Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When I Have Doubts

Psalm 73 was written by Asaph, who was put in charge of the music at the tabernacle by David.  In this psalm Asaph detailed his struggle to understand how the wicked could prosper and experience a carefree life while the godly suffered from afflictions and oppressions and for them life was not easy. Despites his internal struggles to understand, he declares his faith in God's goodness to "the pure in heart".   "Spiritual purity means a believer's heart is devoted exclusively to the Lord God." (Explore the Bible Fall 2009, page 68)

In verses 2 through 5, Asaph admits that his faith faltered and became jealous of the wicked because of their good fortune and their easy lifestyle.  To Asaph it seemed that the wicked suffered no ill effects because of their sins and irreverance to God.  However, the wicked may seem like they have it made on this earth, but remember for them without Jesus to save them, this is all they will have.  Asaph became jealous of the wicked probably because he was comparing their lives with his and other believers.  Nothing good comes from comparing yourself to another; if God does not compare you to another person, then you should not either.  If you find yourself desire something another has, you can be sure that your focus has shifted off of God and His purpose for you.  "When we lose sight of God's goodness to us, we find ourselves tempted to doubt life's basic fairness." (Explore the Bible Fall 2009, page 69)

In verses 13 and 14, Asaph wonders if his efforts to live a godly life is all for naught because of the troubles he endured daily.  "It is not in vain to serve God and keep his ordinances." (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary)  In verse 15 Asaph reveals he had not told anyone of his doubts because as a congregational leader did not want to discourage any members of the congregation.

Asaph declares that he could not understand why the wicked were prospering while the godly suffered (verse 16) until her "entered God's santuary" (verse 17).   Worship, as Asaph discovered, takes a believer's focus off of themselves, their problems and concerns so God has his undivided attention.  When we worship God without letting anything interfere with our worship, God will transform us into what we need to be and that includes the transformation of our thoughts, attitudes and perspective.  While worshipping God, Asaph realized the wicked would ultimately answer to God for their behavior and just because they did not receive serious ramifications for their rebellion to God while living on this earth, does not mean they will escape judgment before God when Jesus returns. (verses 18 and 19)  "Asaph realized that the rich who put their hope, joy, and confidence in their wealth live in a dreamworld. A dream exists only in the mind of the dreamer."  (Life Application Bible Notes)  "No man should desire riches; for they bring with them so many cares and temptations as to be almost unmanageable." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verse 25 Asaph turns his attention from the good fortune of the wicked to God.  He realized his relationship with God was more valuable and precious than any material possession that could be possessed on this earth, and better yet, his relationship with God would outlast all the temporal things of this earth.  He also is aware that his body would fail him on day, but God would not (verse 26).  God would provide him with an inheritance.  But for the wicked since they lived apart from God in this life, they will live apart from Him for all eternity, such is the price to be paid for their rebellion against the Lord.  

Asaph ends this psalm like he began it by proclaiming God's goodness.  "His testimony in both the first and final verses was energized by the transforming worship he had experienced." (Explore the Bible, Fall 2009, page 73).  Worship makes us aware of God's goodness and like Asaph, we should declare God's goodness to others.

How can you deal with your doubts?  Strengthen your relationship with God, give serious attention to worship and count the blessings that you have because of your relationship with God.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When I Am Afraid

After David had been anointed the new king, he lead a life on the run to avoid being murdered by Saul and his soliders.  David had much reason to be afraid, and in Psalm 56 David openly speaks to God about his fears.  He also affirms his faith in God for His protection and deliverance.  Fear can have a paralyzing effect on a person, but when we are frightened, we should follow David's example and run to God with our concerns.  "David decided that he would rather be guided by faith in God instead of fear over his circumstances." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 59)

During his flight, David could not let his guard down for his enemies were after him day and night; they did not rest from their pursuit and neither could David (verse 1).  This never-ending pursuit caused David to pled for mercy from God.  He did this because he feared for his life.  David had fought Goliath and fended off wild animals to protect his sheep so he was not a cowardly man, but the attacks he faced from Saul made him tremble.  Everyone will have moments when they are extraordinarily courageous, but will also have moments that will shake us to the core with fear.  No one in immune to fear.

