Psalm 37:12-22 – Get Some Perspective

Merciless people make plots
against good people
    and snarl like animals,
but the Lord laughs and knows
    their time is coming soon.
The wicked kill with swords
and shoot arrows
to murder
    the poor and the needy
    and all who do right.
But they will be killed
    by their own swords,
    and their arrows
    will be broken.

It is better to live right
and be poor
    than to be sinful and rich.
The wicked will lose all
    of their power,
but the Lord gives strength
    to everyone who is good.

Those who obey the Lord
    are daily in his care,
    and what he has given them
    will be theirs forever.
They won’t be in trouble
    when times are bad,
    and they will have plenty
    when food is scarce.

Wicked people are enemies
    of the Lord
    and will vanish like smoke
    from a field on fire.

An evil person borrows
    and never pays back;
    a good person is generous
    and never stops giving.
Everyone the Lord blesses
    will receive the land;
    everyone the Lord curses
    will be destroyed.
(Contemporary English Version)

The angle from which we view things is really important.

Perspective is everything. 

Whenever some ornery cuss swears at us, or a group of people think the worst of us, or an organization takes advantage of us, we might feel like crumbling underneath the weight of stress.

Throw into the mix the state of world affairs: pandemic, natural disasters, war, poverty, human trafficking, and a legion of unjust victimization and oppression around the globe.

And add our own personal issues, whatever they are, of dealing with mental and physical health, and/or difficult relationships with family, co-workers, or neighbors.

Put it all together and it would be rather easy to believe evil is winning. Can we even begin to make a dent in the wickedness of injustice, abuse, and maltreatment?

When we infuse God to the menacing challenges of our world, it changes everything.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the creator of the ends of the earth.
    He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach.

Isaiah 40:28, CEB

The vantage of the psalmist is that all this immense malevolent plotting which exists cannot even begin to stand up to the even larger sovereign and benevolent God. 

It’s almost as if the Lord looks down from heaven at wicked people and says, “Well, now, isn’t that something, those tiny little yippee dogs thinking they can take on the big dog!” Truth is, the Lord laughs at the wicked, for God sees that their day is coming – and it won’t be pretty for them. 

Or we might picture some puny bugs on the ground making nefarious plans, completely oblivious to the hugeness of God that towers over them. They are about to be squished but are too busy going about their pathetic business to look up and see what is coming. The bugs are totally powerless in the face of such an awesome presence.

So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, MSG)

We humans who try our best to be good, do right, and live a spiritual life can become much too discouraged, far too easily. 

The remedy to the malady of such disillusionment is to be filled with a robust theology which wisely discerns God as far above all our problems and situations. 

“I am the Lord, the God of all people. Nothing is too difficult for me.”

Jeremiah 32:27, GNT

No matter how ominous the machinations of malicious corruption array against us, the spiritual believer is assured that God is in control, and, in the end, the wicked will get their comeuppance. 

And if we will have the spiritual eyes to see, that fearsome lion who scares the baloney out of us with his loud roar, is really an old toothless cat with no bite. Malicious and malevolent people typically make all kinds of noise and talk a big line, but all they really have is their belligerent bullying and ballyhoo.

No earthly power, no clever person, no loudmouth tormentor, and no human organization can ever go toe to toe with the gargantuan God we serve. 

Put all your circumstances beside this God and see if it changes your perspective.

Mighty God, you bless those who are dedicated to you, and you put down those who rage against you.  Fortify my spirit and let me see just the train of your robe, and I will glimpse the large grandeur of your glory.  Let me know Jesus Christ risen and ascended far above all principalities and powers of this earth.  Amen.

Psalm 119:113-128 – How to Change Our Spiritual Taste Buds

I hate anyone
whose loyalty is divided,
    but I love your Law.
You are my place of safety
and my shield.
    Your word is my only hope.

All of you worthless people,
    get away from me!
    I am determined to obey
    the commands of my God.

Be true to your word, Lord.
    Keep me alive and strong;
    don’t let me be ashamed
    because of my hope.
Keep me safe and secure,
    so that I will always
    respect your laws.
You reject all deceitful liars
    because they refuse
    your teachings.
As far as you are concerned,
all evil people are garbage,
    and so I follow your rules.
I tremble all over
when I think of you

    and the way you judge.

I did what was fair and right!
    Don’t hand me over to those
    who want to mistreat me.
Take good care of me,
    your servant,
    and don’t let me be harmed
    by those conceited people.
My eyes are weary from waiting
    to see you keep your promise
    to come and save me.
Show your love for me,
your servant,
    and teach me your laws.
I serve you,
so let me understand
    your teachings.
    Do something, Lord!
    They have broken your Law.
Your laws mean more to me
    than the finest gold.
I follow all of your commands,
    but I hate anyone
    who leads me astray.
(Contemporary English Version)

Some people try to avoid doing wrong and always try to do right. Others either bulldoze or sleepwalk through life, doing what they will, with impunity. Yet others try to steer clear of egregious sin, while indulging in so-called minor sins. 

