Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

How God Is Not Like the News Media

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 4:7
Full Text: Ps. 4 + Ps. 5 + Ps. 9 + Ps. 10

Turning on the News | Over the weekend, while waiting for Hurricane Irene, most of us were glued to the news, trying to get as much information as possible to allay our fears. Yet, how reliable were our sources – television, internet, radio? As Adam Gopnik suggests, not very. After all, he argues, the real purpose of the news is “not to get you to do anything, but to get you so scared that all you can do is keep the television, or radio, on” [1].

Turning to the Lord | Going to God for guidance is not like watching the news in – at least – three important ways. First, God doesn’t merely watch and guess what’s coming; He decides what’s coming. As David sang, “The LORD reigns forever … proclaim among the nations what he has done” [2]. Second, He’s not trying to get our attention through fear so that His ratings will go up; He wants us to run to Him fearlessly because He knows that what we’re really looking for isn’t information – but true safety and happiness – and He knows that we’ll only find those things in Him. As David prayed, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” [3] and, “[L]et all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy … For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield” [4]. Finally, God doesn’t just tell or show us what’s coming; He talks with us about it. He hears our fears and responds to them. As David also prayed, “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him” [5] and, “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” [6].

Prayer | Lord, We confess that, although You’re an ever present help in trouble, we often search other sources for hope. Yet, their information only makes us more anxious because it’s inadequate. Only You can give us true peace, comfort, confidence and safety. So, lift our eyes to the cross as we see Jesus securing our certain future and relationship with You. Amen.

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[1] Adam Gopnik, “Hurricane Irene: Storm Warnings.” The New Yorker. 28 August 2011. After taking a month-long sabbatical in Cape Cod in a house without internet or television, Gopnik was reminded of two obvious things about the news: (1) “that the media, television particularly, are amplifying devices in which tiny kernels of information become vast, terrifying structures of speculation,” and (2) “that the reasons for this are essentially non-ideological; frightened people need news for reassurance, and want to get a more heightened experience by being frightened still more, and the business the people supplying the fright are in … is not really that of dispensing information but of assembling enough listeners or readers, preferably still caught in the same spirit of credulous attentiveness, to offer to advertisers to keep subscribing.”  |  [2] Ps. 9:7, 11 NIV 1984  |  [3] Ps. 4:7 NIV 1984  |  [4]  Ps. 5:11-12 NIV 1984  |  [5]  Ps. 4:3 NIV 1984  |  [6]  Ps. 5:1-3 NIV 1984

August 30, 2011

He Won’t Stop Working on You Until He’s Done

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Chron. 28:9
Full Text: 1 Chron. 28:1-29:20 + 2 Sam 23:1-7

Hurricanes | As it turned out, Hurricane Irene wasn’t all that bad for NYC. Yes, there was damage and inconvenience but – compared to Katrina in New Orleans or Ivan in Pensacola (my hometown) – Irene was mild [1]. No matter its weakness, however, as we anticipated its landing, Irene caused some of us to think about life, meaning, providence and love.

Legacy | As David neared the end of his life, he was thinking about similar things. He wanted to make sure his son Solomon sought God’s kingdom: “Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you” [2]. And he wanted to make sure his people pursued God’s presence. So, he encouraged them to contribute to the Temple by telling them about the great riches he had already given. Knowing that God had inspired their love and generosity, David thanked God: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” [3].

Christ | David didn’t all of a sudden decide he was passionately in love with God at the end of his life. Rather, throughout his life, God shaped David’s heart to love Him more and more and to know that everything came from Him – even his offerings. Most of us are the same. We may have stops and starts, but God uses our experiences to teach us throughout our lives that He’ll be our help and refuge, joy and delight, savior and shepherd. And, thankfully, He has promised that He won’t stop working in us until He’s done: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Although the circumstances of our lives are unpredictable and confusing, You are constant and faithful. We may waver in our faith and love for You, but You aren’t finished with us yet. Give us opportunities and experiences that draw us to You and shape our hearts to increasingly love and know You. Help us to cherish all that You are and all that You give us, especially salvation in Christ. Amen.

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[1] As one New Yorker tweeted, “If it weren’t for Internet and cable news, how many NYers would know hurricane just passed through?”  Geoff Berman, RTed by NYMetro. Here.  |  [2] 1 Chron. 28:9 ESV  |  [3] 1 Chron. 29:14 NIV  |  [4] Phil. 1:6 NIV

August 29, 2011

The Providence of God

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Chron. 26:13
Full Text: 1 Chron 26-27

Lots | Israel’s center of worship was the Temple. Not only was it the place where the high priest made atonement for the nation, it was also the place that symbolized God’s presence with His people [1]. Thus, everything about the Temple was precious and sacred and, therefore, everything about it was handled with care and holiness. Yet, when it came to picking gatekeepers, the Israelites merely cast lots like drawing straws: “These divisions of the gatekeepers … had duties for ministering in the temple of the LORD … Lots were cast for each gate, according to their families” [2]. Was this appropriate decision-making or were they being flippant?

Providence | Although the law had many regulations concerning the Temple, it said nothing about how to pick the gatekeepers. Thus, it was perfectly appropriate for them to cast lots. As Solomon wrote, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” [3]. Although we have absolute freedom in our decision-making, even the smallest things are determined by God. His providence governs the world and everything in it [4], which is good news for those who trust in Him. As the Heidelberg Catechism confesses: 

  • What do you mean by “the providence of God”? The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
  • What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold, all things? That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot as so much as move [5].

