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.

Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

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.

Proper Child Rearing

Proper child rearing? I’m sure they had good reason, but what happens when she needs a diaper changed?

Uh … yeah. “Proper Child Rearing,” if you’re Father God, ’cause he’s the only one who ever got it right, but look what happened to his first two kids. What does that make our chances of raising perfect little angels?

If you don’t yet have kids, get over the idea of being perfect parents or having perfect kids. It ain’t gonna happen! And if you currently have, or have had kids, you already know perfection is an impossible dream. All you can do is your best, and your best will be good enough if you understand Bible passages like Ephesians 6:4 and the fathers enrage not your children but train them up affixed in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. The Lord’s discipline means according to Biblical principles, and the Lord’s admonition means correction by his words. And all that means you have to know God’s word.

Thing is, even if you could do a perfect job you can’t make their decisions for them; you can only prepare them to make their own decisions. They will make mistakes, even stupid ones, and you will scratch your head wondering what happened to all that lovely Scripture you fed them. It’s still in those brilliant memory-banks, but regardless how you try, you can’t digest and internalize it for them.

This is where example comes in: You tell them stuff and they think, “Fine, show me what you’re talking about.” So they test you to see if you will practice what you preach. If you say, “Don’t hit,” but you slap them in anger, they think, “So much for that rule.” If you tell them, “Don’t gossip,” but you talk about other people’s problems … Well? Violating that principle will certainly cause them to dismiss everything you say.

Did you catch my drift here? To keep from confusing and exasperating your kids you will have to change. To have any chance of raising godly kids, you will have to model godliness.

Keep in mind, though, that living a good example does not guarantee their following it. Your ultimate example will be how you respond to their screwing up their lives. So, should you tenderly welcome them back into the fold if they’ve gone out and become alcoholics or dopers, or begat children, or robbed a convenience store, but refuse to repent? NO WAY! There’s a reason the pros who deal with such things call that, “enabling.” If you want to provide a godly example, remember how God responded when the children of Israel refused to honor him; he removed his protection from them and allowed their enemies to take them into captivity. And do you remember the outcome? Eventually they repented and he welcomed them back into his graces. And do you remember how many times they went through that cycle of apostasy and repentance? I don’t, but I do remember that he forgave them every time they truly repented. That’s how much he loved them, and that’s how much he loves us!

God’s grace is sufficient, even for us failures.

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.

How Thaughty

The first one hundred people who “Like” this post have the original, round Tuit. (Of course, anyone else can also cut it out.)

My mother had a sarcastic way of encouraging us to show deference to one another. When one of us acted thoughtlessly she would say, “How thaughty of you.” I think the word’s similarity to “naughty,” plus her voice, expression and body-language, communicated her disappointment without further comment.

Did you catch the word “deference” above? As it has passed out of vogue and most of us, even if we have some idea of its meaning, consider it a non-issue, I’ll try to define it for you in the context of Christ-followers. But first …

The Negative Sense

Codependency is a familiar subject to all the trendy, amateur psychologists out there. It just means getting off to being needed. A codependent relationship is where both parties try to fulfill destructive needs, usually without even realizing it. Deference can be just that, and discerning which kind of deference you’re practicing isn’t all that hard; if you purposefully prefer others’ needs over your own, godly character is most likely your motivation. But be sure you aren’t simply a people-pleaser—you know, one who just can’t say “NO.”

The Positive Sense

For a Christ-follower, “deference” means obeying the Law of Christ by considering others’ needs, desires, or opinions before your own. It means risking inconvenience for someone else’s sake.

In my own life, the idea of deference takes me to Bible studies I attend, where I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when others, who typically aren’t as vocal as I, try to contribute their insights. Figuratively biting my tongue doesn’t come naturally for me, but the rewards of actually listening to them are bountiful.

More active examples of deference might be volunteering to help someone who needs an extra hand, when your own lawn needs mowing, or helping to clean the church when your favorite TV program (even, The Game) is on the air.

