Psalm 24 – It All Belongs to God

The earth and everything on it
    belong to the Lord.
    The world and its people
    belong to him.
The Lord placed it all
    on the oceans and rivers.

Who may climb the Lord’s hill
    or stand in his holy temple?
Only those who do right
    for the right reasons,
    and don’t worship idols
    or tell lies under oath.
The Lord God, who saves them,
    will bless and reward them,
    because they worship and serve
    the God of Jacob.
Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord, a strong
    and mighty warrior.

Open the ancient gates,
    so that the glorious king
    may come in.

Who is this glorious king?
    He is our Lord,
    the All-Powerful!
(Contemporary English Version)

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was born in the Netherlands. He was a church minister, university professor, and politician – having established a Christian university, as well as served in the Dutch parliament and as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Kuyper labored throughout his life to flesh-out the theological implications of a sovereign God. He consistently insisted all we do as humans is to be integrated and brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He believed firmly that all things belong to God in Christ and all the fragments of our lives are to be oriented and integrated around our Creator’s great claim upon us as creatures. Whether a pastor, teacher, or politician, every vocation, each activity, and all thoughts and intents rightly belong to God.

In other words, religion and spirituality cannot be kept within superimposed limits. There is no separation of any one domain of human thought from the rest, no isolation of any one domain of human life from another or from Christ.

The spiritual life is not limited to merely the ethereal. It is both celestial and terrestrial – heavenly and earthly – concerned for the immaterial and the material. God cares about it all because it all belongs to God.

God owns the world. So, the implications of this for us is huge. It means we don’t really own anything. We are simply stewarding all that God has given us – including our very lives. The chaos of this world, from a biblical perspective, comes from creatures attempting to assert their own sovereignty and control things. Since we were not created to be little gods roaming about doing our own thing, the inevitable result is a topsy-turvy world.

God’s divine claim and ownership of the world means that absolute authority does not rest with nations, states, or leaders. Everything we see, as well as what we don’t see, belongs to the Lord. Part of the task of believers is to confess and bear witness to God’s rightful and benevolent rule in this world. In fact, Christians everywhere pray toward this end every week: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

The circle of life, within Holy Scripture, is the Creator God bestowing life and relationship to created humans, who then respond by practicing just and righteous living – thereby receiving renewal from the Lord and life anew. Theoretically, this movement can go unbroken. It is a regular celebration, for the believer, in consistent rhythms of worship and adoration of God.

When we are able to get in the intended divine groove of faith, life, and worship, we will discover our meaning and purpose in the world. By rightly ordering our lives, centering and grounding them in the gracious and loving relationship of Creator and creature, then we find true blessing because it enjoys an intuited stamp of approval by the God who makes life possible.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the Victor, the King of Glory. All the promises and hopes of people are found and focused, in Christ. We enter through Jesus, the door of life, to deliverance from death and all that separates us from God, others, and self.

Jesus comes to bring blessing, justice, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace. For this is how the world was meant to operate from the beginning. We are to open the ancient door of faith, especially when the Lord comes knocking:

Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne. If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22, CEV)

Old Abraham Kuyper might be long dead, yet he got it right, if we are able to hear him:

“Whatever people may do, to whatever they may apply their hands – in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or in mind, in the world of art, and science – they are, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of God. They are employed in the service of God. They have strictly to obey God. And above all, they must aim at the glory of his God.”

Abraham Kuyper

Blessed Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, though I am quite capable of fretting, complaining, and lamenting about how out of control things seem, the truth is that nothing is outside your grip. I may not always see your hand, discern your heart, or like your ways, but you are God and there is no other. So, continue to renew my thinking, gentle my heart, and deepen my worship. I humbly and gladly affirm that you are God, and I am not, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign sovereign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

James 5:7-12 – Hang in There!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned. (New International Version)

In 1952, a woman named Florence Chadwick attempted to become the first female to swim the twenty-one miles from Catalina Island to the California coast. Less than a half-mile from her destination she gave up. It wasn’t because of fatigue, but because of the thick fog. Florence simply could not see how close she was to her goal. Two months later she did it, also in the fog, but had learned her lesson and persevered even though she couldn’t see the coast in front of her.

Everyone who has faced adversity knows how hard it is to keep going without seeing the goal. It is important to be patient and to persevere knowing that the Lord’s coming is near. Like the farmer, we must expectantly wait till the harvest. There is nothing we can do to speed up the process and go straight from planting to harvest. It takes time and plenty of patience. Grumbling and complaining about how long it is taking will not make it go any faster.

