July 2017 Meditations

July 28

Proverbs 20:4
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing (Proverbs
20:4).

Sometimes we take character faults and call them characteristics. Procrastination is one of those
character faults. I have seen (and at times reference to myself) the smile and wink as someone
says, sometimes jokingly or even lovingly, that such and such a person is a procrastinator. “Well
that’s just [insert name]!”

Today’s proverb is about procrastination. Years ago Charles Hummel wrote a good book about
this called The Tyranny of the Urgent. His main point, as I remember it (it’s been awhile), is
that we have a tendency to let the urgent draw us away from the important. In other words, we
do the urgent thing that needs to be done now (whether that thing be important or unimportant), but fail to do the really important thing, in part because that really important thing can be put off until later. (Sometimes we don’t even do the urgent thing, even as we put off the important.) Examples of this are legion: home maintenance, regular exercise, important decisions—all these things can lead to significant problems simply due to being put off. Childrearing is one of the best examples of this. Raising children is tremendously important, but any parent will readily acknowledge that it is easy to put the important things off until tomorrow. Especially when those important things require effort, like plowing a field. For the field can be plowed tomorrow. But then spring comes. And the child grows up.

The word that the proverb puts upon the procrastinator is sluggard. In other words, the proverb
won’t allow us to look at procrastination as a characteristic, but forces us to acknowledge it as a
character fault. Which becomes painfully apparent when he seeks at harvest and has nothing.
One of the reasons I love (and sometimes don’t love) the proverbs is that they submerge the
notion that the practical and the spiritual are categorically different things. In other words, very
practical things such as work habits tell something of who I am before God. And, in so doing,
give me very practical avenues of repentance.

June 2017 Meditations

June 14

1 Kings 13

Now, he had not ran far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! life! Eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain.

The above quotation is from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in the opening pages when the young man, soon to be called Christian, comes under conviction that he lies under judgment, and must find a way of escape.  Believing the word of the Evangelist, he flees his city, his fingers in his ears.  

The account in 1 Kings 13 of the young prophet who fell is a tremendously sobering passage.  He goes to Jeroboam and delivers a very hard word, one that might well have endangered his life.  He decisively rejects the king’s invitation to eat with him, in obedience to the clear word of God who had told him not to eat or drink in that place.  Yet, he falters when approached by an older prophet, who also invites him to eat with him, claiming also to have heard a word, one which flatly contradicted the word the young prophet was given by God.  The though process of the young prophet is not given—whether he wrestled or not with the word of the old prophet.  But he went to eat with the old prophet, disobeying the word of God and suffering the consequences of his disobedience.   

Why did he go?  We aren’t told.  Perhaps part of his decision to follow the old prophet had to do with his hunger, given that he hadn’t eaten and was perhaps disposed to want to believe that it was OK to eat.  Or perhaps it was because he simply believed an older and more experienced prophet, and therefore doubted the word he had heard.  The prophet appears to have been a true prophet, given that it seems that he heard from the Lord later.  But he lied.   

While it is difficult to know exactly what to learn from a passage like this, at very least we can see the importance of tenaciously clinging to what we know of the word of the Lord.  There are always temptations to rationalize our disobedience.  A young man can often find reasons for his sexual license, or his anger.  A woman can justify, at least to herself, her gossip (never, of course, calling it that).  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we can reason our way to disobeying the clear word of God.  

There are needs of the flesh that can clamor for our attention, sometimes creating a temptation to fulfill them inappropriately.  And there are voices upon voices in our world that will seek to divert us from resolutely holding to the word of God, voices that sound reasonable, and even voices that will claim to be from God.  There are times when we do well to listen.  And there are times when we listen to our peril.  In other words, sometimes we need simply to stick our fingers in our ears and press on, holding fast to the word of the Lord, despite our own inclinations and despite the reasonable sounding voices around us.  

(By the way, if you haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress, do.  You’ll be helped.)  

 

June 10

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32). 

I met a man recently who told me his philosophy of life was “do no harm.”  Not a bad philosophy, but I asked how he managed to do it.  A bit puzzled at the question, he asked what I ever did that harmed another.  The answer—to my shame—was ready at hand.  Speaking in a way that tore another down.  He asked, “Do you mean temper?” and then fell silent.  He understood. 

Rare is the person who has not fallen to the sin of anger, which is precisely why the proverb puts the one who controls his temper in the class with the mighty and victorious warrior.  Only few can take cities.  Fewer can rule their spirit. 

Let me offer a few reflections on the proverb above, I hope by way of encouragement.  First, recognize that controlling one’s spirit is a battle.  If you are old enough to read this, and are willing to pause to think about it, you know what I mean.  The encouragement here is in seeing self-control for what it is.  If we believe that self-control is a battle, then we are not deceived when the battle is fierce, when fighting is painful, when our endurance is tested, and when we are required in the end to drive a stake into our own lust for vengeance.  It is precisely when we forget this is a battle, and furthermore a battle that the Lord requires us to fight, that we surrender. 

Secondly, determine that surrender is not an option.  We often don’t consider the fruit of our lack of self-control.  One who loses a battle has not just lost a battle, but has been devastated.  There are real effects to being controlled by one’s anger, effects that are always destructive— physiologically, spiritually, relationally.  Anger wounds, and not least ourselves.  The word of the proverb is not theoretical: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28).  A man without self-control will find his life—at least that which is important—falling apart around him. 

