Saturday, November 21, 2009

Give Thanks

On October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving Day was established when President George Washington asked Americans to unite in giving thanks to God for His care and provision.  However, as Christians, our thanks to God should not be confined to one day out of the year nor should we get so busy with holiday festives that we forget the true meaning of Thanksgiving.  If you need a reminder of why we should be thankful, look to Psalm 116.

We can be thankful that we serve God who created the entire universe and has everything within it in His sovereign control, and yet He has time to listen to us when we speak to Him (verse 1) and He answers our pleas (verse 2).  Yet, He is never too busy for us.  Instead, He actually waits for us to stop our busy schedule and talk to Him.  Why?  Because He cares for each of us and has a vested interest in our wellbeing.  "The reality of God's intervention in our lives serves as a constant source of encouragement." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 100)

We can be thankful that God has and He will continue to deliver His children from adversities. (verse 3-4)  During these times, God is our only hope for relief.  However, challenging times should not be the only times when we are praying to God and praising and thanking Him. 

Verse 5 reveals three character traits of our Heavenly Father, namely gracious, righteous and compassionate, all of which we should be thankful because we as His children have benefited greatly because of who He is.  First, it is by God's grace and not our merit that He sees us through stormy times and mends our hearts when they have been broken.  Second, everything that God does is right, and it is done at the right time.  Accordingly, we be reassured that God will never take an action that will harm us no matter what our circumstances may be, what we may feel or what others are telling us.  Third, God's compassion is demonstrated to us over and over again by the tender mercies that He extends to us of us.

We can also be thankful that God guards us (verse 6).  He knows that we are weak and that we need His protection.  Being helpless as we are does not mean we are without help!

Also, a source of thanksgiving is that God restores us mentally, physically and spiritually after the turmoil of life events has taken its toil on us (verse 7).  God has saved us from spiritual death and at times, for some of us, physical death; He restores our joy when trouble has diminished it, and He removes all snares and pitfalls from our path so we will not stumble spiritually (verse 8). 

We can also be thankful that we are so precious to God that He is not only concerned about our physical life on this earth, but also our physical death when we will leave this earth and join Him.  Regardless of our state, physically alive or physically dead, we are valuable to Him. 
We can learn much from the psalmist's responses to his circumstance and his subsequent deliverance by God and how we should respond in the similar siutations.  In response to God's faithfulness and motivated by his deep gratitude to the Lord, the psalmist was determined to live a way that would be pleasing to God (verse 9).  He had a servant's heart (verse 16), and he was aware that God would give him opportunites each day in which to serve and walk with the Lord.  If our eyes are on God, we will see the opportunities that He lays before us, and we will want to make the most of them for His glory. 

He was also willing to fulfill his vow of living a righteous life before others when they assemble for worship. (verse 14)  This shows that he was not ashamed of God by making his commitment known to others, and he was taking his vow seriously, as anyone should who makes a vow to God.  Also, those who witnessed his vow would be able to act as accountability partners to ensure that the psalmist did indeed fulfill his pledge to God.

The psalmist had endured much agony and grieve due to sickness and the hurtful comments of others, who were basically kicking him when we was down (verses 10 and 11).  However, he states that he never doubted God (verse 10).  This was possible because the psalmist lived by faith not by his feelings.  "Living in obedience to God as a response to His goodness serves as an excellent way to show our gratitude to Him." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 103)  We can never repay God for all that He does for us. (verse 12) However, if we are grateful for the many blessings we receive, then our actions should reflect it by being obedient to Him. 

Another way that the psalmist was going to praise God was through worship.  In verse 13 the psalmist refers to "the cup of salvation".  The term "cup" was often used by the Hebrews to denote plenty or abundance, and the psalmist, as well as all of God's children, have benefited from the generosity of God.  Also, drink offerings were one form of worship during the time the psalimst lived (Leviticus 23:10-18; Numbers 15:3-5 and 28:4-8).  Also, the third cup of wine during the Passover meal is called "the cup of salvation".

The psalmist intent was to make a sacrifice at a public worship service to show the depth of gratitude. (verses 17 and 18)  Like the psalmist we should praise God before our brothers and sisters in Christ when we gather together (verse 19); this will provide others an opportunity to rejoice with us and will glorify God.  God has done so much for us that we should never keep it to ourselves.

Application Steps:
  • "Thank God  for being personally involved in your life.
  • Express your gratitude to God for giving your spiritual rest and security as you face tough times.
  • Reaffirm your willingness to live in ways that please Him.
  • Take time to worship Him and to share with others your testimony of gratitude."(Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide - Fall 2009, p. 105)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Live Righteously

Psalm 112, one of the Hallelujah psalms, focuses on the benefits of being a God fearing believer. This psalm begins with Hallelujah or Praise the Lord, which was used as a call to worship.  We can never praise God too much, and when we praise Him, we give Him the credit He deserves, and we will see our circumstances in the proper perspective. 

