Bragging or Praying? (Part One)

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (18:9-10 CSB).

I once went on a “mountain climbing adventure” on South Bubble in Acadia Park with one of my sons. That experience does not mean that I qualify as a mountain climber, partly because it wasn’t even high enough to be classified as a mountain. The other reason is that I wasn’t much of a climber, being terribly out of shape. If I had been more in tune with my condition, I would have scheduled a visit with a cardiologist then. But we can’t rewrite our lives, can we? Although I have climbed other true mountains in the east, I am still not a mountain climber, but just a hiker, who sometimes enjoys terrain that is a little bit more challenging.

It is of fundamental importance in true Christianity that a person has a correct idea or evaluation of what they are. Only when a person, by God’s grace, realizes what they are, will they turn to God, acknowledge their deficiencies and insufficiencies, and humbly seek grace. This holds true whether a person needs to be saved or needs to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

In this parable, Jesus tells a story with one main point. This time, it is not about the need for persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8) but about true righteousness and how to attain it. God does not acknowledge people as righteous on the basis of what we do or do not do. No one can be right with God that way, because we are all ruined by sin. Everyone who is righteous before God owes all to God’s free grace in Jesus Christ.

Outward religion is not a sign of inward grace (18:10). Both men in this parable were visibly associated with the people of God. They prayed at God’s temple. Membership in a church or attendance at a church does not save or help save in any way. For example, attending a football game does not make you a football player, and even being on a team doesn’t equate with really knowing how to play football, as a lot of coaches will testify! We must beware of self-deception (cf. Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23). True Christians follow Christ, and to follow him requires supernatural power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Both were outwardly performing an acceptable act of worship (cf. Matthew 6:5-15). Flowery words and cleverly crafted phrases are not a sign of a pure heart. There are many art critics and aficionados that can tell you everything about brush strokes and composition of paintings yet cannot paint! True prayer comes from a heart of faith in God and love for God, not from a “dictionary of religious phrases”.

Consider this typical example of a Pharisee’s prayer. “I thank thee, Jehovah my God, that thou hast assigned my lost with those who sit in the… (house of learning) and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in (street) corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction” (Talmud, Berakoth 28b, quoted by Morris, p. 264).

Both were performing that act in a way that God appointed. These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7 ESV).

The contemporary church would call people engaged in such activity “committed Christians” or “spiritual Christians”. But Jesus says, “Wait; we must look deeper.” The question for us is, “Are we willing to look deeper into the subject? Will we approach God in humility and say, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)?

Grace and peace, David

Avoiding False Religion (Part One)

Hosea 8:1-14

Put the horn to your mouth! One like an eagle comes against the house of the Lord, because they transgress my covenant and rebel against my law. Israel cries out to me, “My God, we know you!” Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him (8:1-3 CSB).

One of the saddest sights in nature is to see vultures circle in the sky, because you know that death is present. The great enemy has claimed, or is about to claim, another victim. Where life once rejoiced in all its vitality, soon all that will be left is the dust of death. Hosea saw the vultures circling above Israel, the people God had called him to minister to. It was no time for soft words, but for the blaring noise of the trumpet. “Israel, you are near death! Your religion is worthless! Wake up, repent and turn to God!”

The vultures are wheeling over the western world, too. It has become decadent, debauched and depraved. The religion of the day, if it pretends to be Biblical at all, is usually like Ephraim’s false religion. We will do well to recognize and to avoid it. The sad fact is that many cannot.

It is a religion of empty profession. On the surface, the profession seems to have some substance (8:2).

  • It used the language of worship: cries out. This is the language of one moved to the depths of one’s inner person, being filled with passion, wonder and amazement. Notice the “O” in Elijah’s prayer. And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV; cf. Exodus 15:6,11; 2 Samuel 7:18-19; Nehemiah 1:5; Psalms 6:4; 8:1, 9; 10:7; 130:1-2; etc.). How much do we know of this desire for God in our worship, public or private?
  • It used the language of relationship: “my God.” They claimed to belong to God, to be his people, to be the objects of his special concern. They also professed allegiance to the Lord and submission to his authority.
  • It used the language of salvation: They asserted they knew God. They claimed to know the Lord, unlike other nations that had no regard for the living God. Had Israel heard Hosea’s previous sermons saying that she did not know God, and now she picked up the right words? People can be skilled in doing that.

