kingship to become his, or he reigned in Jerusalem, having been a shepherd made David fearlessly aggressive against his enemies.
From the time he first heard Goliath taunting the armies of the Living God, he saw Israel’s enemies as no more than the next in a long line who would be defeated by the will of God in the hand of David. Even then David saw Israel as the sheep of God’s flock to whom he had been assigned as under-shepherd.

Think about this. Jesus called himself the “good shepherd.” I am convinced that he was thinking of David when he said it. After all, he was the Messiah whose kingdom would be based on David’s reign under God. Everything David did for Israel, Jesus intended to do for his followers. Protecting, providing, restoring—everything he read after David began, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

Take hope from this. We are not only protected by the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We have become his under-shepherds in this world. Those who fear the Lord will turn to you as you walk in step with the Spirit, who does all things to magnify Jesus through us.

Those around us who know the testimonies of God should never hesitate to come to us.

Ps 119.78

Let the proud be ashamed, for they dealt perversely with me without a cause:; but I will meditate on your precepts. Ps 119.78 

You don’t get very far in Scripture before you start seeing the proud rearing their ugly heads. Ishmael mocking Isaac. Joseph’s brothers not wanting to bow to him. Pharaoh resisting Yahweh. Korah’s pack rebelling against Moses and Aaron. Ephraim resented anyone who fought Israel’s battles without them. The Philistines enslaved Samson. And Goliath, well, he boasted for days on end.
Look at the list. It never went well for any of these guys. The Lord put every one of them to shame.

The bible refers to the proud almost always in the context of those who promote themselves over God, and usually to the detriment of one or more of God’s people. This goes beyond the basic sin nature that afflicts us all. Pride is a special kind of sin because while all sin keeps us from God, pride specifically and directly opposes God. Worse, God opposes the proud.

Perhaps the most significant case of pride is Satan. That ancient serpent went so far as to attempt to destroy God’s plans through Christ. When he failed to do that, he went right into heaven and made war. Losing that battle, he was thrown down to earth and now wages war against the saints. He has already been defeated, Scripture tells us, but he fights on.
There is a lesson for us in his story. Pride blinds us to the truth. Outraged by the shame of his defeat, Satan nevertheless continues to pursue his oppositional path of hatred.
Not only that, he knows as well as we do how it will end for him. The Lake of Fire is nobody’s secret.

So why doesn’t he quit? Let me suggest this: he is a fool.

I do not say this jokingly but biblically. The fool says in his heart, there is no God.
Satan refuses to acknowledge God as his sovereign. That’s what the rebellion was all about, right?
Even now, he aims to do the opposite of God’s will. According to Jesus, our enemy comes to steal and kill and destroy. He is the Father of Lies, has been a liar from the beginning, and the truth is not in him. Everything Satan does, along with all the forces of darkness under him, causes harm. That is the definition of evil.

So when David petitions that the proud be put to shame, he is asking God to put an end to their opposition to good, to their evil. David staked his relationship with God on knowing the divine precepts. He meditated on them, studied them, trusted them, delighted in them. They were his spiritual food from the time he was young until he was old. He missed a step here and there, but his integrity and blamelessness before God was a matter of honor to him. He wanted nothing to tarnish the glory of God over his kingship, and repented profoundly when he erred and brought dishonor to Yahweh.

That’s why I think the story he refers to here may have to do with his son, Absalom. As much as David loved that boy, as a man Absalom was a horrible prince. He lost respect for his father, perhaps, through the way David failed to deal with Amnon about Tamar. I conclude that Absalom felt this made David unfit to rule, from the fact that he set out to wrest the kingdom from David by intercepting due process. This is arrogance of the worst kind.

God had anointed David as king, and God alone could take the kingdom from him and give it to another. It was not for anyone else to decide who would succeed David, let alone usurp the throne. This had been David’s practice all the days he fled Saul, and in due time, David inherited the crown as promised by God. But Absalom, acting with no regard to God, took his ascendancy in his own hands, hands that were never destined to hold royal reins.

