Posted in Christian Living, Faith

His Faithful Love Endures

Challenges like the dust bowl of another generation are just one of many things we humans endure.
Challenges like the dust bowl of another generation are just one of many things we humans endure.

As a person with anxiety issues, I avoid the news as much as possible.  Being a fan of history, I realize the potential fallacy of this head-in-the-sand attitude.  But, since most days I have to overcome the challenge of worrying about what my logical mind knows are silly things–like the pine needles on my roof or whether the sugar ants I thought I had conquered in my kitchen will return again–I feel validated in my choice to remain mostly oblivious.

But, I do occasionally watch the news.  My first memory of seeing a newscast is standing in the kitchen of our 75-year-old house as the 13-inch black and white television flashed images of Russian soldiers with weapons moving through the woods as if they might burst through the back pantry door any moment.  The newscaster said that Russia had developed some kind of weapon that was superior to what our soldiers had in this time of relative peace known as the cold war.

In my fifth grade classroom, first my teacher told us about being a girl our age and hearing about Pearl Harbor.  She was a passionate storyteller who painted a vivid picture of her own, innocent world collapsing in around her.  Suddenly, the blue sky over the front lawn where she played on the tire swing or rode her bike was an ominous void where planes might bomb her into oblivion at any moment.

That same year, I stood in the library as a television blared reports that our President had been shot.  One of my classmates cheered.  There were rumors that the teacher standing next to me in the library had snuck out to her vehicle and cried.

I once told a friend of another generation that mine felt like one of the first generations in many to not really be challenged.  She, after all, had lost her fiancé in Vietnam.  I conveniently forgot that one of my own high school classmates had died serving our country in a war we are for all intents and purposes still fighting.

So, there is nothing new under the sun, it seems.  Each generation faces its own share of challenges, whether they be wars against brothers-turned-enemies, economic hardships, or the truly unrelenting power of nature.  Each generation must forge its own path to the perseverance that builds character.  And every day we choose to take one more step forward, we prove our own heroic spirit.

But the most heroic spirit of all is the humble one that realizes all things good come from the ONE who breathed everything into existence.

I was reminded of this truth as I read through the Psalms this week.  In these prayers to God, we learn what it is like to be created and yet in relationship with our Creator.  The various authors of the Psalms praise God, plead with God, bargain with God, and even get angry with Him!  But, they always, always, submit to God’s superior role in the petitioner’s life.

In Psalms 107 and 118, for example, we see the heights and the depths of the human experience:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever. . . . Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. (Psalm 107:1, 8)

In both these Psalms, besides telling the story of all the good things God has done, the Psalmists also acknowledge their own failings, especially in the face of a perfect God.  They know they do not deserve help.  They know that they have been punished and may still continue to be punished.  But, they also believe in God’s faithfulness.  Even though we created things repeatedly reject Him, God never forgets us.

Believing that God is ever faithful, the Psalmist makes a declaration of belief, asking for success even though the Psalmist knows God may not immediately or ever grant it.  Still, in the end, the Psalmist knows that God will always love:

This is the day the LORD has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24)

Like Job who refused to curse God, even when it seemed like God had taken everything from him, for those who remain constant in the belief that God is faithful, the crazy things that happen in our fallen, cursed world can be placed in the always open hands of a loving Creator.  Somehow, knowing that makes facing a fallen world possible.

I commend those who endure so much, but I also acknowledge that any life is a certain act of endurance.  Since I have problems with anxiety, your mole hill is probably my mountain, but we both still endure.  In the end, the act of being human is not a contest of who had the greatest challenges.  It seems to me that the act of being human is all about enduring through our faith in a faithful God.

In a world full of headlines, I think I’ll stick with the banner that hasn’t changed in centuries:  HIS faithful love endures forever.

I hope we all walk in stronger faith in the coming days.  And if we stumble, then let us turn to the words of others who have gone before us along this same journey.  Open His Word to the Psalms and be ready to find a familiar friend who also loves God.

The LORD who shepherds David shepherds all of us.  I choose to fear no evil when I choose God.

Posted in Christian Living

This Debt I Owe

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I have a confession to make.  Despite knowing that vengeance belongs to God, I love a good movie where the hero systematically eradicates all the villians.  Even in a story like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, I’m glad to see him take out his enemies because, even though Eastwood has given them every chance to back off, they just won’t give up.  Eastwood may have ultimately lost a bit more of his soul in shooting it out with the bad guys, but as a movie-goer, I am really glad the bad guys bit the dust.

