Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

How God Can Take Our Rending Hearts

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 83:1
Full Text: Ps 80 + Ps 83

Silence | The Israelites were surrounded by their enemies. They felt like God was silent – not giving them any assurance that He would save or rescue them. As Asaph pled, “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still” [1]. Would God be silent right when His people needed Him the most? No. He would never be silent or quiet or still when it came to acting on behalf of His people. Yet, He allowed Asaph to write down his feelings in Israeli’s hymnbook. Rather than ignoring their confusion, they were to sing it back to Him. This is astounding.

Lovingkindness | One pastor showed how remarkable this is by an analogy. He asked his audience to imagine a loving wife who told her husband about times when she felt his absence – when her mother died, when the children were problematic, when difficulties arose with friends. Then, he asked, “Now, what if your husband said, ‘You know, that is such a good point. Let’s write a poem about that, and we’ll sing it every morning’? Well, after you picked yourself up off the floor you’d wonder what was going on! And, you see, God, who is innocent of any and all of those kinds of charges, still says, ‘I understand that My people think that there are times when I’m silent and still when they need Me. I’m not. I’m working when they’re sleeping. I’m watching when they’re blind. I’m undertaking for them when they don’t have the ability in and of themselves to put one foot in front of the other. I know that My people feel that way. So, Asaph, you write it down in the Book, you put it in the songbook of the people of God, and you have the people of God sing it to Me. I can take that, because I’m their God and I care. And I want them to know that I care, and I want them to know that I can take it when their hearts are rending and they need to cry out to Me because they’re not sure that I’m there for them, even though I am’” [2].

Prayer | Lord, Your lovingkindness is overwhelming. Yet, that’s hard to see when our future seems uncertain. In those moments, therefore, grow our faith to believe what we cannot see – that You are here – as we sing songs to You. Amen.

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[1] Ps. 83:1 NIV 1984  |  [2] Ligon Duncan, God Help Us. Sermon, 8 January 2006 (evening), Psalm 83.

September 29, 2011

How to Move from Despairing to Praising

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 77:11-12
Full Text: Ps 74 + Ps 77 + Ps 79

Despondency | In Psalm 77, the psalmist is miserable: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever?” [1] Yet, by the end, he worships: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” [2]. How did he get from despondency to praise? He intentionally recalled God’s work: “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” [3].

Memory | As John Piper notes, there’s a difference between passive and active remembering. Passive remembering says, “I recall what God did, but it doesn’t change how I feel.” Active remembering, however, says, “I will call to mind that my Lord Jesus … hung on a Roman cross of torture and execution in horrible pain next to a man who had lived a life of sin … that the thief next to him said, for some wonderful and inexplicable reason (for he was cursing at first), ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ I will meditate on the grace of God that brought that change of heart. I will muse on how unlikely that was and how hopeless that request was. I will talk to myself about how this man had no time to become good and deserving before he died. I will think about what kind of grace he thought might be available from this dying Christ. Then I will remember … that Jesus said to the thief, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’ And I will praise here and muse on his answer a long time … This is a wonder. Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. He is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Forgive our skimming over Your great works and cause us to remember Your deeds, so that we are rooted in Your greatness and can weather the storms of our despondency. Amen.

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[1] Ps. 77:7-9 NIV 1984  |  [2] Ps. 77:13-14 ff NIV 1984  |  [3] Ps. 77:11-12 NIV 1984  |  [4] John Piper, “I Will Meditate on All Your Work and Muse on All Your Deeds.” Sermon, 2 January 2000.

September 28, 2011

When the Reality Replaces the Shadow

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 24:3-4
Full Text: Ps. 122 + Ps. 24 + Ps. 68

Mirrors and Reflections | Today, we see God’s glory as a poor reflection in a mirror [1] – inferring His mystery from the stars, His grandeur from the mountains, His love from our relationships, His power from the seas. There will come a day, however, when the inference will be replaced by the reality. God Himself will live among us and we’ll see Him face to face. His glory will be our light: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” [2].

Clean Hands and Pure Hearts | Yet, who will enjoy this direct experience of God? As David asked, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?” [3] At first glace, David’s answer seems hopeless: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” [4]. After all, who among us has clean hands and a pure heart? Before despairing, however, let’s consider David himself – a man after God’s own heart who committed adultery, covered it up with murder, and failed to discipline his children. Obviously, based on his own actions, David wasn’t a man with clean hands and a pure heart. Rather, as David knew, he was blameless in God’s sight because God had forgiven him: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit there is no deceit” [5].