How often do we act more like Absalom than David, though? Do we look at others and think we can do a better job?
Or do we suffer all sorts of injustice and betrayal, waiting for God to establish whatever he has in mind?

Jesus, thankfully, modeled his public ministry—and his pursuit of the eternal kingdom—on David rather than Absalom. Clearly the scribes and Pharisees were doing a poor job of managing the religious health of the nation. He could have worked against them to bring the kingdom of God into power. Heaven knows the people would have made him king more than once, which was exactly what the ruling class feared.

Instead Jesus, know the Scriptures, discerned in them the path the Messiah must take in order to inherit the kingdom. It would not be established by human wisdom—that was Satan’s plan in Peter’s mouth. No, steeped in the Law and the Prophets, Jesus kept his eye on what he saw his Father doing, and listened only to his Father’s voice. He lived every moment in light of the reality of God.
Jesus was no fool.

And when the kingdoms inevitably collided, the proud Satan crucified the humble Christ. Conceivably the most foolish act in all history, for in dying, Christ destroyed death, and Satan’s hold on humanity was broken.

God opposes the proud, yes, and sadly for them, they never see their downfall coming.
God also gives grace to the humble, and gladly for them, they cannot imagine the joy set before them.

Which one are you?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ps 119.77

Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Ps 119.77

Tender mercies. Not a very common phrase in the Bible.
Of all the ideas of God that have passed through my head from childhood until now, the idea of tender mercies, while personally relevant, has never been high on the list.
Don’t get me wrong. I know God is loving. I know his mercies are new every morning. The name he gave himself to Moses begins, “I am the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love…” But the fact that his mere presence made the mountain shake, let alone the fire and thunder and lightning when he spoke, kind of defeats any sense of tenderness or intimacy.

Still, God claims to be gentle, and uses imagery to support that claim. A mother nursing her infant, a shepherd carrying lambs near his chest. A bruised reed and a smoldering wick are safe in his hands.

Just listen for a moment and let the Scriptures roll over you.

Remember, O Lord, your tender mercies and your loving kindnesses, for they are from of old. 

Do not withhold your tender mercies from me, O Lord; let your lovingkindness and your truth continually preserve me. 

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving kindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

Hear me, O Lord, for your loving kindness is good; turn to me according to the multitude of your tender mercies.

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies? 

Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low.

Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies,

Great are your tender mercies, O Lord; revive me according to your judgments.

The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.

To give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God.

Do you hear the heart’s call to a God who will stoop down in grace, and give ear to the plea of the needy?
There are times when we don’t need to know about  God, we need to be near him, to connect at the level of our heart and know that he can and will meet us in our brokenness.
God could use omnipotent power to push his way in.
He could claim sovereign authority to make us yield to his will.
He could overrule our reluctance or break our pride or condemn our sin.
He does none of it.

For me, at least, God has never been anything but tender. Perhaps he knows how fragile I am, how sensitive my spirit, and how responsive that makes me to him. Perhaps he raised me up so that he could display the glory of his tenderness through me. It doesn’t matter why, only that I have learned to recognize his tenderness in every movement of his heart toward me.

His tender mercies come when I am ashamed and he withholds judgment.
They come when I am lonely and he whispers his nearness.
They come when I choose to forgive and he heals my hurt.
They come when I cry into my pillow at night and he soothes my heart with his promise.

This is life to me, every day, every hour. He is mine, and I am his. I need no other refuge.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ps 119.76

Let, I pray, your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to your word to your servant. Ps 119.76 

A Christian friend once said, “God doesn’t want his children to suffer.”
To which I replied, “Have you read the Bible?”
Isn’t Jesus, the guy hanging on the cross, God’s son?

No, there has to be a theology that includes suffering as part of God’s sovereign plan, and while a blog is not the place for all of it, we know that God uses hardship—all sorts of trials and difficulties—to strengthen our character and refine our faith.

Sometimes, though, when our pain is deep and we see no end to our sorrow, who cares about theology?
That’s where David’s prayer lands this time.
He has been talking about affliction, trying to come to terms with a sovereign, faithful God who could have prevented the current problem. Somehow, knowing that God has good reason for putting us through difficulties is no real comfort in the midst of them.

