Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Psalm 27: Take Heart

" strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (v.14)

You've heard it said many times, "Take heart, this too will pass," or, "Take heart, it's not as bad as you think it is,", or, "Take heart, you love one another, this will eventually work out." Usually when you hear the words, "take heart" someone is trying to make you feel better about something that's got you down. Maybe it's a tough circumstance that you're having to endure, a hurtful moment in a relationship, or a disappointment you have to face. The "take heart" response of the person who's near you is an attempt to temporarily alter your feelings about the thing that's upset you. The person speaking means well, but the "take heart" they offer you doesn't really offer you much to hold on to. You stand in the middle of something that's bigger than you and over which you've no control and you're invited to hope that it isn't as bad as it seems. Well, that's an offer of hope that, when examined, doesn't really give you any concrete reason to be hopeful.

Psalm 27 ends with a "take heart," but this "take heart" offers a very different hope than we often offer one another in moments of difficulty and disappointment. What makes this "take heart" different is that it's a call to wait on the Lord. It isn't about trying to change emotions; rather it's an invitation to rest in the one place where rest can really be found; in the Lord.

Who is this one in whom you can "take heart?"

1. He's the definition of love. Scripture says something amazing about the love of God. It doesn't simply say that God is committed to faithful love. It doesn't just say that God loves you even when you don't deserve his love. It doesn't only say that he loves you better than anyone else will ever love you. No, what the Bible says about God can't be said about anyone else. It says that, "God is love." God is the essence, the source, the ultimate definition of love; and love that's true love has God as its source. If there was no God there would be no love. I can "take heart" because my life is held in the hands of the One who is the essence of love.

2. He's the source of all wisdom. In Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul says that, "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ." Think how radical this is. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that wisdom isn't an outline, a theology, or a book. We know that wisdom is a Person and his name is Jesus. You get true wisdom, not by experience, education, or research, but by relationship. When you come to Christ you're now in a personal relationship with the One who is wisdom. You can "take heart" because the One who holds you defines everything that wisdom is about.

3. He's a God of awesome power. How do you do justice to describing the power of God. There's nothing to which it can be compared. There are no analogies to it to be found anywhere in the created world. The thunder storm, the tempestuous sea, the hurricane, and the tornado, with all of their great power contain an infinitesimal fraction of the power of God. This is the One who created the world and everything that's in it. This is the One who holds the world together simply by the exercise of his will. When you rest in him, you can "take heart" because he really does have the power to deliver everything he's promised you.

4. This is a God of unchallenged rule. In Daniel 4 we are reminded that God rules over the "host of heaven and the inhabitants of earth." We are further reminded that no one has the authority to stop his hand or question what he does. God is in absolute control over the world he made. What he wills happens. His plan will be done. His kingdom will be established. He won't lose any of the children he's chosen to be his own. When I'm in difficulty and I run to God, I'm running to the One who's in absolute control of every circumstance that appears to me to be out of control. Now that's a reason for "taking heart!"

5. He's a God of glorious grace. God's grace means that I can rest assured that I'll have everything I need to be what he wants me to be and to do what he wants me to do in the situation in which he's placed me. I'm no longer restricted to the limits of my own strength and wisdom. By his grace, I've a new identity and a new potential. I'm a child of God; the risen Christ now lives inside of me. I need no longer fear people or circumstances; I don't have to feel weak in the face of suffering or temptation, because I no longer rest in the resources of my own ability. I'm in Christ and he's in me. This new identity gives me new potential as I face the realities of life in this bent and broken world. God's grace gives me reason to "take heart."

When I'm in difficulty and I "take heart" in the Lord, rather than be weakened by the difficulty, I grow stronger. The more I meditate on the glory of God, the more my faith grows; the more my faith grows the more I respond to life with hope and courage; the more I respond to life with hope and courage, the more I harvest the new fruit in concrete changes in the situations and relationship that I am facing.

If you're God's child, you have reason to "take heart," no matter what you're facing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Psalm 27: Not Yours

"My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" (v.8)

I cannot say my heart is pure,
not because it is riddled with lust
stained with hatred,
but because
it does not always long for you.
My heart longs,
for comfort and ease,
for power and control,
for possessions and position,
for acceptance and recognition.
It longs for so many of the things
that carry the promise of
Yet, my heart is wired for you,
to only rest in the rest found
in You.
It would be easy to reason
that I am okay.
I am not a thief.
I am not a murderer.
I have not stolen the spouse of another.
But this reality I cannot escape,
my heart is not pure,
because it does not always
long for you.
I have hated in my heart.
I have stolen with my thoughts.
I have lusted in secret.
I have done all these things
because my heart
doesn't always belong to you.
Lord, once more draw my heart to You.
Capture my thoughts.
Command my desires.
Submit my will.
Direct my plans.
Make my heart pure,
not because it is free of struggle,
but because,
it no longer seeks,
that inner sense of well-being
in You.
When my heart finds life in you,
It will not longer
seek it in another.
I wish I could say I am pure,
but the battle still rages,
and rescue is still needed,
so that the longings of my heart,
will not pull me away,
but will draw me
ever closer
to You.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Psalm 27: Sinned Against Again

"Though an army besiege me..."