David's fear did not control him, and in verse 3 he states that he would trust God when he is afraid.  This shows that it is possible "for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment". (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)  The best antidote for fear is to place your trust in God.  "Whether the fear arise from without or within, from past, present, or future, from temporals, or spirituals, from men or devils, let us maintain faith, and we shall soon recover courage." (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon) 

David also said he would not fear men (verse 4); he could say this because of this faith in God's sovereignty over his circumstances.  David also knew that men may injury his body and may even take his life, but men could harm his soul for his soul was in God's protective hands.  "Jesus said, 'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul' (Matthew 10:28).  Instead, we should fear God, who controls this life and the next. (Life Application Bible Notes)

David also praised God for His Word and the promises contained therein which were sustaining him during his time of trouble.  "Faith brings forth praise."(Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)  Regardless of the ever-changing circumstances of our lives, we can rest assured that God will not forsake us, and He will keep the promises He made in His Word.  God's faithfulness is praiseworthy no matter what situation we find ourselves.

Every day David's enemies spent their time twisting David's words to use them against him (verse 5).  This is a common tactic of the ungodly; they do not value the truth nor do they understand the power that words can have and the harm they can do to others.  David's enemies had him outnumbered and were relentless in their pursuit of him (verse 6).  Saul and his soliders showed David no mercy, but David turned to God believing that God would bestow mercy on him which the Lord did.  David believed that his enemies' schemes were not too much for God to handle.

In verse 7 David asked a question that many who have been oppressed have probably asked, "Will they go unpunished for what they are doing to me?".  David followed up his question with a request for justice -- for God to humble his enemies "in wrath".  Wrath is "God's holy response to human sin." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 62)

David's trial was not going unnoticed by God (verse 8).  God knew ever detail of David's wanderings as he tried to stay one step ahead of Saul and his men, and God remembered every tear David had shed.  The same is true for us when we are faced with overwhelming odds.  God is aware of our oppressive situation, and He will remember us and our struggles.  God does not discount, overlook or forget any problem of His children.  He is actively involved in our lives and working in our situation, even though we may not see His hand in our circumstances.

In verse 9 David proclaims that God will answer his prayers and will deliver him from his dire straits; his faith has not waivered in the face of his life threatening circumstances.  "The cry of faith and prayer to God is more dreadful to our spiritual foes than the war." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)  Romans 8:31 (HCSB) reiterates the latter part of verse 9:  "If God is for us, who is against us?".  "He who has God WITH him need not fear the face of any adversary." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verses 10 and 11 David reiterates his thoughts from verse 4, that is, he will praise God's Word because he trusts God and what can man do to him.  The repetition of these points shows that the importance of them to David.  He was totally and completely dependent on God and His Word for guidance, protection, wisdom and provision.  He knew that nothing that was occurring to him was outside of God's control; his problems were not bigger than God.  David's faith in God was sustaining him.  "When we make a deliberate choice to trust God in the face of our troubling circumstances, in due time we will find ourselves praising God for His faithfulness to us.  We will also renew our devotion to Him by living in obedience to His ways."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 64)

David during his time of flight had made promises to God (verse 12), and he was telling God that he was not going to be the type of believer that make lots of promises when seeking deliverance from hardship only to never fulfill those vows when the trial had passed.  What are some of the things David could have promised God?  "To renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful desires of the flesh; to keep God's holy word and commandment, and to walk before him all the days of thy life." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)

In verse 13 David recalls that God has not only thwarted his enemies' attempt to cause David's physical death, but He had delivered David from spiritual death because of his faith.  Because of his faith,  David enjoyed a relationship with God which brought him joy, peace and protection.  In this final verse of the psalm, David expressed gratitude, hope and trust.

So what can you do when you are afraid:  talk to God about your fears, choose to affirm your trust in God, remember God is aware of your situation and He will deliver you in due time, continue to praise God and thank Him for the work He is doing in your life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Surprising Prize

On the morning of October 9, 2009, Americans awoke to the news that their President, Barack Obama, had been awarded the Noble Peace Prize which got me to thinking...
  • The announcement of the winner of this year's Noble Peace Prize caught most people by surprise.  Even the White House was caught off guard and had no prepared statement ready which is a rare occurrence for them.  While this news may have been unexpected for most, it did not surprise God.  He knew that it was going to happen.  It is comforting to know that no matter what happens in our lives nothing surprises God.  All people, both redeemed and unredeemed, are under His sovereign control, and everything that happens to us first passing through His loving hands.
  • In my opinion, there is only one person qualified to be the receiptent of the Noble Peace Prize -- Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Jesus is the source of true peace.  Unlike the peace that man creates, the peace that Jesus gives is eternal and passes all understanding. 
  • The selection of President Obama as the Noble Peace Prize winner met with mixed reviews worldwide.  Critics state that he was given the award for his potential and for being awesome.  Regardless of the reason for his selection, I do know that God will not use the same criteria for the rewards he will give His children.  God will never reward someone for their potential or for the good intentions.  God does not grade on the curve, and He is not going to give us a prize in heaven just to boost our self-esteem. Instead, God's rewards will be based on what we have done with what He has entrusted us with, such as our time, gifts, opportunites, relationships and money. 
  • Many people spend much of their lives chasing after awards and other recognition from man.  The problem with this is that all those things are temporal and will not last into eternity.  The best thing a person can do is to focus his mind on Christ and spend his time laying up treasures in heaven.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Value of Being Broke