Thirdly, recognize where the battle lies.  In the moment of anger, we naturally believe the battle lies between ourselves and the other.  Not so.  I am not denying that sometimes we deal with real issues that are tough or ugly, and that need to be dealt with.  But the enemy is not the other.  If it were, the solution would be to vanquish the other.  But the Scriptures speak differently: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:5-9).  My battle is in the end with myself, and with the powers and principalities that would delight to see me destroy myself by destroying my neighbor.  You can’t win the right battle by fighting the wrong one. 

Finally, remember that self-control is not a battle we fight alone.  It is a battle that we fight, to be sure.  But ultimately self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  Which means that our success in dealing with our anger depends upon our yielding to the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps you’ll know the feeling of being angry and unwilling to pray and ask the Lord’s help in dealing graciously with the other.  Yet, despite our desires to the contrary, we must yield to the Holy Spirit, or else we are left “broken into and without walls.”  It is foolhardy for a soldier to rush impulsively into battle without availing himself of available support.  And God has promised that support is there.  But we must avail ourselves of it. 

Let me end with a short vignette I came across years ago, in the Banner of Truth magazine: 

We mention the interesting case of one man called Tom, a convert to Christ.  Tom had been a desperate and hard man, given to much fighting and hard living before his conversion.  When invited to join the Methodist church after the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, he refused to do so until he had read through the whole of the New Testament to see ‘Whether I can live up to it.’  He subsequently reported to the Methodist pastor that, ‘I accept everything I have read . . . as the truth of God, and I consent to obedience to the best of the ability that God shall give me.’  But still Tom would not join himself to the local church.  Christ’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ was a stumbling block to him.  Here was a babe in Christ, who, knowing the deep-seated anger that erupted into physical violence in his former life, was fearful that he would not be able to prevent himself from retaliating if he should be provoked.  It was not long before he was tested. 

 

A fellow miner, in a wild rage, threatened violence to Tom’s person.  Offering up a silent prayer he said nothing in reply and quietly walked away from the angry miner.  This so enraged the man further that he set his huge dog upon Tom, who knocked the animal into a large hole some five feet deep.  The incensed miner halted long enough to rescue his dog, then rushing upon Tom, he unleashed a solid blow to his face.  The latter turned the other side of his face toward the panting miner, with the invitation: ‘There is the other check . . . fire away.’  The attacker turned and fled!

 

Speaking later to the pastor Tom said, ‘I am ready to join your church.  I have read the rules, and have proved the sufficiency of the grace of God to enable me to keep them.’ 

June 3

Psalm 119:154

Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise! (Psalm 119:154).

Literally translated, the above verse reads “plead my cause and redeem me, give me life according to your word.”  The translation “promise” is, I believe, faithful to what the psalmist intended.  But let me make two brief observations.

First, it is through the word of the Lord that we find life.  In the end, God’s word is life, because God created the heavens and the earth, and us, and knows what is best for us.  Like a generous father—He is a generous Father—the Lord gives commands for our good.  Paul mentions that the command “honor your father and your mother” is a command with a promise, in this case that God’s people would live long in the land.  Yet what is true of the fifth commandment is implicitly true of all of them—keeping the commandments is the way to life.  You might say that commands are implied promises. 

Secondly, it is as important to know the promises of God as it is to know the commands of God.  It is interesting that the Scriptures often use the word “word” for both, suggesting that perhaps the line we draw between the two can be overdrawn.  There is a difference—the Lord does give commands, and he does give promises.  But often the promises are contingent upon commands.  And the promises give us the strength and willingness to keep the commands.  In other words, walking faithfully is as much about remembering the promises of God as it is about remembering the commandments of God.

As you seek to walk faithfully, what promise from God can you call to mind and hold onto today?

May 2017 Meditations

May 28

John 17:26

 

I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26) 

What is the name of God that Jesus is making known to his disciples?  Jesus is not explicit here, but the weight of the Gospel testimony suggests that the name was not the holy name of God given in the Old Testament, commonly translated LORD (all capital letters—see, in particular, Exodus 3:14-16).  Rather, the name Jesus made known to his disciples was “Father”. 

Before suggesting several implications, let me offer a few reasons.  First, referring to God as Father is rare in the Old Testament.  Aside from a handful of places, such as Isaiah and the Psalms, God is not addressed as Father (although there are places where Israel, or Israel’s king, is referred to as God’s son).  In other words, the name Father that Jesus made known may very well have been something that needed to be made known—i.e. the name Father was indeed largely new to the disciples.  Secondly, there is not an emphasis on the holy name of God—the LORD— in the New Testament.  The Gospels never record Jesus speaking the divine name, and when he does allude to it, he applies it to himself (see in particular the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John).  Thirdly, Jesus himself addresses God as Father, and most particularly in this prayer of John 17, the immediate context of Jesus’ statement cited above that he has made God’s name known.  Finally, he does not teach the disciples to call God “LORD,” but Father.  To remember one example, “when you pray, say ‘Father…’”

The implications of calling God “Father” are tremendous.  Let me suggest three.  First, to call him God is to acknowledge his power and majesty—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  To call him Father suggests that all the power with which God created the heavens and the earth are available for God’s children.  In other words, the name Father indicates that we have a personal claim upon Him.  It is not a presumptuous claim, but a claim that God invites, that God wants.  Why this is so is not difficult to understand.  I want my children to believe that, because they are my children, they have a special claim upon me.  In fact, I would mourn, knowing that something had gone terribly wrong in their upbringing, if they did not feel that they had a special claim upon me.  This does suggest a “name it, claim it” notion whereby I can expect God to give me everything I want or think I need.  (Indeed, I love my children, but don’t give them everything they want or think they need.)  But it does mean I can trust him, for he knows both our needs and our deepest desires. 