Your Lord has chosen to keep you here in this world that's been so bent and twisted by the Fall. He's chosen you to live in an environment where there's no perfection to be found. He's chosen you to live as a flawed person among flawed people. He's chosen to keep you where injustice, corruption, jealousy, greed, anger and conflict are everyday occurrences. He's not coated you with situational teflon, protecting you from the disappointments and hurts of a world gone bad. There's no way you and I will avoid being sinned against. There's no way we'll escape being besieged. God's covenant promises to you don't include a "being sinned against" exemption clause.

So, how do you do when you're sinned against, again? Wives how do you do when your husband comes home and treats you harshly? Husbands what do you do when your wife seems more demanding than thankful? Parents how do you respond when your children make a mess of the great family day you'd planned? Workers how do you deal with the fact that that fellow worker has been speaking negatively about you to your boss? What do you do when no one notices how well you've served? What fills your thoughts when that friend has proven to be disloyal once again? How do you deal with family injustice and favoritism? What do you do when the irresponsible choices of others have altered your life, maybe even for the long run? You see, you'll not escape these experiences. Your life won't be free of interpersonal trials and you're responding to them daily in some way.

What's the typical way you respond to being sinned against? Do you give way to fear, trying to conceive all the possible "what ifs," as if figuring out what could happen will protect you from it actually happening? Do you tend to wallow in the "if only's" of what could have been, wishing for outcomes that have already passed you by? Do you bunker down and determine to live self-protectively, telling yourself that you've been taken once and it won't happen again? Are you tempted to strike back in anger, wanting that person to hurt in the way that they've hurt you? Do you tend to slip into your cocoon of silence, refusing to deal with the person who's hurt you? Do you speak and act in haste? Do you allow the failure of others to initiate a new round of doubtful thoughts about the Lord, his love, mercy, and grace?

What do all of these reactions have in common? They make what's happening to you the most important thing in your life. They make your disappointment the saddest thing in your life. They make your feelings the most accurate indicator of how good your life really is. Yet, here's the truth of what's happening in those moments of being sinned against; you've been called to endure those experiences because of the choices of another. You and I aren't in control of our lives, we're not the writers of our own stories. Our individual stories have been embedded in the story of another. We're not the chief actor in the drama that's our own lives. The decisions of someone else are driving the plot of each of our stories. No, I'm not talking about the person who's mistreated you; I'm talking about your Lord. You're facing what you are facing, not simply because of the sin of that other person, but because of the wise choice of a loving Redeemer. The fact is that God has us exactly where he wants us. He never manages a poor schedule and he never gets a wrong address. He places us in interpersonal difficulty because he intends that difficulty to be a workroom of redemption. This was exactly what Joseph understood when he endured the life-altering injustices of his brothers. Hear his words; "You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20) Because this is true you can respond to being sinned against in brand new ways.

Let me suggest four God-centered, grace-recognizing ways to respond to being sinned against.

1. Run to the temple. Run to your Lord, not away from him. Instead of meditating on all the nasty things that you've had to endure at the hands of the person who's hurt you, give yourself to examining, meditating upon, and recounting the beauty of your Lord. Let your mind consider his love, mercy, grace, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, wisdom, power, forgiveness, and kindness. Require yourself to consider that this moment may not be a contradiction of his character qualities, but rather a demonstration of them.

2. Remember your place. Your life no longer belongs to you. Your story is no longer just your story. You've been welcomed to the kingdom of another and your life is part of the plan and purposes of that kingdom. Don't allow yourself to begin to think that you're in the center of your universe. Remember, you've been chosen to live for the glory of another, and when you do, you'll reach levels of personal contentment and joy that aren't possible any other way.

3. Learn your lessons. God has you in the painful moment, not simply to reveal himself to you, but to grow and change you through it as well. He's chosen to keep you in this fallen world because he hasn't finished redeeming you. Sure, you long for the grace of release and the grace of relief, and sometimes you do experience these, but primarily this moment is a moment of refinement. The heat of interpersonal difficulty is meant to purify us, something that each of us continues to need.

4. Reflect his light. In these painful experiences, God is not only calling you to submit to his will, but to actively give yourself to the values and work of his kingdom. He calls you to reflect the light of his character. He calls you to suffer in ways that can only be explained by his presence and power in your life. Jesus said it this way, "that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Remember, you're not alone and what's happening to you isn't an accident. You're the child of the King of Kings, the Creator, the Sovereign God, the all-wise and all-loving Savior. In ways that are hard to grasp, you're being loved. Rest in that love and run to its source, saying no to all those other responses that only add further trouble to the trouble you're already experiencing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Psalm 27: The Pursuit of God Paradigm

"Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors."

