Sunday, December 30, 2012

Psalm 22 - Surprised, Again!

I began 2012 by leading a group of ladies through the books of Luke and Acts. The first lesson covered the angels foretelling of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. I thought the class would be easy, everybody knows these stories. Yet I also thought it would be very difficult, everybody knows these stories and what could I hope to tell them that would be new! I was surprised to find a little something tucked away in the first chapter of Luke and it has served as inspiration for me this entire year. I wrote a blog entry to honor the discovery: “Zacharias and the Blessing”, posted January 11, 2012.

Now as I finish 2012, I am winding up the year leading the ladies through some of the psalms and I’ve come to Psalm 22. It is a prophetic messianic psalm, quoted 7 times in the New Testament, and each time it refers to Jesus. The psalm portrays the agony and triumph of the cross. Again, I find myself thinking this is going to be a very difficult class to lead, everybody already knows about the crucifixion, what could I hope to tell them that would be new. But God has blessed me, and surprised me, again!

Psalm 22:6 reads, “But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.” There are verses in the book of Isaiah which are familiar to most Bible students, they teach us that Jesus became so marred from the beatings of the mob that he no longer looked human (Isaiah 52:14) and that he was indeed despised by the people (Isaiah 53:3). But this sixth line of Psalm 22 goes much deeper than that.

The Hebrew word used here for “worm” is speaking of a particular worm, a scarlet worm. Throughout the Old Testament times, this tiny animal was gathered and boiled in pots to die materials used for expensive scarlet clothing. The Hebrew word can be used to speak of the worm, the dye, or the resulting dyed material. Though the scarlet sin-color of this worm is worth noting, this psalm goes yet still deeper than that.

The scarlet worm has a rather distinctive life cycle. The adult female wedges herself into the crack of a piece of wood so tightly that she can’t back out. It is then that she lays her eggs. When the larvae emerge, they find sustenance by eating her yet-alive body and so she dies. The larvae have eaten the body and the blood of the one who has died to give them life! Here we have a picture of the redeemed gathering around the Lord’s Table for Communion.

But the picture becomes even more like our Savior in knowing that the scarlet colored bodily fluids pour forth from the mother worm and stains both her progeny and the wood on which she gave her life. Here we see the way our Lord’s blood covers us, redeems us, and makes us uniquely and forever His own possession.

We’re given an application in verse 23 of this same psalm – You who fear the Lord, praise Him, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him. And then in verse 30 we find, “Posterity [a seed] will serve Him.” We are His seed, and we are to spend our lives in His service. As we enter 2013, let us each make those our resolutions for the New Year – to praise, to glorify, to stand in awe, and to serve Him, the One who gave His life for us, whose scarlet blood has stained us and redeemed us.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Psalm 18 - Therefore!

We know from II Samuel 22, that Psalm 18 was written / spoken / sung by David at the very end of his life – these are among the last words he penned while here on earth.

He begins with the loud cry – “I love You, Lord!” And we should echo the same every day. Don’t wait until the end of your days to become vocal about your relationship with the Lord who has redeemed you.

The next 47 verses, in one way or another, David uses to recount the many ways in which God has showered him with blessings, talents, victories, and mercies of all sorts. I find myself ashamed to see David praising God for even the smallest of his abilities. Even the desire or will to carry on with a task is a mighty gift from God!

In verse 49, we come to the “Therefore!” of this psalm. Here we find David summarizing and proclaiming – “Therefore!” Because of ALL the things You, O Lord, have done on my behalf, I will sing praises to You all the days of my life.

No matter what our lives have wrought, no matter how our personal verses 1-48 would read; let us all shout a loud, “Therefore!” and burst into praises, thanksgiving and song.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Psalm 17, Giving Thanks

As I try to think through what I’ve learned this week in my study of this psalm, I am reminded of Job and I conclude that what we have here is a nicely condensed version of the 42 chapters of that book into just these 15 verses. Not exactly all, but nearly so.

In the first few verses, we see David proclaiming the innocence of Job and being able to speak boldly with the Lord because of his innocence. Likewise, Abraham and Moses were able to say the most shocking things to the Lord – without reprisals. The lesson here is to live in such a way that we too can pour our hearts out to the Lord. How awkward to find ourselves knocking on the door to His throne with an urgent matter and realize it has been months or years since we’ve communed in prayer.

