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When Christians Fail: Psalm 37:23-24

 

Have you ever attempted something and failed? For me, it’s controlling my appetite, losing weight, and getting enough exercise. I’ve been sick for a whole month, mostly sitting or lying around at home. I feel really bad. And I feel like a failure.

The current theme of this blog is how God through his Spirit speaks directly into our hearts as we read his Word. Today this principle was illustrated. As I was studying biblical word usage this morning in a technical way not related to the theme, these two verses popped up. I felt the Lord poking into my heart.

LXE Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are rightly ordered by the Lord: and he will take pleasure in his way. 24 When he falls, he shall not be ruined: for the Lord supports his hand.

Rewritten for a female child of God, the same verses sound like this:

The steps of God’s child are rightly ordered by the Lord: and he will take pleasure in her way. When she falls, she shall not be ruined: for the Lord supports her hand.

When my little granddaughter was a toddler who had just learned to walk, I so enjoyed holding her hand as the family took our little trips down the sidewalks of town. I had to pay good attention and not let the sights distract me, because once in a while she would stumble and completely lose her balance, body beginning to fall. Because I held her hand securely, she was safe.

God is like this. He firmly grasps our hand as we walk through life. He takes great pleasure going along beside us. He’s delighted to be with us, holding our hand and guiding our walk. Sometimes we do trip and fall. We fail in our endeavors, or we make bad mistakes. But these two verses teach that our stumbling will not destroy us. God is firmly grasping our hand in protection, and he always helps us back to our feet.

God’s personal message to me this morning: Don’t berate yourself; I love you in spite of all your shortcomings and failures, and this is not the last page of the book of your life. I am still here beside you, and I will never let you go. I love you.

That’s enough for me. God’s love is sufficient.

How Do You KNOW That God Exists?

 

“Gramma, how do you know that God exists?”

My dear, sweet granddaughter, only five years old, you are asking an age old question whose answer no one agrees on. Basically, I think, there are two kinds of people. There are those who look out at the world, and they see the world. There are others who look out at the world, and they have a great desire to know who made the world.

The first group feels no need to think there’s a maker. They don’t know that God exists. Neither do they know that he doesn’t exist. It just happens that they’re happy enough without him.

The second group is not satisfied and never will be until they meet the one who made the world. How do they know that someone made the world? They don’t. It’s just the only explanation that makes sense to them, because the world bears the imprint of God. Why these two groups? Only God knows.

How do people in the second group–we can call them believers–how do believers know that God exists? By faith. What is faith? Faith is choosing to believe in God even when you don’t know. Faith is desiring God. Here is what the Bible teaches about faith.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Believers know God as a person. Ask any believer and they will tell you that by some means or another God has spoken to them and changed their life somehow. This is how they know that God exists. God is invisible Spirit. He cannot be known by the five senses nor deduced by measurement. He is not an intellectual conclusion. He is a Being who speaks, hears, and acts. All believers have experienced some sort of interaction with God that amazes them. This amazement persists throughout the remainder of their lives.

Now, after a person becomes a believer, that is, after they experience their initial transaction with God or become aware of his presence in them, then there are a multitude of ways that knowing God exists gets reinforced throughout their lives. Here are some of those ways.

  1. They hear the stories of many, many other believers which in some ways match their own story.
  2. They read the Bible and experience the voice of God speaking directly to them through its words.
  3. They read the Bible and notice how incredibly well each part supports and interacts with other parts.
  4. They read the Bible and are convinced by the prophecies it contains.
  5. They experience miracles in their lives or hear first hand from people who have had miracles happen to them.
  6. They feel an influence upon their minds, hearts, and behaviors that makes most sense as coming from God.
  7. Good things happen to them. When bad things happen, they know they are not alone. They find that God helps them through the bad stuff.
  8. God continues to speak to them in such a way that they know it’s him. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3 ESV)
  9. Something convinces them that God has heard them thinking.
  10. Prayers get answered.
  11. They sense God’s presence.
  12. They’re happier than they have ever been before they knew God.