The pathos of this prayer makes me wonder what was going on in David’s life. It has the ring of one of those prayers that’s barely more than a breath. I know some people cry at the drop of a hat. They shed their emotions easily, and I think that’s good. David was one of those, I think. But some things touch even them too deeply.
I think of his lament when both Saul and Jonathan were killed on the same day.
Or the death of his first child with Bathsheba.
Then there was the news that Absalom had killed all David’s sons.
It turned out he had only killed Amnon, who had raped David’s daughter and Absalom’s sister.
And the day came when Absalom himself was put to death.
In all these situations, and in many more, David turned to God. In the depths of his struggle, he held on to God’s Word and poured out his pain, his fear, his passion. The psalms are full of his heartfelt cries in times of distress.

It’s important for us to keep in mind that while David held on to God’s promise for him regarding the kingship, more often than not, his hope in God’s word was linked to the written word. This is important because while we want to listen to our hearts, we dare not trust them. Hearts in pain are treacherous. They will grab anything that promises relief, even when it’s a lie. In our own lives, this is fair warning. Beware of those who tell you what you want to hear.

For example, have you ever been involved with Christians who believe in what I call modern-day prophecy? They’re always getting “words from God” for people. Sadly, they can make a real mess of things.

Mind you, I believe God speaks today, and I would call those words, prophecy. What I don’t agree with is how tritely these people treat a supposed utterance from the mouth of God Almighty.
God speaks, even nowadays, when he has something significant to say. He does not tickle our ears with platitudes and trivialities. We dishonor him by putting our own words into his mouth.
And another thing. While the New Testament makes it clear that God’s Spirit is for everyone, fulfilling Joel’s prophecy, the fact that all should desire prophecy by no means implies that God will use just anyone’s mouth. God’s words are sacred and should be treated as the holy communications of an omnipotent deity. How dare we bring this amazing condescension on God’s part down to a formula for grabbing attention to our own ideas? This is a dangerous thing to do. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New, and he still forbids us to take his Name in vain.

Having said that, if we are to rely on God’s word to us for our comfort, it has to be personal. Otherwise it does not rise within us when we need it. But how do we get there?
We must engage with the Holy Spirit to discover the truth of God’s Word. This is none other than the great hope of the new covenant, that God will write his word on our heart and put it into our mind. We have the mind of Christ, but it must be fused with ours. We know this is happening when we start to see things from God’s perspective, to value what he values, and to live like Jesus did.

There are many times when God himself will comfort the downhearted.
So much better are the times when a hurting soul cries out to the Lord and the merciful and compassionate God sends a saint to speak—and live out—just the right words of comfort.

I urge you to make God’s word relevant to yourself by spending time in it with him. Let him show you the nuances he built into it. Let him make the connections between stories. Respond to his instruction in his presence. Get to know him, even as you let him get to know you.
Then when your soul is sorrowing, his merciful kindness will be for your comfort, according to such words as you’ve heard him whisper in your own ear.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ps 119.75

I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Ps 119.75 

I remember grumbling under my breath once when my mom made me redo a job I hadn’t done well. Something about if she didn’t care how I felt, well, I wasn’t going to care either. Rheh. Rheh. Rheh.
She overheard the muttering, called me to her, and asked what I was saying.
Foolish but honest child that I was, I told her I didn’t think she cared about me.
I chuckle now as a parent, because I gave her a wide-open door to lecture on how discipline comes exactly from a place of caring. She cared enough to fix a character flaw that would end up hurting me.
I’d like to say that I understood and thanked her for her love at the time but, still honest but hopefully a lot less foolish, I can’t say I remember that.

Over the years I’ve had to check my heart in how I receive God’s discipline. Hebrews tells us to endure hardship as discipline because God is treating us as a father, training us in righteousness that will yield a harvest of peace.