Do you have a friend who is so near and dear that you can speak plainly to them and never fear being judged? Even nearer and dearer should be your Lord, Jesus Christ. Is your spouse your closest friend, the one you confide in all day long and enjoy the sweetness of pillow talk each evening? The Church is the Bride of Christ – confide in Him all day long and speak with Him as you fall asleep each night. When you have such a relationship with your Lord, then you too can speak boldly as did Abraham, Moses, and David.

Next we see David bringing to God his many troubles – calamities were befalling him. For Job, it was in the form of various loses and for David here it is being surrounded by various enemies. But both men had their calamities and knew to take them to the Lord in prayer.

The ALL-Mighty Lord has ALL-Power to fix whatever our problems may be, but there’s a catch. We must bring our problems into the throne room of the Lord and leave them there. Unpack our woe-filled backpack and leave with it still empty. But many of us make the mistake of putting each and every problem back into our packs and taking them home with us.

This is like taking our broken watch to the master clock-smith and describing in great detail how the second hand won’t advance past the number 2. The clock-smith says, “No problem, I will have it fixed for you by Friday.” You then leave his shop with the watch still on your arm! How foolish you sound on Friday when you enter his shop and complain that the watch is still broken.

In a similar way, God has to have possession of our problems in order to set them right for us. It is not that our Father in heaven is not powerful enough or caring enough to fix the situation, far from it. Instead, He is waiting for us to mature, for as long as we keep our backpacks over-flowing with our troubles, we show we haven’t fully entrusted them to the Lord. Bring your worries and cares to the Lord’s feet and leave them there.

The last verse of this psalm is simply amazing in its simplicity and its depth. Here we see David turning from worldly full bellies and progeny as his joy and looking ONLY to the Lord – to see His face is all he wants. As Job similarly proclaimed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Here in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. As we sit down to a table over-flowing with delightful food and surrounded by the happy faces of loved ones, we can be tempted to take joy in a full belly and progeny. And while God certainly gives us these good gifts to enjoy, we must remember to always keep our hearts turned towards heaven.

Every child of God needs to learn this important lesson. It doesn’t matter what has befallen you – the loss of people or possessions or the gain of deadly enemies! No matter what this life offers – be it deep sorrows or full bellies and progeny – our everlasting joy, indeed our only joy, is to be looking toward the Master, to see His face, dimly lit now, and full and glorious in heaven.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Psalm 16, My Prayer

So, what is the application in this psalm – what are we left with when we’ve studied these eleven verses? For me, I see this psalm as a prayer of David that I too can and should say from time to time – these attitudes should be mine. This psalm, taken as a whole, sounds to me sort of like David’s answer to someone saying, “Teach us to pray”.

We find in verses 1 and 2 the proper priority of worship and praise and utter dependence on the Lord.

Verses 3 and 4 speak of our right relationships with the people who surround us – love towards those who love the Lord and disdain for those who don’t. (It always seems a little odd to say something like that – the idea that we are to disdain someone. Didn’t Jesus teach us to love our enemies? Yes, but we cannot become partakers of their sin by silent approval. We are to be unyoked from them! And, in the end, what fellowship can there be between the righteous and the unrighteous?)

Verses 5 and 6 teach us the proper attitude toward all the “things” we have accumulated in this world – or those we yet still long to acquire! We are to be grateful and content with whatever we have. The Lord is our great Shepherd and we shall not want! It is at this point of our prayer that we should check on our attitudes and confess any sin of covetousness or idolatry. Things, people, prestige, wealth, or health – all of it is to be as dung compared to the rich glory of fellowship with our Creator.

Verses 7 and 8 speak of our right relationship to the Word of God. Have it so hidden in your heart that you can learn from it by meditation on your pillow at night. Let it so guide your every footstep that nothing – no peril of any sort – can cause you to be shaken and stumble away from that righteous narrow path.

Verses 9 and 10 speak of our sound hope that the Lord who has dealt with us so graciously in this life, will also deal graciously with us in our death. Though this wretched body will decay in the ground – to be food to the maggots and worms – the redeemed of the Lord knows of a new body to be received on the other side – a glorious body that can never see decay of any sort.

Verse 11 promises us a sure answer when we find ourselves needing direction. At any fork in the road of life, our heavenly Father is there with loving words to guide us. And in all of this, there is the immeasurable joy that comes from such a blessed relationship. As Job’s world crumbled around him, he cried out, “Blessed be the Lord!” He knew the transitory nature of this life.

