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, April 29, 2010

AM I COVERED?

At some point, all people of any level of faith question whether something they have done and consider a sin is, will be or can be forgiven by God. We've all done and said things we regret, some of us with consistent regularity. We may reason that surely God will not forgive the same sins we commit over and over.
There is some pretty consistent theology for that line of reasoning. When you look at God's reactions to sin committed by his own people in the Old Testament, you can end up with a conclusion that you are so bad God is fed up with your continuing rebellion against his word. I have had this discussion many times with some truly good people who never feel "good enough". They have assumed that God's grace isn't good enough or powerful enough to overcome their sins, so at some point they adopted an attitude of "what's-the-use".
Paul addresses this attitude of inevitability - "I can't do it anyway so why go through the bother of even trying!" At Romans 4, he uses Abraham as the prime example of God's forgiveness and actually quotes David, who wrote, "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered, blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count sin." (Psalm 32:1-2) Following this quote Paul goes into a long explanation of how the grace of God worked for Abraham AND for all who have the faith of Abraham. God did not declare Abraham righteous because he was circumcised but because he was a man of faith. Paul then draws this conclusion: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Sin is always a transgression of the will of God and its always a serious thing to ignore God's will. However, because of Jesus Christ, we "have peace with God" and can always know that God's grace is greater than any sin we can commit. That doesn't mean His grace is unconditional forgiveness, but if we adopt the faith of Abraham and David, there is no sin that goes uncovered. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, April 26, 2010

FAITH MAY NOT ALWAYS MAKE SENSE

Faith that expects God to make my life a smooth sail is both unrealistic and without any Biblical context. In both the Old and New Testaments, people of unshakable faith were subjected to some horrendous tragedies. Contemporary evidence abounds that even the most dedicated servants of God often experience the worst life can dish up. Such being the case, why would I even consider faith in God as a way of life. What's in it for me if I have no advantage over others who live a totally self-serving lifestyle?
Having had this conversation with literally thousands of men and women of all ages, I will admit that faith doesn't always seem to make sense. All people of faith have to face up to the difficulty of praying or trusting in faith when all seems bleak or even hopeless. It's one thing to sing and pray in trusting faith on Sunday but may be quite another deal on Monday if I am standing beside the hospital bed of my three year old who is fighting for her life following a tragic accident. I've been right there with a lot of great people who ask a lot more questions than I can answer.
If you are there now, struggling to believe, please don't give up, no matter what! Sit down in a secluded place, open your Bible to these words of David and think through it: "I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay." Psalm 16:7-10 NIV
Read it over and over and try to see your situation from God's perspective. Poets, preachers and song writers have given the world an endless stream of pretty words to encourage the brokenhearted and discouraged, but it still always comes back to the point of decision - to doubt, reject altogether or believe.
Although David's words are said to be about Jesus (Acts 2:25), they're also true of all people of like faith. Jesus provides us with the firm example of faith in the face of tragic circumstances but even he too cried out in frustration to the Father. The picture of Jesus drawn by the Spirit at Hebrews 5:7-9 should encourage all of us who claim faith as our lifestyle, even when faith doesn't make sense. HALLELUJAH!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

MAKING THE BEST CHOICE IS NEVER EASY

All choices have consequences ranging from good to very bad to tragic. We all make some choices we regret, especially when we're young, green and inexperienced. Many of them we can't outlive so they hang on as baggage that we have to drag through life.
Over the years I have met lots of well intentioned people of all ages who live angry lives because of choices they may have made that they can't seem to embrace later in life.
Can we really live free of anger with the past? I've asked that question of lots of people who seem to be controlled by events long past that they still trip over. Unresolved anger with the past is the most common form of emotional unrest that I have seen in middle and older adults, and more than a few teens. Experience confirms that dating, marriage and parenthood can be a risk that can turn out to be one of those tragedies that hang on throughout one's entire life. I have counseled hundreds of men and women who feel trapped in a job they hate, working with people they can barely tolerate. I have invested thousands of hours listening to the sad tale of how life is intolerable and some totally frustrated person is looking for a way out of the misery that someone else created for them.
There is no way to know at just what point in his varied life David wrote Psalm 16 but I have come to believe it probably was in the early part of his reign as King over all Israel. He was crowned King at about 32-35 years of age and is believed to have died in his early or mid 70's. Somewhere along the way he made a decision that would carry him through a lot of anger and what we call angst about his life.
He wrote: "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance." Psalm 16:5-6 ESV
Not an easy place to get to, even for a person of true faith. To me the word "cup" is meant to symbolize that which sustains and nourishes, and the word "lines" refers to what God intends for me. So, where God leads me, "the lines", will always take me toward a "beautiful inheritance".
I could never have done that for myself or my family, but God knows just how to draw all of us to a truly beautiful place. But, we each have to make that our "chosen portion".
Have you made some bad decisions in the past, or have the decisions of others caused you to live in anger? Make a better decision for yourself. Make God your "chosen portion" and you will find out how to get past all that stuff Satan uses to control your life. I realize that it can be more complicated than reading two verses from the Psalms of David but that's a good place to start isn't it? Just trust God to give you the leadership you need to get to His "beautiful inheritance". HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MY MOUTH WILL SPEAK THE PRAISE OF THE LORD

