Provocative Devotion: Further Thoughts on Psalm 22

Previously I reflected on the power of this Psalm, one quoted by Jesus as He hung on a cross. At the heart of the Gospel is the testimony of this Psalm, that Jesus willingly experienced the punishment for sin that I deserved. In the midst of that punishment He cried out in anguish because the Father turned away from Him and the sin He bore for me.

But there is more to this Psalm than the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The second half of the Psalm takes a decidedly different turn as the author declares his intent to praise God in the midst of the nations so that people can turn to the Lord and worship Him.

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted[d] shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it. Psalm 22:22-31

If you have experienced the life changing salvation that comes as a result of Jesus death for you, how can you do anything but declare His glory to the nations? How can you do anything but praise Him in the great congregation? It baffles me that so many who claim to follow and believe in Christ are unwilling to let others know of His wondrous deeds. How is it possible to have tasted of the delight of life in Christ and not speak of it? We are so quick to fill the world of social media with news of what we ate for dinner, quizzes that tell us the country me should live in or what our I.Q. is. Yet we are reticent to praise Jesus with our lives and in real conversation with people sitting across the table from us.

I can only conclude that we take for granted and hold lightly, what Jesus has done on the cross. Reading Psalm 22 with open eyes and open heart can change that. Because Jesus was pierced through for my transgressions, I will worship Him and tell of His greatness to the nations.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 22

Typically I post the Psalm I am going to reflect on at the beginning of the post followed by some thoughts on how that Psalm impacts me. Sometimes it has been the entire Psalm and other times just a portion. As I was reading and reflecting on Psalm 22 it was abundantly clear that I needed to post the entire Psalm. Although each section is powerful in its own right, the impact of the entire Psalm is beyond measure. It also became obvious to me that it was more appropriate to simply introduce the Psalm and then let it speak on its own. Any following commentary on my part at this point seemed only to detract from the weight and power of these words. Maybe by Monday morning I will have more to say about it by way of personal reflection but for now that reflection is still churning inside me in a whirlwind of thoughts about Jesus, the Cross, what He endure for me, hoe the Father turned His face away from the Son for me, and how ultimately the Father vindicated the Son.

So I copy the entire Psalm here and ask that you do yourself a favor and prayerfully read the entire Psalm and as you do, think about Jesus. How can you do otherwise really since be quoted the opening words of of Psalm 22 just moments before His death on the cross and the rest of the Psalm clearly describes the scene that played out beneath His feet that day.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises[a] of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet[b]
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued[c] me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted[d] shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 21

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
    when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
    and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
    though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
    you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power. Psalm 21:8-13

We have gentled God, de-clawed Him, turned Him into the kindly cosmic grandfather in His rocking chair when so often the Bible speaks of Him as the warrior, the Lion of Judah, the victor, and conqueror. Because we have done this to God we are usually put off by passages like this that speak of God as one who brings wrath upon evil. I understand wanting to relate to a loving God into whose lap we can climb and find comfort and strength. But we cannot have that God without also having a God who is victorious over evil. How can a de-clawed God rescue the oppressed from the wicked? How can an emaciated God stand forth in power and strength over the forces of evil that seek to steal, kill, and destroy? We need words like this in order to give us the hope that one day goodness will indeed vanquish evil and that The King of Kings will rule in completeness over the earth.

But the question remains, why have we de-clawed God? Why do we only want the kindly grandfather? I suspect it is because we are not certain of God’s love in our lives and as a result we are unwilling to face the possibility that He may bring correction or reproof onto us. But the Bible is clear that a loving Father does correct his children and his children know they are loved because their father deals with behavior that is ungodly and would do themselves harm. They also know they are loved by their father because their father will do whatever is necessary to protect them from evil people who would seek to do them harm.

It is not pleasant to think of God bringing His judgement to bear on people. But it is far less pleasant to think of a world in which evil is given free-reign and God never intervenes. We need a God who is strong and upright and powerful while at the same time being loving and gentle and kind. One without the other is only half a God, which is no God at all.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire
    and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!  Psalm 20:1-5

 “I got your back”. How encouraging are those words when you hear them from someone you know you can count on and trust no matter what. This Psalm is the epitome of God saying, “I got your back”. No matter what trouble I face I am told that the God of Jacob will protect me. If I am in dire straights I can be assured that help will be sent by God from His sanctuary. When I come to the Lord with the right heart I am assured He will receive my offering of praise and worship.

