Friday, September 14, 2007

Psalm 27: Going to School

"Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors." (v.11)

So, who's schooling you? There's never a day that passes without you being taken to school in some way. Life is really all about teaching and learning. And there's a way in which neither stops from the first until the last day of your life. So, perhaps one of the most important diagnostic questions that each of us should be asking is this, "Do I approach life as a student?"

If you are committed to know and understand, if you're committed to journey from ignorance to knowledge, and from foolishness to wisdom, if you're interested in more than your own plan and perspective, then it only makes sense to learn at the feet of the world's best Teacher. Who could know more or be wiser than the One who put the universe into motion, who presently holds it together, and who controls its destiny? Who could know more about the true meaning and purpose of life? Who could know more about your identity? Who could know more about the environment in which you live? Who could know more about the foundational questions of life? The Proverbs say it very well, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?" I like John Calvin's paraphrase, "There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God." There can be no better place to go to school than to the University of the Lord and there could be no better course of study than the "way of the Lord."

His way is wisdom and wisdom requires understanding his way. So where are you going for wisdom? Whose school have you been attending? Who shapes your definition of the meaning and purpose of life? Who tells you who you are and what you should be doing? Who crafts the way you look at the surrounding world? Who defines your problems? Who instructs you as to how they will be solved? Who helps you to determine your life direction? Who tells you what's functionally important and what isn't? Who shapes your relationships? Who clarifies your thinking in moments of difficulty. Are you really a faithful student in the school of the Lord, or do you just audit now and then when it's convenient?

Let me suggest the characteristics of a student in the school of the Lord.

1. A healthy cynicism toward your own wisdom. Sin reduces all of us to fools, but it does something else that's even more insidious; it makes us believe that we're wise. Independent wisdom was both the seductive temptation and the delusional desire of the Fall. One of the primary reasons Adam and Eve were attracted to the fruit was that it was "desirable for gaining wisdom." But eating the fruit didn't result in wisdom, no, it opened the floodgates of foolishness and we've be drowning in it's waters ever since.

You and I were never created with the autonomous capacity to be wise. Wisdom doesn't come through research, experience, and study. Wisdom comes by revelation and relationship. You only get wisdom from the One who is its ultimate source, the Lord.

2. A humble sense of need. We all get lulled to sleep by feelings of arrival. You know what it's like. We all have the capacity to be too easily satisfied. Because we know more today than we did yesterday, we quit working to know more tomorrow. Rather than gratitude for what God has taught us, motivating us to learn more, we get smug and lazy, quite content to consider ourselves to be God's graduates.

3. A willing and open heart. Willingness and openness are the essential characteristics of any good student. Why, you may ask? Because learning not only shows me what I didn't know, but points out the places where what I thought I knew was, in fact, wrong. I cannot tell you in my many years of teaching how many defensive students I have met. "Defensive student" is an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "low-fat butter." You can't be defensive and be a student. You have to open up your heart. You have to be willing to be told that you're wrong. You have to submit yourself to someone who knows better and knows more. Defending what you know won't lead to either further or corrected understanding. Willingness to listen, consider, and change are in the heart of every good student.

4. Discernment, focus, and determination. Discernment means that you have to make sure that you're submitting yourself to qualified teachers. Paul says in Colossians 2:8: "See, to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." Once you're sitting at the feet of those who represent the Teacher of teachers, then continued learning takes focus. You live in a world of many, many voices. All of them are interpreting your world and all of them are vying for the allegiance of your heart. And you have to remember that learning is a process not an event. One truth opens the doorway to another truth. One truth functions as an interpreter of a truth previously introduced, but now understood more fully. Learning is a lifelong process and because it is, it requires perseverance.

5. Commitment to act on what you're learning. Any seasoned teacher will tell you that the real learning takes place after the students leave the classroom and practice what they've been taught. The God who's your teacher will orchestrate events, situations, and relationships for the purpose of causing you to live what you've been learning. Life is his classroom and every new location on each new day provides a rich and God-given environment to understand more deeply and to live more wisely. So, good students always carry with them the commitment to look for ways to apply what they've been learning and they know that as they do, their learning will continue.

