Provocative Devotion: Psalm 38:1-9 & 21-22 “The Failure of Self-Esteem”

Clearly David has self-esteem issues. The guilt that drips from the verses of this Psalm is palpable. He is feeling God’s displeasure. God’s arrows have pierced David’s heart and the hand of the Lord’s discipline weighs heavy on Him. For many people today such a view of self and of God is rejected out of hand. God is loving and I am okay are the watchwords of the day. But for all our efforts at positive self-esteem, suicides are rampant, addictions are out of control, teenage girls suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and cutting themselves. Teenage boys have uncontrollable rage and anger. Marriages collapse at an alarming rate because people are miserable and trying to find themselves. And all the while the culture sings the theme from the Lego movie, “Everything is Awesome”.

We may initially recoil at David’s emotional and spiritual self-flagellation, thinking it is twisted and harmful. But look more closely and what you will see is that David emerges from His despair because he admitted his shortcomings. He let God’s displeasure sink deep. He owned his failures. And in owning them he also called upon the Lord to be merciful and to be his salvation. As a result his esteem came not from self, but from a God who said, “I know your sins and your failures. In fact they are worse than you even imagine. But I love you more than you could ever dream. You are precious to me to the point of sending my Son to die on a cross for you”.

For me to be whole and healthy I must admit my guilt and sin, daily. But I must not wallow in the mire of my sin and guilt. Instead I need to let the love God has for me lift me out of that mire and put my feet on solid ground. I cannot do it myself no matter how good it tell myself I am. I need that to come from outside. I need to embrace the love of God and rejoice that my salvation comes not from my own efforts, for they are pitiful, but my salvation comes from the King of Glory, the Lord of Lords who loves me more than I could ever know. I cry out with David, “make haste to help me oh Lord my salvation”.

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
    O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation!

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 37 “The Problem of Envy”

We so often want what we do not have. When we see others have it we can easily become envious. When we are trying to follow God, don’t get want we want and see others who could not care less about God and they have it all, it is easy to become bitter and blame God. It is nothing new and your social status does not make you immune. David was King of Israel, the top dog, he had more than you or I could imagine. Yet even David wrestled with the issue of seeing others who did not love God who seemed to have a much better life. If David was subject to such feeling of envy, how much more am I?

Fortunately David was also wise enough to know the solution. It is all about trust. Do I trust that God has my best interests at heart and that God will in fact see that my interests are cared for and meet? Do I trust that the Lord has the long view in mind and that even though the wicked may seem to prosper now, it is just for a season, and a short one at that? The Lord looks across the vast span of eternity and knows that those who are His children will experience the bliss and joy of eternity with Him and that the things in this life, the things we so lustfully focus on, are fleeting at best. I cannot be envious of a person who has it all according to the world’s way of measuring. Because what they have is just a shiny trinket compared to the riches of the glory of God that are ours for eternity in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[b]
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
    and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 36

When considering the character traits of God, what we call His attributes, people most often will speak of God as love. It is a commonly agreed to characteristic of God even among those who are uncertain if God even exists, because if He does exist we are certainly want Him to be loving. Yet, like any widely held idea, the familiarity of the concept of God being loving can become so familiar and such a cliché that we risk missing the stunning power of that statement. Psalm 36 is a welcomed antidote to that problem. The description of God’s love in this Psalm is powerful and all encompassing.

The author of the Psalm speaks of the steadfast nature of God’s love. Unlike our human concept and experience of love which is fleeting, coming and going in a capricious way, God’s love remains firm and solid. To be steadfast is to be unmovable. God’s love for you is not subject to the whims of human emotion. It does not depend on His mood at the moment. God’s love remains for you because it is the very nature of God to love His own. His love is a place where you can take refuge, find shelter, be protected. That is what love does. It makes you feel secure. It becomes a rock on which to stand. God’s love is like that.