Those examples involve the more peripheral people in your life, but how about showing deference to family members whose continual demands for attention annoy you? This calls for another hard thought:

Godly Priorities

You’ve got places to go, people to see, and things to do, so you can hand “Round Tuits” to the kids and wife, or hubby, while you do what you want. Question is, how would Jesus respond if he were in your shoes … or easy chair?

And what about that promise that is now sooo inconvenient to keep? You might want to add another box of Round Tuits to your shopping list.

Does a neighbor need a lift uptown? Just how important is that blog entry you’re working on? (Ouch)

Oh, I see. You’re afraid others might take advantage of you, so you keep a respectful distance, and maybe screen your calls before picking up. (bigger Ouch!)

Is all this priorities stuff too big a chunk to bite off? Baby steps, but keep on pursuing godly character, or virtue, if you want the reward God’s Word promises.

C.S. Lewis on The Worst Kind of Sin

Uncle Jack must have been a carpenter, as he continually “hits the nail squarely on the head.” From Mere Christianity:

If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

I’m afraid Uncle Jack was a smidge off hitting this particular nail squarely. The generalization with which he opened this excerpt is wrong; most Christians do regard unchastity as the supreme vice, completely missing the the attitudinal sins Lewis mentions later on. Even if you’re reborn into a new person by faith in Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, you still have to deal with the sin-habit you’ve developed over the years before you came to faith.

When we’re first saved we all marvel at the sensation that freedom from sin-guilt gives us. But just as all changes become mundane after a while, we begin taking the freedom that Jesus so dearly bought for granted. The sensation fades, as does our revulsion to sin, and   (name your poison)   doesn’t seem so bad after all.

I love Lewis’ categories of sin: Animal, and Diabolical. Or, maybe I should say I hate them, as I recognize their icky feelers trying to creep into my life. All that stands in the way of those embryonic buggers is God’s Holy Spirit working through his Word and prayer; no Word, no prayer, no protection.

Any sin, regardless how slight, if unconfessed, will open the door for those buggers. And diabolical sins of attitude are the worst because they’re almost invisible.

Do you think you’re free from attitudinal sin? That’s the primary symptom of having a bad case of them. Think of homeowners; termites are never a problem until the homeowners get their house inspected by the pros. Attitudinal sin is even more destructive than termites, and God’s Holy Spirit is the Pro you need to consult for finding those diabolical, soul-chewing sin-buggers.

If you’re not read-up and prayed-up, you’ll soon become fed-up with your lackluster Christian walk. You may hang onto “a form of godliness,” but your profession will be a lie.

Powerful Stuff

When your ship is sinking, grab this!

We often hear well-meaning Christ-followers (myself included) quote Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But we typically leave it at that, forgetting to reveal what “therefore” is there for.

That’s an easy one. Just read Romans 7:13-25, or better still the whole chapter. Remember when you read verse thirteen, “that which is good” refers to the Old Testament law that demonstrates our inability to obtain justification through our own efforts. Then go on to chapter eight, where verses one through eleven provide the full promise, and define exactly who is in Christ Jesus. Make no mistake, Romans 8:1 revolutionized my walk with him, but as I began growing in Christ, my hunger for the meat of his word drove me beyond “verse one.”

We love God’s promises, grasping them as a sailor who has gone overboard grasps the life preserver, but we aren’t always quite fond of the qualifiers. I call them the “if” passages, even when the word “if” isn’t included.

God’s Promises

Speaking of powerful stuff, God’s promises make the H-bomb seem like a mere candle. 1 Peter 1:3-11 provides a great introduction to God’s promises under the covenant of grace. I can’t tell you how powerfully meditating on it has encouraged me during my occasional lapses of faith. Here’s the link to a topical search for “Promises of God.” Pursuing a study of those Scripture passages will greatly reinforce your faith. If you feel you’ve never witnessed God’s power, making his promises part of your life will knock you off your worldly feet.