What they said sounded good. They sounded like they were committed to the Lord. In reality, their experience was far removed from what it professed with the lips.

They forgot the Lord, whom they outwardly worshiped as Defender, by trusting in human works (palaces for fame and fortresses for power) 8:14. Biblical worship seeks only the Lord’s fame and trusts only in his power. What is your boast and your hope (Galatians 6:14; Colossians 1:27)?

They substituted the imaginations of idolatry for God’s spirituality (8:4-6). Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). The Golden Calf, a physical representation of God’s power was more precious to them than God’s real nature. Are we content with God’s revelation of himself — holy, sovereign, all-knowing, Ruler above all and unchanging? Or are you trying to remake God into a more manageable and understandable form?

Grace and peace, David

Purity (Part Two)

Hosea 4:10-19

Occasionally, people become interested in the environment, usually when there is some “health scare” or someone suggests putting a landfill for toxic waster in their immediate area or they watch a video about environmental disasters. Suddenly everyone becomes an environmentalist… for two weeks or a little more! “We must keep our land or air or water pure!” But our subject of purity is hardly one that will excite much interest in our time.

Previously, we considered the Biblical concept of covenantal purity, as seen from God’s design in creation and God’s law (his word).  As God made man and woman to commit to a covenantal relationship with each other and to remain faithful to each one in the marriage relationship, so God has called his people into a covenant relationship with him, and we are to be faithful to the Lord. In both cases we need a high “marriage esteem”.

Hosea wrote about Israel’s violation of covenant purity. He set forth Israel’s transgressions.

  • Israel was unfaithful to the Lord (4:10-13). Israel was married to the Lord in the old covenant, but they were turning away to false gods. To grasp the foolishness of their action, read Isaiah 44:9-20, where idolatry is graphically exposed. They had a spirit, a heart desire for prostitution. This was deep within them, influencing their inner person. Their core was in terrible shape.
  • Israel was deeply involved in sexual immorality. The pagan religions of their day practiced sexual immorality as part of their worship. They believed it was a way to seek favor from their gods (4:13-14). Note the equal treatment of men and women before God’s law. Males throughout history have tried to hide their sexual sins by setting up a low standard for males and another, purer standard for females. The living God has no part in such foolishness and hypocrisy.

Israel’s judgment: God abandoned his people to her sins.

First, Israel’s place of worship, Bethel (“house of God”), was renamed Beth Aven (“house of wickedness”, 4:15). God rejected any pretense that they worshipped him. People in our time need to realize that much of what they call the worship of God is really empty worship, because worship that is not in conformity with the Scriptures is empty worship (Matthew 15:7-9). To worship in conformity with human traditions is empty worship. To worship while condoning sexual immorality is empty worship (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Second, God rejected Israel (also called Ephraim, after the prominent northern tribe) by abandoning her to the idols she had chosen to love. Let them deliver her from the coming whirlwind of judgment (4:17-19)!

  • The word in verse 17 is chilling! How hopeless is someone’s situation when God abandons that person to his or her sins!
  • Notice carefully that physical troubles failed to move people to repentance. The drinks might be gone, but the spirit of prostitution in the heart is deeply seated. After the Black Death of 1347-1350, also called the Great Mortality, people did not live in a godly and holy manner. They might have become religious, but their lifestyle was wicked. Do not expect judgment to reform the western world. Our only hope is a new great awakening.
  • The only expectation for unrepentant people is judgment. A whirlwind would sweep the northern kingdom of Israel away.

God warned Judah to stay clear of Israel’s guilt (4:15). Building your house near a toxic waste site is a poor idea, regardless of how cheap the land is. People have been making human life cheap by pursuing cheap religion and cheap sex. Why not invest in something really worth having, instead of what makes you cheap and useless and empty?

