Who’s Packin’ Whom?

John Bunyan’s Christian

Where I live, some of the natives speak a bit differently, compared to us short timers; my late father-in-law Charlie spent his younger years working cattle in Montana’s “over east,” which is similar to Australia’s outback. If you’re a ranch hand, you don’t “carry” your tools and supplies, you “pack” them. That’s the way Charlie put it.

Folks who live on the prairie, whether Montanan or Australian, soon learn what survival requires of them: physical strength, tenacity, resourcefulness, family coherency, loyalty, humility, boldness, and it doesn’t hurt to pack a good carbine and side arm.

Back in Prophet Isaiah’s time, folks packed their gods whenever they moved their camp, and it never hurt to have a good fetish along for the journey. But Isaiah tried to enlighten them with God’s words:

Isaiah 46:1-4 ESV Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. (2) They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. (3) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; (4) even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah spoke of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, who burdened themselves by carrying idols around with them. They were nothing more than dead weight; man-made of wood, stone, precious metals and gems, they couldn’t ease the people’s burdens … they were the people’s burdens. They were impotent and mute, so why would anyone think them worthy of worship?

God’s message to his people? “Stop carrying your own burdens. Stop weighing yourselves down with material possessions that are supposed to make you secure. I Am the One who will bear you up! I am the One who will carry your burdens! I will carry and save you!”

Church, we are God’s chosen people, faith-children of Abraham, priests of God’s new covenant of grace, under his High Priest, Christ Jesus. We must not pack around our impotent security-gods, but call upon the living, self-existent God, who created us to rest in him, to be born, and not to bear. If you have any confusion about who’s packin’ whom in your life, ask the Master Packer to open your eyes, then repent of your sin of self-sufficiency.

Father, reveal to me the inner motives that move me. Show me, Lord, my true purpose for living. Examine me, Lord, for any impurity that inhibits my growth to Christ-likeness. And thank you, Father, for the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name and authority. So be it.

The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the the Holy Spirit

Moses at the Burning Bush

If you look closely at Matthew 18:18-20, you will see it refers to one Name—singular—for each of the three Persons mentioned. That strikes me as referring to a family name, common to all three. And what is that name? Well, we address our prayers to our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, but the only actual given name is that of Jesus. So that set me to thinking—a dangerous activity for me.

The only Divine Name Scripture gives us is what God told Moses at the burning bush. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) In Hebrew, that is pronounced (at least in Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary), haw-yaw’. Doesn’t sound much like the traditional name given to God by the English, Jehovah. Unfortunately, all the references we have to the I AM are at best, transliterations of the Hebrew or Aramaic, four-consonant word meaning, “I Exist Because I Exist,” or, “I am self-existent.”

My own practice is to not use the Divine Name, and according to the custom of not addressing ones father by either his given name or his family name, to simply address him as, “Father.” As Jesus told us to pray to the Father in his own name, that seems to be a no-brainer. And the Holy Spirit? I have found neither a command, nor an example in the Bible, of praying to God’s Holy Spirit. Do we slight the Holy Spirit by not praying to him? Not if we are obeying the Scriptures by not doing so. Think about it. Praying to God the Father, in Jesus’ name, through his Holy Spirit, involves all three in the process and it’s Scriptural.

So, what is the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

How could God change His mind in Numbers 14? I mean, really!?

Everybody knows God knows everything. Past, present, and future, he has a lock on it. Yet, in Numbers 14 he seems to change his mind about striking the children of Israel with the pestilence and disinheriting them. Also, in Judges 2:181 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16, and 1 Chronicles 21:15, the observers got the same impression. For the past few years, this question hasn’t bothered me in the least. The only thing that has bugged me is how to explain it to non-believers. I have no problem with it because I know and love God, so I trust his Word not to contradict itself. In his book, Now, That’s a Good Question, R.C. Sproul gives an answer that seems credible to me.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language.

Strictly speaking, that’s not quite true; God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Christ-followers through his Word, allowing us to grasp by faith, spiritual truths that sail miles over the heads of non-believers. We may not be able to explain the concepts coherently, but if we listen to God with our faith-ears, we know that even apparently contradictory statements are true.

The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

I love Sproul’s use of the word, “befuddled,” but if the “we” he refers to are Christ-followers, it only applies when we try to explain it to outsiders. I can do it with my fingers, on this keyboard, but when put on the spot I get all … well … befuddled.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means.