Secondly, calling God Father redefines my family.  Not only do I call God Father, but those who do likewise become my brothers and sisters.  And, therefore, they likewise have a special claim upon me.  And I upon them.  The New Testament is full of references to the household, or family, of God, and to the call to love one another as the chief mark of what it means to follow Christ.  And this love comes from knowing God as Father.  To repeat Jesus’ prayer above, “I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  The effect of knowing God as Father is clear—the disciples learn to love.  As they have been loved, so they are able to love others, particularly in the household of God. 

Finally, calling God Father reminds me of my need.  I call God Father because I have been born again, and adopted into God’s family.  The images are different, but both suggests that left to myself, I am not a child of God.  According to John, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  The clear implication is that apart from believing in Christ and being born of God, I do not have the right of a child of God.  When Paul writes “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’…” (Romans 8:15), he is suggesting what we apparently already know—apart from adoption into God’s family, we do not belong to him.  It is in Christ, and only in Christ, that we become children of God.  This should bring us to a place of great humility, for it puts us in the place of the fatherless, even those of us who have earthly fathers.  “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” applies not just to those without earthly fathers, but to all of us. 

 

May 25

Psalm 119:37

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give m life in your ways (Ps 119:37).

Let me make an obvious observation.  Although only a partial truth, we see the truth in the adage “You are what you eat.” If we eat much sugar and Cheetos and ice cream we will soon feel the effects, especially over time.  In the short term we gain weight, are slower, don’t sleep or concentrate as well, and don’t feel as well in general.  Ask anyone who has returned to a healthy weight, and invariably he will say he feels better.  Long term, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer, all of which have been linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, can follow a consistently and persistently poor diet. 

The above is largely uncontroversial.  Yet I would submit that the same is true spiritually.  How do we account for our lack of prayer, our lack of zeal and warmth toward the Lord, our lack of desire to know Him and serve Him?  Perhaps the reason is our spiritual diet—the things we allow in.  Rather than the Scriptures, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, time with loved ones and good books and music and art and hard work and outdoor activity that would draw our hearts to God, we settle for trifles—Facebook, CNN, constant (often background) noise in the form of music or talk radio, gossip, catalogs.  Or, to say it more Scripturally, how closely do we follow Paul’s admonition “whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, thing about these things” (Philippians 4:8)?  Have we rooted out things that do not conform to Paul’s words?

If you are serious about wanting to know Christ, watch your diet.  Watch what you literally eat, for your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  There is a reason why a healthy body well supports a healthy soul.  And watch your spiritual diet.  Perhaps the devil’s greatest weapons today—or perhaps in any day—are trifles and distraction.  We know we must flee pornography.  Are we equally concerned with Twitter? 

 

May 23

Learning to Serve

Jesus, knowing that the Father had give all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet… (John 13:3-5).

Service is a hard lesson, because it runs against the grain of our selfishness.  Left to ourselves, we prefer ourselves.  In the end, this is sin—me before you.  Righteousness is the opposite—you before me.  Sin is seeks the higher place, content to sit and be served.  Righteousness gladly takes the low place, content to grab a basin and a towel and wash the feet of others.  If we want to walk righteously, we must learn this. 

How?  Let me make several suggestions from the passage above. 

First, Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands.  At bottom, service is rooted in an abiding trust in God.  His life was in his Father’s hands, and so was everything that his Father desired to give him.  The corollary was also true—whatever his Father did not want him to have was not given.  Understanding that God gives what he gives is crucial because service often appears to be at our expense.  And on the surface, it is.  If I give of my time, my money, my energy or whatever, I give at my expense.  But in a deeper way, I never serve at my expense.  Jesus’ words “it is more blessed to give than to receive” are hardly intuitive, but true.  God always works all things together for good for his beloved.  If we don’t believe this, we will never learn to serve. 

Secondly, Jesus knew he had come from God.  In our world, the greatest is the one who is served.  In other words, being served is not just a matter of comfort and ease, but a matter of identity.  Taking the place of the servant testifies to who one is.  Which is why it was so crucial that Jesus knew that he had come from God.  His identity was as the Son of God, beloved by his well-pleased Father.  It is no coincidence that God spoke these words to Jesus before Jesus began what we call his public ministry, or his public service.  If our identity is not deeply rooted in God, we will never learn to serve. 

Finally, Jesus knew he was going to God.  Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples was not an end itself, but was rather a parable of the cross—a picture of what Jesus would do as he laid down his life for his disciples.  Hebrews is explicit: “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2).  The implication is clear—apart from knowing the joy set before him, Jesus doesn’t go to the cross.  But Jesus trusted God.  He knew that God would raise him, and he knew that his death and subsequent resurrection would accomplish his joy—the reconciliation of his own.  In other words, Jesus had hope.  Hope is crucial for courage.  And courage is essential for service.  Apart from knowing that we are going to God, we will never learn to serve. 

As always, the righteous live—and serve—by faith.

April 2017 Meditations

April 25

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox (Proverbs 14:4).

While we may like a clean manger, and the corresponding freedom from the upkeep an occupied manger requires, we will never enjoy the fruits of abundant crops apart from oxen.  In other words, no one has a clean manger and abundant crops at the same time.  A choice must be made. 

For those of you who have children, keep the long view.  The home is often messy, particularly with young children, and it can be frustrating when basic order seems impossible to maintain.  So, try as you can to keep order, and train your children to do so, but remember that abundance doesn’t come with a clean manger, and you are choosing the better part. 

