Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Thursday, March 25, 2010

DAVID'S AWESOME VISION OF GOD - AND JESUS

David often wrote songs that depict the many visions he had of Yahweh. Virtually all of them contain some element of God's absolute superiority and control over both the human family and the unseen world. Here is one example: "Sing praises to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song to Him who rides through the desert, His name is the Lord....You ascended on high leading a host of captives in your train, and receiving gift from men." Psalm 68:4,18 ESV
All of this Psalm is about the actions of Yahweh and like most of David's Psalms, it contains a military emphasis on how God conquers those who think they have the upper hand. David affirms that to never be the case. He wrote, "The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai to His sanctuary", which relates back to the time of Moses when he met God on that mountain to receive the Law.
But, this Psalm is actually about Jesus, what He would do. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 at Ephesians 4:8 and applies David's vision to Jesus. He does make a minor revision saying when Jesus ascended on high, He "gave gifts to men". As the one to whom the Father has given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) Jesus Christ now reigns as Lord. This is the message of the book of Revelation.
Paul knew David's vision was about Jesus because Jesus told him the He had descended into the unseen world and after His resurrection ascended back to the Father. We cant actually know if Paul had some kind of vision that is comparable to what David saw in his own mind, but whatever David envisioned, Jesus accomplished.
Today we, all Christians, serve a Master and King who has been enthroned in heaven at the Father's right hand and eagerly await His coming to take us there too. Maybe David saw what I see by faith. I certainly love how he ended his vision, "You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to His people. Praise be to God." Psalm 68:35 HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"SURELY GOD IS MY HELPER"

As I have wandered around in the Psalms of David, there are several themes that seem common to most of them, love for God, praise of His name and power, faith that at some point God would step in and save Israel, etc. But, not all of his songs were filled with praise and faith. He repeatedly calls on God to destroy his enemies, break their teeth, come down on their heads with holy retribution. I simply cannot sing those songs or pray those prayers.
We still live in a violent world where power reigns and fear and anger retaliate which produces a never ending cycle of more violence. For several thousand years the Jewish people have repeated these songs in their worship to Yahweh, to no avail. The nation of Israel is still fighting to survive in the midst of the same ongoing battle David and his nation had to fight. But the same is true of many nations, factions within nations, governing bodies, churches, schools, families, neighborhoods, and on and on the cycle goes.
Jesus said, "You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus doesn't promise you peace with your enemies, only that the love of God in you will make you His child.
Would Jesus' way of dealing with one's enemies have worked for David?
The fact is, David's violent way didn't work very well either. He constantly had to come back to God with the same request over and over and over. Some of that I truly understand. There are times when a show of superior strength and determination is required in a violent world. However, history has shown repeatedly that war begets more war, violence begets more violence.
Jesus is our peace. Only in Him can the human family find any hope of true peace. The early disciples of Jesus proved the possibility of a shared love of other races, nationalities and customs. I feel strongly confident that the Apostles wrestled with the same misgivings about love for one's enemies when they first heard the teaching of Jesus.
I appreciate this statement from David: "Surely God is my helper, the Lord is the upholder of my life." Psalm 54:4 Through the worst of times he had enough faith to sing this song and cast himself and his nation in the care of Yahweh. David wasn't really a bad man, just a man who struggled most days to survive in a violent world. I cant say I have any enemies, except maybe those who are bent on destroying my country and our way of life. I served in the military and would again if the leaders of my country called on me and would have an old guy like me. I am very thankful that I never had to look into the eyes of a stranger and shoot him. Thousands of my countrymen have and I appreciate their sacrifice.
Sometimes you have to get on the other side of a situation to see the hand of God, but He's always there to hold me up. That I HAVE experienced. HALLELUJAH!