By God's grace we haven't been left to our own wisdom. We've been brought into personal communion with the One who's the source of everything that's wise and true. So, these questions remain. Are you a committed student? Whose school are you attending?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Psalm 27: The Good Life

I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (v.13)

If you could paint a portrait of your version of the "good life" what would it look like? What's the golden personal dream that fills your mind when you say to yourself, "If only I had...."? What's the one thing in your life that you tell yourself would make you happy?

You see, it's very tempting to associate the good life with something physical. Perhaps it would mean living in a certain location. Maybe it would mean getting that job that you've always dreamed of. Or it could mean having the special relationship with that special person. Maybe for you it would be earning a certain amount of money. Maybe it would be looking a certain way or experiencing a certain level of physical health.

When you define the good life by these kind of physical experiences there's a second thing that happens; you tend to judge God by his willingness to deliver them to you. You unwittingly begin to evaluate God's goodness by whether or not he gives you the thing that you've set your heart on. But often God doesn't give us the things that we've set our hearts on precisely because we've set our hearts on them. Because we've set our hearts on them they're a spiritual danger to us. So, God is responding to us in a way that's good, even though it doesn't feel good at the moment. It's often in these moments of want that we're experiencing the "goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Because he loves us and because he's good, God keeps from us those things that fight for control of our hearts and therefore, fight for the place that only he's supposed to have.

Imagine a little child running to the house one afternoon and saying to his mom, "Mommy, I am hungry...I want a candy bar, a can of soda, and a bowl of ice cream." Now pretend that you respond, "I'll make you a peanut butter sandwich with some apple slices on the side." There's a good possibility that your child won't run over to his neighbor friend's house and say, "You won't believe what a good Mom I have...I asked for unhealthy treats and she responded by giving me things that were much better." Probably the more likely scenario is that the child would immediately protest to his mother, "I don't want peanut butter...I want candy...why can't I have candy?" At this moment your child doesn't think of you as the definition of parental goodness!

Being confident of the goodness of the Lord shouldn't be confused with an assumption that because God is good, he'll give me the things that I've set my heart on. In his grace, God is freeing you from the small confines of your little definition of what's good so that you can experience the huge and satisfying good that he's planned for you. Grace welcomes me to experience what is eternally right, true and good. Grace invites me to good that I could never have imagined, deserved, or earned.

It's nice to have a nice house and a comfortable life, but it's even better to have come to the place where you no longer need those things to feel good about your life. Sure God will bless me with physical things, but every good physical thing that he gives me is meant to be a sign that points me to the good that can only be found in him.

This is the bottom line. The good that God promises me isn't a situation, possession, position, or relationship. The good that he promises me is himself. What could possibly be a better gift than that!?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Psalm 27: Family Forever

"Though my Father and Mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me."

I deserve to be
to be forever cast away.
I deserve to be
to have you turn away and stay.
I have debated your goodness.
I have questioned your law.
I have doubted your wisdom.
I have run from your love.
I deserve your
to be punished for my wrong.
I deserve your
righteous judgment
the full weight of your law.
I have wanted what I wanted.
I've walked from your grace.
I have trespassed your boundaries.
I have envied your throne.
I don't deserve your
the many things I could not earn.
I don't deserve your
the daily gifts of your love.
I don't deserve the rights of
to be called your son.
I don't deserve the warm
Tender care and endless help.
I don't deserve to call you
to be welcomed in your home.
So you came to be
To have the Father turn His face.
Your bond of family was
You came to stand in my place.
You didn't deserve to be
It came because of your love.
You didn't deserve to be
Yet you were willing to the end.
So now I have a
Forever I've been received.
I am never
Even when I'm all alone.
When fatherless and
You are with me even then.
I have been given a
I did not deserve or earn.
The Lord has
received me.
I will never be alone.
Once more I will forsake you.
I will question your love.
Once more I will debate you.
I will turn from your face.
But you will come as a
You will treat me as a son.
You will forgive and
restore me.
With great patience and great love.
In you I've found a
In you I have found grace.
And what I've found, I've found
Forever Father.
Forever family.
Forever welcomed.
Forever love.