Wisdom begins with fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10 and Psalm 112:1), which in turns leads to obedience, righteous living and joy. Fear of the Lord is not the trembling, cowering paralyzing feeling that you may think of, but instead it is having reverence and respect for our Creator.  It is having the proper outlook, that is He is the One in control over everything and everyone and we are not -- we are at His mercy.  Fearing the Lord can bring a blessedness or happiness that is constant regardless of the many changes that we will go through in this lifetime.  If we revere God, we will also respect His Word, and will enjoy spending time reading, studying, meditating, memorizing and applying the Scripture to our lives.  We will want the God of Word to become an active part of our lives so the Word can shape us into the people God intends for us to be. "It is not enough to fear God, we must also love him: fear will deter us from evil; love will lead us to obedience. And the more a man fears and loves God, the more obedient will he be"  (Adam Clarke's Commentary) 

The remaining verses of Psalm 112 describes what our lives will look like if we put verse 1 into practice:
  • Blessings will extend from us to our descendants (verse 2).  This is a powerful reminder that our actions, both postitive and negative, affect others, even generations to come.  Therefore, it is critical that we put God first in our lives and live according to His commandments.
  • God will provide for our material needs on this earth as well as rewards in heaven.  If we are living a God-centered life, then we will not be chasing wealth because we know the things of this earth will soon pass away.  It is easy to be content when we are living a righteous life because we have the proper perspective about God, ourselves and this world. (verse 3)
  • In times of trouble we will have God guiding us through our turmoil, and we will not lose our joy because even though times change, God does not. (verse 4)  In turn, we will be able to encourage others during their trials by showing them grace and kindness. We will be "able to demonstrate the righteous character that reflects clearly our personal relationship with God".  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 94)
  • We will give generously to other (verse 5), which besides money can include our time and talents. We can do this because we know that everything we have is really not ours, but it is God's, and we are just Trustees of those things.   Also, "Generosity and respect for God places our trust in him, not our money, for justice and security." (Life Application Bible Notes) 
  • We "will be eager to conduct business with others in a way that is characterized by fairness and integrity."  (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 95) (verse 5)
  • Because our life is built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, we will have the strength to endure hard times. (verse 6)  Because God is faithful, we can have unwavering faith in Him regardless of our circumstances.  What better thing to be remembered for than for our deep faith in God that sustains us through the darkest of times? 
  • We will have no fear of bad news or tragedies because our trust remains steadfast in God. (verse 7 and 8)  When we fear God, our fears regarding anything else will be dispeled. 
  • We remain confident in times of adversity because our hope is in God; we know that God will deliver us from our troubles. (verse 8)
  • We will give freely to the poor (verse 9).  We can be generous with those who have less than we do because we are confident that God will provide for our every need.
"In contrast, wicked people will face utter disappointment in the future.  In fact, they will become angry over the way God's people prevail with honor.  At the same time, the wicked will find themselves in despair because none of their wants and dreams came to pass." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 97)(verse 10) This is because the wicked lived life on their terms, not God's, and by doing so, they invested their time, energy, talents and money in things that are limited to this earth only.  For all their efforts, the wicked will have nothing that will last into eternity.  Thus, their deeds will be forgotten, while those of the righteous will be remembered.

Questions to answer in order to apply Psalm 112 to our lives:
  • "How does your lifestyle demostrate that you want to honor the Lord above all else?
  • What are some ways you find joy in studying and applying God's Word to your life?
  • How do you demonstrate God's grace and compassion in your circle of relationships?
  • Do you remain steady in threatening situations because you know that God's in control?  Why or why not?" (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 97)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Seeking God's Will

Helpful (items) to consider when seeking God's will in the matter of guidance:
  • Begin by prayer for wisdom.  Do not doubt that God has a wise course of action for you and will make it known.
  • Intentionally seek God's face even more than His answers.  "In Your light we see light"(Psalm 36:9)
  • Seek to be willing to take any course that God would have for you.  Be thorough in your work on yourself.  Often people miss God's will because they are not fully willing to be submissive to God whatever He leads them to do.
  • Carefully seek to discover if there are any directives already given in Scripture which could guide you.  Are there illustrations, commands, principles, which speak to this issue?  Meditate on these and see if Scripture promotes or rules out any action you are considering.  Try to find not only what God permits and does not permit, but what God likes, what is dear to His heart.  Go directly to any passage which deals with the general subject to see if there is help to be found which you had not discovered before.  Always read the Bible in context.
  • List each possible course of action, and in a prayerful frame of mind write out what are the pros and cons of each option.  Put these options before the lens of Scripture one by one to see if God has spoken on these issues in some way.  You will find more being said about most issues than you might first believe.
  • When helpful, seek objective counsel from godly and wise men or women you can trust.
  • Finally, examine your will again.  If you are willing to do anything God might direct and that is certain in your mind, then you are free to pursue what God may be placing in your thinking related to the issue.  Is there a long-term righteous desire in you?
  • Now, act in faith.  If God in His perfect cadence intervenes so as to cause everything to turn again, this is His business.  For your part, you are required to take action along the lines of the wisest choice you can biblically make.  Rejoice and do God's will!
(Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff, pp. 45-46)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Two Paths