 

April 24

Luke 22:31-34

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

I find Peter’s life tremendously encouraging.  He is a man of enthusiasms, loyalty, fears, and faults.  There are times when I think I understand him, times when I seem to be like him. 

It is not entirely clear, at least to me, what Jesus meant when he told Peter that Satan demanded to have him, to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31).  Likely the situation is similar to Job’s, where Satan was given limited permission to afflict Job, in an effort to destroy his faith (Job 1—2).  We know that Satan wasn’t given full permission over Peter because it nowhere says that Satan entered into him, like is said of Judas (22:3), and because Jesus prays for him, that his faith may not fail. 

What I find so encouraging about this passage is the fact that Jesus, at the very same time he assures Peter of his prayers, he foretells Peter’s denials.  Jesus is specific—“when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus knows Peter will turn away, even as he prays for Peter’s faith not to fail.  Which suggests to me that Jesus is praying that Peter’s faith may not finally fail.  Certainly Peter’s denial of Jesus was a failure of faith.  Peter certainly saw it as such, for after the cock crowed and Jesus looked at him, “he went out and wept bitterly” (22:62).  And, yet, Jesus’ prayers were answered.  In fact, just as surely as he knew Peter’s faith would fail at the cross, he knew that Peter’s faith would not finally fail.  In his last words to Peter in the Gospel of John, Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go,” John then commenting “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:18-19).  In the end, Peter’s faith would hold.  He would glorify God. 

Like he did for Peter, Jesus continues to pray—for us: “Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).  And so does the Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). 

In the end, the reason Peter’s life is encouraging is the intercession of Jesus.  Left to himself, Peter would never have turned back.  But Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail.  And in the end, it didn’t. 

 

April 17

Luke 18:18-30

But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich (Luke 18:23). 

One of the sobering truths of the Scripture is that we become like the things we love.  Those who love idols become like them.  Those who love God become like Him.  Of the idolater, consider Psalm 115: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.  They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).  Trusting idols deadens the idolater. 

The love of money has exactly this effect, rendering us insensible.  The deadening effect of the love of money takes very practical expression in the life of those who love it: 

Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (6:4-6).

Can you see the effect?  The sin wasn’t having wealth, but the fact that they didn’t grieve over the ruin of Joseph.  Loving money deadens our love for our neighbor, particularly the vulnerable.  We become less and less like God, and therefore less and less human.  The love of money is a particularly dangerous sin, because it changes the one who loves it. 

So the call of Jesus to the rich young man—give.  It was a command, but also a blessing, for giving weakens our love of money.  It also forces us to reckon with the question: Who do I want to be?  The answer to this question will reveal who or what I love.  The rich young man was given an invitation not just to follow Jesus, but to be like him.  After all, Jesus is the one who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).  This young man was presented with a choice, not just concerning what to do with his money, but concerning who he wanted to be. 

A person having money does not mean that he loves money.  Whether he loves God or mammon will be known by the fruit of generosity in his life.  For a church as wealthy as the church in America, we do well to pay attention.

 

 

January 2017 Meditations

Matthew 12:33-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

Why do words carry so much weight, that we would have to account for every careless word, and that our words would establish our justification or condemnation?  Jesus’ words in today’s passage suggest two answers.  First, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (12:34).  Our words reveal our hearts.  Words are not the only things that reveal the heart—Jesus says also that our treasure reveals our hearts—but if you want to know who you are, examine your words.  In the end, we stand condemned or justified before God.  Our words just show us who we are.  After all, a tree is known by its fruit.

Secondly, “the good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (12:35).  Words have power, either to cleanse or to contaminate the world into which they are spoken.  I have a hunch that the familiar but ridiculous adage that I heard growing up—“sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”—was made up as a defense, precisely because words can be so terribly destructive.  We know the destructive power of an evil word.  And we know the power of a good word to bless.  And because God loves his world, and those therein, he takes words very seriously. 

Be especially careful of the careless word—the spontaneous criticism tacked on to a request, the unnecessary revelation of the shortcomings of another, even the unguarded word said in your own heart, unheard by anyone else.   Not only will you keep an evil word from infecting the world, but it may even be that ceasing to speak evil and learning to speak good words will effect your own heart.  After all, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Jesus himself understood the power of a word: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Is it any wonder that God sends Jesus out into an evil world on the strength of a good word?

 

Facing Esau, Facing God

Genesis 32:20-21

For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jacob is facing perhaps the greatest crisis of his life—facing Esau.  The same brother from whom Jacob took both his blessing and his birthright is now, years later, coming to meet him with 400 men.  It is understandable that Jacob fears that Esau still wants to kill him. 

In preparation for this meeting, Jacob sends ahead a gift for the very understandable purpose of appeasing Esau.  The ESV translates Jacob’s thinking as follows: “for he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will accept me.’”  Hidden from view in this English translation are two very loaded OT words, both of which are used of the relationship between God and the sinner.  The first is kipper, which is the central word for atonement in the Old Testament, most often used when speaking of the propitiating effects of sacrifice.  The second word is nasa, a word that literally means to bear or to carry, and is one of the two words commonly used for forgiveness (e.g. Exodus 34:6).  Thus, the sentence could be translated “for he thought, ‘I may propitiate him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will forgive me.’”  What Jacob needs is Esau’s forgiveness, thereby being freed from Esau’s wrath.  But Jacob remains fearful, and for a very simple reason: he does not know if his gift will turn away Esau’s wrath.   