How different are the realities of a world where people live according to the belief that God has the only right to vengeance.  In our modern age, I’m not sure how many of those communities actually exist, but in the pages of my Bible, I find a history of God’s people asking for guidance in dealing with their enemies and giving full credit to God for any victories that they attain.  When the Israelites are on top of their faithfulness with God, no force in the world can beat them.  Vengeance is God’s.

I’ve been reading the Psalms this week.  In David’s Psalms, he repeatedly acknowledges his own sinful state and how little he deserves God’s help.  But, David also acknowledges how he can do nothing without God, how great God is all the time, how willing David is to accept God’s will, whatever that may be.  For David, whatever happens is the will of God, and God is good all the time–even when what God decides to do makes David hurt.

When you read that attitude coming from a man who lives under the weight of sin, you understand more and more just how much David had a heart like God’s.  What I mean is this: in David’s time, there was no such thing as grace.  In order to renew one’s relationship with God, you had to perpetually offer blood sacrifices to make right what you inevitably had done wrong in the sight of God.  Even as David pours his heart out to God in the Psalms, he knows that the only man on earth that can most closely speak to the Maker is the High Priest one day each year when the Holy of Holies is entered after much sacrifice and even more sacrifices are made in the very presence of God.  During that ceremony, tradition holds that the people would tie a rope to the High Priest in which to drag him back out of the Holy of Holies in case God did not find favor with him.

Because Christ died for our sins once and for all, we Christians in this modern world are living every day, truly, in a state of grace that it can be so easy to take for granted.  David, who was persecuted by Saul, lived a life of war, lost children, and had children rebel against him, could always remember that God is good and worthy of praise. David knew he himself had no right to be proud, even though he was a great king in the eyes of men, because he only ruled by the will of God.  David knew that at any minute he could die in a state of sin that separated him from the God he loved so much.

You and I have been given the gift of starting each day and ending it in relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit dwells in us at the point that we accept Christ as our Savior.  We owe such a debt to Christ for His sacrifice, and yet He presents it to us as a gift, lovingly given.  We do nothing to earn our salvation except to accept that gift and submit to Christ’s will.

If David, living under the threat of unforgiven sin, could devote so much of himself in praising his God for the love and protection and mercy God gave him, how much more should we who have been given the gift of relationship with our God be daily loving, praising, believing, and submitting to His will?  Even though we cannot earn our salvation, do we not owe so much more of a debt to our God that He was willing to die for us, once and for all?

Make no mistake, Christianity does not equal inaction.  As James puts it, “faith without works is a dead faith.”  Reading the Psalms of David reminds us of the debt we all owe to our loving God, who gave His whole self for us.

Thank You, Jesus, for the indwelling of the Spirit that allows me to know that when I cry out to You, You always hear me.  And so often, You are my one and only source of comfort.  My job is learning to lean into this awesome debt I lovingly owe.

Our God is truly an awesome God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Why Don’t I Learn?

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As I’ve mentioned recently, my Bible reading currently finds me in the cycle of stories of the Old Testament, where God’s people love Him, forget Him, mock Him, and turn back to Him again in waves of joy and grief that often leave me wanting to scream at my Bible as I might yell at the television set–“What do you think you’re doing?  How can you be so stupid that you would worship a man-made idol or other people’s gods when you have a history of covenant with the one and only God?”

But, I usually remind myself how easy it is to armchair quarterback history.  A perspective from thousands of years in the future, after all, can easily see where others stumble, especially since my perspective includes knowledge of the New Covenant, which was completed when Christ came and sacrificed Himself for us.

Before Christ, the closest any individual came to God was through the High Priest, who was allowed to cleanse himself and enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple, the place where God dwelled, only once each year in order to offer sacrifices that would give the people a way to forgiveness from God.  When Christ died on the Cross, that curtain that separated the rest of the people from that Holy of Holies literally split in two!  From that moment on, those who ask Jesus to be their Savior have entrance into the Holy of Holies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which means that we can call on God anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But, since human nature really never changes, how often do we also cycle through loving God, forgetting Him, and even mocking Him before we remember just how special the gift of Grace and Salvation are and return to Him again?

Modern culture likes to concentrate on a kind of non-religion where everyone can feel good about him/herself so long as we give everybody enough room to believe whatever they want, and we don’t get in anybody else’s way.

Even though Christ loves all of us so much that He died so that we all would have the chance to choose everlasting life with Him, He did not negate following God’s commands:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.   (Matthew 23:23)

There is no way to God the Father except through our belief in Christ the Son.  Christ commanded that we love God first, with everything that is in us, and to love others as we want ourselves to be loved.  Between these two commands, He covered every other rule laid out for human behavior in the Holy Word.