Prayer | Lord, We praise You for Your providence – especially in small decisions where we don’t have clear direction from the Bible. If everything in our lives depended on us alone, we would be hopeless. So, we thank You for Your great love that somehow has given us freedom in the midst of Your providence. Amen.

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[1] Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, which was the portable shrine that symbolized the dwelling place of the LORD. Laden with gold and holy to the touch (e.g., Uzzah), the Ark contained the two tablets of Moses, the rod of Aaron, and a pot of manna – thus, reminding the people of God’s faithfulness in carrying them through the wilderness, across the Red Sea and into the Promised Land.  |  [2] 1 Chron. 26:12-13 NIV  |  [3] Prov. 16:33 NIV  |  [4] For a wonderful sermon about how we are absolutely free and absolutely determined at the same time and about how confusing that is to us, see Tim Keller, “Your Plans; God’s Plans.” 12 December 2004. Also, evidence of God’s providence in governing the world is found throughout the Bible – the ravens (1 Kgs 17:4); a plant and a worm (Jonah 4:6-7); flies (Ex. 8:21); famine and hail and locusts (Ps. 105:16, 32, 34); a bee (Is. 7:18); the wind and the sea (Mk. 4:41); spirits (Mk. 1:27); kings (Dan. 2:21); the universe (Heb. 1:3).  |  [5] Questions 27 & 28 of The Heidelberg Confession. For full text and supporting Scripture, see here.

August 26, 2011

Where do you find God?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Chron. 23:1
Full Text: 1 Chron. 23-25

Search | Once you’ve taken the leap of faith and decided that God exists, where do you find Him? At the beach or the park? Among widows and orphans? One website suggests learning “the language of a pet” as a “unique way” to experience God [1]. Which one of these ways – if any – is right?

Temple | Although David wanted to build a house for the Lord, God didn’t let him: “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? … The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish his kingdom forever” [2]. Then, “when David was old and full of years, he made his son Solomon king over Israel” [3], giving him instructions about the Temple and its personnel. In 957 BCE, Solomon finished the Temple, but after the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BCE, Darius the Great rebuilt it in 515 BCE. Thus, for hundreds of years, Israelite worship centered on the Temple, which was the physical symbol of God’s presence with His people.

Advocate | Then Jesus came and spoke controversially about the Temple. He talked about destroying and rebuilding it in three days [4] and about the primacy of how we worship over where we worship [5]. Moreover, He spoke of Himself as a priest, offering access to God [6] and forgiveness of sins [7]. Although such blasphemy got Him destroyed, He was rebuilt in three days and ascended into heaven. Today, Jesus sits at the right hand of God and, therefore, we don’t need to go through a priest at a temple to find God; instead, God receives us directly into His presence. As Jesus said, “[Y]ou will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you” [8].

Prayer | Lord, You command us to be holy as You are holy. Yet, we have no righteousness of our own. Thus, we praise You for accepting Christ’s righteousness for us. Although You don’t care where we worship, You care how we worship. Therefore, give us Your Spirit and Truth so that You are the center of our worship. Amen.

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[1] Daniel Rebant, Finding God in Nature.  |  [2] 2 Sam. 7:5-6, 11-13 NIV  |  [3] 1 Chron. 23:1 NIV  |  [4] See Jn. 2  |  [5] See Jn. 4:20ff  |  [6] See Jn. 14:6; Heb. 10:19-20; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1; Heb. 4:15-16; Jn. 14:6.  |  [7] See Mk. 2; Mt. 9  |  [8] Jn. 16:26-27 NIV

August 25, 2011

In the Waiting Room

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 2 Sam. 24:10
Full Text: 2 Sam. 24 + 1 Chron. 21-22

Trust | Everyone longs for something – single people want spouses, married people want children, unemployed people want jobs, aging people want health. No matter who you are, you want something. Yet, God has made a spectacular promise to you as you sit in the waiting room: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” [1]. And no one knew this better than David, who defeated a giant with a mere slingshot and waited years to be enthroned: “Now this I know … Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” [2].

Census | When David took a census of his military, however, he revealed a less than confident heart in God’s promises to act on his behalf. Worried about his succession and power, he decided to count his great army. After nine months and twenty days, Joab reported there were 1.3 million soldiers in Israel and Judah. No sooner than the words were given, however, David was convicted: “David was conscience-stricken after he counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing’” [3].

Mercy | Not only did David have faith that God was worth more than a million soldiers, he also knew that God was merciful – even when his faith wavered. Therefore, as he faced the Lord’s discipline for his actions, he said, “Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great” [4]. Thus, seventy thousand people died of plague – until the Lord proclaimed, “Enough!” [5] and stayed His hand. As David knew, “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” [6].

Prayer | Lord, As we sit in the waiting room, increase our faith so that we know to trust in You, not count our chariots. And when our faith wavers in our confidence, forgive us and run quickly to love us. For we know that, although Your mercy didn’t come cheaply on the cross, it did come freely and generously because Christ shed His blood and then You proclaimed, “Enough!” [7] Your love satisfies Your judgment. Amen.

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[1] Is. 64:4 NIV | [2] Ps. 20:6, 7 NIV | [3] 2 Sam. 24:10 NIV | [4] 2 Sam. 24:14 NIV | [5] 2 Sam. 24:16 NIV | [6] Ps. 145:8 NIV | [7] Literally, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30 NIV)

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