Consider our current crisis. We must understand how deep our problems actually are.

Spiritually, since the 1960s, there has been a growing fascination with eastern religions among Americans. The greedy and the pleasure-seeking and those longing for physical wholeness have heard them promise peace and prosperity without consideration. However, a careful look at the poverty and degradation of the east would have disclosed the emptiness of their promises. Now what should we say about the American evangelical? If the Lord has designed us for a covenant relationship with him, our covenant Lord, do people sense this? Do we know what this means?

For example, a married woman is concerned about how she can please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34). Since the church is married to Christ, we should be showing such love to him. Are we? Or has the church become a woman separated from her professed husband, more concerned about her career than her husband? Think on Colossians 2:19.

Sexually, our people accept and approve of sexual immorality that opposes God’s design and God’s laws. Such immorality is not an alternative lifestyle but rebellion against God. We must know what is contrary to God’s purposes and reject it. God’s purpose is our holiness. When I go to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, I want to watch a major league baseball game. I do not want to watch people acting silly who are dressed in clown suits, who hit a volleyball with a broomstick and run the bases backwards. Neither does God want to watch us make a mockery of his worship and human life.

What is the way out? First, there must be repentance, a change of mind. We must understand that what we believe about God determines our moral character. God cannot be treated with contempt. He does punish people by letting people experience the depths of their rebellion against God (Romans 1:24-27).

Second, true repentance produces reformation. We must practice pure devotion to the Lord. This includes recognition of his ruling providence, instead of luck or astrology. It also means the pursuit of sexual purity (1 Corinthians 6:13b-20).

The only way to purity is through Jesus Christ and his shed blood. Today is the day to have Christ purify your heart and life.

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Seven)

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you (63:4-5 NIV).

Having presented the reason for his experience of praise in an unlikely place, David next described how that praise is expressed. Four ideas come to our attention.

  • God is the object of his praise. His relationship with the living God that included an experience of the Lord’s glory would certainly cause David to praise his God and none other. True praise is not merely participation in religious ritual. Anyone can do that, even the most wicked of humans. Praise to the Lord is the overflow of one’s heart in love, joy and gratitude.
  • David’s praise was expressed verbally in the form of music. He used the talents and skill that God had given him to paint musically a picture of God’s wonderfulness. While those blessed with musical gifts should use them for the glory of God, those lacking them should not neglect this important part of worship. God is the maker of art and beauty, and so we should use artistic means to make known his splendor. To fail to sing praises robs God of the glory that we ought to bring him. Sing to the best of the ability that he has given to you. Our Father knows that some of us were not blessed with musical talent. He still desires to hear our voices.
  • The praise of the Lord should be a constant, lifelong activity. How can we do otherwise when we are in a personal relationship with God, have experienced his glory, and know that his unfailing love is better than life?
  • We should notice the involvement of the physical body in worship. Here David wrote about the lifting up of his hands. There are times to worship and bow down. (Please don’t try to avoid lifting your hands by piously saying you worship quietly. I rarely see anyone on their knees, much less falling prostrate before the true and awesome God.) In the Bible we see people shouting, dancing, clapping, and clanging cymbals! There are times for exuberant praise. When was the last time anyone could say that clearly you joyfully and enthusiastically praised the Lord in public worship?

The third vital experience of the believer is the experience of satisfaction in the Lord. This is something that has been neglected by the typical believer in evangelical circles. Consider the popular Christian books. We have a host of books on “Christian fiction”, prophetic matters, and how to solve your personal problems and prosper. We have a growing number of special interest study Bibles. Dare I mention books about the Christian and politics? I think it is fair to say that most of these books say little about the living God and finding satisfaction in him. To feel good about the form of worship and liking the songs sung to us by “worship leaders” is very far from the experience of delighting in the Lord. We can become so concerned about how we feel about the music, the message, and the other stuff of a typical service that we do not think about worshiping God together as his people. While we will benefit from praise and worship when we do both in faith and love, our benefits are not the goal. We worship and praise in an overflow of our hearts to God. We responsively declare with the outer persons of our bodies and the inner persons of our hearts the greatness and surpassing worthiness of God. More on how this relates to our satisfaction in God next time!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:17-24