Friday, March 19, 2010

GOD'S LOVE AND THE BROKEN HEART

One of the scariest things God has told me in His word is this, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9 This was the prophet's assessment of the society he was commissioned by God to speak to for Him, but its no less true today of every human heart. Jesus said it isn't what you eat that defiles your spirit but what comes out of your mouth. It originates in your heart. The Bible is peppered throughout with similar statements about my heart. In the Bible, the word "heart" rarely refers to the blood pump in our chest, it refers to the seat of emotions, the place where we weigh information, debate alternatives and make decisions. It is the place where love is born and grows. It is also the birthplace of anger, greed, lust, hate, jealousy and that whole dark-side family.
David knew both sides of his heart very well. He seems to have had a difficult time with forgiveness and leaned more toward revenge and retribution, even with his own offspring. He grieved over the death of Absalom, after the fact, but doesn't seem to have made any effort to communicate a father's love to him. I always have to be very careful to not judge David by my own standard of morality because God has forever put him in the company of the faithful at Hebrews 11:32. That indicates to me that I don't have all the information God has. If God has forgiven and blessed David, I have no right to condemn him. He only affirms the truth of Jeremiah's statement about the human heart.
David's humble song of repentance is my prayer too. Near the end of it he wrote, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17 Getting there took nearly a year for David. He lived all those days with his back to God, going his own way, listening to the dark side of his heart. This was new territory for David, a place of separation from the God he had loved and praised all his life. I seriously doubt he wrote any songs of praise to God during that time. God waited patiently for David to reach the point of honest repentance on his own. It didn't happen. So, out his great love for David, God sent the prophet Nathan to confront him directly, VERY directly. Finally his heart was broken and he turned back to face God in the transparent way God honors.
Yesterday we saw that God chose David because he was a man "after God's own heart". Sin didn't change that because God always knew David's heart and how he would respond to His grace. But He had to get David to the point of absolute, honest repentance or his sin would multiply in his heart and he would be in danger of living out the rest of his life from that dark side.
What a Father our God is. His grace is always greater than our sin, all of it. He will never quit working to get us to that same transparency before Him because He loves us in spite of what we do. That love is the only power that can free us from the control of the enemy who works tirelessly to drag us away from our Father's house. A broken and contrite heart may not be an easy road sometimes but it is the only way to hear joy again and sing HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A MAN AFTER GOD'S OWN HEART

Several years ago I was privileged to hear a self-made millionaire speak at a business conference on the subject of self management. He had grown up on an Indian reservation in Arizona and worked at the tribal owned meat packing plant, eventually making it into middle management. One day he walked in and abruptly quit his job. His family was understandably shocked at what they considered a hasty decision. He told his father he knew in his heart that he was better than what he was doing, so he methodically set out to become independently wealthy over the next seven years. Although he had no MBA nor had received any higher education, he said he had learned something about himself that radically changed his life.
After years of self evaluation he came to the conclusion that all of us are actually made up of four people. The first person he called the "person I want you to think I am", the showcase person. Second is the "person I think I am", some might call the egocentric person. Third is the "person I am", harsh reality. He spent a great deal of time talking about the inner conflict he had experienced as a result of who he was, where he was and what he was doing with his life. Then he suggested there is a fourth person, "the person I can become." The point of his powerful presentation was this, WHAT AM I BECOMING?
All of us are always in the process of "becoming", but what are we becoming? When I get to the end, and we will all get there, will I have become what I am happy with? I have often reflected on that brave man who allowed God to lead him to a new place in life and gave him the opportunity to challenge others with that message.
After years of one failure after another, God finally had enough of King Saul's lame excuses for his obstinate disobedience. The weary old prophet Samuel confronted Saul one last time and informed him that God had fired him with these words, "The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of His people because you have not kept the Lord's command." 1 Samuel 13:14
About fifteen years later God sent Samuel to the home of a farmer to anoint the new king, Jesse's youngest son David. God told Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height....The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 Then we have this note, "From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power."
Over his forty year career as Israel's king, David proved God right about him because he never stopped growing, he never stopped becoming, even though he had to live through a lot of mistakes and failures of his own making.
What am I becoming? If I continue on the road I am now walking, will it take me where I truly want to go? Give it some thought and join me here tomorrow and we will continue this discussion. If you have something to contribute, join in.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"POWER AND MONEY"

Disagree if you wish, but in my view God always has the final say about all life on earth and throughout the universe. He allows life to run its natural course because only in the ups and downs can we come to a place of faith and trust. I appreciate what the great prophet Isaiah said about this at Isaiah 50:10, "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God." My interpretation is that fear of God means two things: TRUST in His name and RELIANCE on Him.
For many folks life is always about two things, power and money. Some are so spiritually dull they refuse or fail to see how puny and pointless their power and money ultimately are. Both are temporary social situations that will finally have no meaning to them if they have allowed their life to be the pursuit of that mirage. People who use their assets to overpower or dominate others set themselves up as the enemies of God. They will lose.
David wrote: "God will break you down forever, He will snatch and tear you from your tent; He will uproot you from the land of the living." Psalm 52:5 ESV
I have been blessed to know a few truly spiritual folks who have successfully integrated trust in God and reliance on Him with the power and money their talents have achieved. There is nothing inherently wrong with a servant of God having those assets, however in my observation, both power and money tend to corrupt most people because they also acquire a hunger for more. Reaching a place in life where I mostly trust in me and rely on my business smarts to get what I want can be a lonely prison to live in. I have known more than a few men and women who live a tortured life because they bought into the lie presented by power and money. Humility before God isn't usually a prominent character trait in the quest for the "good life".
Life isn't about power and money. What impresses God, David learned, are "a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Ps 51:17), both of which any of us can acquire if we follow the track laid out previously by Isaiah. You may not impress the power brokers and the money hungry and you may never succeed in politics or even in church ministry, but the day is coming when Jesus will call your name and you will live in His mansion forever.
David didn't stop with condemnation of the enemies of God. He continued at Ps 52:8-9 "But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly." Sounds like Isaiah doesn't it! If your life is truly about trust in God's name and reliance on God's grace and power, you can say it now - HALLELUJAH!