Prayer | Lord, Like David, our hands are dirty and our hearts are filthy. As Jesus taught, we’re unclean because of the things that come from our mouths and reveal our hearts [6]. We’re sinfully and hopelessly imperfect. Yet, in Christ, You came to wash our hands and purify our hearts. By his blood, You freely and willingly and joyfully offer us forgiveness so that we can be like David – forgiven sinners who are justified by faith and made ready to ascend Your holy hill. Therefore, we thank You for not merely changing our bad habits, but for changing our hearts through the Spirit, as You make us more and more like You. Amen.

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[1] 1 Cor. 13:12  |  [2] Rev. 21:22-26 NIV 1984  |  [3] Ps. 24:3-4 NIV 1984  |  [4] Ps. 24:3-4 NIV 1984  |  [5] Ps. 32:102 NIV 1984  |  [6] Jesus, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’” (Matt. 15:18-20 NIV 1984) (see also Matt. 12:33-36 – a good tree produces good fruit, a bad tree produces bad fruit, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks … For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”)

September 27, 2011

Our Father Who Art in Heaven

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 103:13-14
Full Text: Ps 103 + Ps 145

Fathers | What would it be like to have an absent or bad father? Thankfully, I don’t know because my dad is wonderful. One of my brothers, however, does know what it’s like. Although our dad was great, my brother now works at the Big Oak Ranch in Alabama as a parent to three teenage boys whose biological fathers are derelicts. There are boys all over the Ranch whose dads refuse to speak to their sons or make promises and don’t follow through. My brother and sister-in-law raise the boys who live with them as their own – alongside my niece (their biological daughter) and nephew (their adopted son from Vietnam).

Image | God designed fatherhood to communicate something about Himself: As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” [1]. After all, the Lord was God the Father to the Son before He was God the Creator to Adam. Thus, when we see good fathers, we see shadows of what God is like. Yet, God knows that the image is not the reality; He knows that fathers are like dust because their days are short and imperfect: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” [2]. Thus, good fathers recognize their brevity and point their children beyond themselves to God: “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” [3].

Prayer | Lord, We all come from different backgrounds with different experiences with our fathers. Although You designed fatherhood to tell us something about Your compassion and love, some of us have a hard time understanding what You’re trying to communicate because we have had absent or bad fathers. Heal our wounds and give us fresh eyes to see You as our Father and, as we increasingly understand Your fatherly love, help us to love those whom You have entrusted to our care by pointing them beyond us and to You and Your everlasting care and love. Amen.

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[1] Ps. 103: 13-14 NIV 1984 | [2] Ps. 103:15-16 NIV 1984 | [3] Ps. 103:17-18 NIV 1984

September 26, 2011

How to Wait on the Lord

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ps. 20:7
Full Text: Ps 20 + Ps 21 + Ps 144

Waiting | God repeatedly tells us to wait on Him. Over the summer, I realized that I didn’t really know what that meant. Yes, I was praying for certain things, but my prayers were mainly lip service because – in truth – I was trying to make things happen on my own. When I got frustrated, I knew things had to change. So I spent most of my summer learning to wait on God.

Looking | I learned that waiting on God always means looking to Him. Rather than immediately turning to research or friends, waiting looks to God and seeks His counsel. As the Psalmist lamented, “[The Israelites] soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel” [1]. Yet, the posture of waiting is not sitting around and twiddling our thumbs; it’s standing at attention like a soldier looking to a commanding officer or a waiter looking to a restaurant patron: “I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” [2].

Being | Sometimes waiting means being still [3]. For example, when the Israelites saw the Egyptian warriors and chariots behind them and the Red Sea before them, they didn’t know what to do. Thus, God said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” [4]. Then, He parted the sea, led them across it, and drowned the Egyptians.

Acting | Sometimes, however, God calls us to act. Yet, even in our acting, waiting relies on Him [5]. Thus, the Psalmist reflected, “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save … We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name” [6].

Prayer | Lord, Answer us when we are in distress. Send help from Your sanctuary. Give us the desires of our hearts. For although some trust in chariots and some in horses, we trust in the name of the LORD our God. You will lift us up to stand firm. Thus, we wait on You, seeking Your face, being still, and relying on You even as we act [7]. Amen.

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[1] Ps. 106:13 NIV 1984  |  [2] Ps. 5:3 NIV 1984  |  [3] Is. 64:4 (“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.” NIV 1984).  |  [4] Ex. 14:13-14 NIV 1984. See also Is. 30:15.  |  [5] Prov. 21:31 (The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” NIV 1984)  |  [6] Ps. 33:16-22 NIV 1984  |  [7] Prayer adapted from Ps. 20.

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