If God is willing to assure my salvation and I am going to rejoice over that greatest of all gifts, how can I not trust that He stand by me when I am in need. For God to help me from Heaven in the everyday stuff of life is a small thing compared to His sacrifice on my behalf for my salvation. Oh Lord I rejoice! I shout with delight and thanksgiving that you have have stretched forth your holy hand to to rescue me and give me life. God I love you and praise you! You alone are my rock and my salvation. Thank you for all your gifts and mercies. Nothing compares to you and the confidence you instill in me by your promise to never leave or forsake me.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 19

The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

I love the grace of God. The joy of the gift of salvation that comes through Christ’s grace and mercy is beyond measure. Without the grace of God and am lost, adrift, helpless, and hopeless. I would never want to have to live under the burden of being perfect and earning love. What joy and freedom comes from knowing that I am forgiven and loved by God because of His mercy and not my efforts to follow the law.

Many have embraced the grace of God and at the same time rejected His law. No we are not under the law when it comes to our salvation, but we dare not reject His law and its benefits. David is right in embracing the law of the Lord as perfect and that it revives the soul. When I follow the precepts of the Lord and live according to them, not to gain God’s love but because I have it and love Him, then I find the joy of pleasing my Lord and living a life free from the rebellion that sucks the life out of me. When we know the love of God and the joy of the Gospel then living according to the statutes of the Lord is not bondage but freedom. It is not loathsome but sweet, sweet like honey straight from the honeycomb.

Lord may I so embrace the Gospel and your love that I find deep joy and satisfaction in following your commands, not to gain your approval but in response to the grace and mercy you have poured out on the cross for me.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 18

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;[a]
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears. Psalm 18:1-6

What joy this Psalm brings me. What confidence in life. There is no one or no thing that provides the strength, protection, comfort, and salvation that is provided by our God. Rock, Fortress, Deliverer, Shield, Horn of Salvation, Stronghold, that is our God. No matter what enemy entangles me, even the cords of death, the Lord is at my right hand and will see me through to the end. It does not me I will never face these enemies. They are part of life in a fallen world and for the follower of Christ who is engaging the forces of darkness in the world.

There will be times of distress when I must cry out to the Lord, times when I am empty of strength to win the battle. A cry to the Lord, no matter how weak and desperate, will reach His ears and He will not turn away. When the Lord hears our cry He acknowledges it and acts on behalf of those who are His own. To know that such a God loves me as His own and promises to never let me experience ultimate destruction gives me strength.

How do I know He will answer and never leave or forsake me? Because the Lord who went to the cross on my behalf has promised it. The Lord who went to the extreme of having the sins of the world thrust upon Him in order to secure my salvation would not fail to be my shield in far less severe circumstances. If Jesus is willing to embrace the rejection of the Father as He turns His back on the sin-bearer, then surely He would not fail to be my Rock, Fortress, Deliverer, Shield, Horn of Salvation, Stronghold.

Dear Franklin, Here Is Why I Will Still Shop at Target

Recently Franklin Graham issued a call for Christians to let the shopping store giant Target know that they are not pleased with Targets move to make the presentation of some items in their stores gender neutral. Reverend Graham’s concern is that such a move disregards the biblical teaching that God made humanity as male and female and that this is one more step in political correctness run amok as it tramples biblical truth.

As I understand it what Target has said is that some items will no longer be separated into boys sections and girls sections. Notably the examples given were things like bedding and toys. So it seems that My Little Pony and Hello Kitty bedspreads and pillow covers will be sold right alongside Transformer and Guardians of the Galaxy sets. The sign on the aisle will say, children’s bedding or something similar and not Boys Bedding and Girls Bedding. In the toy section there will be Tonka Trucks next to Malibu Barbie’s Corvette Convertible and the sign will not say Boys Vehicles and Girls Vehicles but simply Vehicles. The result being if a girl wants to play with the latest yellow bulldozer and a boy wants a cool looking convertible they don’t have to walk down an aisle clearly not meant for them.

Help me out here but how does this violate the biblical teaching of male and female? What Reverend Graham seems to be missing, along with massive numbers of people who have jumped on the bandwagon is that much of what we consider to be biblical teaching on gender is nothing more than long-established cultural practices without any biblical warrant. Nowhere in the Bible does it make blue a boys color and pink a girls color and warn that if you mix that up you are denying God’s created order.

Are there issues related to gender that the culture is pushing that do violate God’s created order? Absolutely. The whole sex change industry is a case in point. Are there people who support that position who will applaud Target’s move? Certainly. But that does not make Target’s announcement a violation of biblical principles and does not make them a legitimate target, no pun intended, for verbal attacks and boycotting of their business by Christians.