Our predicament is far graver than that of Jacob, for we face not the wrath of a wronged older brother, but rather the wrath of a God who was wronged.  And yet, despite the depth of our danger, we are not in the position of Jacob, uncertain of whether or not God will forgive us.  Why?  Because the gift that buys our forgiveness is not our gift.  Rather it is a gift given by God.  Hear these words from Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 1:23-25).  We can be sure that the gift given to secure our forgiveness is accepted by God because it is the gift of God’s own choosing, of God’s own giving, for it is God who put Christ Jesus forward as a propitiating gift.  In other words, it is God who makes propitiation.  Would God reject his own gift? 

Any gift we might seek to give would be insufficient.  But we need not fear.  We only need to believe that his gift—the gift of Christ Jesus—is. 

December '16 Meditations

December 19

Zephaniah 1

The Scriptures are full of places where people say they believe in the Lord, or think they believe in the Lord, and yet fall under the judgment of God.  Perhaps best known are Jesus words concerning the day when many will come and say “Lord, Lord” only to hear the words “Depart from me, I never knew you!” (Matthew 7).  The prophet Zephaniah gives a similar warning.  Below are two practical ways in which we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are walking with God when we are not. 

The first has to do with worshipping other gods, the Lord declaring impending judgment upon “those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom” (Zephaniah 1:5).  Notice that the Lord is not explicitly rejected, for the people swear by the Lord.  Yet another god is given place alongside him.  In the end, regardless of how we might think, this is a wholesale rejection of the Lord.  Israel learned this early and in dramatic fashion when the Lord judged Israel for making and worshipping a golden calf, despite Aaron the priest’s declaration that “tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD” (Exodus 32:5).  As always, the commandment holds—“you shall have no other gods before (or alongside) me” (Exodus 20:3).  It is easy, and common, to believe we are trusting the Lord when in fact we have other trusts alongside him.  This is why Paul calls covetous idolatry (Colossians 3:5), for the covetous heart can claim to love God while desiring what God has not given us to have.  It can claim to trust God while really trusting in mammon (Matthew 6:19-24).  Herein lies the deception, and thus the danger. As a husband insists that his wife trusts him (and not another man) and desires him (and not another man), so the Lord insists upon the trust and affection of his people.  The Lord is a jealous God.

The second has to do with what we might call practical atheism, when the Lord will bring judgment upon “those who say in their hearts ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill’” (Zephaniah 1:12).  It is entirely possible to believe in the Lord theoretically, while denying him practically.  The main reason that we will allow ourselves to sin in secret in ways that we would never allow ourselves to sin in public is precisely this—we don’t believe in the end that the Lord will do anything about it.  In other words, it is entirely possible to be a theoretical Christian and a practical atheist, forgetting that “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). 

The great danger of both of these is that the people did not outwardly reject the Lord, even as they practically denied him, either by having other gods alongside him or by living practically as if he did not exist, or was not paying attention.  The wayward heart is easily (and willingly) deceived, happy to maintain the form of godliness while knowing nothing of its power.  Yet, by our fruits we shall be known. 

 

December 14

Jonah 1:3

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.  So he paid the fee and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3).

The precision with which the prophet writes of his disobedience speaks to a deep truth.  Jonah fled, not from Nineveh, but from the presence of the Lord.  Not once, but three times in this first chapter does the prophet record the direction of his flight—from the presence of the LORD (1:3, 10). 

For Jonah, the reason for his flight from the Lord seems to be the Ninevites, the people to whom he was called to preach.  As is common in the Old Testament, the Lord sends the prophet with a word of judgment, with the hope that such a word will lead to repentance, thereby allowing the Lord to relent and extend mercy to a wicked city.  But Jonah knew the merciful character of God, and therefore, wanting nothing but judgment for Nineveh, he fled from the Lord. 

In the end, disobedience is not flight from a particular calling or task, but a flight from God.  This is true whether the calling is something seemingly great, such as preaching to the Ninevites, or seemingly small, such as determining to speak kindly to one’s angry neighbor or irritated spouse.  Our disobedience, in the end, has little to do with the Ninevites or the neighbor, but God—the God whose character is to forgive, and who calls his people to love their enemies.  We will either run toward God or away from him, and our flight will have much to do with our willingness to obey.  But we deceive ourselves if we believe that our disobedience—in the seemingly small or great—is anything less than running from God.

December 3

The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121:7-8). 

When this psalm was written is not entirely clear.  But didn’t the psalmist know of Joseph, who was separated from his family and unjustly sold into slavery?  Did he know of the sufferings of Job, who was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil?   Was he aware of the heart-wrenching cries of Jeremiah, who the Lord told beforehand that he would suffer at the hands of those to whom he spoke?  What of the other Old Testament prophets killed for bearing the word of the Lord?  Would he have thought it strange to hear Jesus tell his disciples that some of them would suffer death, and yet not a hair on their heads would perish?  What would he have made of Peter’s words, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  What would he have made of Jesus’ cries “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” 

There are two ways to look at the acclamation of Psalm 121, both of which are important.  The first is that the Lord does keep his own from all evil: “In all this Job did not sin… (Job 1:22).  In other words, being kept from evil may not mean being kept from suffering, but rather being kept from evil as one goes through suffering.  The second is that the Lord really does keep the lives of the faithful, even in death.  For the Christian, death is passing.  Resurrection is the end.  Jesus of course knew this, for it was the joy set before him that gave him the strength to endure the cross.  For his God would keep him from all evil, even as he hung on a cross.  God would keep his life—forever.  Easter morning is a testimony that his God did exactly that, and further a testimony that God will do the same for those who are in Christ.    