In the early 60's during my military career I developed the common habit of cursing and swearing. Cusssin' was the accepted method of communication and being surrounded by it every day and night, my mind absorbed the habit with little thought. The old adage that stated a certain person "cusses like a sailor" was and probably still is a very apt description about the sailors I served with. Of course when I was home on leave for a few days I easily reverted to cleaning up my speech around my parents and my country home in Kentucky.
After returning to the states from an extended cruise our ship was docked in Norfolk, Va and nearby on the pier was a small restaurant or as we called it, "the geedunk". One night I was there with some of my shipmates drinking beer and loudly carrying on a lot of total foolishness. I had to go on duty early the next morning so after several hours I left and headed back to the ship. I failed to notice a much older Chief Petty Officer follow me outside. He quickly caught up with me and simply said, "Son can I talk with you a minute?" In my mind I thought "what does this old dude want with me?", but having been taught all my life to respect my 'elders', I stopped and said, "Sure, what can I do for you?" We sat down on a bench and for the next half hour that man opened my eyes to how I appeared to other people. Although I listened respectfully, I quickly dismissed it and went on my way. But two days later the impact of what that good man did for me hit me right between the eyes. From that day I began to work hard to eliminate that form of speech from my heart.
I haven't called on God to 'damn' anything or anyone in a very long time. My speech is no longer dependent on the kind of language that only proves my ignorance. I have had the same conversation with lots of young people and adults over the years. I am convinced that most people are skilled at cussin' because they have developed a lazy habit and overlook how truly ignorant they appear in the eyes of people who have something substantive to say. Children learn very early what is acceptable in the environment they grow up in. So the ignorance of cursing and swearing gets perpetuated.
David wrote: "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord." Psalm 145:21
That powerful, simple statement is the most effective way I know to eliminate the habit of ignorant speech because it penetrates the heart. Only Jesus can change us from the inside out. I can testify. HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU

David's understanding of the kingdom of God was probably limited to the area of his own reign. He was however a prophet, as Peter said at Acts 2:30, which is why we see so much of David's Psalms quoted in the New Testament, but in his own lifetime he may not have had a vision of God's purpose and intent beyond what he lived with the nation of Israel. At that time, David's kingdom WAS God's kingdom.
David wrote, "All your saints shall bless you! They will speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds and the splendor of your kingdom." Psalm 145:10-12 ESV
I feel certain David firmly believed he wrote the truth God gave him, but it was never realized. His death essentially put an end to the kingdom of God as David had envisioned its future. Solomon had an opportunity to continue the type of spiritually based reign as his father but he just didn't have the same heart for God as David.
Several hundred years after David wrote Psalm 145, Jesus said this to a group of the Pharisees who asked him a question about the coming of the kingdom of God, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is', or 'There it is' because the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:21 That is a concept of the 'kingdom of God' that David never envisioned. Nor did the succeeding generations of Jews who every Sabbath sang David's songs. What David wrote at Psalm 145 about the kingdom of God is absolutely true but in a much wider and deeper sense than David ever really saw.
At the time Jesus went around preaching about the kingdom of God in the same region where David lived, the people, although many generations removed from the successful kingdom of David, were still waiting for God to do what he had promised David. If you read Psalm 89, the song of Ethan the Ezrahite written long after the death of David, you can get a clear picture of the expectations of the people of Israel at the time of Jesus. Even after Jesus' resurrection and his forty days teaching his Apostles about the kingdom of God, they still were clinging to the ancient belief that God would "restore the kingdom to Israel".
Christian, know this, the kingdom of God does not reside in a building on the corner of 5th and Main street in any city or town. It resides within YOU. That is why God has given you his Holy Spirit, to testify to the reality of his kingdom among the human family.
Now go out today and tomorrow and tell someone the GOOD NEWS! HALLELUJAH & AMEN!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR GOD