But when you read this Psalm take note of the fact that it does not start with God’s love. It starts rather with the life of the wicked. It starts with those who have no fear or reverence for God. It starts with those who practice deceit and treachery and think they are immune to justice. Then without any type of transition or explanation the author immediately bursts forth with praises to God for His steadfast love. I wonder, does the author see himself as that wicked person who one day discovered the steadfast love of the Lord? How many people, myself included, were far from God, with no fear of God, plotting trouble from our very beds before even letting our feet hit the floor in the morning? But even for one such as that, the love of the Lord can bring redemption and healing. The Lord if good and His love endures forever. If not for that love we would all be doomed to our own destruction. Praise the Name of the Lord!

Transgression speaks to the wicked
    deep in his heart;[a]
there is no fear of God
    before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
    that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
    he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed;
    he sets himself in a way that is not good;
    he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

10 Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your righteousness to the upright of heart!
11 Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me,
    nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 There the evildoers lie fallen;
    they are thrust down, unable to rise.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 35:1-8, 11-14 “It is Hard to Love Some People”

We have seen it time and again in the first 35 Psalms, David crying out to God because there are people who seek to do him harm. They have ill will in their hearts towards him and in some case want him dead. Each time David has cried out to the Lord for His protection as well as some punishment or retribution to be visited upon his enemies. In some ways Psalm 35 is not different. But in a critical way it is absolutely different and gives us a much better glimpse into the heart of David.

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler
    and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin[a]
    against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
    “I am your salvation!”

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
    who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
    who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
    with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!

For without cause they hid their net for me;
    without cause they dug a pit for my life.[b]
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
    let him fall into it—to his destruction!

11 Malicious[c] witnesses rise up;
    they ask me of things that I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good;
    my soul is bereft.[d]
13 But I, when they were sick—
    I wore sackcloth;
    I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed[e] on my chest.
14     I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
    I bowed down in mourning.

Early in this Psalm David is crying out to God to do something about the people who are his enemies. He wants God to take up the shield and spear against these people who have laid a snare for David. They are people who seek to take his life. He wants God to deal with them according to justice. This is a familiar theme with David. But there is something more in this Psalm. We get a glimpse at David’s personal reaction to these people. They maliciously rise up against him, but for his part, he visited them when they were sick, prayed for their recovery, wore sackcloth as a symbol of mourning over their affliction. What are we to make of this seemingly disjointed response, wanting God to smite them in one verse and praying for their recovery in the next? In reality the answer is rather simple. David is willing to let God deal with justice and vengeance while David focuses on loving his enemies. It is what Paul calls for in Romans 12:20 when he says we should feed our enemy if he is hungry and thus heap burning coals on his head. Now don’t get the idea that you can set their hair on fire. No, this is a reference to the way in which loving our enemies causes them to burn with guilt and desire to repent of their evil. Vengeance is left to God, which Paul explicitly states in Romans 12:19.

So this Psalm gives us the full biblical picture. We are to love our enemies by serving them in their time of need. But we can also pray that God who is our shield will protect us and even bring His just vengeance on them. In this way both justice and mercy can be fulfilled. We may want to be the ones who bring the vengeance and justice and leave the mercy to God. But that is not our place. We are called to freely dispense God’s mercy and let Him take care of the rest. It is not easy to love people that way. But maybe that is the point. Maybe because it is hard to love like as Jesus loves, that we are called to do it. Not to make it harder for us or to earn spiritual brownie points, but to show how radical and provocative the love of God really is.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 34:1-7 “Facing Your Fears”

I have a friend from Australia who recently made the comment that from a distance America looks like a country driven by fear. It was hard to argue with him. Parents live in fear of what might happen to their children when they are out of their sight so 8 and 9 year olds have cellphones so their parents can be in touch with them 24/7. Movie theaters now have metal detectors. Anti-anxiety drugs are dispensed like Tic-Tacs. Even Christians are not immune. Anytime I talk to people about doing a short-term mission trip to another country the first question asked is always, “Is it safe there?’ This Psalm reminds us that the world is not safe but we have a God who watches out for His own.