Psalm 1 describes two ways of living, righteous or wicked, and the consequences for each, blessings or curses.  Which way a person goes will depend on his own choice, and he alone will be responsible for the consequences that he will reap.  His choice will also determine where he will spend eternity.

To be happy and blessed a person must avoid "the advice of the wicked", taking "the path of sinners" and joining "a group of mockers". (verse 1)  To follow the advice of the wicked means to go along with opinions of those who are without God.  To take the path of sinners means to develop the habits and responses of those who deliberately choose to disobey God.  To join a group of mockers means to remain so close with those who actively put down God, either through their words or their actions, that you become like them.  Verse 1 shows the progression of sin through the "three degrees of habit or conduct: walk / stand / sit", "three degrees of openness, fellowship, or involvement in evil: counsel / path / seat" and "three degrees of evil that result: wicked / sinners / scoffers". (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 1 reminds us that those we choose to spend our time with will have an impact on our lives which can either encourage or discourage our relationship with God.  The reverse is true also -- the amount of time we spend with God will affect our relationships with others.

The person who is blessed will also be the one who takes pleasure in reading, studying and mediating on God's Word continually. (verse 2)  Meditating "is a comprehensive term for the study and application of the Word to one’s life. It involves thinking about what Scripture means and how, when, and where it should be applied. Included with this would be reading, hearing, study, and memorizing so one can accurately think about Scripture and apply it." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 3 contains a promise for those who do not do the things described in verse 1 and do the things described in verse 2.  They will:
  • Have deep spiritual roots which will allow them to withstand the storms of life.  They will enjoy stability in their lives because Jesus is their anchor.
  • Bear spiritual fruit.  "Fruit is a proof of the root." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)  The fruit will also be borne at the appropriate time.
  • Be provided the spiritual nourishment they need to grow.  This will occur not only through Scripture, worship and fellowship with other believers, but also through the circumstances that God allows us to experience.
  • Have a visible testimony which will draw others to Jesus.
  • Be ready when opportunities arise to serve God and others because they have been properly equipped and empowered by God.
  • Be successful because they sought God's will in their endeavors and consulted God's Word for guidance and wisdom.  This success is not as the world defines it by material possession and status, but as God defines it.  God is more interested in our spiritual development than our comfort.  "The main thing is we must judge prosperity not by physical wealth or even physical health, but primarily by spiritual growth and capacity for life with people and in service to God.". (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)  Laura Krauss Calenberg said, "A successful person is one who uses the gifts and abilities that God has given her to make a difference.  Whatever situation, place, or season she finds herself in, she knows that is the place God has earmarked for her to represent him."
Verse 4 states that the wicked are like chaff.  People whose lives revolve around themselves and their own personal needs and who have no place in their lives for God and the things of God lack a stable foundation, and they bear nothing of value.  On the Day of Judgment, the wicked will have no excuses and will have no basis for an appeal for mercy.  Instead they will be permanently separated from God because they chose to live apart from Him on earth (verse 5).  "A wise person would never choose the kind of lifestyle that ignores God's way." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009)

Comparison of the righteous and the wicked:  "(a) The righteous cling to God, love His Word, and as a result are restrained, stable, upright, and just. (b) The wicked forsake God, ignore His Word, and as a result are unrestrained, oppressive, and unjust."  "(a) The righteous are stable, fruitful, and will be rewarded. (b) The wicked are unstable, unfruitful, and will be judged." (Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom by J. Hampton Keathley, III)

Verse 6 reassures us that God will protect His children, and we can depend upon Him to keep us safe in every way because He cares for us deeply and He is always faithful to keep His promises.  However, for the wicked, destruction is their destiny.

Psalm 1 reminds me of two quotes:
"Do not think you are on the right road just because it is a well-beaten path."  Unknown
This may be true of many who rebel against God.  They may not see anything wrong with anything that they are doing because everyone else is doing the same thing, possibly even Christians that they know.
"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Robert Frost
I am not sure if Mr. Frost was thinking about being a disciple of Christ when he wrote the above, but it reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14:  "Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it." (HCSB)



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