Your life is more organized than you think. No, I don't mean that you make good use of your smartphone or your PDA. And I don't mean that you've been able to successfully control your schedule so that your days are orderly and predictable. What I mean is that your life is organized around the pursuit of something. You're not as spontaneous and reactive as you may think. Your sudden impulses may not be as impulsive as you think they are. Your snap decisions are probably more thought through than you realize. You're living for something and that something is a powerful organizing force in your life.

Confused? Well, journey with me back to the beginnings of human life in the Garden. You know significant things about who human beings are and how they function if you pay attention to what happens in humanity's early moments. Immediately upon creating Adam and Eve God begins to talk to them. Why? Because, unlike the rest of animate creation, people do not live by instinct. Peoples' lives are directed by the thoughts and motives of the heart. Every person is a theologian. Every person is a scientific researcher. Every person is a philosopher. Every person is an investigator. Every person is developing a functional view of life that becomes the tool by which they make sense out of what is and what they experience. People are also beings of purpose. They are moved by passions and desires. They live in pursuit of treasures to which they have assigned value. They have things they crave and things they detest. They run after things they love and run from things they hate. They find joy in the acquisition of what is a treasure to them and experience disappointment when their treasures slip through their fingers like sand.

This is why God immediate talks to Adam and Eve. He knows the kind of creatures he has made and so he immediately begins to define for them the paradigm that is to shape their living. He tells them what to think and what to desire. These early words make it very clear that these people were created by God and were designed to live for God. This means that everything they would do as human beings would be shaped by their love for, worship of, and obedience to God. That is what the Bible calls, "God's way." It is the unique lifestyle that will shape the actions, reactions, and responses to life that a person who acknowledges God's existence, character, and plan.

But there is another way of living that structures people lives as well. It is what the Proverbs calls, "a way that seems right to a man." Eugene Peterson makes the observation that there is a replacement trinity foe the true Trinity. It is holy wants, holy needs, and holy feelings. Here my life is functionally organized by what I want (some earthly thing that has become my treasure), what i tell myself I need (this treasure rises in influence until I am convinced I cannot live without it), and holy feelings (an emotional life that is dictated by how close I am to possessing the treasure that I have set my heart on. Here too, I am never really spontaneously reacting to life. What seem to be impulsive reactions are shaped by wants, needs, and feelings that attach themselves to the treasure is crave.

What is important to recognize is that there is a war between these two paradigms that wages in my heart. Sometimes I get it right and my life really is structured by a pursuit of God, a rest in his grace, and obedience to his plan. But other times, I am driving by my selfish cravings, convincing myself that I cannot live without this thing that I am so zealously pursuing. It is also important to recognize that God's paradigm brings life and man's paradigm leads to death. It is only when my life is shaped by a pursuit of God that I can live with a heart that is satisfied and at rest.

Your life really is more organized than you think. What paradigm shapes your responses to life and structures your day? Don't be afraid to confess that you often get it wrong. Your Lord not only offers you his forgiveness, but he also fights for your freedom. So you can say, "Lord, so often I get it wrong, won't You teach me your way once more today."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Psalm 27: Safe

"For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling.." (v.5)

I am safe,
not because I have no
or because I never experience
I am safe,
not because people affirm
or my plans always
work out.
I am safe,
not because I am immune from
or free of the potential for
I am safe
not because I am protected from
or separated from this
fallen world.
I am safe,
not because I am
or strong.
I am safe,
not because I deserve
comfort or have earned my
I am safe,
not because of
or power,
or position,
or intellect,
or who I know,
or where I live.
I am safe because of the glorious mystery of
I am safe because of the presence of
boundless love.
I am safe because of
divine mercy,
divine wisdom,
divine power,
divine grace.
I am safe,
not because I never face
but because you are
with me in it.
You have not given me
a ticket out of danger.
You have not promised me
a life of ease.
You have chosen to place me in
a fallen world.
I am safe
because you have given me
the one thing
that is the
only thing
that will ever keep me safe.
You have given me
I am safe
from my evil heart
and this shattered world,
not because I can escape
them both,
but because in the middle of
temptation and trial,
danger and disappointment
sickness and want,
You give me everything
I need to
fight temptation
and avoid defeat
and to point others
to the safety
that can only be found
in You.
So, I will wake up tomorrow
and face the anxiety
of not knowing,
the fear of my own weakness,
and the reality of the fall.
I will live with
and hope.
And when danger comes,
and it will,
I will whisper to
my weakening heart,
"Emmanuel is your shelter,
You are safe."