Tuesday, January 29, 2008


1 Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, "Glory!"
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
11 The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

--Psalm 29

We think we are in control. We think we are slowly gaining more and more control of our surroundings. The ancients understood the world to be under God's control. Drought, famine, rain, plenty--were all at the whim of God. God was in control and deserved praise. But our modern world has squeezed Him out. We have conquered nature. We sit in our heated or air conditioned homes. We travel the world in a day. And we feel in control. But come on. A friend of mine was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We are not in control. One patch of black ice or a poorly timed cell phone call--we are not in control. And even aside from the dramatic, there was a period in my life when within a year I picked up the phone to make calls that would radically have altered the course of my life, but stopped. If I had or hadn't waited a day or two longer maybe I'd have come to a different conclusion and now be somewhere totally different. We are not in control. I was browsing through a bookstore with a friend. He pointed out a book about a guy he'd heard something about whom I'd only barely heard of. I bought the book on a whim. Two years later I almost moved to England to study the guy. We are not in control. We arrogantly turn from God when we should gather in his temple and cry "Glory." And when we do, he gives us peace.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Confident Praise

1 To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.

Psalm 28:1-2

When you're a kid, silly, mean, obnoxious things can be hysterical. The famous whoopie cushion is always good for a laugh or putting toothpaste on someone when they are sleeping. And then there is pulling a chair out from underneath someone when they sit down. Do you remember that frightening feeling that hits you as you fall backwards to the ground? Perhaps you've walked in the dark and stepped off the edge of the stairs. You thought there was something there on which to ground yourself.
The psalmist here once again refers to God as his rock. He is the foundation on which his life is built, on which his life rests. And so when God isn't there, when God turns a deaf ear, when God remains silent, it is as if the whole bottom falls out and he stumbles into the pit.
I have had long periods of time when God seems all but silent. There are times when I really need to hear from him but find nothing. So this psalm is very comforting. For whatever reason, in the mystery of God's wisdom and providence, the rock of our salvation appears at times to move from underneath us. The Word of God does not try to hide the darkness that God's people can sometimes experience. But it encourages us to trust Him nonetheless. Despite the psalmist's frustration, he goes on to say "Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy, and I will give thanks to him in song." (28:6-7) Perhaps this section was written after the psalmist experienced God's deliverance firsthand. I think it more likely that this comes at the same time as the prayer of despair. But the psalmist has such confidence in God that despite God's apparent absence he can praise Him as if He's already delivered him.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Troubled Heart

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.

18 Look upon my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
--Psalm 25:16-18

Loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can be lonely in a crowd of people. You can be lonely around your friends. John Mayer says "I'm not alone, I wish I was, cause then I'd know I was down because I couldn't find a friend around to love me like they do right now." I have felt quite lonely lately. The passage goes on to say, and I believe it to be linked to the previous verse, "the troubles of my heart have multiplied." When your heart is troubled it often doesn't matter who is around. You will feel lonely. The passage doesn't say who is responsible for the multiplication of troubles in the psalmist's heart. But in the very next verse he asks for forgiveness of his sins. So I think it likely that he sees the multiplication of troubles in his heart to be as much his own fault as any one else's or of any arrangement of circumstances out of his control. We are often the king of multiplying the troubles of our own hearts. We are our own worst enemies. May God guard and protect us from ourselves and may we find refuge in him.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beautiful View

1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.
-Psalm 18:1-3

Everyone loves a personal testimony. Here the psalmist begins by telling us what he has learned or been reassured of. In the next 16 verses he will describe why he knows this and how his life experience revealed this. "In my distress I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came before his ears." Where do we go when we are distressed? I often wallow in self-absorbed depression. It's easy for me to focus--no, dwell--upon all that is wrong with my world. But do we turn to God with it? And I mean more than mere lip service. I've been influenced by the Christian subculture in which I've grown up long enough that a quick prayer in times of trouble is almost automatic. But how often is it really heartfelt?