If you haven’t heard it already, let me tell you, it’s not easy to see things this way.
So often our flesh just wants the easy way. But we all know that makes us fat and lazy and selfish.
On top of that, we have the Father of Lies in our ear whispering that God is not good, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t care. It isn’t true. God is omnisciently and compassionately dedicated to our good.
Well-meaning friends sympathize with our pain, tell us this trial is the devil’s work, and offer to pray it away. Don’t let them. Sympathy is good but not when it undermines progress. 

Much better to start from the premise that God’s judgments—his decisions—are right. Always. There’s never a time when God makes a mistake, loses control of … anything, or fails to understand all that’s involved. When he decides how things should go or what should be done, he knows what he’s talking about. Therefore we do well to trust his greater wisdom, his eternal perspective, and his heart of love. In the short term, this may make our path hard to walk. In the end, though, such trust leads to strength and resilience. To balk at God’s ways is like the willful child who insists on doing things his own way, only to end up ruining the very thing he was trying to do.

God’s discipline is an ongoing process that seems for many seasons to go from bad to worse. The types of struggles we have—and if you have none then be aware something is wrong, because the Lord disciplines those he loves (He 12.6)—get at deeper things in our character and challenge us to greater levels of faith.

The climb is worth it, I promise. I urge you to give in to what seems like affliction as you learn to walk like Jesus did. He spent years in obscurity becoming a good citizen, growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people. So that when God’s call to go public came, he was ready.
What will that pattern look like for you? No one can say, except for a few essentials.
Die to yourself.
Put others first.
Give up your rights to every hope or dream that you have.
The only way to walk on the heights of God’s favor is with open hands and a sincere heart.
Know that the eyes of the One whose name is Faithful and True, range throughout the earth seeking you, to strengthen your heart.

It’s so easy to doubt the heart of God when we go through trials, even with those who do tell us it’s for our good.
People like James, who urges us to count it all joy when we fall into trials.
Or Peter, who says to rejoice if you suffer for a little while in order to refine your faith.
Or Jesus, who calls us blessed when people hate us for his sake.
Or Paul, who was obsessed by a willingness to suffer anything so long as the Gospel went forth.
Well, pay attention. They can’t all be wrong. All of them endured God’s discipline in the form of uncomfortable trials and hardships. All of which prepared them to give their lives to bring the kingdom of light into this dark world.

Is that a company you want to be numbered with?
If so, then accept that you need to go to school to learn how to fight the good fight of the faith.
You will not be able to finish the race if you don’t go into strict training.
Make up your mind that if you want to do this, you’re going to have to trust the Indwelling Spirit to “afflict you in faithfulness.” Know that his ways are the right and best ways. Submit to his drills and embrace your training.

Perhaps we’ll run into each other, scampering like deer on the heights of heaven.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ps 119.74

Those who fear you will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in your word. Ps 119.74

There are a number of stories in the Bible about people someone saw coming.
Joseph comes to mind, when he wore his colored tunic .
The Shunamite woman riding a donkey in search of Elisha and his servant.
The man with a legion of demons who fell at the feet of Jesus.
The son who had squandered his inheritance.
The the son of the vineyard owner whose tenants killed his messengers.

The one afar off was greeted in various ways, depending, I suppose on what was in the heart of the watcher.
Joseph’s brothers hated and envied him. They sold him into slavery.
Elisha was grateful for the woman’s hospitality. He resurrected her son,
Jesus had crossed the sea to meet this man. He sent the demons into the swine herd.
The prodigal father longed for the son who had been dead to him. He killed a fatted calf.
The greedy tenants wanted the business for themselves.

David was a man I imagine many were glad to see coming.
He had the courage to face a giant, and the skill to slay him.
He had the sweet spirit of a musician, and the ability to use music to soothe a king.
He had the heart of a warrior, and the strength to kill tens of thousands of his enemies.
He had the faithfulness of a brother, and the trust to lay his friendship on the line.
He had the loyalty of a courtier, and the character not to assassinate the Lord’s anointed.

Over and over, David conducted himself as one who walked before the Lord. Even when he fell into a pattern of covering up one wrong with another, when confronted, he responded in fear of the Lord. Behind every action in David’s life, from the time Samuel anointed him until he died after Solomon ascended to the throne, was David’s deep hope in the unfailing word of God.