Joy and pleasures forever await us in heaven. We are promised trials and tribulations while on earth – don’t be so surprised when your life seems to crumble. Look to heaven, keep your priorities straight, and know that God will one day set everything right. REJOICE!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Requirement of Stewardship

This month I began studying I Corinthians and early on I came across a couple sentences that left me with a puzzle to solve. The NASB version of I Corinthians 4:1, 2 reads this way: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”

I am already fairly familiar with the word “steward”; I wrote about that last year here on my blog, the entry is “Steward of the Word” dated January 2, 2011. I’ve also learned since then that Joseph can be seen as a steward to Pharaoh. His story, told in the last few chapters of Genesis, accurately portrays stewardship as being in charge of another person’s possessions, and in this case, Pharaoh gave Joseph control over his entire kingdom.

So why did I stop at these verses in I Corinthians and question stewardship? Actually, it wasn’t so much the stewardship part I was questioning; I really thought I understood the concept of biblical stewardship. It was more the use of “trustworthy” that was tripping me up. It seemed to me that Paul was using some very strong, explicit language here – why is trustworthy required of stewards? And, more importantly, since it is required, I wanted to understand if this word describes me.

So, what does that word trustworthy really mean?

My initial thoughts were that trustworthy means something like being dedicated and showing up to work every day on time, being honest by not stealing stuff from your boss, and being straightforward - letting your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”.

After a couple rounds with some hefty-sized English dictionaries, I concluded I wasn’t very far off. I did learn that this compound word (trust + worthy) was only “compounded” recently. Other than that, nothing else seemed especially interesting.

Now sometimes all you need is just to better understand the English uses of a word in the Bible (like indignation in Psalm 7:11), but here is a case where knowing the English meaning just wasn’t telling me enough. Why would it actually be required of stewards to be trustworthy? My gut was telling me there was more, so I grabbed for Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. . . .

So I found the word in question is the Greek word “pistŏs”. Here’s what Strong’s gave me as a definition: trustworthy, trustful, believe, believing, believer, faithful, faithfully, sure, and true. I don’t know about you, but as I look at the list - believe, believing, and believer - all seem to be out of place. The rest however, do seem to be just synonyms of each other.

Next I used my Strong’s in reverse to help me find some more verses that use this same Greek word. Among them I found II Timothy 2:2 which says teach reliable (pistŏs) men that they might teach others. This verse seems to speak of having a consistent behavior, having a dependable pattern in our lives. Then from I John 1:9, I found this word even applies to the immutable nature of God, it says He is faithful (pistŏs) to forgive us our sins.

If I had stopped at this point, I might be led to think that “pistŏs” means nothing more than being consistent, dependable, or unchanging and immutable – and these are all qualities desired in a steward. But does this really explain how the words “believe”, “believing”, and “believer” fit on this list? Well, maybe.

Follow along with me as I try to unravel this mystery a bit. . . .

I can easily see how God would require His stewards to be “believers” - He wouldn’t put unbelievers in charge of “the mysteries of God”. And this believer would need to have consistent faith, to be immutable, unchanging, and unwavering in his or her convictions concerning God. I’m reminded of verses in James that teach us to not be doubting and double-minded when we ask for something in prayer (James 1:5-8).

Our faith in Jesus, and the teachings of His Word, needs to be reliable in the sense that we don’t falter, causing the lost world around us to doubt if we have found Truth. Paul reminds us to not have child-like faith, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, but to be steadfast. (Ephesians 4:14-16).

We also shouldn’t be stumbling through life without any permanent transformation into the image of Christ - one day serious about our walk, and the next day “out to lunch” spiritually speaking. Last month I wrote, “Paul on the Road to Damascus” (4/18/2012) about renewing our minds, being metamorphosed by immersion in the Word and time in prayer – butterflies don’t return to being caterpillars (Romans 12:1, 2).

In this way then, I can see Paul’s point here in I Corinthians that stewards must be consistent believers if they are to be put in charge of "the mysteries of God". This sort of unwavering conviction of faith in God and His Word is certainly required.

But this kind of “pistŏs” believing isn’t what you did once on the day you were saved; this isn’t a past tense kind of word. This is continual and on-going, something that you live with conviction and consistency – 24/7, 365 days a year. You are to be ever and always, actively believing God, believing His Word, and believing His plan is working out in your life. And yes, Paul tells us quite emphatically; for a steward of God, this “pistŏs” is required.

So now the difficult question: does this “pistŏs” describe you and I?

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to “pistŏs” men who will be able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2 (NASB).