Yet, despite the simplicity of God’s plan for our salvation, don’t we manage to make everything so very complicated?  We judge when we should be silent.  We offer disapproval when we should be extending a helping hand.  We let ourselves off the hook when we should be listening to the voice of conscience that tells us we just messed up.  We hold onto our pride when we should submit to God’s ultimate power over us.

Despite the many downs in the history of the Jews, theirs is the ultimate victory in human history because it is through them that God chose to make Himself known to the rest of us.  I feel sorry for those who stubbornly refuse to believe that God is because, in the end, they miss out on the pinnacle-moments of knowing a loving Creator.

Through his many psalms, David, the man after God’s own heart, expresses as well as anyone the joy of knowing, truly knowing, God’s love for us:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:2-4)

Like intersecting circles in a graph, we humans may have different perspectives about the world, but the one thing that should center us is coming back to our true center, which is Christ.

So, even though I want to chastise the people in the stories I read in the Old Testament, I know that I, too, am constantly on a path of winding toward and away from God, even though I have Jesus in my heart.  The main lesson I have to learn is to keep going on my knees and asking God to keep guiding me and bringing me back to center.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

3 Lessons from David

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After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  (Acts 13:22)

When you read about one of Israel’s greatest heroes, David, you can see his passion for God, but you also see his humanity.  Despite David’s love for God, he still does things that go against God.  He takes another man’s wife.  He takes a census of his people, even though that denied God’s claim that Israel would become a nation so large, it could not be counted.   He lives a life of such violence to secure the Israelite nation that God leaves the building of His temple to David’s son, Solomon, whom God promises will be able to live in a peaceful kingdom.

There are many lessons to learn from the story of David’s life.  Here are three pointers that have stuck out for me in the previous weeks:

Lesson 1: Repent with everything you’ve got

When David returns the Ark to its home in Jerusalem, he rejoices in God’s glory with his whole self, dancing with such exuberance in front of all his people that one of his wives reprimands him for it because she finds his actions undignified.  But God, who sees the heart, knows the truth of David’s love for God and actually punishes the woman for her attitude towards David.

When David messes up, he repents with the same kind of passion with which he rejoices.  He wears burlap, he fasts, he begs for God to forgive him, he doesn’t try to blame anyone else or his circumstances for what he ultimately did.  Most importantly, his repentance means something because he really intends not to mess up in the same way again.  He wants to do what is right in God’s eyes.

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24:10)

Lesson 2: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

David had plenty of opportunities to let his worldly successes go to his head.  Even though he had to fight many, many battles during his lifetime, he won.  As a young shepherd, he even took on a giant an entire army didn’t want to fight and killed Goliath!  Women fell at his feet, men bowed to his will, and almost no one had a bad word to say about him.  Think about how we Americans idolize the famous in our country and how few of them even believe in God, and you will begin to realize the real challenges David faced to not let his successes make him think he was close to being a god himself.

But, because David did have a heart for God, he didn’t fall into the trap of claiming his worldly successes for himself.  As you read through David’s story, he always gives God the credit for any success he has.  He asks for God’s permission before making battle plans.  He begs for God’s help for every problem that he faces.  In short, David understood that every step he took was under the protection and oversight of his heavenly Father.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (of David, Psalm 34:1)

Lesson 3: Believe in God’s Love for YOU

No matter what bad things happen to David in his life, whether he felt he deserved them or not, he never doubted that God loved him and would see him through according to God’s ultimate plan.  When David’s son born out of his sinful relations with Bathsheba ultimately dies, David rises from the fasting he had been doing to ask God to change His mind, cleans himself up and begins the hard task of living again.  Because David accepts that God knows best and realizes that God loves him, he can continue to live by trying to follow God’s edicts and worship God for the One and Only God that He is.

Throughout the story of David, in even his most despairing Psalms, David always expresses the belief that God is good, God loves him, and God’s will being done is what is ultimately the best thing to happen–even when what happens really hurts.  Ultimately, I think, it is David’s sincere commitment to believing in God’s love for us that makes David’s heart like God’s own.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.   Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;  so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.   Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;  you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;  wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness;  let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins  and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence  or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation  and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,  you who are God my Savior,  and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;  you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart  you, God, will not despise.  (Psalm 51:1-17)

The Next Step

Being like David, flawed but loving God with all your heart, is a really grand goal.  You might consider it a first step toward the ultimate goal of being like Jesus, who had nothing to repent, but loved God, acknowledged His sovereignty and followed His will as an example for all of us.

Luckily for us Christians, we have Christ’s sacrifice so that the wrath we so deserve He took upon Himself on the cross.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have a guide to help us be more Christ-like each day.  Following David’s, and Christ’s, examples, we should find ourselves praying more, throwing our whole selves into our relationship with God, and growing our faith.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)