Over and over again in the scriptures God is called our rock. He is our foundation. He is that which orders all things around us. Psalm 27:5 says, "For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock." Here, as elsewhere, the rock is a rock on high. When we rest on the rock of the Lord we are put in a place of perspective. So often we find ourselves meandering in the woods and can't see the forest for the trees. But God leads us to Him--he leads us to a place where we can see everything in its proper perspective. Turning to God in times of distress is like climbing up on that rock where we can see things as they really are. And we when we see things from God's perspective, it is always a beautiful view.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Colossians Interruption

"9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

--Colossians 1:4-14

We often think of God's will or plan for our lives in terms of events. What life course of events does he have in store for me? However, this passage suggests that though specific life calling may be part and parcel of God's plan for our lives, God's will is more specifically about HOW we live than where, when, or with whom. The result of a "knowledge of his will" is that we may please God through living a life of good works. Spiritual wisdom with regard to the will of God is to know exactly how to live a life of good works through whatever circumstances we may face. This requires true wisdom because the line between true holy living and legalism is not always very clear. Moreover, the knowledge of God's will comes with the power and the strength to live according to His will.

(Having finished 1 Peter I decided to blog on this passage until I figure out which book to begin next)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Forest for the Trees

12With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

-1 Peter 5:12-14

I'm getting married. I said, I'm getting married!! After 31 years of singleness I find that I often have to repeat this to myself in order to really believe it. It seems too good to be true. Similarly, Peter has just summed up the breathtaking goal and purpose of the entirety of human history--that God's grace will restore us to his glory. As I say often, the biggest obstacle to the Christian faith is that it seems simply too good to be true. It is beyond what we can wrap our depraved and earthly minds around. So the most powerful and meaningful of phrases become mere religious sentimentality. You can find millions who recite the Nicene Creed from memory every week in church with the same enthusiasm as if they were offering their social security number. They proclaim the resurrection of the dead as if they were already lying in their graves. So Paul wants to remind us once again of the grace that he proclaimed a verse earlier and indeed throughout the book. This grace of God is true. It really is. Let God pull your mind up for a moment. Pull you out of the valley of the vicissitudes of the here and now to see beyond. Let Him show you the forest for the trees.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Realism and Idealism

10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
--1 Peter 5:10-11

Grace, eternal glory, restoration are all words of such magnitude that they often slip beyond our comprehension. The promises of our God are simply too great for us to grasp--like a diamond ring to a five year old. This verse unites the realist and the idealist. Life is hard. Life is full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The cumulative burden of our worldly existence weighs heavily upon us all. We must not face life with fanciful and unrealistic dreams about what it has in store for us. There will be suffering and hardship. And yet ultimately we are called to eternal glory in Christ. To be honest, I have no idea what that means! I could explain it, but it would all be with theological jargon that sometimes fails to connect with the reality of daily existence. However deep and intangible may our inheritance of the riches of God's eternal glory be, in the meantime we are assured that the struggles of the day-to-day will not overcome us. Though they may once have, and sometimes still do, God will restore our brokenness and give us the strength to endure the present and laugh at the days to come. (Prov. 31)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Spirit Powered Self-Control

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
-1 Peter 5:8-9

This verse highlights an important theological tension with regard to our propensity to sin. "Be self-controlled and alert" is an exhortation based on the understanding that destructive tendencies originate from within and without at the same time. To say "the devil made me do it" is an excuse based on a half truth. Yes, the devil is on the prowl and we must be alert and aware that he will use anything to destroy us. And yet at the same time we are responsible to control our own actions. Every destructive act originates within us.

Secondly, this verse reveals to us the harrowing depths of the power of sin. We can be devoured. We can be destroyed. Many of us are alive only by the skin of our teeth--by the rescuing hand of redemption. Never before have I been so keenly aware of my own vulnerability to the powers that would like to see me destroyed. It is sometimes frightening to feel how easy it would be to allow oneself to fall victim to circumstances of irreparable damage.

So we must stand firm in the faith. Nowhere does the perplexing theological tension between God's sovereignty and human freedom find such practical expression than in the necessity that we be self-controlled by the power of the Spirit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Letting Go

5Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble." 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
-1 Peter 5:5-7

It's almost frustrating how simple the Christian life is. Over and over again we see the same thing coming through in various forms. Love one another, serve one another, show humility towards one another. Many of us have been burned--so taken advantage of that our reaction is to hold on to what we've got as tight as we can. We hold on to life with a death grip and end up extinguishing the very thing we want so dearly. Yet Christ's calling is clear. Let go. Take the risk. Leave it all in His hands and he will take care of you.