My little one, the best way I know for you to know that God exists is to speak with him. Tell him that you want to know that he exists, but you don’t know how. Actually speak to him. Address him respectfully by name. Be honest with him and tell him where you’re at. If you find in your heart that you would like to know God, then be patient–God will reveal himself to you, just as Jesus promised.

If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. (John 7:17 NET)

Let me explain that verse to you. God wants everyone to know him. If you want to know God, then he will show himself to you. If you want to know God, just ask him. If you’re not sure that you want to know God, but you think you might perhaps like to know him, then tell him that. God loves you, and he would love for you to turn to him. He is not a monster, and he won’t eat you alive.

So to answer your question, how do I know that God exists, I know that he exists because when I talk to him, he answers me. When I talk to you and you answer me, I don’t say, “How do I know my granddaughter exists?” I know you exist because I know you. It’s the same way with God.

 

 

What Profit Is There in Reading a Devotional Written by Another?

The title and core ideas are from an article I wrote on a prior blog.

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What profit is there in reading a devotional written by someone else?

Short answer: not much. Long answer: when used correctly, lots. Let me explain.

The whole Bible is about people becoming established in right relationship with God. Genesis opens with God’s account of creation, followed immediately by his account of how humanity lost its intimate relationship with Him. Christ’s life on earth, His atonement for our sin, His resurrection, and His future second coming will finally reestablish and secure what was lost. However, no person will ever be brought back to close communion with God solely because they are a member of the human race. Each person must come to God’s saving grace individually and personally.

God is Spirit. Because Christ has been revealed and the Holy Spirit has come, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must all be born from above.” (NET  John 3:7)

Being “born from above” means that something happens between the Spirit of God and a person’s heart. A life giving transaction occurs.

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him (NET).

It follows that reading a devotional written by someone else, assuming that it has its basis in truth, will do a person no good, unless the person has a like interaction with God. A devotional is useful as a sign pointing to a meeting place with God. A devotional provides a location from which the view of God is good. The goal of all devotionals should be to lead the reader to his or her own private audience with God.

I think of driving a car through a mountainous landscape. On mountainous roads, travelers often come across a sign announcing an area set aside for vehicles to pull off and park, so they may enjoy a spectacular viewpoint. This is why, for example, I write my thoughts on Psalms. Because the viewpoint I present is not well known, I want to stand with a sign pointing others to vistas of great opportunity, namely, reading the psalms with an ear toward hearing the invitation by Father and Son for the reader to join them in a dialogue of life giving fellowship.

A devotional is like a crib sheet that helps someone get started in a certain direction. For example, many years ago when I was just beginning my Christian walk, I read C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I read it without guidance. A short while later, I told a Christian friend that I had just finished the book. He asked me if I had seen the allegory of the life of Jesus Christ in it. Astounded, I told him that I hadn’t. I rushed back to the book and urgently read it again from this new vantage. What an entirely different reading experience I had as the book came to life for me under the guidance of that bit of information my friend had given!

Reading a devotional can have a similar effect to what I described above. Imagine that you are a hiker walking through forests, meadows, and brush. I or someone else crosses your path as you hike. We stop to talk. “Did you know,” I say, “that God is sitting in that clearing just over there? If you go to him now, right down this little path,” and I point to where I mean, “you’ll be able to meet with him yourself. As soon as you leave me, go down this path here, and see if you don’t find God waiting for you just over there.”

This is why I write about Psalms.

Poverty of Spirit as Psychic Pain

This is a reprint of an article I wrote on a different page on March 11, 2015.

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Quickie Peek: Poverty of spirit is not something a person can either fake or force, yet someone who has it knows they have it. How? By what I call their psychic pain. We live in an era of “me-ism.” The world sells us the concept that we must build ourselves up in our own eyes. But when our world is not right, either within or without, we suffer, because we hurt. Yet our internal world can never be right, because the world itself is not right. That’s when Jesus comes along and says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Scripture: NIV  Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Meat: So is Jesus saying that pain is good? Or that we should cultivate pain, as certain medieval monks used to do? Not at all. Pain hurts, and the hurt tells us that it is not good. But the poverty of spirit which results from a pain-filled life is good, not good in and of itself, but good because it is a door, a gateway to what Christ offers–the kingdom of heaven. Let’s look at how this works.

