Psalm 50:16-23 – Follow with Both Lips and Life

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

But God says to the wicked,
    Why should you recite my commandments?
    Why should you talk about my covenant?
You refuse to let me correct you;
    you reject my commands.
You become the friend of every thief you see,
    and you associate with adulterers.

You are always ready to speak evil;
    you never hesitate to tell lies.
You are ready to accuse your own relatives
    and to find fault with them.
You have done all this, and I have said nothing,
    so you thought that I am like you.
But now I reprimand you
    and make the matter plain to you.

Listen to this, you that ignore me,
    or I will destroy you,
    and there will be no one to save you.
Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me,
    and I will surely save all who obey me.
(Good News Translation)

God has something to say to the wicked, that is, those who claim the Lord’s Name, yet fail to honor the divine/human relationship.

One of the things people might oftentimes overlook or misunderstand is that God and humans are not on the same level. Whereas all humanity is equal, and so must be egalitarian in all they do, humans are the creatures and God is the Creator. It isn’t an equitable relationship.

That means our stance as people is to obey the Lord – without question. There’s no room for negotiation. There isn’t any way of leveraging to get the upper hand with God.

Ignorance, or outright disobedience, is manifested through trivializing or picking-and-choosing God’s commands. When a person quotes or cites instructions from the Lord, then completely disregards those divine words and does what they please, there will be a harsh reprimand.

The wicked, those who ignore the covenant relationship with God, tend to talk a good line and then turn around and participate in stealing, adultery, and slander. They glowingly cite the first few commands of the Ten Commandments, then generally flip the middle finger at the rest of the commands – doing whatever the heck they want.

The reason the Lord is so hard in today’s psalm is that the wickedness of humanity believes themselves to be like God. In other words, the people took what was true about themselves and superimposed that on God. This is the dual act of elevating humanity higher than who they are and making themselves like God, while simultaneously minimizing God, making the Lord smaller, to be just like us.

These are just some the mind tricks wicked persons play on themselves to justify their behavior. And God will have none of it. God is not some average household idol. The Lord is to be honored and worshiped as Supreme.

Wherever there is disorder, chaos, systemic evil, and injustice, the root of it is found in disparaging the divine relationship – making God a good ol’ boy who understands things just like you and me.

Wherever you see human life cheapened, taken advantage of, and oppressed, there you will find people and institutions who do not take God as holy, sovereign, and other than them.

Human life is cheapened because talk itself is cheap without the commitment to obey the Lord. So, how might we keep our lips and our life aligned together and working as a committed whole?

  • Be authentic. Embrace being genuine and real. If you’re happy, smile. If you’re sad, don’t. If you say, “yes,” do it. If you need to reinforce good boundaries, say “no,” and don’t do it. What’s more, if you have written statements in your business or organization about diversity, equity, and inclusion, then authentically and actively live into those ideals.

Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, CEB)

My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another. (James 2:1, GW)

  • Be trustworthy. Charlatans and slicksters try to make instantaneous trust so they can take advantage of another. The godly person realizes trust must be earned – mostly through quietly doing what needs to be done without complaint or bluster. Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Do what God’s teaching says, don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. (James 1:22, ERV)

Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves and have come to have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart. (1 Peter 1:22, GNT)

  • Be obedient. Observe the Lord’s commands. Biblical instructions include both our speech and our behavior.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3, NRSV)

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:6, NKJV)

Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. (Matthew 16:24, ERV)

  • Be thankful. Words and actions which hurt and damage cannot be said whenever we are using our tongues to express gratitude. And if we keep our feet happy through dancing our thankfulness, then we will not walk into trouble.

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, MSG)

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17, NLT)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 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 Samuel 16:14-23 – The Work of God

Now the Lord’s spirit had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s servants said to him, “Look, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. If our master just says the word, your servants will search for someone who knows how to play the lyre. The musician can play whenever the evil spirit from God is affecting you, and then you’ll feel better.”

Saul said to his servants, “Find me a good musician and bring him to me.”

One of the servants responded, “I know that one of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a good musician. He’s a strong man and heroic, a warrior who speaks well and is good-looking too. The Lord is with him.”

So, Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the one who keeps the sheep.”

Jesse then took a donkey and loaded it with a homer of bread, a jar of wine, and a young goat, and he sent it along with his son David to Saul. That is how David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked David very much, and David became his armor-bearer. Saul sent a message to Jesse: “Please allow David to remain in my service because I am pleased with him.” Whenever the evil spirit from God affected Saul, David would take the lyre and play it. Then Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him alone. (Common English Bible)

In the realm of God, everything seems upside-down. Those who are first are last, and the last are first. The rich are really poor, and the poor are actually rich. People of low position are the highest in God’s realm, while those at the top are really at the bottom. The religious insiders, appearing close to God, are on the outside; and the outsiders, seemingly far from God, are really the insiders and close to the Lord.