We can know God, trust God fervently, and yet come into situations where our faith in God is incredibly tested. We may even know that God has done miracles in response to our faith in him, but we wonder, “Can God provide the help I need now?” Faced with the death of the widow’s son, Elijah knew that  he must trust the living God for a greater miracle. So, Elijah said a powerful prayer. He believed that prayer was more worthwhile than the other actions he could have engaged in. We need to rid ourselves of the saying, “All we can do now is pray.” Stop it. Ideas like that corrupt our minds. Prayer is the best thing we can do.

  • Elijah prayed instead of argued. We need to follow Christ when we cannot understand the ways of God. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). It’s a good rule not to take offense at the words of a grieving person. Not every saint is able to bow before the Lord as meekly as Job was able to (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). Love should cover sorrowful, bitter words that occur at a time of grief.
  • He prayed instead of debated. Some are under the totally misguided notion that all times are opportunities for theological debate. As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2 CSB) Sadly, I have observed this attitude. Don’t dispute in the face of suffering. Show mercy! Humbly, let us remember people need compassion rather than our knowledge. Some think they are being “bold for the Lord” when they are merely being brash for themselves. Christ was compassionate; imitate him.
  • He prayed instead of complained. Some would complain, “Now I’m in such a mess! She’s blaming all this on me, and I didn’t do anything. Poor me!” Does it really matter what someone thinks about you, when they need your help?
  • He prayed instead of questioned. “Why did this happen Lord?” It’s very natural to ask, “Why?” But it may be better to invest the greater part of our energies in asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” Or better, “What will You do now, Lord?”

Elijah refused to look at second causes. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (17:20 NLT) Elijah believed that God is in control, even including the hard events of life. We need to have a larger view of the sovereign God in our thoughts and viewpoints. Think on what the Spirit has written in the Word.

  • [Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22 NIV).
  • I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
  • When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV).

The time of trouble and trials is the time to worship the Lord as God over all, and to call upon him as the Ruler of all.

“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven; therefore, if poverty be good, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses be good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it; for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Three)

Psalm 18:4-6

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (NIV).

Next, David sang about the desperate situation from which the Lord had rescued him. We don’t know the tune to which these words were sung, but a minor key would have been a good choice. In this broken world there are many times that we will be melancholy and downcast. This is unpleasant. David was not ashamed to write about the dark times of his experience. He wanted his people to face cold, gloomy reality.

This is very unlike some of the songs I learned in Sunday School in my childhood. Here is a one: “I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time.” I assume that the teachers wanted Sunday School to be a warm, welcoming place. And after World War II, the Korean War, and during the Cold War, they themselves probably wanted to escape from the horrors of life. However, the song did not present an accurate view of life or what the Lord promised his people in their walk with him. The point is not to fill the hearts of children with terror, but it is to say what is accurate.

Accuracy about life and God’s ability to deliver fill this psalm. David started the song on a positive note. Then, in the verses quoted above, he described the reason God’s might was needed to rescue. In the English of the NIV, depressing “D” words pile up to make his point: death… destruction… distress. The word translated grave is the Hebrew Sheol, the invisible realm of the dead, from which only the Lord can deliver. David piled up words to announce that he was totally dependent on God, apart from his mighty power, he was certain to die. Until we understand our desperate need, we will not cry out to the Lord to save. David wanted people to feel how bad his case was. Unless the living God had intervened, he was dead.

In this apparently hopeless situation, David did what people who believe in God do. He prayed. Notice again the personal relationship he claimed with God: I cried to my God for help. Because he knew God, he brought his requests to God. He knew that God heard him. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. God has compassion on us in our trials. He may not answer the way we want or expect, but he does act as we pray. David wrote to give God’s people words and ideas for us when we cry out to the Lord. He wanted them to know that in the bleakest times, God hears and cares and helps his people. Don’t give way to despair. God might well have closed one way for you. But he who will not lead you one way will lead you another, as you trust in him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Two)

Psalm 18:1-3

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies (NIV).