If we are not careful, and if we don’t read it in light of the rest of the Bible, then Psalm 121 can sound unrealistic or pie-in-the-sky.  Yet each one mentioned above was kept from evil.  The Lord kept their lives.  He kept their goings out and comings in, whether by life or by death.  This is crucial, for unless we believe that the Lord keeps our lives, we will succumb to discouragement in the midst of suffering, of whatever variety, thinking that the Lord has left us.  Furthermore, unless we believe that the Lord keeps his people—their goings out and their comings in—we will live fearfully and too cautiously, and never confront the darkness of this evil world that desperately needs light.

In the end, Psalm 121 testifies to the promise that the Lord makes to all his children—“I will be with you.”  This is the blessed hope that strengthens the church to live faithfully in a world bound by evil. 

 

December 2

Psalm 119:115

Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God (Psalm 119:115).

The deepest desire of the Christian is to walk faithfully in the ways of the Lord.  Because this is so, there are times he will make difficult decisions.  Included in those decisions is the company that the Christian keeps, for he knows his own heart, and he knows the real possibility, even probability, that keeping the wrong company will lead him away from faithfulness. 

This danger is well expressed in the Scriptures.  Examples are legion, but let me give two.  In the Old Testament, God’s call to the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of the land was not only as a judgment against the Canaanites for their sexual sin, murder, oppression and child sacrifice, but also because “they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:4).  The danger of Israel associating with evildoers was real.  Likewise, Paul wrote for the Corinthian church not to associate with the sexually immoral who called themselves Christians, so that the sinner might repent and find life and so that the Christian community would not be led into sin.  As Paul asks, “do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).  For Paul, refusing to separate from evildoers leads not just to the possibility of unfaithfulness, but to its inevitability.

There are several things worthy of note in the psalmist’s words.  First, the psalmist is proactive.  He calls for the separation from evildoers.  He does not wait, or hope, that evildoers will depart.  Rather, he calls for it.  Secondly, he is clear why he is so doing—he is determined to keep the commandments of God.  There is no sanctimony here, no holier-than-thou attitude, no thought that “I am better than you.”  Rather, the psalmist recognizes that the company of the wicked will hinder his ability, or perhaps more accurately his willingness, to keep the law of the Lord.  Thirdly, the psalmist doesn’t mince words, or try to soften the blow to those to whom he speaks.  This is grace in its own way, for doers of evil need to understand that they do evil.  In other words, it appears that the psalmist is walking out Paul’s command given centuries later: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). 

There is, of course, a danger of sanctimony.  We see this often in the attitude of the Pharisees, so zealous of remaining separate, toward those they deemed to be sinners, perhaps most starkly expressed in the prayer of the Pharisee who prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” (Luke 18:11).  But sanctimony is not a danger for those who know their own weakness.  The psalmist does not act out of pride or an inflated sense of self, but out of his own understanding of his weakness.  As he prays in the following verses “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!  Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!” (119:116-117). 

Jesus sends his disciples into the world, even as they are not to be of it (John 17).  May the Lord grant us wisdom to know what that looks like for us, and the courage to carry it out. 

November Meditations

Ezekiel 18:4

Behold, all souls are mine… (Ezekiel 18:4).

The issue raised in the verse above is fundamental.  To whom do we belong?  Are we our own, or not?  This was the issue in the Garden of Eden.  That the Lord would give a charge to Adam in the Garden to work and keep it, and a command not to eat the fruit indicates that, even in Creation, man was not his own.  Yet Adam and Eve’s disobedience in eating the fruit indicates that, in the end, they decided that they were their own.  As Paul would write later, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).  It was the issue in Ezekiel’s time.  And it is the issue today, for you and for me.  

The opening statement of the Bible—“in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—is not just a statement of origins, it is a declaration of possession.  God made the heavens and the earth, and therefore “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).  The implication is clear.  I am not my own.  And neither are you.  Depending on who we believe the Lord to be, this is either grossly offensive, or unspeakably comforting.  

The more we mature in Christ, the more we see that, in the end, our sin is not so much the things we do wrong, but the attitude of heart that insists that we are our own.  Jesus’ words get to the heart of the matter: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but however loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  We do not belong to ourselves.  We were created for God, and redeemed for God.  In Christ, we are not our own, but we have been bought with a price.  Life isn’t found in doing the right things and forsaking the wrong ones, but firstly in recognizing that we belong to God.   

October Meditations

October 26

The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!”  (Proverbs 26:13).

As I think of sloth and laziness, my mind turns first to the sluggard’s lack of vision, and the corresponding lack of energy.  Well does Proverbs 26:15 describe this one: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.”  Gluttony and sloth have long been bedfellows.  

The claim of the sluggard quoted above suggests something else.  It may be that the sluggard is declaring that there is a lion in the streets as a cover for his lack of energy and an excuse for not venturing out to work.  But perhaps he genuinely fears there is a lion in the streets.  The effect is the same—whether the sluggard is covering over his laziness with an excuse or whether he is genuinely afraid, in either case he stays home.  In either case he is a sluggard. 

God’s servants deal with fear.  Jeremiah, the subject of the Old Testament lessons for the last month, is a good example.  He was told from the beginning of his call that there were going to be lions in the streets (Jeremiah 1:17-19).  The solution was not to refuse to go into the streets, but to believe that God was with him.  For God has not given us a spirit of the sluggard, but rather a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind.  