34 I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Just how does the Lord delivers us from all our fears? It is not by eliminating the situation but by making His presence known in the situation. Jesus reminds the disciples, just before He ascends to heaven, that He would be with them always, even to the end of the age. Time and again in Scripture the Lord says, “fear not, for I am with you”. What is the scariest part of a scary movie? When someone is alone. We know that being alone is a bad thing.

There is such courage that we gain when there is someone else with us. Situations could be life and death and when they are faced alone they are far more terrifying than when faced with another person. Sometimes the comfort we take makes no logical sense but it is comfort none the less. When I was a child I remember walking across a bridge where the walkway was not solid concrete but a metal grate so that you could see the ground far below. I was scared to death, until I asked my father hold my hand. Suddenly, just by him answering my request and taking my hand, all fear was gone. On a logical, scientific level that made no sense. If the bridge or even just the walkway collapsed, my dad would be as helpless as I would be. But that did not factor into the equation. What mattered was I was not alone. My father was there.

God our Father promises to be with us and deliver us from our fears. He does it by taking our hand and walking with us through fire and flood, storm and strife. It is a promise about which we must constantly remind ourselves. yes the world is a scary place. But our God is greater and He delivers those who call upon Him.

Friendship in an Age of Social Media Polarization, Soundbites, and Vitriol

I have recently noticed a rash of statements along these lines, If you support (insert controversial cause/organization/political position here) then unfriend me now. It is the latest social media trend of polarization and follows on the heels of the name calling, truth stretching, innuendo flinging, and assuming the worst possible motives of others that is so common in our social discourse these days. I don’t need to give specific examples because they are so rampant that I am positive you have enough of them already. But I do have to tell you it breaks my heart and bewilders me all at once. It breaks my heart because it tells me that our view of friendship is so shallow and woefully lacking that I wonder if as a society we really understand what it means to be a friend. It bewilders me because when I push this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion it can only mean that the person most equipped to be my closest friend is the one who thinks exactly like me on every possible social, political and religious issue. I reach that conclusion because if I must unfriend a person because we disagree on an issue then where do I draw the line? If I cannot be your friend because we disagree on issue “A” then what about issue “B”? One issue at a time the friendship crumbles because it is based on agreement over issues and nothing more. I would end up only with friends who agree with me 100% on every issue. If there is someone who thinks exactly like me in every instance then one of us is unnecessary and we certainly are not helping one another grow.

As a follower of Christ I find that there are countless areas in which I disagree with people. That is true not only as it relates to people who do not follow Christ, but also to those who do. I have theological differences with lots of people. Some of them major, like whether or not Jesus is actually God and the only way to heaven. Some of them extremely minor, like whether tithing should be on the gross or net pay. There are people I admire and respect who have complete opposite positions from me on social issues like Same Sex Marriage, Planned Parenthood, Economic Policy, and Immigration. Being my friend is not contingent on agreeing with me on those issues. All you need to be willing to do is discuss them respectfully. Tell me you think I am wrong and then explain why. Do it with passion. Believe in what you are saying. Don’t hold back what you think the truth is. But do it with respect for our relationship and for me as a person. That is all I ask and that is what I promise in return.

Actually I promise more in return. What i said about respect is what I think is the minimum needed for discussing the issues of our day and should be hallmarks of our society. But I am not called to the minimum. As a follower of Christ I am called to an even higher standard. I have what I call a Life Verse in the Bible. It is a verse that I try to have guide all I do in relation to others. It is from 1 Peter 3:15 where Peter says, “set Christ apart in your hearts as Lord and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you, and do so with gentleness and respect”. I combine that verse with what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”. When asked how to determine who your neighbor was, Jesus told that story of the Good Samaritan which made the point that even your enemy is to be loved like a neighbor. That is what sets the standard for me, not the minimum of supposedly civil society.