David spoke God’s words to his people. He let them know the truth about their covenant Lord, the living God. In this song (always remember that the psalms were intended to be sung), he also wants them to feel the greatness of their God. He wants them to delight in the reality of all that God had made known to them. Too often believers have heard the poor counsel, “You shouldn’t be feeling that way. Now stop emoting like that and do this list of actions.” That is not how the Father in heaven speaks to us in his word. Listen to what the Spirit led David to write.

David related to God in an intensely, special way. He used the word “my” nine times about God in these three verses. We do this about people we love constantly: my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, my child, my grandchild, and my friend. We claim them as ours. Love naturally “hugs” those that we love. David was not ashamed to interact with God personally, even when writing a worship song. Hopefully, the point is obvious, but in case it’s not, when we sing in public worship, we reach out to claim our special relationship with God. Be bold; God likes it when we’re bold (Hebrews 4:16).

David expanded on previous revelation about God. The Lord in his word reveals himself in a progressive manner, building upon what he has already said in the past. Some people try to “find the whole Bible” in Genesis 1-12, or they say that “this passage is the Bible in miniature”. Never is correct. In the Scriptures, God made himself known bit by bit, carefully building on what he previously declared, until the fullness of his revelation in Christ as made known in the New Testament Scriptures. For example, God gave types and shadows of the Messiah in the writings before he came, which the writings after his death and resurrection explain more fully. In this psalm, David calls God his “Rock” a few times. This name from God comes from three texts in the Torah (Gen 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4, 31). The best known opens the Song of Moses, which Christians today should know much better than we do (cf. Revelation 15:3). The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he (Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV). When we are familiar with this verse, we can see that David works this text out through the remainder of this psalm. In other words, part of what David sings is his meditation on Moses’ song. Ponder Colossians 3:16 in this context about what we ought to be doing when we sing in church. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalm s and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16 ESV, my emphasis).

David’s descriptive names of the Lord flow out from his experience of God and his protection during his years of trial and suffering. God is his strength, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation, and stronghold. Read through David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel up to this point, and listen to various psalms that he wrote about his troubles, and you will discover these concepts coming out from what he lived. Using what God has made known about his name, we likewise can speak of our God in this way. Though our life situations will be different from David’s, yet we can see, for example, that he has been our deliverer in many ways. We can sing to the Lord our experience of who he has been in our lives. As we read God’s word, these ideas will begin to pop out in our praise. Develop your relationship with God, as David modeled it in this psalm.

Grace and peace, David

A Lesson in Praise (Part One)

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom (NIV).

Have you ever thought about everything our ancestors had to do to survive? A trip to Old Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation can remind us of how much of their lives was dedicated to survival. Think of all that they had to make by hand. Except in museums and among survivalists, their skills are basically a lost art. Except on Thanksgiving Day, their praise and worship of God has been lost also.

As long as our higher technology endures, it doesn’t matter if we are ignorant of their basic survival skills in physical matters. It is nice to know about the past, but we don’t need to live in it. Yet we must realize that there is another area of life, the spiritual, in which our technological achievements provide us no help. We can operate things we have made: automobiles, automatic dishwashers and vacuums, online banking, entertainment devices, microwave ovens, and computers. The Pilgrims would be at a complete loss about what to do with them. But we do not know how to relate to the God who created us. We need a lesson in praise.

In the Bible the Holy Spirit has told us how we can know God and relate to him. He used men like David, the man after God’s own heart, to write about the way to praise God. In this psalm, David praises God for his glory and fame (1-7), his goodness (8-10), his kingdom (11-13), his providence (14-16), and his saving mercy (17-21). Let us listen attentively to what has been written about praising God for his glory and fame.