 

October 10

1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Obviously I have never been a nursing mother.  But I have lived with one long enough to know that a nursing mother does not simply feed her child.  Amid the sweetness of nursing a baby, there are long hours, pain and soreness, the drain of energy and lack of sleep even though life continues apace unconcerned.  Feeding a baby does not do justice to what a nursing mother does.  She gives herself. 

Paul uses the image of a nursing mother to describe the relationship between these early missionaries (which included, at least, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy) and the Thessalonians to whom they were sent.  Rather than seeking to take from them or making demands upon them, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). 

It is one thing to be ready to share the gospel.  It is perhaps another to be ready to share oneself.  After all, the gospel can be spoken from a distance.  But often it is not received from a distance.  For in the end, the gospel is not simply about imparting information, but rather making plain the love of God for the world in Christ Jesus.  And love is expressed nearly, through people who love.  It does no disservice to preachers and evangelists and writers to remember that, just as the Word became flesh, coming near to dwell among His people, so God still reaches a lost world through His people who draw near.  Though a people who share not only the Gospel, but themselves. 

 

October 4

Colossians 1:3-5

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:3-5).

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of believing in heaven.  I seriously doubt that it is possible to follow Christ faithfully apart from it.  That appears to be Paul’s claim in the above verses, where he makes the very arresting claim that faith in Christ and love for the saints is rooted in the hope laid up for God’s people in heaven.  Why are faith in Christ and love for the saints rooted in the hope of heaven?

When Christ calls a man, He calls him to Himself.  There is a bond between Christ and His own that extends from now to eternity.  As Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (John 12:26).  While Jesus is speaking to his disciples as he is looking to the cross, his presence with his disciples extends beyond far beyond into heaven.  In fact, it is precisely the hope for heaven with Him that Jesus uses to encourage their faithfulness as they enter a dark time: 

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Likewise Paul speaks of heaven as an encouragement to faithfulness on earth: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).  Note the end—with him in glory.  Faith in Christ is believing that we are His and He is ours, both now and in glory.   

So it is with loving the saints.  Consistently in the Scriptures, the call for practical generosity, which is always the test of genuine love, is rooted in the hope of heaven.  Hear, for example, Jesus’ invitation to the rich young man: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).  It is the promise of heavenly treasure that enables God’s people to loosen their grip on earthly treasure, and therefore to make it available to one another.  We cannot love one another and mammon. 

Hold onto the hope of heaven.  Bring it often into your vision and into your prayers.  Even Jesus depended upon the hope of heaven, for it was for the joy set before him that He endured the cross and despised the pain, laying himself down for the love of His God and His neighbor. 

 

October 3

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4). 

In the end, God wants only one thing—that we love him, and in loving him, that we love our neighbor.  This is why Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was said there was one, to love God, and another like it, to love neighbor.  If we love God, we will love our neighbor.  If we love of neighbor, it is evidence that we love God. 

But how do we know if our love is genuine? 

Paul raises this very issue with the Corinthian church, using the example of a fellowship of believers in Macedonia.  Despite their own poverty and affliction (or perhaps because of it?), the Macedonian church begged Paul for the opportunity to give to others.  Ponder this, for it may strike many of us as counterintuitive.  We would expect the opposite—a church in grave poverty and affliction would be expected to beg for relief, and we wouldn’t begrudge them for it.  But this church, apparently realizing that no one would expect them to contribute, begs for the opportunity to give. 

Paul is not requiring the Corinthians to give.  He is not interested in anyone giving under compulsion.  Rather, he gives them a test to see if their heart is right, if they really love.  And this test is the Macedonian church, a poor church that has learned to love, and that has internalized the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

So, here is the question for us.  How do we handle matters of practical generosity?  Are we governed by the question “how much do we need to give?”  Or are we governed by the question “where and to whom are we able to give?”  Often questions concerning stewardship, particularly tithing, are governed by the former question—what am I required to give—rather than the latter—what may I give.  This is not to denigrate tithing—tithing can be done in a spirit of great generosity—but it is to raise the question of why we do what we do.  For not all giving is the fruit of genuine love.  In the end, genuine love draws us beyond precise boundaries of what we are required to do, and into an arena where we ask what we can do.  Because we want to.  Genuine love always issues forth in practical generosity. 

 

October 2

Psalm 37:3

Trust in the Lord and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security (Psalm 37:3).

The call to do good is a scary call, for it stretches me beyond where I want to go.  Doing good is costly, and there is much I may lose.  It requires trust. 

When praying to trust the Lord, get specific.  Trust him for what?  Trust him in what?  What do I need to place firmly in his trust?  Money?  Relationships?  Health?  Purpose?  Children?  When you get specific in prayer, you begin to realize that everything that you would trust the Lord for is already his.  My money?  I am a steward, not an owner.  My health?  I have no life in myself—my life comes from God.  My purpose?  It is God who has given me my days, and the ability to serve him as he deems fit.  What do I have that I can call my own?  What do I have that I have not received from the good hand of God? 

In the end, I trust God not for what is mine, but for what is his, and he will care for what is his.  And, so trusting God, I can get about the business of doing good. 

August Meditations

Psalm 26

Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2).

Psalm 26 is an interesting psalm, for on the surface it appears to run against the humility that always attends those who know their God.  Hear David’s claim: “I have walked in my integrity, I have trusted in the LORD without wavering… I do not sit with men of falsehood… I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds....”  How is this not pride?  How is this different from the Pharisee who prayed in the Temple, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). 

The difference is simple, and profound.  The Pharisee, measuring himself against those he deemed less worthy, made a case for his righteousness before God.  That was the entire content of his prayer.  David, on the other hand, prays in a spirit of worship: “O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.”  He asserts his righteousness not to lift himself above others, but rather to appeal to God for help. 