Although the Christian’s salvation is free, the process of sanctification takes a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Perseverance in the face of hardship is a major pathway to realizing a holy life. To do that, the Apostle James encourages us to consider the ancient prophets and the Old Testament character Job:

  • The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to proclaim God’s message yet was thrown into a cistern and left for dead. (Jeremiah 38:1-28)
  • The prophet Micaiah was faithful to declare truth to King Zedekiah, who then promptly imprisoned him, even though the king asked for God’s message. (1 Kings 22:24-27)
  • The prophet Daniel was faithful to pray consistently to the one true God and was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. (Daniel 6:1-28)

The prophets all suffered for doing the right thing and did not waver in their commitment to the Lord. Through their troubles they learned to trust and draw near to God. The adversity strengthened, not weakened, their faith.

As for Job, he had it all, along with constant faithfulness. And he lost it all… except his faith. Job tenaciously held onto righteousness, despite his grinding physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. Although Job’s God was agonizingly silent for a long time, and Job’s friends were despairingly talkative for much too long, the flame of Job’s faith was never extinguished in his heart.

We are to keep going in our faith and not give up. There are forces and processes at work behind the scenes of our lives that we might never know, this side of heaven. Yet, God is moving a good and divine agenda to its climax.

The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. We live in a time when we will either sink or swim – there is no in-between. God’s celestial shore is within sight; don’t miss it by getting discouraged by all the fog. Hang in there, my friend.

Patient God, you endure through all of my ignorance and impatience and just keep growing me by your grace. Thank you for working me as a farmer works the soil. May there be a great harvest of righteousness in my life as I allow your faithful work to be done in me. Amen.

2 Samuel 5:1-10 – Living into a Purpose

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful because the Lord God Almighty was with him. (New International Version)

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

Robert F. Kennedy

A sense of satisfaction and gratification comes with a job well done. Whenever we have an inner sense of accomplishing something important or fulfilling a purpose which was long in the planning, there is a settled feeling we have lived into God’s intentions for us.

David experienced success because the Lord was with him. He was careful to do all that God intended for him to do. King David lived into his anointing and demonstrated that he was of a different cut than the previous king, Saul. David was the person equipped by God to lead all Israel and Judah.

Using his newfound position and authority, David took the initiative to do the Lord’s will. This was a long time in coming. David had a sense, because of close walk with God, of when to be patient and wait, and when to take charge and act.

There was an extended patient wait for the Lord’s timing in David becoming king. Although anointed by the prophet Samuel as king while Saul was still in his reign, it took years for David to be enthroned as the actual king. David had several opportunities to make himself king by killing Saul (who was trying to kill David) but he allowed God to enthrone him in God’s own good time.

In fact, rarely does anything the Lord promise come to fruition immediately. We must wait patiently for deliverance from painful trials of faith and the return of Christ. God makes promises. Then we persevere until those promises are fulfilled.

All of David’s waiting finally dissipated into kingly action. Before there were kings, judges ruled in Israel. And before that, Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. They had a mandate to expel the Canaanites. Those instructions from God only partially happened. There were still remnants and pockets of resistance. The Jebusites, ensconced in the city of Jebus (Jerusalem) were the most stubborn.

Part of the reason there were Canaanites still living in the land was the former King Saul’s failure to take up the Lord’s plan. One of the first acts of King David was to finish and fulfill the complete takeover of the land.

David was willing to attempt something nobody else could do, and that no one believed could be done. If we were a fly on the wall during discussions about this, I can imagine a coterie of people saying to the king, “We tried that before. It won’t work. You cannot get rid of the Jebusites. This is a fool’s errand.”

Pessimism and passivity certainly do not dislodge anything, and the people had fallen into a cynicism that believed they needed to put up with the current situation. Whenever a group of people fall into this kind of thinking, criticism is rife because folks are not working together toward shared goals and solutions. Instead of addressing problems, there is merely complaining about the problems.

On the other side of it, the Jebusites were smug in their self-confidence, showing their bravado through being blowhards. However, they had not yet faced David. If they thought another king like Saul was coming along, they were in for a big wake up call.

The Lord almighty was with David. And that is what made all the difference. King David did not accept the status quo. He worked toward accomplishing the Lord’s will, as he understood it. And his faith always led to effective action.

God almighty, ruler of heaven and earth, may we your people never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up stuck in our souls with nowhere to go. Help us to never abandon the struggle so that we may endure to the end, and so be saved. May we never drop out of life with you but press forward to the goal of our high calling. May we not choose the cheap and easy way of getting things done but always remember that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown. So, keep us and strengthen us by your grace. Let no disobedience nor weakness or failure stop us from being faithful in all the changes and chances of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

*Above statue of King David, outside his tomb in Jerusalem

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 – Faithfulness Matters

The Philistines fought against Israel in a battle at Mount Gilboa. Israel’s soldiers ran from the Philistines, and many of them were killed. The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons and killed three of them: Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. The fighting was fierce around Saul, and he was gravely wounded by enemy arrows.