Proper worship requires full personal involvement (145:1-2). It begins with entering into a personal relationship with the living God. It is the wonder of being known by God and knowing God. We hear his voice in the Scriptures, and respond to him through faith by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation of this relationship is our union with Christ, in whom we are right with God by grace through faith. David understood it and gloried in it. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Romans 4:5-8 NIV). Since his sins were forgiven, he could call the Lord my God the King. The fountain of praise bubbles with the joy of justification. David understood his place in this relationship. Though he was king of Israel, he knew that he had a King, the Lord God Almighty. The forgiven soul likes to kneel before the Throne of Grace and worship the King of grace.

Since he had a relationship with the living God, David acted as such a one should. We know that a husband and wife should treat each other with love and respect. They pledge these things to each other in the marriage covenant. In the context of this psalm, how does David teach us to treat God? He committed himself to praise forever. A new master plan is in place for the rest of his existence. He also committed himself to praise daily. A new, happy routine or habit was added to his life. The first commitment is the big picture. The second is each stroke of the paintbrush. An artist doesn’t usually paint the whole picture at one time. He or she consistently works toward the larger goal. So it is with our life with God. We walk with him daily, always grateful, while growing in gratitude.

Evaluate your own commitment to praise. Is there one? How well are you doing? To use the illustration, how consistently have you worked on the painting? Do your brushes need cleaned? Do you need to add some new colors?

Grace and peace, David

God’s Reassuring Promise (Part One)

Genesis 46:1-7

The setting of this scene is the happy reunion that Joseph had with his brothers, and his encouragement to them to come to Egypt. There he promised to provide for them. Pharaoh and his high officials approved of Joseph’s plan, and likewise encouraged Joseph’s family. Truly God was at work in their hearts that they would so readily receive foreigners into their land.

Older dispensational theology considered the event spoken of in this section to be the final climatic failure of man under the so-called “dispensation of promise.” According to that view, mankind had failed to live by promise; now God will put mankind under a new test, the Law. However, I think it will be clearly evident, as we consider this section, that it teaches no such thing. There is not a hint of rebuke by the Lord to Jacob for what he does. No other Scripture condemns him either. Instead, we find God reassuring Jacob to proceed with the plan suggested by his son Joseph. What really took place was this. In the plan of God announced to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-14), the time for Israel’s entrance into Egypt had arrived. The Lord himself spoke to encourage Jacob to not shrink back from this time.

First, we Jacob’s faith in action (46:1). So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17 ESV). He had to believe in God’s word through his son Joseph. His faith had to overcome a great obstacle. He believed Joseph had been dead for twenty years. Think of the way that Jacob had lived based on that misinformation for twenty years! He had to come to a complete change of mind now. In a similar way, the unbelieving sinner has lived on wrong ideas his or her whole life. When brought by grace to Christ, a thorough change of mind occurs. It is a long process to work this change of mind out in all areas of life with actions appropriate to repentance.

Jacob’s faith was strengthened by the evidence presented. He received the word of Joseph (45:27; cf. 45:9-11; 37:11). He saw the carts that were sent to take him to Egypt. We have like evidence. We have the written word of God and what it tells us of the Risen Christ. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

His faith impelled Jacob to set out for Egypt. What good would it have been to say, “I believe God can provide for me and my family,” and not leave for Egypt to get the provision? True faith in God is accompanied by believing activity. A true faith in Jesus Christ goes to Him for the free gift of righteousness, and then lives according to the gift received.

Jacob’s faith included worship. He found a suitable place to worship. We who live in the new covenant and worship by the Spirit of God (John 4:21-24) ought to remember a different way of worship applied to all believers who lived before Jesus the Messiah appeared. This can help understand various passages, like Psalm 84.

It was a place where the Lord had appeared to his father Isaac and promised his blessing. There was an altar there (Genesis 26:23-25). Jacob approached God in a suitable manner of worship. Jacob offered sacrifices to the Lord as the godly seed had since the time of Abel. Now we have a better sacrifice, which says, “It has been paid in full! Christ is your righteousness and way to God” (cf. Ephesians 3:12). Because of Christ’s finished work of redemption, we can approach the Holy God boldly and joyfully. We can rely on him through all of life’s unexpected twists and turns, and turnarounds.

Grace and peace, David