I don’t believe that David is saying here that he is without sin.  We know too much of David’s life and too much about David’s own understanding of himself, particularly as revealed in the Psalms (see, e.g. Psalms 32, 51, 103).  But David loves God.  And he knows that God loves him (26:3).  In the end, humility and the commitment to walk in righteousness comes from the same place, knowing God loves us and loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

It is a good thing to determine to walk righteously.  And it is a good thing to recognize the practical effects of so doing.  Where we go wrong is when our pursuit of righteousness is something different that our pursuit of God, when we love our own sanctity at the expense of loving the Lord who himself is holy.  But to determine to walk righteously according to the word of the Lord, and out of love for the Lord, is hardly pride.  It is the mark of humility.  Would that men and women of God would approach God with that same kind of humble and practical resolution.

If you were to write your own Psalm 26, what would you say?

July Meditations

July 23

2 Chronicles 10

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Proverbs 13:24).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Scriptures are clear that love requires discipline.  Our Father in heaven disciplines us for our own good, and fathers and mothers to discipline their own children.  As Proverbs 22:5 reminds us, “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”  

If we leave it there, however, we run the risk of great folly ourselves, the folly of Rehoboam.  Seeking advice concerning how to govern his kingdom, Rehoboam was given two paths.  The older men told Rehoboam “if you will be good to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (10:7).  The younger men, however, advised Rehoboam to rule harshly: “Thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs.  And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke.  My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”  Rehoboam chose the latter, and lost the kingdom (10:10-11).

Whether speaking of childrearing or ruling a kingdom, it is a great folly to think that stern discipline is sufficient.  It is not.  The wise older men understood something that we need to hear—one only wins the heart thorough love.  A ruler—whether a king or a father—may be able to force compliance, but we will never win the heart.  And if the heart is not won, there will never be peace in the kingdom—or the home.  

Be wary of child training methods that over emphasize discipline and underemphasize love.  Like Rehoboam, if Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—is not the atmosphere of your home, and the character of your leadership, your efforts to discipline will be in vain.  And you may well lose the kingdom.  

 

July 21

Proverbs 19:22

What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar (Proverbs 19:22).

What characterizes a man of steadfast love?

A man of steadfast love is a courageous man, for courage is, in the end, rooted in love.  What is courage, but the determination to press through, regardless of the cost, for the benefit of another?  What is courage but the determination to self control when faced with temptation?  

A man of steadfast love does not love money.  As the proverb suggests, he would rather be poor than dishonest.  He knows that a man cannot love God and mammon.  Neither can he love his neighbor and mammon.  

A man of steadfast love is a wise man.  Knowing that wisdom is better than riches, he seeks the wisdom that God makes available for those who truly seek it.  

A man of steadfast love is an honest man.  Noteworthy is the manner in which the proverb suggests that the man of steadfast love would choose poverty over deceit.  Not only does a man of steadfast love hate a lying tongue, but he has nothing to hide.  

A man of steadfast love is a man full of the Holy Spirit, for the fruit of the spirit is love.  And there is no genuine love apart from the Holy Spirit, for love comes from God.

In the end, a man of steadfast love is a man in Christ.  He has been loved, and therefore he loves.  He loves Christ because Christ first loved him.  He loves his neighbor because Christ first loved him.  

Who desires steadfast love in a man?  Curiously, there is no subject.  Steadfast love man is simply desired.  Presumably by all.  


PS…  Looking at this proverb, I decided to google “what makes a man a man?” and see what came up.  From the first link, I found the following 8 characteristics, in order: a real man is focused, a real man doesn’t gossip, a real man’s word is his bond, a real man strives to be a role model, a real man makes his own fortune, a real man takes care of his appearance, a real man keeps his house in order, a real man can defend himself.  While I can appreciate all of these things, I found noteworthy the absence of steadfast love.  

 

July 19

1 Chronicles 16

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!  Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!  Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!  Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!  (1 Chronicles 16:8-13). 

These chapters in Chronicles record David, now Israel’s king, establishing Jerusalem as the center of Israel’s life.  Bringing up the ark of the Lord into Jerusalem, David set it in a tent, and then did something interesting: “Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). 

Apparently David wasn’t content to let the thanksgiving due to the Lord be left to the spontaneity of the people.  Rather, he appointed the Levites “to invoke, to thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel” (16:4).  With regularity and great ceremony.  In other words, thanksgiving wasn’t left to times when Israel felt thankful.  And it wasn’t neglected when perhaps she did not.  The psalms of thanks given in chapter 16 tell us why—the Lord had done wondrous things for Israel, even in ages past, and taken them as His own covenant people.  God was the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Thanksgiving is the lifeblood of our relationship with God.  To say it differently, unthankfulness will destroy our relationship with God.  Concerning all mankind, Paul writes that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).  Failure (or refusal) to honor God and to be thankful is the heart of sin, the wages of which is death.  One wonders how the serpent’s temptation in the garden would have fared if Adam and Eve awoke that morning and remembered with thankfulness who the Lord was for them, and what He had given them. 

There is great wisdom in David’s insistence upon the discipline of thanksgiving.  If left to ourselves, we will give thanks when we feel like it, and forget to give thanks when we do not.  But just like in David’s time, in Christ God has done wondrous things for us, and taken us as His own covenant people.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). 

Do you have a disciplined practice of thanksgiving?  I doubt that David installed the worshippers before the ark to give praise and thanks because the Lord needed it.  But we certainly do.