First, the setting. We are created; God is not. God is the life-giver; we are the life-receivers. But Jesus as man is also God, and God the Father ordained that Jesus, who is God-in-flesh, or God incarnate, should have life in himself to give to others. He alone of all humanity has life independently in himself, and this life is his to give to whomever he chooses to give it. (1) He chooses to give eternal life to those who are poor in spirit. That is God’s choice, not ours.

But poverty of spirit can be a difficult concept to grasp. It is the opposite of spiritual pride. Spiritual pride manifests itself as independence: I don’t need anyone’s help, because I can do this myself. Or, worse yet, I don’t need God’s help, because I am god, or, I am as good as God, or as some might even say, I am better than God. Spiritual pride is Satan’s manifesto, but Satan is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

Poverty of spirit comes through failure: failure in life, failure to overcome pain, failure in relationships, failure to achieve happiness, just plain failure. People who persistently fail tend not to have high ideas of themselves, but to think of themselves in lowly words. Luke 18:9-14 provides a good example of the difference between spiritual poverty and spiritual pride. The spiritually poor man, “…would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner,’” while the spiritually rich man congratulated himself on being better than others.

Once again, pain of any kind is not good, and it signals that something is wrong. The psychic pain that results from a sense of spiritual poverty also is not good in and of itself, and it, too, signals that something is wrong. But a spiritually poor person is one who realizes, “I am what is wrong!” Jesus calls this spiritually poor person “blessed.” How so? Because those who are spiritually poor shall receive the kingdom of heaven.

That is because a spiritually poor person is in perfect position to cry out to Jesus, or to God the Father, for help. If he cries to the Father, the Father will point him to the Son. The Son, Jesus, has life in himself, abundant life, to give to everyone and anyone who cries to him for help: “Lord, help me! I need your help!” And the good news is that God always hears and responds to such a cry for help. (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13)

Inexpressible blessings of peace and joy await the one who lays down her arms, her weapons of life, and submits to God the Father and God the Son. These blessings completely overwhelm the pain and sadness of life itself. Although actual conditions and circumstances may or may not change, a new Person has come upon the scene in the unfathomably deep  intimacy, support, love, and blessing of Relationship. This is the “kingdom of heaven” Jesus grants to the blessedly poor in spirit. And the kingdom is so wonderful that those who pass through its gates willingly offer, as a sacrifice of praise and love, allegiance to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, eternally.

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1 RSV  John 10:10b I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

NIV  John 17:2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

John 6:37, 51; 10:28; 17:2.

See also Derek Prince, Bought with Blood: The Divine Exchange at the Cross, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2000), 75. He mentions 1 Corinthians 15:45.

Psalm 142: You Are Not Alone–Help Is on Its Way

 

Have you ever or are you now being pursued by an enemy who is too strong for you? Perhaps an employer who has it out for you, maybe a violently irrational spouse who blames you for everything, could it be a sibling who wants your share, or even, God forbid, a pastor who views you as a personal threat and is bent upon shaming and eradicating you? These people hotly track you down like a predator its prey. They lay traps before you, that you will fall into them, become ensnared, and succumb to their violence. Hyperbole? Not really. This and so much more happens countless times every day to people all over the world. And it happened to Jesus. Crafty lawyers and religious politicians monitored his every step, lurking nearby whenever he publicly spoke, secretly meeting and plotting in advance, asking difficult questions calculated only to trap in order to later destroy.

The most amazing thing about Psalm 142 is that the Bible contains it. Imagine yourself overpowered  by your enemies, at your wits’ end, looking to your right and finding no one to help you–no colleagues, no friends, no family, no neighbors, no one in your congregation of fellow believers. Where are they? Vanished like a mist on a scorching, dry day. You are alone, vulnerable, like a mouse already in the cat’s claw. So you turn to the only friend you have–he is someone you have just met, are about to meet, or whom you have known for a long time. You turn to God.

