Thursday, August 22, 2013

Psalm 30

If our Father chastens and corrects those He loves, then Psalm 30 gives us a glimpse of what that can look like. The Psalm begins and ends with praise and victory, but between the alpha and omega of the Psalm are highest highs and lowest lows.

“I will extol You, O Yahweh, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Yahweh my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. O Yahweh, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.” [30:1-3].

While the idea of “enemies” is introduced in verse 1 as the cause of trouble, in the rest of the psalm we read, “…for His anger is but for a moment…You hid Your face, I was dismayed.” It is not only enemies which are the source of David’s distress; it is Yahweh Himself who is causing David trouble.

Sometimes it looks like God plays “hide and seek” – one moment His presence is palpable and the next it is as if He left town with no forwarding address. At times we sense His presence in the house but we don’t know what room He is in and at other times He has His out-of-office message on. What we believe about our Father and Lord Jesus matters, it really really matters when life mirrors Psalm 30 – do we believe the words of God that “I will never leave you or forsake you”?

I was reminded earlier this week that one of the reasons our Father corrects us and applies pressure and suffering to our lives is that we might be “partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). God’s hide-and-seek has purpose, it is intentional – if He hides will we seek? If He applies pressure to our lives will we submit to the hands of the Potter?

In Psalm 139 the psalmist writes, “If I make my bed in Sheol You are there.” We don’t take anything away from hell by acknowledging that we can experience hell on earth anymore than we take anything away from heaven by experiencing moments of heaven on earth. While we may not understand these experiences intellectually, while we may not be able to explain their ins and outs (and more often than not we do better not to attempt explanations – after all, Paul didn’t know if he was in or out of the body when he was caught up to the third heaven), those who follow Jesus will most certainly experience the hide-and-seek of God.

One of the great lessons of God’s hide-and-seek is that He was there all the time, we just didn’t see Him. When He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” He means it. Because He means what He says, because God’s promises are sure and certain, even when our natural eyes cannot see our hands in front of our face our soul can trust our Father and Lord Jesus to care for us, to lead us, to love us, and to keep us – we can live secure in the Cross with an eternal future in Jesus Christ. 

When humans play hide and seek we play it to hide from one another, the player who cannot be found wins the game; when God plays hide and seek He plays to be found, He plays to reveal Himself. Man is perpetually hiding behind fig leaves – God is perpetually unveiling Himself: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” John 1:18.

If you are in the midst of a game of hide-and-seek with God today, know for certain that His goal is for you to trust Him and in that trusting to find Him.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XXIV

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness…No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him…the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appears for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. [From 1John 3:4 – 8].

Here John picks up his earlier theme of sin and obedience, of lawlessness and keeping God’s commandments, of love and hate, of Jesus and the enemy. We wonder why John thinks it necessary to reiterate that, “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in Him,” (2:4). Would today’s churches tolerate this kind of preaching?

Churches that tolerate sin as a way of life are not likely to welcome the straightforward preaching of the Apostle John; nor are churches that believe that lives of sin are the inevitable result of living in a fallen world even though one is a new creation in Jesus Christ. Then there are churches who insist that a special experience will render Christians sinless, they deny the reality of sin and hold to their special experience in the face of the evidence – they welcome some of John’s words but they gloss over 1John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There is a difference between living a life in which sin is the norm and not the exception, and in living a life in Jesus Christ in which righteousness is the norm and sin is the exception. When John writes (3:6) No one who abides in him sins, we know from 1John 1:5 – 2:2 that this does not mean that we will never sin because this earlier passage contains provision for us when we do sin, there is no need for provision for something that is impossible to happen. “…and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”

There is yet another situation in which John’s message is critical, and that is a situation in which our beliefs and our actions are disconnected, in which we believe that what we say we believe (the Bible) and what we do need not correspond to each other, and in which feelings and personal special knowledge validate the things we do – whether or not those things are in obedience to God’s commands. In this milieu what I feel about something, or the special knowledge I have about something, is more important than my obedience to Jesus Christ. This is the age in which we live. How else can we explain the rampant sexual activity outside of marriage in the professing church? How else can we understand the entertainment choices professing Christians make and the images they expose themselves and their children to? How else can we view the disrespectful and disdainful attitude that many Christians have to those in civic authority? How else can we explain the failure of Christians to responsibly share the Gospel with those around them?