There are a few things that this kind of campaign by Christians accomplishes. The least damaging is that people outside the faith see one more set of angry Christians making a big deal out of something that is a complete non-issue for them and as a result they further tune out what Christians have to say. At worse they get their hackles up over what they perceive to be another example of unwarranted judgmentalism on the part of Christians and it serves to confirm their revulsion for all things biblical. Additionally this teaches Christians that the way to change the world is by confrontation, boycott, petitions, and angry speeches. If there is anything in all this that is not biblical it would be that.

Jesus made it clear that we change the world through the power of the Gospel as we fulfill the Great Commission and through the power of loving God and neighbor, even enemies, as we fulfill the Great Commandment. Separating from the world was never an option. Berating the world is also not an option. Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 when he said to separate ourselves from immoral people, meaning those in the church who refuse to repent not the people of the world. He says the only way to separate from immoral people in the world would be to leave the world all together. That is clearly not an option. Rather we are to be about the ministry of reconciliation bringing the Gospel to a dying world. We are to get closer to them, not further away. We should expect them to behave like the world for they are of the world.

We must never forget that Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton by the religious separatists. He was accused of this because He got close to and hung out with and loved them. Rather than not shopping at Target, I am fairly certain that Jesus would shop there regularly. He would sit in the coffee shop and chat with people, ask them questions about what they are buying and offering them eternal life in the process.

Does this mean we never let the world know what is right and wrong, that loving people means accepting everything as good and wonderful? Of course not. Biblical love also involves speaking the truth but it is speaking it in a loving way, not a judgmental, “I am better than you kind of way”. It also means focusing on the big picture and what really matters. How boys and girls pillow cases and toys are displayed in a store is nowhere on the list of things that really matter in the sharing of the Gospel. What matters is, am I building a relationship with people who do not know Jesus so they can see the love of Jesus in me and can experience that love in their lives? Am I getting close enough to them so that they can learn that you don’t need to strive to be good enough to get into heaven but that you can have eternal life because you trust and love Jesus? I need to get close enough for them to see that I am not perfect and that I know I am not perfect. They need to see that I know my only hope in life and in death is in my beautiful savior Jesus Christ and they can have that hope too. That is why I will still shop at Target, have meals with people who do not love Jesus, get close to people who live messy lives, invite people who are far from God into my home, and love the enemies of Christ and His Gospel. I can do nothing less because at one time I was an enemy of Christ and His Gospel and some people risked getting close enough to me, in all my messiness and false beliefs, so that I could come to Him. If you are a follower of Christ that is your story as well. Let us never forget where we have come from and that we have gotten where we are only because of the grace of Christ.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 17

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
    incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show[a] your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me. Psalm 17:6-9

In reading this cry for deliverance from David I cannot help but think of Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 10 verse 13, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Imagine being trapped in a deep pit with no way out. Even if there was a way you could not make it because your arms and legs are broken. You have no idea if anyone is nearby to hear your cries for help. You are helpless and facing eventual death in that pit. Your cry out time and again to no avail when suddenly you hear a voice and then a face appears above you and a rope is lowered as your rescuer descends into the pit, secures your to the rope and eventually lifts you out of the pit.

David is crying out for such deliverance and he is confident of receiving it because of the Lord’s steadfast love. You and I cry out for deliverance as well and when we call upon the Name of the Lord he answers. Jesus descended from on high into the pit of human existence in order to rescue us when we were completely and utterly incapable of rescuing ourselves. Our only recourse is to call on Him and receive the deliverance He provides through His death and resurrection. That deliverance is from our ultimate enemy, death, and from our enemy the Devil who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. But the Lord shelters us in the shadow of His wings and pours His love upon us.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 16

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.[d]
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being[e] rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.[f]

11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  Psalm 16:7-11

Religious people don’t understand this Psalm. By religious people I mean any of us who deep down think that we need behave in a certain way in order to please God and that if we don’t then God will be angry with us. I hear it all the time, people have something go badly in life and they ask, “what did I do to deserve this from God?” Ot the opposite, “I have done everything right, why are things going better for me God?”

Both of those sentiments are born in religiosity, the view that God is a great accountant in the sky adding up the columns of our good and bad deeds and we hope we have more good than bad, or that God grades on a curve. Religious people live under the cloud of uncertainty, have I done enough, am I good enough, am I going to be allowed into heaven? They know nothing of the delight and joy of having God as a heavenly Father who loves them unconditionally. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross becomes just an example for what we should do rather than the most loving sacrifice ever made on our behalf. the cross becomes a metaphor rather than the power of salvation. The resurrection becomes an illustration of starting over rather than the assurance of our future hope and resurrection.