What Jesus has called me and every other one of His followers to, is to rise above the standards set by our culture. We are so quick to assume we are rising above in moral purity. Whether or not we actually are is debatable. But Jesus is just as concerned, if not more so, that we rise above in our love for others, even those who hold positions on things that we find morally wrong and even repugnant. You see here is the point if you are a Christ Follower. Before coming to faith in Christ, He found you and what you did and believed and worshipped, to be repugnant. Yep you just read that right. Never forget that before you came to faith in Christ, no matter how good you thought you were, based on the world’s standards, you were still woefully short of God’s holiness and were in fact at war with God. But Jesus loved you enough to go to the cross for you and love you, His enemy. Contrary to how some preachers might preach, Jesus did not hurl vitriol and abuse at you. He certainly did not unfriend you. What He did was fulfill His own words when He said, “greater love has no man than when he lays down his life for his friends”.

If someone was to do a study of friends I have on Facebook they would find gay and lesbian friends, economic socialists with a few bordering on communism. They would find rabid Democrats and out of control Republicans. They would find black lives matter people, blue lives matter people, and all lives matter people. They would even find some Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens fans of all things. The point is, the variety is seemingly limitless and they are all people I am blessed to have in my life. They challenge me to make sure I am speaking the truth in love, another Biblical command so many Christians miss. We are so quick to speak truth and forget the love part or we are so quick to love that we think it means not speaking truth. They help me think more deeply and clearly about what I believe because if I only ever talk with people who agree with me I will fast become myopic and condescending and my reasoning will get sloppy and my logic flawed. They help me live more like Jesus because there was nobody on earth who agreed with everything He said and did but He loved them so much that He hung out with them in life and loved them so much that He hung on a cross for them in death.

Is it hard to be friends with people who are so radically different from me? Sure it is. I have not mastered it by any stretch. But on the other hand, looking at it from their perspective, I suspect it is not always easy for them to be my friend either. But if I am going to represent Jesus, being the Ambassador for Christ that Paul says we are, then I must not only be a friend to those who disagree with what I hold dear, I need to go further. I need to love them as I love myself. I need to lay down my life for them as Jesus calls me to. I need to be the kind of friend to them that Jesus is to me. Only then will I become more like Jesus, and I hope and trust they will too.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 33:1-12

What joy! What delight! There is shouting and singing because of how great God is and how great are the things He has done and continues to do. There is thanksgiving to God because His Word is reliable and true. There is confidence in the future because God loves righteousness and justice and will not abandon those in need. His love endures and remains steadfast.

I get excited, shout, high-five, fist-bump and jump in the air when the Steelers win a Super Bowl, the Penguins a Stanley Cup or the Pirates a World Series. How much more should I get exuberant when I see the work or the Lord or hear the declaration of His Word? It is true what Jesus says that far too often we as a people are lukewarm to the things of God. If I really meditated on who God is and what He has done in my life, then I could rejoice always and in all situations we Paul urges us to.

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
    he puts the deeps in storehouses.

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 32

Shame and guilt are extremely heavy burdens to bear. They eat away at our soul. They drive us into seclusion and lead to deeper isolation. The world tries to eliminate shame and guilt by saying we did nothing wrong. But in our heart of hearts we know otherwise. We know this because God has placed within each of us a knowledge of Himself and an awareness that there is right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. Telling us we have not done anything wrong doesn’t remove the guilt or shame. Maybe that is why we have seen an unprecedented rise in the need for psychologists and counselors and medication to make us feel better about ourselves, because just saying we are good doesn’t make us feel good.

David has a different approach to his guilt and shame and it is the approach of the Gospel. He admits his failures and throws himself on the mercy of and holy AND loving, merciful God. The Bible tells us in James that we are to confess our sins to one another. Why? So we can experience first hand the love and forgiveness we so desperately need. David experiences that in this Psalm when he confesses his sin to God, as can we. God also works through those who love Christ and us so that we can experience His love through His people.