God had promised him to be king. God made him king. It took the better part of three decades, but it happened. Even when Saul died, and only Judah made him king, for another seven years he waited, but it happened.
The Lord promised if David lived according to the law, he would always have an heir on the throne. There were some moments—what with one son raping his step sister, and her brother killing his step brother in return, or banishing that favored son only for him to return and plan to usurp the kingdom from David, or another son claiming the throne before David even died—yes, there were moments, but it happened. Until the Messiah, king of all kings with an eternal kingdom, was born to the house of David.

David’s relationship with God’s word made him the man he was, and he surrounded himself with others who were devoted to God and upright among men, as he wrote in Ps 16, As for the saints who are in the land, and the honorable, all my delight is in them. Those were David’s companions, and those were the ones who were glad to see him.
Why? The secret of their gladness, apparently, was David’s hope in God’s word.
Do you find that interesting?
More importantly, do you want that to be true of you?

You see, people of hope have a lightness of spirit that is contagious. We don’t get bogged down by trials or hassles. We look for good and we offer help. We do it with a spirit of joy and peace that flies in the face of our own hurts and needs. We do it because of the hope we have in Christ, the incarnate Word of God dwelling within. Hope lifts us above difficulties and dark times by keeping our eyes on something better.

I think that’s why Hebrews tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who not only established our living faith but has already finished its course. This is hopeful to anyone struggling to hang on through the dark and storm.
He did it, so can you. More than that, he endured worse things than you. He even forgave his crucifiers.

And he did it by hope: for the joy set before him.

Ps 119.73

Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments. Ps 119.73

I was looking at my son’s foot today as he sat curled up in sweats, waiting out the snowstorm.
When did those little piggies become beautiful man toes?
The years have come and gone, and just like so many said it would bar, those days are gone too soon.
Still, in the back of my mind I always knew I was raising children to be adults. In that sense, my job is done.

How different from our Creator.
I’m pretty sure he never looks at us and asks, When did that happen?
I say this because of Psalm 139. His eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
He has been there every step of my life, and not only has he not forgotten or lost sight of me, he has foreseen and anticipated and orchestrated it all. Before any of my days came to be, says David, they were written down by God.

So if God’s hands knit me together, and all my days are ordained according to his wise purposes, then it makes sense to discover what he intends for my life. You know, that oft-quoted Jeremiah-thing: I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.
We as Christians often take this in terms of discerning God’s will for life decisions like college, career, or spouse.
Biblically we have reason to believe from the context that God means far more than life circumstances. At least he did when he first said it to the exiles in captivity.
Look how he goes on in the next verses: You will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.
Honestly, it sounds like his “plan for me” has more to do with building our relationship together than it does with choices I make about the here and now.

This is about getting us ready for eternity. Just as we change from little babies to full-grown adults, expressing the genetic makeup we inherited from our parents, so our spiritual being must express the spiritual “genetic code” we inherit at regeneration — the Holy Spirit. What will we look like? Jesus. Are we not predestined to conform to the image of his son? This must take place in this world in order to fit us for the next.

We all know how hard it is to develop Christlikeness apart from the Spirit working within us. So it’s interesting to me that way back when he wrote this psalm (four more times he made the same request), David asked God to give him understanding so that he could learn what God required. Even then it was clear that no one’s going to be able to meet God’s standard on their own.

I take comfort in knowing that just as my body was planned and prepared for me, the same loving, competent Creator hands are preparing my soul.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ps 119.72

The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver. Ps 119.72 

We’re talking about the Bible here. Of course, David had only the early portions of it, but what he had he loved.
This has been true of the servants of God down through the ages until the canon was closed, and beyond.

I’m so grateful for the Word of God. It has been my guiding wisdom for more years than I care to tell.
I remember the moment when I realized what a unique gift it is to Christians, indeed to the world.

