Psalms for the Election – Day 3

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This year has brought us one of the most divisive elective cycles in recent memory. Many people that I speak to, regardless of political affiliation, are not excited about the choices they have for President. Both candidates have characteristics that could be defined as “unfit,” whether it is in temperament, decision making, morality, unpredictability, criminal behavior, experience, judgment, health, or political vision.  It is in this season that we need to pray for our country more than we do for our political parties. We are a nation off-course and the choice of our leader will make irrevocable changes to the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and moral direction we take as Americans.

Therefore, I would like to invite you to pray with me for our country. Over the next 7 days, I will be making a new post each day. Each post will include a link to a reading from the Psalms and a brief instruction on how to use this reading as a guide for prayer. Let us put aside our desire to see a specific person win the election and have the courage to pray boldly for God to place in office the man or woman who will lead us to be the country that God desires (and designed) us to be. 

Will you please pray with me?


Read Psalm 38

Identify what God is saying about Himself in this passage. Boil it down into a one or two-word summary (e.g., God is ____ ) and confess that truth back to God, asking Him to reveal Himself in this way through your day and this election cycle.

This may be a particularly difficult chapter to read and pray, especially in the context of the election and the sins of our nation. Please take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to give you ears that can hear His voice and to soften your heart to what needs to be prayed. If you have never prayed for your nation before, please read Nehemiah 1:5-11. This should provide an example of what needs to be done today. Also, if you need help understanding the difference between iniquity, trespasses, and sins, please read my previous post Iniquity, Trespasses, and Sin.

v. 1-2 Consider how far we have strayed from the LORD as a nation. What grieves you? What feels like arrows have sunk into you when you consider it? Name these things one by one. Ask the LORD to not rebuke us in anger nor discipline us in wrath for these things.

v.3-4 Confess how far we have missed the mark as a country and as a culture.  Admit that we deserve God’s judgment for these things and how we are wasting away. Specify how the health in the bones of this nation is depleted because of our sin.

Confess the condition of our hearts (our iniquities) and how they weigh us down like a heavy burden that is too heavy for us.

v. 5-8 Contemplate how, because they have remained untreated, our nation’s sins have affected us. How infected have our wounds become? Confess the foolishness of America and the anguish it brings to your heart. Allow God to hear your mourning.

v. 9-14 Lay out your longings before God. Come boldly before His throne of grace and ask the desire of your heart for our nation. Outline how our sins have not only hurt us domestically but also internationally. How now our “friends and companions stand aloof…and my nearest kin far off.” How “those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.” And how our response is “like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear and in whose mouth are no rebukes.”

v .15-17 Confess that we are waiting for the LORD. How we know that only the LORD is our answer! Ask Him to hold us up when our foot slips on the path of recovery and that our enemies will not mock us, which may cause discouragement and relapse. Rather, may they see God working through our country, through our leaders, and through our people so that we may not fall, even in the midst of our national pain.

v.18-22 Confess the condition of our hearts as a people. Ask for forgiveness for our sins. Ask God to protect us, despite how numerous our foes may be and how others may render us evil because we follow after good.

Ask God to not forsake us but to redeem us! Ask Him to give us the fulfillment of His promises. To come quickly to help us. To keep us from destroying ourselves and losing the precious freedoms with which He has blessed us. To be our LORD and our salvation!

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Quick Thoughts: God is One

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Dt. 6:4 – The LORD our God, the LORD is one

Isa 45:7 – I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

1st Jn 4:8 – “God is love.” We hear this quoted all the time. Sometimes from a person who is trying to justify their behavior to us and sometimes from ourselves. But is God only love? Is He not also Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Judge,Redeemer, Forgiver, Covenant maker, Faithful, the Truth, the Way, the Life, etc?  When we talk about God, when we use the term “the LORD” or “God” do we not reference ALL of who He is? True, God is Love, but God is more than that.  Don’t get hung up on only one characteristic of God to the exclusion of the others. Otherwise, you will not only have an inaccurate view of God but you will also expect God to behave according to your definition of who He is, instead of you adjusting yourself to the reality of His person. Remember, God is one. He is the God who creates both prosperity and disaster (Isa 45:7). He is not separate from the sufferings we endure. Indeed, His love does not prohibit Him from understanding or from creating our calamity. He is sovereign and in control of it all. To some people, this seems like a cosmic sadist is at work, while others would argue that it is unloving to “create calamity.” But is it? A loving parent will often allow natural consequences to reveal truths to their child which promote growth or wisdom or they will implement logical consequences to teach a child. Similarly, God in His providential wisdom does not absolve us from suffering. He uses it in perfect symmetry with His other characteristics so that no part of Himself is separate from another. God is ONE. We cannot worship only the aspects of God that we like or that appeal to our sensibilities. We must worship all of the oneness of God in order to understand Him as the God that is in control of it all.