Sin is messy business. No matter the form or the attempt at dealing with or without sin, the bottom line is that we all sin because we like it. We might not like the consequences of sin, but it tastes good while doing it.

That’s why we need a complete re-orienting of our hearts to hate every way contrary to God’s good commands. The psalmist proclaims and affirms that all God’s precepts are right, hating every false path which deviates from the true and good. 

If we sin because we like it, the way to avoid sin is learning to hate it – to loathe it so badly that it’s like a nasty stench in our nostrils. Hating sin comes from the acquired taste of loving God’s commandments. When we come around to cherish and desire God’s Word, then sin gradually becomes so odious that we want nothing to do with it.

The reason the psalmist could proclaim such an extended love song to the commands of God, is that he tasted how good they were. And it caused him to forsake every dubious way to human enjoyment. 

The reason I constantly encourage myself and others to read Scripture every single day, with a solid plan of spiritual rhythms, is that it really does have the power to change our taste buds. Sustained, consistent, daily eating of the psalms will teach us to want God and God’s ways – while forsaking the dark path of insolence and oppression.

The psalmist committed himself to avoiding worthless situations, as well as steering clear of harmful people with the propensity to doing wrong. These are fickle, double-minded people, divided in their loyalties. On one side of their mouth, they talk a good line about faith; and then talk out the other side of their mouth, spewing a bunch of worthless gobbledygook which, at the least, adds no value to anything, and, at worst, wrecks good plans and harms others.

If there are people in authority over us who don’t give a wit about our most cherished values, we will likely find ourselves tasked with doing things which rub against our understanding of God’s Word. In this state of moral distress, we are pushed, pulled, and tested in our single-minded devotion by the double-minded person to do what we are uncomfortable with.

In the stress and crucible of trouble, we need the courage to speak up, despite the fear of repercussions. And that strength will only be possible if we have a resilient spirit with the capacity to sustain our personal integrity in the face of our distress. That is, we need God and God’s Holy Word.

Scripture and fellow believers provide support because we need to care for one another as a community of redeemed persons who seek to live into the words of ways of almighty God.

It can be tricky business, wisely trying to discern between what we must accept and what we need to pushback against. Yet, with God, God’s Word, and God’s people, we possess all the resources required in living the spiritual life and navigating the sinful world we inhabit.

God Almighty, I pray that you will deal with me according to your steadfast love and teach me your statutes.  I am your servant; give me understanding so that I might know and live by your commands and forsake the evil of the world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – Do Not Lose Heart

It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (New International Version)

We all face seasons and circumstances that stretch our faith and press the limits of what we can handle.

We have no promise from Scripture we will avoid trouble. 

Instead, Jesus promises his followers there will be adversity and stressful predicaments. 

The pressures of life can sometimes be so overwhelming, we might lapse into losing heart, either by chiding ourselves for the adversity and wishing things were different, or blaming others for our troubles, and believing that if they would just get their act together, all would be well with my soul. 

The ancient Corinthian Church had a bevy of relational issues and problems. Some they created themselves. Some came from other people. Other issues arose simply by living in a fallen world, surrounded by the effects of ever-present sinful crud. 

Yet, no matter the source or nature of the problem, the Corinthians needed a point of focus to direct their troubled hearts. They needed to be reminded of the grace they possessed in Jesus Christ.

Faith is a gift given by God. It is planted in the heart of the believer so that, over time, it will nurture, grow, and bear spiritual fruit. Out of that belief arises speaking words of hope and love that embrace the work of God in the life of the believer. The Apostle Paul said elsewhere to the Roman Church: 

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NLT)

Christ’s resurrection from death is both a spiritual and a physical reality. If we believe this truth in our hearts, we will be raised both spiritually and physically. Faith in Christ gives shape to the hope that, although we might be experiencing the effects of mortality and the fall of humanity, we are, at the same time, being spiritually renewed day by day. 

The very same afflictions causing our bodies to degenerate and challenging our spirits, are the same means to achieving a glorious, resurrected existence. There cannot be the glory of spiritual and bodily resurrection without a shameful death. Jesus absorbed the shame of the world’s violent ways onto himself so that we might be raised with him. 

However, this does not mean we will never experience difficulty in this present life. In fact, daily spiritual renewal can and does happen through adverse circumstances. There must be suffering before glory, both for Jesus and for us. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell is not an inoculation from trouble. Because it is the troubles of this life which teach us to trust in God, as well as weaning us from everything we previously trusted to deal with those troubles.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.”

Jesus (John 14:1, NIV)

So, we need to fix our gaze firmly on the unseen reality of faith and hope. All we see with our physical eyes is temporary. All that is unseen is eternal, especially and namely, God. Therefore, it is imperative we traffic in building heavenly treasure, learning to deal with the intangible and unseen dimensions of life.

We are to allow the physical to serve as a sign and seal of the spiritual realities they represent.

For example, Christians come to the Lord’s Table so that the tangible elements of bread and cup will bolster and fortify our faith with the grace that points to the intangible. The Table is to accomplish for us a spiritual renewal of lifting us up by God’s Spirit and joining us with Jesus. This union with Christ can never be taken away from us, even in death, because we have an eternal building from God which makes this present life look like a camping trip.