The first time I went to Brazil, I went alone. I knew no one there. I was completely depending on God to make a way. I had made plans, and trusted God to protect me and help me.
Culture shock, international travel, a foreign language, strangers.
So much was different.
I remember being by myself one night, and while not really crying in loneliness, just aware of how alone I was in this unfamiliar world. It was a beautiful tropical night, warm see breezes off of Copacabana beach, samba music in the distance, carioca syllables flurrying the air around me. I sat with my Bible open in front of me, touching base with the God who had given me the privilege to travel and see another part of his world.

Sounds idyllic, no? Let me tell you, to this farm-raised New England girl who never went further than the 18 miles to college, it was more strange than I could have imagined.

I looked at the sky, thanking God that while scenes change on earth, the heavens do not.
But wait.
Where was the North Star?
Where the Big Dipper?
Had Orion laid down and gone to sleep?

I looked down at the Bible in my lap, and read, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

This picture has never left me. In times of sorrow and joy, of hectic change and boring sameness, of hope and disappointment. Over and over, the Word of God has been my straight line, my unchanging direction finder, my foundation and my refuge.

On this side of the Cross, I know that the Word of God is a person, and so I turn to it like an old friend who knows me well.
It has the answer to my questions, of life and of little things.
It knows exactly the comfort that will strengthen and encourage me, no matter what hurts.
It tells me when I’m wrong and it tells me how to make things right.
I am always the better for spending time with it. I come away centered on what’s true and relevant, my soul restored in its peaceful loving presence.
David talked about the Lord as his shepherd, and so I have found the Word of God to be.

Some people see the Bible as God’s love letter to us, in which he declares his intent and reveals his plans for us as his bride. I think that’s true, but for me it does not go far enough. When I spend time in the Scriptures, it feels like he’s there with me, reading the letters himself. I think that’s the difference the Holy Spirit makes, maybe, but it’s been a long, long time since the Holy Bible was simply ink on paper to me.

Truly Moses said it well, that the law form God’s mouth is my life, and by this word I shall prolong my days.
That’s definitely worth far more than many thousands of gold and silver coins.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ps 119.71

It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes. Ps 119.71

Hard times are never fun but with a little maturity, we look back and realize that some good came out of them. This is both humbling, because we don’t like to admit we needed that lesson, and gratifying, because we’re always the better for it.

Having raised my children, I know how important it is to pick my battles. Some things just aren’t worth the strife.
I let issues like clothing and hair length go in favor of courtesy and cleanliness.
I cared more about character than grades.
Church trumped sports and nutrition won over appetite.
I spent everything I had to meet their needs and keep them safe. I exposed them to new experiences to teach them about the world they would enter. I disciplined them as necessary to build character and responsibility.
Because they were born to me, my goal was to equip them for life in a world that requires grace and wisdom and truth.

As our heavenly Father, God chooses his battles, too.
Like my helpless newborn babes who couldn’t talk or walk or even feed themselves, we enter eternal life completely unprepared for our destiny in the new world Christ is even now preparing.
Once we’re born again, God begins to equip us as citizens of a kingdom that requires majesty and righteousness and life.

Life as a Christian is a long stretch of sanctification, which I confess I misunderstood. At first I saw it as stopping sinful behavior. Then it became a process of “being transformed by the renewing of my mind,” in which I worked on fixing bad attitudes and habits of thought.
Now, though, I define it as learning to walk with the Spirit until we are suited for heaven.

Truly, the idea of preparing for heaven never occurred to me. Heaven was only the reward when this life was over. The better I behaved in this world the bigger and better my reward would be in the next. Didn’t really know what that reward was, but apparently it would be good and I’d want a lot of it. Something to do with harps and clouds, I guess. Maybe streets of gold and a lot of angels.
Yes, like Paul said, when I was a child I reasoned like one.

Being a parent has taught me to see differently.
First of all, I understand heaven a lot better. Not entirely, of course, because God hasn’t revealed it all. But there are basics we can know from Scripture. Do a biblical word study on it sometime. We have good reason to hope, let’s just say.