Quick Thoughts: Repair Your Gate

And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David.16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. 18 After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress.[f] 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. (Neh. 3:16-20)

When you look at the headlines from the last week, you see racial unrest boiling across the country. Terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. Flooding in China. Cops being assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The FBI director being interrogated by Congress. A presidential candidate facing possible indictment for mishandling classified information. Long term unemployment is higher than it was at the start of the Great Recession. And the people in charge (or the people competing to be in charge) do not seem to have any viable solutions to fix the overwhelming struggles that face us. The walls that used to surround our country and protect us from outside forces seem to have been trampled. The gates that used to be heavily guarded seem to have been burned to the ground, leaving us with the feeling that we are left only with rock and ash.

The feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness can be overwhelming. But this is where we can learn a valuable lesson from the story of Nehemiah. Each person came out and repaired the section of the wall that was in front of their home.  They did not huddle into private corners and complain about the sad state of.affairs. They did not discuss the impossibility of the task before them. Rather, they came out of their homes, evaluated the damage to tje wall in front of them, picked up a fresh rock or piece of wood, and stood firm as they repaired what belonged to them! They stood shoulder to shoulder, taking care of their responsibility, and within a short period of time, that which had been destroyed was restored.

Ask yourself: If I was to stop worrying and start working, if I was to take care of repairing the section of broken wall in my family, my community, or my church, what role would I need to play? How could I actively repair with my neighbor the intersecting parts of what used to make our lives safe and our faith strong to create healing within my small footprint in the world? How much complaining would I need to stop doing and how much solution-oriented activity would I need to begin in order to see the walls be rebuilt and the ash swept away?

But, you may ask, how can I be equipped to stand firm and meet the task in front of me?

Fortunately, God gives us this answer in Ephesians 6:10-20 (emphasis mine).

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Stand firm. Keep alert. Persevere. Rebuild.

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon<span class=”crossreference” data-link=”(Q)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-12377Q” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.  (Nehemiah 4:16-18, emphasis mine)

 

Why I Decided to Stop Reading the Bible Every Year

fasting1When I was a teenager, I began the practice of daily Bible reading. My pattern was to read a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening in order to bookend my day with the thoughts of God.  Using this method allowed me to finish the Word approximately every two years. But this changed four years ago after I downloaded a Bible app to my phone. Excited with all of the functionality and options for studying that it allowed me to do, I chose to begin a new Bible reading plan, one that would allow me to read through the entire text in a single year. This meant that I would be reading four or five chapters a day from the Bible.

Admittedly, ego drove this decision more than devotion or fervency for God. I wanted to be able to say, at least to myself, that I had read through the Bible “x” number of times in my life. Something about the number made me feel good about my walk with God. In hindsight, though, this gory self-righteousness led me down a path that was neither spiritual nor helpful for my Christian life. Thus, I have decided it is time to stop reading the Bible every year. Below are my top 10 reasons why:

 

  1. The Bible is to be absorbed, not raced through like a NASCAR race
  2. The Bible is made for man and is best understood in small doses in order to understand its application to life, but reading through it in a year only provides a large 30,000 foot overview.
  3. The Bible is designed to reveal God but, as with all things, speed blurs perception.
  4. If I only have 20-30 minutes each morning to read my Bible, I will get more out of it by examining how this passage connects to others or meditating on a manageable bite size piece, rather than reading 4 chapters and having no time for meditation or study.
  5. The Bible is not only to be meditated upon but also applied. I cannot apply a lesson I have not taken the time to learn. Most likely the only lessons that I am “hearing” when I read through the Bible in a year are the ones I remember the Lord teaching me from the past, not new ones that challenge me.
  6. Reading it through in a year can be more about successfully accomplishing a goal than becoming closer to or more like the LORD.  If my life is to be lived in such a way so that others may see the perfections of God publicly displayed through me, then I must take the time to understand how to exalt the LORD with all of who I am. To learn how, as John the Baptist said, I must become less so that He becomes more.
  7. As Chaucer once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This year I began to realize that I was reading the Bible much like a movie I have seen a hundred times, anticipating the memorable or favorite scenes, but not enjoying it. Such an exercise feels like a duty, not a relationship with the text or the Creator who wrote it.
  8. It taps into my sinful nature much more easily than I anticipated: perfectionism masquerading as holiness, self-righteousness obscuring shame, self-blame and feelings of failure when I miss days that I should have read, as well as pride in doing the safe and private task of reading instead of the dangerous task of actively serving others with the power that God provides.
  9. The Bible is to be a starting point, not an ending point, for Christian living. It points us towards God and holy living. Making our calling and election sure is more than an intellectual agreement with a specific set of teachings. It is also a daily behavior that confirms that we are Christ’s and that He is ours. That the two have become one. The choice to love God is not one we make only at a singular point in time. Rather, it is one that we continue to make throughout our lives, sometimes even several times a day, so that we may know the joy of continually turning towards each other, even when our beloved makes no sense or hurts us. In other words, it is embracing the vulnerability of love in order to gain the intimacy of relationship.
  10. Aside from the incarnation, the Bible is God’s most vulnerable expression of who He is. It is the place where He bares His heart, communicates His desires, shares the joys and sorrows of His past, explains His frustrations, and voices His profound yearning for a deeper relationship. But if I am trying to get through four or five chapters before I start my day, I will often hear His mouth, but miss the message of His heart.