The beauty of God’s sovereignty is, he doesn’t have to conform to our concept of cause-and-effect. Our issues with his actions have no effect on his purposes, and actually serve to bolster our faith in his loving wisdom.

God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there.

With God’s will, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, and he never really changes his mind. It just seems that way to us. We must simply, “Trust and Obey.”

Psalm 13 — A Familiar Refrain

Like the sunrise,
Complaints follow a darkness,
But precede the day’s light.

Even though God referred to King David as, “A man after my own heart,” the good king didn’t always shine as an icon of virtue. Psalm 13 demonstrates his habit of complaining about his circumstances:

(1b) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
(2) How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Granted, he whined for good reason; first Saul, then Absalom unjustly pursued him with murder in their eyes. And the Philistines weren’t exactly his friends, either. The next two verses of Psalm 13 typify his initial response to those impending dangers:

(3) Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
(4) lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

At least he didn’t just blubber about his perils. King David understood that God wants to bear all our burdens, so he delivered them right into his Lord’s capable hands. Then, even in his most dejected moments, David demonstrated his attitude of trust, gratitude and praise to God:

(5) But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Those three elements provide a model for our desperate prayers. Go ahead and gripe all you want; God, in Christ Jesus, experienced every temptation that plagues us, so he understands our need to whine and gripe. But he also requires us to follow the rest of King David’s example, by stating our needs as we understand them, requesting that he, “light up my eyes,” with his divine wisdom, and then trust his steadfast love for his answer to our need.

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

Bringing Psalm 42 Home

Psalm 42 speaks to me today as balm to my depressed soul. It doesn’t counter this depression, but encourages me in it.

Depression always looks for a scapegoat, and as I refuse to allow my depression to place the blame on my faithful God and Savior, it falls on me by default. Why would I tend to blame God? Because for years I’ve begged him to motivate me, to grow me up into a true man, ie., a Christlike man, but I still wallow in my passive depression, unable to move against this mess I’ve created around me.

I’m talking about a literal mess, as interpersonal relationships evade me at present. I look around this apartment and see tons of stuff closing in on me, chores that I haven’t done, my body settling out of condition, and words not writing themselves (even though I now type away).

Is God not strong enough to overcome my lack of will? I know better than that! Does he not love me as his word leads me to believe? That cannot be, as I know his love experientially.

That leaves just one possible explanation; my loving, faithful, gracious Lord is working in the background, unseen and unfelt, and in his perfect timing this will all make sense to me.

Psalm 42 has two very similar verses that directly minister to me:

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God.

God is who he is, and I shall yet praise him.

To The God of My Life

Psalms 42 blessed me this morning. And when I began a word-study on it the blessing multiplied. This psalm is a maschil (instruction) that King David designated for performance by the uber-talented sons of Korah. If that name sounds familiar, their father participated in a rebellion against Moses, God’s appointed leader.

This Psalm begins with, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 

We know King David was rich, both materially and spiritually; God considered David a man after his own heart, so if that lofty king hungered and thirsted after intimacy with God, should you or I do any less? As if to make sure we know that he sought only after the only true, living God, King David specified that fact.

We have all experienced something akin to unrequited love, so how must God feel when we take him for granted? If your soul doesn’t pant for intimacy with God, you just don’t know him.

My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” If you think no one has ever challenged you with that question, think again. The popular entertainment and news media ask it when they shove worldly values and philosophies at you. And what about the government schools, especially secondary schools? Their atheistic professors openly challenge anyone who professes faith in God. Many church kids who attend secular colleges have no problem adopting naturalistic ideas, but for the few who have seriously committed their lives to God, their “tears have been (their) food day and night.”