Saul told the soldier who carried his weapons, “Kill me with your sword! I don’t want those godless Philistines to torture and make fun of me.”

But the soldier was afraid to kill him. Then Saul stuck himself in the stomach with his own sword and fell on the blade. When the soldier realized that Saul was dead, he killed himself in the same way.

Saul, three of his sons, and all his male relatives were dead. The Israelites who lived in Jezreel Valley learned that their army had run away, and that Saul and his sons were dead. They ran away too, and the Philistines moved into the towns the Israelites left behind.

The next day the Philistines came back to the battlefield to carry away the weapons of the dead Israelite soldiers. When they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa, they took Saul’s weapons, pulled off his armor, and cut off his head. Then they sent messengers everywhere in Philistia to spread the news among their people and to thank the idols of their gods. They put Saul’s armor in the temple of their gods and hung his head in the temple of their god Dagon.

When the people who lived in Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, some brave men went to get his body and the bodies of his three sons. The men brought the bodies back to Jabesh, where they buried them under an oak tree. Then for seven days, they went without eating to show their sorrow.

Saul died because he was unfaithful and disobeyed the Lord. He even asked advice from a woman who talked to spirits of the dead, instead of asking the Lord. So, the Lord had Saul killed and gave his kingdom to David, the son of Jesse. (Contemporary English Version)

The books of Samuel and Chronicles contain similar content and material concerning the kings of Israel and Judah. Yet, whereas 1 & 2 Samuel gives a more straightforward narrative, 1 & 2 Chronicles often provides the narrative with explanatory comments. 

We have such a story in today’s Old Testament lesson. The last chapter of 1 Samuel gives an account of King Saul’s death, along with his sons. However, in 1 Chronicles 10, we get the narration of their deaths along with a clear concise note on why King Saul perished in battle:

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord and hadn’t followed the Lord’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance. He didn’t consult the Lord, so the Lord killed him and gave the kingdom to David, Jesse’s son. (1 Chronicles 10:14, CEB)

The original compiler of Chronicles did so for the Jewish exiles who were returning to Palestine. He did not want to simply recount the important stories of the kings of Israel; he wanted the exiles to know exactly why they went into exile to begin with, and how in the future they could keep it from happening again. So, Saul served as Exhibit A of the kind of person that erodes the true worship of God and lives against the grain of faithfulness to the Lord.

The true measure of a godly person is not in titles, positions, or membership. The real test of a faithful person is obedience to, and observance of, the revealed will of God contained in Holy Scripture. Thus, to read it, know it, and live it is one of the highest callings as God’s people.

Faith in the Bible is a complete trust in who God is and what God has done. The Lord shows faithfulness through steadfast love, gifting people with faith to obey, and remaining true to divine promises for humanity.

In the New Testament, the height of faith is to place one’s life completely in God’s hands, believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith involves both information and action.

For example, the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower regions of Michigan, is an imposing structure. It’s the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere at 26,372 feet. At its mid-point, the bridge’s roadway towers 200 feet above the Mackinac Straight.

The wind on the bridge can be punishing. In 1989, a woman died when her small car flew over the 3-foot-high railing and plunged into the water due to an excessively high gust of wind. I have crossed the bridge many times. Sometimes the bridge is open to road traffic, and sometimes not, due to the wind conditions. The bridge authorities even have a protocol about how to cross the bridge when it is windy but not excessively so (driving beside a truck).

This is all important and necessary information for crossing the Mackinac Bridge. Yet, knowledge alone is not enough. At some point, one needs to actually drive across the bridge. Information must lead to action. I couldn’t just cross the Straight between the two regions of Michigan at any point along the land with a blind faith that believes I’ll make it to the other side. I needed some knowledge. Then, I needed the courage to act on that knowledge.

The person who is scared crossing the bridge, and the person who thinks nothing of it, both make it to the other side. It isn’t the amount of faith that is important; it’s in what (or who) that faith is placed. Faith in the Bible is having some important and useful information about God, then putting that knowledge into action with a trust and commitment that you’ll make it to the other side.

Saul tried to cross over on his own terms. It didn’t go so well for him. His car was picked up and thrown into the Straight.

We need to be careful what and whom we consult when we are stressed. Not collaborating with God isn’t going to end well. Being faithful matters.

Who are you faithful to? Where is your trust placed? Because the answer to those questions determines which actions we will take.

Eternal God, you remain the same throughout the ages of time. Help me to be faithful to your standard of righteousness and live faithfully into the ways of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.