Second, and as a result, this has changed the way I look at what happens in life.
I no longer see everything in terms of God punishing me.
My relationship with him has become more father to adult daughter, and king to princess-to-be.
The struggles I walk through are lessons designed by a royal tutor. The opportunities I find are tests for me to practice ruling in righteousness and peace.
There’s no time to waste, because like a fetus in the womb, I live in this world as an unborn but developing spiritual being. The day of my birth into glory will be the day of my death in this womb-world.
My eternal future inexorably comes.

Looking back, I see myriad moments when God could have rebuked me or punished me or stopped me in my sinfulness, or spiritual ignorance, or outright unbelief.
Instead he picked his battles. He waited out the growth process until I was able to learn what I needed to know.
Knowing how he made me, he wisely designed the days of my life with experiences and pressures that would awaken me to his call and train me in my gifting. I will someday rule with him in majesty.
His grace kept him near me no matter where I wandered or how badly I failed. The righteousness imparted to me is slowly coming to define me.
His truth has guided me though my days until I can say with all my heart, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

I take hope in the fact that parenting works.
All three of my children have moved into life as responsible adults who take care of themselves. They can vote and drive and communicate with others. They have friends and direction. They’re kind and generous and Christ-like. But that's not the really important part.

I’ve seen my daughter fight to keep a friendship with someone who continues to hurt her. She tells me, “I’m not ready to be done with her. She means so much to me.” Grace incarnate. Forged in the fires of affliction, beautiful girl.

I’ve seen my oldest son deny himself the love of his life until he finished a commitment to become the man of God she will need. Wisdom beyond his years. Forged in the heart of affliction, son of mine.

My youngest son wears a tattoo that means refusing to forgive hurts you far more than the offender. Truth unto life. Forged in the furnace of affliction, my darling young man.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Ps 119.70

Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in your law. Ps 119.70

What makes your heart glad? What can you count on to bring a smile to your face every time?
The sight of your beloved? The smell of warm bread? Finishing a project, or hearing a word of praise?
Many things have the power to touch our heart and improve our mood, in an instant.
It works the other way as well.
Someone says a harsh word. You see an injustice being done. Disappointment. Emotional pain.
One of those buttons in our soul gets pushed sending us reeling back into heartache and misunderstanding or fear, powerlessness, or strife.

Either way, good or bad, at least your heart is alive.
It’s the “heart as fat as grease” that we need to worry about.
What is that? Another way to say it might be, a heart as thick as fat.
Hard and dull and dense like the pinkish-white rind of tissue surrounding that beautiful raw ribeye.

The nature of fat cells and the lack of nerve endings make it impossible to stimulate fatty tissue.  Worse, fat that surrounds and cushions skin and muscle makes it difficult to get a response from their nerve cells.
The biblical parallel here has to do with being sensitive—or insensitive—to spiritual things.
The stuff of life—material goods and affairs, worldly attitudes and issues, even its pleasures—bog us down, preoccupy us, deter us from what’s truly important and of eternal significance.

Dulled by constant focus on priorities that do not nurture it, the heart crawls into a corner isolated and alone. Inert, apathetic, it walls itself in to protect against the neglect and harm being done to it. A slow death that manifests its sickness in symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-hate, and worse.

Such a heart is not responsive to the things of God. Indeed it cannot be.
Glutted with things that satisfy the appetite without nourishing, there’s little room for God’s Spirit to nudge or speak or move.

Taking the edge off of soul-hunger can be the worst thing. How often have I eaten out of boredom? My soul craves something of interest, so I feed my mouth? Well, it’s something to do, yes, but it doesn’t really satisfy my mind’s need. This pattern holds true for everything from watching a movie instead of reading Scripture to going to the mall instead of meeting someone to pray.
The choices we make, sadly, might be more like spiritual junk food than we realize.

Don’t miss the warning for your spiritual heart.
Guard against feeding your soul anything that, while it feels good in the short run, may actually increase the likelihood of a spiritual “heart attack.”
And learn to recognize the signs of impending heart trouble.
Are you cranky for no reason? Impatient? Easily discouraged?
Do you feel powerless? Unwanted?
Frustrated and critical and out of sync with those around you?

Go get your spiritual heart checked.
Talk to a friend. (Jesus is usually good for this.)
Keep a log of how you spend your time.
Then evaluate how much you’re putting into your spiritual wellbeing.