Who else can hear you? Who else can you trust? To whom else can you bare the secret insides of every crevice of fear and anguish in your heart? You open your Bible and you read the words of this psalm.

Psalm 142:1 A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer. With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.
5 I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. (ESV)

The Holy Spirit reaches into your conscious awareness as you say these words, perhaps even out loud because no one else is with you, “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!'” (verses 5-6 ESV)

As you gradually recognize your very own personal heart staring at you from the page in front of you, it dawns on you that God is the one who oversaw the printing and publishing of this book you are holding in your hands. And he is the one who caused you to read these exact words at this exact moment of your despair. And if you are very blessed, the Holy Spirit will show you Jesus, God the Father’s own Son, crying out to his Father in the days of his ministry and passion on earth. As the physical presence of Psalm 142 sinks into you, You sense God speaking inside you, “I have been there and done this. I am with you now.” And you are no longer alone. God the Word, the great communicator, speaks loudly and clearly to your heart, “Peace, my child. I see you; I hear you; I know exactly where you are. I love you so much, and I will help you. See! I seal my love with the cross of my Son.”

When the story ends and the crisis has passed, you will share your testimony in the great congregation and the righteous will cheer their God on your behalf, just as verse 7 predicts, “The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” You might even add to your story the words of Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” “Statutes” is a tough word. Which statute is it that God wants me to learn? In his Son’s own words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV) Our troubles teach us love–first, that God loves us, second, that he loves others and wants us to love them too. As we see God helping us through all our difficulties, we come to realize that God loves us, and he wants us to love others the same way he loved us. And this is why I am writing about Psalm 142. I want to share God’s love.

 

 

 

Psalm 82: God Favors the Poor and Needy

 

Psalm 82 raises puzzling questions: 1) Who are the “gods” of verses 1 and 6, the mighty ones among whom God stands? 2) Who is the first person speaker in verse 6? 3) What is the meaning of the final verse, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!”

1) In view of John 10:31-39, a passage in which Jesus quotes verse 1 of this psalm, the “gods” are the judges and rulers who stand in the place of God as arbiters over the affairs of people. Because of their power and their need to represent justice fairly, it is as though they are “gods” in relation to other people. But they are botching the job. They are judging unfairly and favoring the “wicked.” We can read into the psalm that the judges are favoring the rich, the powerful, those with influence, those who offer favors in return, and so on.

God favors the poor and needy. This psalm is very clear. God’s indictment is against the rulers who are so unlike himself. God says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God continues, They [the gods/judges] have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82:3-5 ESV) When human rulers go against God’s goodness and his kindness toward the poor, the very “foundations of the earth are shaken.”

2) Is the “I” who speaks in verse 6 the same as God who speaks in verses 2-5? Patrick Reardon (Christ in the Psalms, 161-162) points out that the Orthodox Church recites Psalm 82 in their Easter liturgy just before the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ in Matthew. He relates that the Orthodox Church applies verse 8, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (ESV),” as a cry by God’s people for the resurrection of Christ. If Christ is addressed as “O God” in verse 8, perhaps then he is also the speaker of verses 6-7?

3) The New Testament supports a reading that Christ is referenced as the one who shall inherit all the nations in verse 8. (Matthew 28:18; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 5:5; Philippians 2:9-11) If Christ is indeed referenced in verses 6-8, then this psalm supports the presence of two persons of the Trinity within the Old Testament.

The Point: However we may choose to answer the questions Psalm 82 raises, the psalm leaves no question about God’s view of the poor and needy. Neglect and mistreatment of the poor and needy by those with power to help provokes the judgment of God against those who hold the power. God does not view the poor and needy as a threat, a danger, as scum, as those to be locked out and avoided. His instructions are clear,  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82 promises a day of judgment in which God will judge the judges. This psalm warns them that he is not pleased with their judgments. O that we would be a godly nation who obeyed his Word.

 

 

 

 

 

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