Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Repeating Yourself

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever; (Psalm 136:1-5)

I don't know about you but I hate repeating myself. And now that I have kids I get to do that A LOT. There are only so many times a person can say "Don't touch that!", "Sit up in your chair", "Eat your food", or "Put your pants on" before they start to go crazy.

Thankfully God isn't like me. He doesn't mind repeating Himself for His children's benefit. He understands that we sometimes need to hear things over and over again before we get it. He also understands that sometimes we need to repeat things over and over again ourselves before they sink in. And that's what we find in Psalm 136. 

The phrase "for his steadfast love endures forever" is repeated in every verse of this psalm. That's twenty-six times! Nearly half of the psalm is the same six words repeated over and over again. The phrase is utilized as a type of refrain. Each verse consists of two lines. The first line reminds the people of who God is or of the great things He has done, while the second responds to that truth with the familiar phrase. The first lines function as proof of the second. They prove how good and enduring God's love is for His people!

Remember that the psalms were written to be sung. My hunch is that this song was probably sung responsively, so that a lead singer sang the first lines and the congregation took up the popular refrain in response. Either way we know that when they sang Psalm 136 God's people would have sung about God's love being steadfast and enduring forever twenty-six times. And you thought modern praise songs were repetitive!   

Why all this repetition? What is God trying so hard to tell us? He's telling us at least two things. 

First, He wants us to know what kind of love we can expect from Him. God isn't fickle or unfaithful. We can expect that His love (His goodness, kindness and faithfulness toward us) will never end. It will continue on forever. As Scripture says, "He will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). There is an amazing sense of security that comes from knowing that. Thank God that we need not worry about Him turning His back on us. We can expect an unending stream of good things from Him (James 1:17). Notice that I didn't say an uninterrupted stream of good things. We will still suffer in this world, but we know that God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).  

Second, God wants us to know that it is well worth it to take time to pause and recount all the ways that He has shown His steadfast love. Not only will this strengthen your confidence that he will be there for you when you need Him in the future, but it will drive you to worship. Doesn't God deserve to be praised for all the good He has done for you? Doesn't He deserve to be thanked? Of course He does! 

So pause for a moment and do this. You don't have to count out twenty-six ways, but maybe you can count at least five ways God has shown His steadfast love for you. Thank Him and praise Him for all He has done and rest easy in the certainty that He will continue to do the same.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Refreshingly Unpleasant

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Joel 2:13

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord...
Acts 3:19

I know. These verses don't exactly lend themselves to the kid of uplifting, airy tone we come to expect from a devotional. I would probably get more readers writing about lighter fare.  So why share these verses?

Because I need to be reminded of them, and I am betting that at least some of you out there are like me. I tend to forget the importance of repentance and confession in my ongoing relationship with Jesus. Recently I have started using the ACTS prayer model when I pray. If you aren't familiar, it's an acrostic that helps you balance your prayers between four important types of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (our requests). Before I started doing this I almost never spent any time in confession before God. Any prayer I offered up included requests. Oftentimes I had a smattering of thanksgiving. Occasionally I would offer up some praise. But I almost never of my own inclination turned toward confession and repentance.

I am guessing that you are like me. Maybe you think you are pretty good. You may even struggle to think of sin in your life that you need to confess. It's ridiculous how often I have found myself in this state of arrogance and delusion. If you struggle to think of sins you need to confess, trust me it isn't because you have none. Rather you should take it as a sign of just how blind you are to your own sin. The most sanctified among us have more sin remaining in their heart than they could easily fit into a single prayer time. If you really want help finding your sins out, ask your spouse or a close friend what sin they see in your life. But be prepared for an honest answer!

Maybe you aren't like me. Maybe you know your sin all too well. You feel the shame and the weight of it and it's unpleasant to you. You avoid this unpleasantness by refusing to deal with the sin. That's why you don't confess. You would rather ignore it. Or perhaps you know your sin but you aren't willing to repent of it. You love it and want to continue in the same path. You keep your conscience tamped down by trying not to think about your sin too much. So you cling to it and hope God doesn't notice.

Whatever your reason, trust me when I say that it's a shame that we don't spend more time confessing our sins to God. Your sin affects your nearness to God and your effectiveness in His kingdom. Who knows the ways it may be hindering you and your family spiritually, materially or financially. Greater levels of intimacy with the Lord lie on the other side of repentance. It is likely that greater blessing is there as well, for God loves to bless the righteous. And finally there is without a doubt, forgiveness and freedom waiting for those who will confess their sins and turn away from them. As I John 4:8 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Set aside some time right now to confess five sins to the Lord. Even though it may seem unpleasant at first, rest assured that this important Christian discipline will bring "times of refreshing from the Lord."  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's Your Fault God!