"The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart". Psalm 51:17 (HCSB)

When you think of the word "broken", you may think of something that has been reduced to fragments, torn or fractured. You may also think of something that is no longer usable and has lost its value.  While these working definitions may apply to the temporal things of this earth, they are not applicable when discussing spiritual brokenness.  Broken can also mean tamed, trained, reduced to submission or changing direction abruptly which is more in line with spiritual brokenness and what God desires for his rebellious children.

Why does God want for our hearts and spirits to be broken?  Because He wants us to see the sin in our lives like He sees it.  He wants us to feel pain because of our sins the same way our sins hurt Him. When a believer gets to this place in his spiritual life, then he experiences true remorse for falling short of God's glorious standard. God wants to get the rebellious Christian to this point so he will confess his sins and repent.

A broken spirit is more valuable to God than any outward sacrifice offered to Him, such as going to church, reading the Bible, tithing or working in ministry.  This is because God cares more about the condition of our hearts than what we do.  Proverbs 27:19 states that "As the water reflects the face, so the heart reflects the person." Unless our hearts are right with God, our actions will be done for the wrong reasons. Also, if our hearts are corrupt with sin, it will weaken our relationship with God, and we will not be able to live the lives God desires for us.

God will use whatever means necessary to break one of His wayward children.  It may be through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, a timely word from a godly person, a Scripture verse, a devotion or a sermon. Regardless of how spiritual brokenness is accomplished, know that God's motive for doing so is His unfailing love.  He always disciplines His children when they disobey because He loves them too much to watch them destory their lives and testimonies with sin.  To resist spiritual brokenness is to resist what will benefit you the most.

Once we are spiritually broken, God will not leave us that way. A broken spirit and heart is something God can work. When we are "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3), God can work in our lives unhindered by pride and personal agenda.  God will mold us to become more like His Son and prepare us to spend eternity with Him.  Our relationship with God will be restored as well as our joy and peace, and our obedience to God will increase.

When Sin Occurs

David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by the prophet Nathan about the sins he had committed, more particularly the adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, in an attempt to hide Bathsheba's pregnancy that resulted from the adultery.  This psalm is a model for true repentance which is consists of "conviction, confession, sorrow, prayer for mercy, and purposes of amendment, and it is accompanied by a lively faith". (Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Commentary) 

When David realized the depth and depravity of his sins, he became spiritual broken, and David turned to God, the only One who could restore him.  "When we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us.  When we hate what the Lord hates, he will soon make an end of it, to our joy and peace."  (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)

David asked God to "wash away my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin" (verse 2).  He desired forgiveness and to be made pure. The guilt that David was experiencing was righteous because the source of the guilt was unconfessed sin in his life. After God forgives a sin there is no need to feel guilty anymore; God no longer remembers the sin. Guilt over a forgiven sin is a tactic used by Satan to make us ineffective witnesses for God.

In verse 3 David acknowledged his sin and is willing to take responsibility for it.  "Conviction precedes forgiveness." (Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Commentary)

David recognized that even though many were affected by his sins, ultimately his sins were against God (verse 4).  He knew that God had seen his sins and that his attempts to hide them were futile.  Also, David knew that only God could render judgment against him.  David had no defense for his sins so he did not waste his time making excuses, but instead pled for mercy.  David knew that whatever judgment God decided upon, it would be true and just.

Nathan's rebuke to David was God's way of shining a light into David's soul and revealing to David all of his sins, including the ones he overlooked, excused, diminished and tried to conceal.  As a result of his spiritual brokenness, David was bearing his soul to God, and in verse 5 David acknowledged that by nature he is a sinful person.  He was no longer trying to hide his sins from God.