John writes in 3:7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;” Read the entire letter of John at one sitting and count the number of times the theme of keeping God’s commands arises, it is a theme of the letter, obedience to the commandments of our Father and of Jesus Christ, an obedience enabled by the Holy Spirit, is a dominant theme. Unlike the Law of Moses, this is a theme born of the Holy Spirit dwelling in God’s people, the covenant is internal and not external, it is the call and response of heart relationship – God calls us to obedience and we respond in obedience – it is a motif of life.

John concludes his letter with, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” We are either obeying God or we are obeying idols – we’re being obedient to someone or something other than ourselves (as much as we may think we’re not, as much as we may think we are independent) – who are we obeying, God or idols? What are the idols of our minds, our hearts, our finances, our bodies, our desires?

Little children, make sure no one deceives you…  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

When We’re Most Alive – Part III

John Stott said that he felt most alive when he was in public worship, in friendship, and when contemplating birds. Stott was a bird watcher, carrying his binoculars in travels across the world. He especially enjoyed the early morning hours when birds were awakening and he could enjoy the sights and sounds of creation. The Scriptures tell us that God expresses Himself through creation (see Psalm 19 and Romans 1 for just two of many examples). This expression is more than glory and beauty, it is also unwritten writing and unspoken speech – if we will watch and listen and ponder we will read God’s word (notice the lower case “w”) and hear His voice.

Consider the little wren, such a small bird with such a loud song. Wrens inevitably build their nests where I don’t want them to, hanging baskets on the porch and deck for example. Or then there was the time a wren flew through a broken window in our garage and built her nest in the garage attic, while she knew the escape route from the garage her little ones didn’t; Vickie had to open the garage door and shoo them in the direction of flight and freedom. The little wren I’m watching is also a little wren that our Father is watching – I don’t know how He does it but Jesus says He does, if He watches sparrows I’m sure He watches wrens. So I’m on my deck watching a little wren sing her song of glory, and I’m watching the little bird right along with my Father; not bad to have God as our bird-watching companion.

We once had a home with a large oak tree right off our sunroom; I could sit in the sunroom with a cup of coffee and watch a microcosm of creation hour after hour; birds and squirrels and rabbits and deer (there were bird feeders around the tree) – that one oak tree contained life and activity and interaction.

Whether it’s the ocean’s expanse and roar or a narrow brook’s soft ripple, an elephant or a hummingbird, the peaks of the Rockies or the honeycombs of the Blue Ridge, a Giant Redwood or a lily; our God speaks to us in the heavens and on the earth, He is always communicating, always beckoning, always drawing – all that we see reflects that which is beyond what we see, that which is beyond ourselves – do we see that?

Little wonder John Stott included birds in his answer.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When We’re Most Alive – Part II

Picking up from yesterday’s post on John Stott:

John Stott said that in addition to public worship and watching and listening to birds that experiencing friendship is when he was most alive. Friendship is more than having friends; we may have many “friends” but not experience friendship, not friendship to the depth in which friendship has been historically understood and written about. We can have many friends just like we can have many cousins of the opposite sex who we give a peck on the cheek to, but the cousins are not our spouse and a peck on the cheek is all they get and it is all we receive.

Friendship is transcendent, it takes us out of ourselves, it takes both people out of themselves and the whole is greater that the sum of the parts. Marriage, the communion of saints, and friendship all have this in common: they transcend the individuals involved in those relationships; the husband and wife are still individuals but they are more than individuals, the people in a congregation are still individuals but they are more than individuals – indeed the congregation is more than simply a local congregation, and two friends are still two distinct people but they are more than two distinct people. When I think of our friends David and Sally Zuck I think of a husband and wife but I think of more than a husband and wife – I think of a third entity (substance) that is David and Sally. When I think of my friends Mel and Bruce, who have been friends since “in the beginning”, I think of a special substance, a friendship that is Mel and Bruce. I am friends with both Mel and with Bruce, and when the three of us are together (which is too seldom these days) we have our own dynamic, but I am also keenly aware (and rejoice in) the lifelong friendship that is “Mel and Bruce”.

Friendship is a rare jewel, sometimes born of affinity, sometimes of pressure, oftentimes redeemed from misunderstanding and pain. Friendship is like a mine deep with shafts and tunnels unseen on the surface, the observer may see the precious stones and metals brought forth from the mine but will seldom see the depths in which such things are hewn.

In the Upper Room Jesus calls the apostles His friends, and by extension He calls us friends – do we accept His offer of friendship? How deep are the shafts and tunnels of our friendship with Jesus? With others?