Religion knows no joy. It finds no pleasure at God’s right hand. The Gospel and grace and salvation and being loved by Jesus Christ to the point of the Cross, to knows those things is fullness of joy and pleasures forever more.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 15

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

The hope and promise of dwelling for all eternity in the presence of The Living God, beholding His beauty and glory, worshiping Him with utmost delight, basking in His holiness, it stirs my heart as beyond description. To stand in awe of God, to fall prostrate before Him. I long to do this out of gratitude for the endless love He poured out for me on the Cross when Jesus suffered and died, rose to life, ascended to heaven, and promised to return on day for me.

I can only read and appreciate this Psalm in the light of the Gospel, the work of Christ that by faith secured my salvation. If I read this Psalm without the benefit of the Gospel I find myself depressed and shaken. Who will dwell on God’s holy hill? Only he who walks blamelessly and does right. I am not that man. I am a sinner, beset by my own weaknesses and flesh. Only Jesus walked in perfect righteousness always doing what is right in the eyes of the Father. I could never, and you could never strive with enough intensity to be righteous in our own strength. We are doomed to never set foot on God’s holy hill.

But as Paul cries out in his Letter to the Romans, THANKS BE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST MY SAVIOUR! It is only in Christ and because of Christ that I can be considered righteous. He has granted to me the benefit of His righteousness and because of that I will one day walk on that holy hill. Not because of my own efforts at perfection but because of His perfect love and sacrifice.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,[a]
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they are in great terror,
    for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
    but[b] the Lord is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

This is a rather depressing view of humanity. There is none who does good, not even one. Those are not words that go over well in a culture that says human beings are basically good and that when we do wrong it is an aberration. David see humanity as basically bad and it is unusual when we do good. As I read the headlines I am forced to agree with David. YEs there is good that happens in the world but if we are basically good, how can you possibly pass off ISIS, Al Shabab, human trafficking, gang raps across India, Boko Haram kidnapping hundreds of young girls, mass shootings and more as isolated aberrations? Especially when those are only one days worth of headlines.

I suspect David is right. The human heart is deceptive and wicked. We are prone to violence. We are prone to abuse of others. We are this way because even if we do not say there is no God, we act as if there is no God. We put God in a box and lock Him away, even if only for the time it takes for us to sin. Why do we think God is unaware and will not act? As he so often does, David closes this Psalm with a reliance on God that the God of all creation will be our refuge and will restore the fortunes of His people. Then we will rejoice and be glad.

But before that comes to pass I must wrestle with my own sin and rebellion. I have to come to grips with the fact that my heart is often wicked and deceptive. I am a far greater sinner than I want to admit. But the Good News is that God loves me far more than I could ever hope for. I cannot rescue myself from a deceptive heart, but the Lord of Glory, the God of Zion, will bring salvation and be my refuge. Oh Lord how wonderful you are. Praise your name. I rejoice that you are God and I am not.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Abandoned. Forgotten, Set adrift by God to languish in an endless ocean of grief without sail or paddle, subject to the capricious nature of the currents. David feels such grief. In his conflict with those who would seem him ruined he has become convinced that God has turned away from him. The heartache pours out of each line of this Psalm.

David is not alone in his grief. How often have I as a pastor heard the same words from people, “Why has God abandoned me?” The cry of bewilderment that wants an answer from God is on David’s lips and has been on the lips of countless faithful people over the ages. The pain is real. The voice of the Lord remains silent. David never gets an answer to his plea for God to speak. Yet, remarkably David does not stay in despair. Instead he looks back on God’s faithfulness in times past, times when God has made His presence known and dealt bountifully with David. Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, David will rejoice in the present, in his salvation.

How often do I complain to God about current circumstances and forget that He has provided me with an answer to my deepest struggle even terror? He has provided me with eternal life through Christ. He has given me the salvation of my soul, not only in the life to come but in this life as well. I complain about my circumstances but how much worse would they be if not for Christ. Would I even be alive today to draw breath with which to complain to God?