When I think of a person who is outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly being renewed, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada. She has been a paraplegic for fifty years, after an accident as a teenager in which she dove into shallow water and broke her neck. Afterwards, lying in a hospital for months unable to move, she had completely lost heart to the point of being suicidal. 

Joni could not even kill herself since she could not physically move. Finally, in her darkest moment, she cried to God with what she says was the most significant prayer she ever prayed: “Lord, if I can’t die, show me how to live.” And God did. Joni’s faith is as strong and robust as anyone’s, despite her infirmity and handicaps. She has learned to embrace her troubles as the means of growing her faith.

The path to accept, cope, and transcend our troubles and afflictions begins with acknowledging them. They only have power over us for ill if we ignore them or put up a false front to hide them. The Apostle Paul was open with the Corinthians about his life: 

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NRSV) 

Paul faced whippings, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, poverty, danger, and trouble, not to mention the stress of caring for fledgling churches. Through it all, Paul was transparent, and named his troubles so he could apply the poultice of God’s grace to his afflictions. 

It is our brokenness – not having it all together – which shows the grace of God to others.

Paul consistently described his life and ministry in apparent paradoxes: strength in weakness; glory through shame; life through death; riches through poverty. 

Although we experience the fallen nature of the world, God bends each situation toward divine purposes so that what seems to be our downfall becomes the means to our spiritual renewal.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. 

Holy Scripture encourages us not to give up because of hardship, since those very same troubles are the divine implements used to form us into solid followers of Jesus.

We need some stress. Just like a violin needing its strings adjusted to the right pressure, God will tune us with the right amount of stress we need to produce beautiful melodious music. God is the musician, and we are the instrument, not the other way around. 

We are to interpret our stress as God tuning us for good purposes. The pressure we experience becomes the means of glorious music in daily spiritual renewal for the life of the world.

Believers are being renewed daily into a valuable work of God. The stress and trouble we experience is very real and sometimes quite hard. Yet, we have the hope God will bend each circumstance for good purposes so that, even though we seem to be wasting away on the outside, on the inside those experiences are renewing us. 

When this present life is over, it is not the end; it is just the beginning.

God Almighty, you reign supreme, including over our stress and pressure in this present life. You have brought us in safety to this day. So, preserve us according to your mighty power, so that we might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. In all the situations of life, whether good or bad, direct us to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Romans 8:26-27 – The Prayer Helper

praying

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (NLT)

There are times when we are so distressed that we have difficulty forming any kind of words in prayer. There are seasons where our spirits are so sad and angry that our minds cannot focus enough for prayer. And there are events that come upon us unexpected and with such emotional impact that our souls feel pummeled and beat up to the point that all we can do is groan.

In recent days, I have found myself with just such feelings. Feeling the sheer weight of 100,000+ deaths due to COVID-19, as well as the literal weight of a Minneapolis police officer on the neck of George Floyd resulting in death have me groaning both inside and out. I am deeply concerned for my African American brothers and sisters and for the many grieving families, including my own encounters with them, who lament the loss of loved ones.

Yet, I am strangely and mystically warmed with the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence within me – because the Spirit takes my feeble sighs and silent sobs and himself groans before the Father. God feels what I feel and has both the mercy and the authority to do something about it. In my inability to voice prayer with any kind of erudition to the heavenly Father, the Spirit works with the simple grunting of my soul. Like a skillful translator of languages, the Holy Spirit effectively takes every heartfelt muttering and expresses a divine groan to the Father which perfectly expresses my raw and real intentions.

The Holy Spirit is an expert on knowing our concerns, knowing God’s will, and bringing the two in harmony with each other. 

Since the Spirit helps us in our weakness, we possess the confident expectation that we will not always be in this position. Meanwhile, we learn to slow down our breathing to receive the breath of the Spirit. We sit in silence, anticipating the gentle voice and refreshing breeze of the Spirit. We become versed in moving with new rhythms of rejoicing and groaning; praising and grieving; hope and lament; faith and agonizing patience. We discover that the Spirit is our ultimate essential service in an upside-down world. Above all, we tenaciously hold onto our imperfect prayers, confident that the Spirit will groan them in the ear of our gracious heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit is the One who stands in the gap between where we are and where we need to be and intercedes for us, bridging the chasm and bringing us deliverance from our impatience.

One of the oldest definitions of prayer is this: Lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally (both communally and privately) we fail to actually lift our hearts and minds to God because what is really inside us is not something we generally connect with prayer at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, lusts, curses, sloth, and quiet despair are sometimes understood to be the opposite of prayer, as if they are things to be overcome so that we can then pray.

Prayer, however, is a conversation, a dialogue, in which we lay bare our deepest thoughts and emotions to a God who graciously receives them and responds in his good time. The great comfort of prayer is that when you cannot put words to it, God hears your heart. And with the Spirit animating those prayers, they never have an expiration date. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is our personal prayer helper.

So, may you know the merciful presence of God’s Holy Spirit this moment, throughout this day, and every day. And may that presence fulfill you, sustain you, and nurture you now and forever. Amen.