Friday, March 12, 2010

"THERE IS NO GOD!" REALLY!?

I have found it curiously interesting that Psalms 53 and 14 are virtually verbatim. As I have studied the seventy plus Psalms that David authored I have seen many of his characteristic phrases repeated, but as far as I have seen so far, these two are the only instance where he reproduced the same song. Maybe he felt the worshipers didn't get the message the first time and was compelled to make the point again. Or, possibly something was happening at the time that he felt a strong motivation to call attention to the message of this song. He makes his point at the beginning, "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'". Psalm 53:1 ESV
Being a careful student of Jewish history, the Apostle Paul quotes this Psalm at Romans 3:10, stitching it together with about seven others to make the same point to his own generation, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." All of that seems to be the result of an assumption that 'There is no God', so there are no rules, life is to be lived as you wish!
I wonder if this is how God sees his human family, ignorant, obstinate, self serving and totally oblivious to who He is. David's original assessment covers a lot of ground all the way down to Paul and the church at Rome, and even to the present day. When we compare the Biblical record with the archeological record, humans seem to have always worshiped some kind of god of their own making. Yahweh warned his own people repeatedly that creating their own gods or worshiping the gods created by other nations would only lead to their destruction. They failed to listen and now the nation of Israel still fights for its survival in the midst of constant war with one neighbor or another.
Have we really learned nothing in all the centuries between David and Paul? The brother did not mince his words when he quoted David's strong assessment of the human family that ignores God. It's still true, only "the fool says in his heart, there is no God!" But Paul uses David's words to make an even stronger point.
He follows up the Psalms quotes with an affirmation that "the law" was incapable of producing justification even for the Jews who believed in it. In spite of the rules God had given them to live by, the huge truth remained that, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", both Jew and Gentile.
Now get this, regardless of the law and its requirements, all are now "justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:24
THAT is how God sees the human family, at least that is His intent for all of us, but the choice is still up to me. I can go on living like a fool, or I can move into God's house, be adopted into His forever family and have a life that every breathing member of the human race should want more than their next breath.
David also wrote: "Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life!" Psalm 54:4 HALLELUJAH!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DOES GOD ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT ME?

On a sunny Friday afternoon in 2003 I discovered something that has radically altered my view of God as my Father. At Luke 10, Jesus appointed seventy two disciples to go ahead of Him into every city where He planned to minister. He gave them power to battle with Satan wherever they went and instructed them about what to do and say as they went from city to city. When they returned they were excitedly sharing with Him what they experienced, "Lord even the demons are subject to us in your name!" But Jesus told them, "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20
That statement really created an earthquake in my spirit. I have come to think of it in a more personal way, that God carries my picture in His wallet, He knows who I am. Someone had to write my name in heaven, maybe an angel, maybe the Holy Spirit, I don't know who, but it thrills my entire being to realize Jahweh knows my name. HALLELUJAH!
David wrote, "You have multiplied O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell them, yet they are more than can be told." Psalm 40:5
What an indescribable joy and absolute privilege to serve a God whose thoughts about me and actions for me are more than can be told. Just the thought that God has written my name before Him is almost more than my spirit can handle. There is more to praise God for than I will ever be able to understand much less tell to others, but like David, I will keep trying. HALLELUJAH!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