Here are journaling suggestions for you to try:

Describe the effects of a “pistŏs” mentor upon your life.

Pass it on - write a letter of spiritual advice to a “Timothy”.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back to Basics

One of the most basic “tools” needed for successful Bible study is a firm grasp on the overall scope of the Bible. As a new Christian, I was introduced to the idea of reading the Bible through every year and each time through has given me more insight to how these 66 books fit together to form the single book we call the Bible.

If it has been a while since you’ve been on a cover-to-cover Bible tour, let me encourage you to take another run through it. Google search “Bible reading plan” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of free resources to get started. You can also set up a personalized plan to work at your own pace by doing some simple math and realizing you have 1189 chapters to cover. For example, reading about 7 chapters each day would mean you’d be done in 6 months’ time. Don’t allow Satan to discourage you. If you miss a day, for whatever reason, just pick back up where you left off and keep on going.

Some people skip reading on Sundays, but what has worked for me is reading from the Psalms on Sundays and then I’m not doing all 150 of them in a row. Some folks skip all over using a chronological plan (also free online). Others balance a morning Old Testament reading with an evening New Testament reading.

Whatever method you choose is not what matters. Regardless of where you are in your spiritual walk, we all benefit from a consistent exposure to the full counsel of God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Psalm 10 - Orphaned, but not Fatherless!

In Psalm 10, David tells about the many ways God helps various unfortunate groups of people. The last verse, Psalm 10:18, mentions the orphans (NASB). Using the old KJV Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance we find the definition for this Hebrew word - to be lonely; a bereaved person; fatherless (child), orphan.

I don’t know about you, but I found it very comforting to learn that God’s wonderful concern for young orphaned children extends to anyone who is lonely or bereaved – parents living or not!

Our family is having a crisis. I am not alone; many families are right now suffering in ways I can’t even imagine. But I am also not alone because my Heavenly Father is with me, not just now in the midst of this trouble, but always.

There hasn’t been a death, but “bereaved” is still a word that fits this situation and God, my Father, knows of my concern and that brings me great comfort. In this sense, I am "orphaned", yet I am not "fatherless" -- not by a long shot, and I am so thankful for that!

A couple weeks ago I watched Lee Strobel’s video, The Case for Faith. I was amazed to see the faith of Joni Erickson Tada. She knew her suffering had purpose and she was more than willing to endure it for however long the Lord deemed necessary because she saw the good that it was bringing.

That video was preparation for me, because now our family needs that strength of faith -- to believe that there is purpose and good to come from this crisis we find ourselves in.

The unbeliever doesn’t understand how a good God can allow suffering and evil to exist. I don’t understand how the unbeliever gets by in this life without faith in a good God because of the suffering and evil that does exist!

Our Lord Jesus Christ endured the ultimate suffering as He went to the cross and took all of the world’s sin upon Himself. The murder of this Perfect One was the ultimate evil and Satan felt sure he had the victory. But the ultimate good came from that suffering and evil – we now have the chance to be reconciled to our Maker. What grace!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Whose Disciple Are You?

Most Christians have heard the quotes “I am of Apollos” and “I am of Paul” from I Corinthians 1 and 3. Here Paul was telling his readers that they shouldn’t follow their favorite preachers over and above their Lord, Jesus Christ.

Using a Bible dictionary, you can learn that Apollos was a Christian Jew from Alexandria and some Bible scholars think perhaps he wrote the Bible book, Letter to the Hebrews. Luke says Apollos was, “an eloquent man” and “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). But even eloquence and a mighty knowledge of the Bible should not pull us away from our Lord.

Have you ever noticed someone repeating this preacher or that teacher’s name and quoting them with every other breath? I find myself wondering if they’ve stopped to look at the Scriptures for themselves – or are they only listening to the mighty eloquence of a popular Christian folk-hero?

Jesus tells us in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (NASB). If you use Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to define the word “disciple”, you’ll find it simply means “learner”. So, whose disciple are you? Are you learning from the Lord Jesus or some eloquent human teacher?

Another word I found interesting from John 8:31 is “continue”. It seems clear from the text that I am Jesus’ disciple only if I continue in His word – so I better know for sure what that word “continue” means!

According to Strong’s, the Greek word “mênō” for “continue” means: to stay in a given place, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry. This definition adds quite a bit of meaning to Jesus’ statement. To be His disciple, it is not enough to learn from Him a few minutes out of a few random mornings each month. We are to endure and tarry – dwelling in His word. So, let me ask again; truly, whose disciple are you?