If we judge circumstances according to human standards of fair-play and what seems right to us, God’s ethics might not make much sense. There are two extreme responses to this reality of God’s odd working in the world. 

One response is to try and nail down everything we don’t understand, to create a black and white world where every question has an answer, and all things are certain so that we know exactly how God works, all the time. 

The opposite response is to never try answering anything about the mysterious working of God, saying, “whatever will be, will be.” Somewhere in the middle of the extremes is probably a good place to be – working to know God better and how divinity operates in the world, while being comfortable with mystery and discerning we will never completely understand everything in this life.

There are times we feel confident of what God is doing. Other times, maybe most of the time, we are clueless as to how God is working. We do not have all the answers to God’s activity. Yet, there is still a lot we know about God. The Lord worked in quite different ways with Saul than with David.  

The difference in the two characters, Saul and David, hinges upon the presence and absence of God. God withdrew divine presence from Saul. King Saul’s deliberate and consistent disobedience of God’s direct commands led to the divine absence. Not only did God leave Saul, but an evil or bad spirit from the Lord tormented him. That reality might be something way off your understanding of how God works with people.  God departed from Saul and put him in a situation of inflicting pain.

Bear in mind, in a biblical worldview, there are not two equally opposing forces of God and Satan. Rather, Lucifer is a created being who aspired to be like God and fell from heaven. God stands alone as the one sovereign Being who controls all things in heaven and earth. 

Saul is not an isolated occurrence of experiencing a bad spirit. For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he acted harshly against the people of Israel (Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10). From a strictly human perspective, it seemed God was kicking the can down the road, pushing off the people’s deliverance. Yet, the Lord was orchestrating deliverance from bondage, and a redemption far beyond what the Israelites could have ever imagined. 

Sometimes, we are privy to God’s working. For example, in the days of the Judges:

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. This happened so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be avenged and their blood be laid on their brother Abimelech, who killed them, and on the lords of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. (Judges 9:22-24, NRSV)

In whatever way we understand an evil spirit from God in the life of Saul, the point to grasp is that God is aware and in control – whereas Saul is a disturbed man due to his own bad choices. Some ancient interpreters of the story view this as an act of mercy on God’s part, by not just eradicating Saul altogether, but, instead, giving Saul an opportunity to turn his life around and again experience the presence of God.

Keep in mind, just because someone experiences mental or emotional pain in the form of depression or anxiety or other disorder, does not necessarily mean there is a bad decision behind it. To go down that route is to take the extreme position of living in the black and white world of trying to be certain of everything. We only need consider the life of Job to know that pain, even extreme pain and horrible circumstances, does not necessarily mean sin is at the root of it all. (Job 2:7-10)

“People with absolute certainty are usually the misguided souls who confidently tell other people in terrible circumstances how God is either punishing them or that this will all work out in some fairy tale ending of the miraculous (which it rarely does).” 

Mit Tdrahrhe

On the other extreme, those embracing only mystery simply say to people in pain to trust God and accept your situation because God has a plan (not helpful, even hurtful). So, what is helpful?

The servants of Saul knew what was helpful. They asked the king to put out an ad for a music therapist. And the best one they could find was David. The problem of Saul’s anguish needed the answer of a good harpist. 

Saul got some relief from pain, got a chance to perhaps come back to God, and David (already the next anointed king) got to learn the job of leading first-hand from the bottom-up by being in Saul’s service.

David needed to learn lowly service before becoming an exalted king. God could have simply knocked Saul off the throne and did away with him (which would make sense to a lot of people). Instead, God graciously gave young David time to observe the duties of a king.

God isn’t off his rocker. God knows what he is doing. God knew both Saul and David, inside and out. And, the Lord intimately knows each person, family, faith community, nation, and people group. If anyone claims to know precisely what God is doing and should do, they are a spiritual huckster speaking from ignorant pride. Conversely, if anyone throws up their arms in exasperation, mumbling how nobody can know God’s working, they are spiritually immature and irresponsible.

How we act or not act, what we say and do not say, is all a function of our theology – our real view of God. So, what might we take away from this story?

  1. The mystery of God and the certainty of people do not mix well. Claiming to always know what God is doing is delusional and just doesn’t help anyone.
  2. The clarity of God through divine commands, and the apathy of people to them, is a bad situation.  Claiming to never know what God is doing is a cop-out (because God has spoken clearly about a lot of things, like the Ten Commandments).
  3. Unlike Saul, do the best you can in the circumstances before you. Many situations we cannot avoid. However, in every situation we can control our response.
  4. Like David, be an agent of comfort, healing, and blessing to others. Most of the psalms were written in times of doubt, distress, and disturbance. We can take those psalms and pray them directly to God in the midst of our own discomfort.

We are in God’s hands, all of time. There is never a time when we are outside of God’s sight or ability to work.  The Lord’s arm is not too short to accomplish good purposes. God is our strong tower and mighty fortress for every life circumstance.