The path to health is the same whether physical or spiritual: Eat good food. Get good exercise.
What are you doing to feed your soul?  Worship, prayer, Scripture, Christ-centered fellowship,.
What are you doing to exercise your spiritual heart? Service, giving, outreach, evangelism.

David’s ancient answer (much more succinct than a blog, I dare say), is to delight in God.
As his buddy Asaph put it,
Whom have I in heaven but you, Lord? Earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the stronghold of my heart and my portion forever.

A healthy spiritual heart is really that easy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ps 119.69

The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep your precepts with my whole heart. Ps 119.69 

I remember being surprised by David asking the Lord to judge him according to his integrity. I thought this might be dangerous ground for him, since he was a sinner. But this verse reminds me of one story in which he acted with great integrity.

In his early days, David spent a lot time on the run from King Saul.
Not that he deserved that.
It wasn’t his fault the Lord sent Samuel to anoint him.
Or that the Spirit left Saul to come upon David.
It wasn’t his fault his music could soothe the king’s evil spirit.
It wasn’t his fault he had courageous faith to fight giants and slew tens of thousands to Saul’s thousands.
It wasn’t his fault Jonathan was more loyal to him than to his father.
Or that mighty men were drawn to him rather than the reigning king.

None of David’s innocence mattered to Saul. God had anointed another in his place, and it didn’t take long to figure out who. One look at David’s rising star was enough.
Mad with jealousy, he hunted David like a partridge in the mountains.
More than once David was close enough to kill Saul, but he refused to take the kingship by force.

One night the Lord sent a deep sleep on Saul’s camp.
David and his nephew snuck right up to Saul and took his spear and jug.
“Why not let me kill him?” asked Abishai. “The Lord has delivered him to you.”
“No,” said David. “He is the Lord’s anointed, and only He can strike him or let him die in battle.”
He called down to Saul from the cliffs shortly after,  “If people have stirred you up against me…”

Let me tell you, that’s integrity.

David’s secret was that he knew the precepts of God. Of course he was human and didn’t like the way he was treated. Hadn’t he just nearly killed Nabal for his disrespect and ingratitude? But he listened to Abigail’s warning and narrowly escaped a serious mistake. Abigail focused on David’s integrity: that he have no need to be ashamed before God for shedding needless blood or avenging himself.

David knew God had promised to make him king, and what God promised, God would do. This had always been true in the history of Israel, and it would continue true long after David had reigned and gone. And because of his unshakable confidence in the God of Israel, David could overlook the ridiculous mania of Saul.

This is why I love David’s heart so much. He knew God from his Word and from his own experience. He believed what God had said to him, and he lived as if it were true. He did not take it upon himself to make God’s words come true but trusted that God would make it happen in his own time. He had no desire to get there ahead of God.

This is not just true in the case of exercising self-control in not taking Saul’s life. It happened, perhaps even more remarkably, when Saul died soon after on the heights of Gilboa. Although the Lord told David to go to Hebron where Judah crowned him, and he acknowledged those who had buried Saul, still the rest of the nation would not make him king for 7.5 years. Did David retaliate? He did not. He simply acted as the king of Judah until God brought Abner around to offer the other tribes as well.

It took a long time for David to receive what God had promised—and anointed him for—all those years ago outside the sheep pens in Bethlehem. But over the years and the adventures God overlooked the falsehoods and resistance of men. He looked straight at the goal of David’s throne and moved steadily toward it.

Are you willing to look at God’s purpose for you, the promise he has already made, and hang on for the long haul? It’s difficult in this instant-gratification society, isn’t it?
But think about this. We are preparing for eternity.
The kind of patient faith we demonstrate here will expand our capacity for joy there.
Can you think of a better reward for David in eternity than to watch the Messiah rule?
What do you imagine your great reward will be?

I urge you to keep God’s precepts with your whole heart.
Disregard the works of the proud, the liars, the faithless, the hollow, the self-promoters.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, and live in the integrity of your heart.
You’ll find yourself in some magnificent company.