 

What am I going to do instead? I think I will go backward in order to move forwards. Get out my pen, annotate the text, and really try to see how all the parts connect to each other. A chapter or two each day. As they say in the South, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

A Competition of Names

I am standing in a big bookstore, usually some large chain, like a Barnes and Noble, hovering around the periphery of the bestseller shelves. Customers come and go, but then one person catches my eye. She reaches over and pulls a title off the shelf, examines the cover art, and then opens the book.  Unlike the people who have come before her, she takes her time, beginning with the copyright page, the table of contents, the dedication, and then the first few pages of what she is holding. For a moment, she stands there, slowly turning the pages, until finally, with her eyes remaining in the book, her feet direct her to a nearby La-Z-Boy, and she sits down. The aura of sacredness surrounds her as she allows the words to draw her into a new reality. I feel guilty as I casually approach. Continue reading

Perfection

Ok. It’s been waaaay too long since I posted something. I am not trying to be neglectful of my blog. In fact, I have been working on a post for the last four weeks that I thought would be easy to write. Maybe you know the feeling. You see a truth you had never seen before and ideas for a post fly around the brain like unfettered popcorn.

But when you see sit down to write, the article will not develop. You attack it from as many angles as you can: humorous, honest, theological, apologetic, casual…. None of them work. You want the world to know what you have discovered. You want it to change their lives as much as it is changing yours. So, in your zeal, you break the cardinal rule of writing and share your truth verbally with people. Surprisingly, this works. You find that you can articulate the truth out loud, but when you sit down to write again…nothing comes. For a while, you consider making the post a vlog. Not an original idea, but perhaps it will allow you to at least share what you wanted to say.

Then you realize you have no idea how to post that to WordPress. So, you go back to writing.

Still, the article frustrates you like continually buffering wifi signal. You almost give up but decide that it’s a matter of principle now. You are going to figure this post out if it kills you.

You feel guilty that you haven’t posted anything in a month, and begin to wonder if you can use any of your past writings to cover the gap while you continue to work. Then you run across an old devotional that you had written for your church half a decade ago. It’s short but poignant. It speaks to only one of the issues holding you back with the original article, but it is worth sharing, nonetheless.

So, consider this my apology for being so quiet lately. I hope you like the devotional below as much as I enjoyed writing it years ago.

I’ll be back later with the other article. I cannot give up. I will not lose.

Enjoy:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

 

When God becomes the ruler by which we measure our perfection, our entire perspective changes.  We suddenly realize that all of our rationalizations for good behavior have failed us, and our efforts to succeed without God are useless.  Our sinful self condemned us to God’s judgment, and it cannot, on its own, rescue us from judgment.  There must be a death to self that occurs.  We need the life of Christ to inhabit us so that we may become like Him.  Unless we submit ourselves to God by sacrificing our lives for God we will never succeed in our striving to be like God.

Lessons from Proverbs 10

Throughout scripture we are told to pursue wisdom and to ask for it. But Proverbs 10 goes a little deeper and gives us a comparison/contrast between the person who is wise and the one who is foolish.

Wisdom/Righteousness

Foolishness/Wickedness

Brings joy to the Father Brings grief to Mother
Delivers from death Ill-gotten treasures are of no value
God does not let go hungry God thwarts their cravings
Diligent yields wealth Laziness yields poverty
Gathers crops at proper time Sleeps during the harvest (disgraceful)
Blessings crown their head Violence overwhelms their mouth
Their memory is a blessing The name will rot
Accepts commands Comes to ruin
Walks securely due to integrity Takes crooked paths and is found out, causes grief
Mouth is a fountain of life Violence overwhelms their mouth
Love covers over all wrongs Hatred stirs up dissensions
Discerning Lacks judgment
Stores up knowledge Mouth invites ruin
Wages bring them life Income brings them punishment
Heeds discipline and shows the way to life Ignores correction and leads others astray
Holds his tongue Conceals his hatred, lying lips, spreads slander, uses lots of words
Tongue is choice silver Heart is of little value
Lips nourish many  Die for lack of judgment
Delights in wisdom Finds pleasure in evil conduct
Given what he desires Overtaken by what he dreads
Stands firm forever Swept away by the storm
Fears the Lord, long life Years cut short
Their prospect is joy Their hope comes to nothing
The way of the Lord is a refuge The way of the Lord is a ruin
Will never be uprooted Will not remain in the land
Mouth brings forth wisdom Perverse tongue will be cut out
Lips know what is fitting Mouth knows only what is perverse

Now, instead of asking yourself which column best describes you, ask God to reveal to you the true state of your heart and how you may develop and display His wisdom in your life.