David knew that what God desires is integrity (verse 6).  Integrity is when your actions match your beliefs.  For a Christian this means our actions should reflect the new spirit we received when we were born again.  This is important because God is interested in both what we do and why we do it.  He does not want us to do things just for show. 

Integrity is lacking in our lives when we sin and act like those who are lost.  Faithfulness to God will result in a life full of integrity.  Without wisdom from God a life filled with integrity is impossible for it is wisdom from God that teaches us what is right and wrong.  "The penitent feels that God is teaching him truth concerning his nature, which he had not before perceived." (Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon)

David had faith that God could cleanse him from his sins and make him spiritually clean (verse 7) and then  his relationship with God would be restored as well as his joy and gladness (verse 8).  David asked that his sins be hidden from God (verse 9).  "God's forgiveness involves the removal of sin's power from our lives and not just the feelings of guilt about having sinned." (Explore the Bible - Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 55) 

In verse 10 David requested a miracle from God -- to create within him a clean heart.  This is a request for a miracle because only God can create anything new.  David acknowledged that he could not be the man that God desired him to be with the heart he had. 

David also knew his spirit was not what it needed to be so he asked for a "renewed steadfast spirit".  The Hebrew word for renew is châdash which means to be new, to rebuild or repair. Adam Clarke's Commentary describes a "right spirit" as a "constant, steady, determined spirit" and "no longer bound and degraded by the sinfulness of sin". "Right conduct can come only from a clean heart and spirit" (Life Application Bible Notes); and it is the way to integrity.

David asked God to neither cast him away nor take the Holy Spirit away from him (verse 11).  David was aware that this had happened to Saul, and he did not want to suffer the same fate.  However, the fact that David was convicted of his sins is proof that the Holy Spirit had not departed from him.  David wanted his relationship with God restored.  Sin damages our fellowship with God and adversely affects our usefulness and effectiveness in our ministry. 

David had lost his joy because of his sins, and he wanted it back along with a willing spirit to obey and serve God (verse 12).  David wanted opportunities to teach others who rebel against God so that they may also repent of their sins (verse 13).  "When God forgives our sin and restores us to a relationship with him, we want to reach out to others who need this forgiveness and reconciliation. The more you have felt God's forgiveness, the more you will desire to tell others about it." (Life Application Bible Notes)

Not once in this psalm does David request that God remove the consequences of his sins.  He was willing to endure the consequences, but he could not bear being separated from God.  His sin had caused a break in his fellowship with God, and David wanted that fellowship to be restored.  Only then would he once again be joyful.  Following David's example we too can have our relationship with God restored after we have sinned as well as our joy and our witness for God.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 is a well-quoted passage in times of sorrow and is very telling about God's relationship with us.

Verse 1 - David recognizes that Jehovah, the Lord, has a personal relationship with him as his shepherd.  The Hebrew word for shepherd is raah which means to tend a flock and to rule, but also means that to associate with as a friend or to keep company with.  As the good shepherd, the Lord leads his flock while providing for their basic needs, such as food, water, rest, refreshment and safety.  The flock is all obedient believers. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary states that "Discontent and distrust proceed from unbelief; an unsteady walk is the consequence."  David realized his dependence on the Lord and had found contentment in Him.

Verse 2 - The green pastures and still water is more than just nourishment for the sheep; they provide comfort and a sense of security.  We too can experience this comfort and security as well as renewal by following the guidance of the Lord.  To rebel against God is to rebel against our own best interest.
Verse 3 - However, when we do stray, God can and will restore us when we repent.  The path to restoration is to follow God who will never lead us in the wrong direction.  The right paths that God will guide us along will bring us security and contentment.
Verse 4 - Walking with God does not mean there will not be hardships, but we have no need to fear with the Lord as our shepherd.  "He who has his God for a companion need fear no danger." (Adam Clarke's Commentary)  David found comfort in knowing that God would fight for him using His rod and would rescue him and put him back on the right path using His staff whenever necessary.
Verse 5 - In this verse David refers to the Lord as a Host which may seem like a drastic shift.  However, in David's time, a host had the duty to keep his guests safe like a shepherd does for his flock.  Also, a host anoint the guest's head with oil as a means of refreshment just as the Lord refreshes those believers that walk faithfully with Him.  A host keeps his guest's cup full which was how David described the abudance of grace he receives from God.
Verse 6 - David expresses his confidence that God would continue to care for him and guide him.  He was confident that in the future he would continue to benefit from God's mercy and goodness.  Our future is also secure for the Lord is always with us as our Shepherd and our Host. 



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