When I carry my sin around with me it causes me to waste away. When I confess is and receive God’s mercy I am given life and strength and am renewed. When I am honest and open about my sin and the Lord covers it, then I am truly blessed. The church needs to be a place where people are secure enough that such honesty is possible. Not necessarily with everyone in the church but certainly with someone. We all need to be able to be honest about who we really are with the Lord and with someone who acts on behalf of the Lord and makes His love tangible. We all need to be able to offer that mercy and forgiveness to others in His name.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up[b] as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
    and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
    but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
    because you have seen my affliction;
    you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
    you have set my feet in a broad place.    Psalm 31:1-8

This Psalm of David is not the most pleasant to read, at least that is the case for me with these first eight verses. The rest of the Psalm is much more positive and upbeat. But there is one phrase in the section that sets me back. It is verse 6. David says that he hates those who pay regard to worthless idols. Is this one of those Old Testament passages that we so easily disregard because the New Testament and Jesus are all about love?

So what I am to make of this? Does David really hate these people? If so does God approve? Why would God even want this to be in His Word? I am struck by the fact that what so infuriates David is idolatry. These people are worshipping the false gods of Palestine. That means they are worshipping the likes of Baal and Ashtaroth, gods to whom people sacrifice their children on altars of fire and to whom they engage in sexual orgies in their temples in order to convince these gods to give them a plentiful harvest. David hates them because their actions are disgusting in the sight of God. Who would not be angered to watch parents stab their children in the heart and then burn their bodies on an altar just so they could curry the favor the Baal? When David says he hates them it is not so much a statement of personal hatred directed at an individual but the language is a common Hebrew way of making a statement of moral rejection of what they do. It is an expression that David’s audience would have understood as a rejection of the ways of Idolatry.

What I get from this Psalm is that there are some things worth getting angry about. There are some actions that should disgust us. If you do not get angry about people who kidnap and enslave others in sex trafficking then there is something wrong with your heart. But here is the rub, how do you love your enemies, something both the Old and New Testaments call us to do, and at the same time hate what is going on in the world? It is not easy. It is much easier to either ignore the wickedness or to become so incensed that we pour out vitriol upon people. It is not easy to follow the scripture that tells to be careful that we do not commit sin in our anger. It doesn’t say that anger is sin, but that it is possible to be angry and not sin. We need to be angry about and hate the right things but do it in the right way. Jesus got angry about things. He got angry about the deception and hypocrisy of some religious leaders. He got angry when people were led astray from the truth. He hated and rejected such things. But He never sinned.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 30

We are not promised a life free from suffering and pain. As much as we might long for Utopia in this life, it will never be. One day to be sure, those who trust in the Lord will find ultimate joy and peace, but not yet. Life in a fallen world, filled with sin, is a life of struggle and grief and pain. Even coming to faith in Christ and following Him is not a guarantee of a life free from pain, no matter what some TV preachers say.

But this life is not only grief and pain. Psalm 30 makes it clear that we have a hope not only in eternity but in this life also. Pain and suffering in this life is but for a moment. The night may be dark and deep but the Psalmist is able to look to the dawn knowing that joy comes in the morning, that God makes all things new. We cling to that assurance from God that there is an end to the heartache and anguish. We also celebrate who God is and what He has done, knowing that God who has been faithful in the past will continue to be faithful in the present and in the future. We may mourn in the moment but the Lord will work in such a way as to turn that mourning into dancing.