Follower of Christ, no matter your circumstances today, God has not abandoned you. He may be remaining silent for a time but that is for your own growth, a chance to reflect in the quietness, an opportunity to look back on all His benefits and rejoice in your salvation. God never answered David in this Psalm and it is good that he did not, because in the silence David remembered all the goodness of God and he leaned into that remembrance and trusted once again and rejoiced and gave praise.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 12

Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
    for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
    our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord;
    “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us[ from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

There is much hand wringing going on in America these days because fewer people are going to church. The concern is that the godly are disappearing, to use David’s phrase. But David didn’t use attendance at the Temple as the indicator of godliness or lack there of. He mentions two things. People are not being honest and the poor are being exploited. To be sure this is not a justification for abandoning the gathering of the saints together. Scripture affirms the necessity of that practice and people who say they can follow God without other people are sadly mistaken. But more to the point of this Psalm, we live in a time when both these things are true, people are quick to speak lies and to exploit others for their own advantage.

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. He is the way, the truth, and the life. God cares deeply about the words we speak because He cares deeply about truth. As a follower of Christ I must speak truth. Often people think being loving trumps being truthful. Under the guise of not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings we hide the truth. But most often I have found that the real reason we do this is because we don’t want to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position. Failing to speak the truth is not loving, it is dishonest and not godly. Ephesians tells us to speak the truth in love, they go together.

The exploitation of the poor is more than taking advantage of them. When the Bible forbids something, like exploiting the poor, it also by implication affirms the opposite, the protection and empowering of the poor. I may not be taking advantage of the poor, but am I respecting and loving them as people made in the image of God? Fortunately the Lord has watch over the poor and in spite of my lack of concern at times, Jesus is always their advocate. As one who is spiritually poor, even bankrupt, I am indebted to Jesus for His watching over me and paying the price for my salvation. How much more should I be concerned for those poor of every description that Jesus also loves?

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 11

In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord‘s throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

So many of David’s Psalms deal with struggles in life. Maybe that is a reason they are so precious to so many people, because they are so real and honest. Even in the brief seven verses of this Psalm there are at least two major areas of struggle that David laments. One is that the Lord puts the righteous person to the test and the other is that the righteous person has enemies. I suspect that the two things are essentially linked. The Lord often uses the wicked to test, strengthen, correct, those He loves. He did it by using the Babylonians and the destruction Jerusalem and exile of its people. Why would be not do something similar in my life and yours?

Do I look at those who oppose me as enemies to be reviled? Or do I look at them as people whom God is using to chastise and strengthen me? Is it possible that those who on the surface would be considered enemies, are really a gift from God? They are instruments in God’s hand to shape me more into the image of Christ? After all, were not those who had Jesus nailed to the cross actually doing something that would ultimately result in my salvation? It makes me think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. The result of that terrible action was that eventually Joseph had a high position of authority in Egypt from which he was able to save all his brothers and their families from death by starvation. Joseph’s eventual response to his brothers was that what they meant for evil, God intended for good.

I need to see all the circumstance of my life through the lens of God’s goodness. That He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and nothing escapes His notice or happens to me without His consent and that all that happens to me is intended by Him to mold and shape me into Christ likeness. It may be painful at the time, even bewildering, but I know that through it all He intends for me to be able to behold His face forever more.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 10

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
    let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
    and the one greedy for gain curses[a] and renounces the Lord.

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.

16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Where is God when life hurts? Where is God when things fall apart? Where is God when wicked people to terrible things to the weak, powerless, and unsuspecting? It is the cry of the ages. Where is God when bad things happen? In the moment of pain there it is often difficult to find answers to that question. We become overwhelmed and bewildered when we do not see God at work.

We expect God to take care of things, keep us safe, deal with those who seek to do harm to others. We know that God promises to care for the downtrodden, watch out for those who are afflicted, and even as this Psalm says, bring justice for the fatherless and the oppressed. The struggle comes in the distance between the acts of the wicked against the innocent and the time of God’s deliverance. It is in those times that David leans into the character of God. He knows that God has promised to act and that David must trust that the Lord who is king forever and ever will administer justice in due course. I must learn to trust in God’s timing and not my own. Wanting God to move according to my agenda and then being perplexed and even put out when He stays to His timeframe is a decided lack of trust on my part.

In addition to learning to trust God during the in between time of wickedness and God’s coming to the rescue of the oppressed, I need to ask myself if I am willing to stand in the gap for the oppressed and be God’s hands and feet in the care of the fatherless. Is it possible that God wants to show up through me? Is it possible that God’s answer for the innocent who it victimized is for me and you to strive for justice on their behalf? Is it possible that God’s answer to the fatherless and the outcast is to provide community for them, a safe place to be protected and loved?