THE ALL-SEEING EYE

I grew up going to a small country church where one of my uncles lead the worship. Uncle Redic Pace was a gentle, kind man whose blacksmith shop I loved to hang around in and watch him create all kinds of neat things out of steel and iron. Quite often however, during Sunday worship he lead the song, 'THERE'S AN ALL SEEING EYE WATCHING YOU'. That song, coupled with the steady diet of 'hellfire & brimstone' preaching we heard over and over, caused me to develop a near frantic phobia about being thrown into hell with the devil. I had some very realistic nightmares about such a tragic end for my life and I could never figure out why God didn't like me. As an adult I slowly outgrew the nightmares but the tortured image of being in hell were never erased completely, which isn't a bad thing if we learn to see the whole picture of God's grace, love and forgiveness.
These words of David encourage my spirit: "From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth - He who forms the hearts of all, who considers all they do." Psalm 33:13-15 NIV
God is a vigilant Father who is involved in the lives of His children, He pays close attention. BUT, to correct NOT to condemn. This was never really taught to me as a young kid or even a teenager. Finally, I matured enough mentally and spiritually to read God's word as a son would read the words as coming from a loving father. Here is what I discovered after being in full time ministry for nearly a decade: "Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine." Psalm 33:18-19 ESV So it's true, there is an all-seeing eye watching me but His purpose isn't to condemn my soul to hell, it is to save me. That was a revelation to me as a young father and husband who had wrestled with much that I preached and didn't really believe.
I praise my Father every day for sending His Son to take away my fear and replace it with His love. Over and over David refers to God's love as "His steadfast love". Today I can truly say I am comforted and totally at peace knowing that my Father has His eye on me all the time. I finally learned that I can lift up my soul to Him in the absolute confidence that, like me, He is a Father really cares about His kids. I think that calls for a HOLY HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

LIVING IN FEAR?

One of David's favorite words seems to be "fear". Here is one of more than sixty examples throughout the Psalms: "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.....Oh fear the Lord you his saints for those who fear him have no lack!.....Come, O children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Psalm 34:4-5,7,11
Most of the Christians I have known, myself included, struggle with how to define fear of God. I know the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the word and fear is fear no matter how we may want to redefine it in a more "politically correct" way. Jesus taught us to fear God because only He can cast our soul into hell (Matthew 10:28), but if you keep reading you will also hear Him say, "Fear not" because God values you more than the birds He cares for every day.
So here is the question we seek an answer to: "Does God really want me to serve Him out of fear?" Most of the preachers I have known have played the fear card in an effort to motivate their hearers to serve God. Having done that too, I am a bit sad that I failed to read and share all that God has to say about fear of Him.
I believe there are three primary sources of motivation. First, the promise of some kind of reward can motivate a certain action. Second, the threat of painful or negative consequences can prove effective at times. However both reward and fear will ultimately fail as long term motivators because both are external. They do little if anything to alter ones inner thought patterns for the rest of their life. I'm not saying reward and fear should never be used as motivators, all I'm saying is they wont last long because there must be an ongoing external stimulus and you have to keep upping the ante. At some point you reach a ceiling and then you're at a stalemate and will begin to see diminishing returns.
There is a third possibility, it's called LOVE. When asked what the greatest issue is between man and God, Jesus did not say "fear", He said, "Love the Lord your God" with all you are (Mark 12:30). Love is the most powerful of all motivators because it is internal, it resides in the heart and over time alters everything from the inside out.
So, I have finally located the definition of fear that helps me understand how to balance fear of and love for God. Check this out, "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God." (Isaiah 50:10) Two things constitute the "fear" God wants from me: trust in His name and reliance on Who He is. To get there requires a personal investment of time and effort, but you wont get there without love for Him.
Today I can sincerely affirm that I love God more than I ever feared Him despite the best efforts of a long line of well meaning preachers to cause me to continue to have nightmares about being cast into hellfire. I do still fear Him in the sense Isaiah speaks of but have no fear of hellfire any longer because Jesus came to give us freedom from that fear. Now that is worthy of a real HALLELUJAH!

Monday, March 1, 2010

CLINGING TO GOD

David wrote: "You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:7-8 ESV
I have found faith to be a truly amazing gift. Along with hope and love, faith only grows stronger with age and experience because it is timeless, limitless, universally possible at all times for all people of faith. Even in the most fear inducing times, people of faith rise above the threat of the moment and cling to God because they always know He will hold on to them no matter what.
David learned how faith is the 24/7/365 sustainer of all that is good about life in
God's house. As people of faith we always reach a point where we look up because no matter how hard Satan tries to discourage us we always know his limitations have been forever exposed by Jesus our Lord, Savior and High Priest.
Paul said the three things that remain are faith, hope and love. (1 Cor 13:13) Because of what remains, people of faith always know how every up and down of life will finally turn out, so its all good. We always know to cling to God because He too clings to us. I really like that word cling. It feels truly heavenly to have my Father cling to me and hold me in his right hand. HALLELUJAH!