Some will push back saying that is all pie in the sky. What good does it do me now to have some far off hope for a better future? Such a question does not understand the power of hope, of the assurance of a better future. Slaves in the American south lived miserable lives. Families were forcibly separated and sold to different owners. Beatings were far too common. Yet it is out of that misery that some of the most powerful songs of hope were written. The old Negro Spirituals were so often songs on a better future, trusting in the Lord to one day bring redemption and fulfill His promises. They were songs that turned mourning into dancing and gave people the strength to carry on.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
    and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

What a beautiful and powerful call to worship. After numerous Psalms in which David agonizes over being pursue by enemies, feeling the injustice of the wicked, and wondering why God takes so long to answer him, it is a joy to read Psalm 29. To ascribe to God is to declare the greatness of who He is. It is a call to declare strength and glory so that the world s made aware of how amazing God is. That tells me that faith is not to be a private matter. It is personal to be sure, but that is not the same as private. It is deeply heartfelt and has much emotion attached to it, but that is not the same as private. Private means I keep it to myself. Personal means it is deeply meaningful to me. Our faith is to be both personal and public. Meaning it is to be declared and made known. One way that happens is through worship. Worship can certainly be a solitary practice, something we do just between ourselves and God. But it must not be only a solitary practice it. It must at times be very public. We declare the greatness of God as all in His temple cry “glory”!

I often wonder why people claim that faith must be private. Something so wonderful, so powerful, so meaningful as faith in the creator of the universe is something that begs to be made known. It yearns to get out and let others know. All creation is aware of this reality. Jesus said that if our voices ceased to praise God then the very rocks would gain voice and cry out to the praise and glory of God. Do you believe in a God who sits enthroned as King forever? Do you have faith in a Lord whose very voice gives birth to the deer and strips the trees bare? Then cry holy! Declare His glory! Keep it not to yourself in the hidden recesses of your heart and mind but rather declare it, sing it, shout it loud, for the King of Glory sits on high.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 28

I am struck by how often David cries out to God in the midst of conflict and turmoil. It seems that at every turn David has people out to get him. There are wicked people all around who want to do him harm and he consistently cries out to God to be delivered from them and to even have them face justice and punishment for their evil ways. He certainly seems to have an us versus them mentality. He wants to be among the righteous and recognizes that there are those who are among the wicked. He wants to avoid being numbered among them at all costs, meaning that he does not want to act like them on any level. But he knows that if not for the mercy of God he would be just like them. 

One of the dangers of the Christian life is that we begin to trust on our own holiness and see ourselves as better than others. It is easy to think from reading David’s words that he was like that. But In many other places David is honest about his own shortcomings and cries out to God for deliverance from his own sin. What David desires is to be found worthy to stand in the presence of God. He wants God to hear the voice of his plea for mercy. Only by the hand of God can he avoid falling into the trap of the sinful ways of the wicked. His concern for God’s honor is so great that he wants to avoid at all costs anything that would dishonor God. The wicked do not regard the works of God or the works of His hand. As a result they dishonor Him. That grieves David. Does it grieve me when God is dishonored? Does it grieve you?

When we disregard God’s mercy in our lives we grieve Him. It is a fine line to walk between self-righteousness and righteousness in Christ. When I begin to think that I am better than others, I am disregarding God’s mercy. It is so easy to look at others and consider ourselves better than they, when it is in fact because God has heard our cry for mercy that we are who we are. I must keep that in mind at all times. I am who I am because the Lord heard my cry for mercy. I will praise Him because of His great work in my life.

To you, O Lord, I call;
    my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
    I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
    when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
    toward your most holy sanctuary.[a]

Do not drag me off with the wicked,
    with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
    while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
    and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
    render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
    or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord!
    For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;[b]
    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
    Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Provocative Devotional: Psalm 27

It doesn’t take more than a moment or two checking the news feeds to realize the world is a hot mess. On top of all the natural disaster that have always been, there are more man-made disasters, wars, and examples of brutality than one could ever expect to follow and keep straight in your head. It is easy to become overwhelmed with anxiety and fear over what is and could happen. David was no stranger to the kinds of things that would strike fear into most hearts. King Saul tried to kill him on several occasions. He spent years running for his life. He faced life and death battles. One of his own sons rebelled and tried to kill him. Clearly David had reason the be anxious and fear what might be.