Christ-following students and workers in a secular environment can deeply relate to verse four: When I remember these things (in the first three verses), I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. The world has never catered to believers, and even less, now that most people subject themselves to a constant barrage of worldly influences. When speaking of faithful believers, the word “multitude” no longer applies. Even our churches are giving in to the world’s complacency; while worship-leaders often raise “The voice of joy and praise,” how many in the pews enthusiastically join them? You’ll find more joy and praise at sporting events and political rallies than in church.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Good question! This is the part of Psalm 42 that first cemented my attention. As King David reproved himself for entertaining discouragement in the face of God’s glorious might, I must follow suit. How often have David’s psalms opened my eyes to my pity-parties, and jerked me straight? Sure, the guy really knew how to praise God, but he also wasn’t afraid to reveal his weakness, which suggests to me Apostle Paul’s triumphant declaration in 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In verse six, the musician-king reiterates his discouragement, illustrating for my benefit the instability of his roller-coaster emotional ride: O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, And from the heights of Hermon, From the Hill Mizar. But immediately he runs back to his Source of victory: Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. King David realized that God had allowed all his trials, his “waves and billows,” for his divine purpose. Now David cries out his triumphal statement: The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me— A prayer to the God of my life.

In the daytime of God’s glory, and in the night of my discouragement, his song shall be with me, and so I utter my own prayer to the God of my life: Father, all praise and honor comes to you for your incomprehensible grace toward me through your Son’s blood and in his name.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.

Shout To the Lord

I titled a previous post, “SHOUT From the Lord,” noting that it is slightly different from the popular worship song by Chris Tomlin. Those lyrics are in part:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, Let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King;
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

From the very beginning I’ve had a problem with the refrain’s seventh line; it’s missing three words: By Your grace. They fit perfectly, with three syllables, just like “Forever.”

Okay, call me nitpicky, but isn’t the original wording just a bit presumptuous? I want to love God and stand forever. I hope to. I even need to. But I lack that mythical crystal ball to know if I will persevere.

You see, I know myself all too well to presume on the future. My greatest fear is that I might apostatize and bring a reproach on my Lord. So my fervent prayer is to glorify him in all that I do. One way to ensure that is to consume God’s Word through his Holy Spirit as I would a lean stake, with lots of chewing and savoring the flavor. Thing is, milk and pablum easily slide down the throat, but you can’t live on that alone.

Go ahead, SHOUT to the Lord! Sing his praises with joy. But remember:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.

The Unseen

mansionThe realtor waited for the county building inspector to arrive and do his thing. Bev never wanted to take on the Crookshank mansion. Old rumors persisted … bad rumors, both about its history, and about the ghost that supposedly “lived” there. Fat chance Bev could ever move this white elephant, as whoever bought it would have to commit to renovating the overgrown shack. And as the building was included in the National Register of Historic Places, there was no way she could sell the land for its juicy commercial value.

And still she waited, as the winter Sun dipped over the hills for an early afternoon sunset. The mansion had seen better days, and now that the light was fading, its dismal facade transformed into a menacing—dare she think it?—spectre!

Bev tried calling the inspector again…was this the fourth, or the fifth time? Again, the infuriating voice mail message telling her what she already knew; he will be in the field this afternoon, and leave a message, etc. Fat lot of good that would do her. This inspection was scheduled three months ago. Pity the county couldn’t cut loose some funds for another building inspector.

All these unbidden thoughts coursed through her mind, even though, by faith, she was secure in her safety as God’s kid. Even if ghosts and such immaterial things existed, they wouldn’t have a chance against her Big Brother Jesus. Yet, she couldn’t shake the thought of menacing, unseen things waiting inside for the unwary intruder, be they living, or be they dead.

Bev switched mental gears to consider the positive side of the unseen, and recited aloud one of her many favorite Bible verses: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans eight, verses twenty-four and twenty-five.

Patience! What a rare commodity. Bev again searched her Bible memory bank. Didn’t King David have some choice bits of wisdom regarding Patience? Okay, there’s Psalms forty, verses one and two: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

Bev wracked her brain for more Davidic encouragement. She knew it was there somewhere … “Oh! Well, duh. Psalms sixty-nine, verses one through threeSave me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

She thought of how many times King David, the man after God’s own heart, fussed at his beloved Lord. Yet, he always ended his fussing with praise for God’s unending faithfulness and magnificent glory. So she recited the end of Psalms sixty-nine: “Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein.

What a beautiful promise, and she reveled in it. She already knew she was a faith-child of Abraham, but she loved it when King David reminded her of the fact.

Twilight had faded quickly to blackness by the time the tardy building inspector drove through the wrought-iron gates and up the long, tree-shrouded drive to where Bev waited. She hadn’t even noticed the darkness and gathering ground fog with her mind so occupied by Scripture and praise. Why, she even found a cordial greeting for the inspector. So, into the “haunted” mansion, with God’s Spirit leading the way.