Psalm 145 is one of the few songs of David that is lacking his usual pleas with God to destroy his enemies. In this song he rises above his anger or fear or depression to just give absolute praise to Yahweh.
"I will extol you, my God and king, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable." Psalm 145:1-3 ESV
If someone asked you to "tell me about your God", how would you answer that request? I seriously doubt that quoting a lot of scripture would be what most people would be wanting to know from you. Having had this experience more than a few times in my years of service in His kingdom, I have done a less than adequate job of testifying about my Father to someone who didn't know Him. I guess my instinct as a minister and teacher has generally been to assume that reading scripture with them is what they wanted to know. Without question, we do have to get to the word of God at some point because that's how we lead others to Jesus and His kingdom. However I have learned that generally they just want to know if I KNOW God and what that means for my life.
I think most people who ask that question of Christians aren't looking for us to try to "prove" something to them but just to convince them that we truly know who our Father is and what that might mean for them. David's understanding is that "his greatness is unsearchable". To me that means God isn't some idea or hypothesis that can be proven by scientific testing in a lab. We can only know Him by seeking to make an honest connection within our own spirits. There are multitudes of folks who can quote a lot of scripture but don't really KNOW God or His Son. There are many who attend some kind of religious worship gathering regularly whose lifestyle betrays their professed beliefs.
So, tell me about your God may not mean "quote me some Bible scriptures", but "how do you feel about your God?"
We will pursue this thought further as we go through Psalm 145.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

THE PSALMS & WORSHIP IN THE KINGDOM

Much of what we read in the Psalms isn't appropriate for Christians to sing, it's just too violent and hateful against others. David seems to always be in a turmoil because of one enemy or another and he repeatedly calls on God to do some terrible things to them and their families.
Reading the words of Jesus and His Apostles confirms their familiarity with these songs probably from early childhood. They were sung regularly by the Jews of Jesus' day and obviously to some extent by the first disciples of Jesus in the first century and beyond. In the New Testament the Psalms is the most quoted Old Testament book but the emphasis on military victory over one's enemies is absent from the dialogue.
Jesus taught a very different message than what is typically found in the Psalms of David. At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus preached "You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you , Love your enemies" etc. Matthew 5:43 There seems to be no such command anywhere in the Old Testament concerning one's enemies, but Jesus may have been referring to "hate your enemy" as a persistent theme found in the Psalms. At the time of Jesus' ministry, that certainly was the expectation of the Jews. i.e. that God would destroy their enemies and give them military and social superiority again.
After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit began His ministry with the Apostles and qualified them to write the New Testament. I think they got the new message and learned to couple it with much that had been sung by their people for a lot of centuries.
David wrote:"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation" at Psalm 68:19 ESV The context of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount sound a lot like the words of David that had been sung by the Jews for centuries. The Apostles carried the message of Jesus to their generation of Jews and Gentiles and achieved a mighty result.
Another example is Psalm 55:22, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you, He will not permit the righteous to be moved." Peter may have been thinking of this song he had sung many times when he wrote, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:6-7 Of course singing it in a song or repeating the words in a prayer is pretty simple, but actually taking the action is a much different process. However, singing and praying about it surely helps our spirit do it.
For me, singing the Psalms is something like eating fish with bones in it, you have to learn how to eat around those bones to enjoy the meal. I have learned to pray the Psalms with the full understanding of the times in which they were composed as a way to give glory to Yahweh and encourage the people. There is a huge blessing to be realized from all of the Psalms but we must always read them under the overshadowing of Jesus.
I am blessed today by the words of David and the other Psalmists, they give me a new vision of my Father that thrills my spirit often. Thank you Father for preserving these beautiful words for all generations of your family. HALLELUJAH!