But David begins this Psalm with a clear declaration that he need fear nothing and no one because the Lord is his light and salvation. When David faced Goliath he did so with confidence that the Lord who delivered him from the mouth of the lion and from the mouth of the bear would deliver him from Goliath as well.  Because of the history he had with God, David had no fear in the present. And because he had no fear in the present he actually looked on the future with anticipation of the beauty of God’s presence.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet[b] I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire[c] in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

The Christian’s hope is the same as David’s hope. It is that we will dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of our lives. The extreme joy of being in God’s presence and being before the face of God in worship and having God shelter us in His tent, that is what makes all the suffering and anguish of this life fade away. As a follower of Christ I have a hope, and assurance for my future. Nothing in this life compares to the glory to come. Nothing in this life can separate me from the love of God that I have in Christ Jesus. No matter what happens here, I have the joy of salvation that is set before me and long to dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 26

Can you worship God without going to a “church” building? Can you worship God without gathering with a bunch of other people? Can you worship God all by yourself in your home, or in the woods, or on a mountain, or golf course? The answer to all of these is a resounding yes! You can and you should. We are to do everything we do; thought, word, and deed, in the name of, or in honor of Jesus. But if you are not gathering with others in order to worship God then you are actually robbing God of glory He is due.

Look at what the Psalmist says in these last few verses of Psalm 26.

O Lord, I love the habitation of your house
    and the place where your glory dwells.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
    nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.

O Lord I love the habitation of your house where your glory dwells….in the great assembly I will bless you. David understands that there is something vital about gathering with other people and declaring the greatness of God. David certainly understood how to worship God in the great outdoors. Psalm 8 is a fantastic example of that. But David also knew that there was a need to worship God, to declare His glory, in the midst of an assembly of people. The reason for that is love. When you love someone you want others to know how great they are. I want people to know how awesome my wife is. Do I think she is awesome when I am alone in my study? Of course I do. Do I let her know how awesome she is when it is just me and her? Absolutely. But to truly honor her, I need to declare to others, in the midst of the assembly so to speak, how amazing she is. The same is true with God. Yes you can worship God by yourself and you can declare your love for Him when it is just the two of you. But if you really want to honor God, worship Him, declare His greatness, then you have to do so in the midst of others. To fail to do so is to fail to truly honor and worship God in a way He deserves.

Provocative Devotion: Psalm 25

To be a follower of Jesus is to be a student. That is what a disciple is, a learner who follows a teacher in order to become like that teacher. A disciple of Jesus must be a student of Jesus, of His Word, and of the things of God. These few verses from Psalm 15 emphasize that very point.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.

There was a time when the average Christian was a student of theology and the Bible and took seriously the need to know the things of God. Hard questions were wrestled with and discussed among friends. Books of theology were read and debated. Scriptures was memorized and even the original Hebrew and Greek were not foreign to many students of the scriptures. Somewhere along the road that changes. It became fashionable to denigrate learning and theology. Head knowledge became a target of derision. It was heart knowledge that was important. But this is a false dichotomy. Certainly there are those who have a great knowledge of the facts of things and no heart connection to God. But the answer is not to ignore the facts of things or to ignore learning in the mind. It has been said that it is possible to have lots of head knowledge that never reaches the heart, but it never reaches the heart without first going through the head.

In this Psalm the author is calling on God to teach him. He wants to know the truth. He wants to know the information regarding who God is and what God has done. Why? Because God is the author of salvation. But that writer of this Psalm is concerned with more than just the information. The writer also has a heart that longs for God. “I wait for you all day long”. There is both a heart knowledge and a head knowledge and there is a desire for both to grow.

2 Peter 3:18 says we are to grow in the grace AND knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. There is no loving God from the heart without some head knowledge of who God is. I cannot love that which I do not know.

Teach me Lord. Teach me your ways. Teach me who you are. May I be a student who follows after Jesus and learns more deeply who you are and in the journey become more like you.