**Above painting: David playing the harp for King Saul, by German painter, Januarius Zick, 1750

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 – Leave a Spiritual Heritage

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

Remember God’s Law

The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell address by Moses to the Israelites. Moses was about to die. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. So, Moses restated God’s law and called the people to remember all that God had done. He exhorted the people to communicate the law and their heritage to the next generations. If God’s Word and God’s ways are continually observed, then the people would prosper in the land.

The overarching command and call to the people is to love God with everything they have and everything they are. God’s people are to have a total commitment of mind, body, emotions, and spirit to the law of God. Each ability and gift, and all that makes a person a person, is to have its clear direction and orientation toward loving God through obeying God’s commands.

Talk About God’s Word

The love of God is meant to become a habit in the normal daily rhythms of life. And we are told how to do that:  impress God’s commands in the family; talk about them at home; talk about them when you are out and about; talk about them in the morning and the evening; even write them out and have them before you continually.  The entire day is an opportunity to love God by talking about God’s Word.

The privilege of discussing God’s Word doesn’t need to be forced or awkward. Yet, it is something which needs some intention and purpose to it. Most people like talking about things which are important to them. If someone is really into classic cars, he does not have to try and force a conversation about it because it just comes out of him. Because they go to car shows, maybe own a classic car that they are continually tinkering with, and read up on car magazines, a discussion about the subject is quite natural to them.

So, then, the best way to live into God’s law is to spend time with God through regular Bible reading, focused and earnest prayer, conversing with others, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn and know about God.  For the Christian, talking about Jesus is meant to be organic, springing from a heart which loves God and observes God’s law.

Discuss God with Family

When it comes to family, we don’t need to be an expert on God or the Bible. We just need a willingness and a curiosity to ask questions. Typically, when raising my girls, most of our conversations at the table centered around one question I would ask. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over. Sometimes it was a deep theological question. At other times, it was a practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, so I usually asked our guests to tell their God story or participate with us in the question. If they were not Christian, I would ask them what they thought about Jesus, and why.

God loves it when we have conversation in the home around biblical teaching. God also loves it when we have discussions in public. Some Orthodox Jewish persons still to this day wear a “phylactery” on their foreheads – a small box with little Scripture passages inside of it – testifying to their value of the written Word.

I’m not sure that’s what Moses had in mind when he talked about binding God’s commands on the forehead and tying them as symbols on the hands. Much of the Hebrew language is metaphorical, speaking about concrete things as a way of communicating something intangible. So, I wonder if the big idea here is simply to be open about faith and love for God and the law.

Keep Tangible Reminders of Scripture

Although I don’t believe we have to take these verses quite so literally, there is, however, something to be said for keeping Holy Scripture in front of us, continually, to remember divine commands and promises. It’s good to write some Bible verses and place them on your bathroom mirror, the dash of your car, in your pants pocket, or anywhere you will see them on a regular basis. It’s a practical way of remembering to observe all that God has commanded.

Physical reminders of significant spiritual events can help us keep God’s Word in our lives. When the Israelites experienced God in some significant way, they built an altar. For example, when they approached the Jordan River to enter the land, God caused the water to stop flowing so that they could cross over. Here is what happen next: 

Joshua erected a monument, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

“Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:20-24, MSG)

Passing the spiritual baton and leaving a heritage for future generations is a sacred trust. The best way for that to happen is within the home, talking about God and Scripture as a daily routine, as well as freely conversing about spirituality in public.

Pass Faith to the Next Generation Church

Hopefully, God and Jesus get talked about in the church! There are several ways churches can impress God’s Word to younger generations: 

  1. Train them to lead.  Adults do not have to do everything in the church. Every generation can be empowered to engage in ministries on a regular basis. Everyone needs a mentor to do anything well – which means taking others with us along the journey of ministry so they can both shadow and participate.
  2. Empathize with young people and young families. That means avoiding criticism. It’s easy for older generations to be critical about millennials – their lack of involvement, or how they live their lives. They don’t need our criticism; they need our help. To have empathy means we recognize they’re just trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. A world, I might add, which is quite different than the one many of us grew up in. This is an extremely competitive world, requiring more energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid.  Being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The stance to take on this is not to criticize, but to encourage and help.
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously.  Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way we can reach younger generations. Dialogue goes a lot further than just telling others what they should believe and do.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself part of an older generation, seriously consider taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you. Invite them to a meal, read these verses, and discuss them together. Commit to praying for them daily for a set period.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations means they don’t have to do everything our way. Rather, it means we will listen to what they need in loving God and building into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be great neighbors. Discuss, teach, empower, and develop young people without criticism into good neighbors who engage their local community by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

There are certainly more ways to engage. The idea here is that we think about how to embody the teaching we have in Deuteronomy by passing on God’s love and God’s Word. Where will you start? Is there a way that resonates with you?  If you are a younger generation, who are some people you believe could be helpful to you? Let’s work together to realize God’s Word springing to life!