But they said, “We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!”
Numbers 16:12-14

These are the words of two men who blame God for the consequences of their own sin. Two men who love the things of the world more than the things of God. Two men who throw God's kindness back in His face then have the audacity to impugn His goodness. The earth opened up and swallowed these two men, Dathan and Abiram, whole (Numbers 16:31-33). But don't think that you are incapable of falling into the same trap. Scripture tells us that the human heart is deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9). So let's take a moment to learn from their sin.

These men were part of Korah's rebellion which took place after Israel was condemned to wander in the dessert for forty years. You'll remember that 12 spies were sent out into Canaan and brought back a unanimously good report from the land. They all said that it was indeed a "land flowing with milk and honey" just as God had said. But in regards to their ability to possess the land, there was a split decision. Only two of the spies believed that God could drive out the inhabitants of the land. The other ten filled Israel with fear. When the people refused to go up and possess the land God condemned them to wander in the dessert for forty years. After they had all died their children would learn to trust Him and would possess the land.

This is the context into which these men speak, and it casts light on the true nature of their sin. Look again at what they said. "Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness?" They never entered Canaan. The place they are calling a land flowing with milk and honey is Egypt, where they were enslaved and treated like animals! When they use this phrase which was used repeatedly in Scripture to describe the land God had promised to give to His people they are in essence saying, "Compared to where following God has brought us, being slaves in Egypt was like being in the Promised Land." They are unhappy about being stuck in the wilderness, but they wholly ignore that it was their own sin that put them there. Instead of taking responsibility for their sin, they lash out at God. After all that God had done for Israel in their lifetime, how could they possibly have such disdain for Him?

They were deceived. They loved the world and the things of the world more than God. I John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them." Are you mad at God for not giving you the things of the world? Be careful or you may end up despising the holy things of God and pouting that He hasn't given you material possessions, fame, the approval of men, athletic prowess, or an easy life. The New Testament doesn't suggest Christians should expect any of these things. Rather, we should thank God for giving us His Son, forgiveness, grace, righteousness, hope for eternity, a clear understanding of the truth, and the church. Or maybe, like these men, you blame God for things that are actually the consequences of your own sin? Take a long look at the reason you are angry with God. Is He really withholding something from you that you have a right to? The truth is that we have no rights before our Creator God, and though we deserve punishment He has given grace instead. Fall back on that grace today in gratitude.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Worth of His Name

Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.
Psalm 135:13

Psalm 135 opens with two lines that are both an invitation and a command. "Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD." Scripture has a lot to say about God's name. We are encouraged to praise His name (Ps. 30:4), to exalt it (Ps. 34:3), to fear it (Ps. 86:11), to love it (Ps. 69:35-36), to call on God's name (Ps 116:13), and to ascribe the glory due to His name (Ps. 29:2) and much more. 

Why so much emphasis on a name? A person's name carries their character around from conversation to conversation. This is their reputation. You can sense it in the way a person's name is spoken. When someone is loved or even revered their name is spoken in sweet tones. When someone is reviled or hated then their name can sound like a curse coming across your lips (Psalm 102:8) (Sadly, many today so revile our God that they do use His precious name as a curse). In this way a person's name is like a shorthand for their entire character. When you drag a person's reputation through the mud, you give them a bad name. In the same way, when you praise someone, when you lift them up and glorify them, you praise not only them but also their name. 

This is why God's name will be remembered forever, because it is treasured. It is treasured because He is worthy of such honor. This is especially true of the name of Jesus. Countless believers throughout the centuries have laid down their lives for the name of Jesus. Had they been willing to revile Him, to curse His name, then they would have been spared, but they considered His name worth more than their very lives. Why? Because "salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

When all the kingdoms of men have faded into obscurity, when no one remembers the names of great generals or great football players anymore, a thousand years into eternity in heaven, still the name of Jesus will be treasured. As Philippians 2:9-11 says,
"God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
You might consider obeying Scripture's command today by singing praises to His name using this praise chorus written by Gloria and Bill Gaither.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
   There's just something about that name
Master, Savior, Jesus
   Like a fragrance after the rain
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
   Let all heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms may all pass away
   But there's something about that name

For further reading, consider this selection of what Scripture has to say about God's name:
  • Our trust is in His name. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Psalm 20:7
  • Jesus instructs us to pray "Hallowed be your name." Matthew 6:9
  • We are to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19
  • Jesus prayed, "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." John 17:11
  • The Apostle Peter healed by the name of Jesus. "Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.'” Acts 3:6
  • The Apostle Paul cast out demons by the name. "'In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!' At that moment the spirit left her." Acts 16:18
  • The Apostle Paul was prepared to die for the name. "Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'” Acts 21:13
  • One of the descriptions of Heaven in the last chapter of the Bible is as follows. "[God's servants] will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads." Revelation 22:4