Free Love

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11

A social movement existed in the ’60s and ’70s called, “the Free Love Movement.” In fact, it was quite social indeed, producing rampant “social” diseases and unwed pregnancies, and millions of broken hearts. I know that because I would have liked to be part of it, but I’ve never been a candidate for the “World’s Greatest Lover” prize; I was way too shy to go after that one. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a true social movement like the feminist and civil rights movements, but simply flaunted promiscuous sexual practices that had always been hidden for the benefit of polite society.

Also strictly speaking, “free love,” as in sexual promiscuity, was never free. Besides the costs listed above, it enabled the HIV/AIDS virus to freely spread from Africa to the more developed nations, and then to expand at epidemic rates here.

But there is another kind of “free love” that is truly free, and oddly enough, the most costly of all loves.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

In case you’ve forgotten, the Son that Jesus spoke of is Jesus himself, the eternal Word of God made flesh. And to what did God give him over? Only the worst torture and death that both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman occupiers could devise.  And why did Jesus have to suffer so? Because he was the only one who could fulfill for us the absolute righteousness that God requires, without which we have no hope for salvation.

In simple terms, Jesus traded his righteousness for our unrighteousness, then submitted to God’s wrath in payment for the guilt-debt we had accrued. He actually loves me, you, and all of humanity, that much.

Hard to believe, eh? That’s why God’s Holy Spirit gives us just a glimpse of our depraved condition (that’s called “conviction”), and enough of a faith-boost to think that, just maybe, his salvation is for you and me. Then, if you grab that hope and run the race he has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2) throughout the New Testament, faithful to the end, his promise is yours … forever.

C.S. Lewis on Prayer

TO DR. F. MORGAN ROBERTS: On Lewis’s own rules about prayer.
31 July 1954

I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put ‘last thing at night’. (2) To avoid introspection in prayer—I mean not to watch one’s own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outwards to God. (3) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Like Uncle Jack, who claimed to be unfit to give advice on prayer, I am possibly the least qualified to lecture anyone on how to pray, so this isn’t a how-to piece, or at least that isn’t my intention. I just want to share a couple of things that draw me closer to my Father.

Lewis offered sound advice in his letter to Dr. Roberts, as far as it went. Step one requires some trimming and sorting of your chores. Like giving, prayer is easy to procrastinate until either it doesn’t happen, or it becomes relegated to left-overs. And no, God won’t punish you for giving him your left-overs, but he won’t bless you, either.

Step two requires some discipline, and lots of practice. In one way it’s similar to falling asleep; it won’t happen as long as you’re thinking about it. Lewis’ steps two and four are so closely related that they could be two, and two-a. To avoid monitoring your prayer style you must meditate on the pray-ee, not on the pray-er. You must not gage in any way your “success” in prayer. It’s not performance-based. Which takes us to the next step.

Step three is true of both emotions and methods. Though will-power in the context in which Lewis used it—the teeth-gritting, grunting effort of a weight lifter—is inappropriate, clearing the way for genuine emotional intercourse with your Father begins with the will to do it. And again, meditation on him figuratively ushers you into his presence. Once your mind is staid on him, you’d have to be a robot not to receive a groundswell of emotion.

As to his step four: Praying without words suggests to me Romans 8:26-27. My experience tells me that I must meditate on God—who he is and what he has done, both for the world and for me personally—before I begin unrolling my shopping list. God’s attributes alone are enough to blow your mind, and when you keep envisioning his nature more and more deeply, somehow your shopping list becomes trivial by comparison. Scripture is an integral part of this meditation, so keep a list of passages that you have found meaningful, especially those dealing with his (literally) awesome qualities and works.

Please forgive me; for not being a how-to piece, that’s a lot of how-tos. I never realized I had so much to say on the subject of prayer. Now I need to take my own advice, and Uncle Jack’s, as well.