Seems Like A Wilderness

Wilderness

Psalm 37:34 “Wait for the Lord and keep His way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.”

Sometimes what seems like a wilderness to me is really my place of greatest safety. I don’t always see it in the beginning, but then later I see it as a plain-as-day divine rescue. God’s intervention.

When God protected Mary and Joseph, and ultimately the people of God, by ensuring the safe delivery of the baby Messiah into the world, the unseemly manner and questionable circumstances were puzzling. God protected them by moving them to a place of lesser comfort, but of greater dependence on Him. Lesser comfort and greater dependence – this is a pattern God uses, I know.

Waiting is an absolutely difficult thing to do… Betrayals between friends are unthinkable. Faith in and dependence on God are required… Not giving up on a wayward child is excruciating. Faith in and dependence on God are required…Praying for decades for unsaved family members is taxing. Faith in and dependence on God are required… Sickness and death are painful reminders that this isn’t how life is supposed to be. Faith in and dependence on God are required… Like oxygen. Required for living through it, growing through it, seeing God’s Sovereignty and grace in it.

I find the word “rescue” written by God all over these places of greatest safety, these wildernesses, but much later. Maybe even a lifetime later…

Psalm 66:12 “You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Faith in and dependence on God are required. And waiting…

 

 

Leadership

steps

Psalm 37:23 “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm;”

Acts 1:24-25 “Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ ” Acts 1:20b “…May another take his place of leadership.”

Firm steps do not qualify anyone to be a godly leader. A willingness to go where God directs is often the precursor to spiritual leadership. And, then it is up to God to make the leader’s steps firm. Henry and Richard Blackaby indicate in their book SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP that “only when we understand leadership in light of God’s calling on our lives will we be equipped to lead effectively…God is not necessarily looking for leaders…He is looking for servants (Isaiah 59:16; Ezekiel 22:30).” In the apostolic ministry referred to in Acts I, Judas had the chance to be a servant-leader, but terribly missed the mark.

When all is said and done, leadership is simply influence. It can be out front or from behind. It can be subtle or outright, positive or negative, Kingdom-building or Kingdom-destroying. It can be a silent voice or an assertive call to arms. When the Israelites started to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership, the loudest voices heard were those naysaying officials who were mocking and ridiculing the workers. Despite their official positions, the mockers were overcome by the true voice of godly leadership that emerged when Nehemiah prayed and persevered despite their protests. In Nehemiah 2:20, Nehemiah proclaims, “The God of heaven will give us success…” and, in that surety, Nehemiah led as a dedicated servant working in the trenches to rebuild the wall with the Israelites. God delighted in Nehemiah’s ways and made his steps firm.

Godly leadership is anointed, authentic, transparent and servant-like. John, the writer of the book of Revelation, leads transparently when he writes about his momentary lapse in appearing to worship the angel prince Michael before this lead angel reminded him that they were both fellow servants worshipping the One True God, the only One worthy to be worshipped (Revelation 19:9-10). We know from scripture that the Lord delighted in John’s way and made his steps firm. We know John’s heart and we know he was chosen to write Revelation. Even his momentary confusion in Michael’s presence became a beacon of encouragement to those of us who, like John, would naturally be overwhelmed in the presence of this head angelic being. John leads us to the One Faithful and True God as the object of our authentic worship. God alone. God, the Leader of leaders.

 

 

 

 

Blessed Are The Meek

Anchor collage

Psalm 37:11 “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

At church today, the sermon “The Strength of Meekness,” based on the Beatitude in Matthew 5:5, was delivered by Reverend Camper Mundy to an early service crowd on the 1st day of Daylight Savings Time. Despite the loss of one hour of sleep (theoretically) and the early hour of 8:30 a.m., I enjoyed the fireworks in my soul that happen when God brings several truths together in apparent collision with His perfect timing.

The intersection happened when Camper mentioned that the “blessed are the meek” beatitude in Jesus’s sermon was a reference to the earlier scripture found in my beloved Psalm 37 (fret not), verse 11. (Camper didn’t know it was my most treasured Psalm, but God knew.)

A misunderstanding of the word “meek” exists whenever you ask anyone to define the term. Meekness shouldn’t be vague, but somehow it is. While it is not timidity, weakness, or lack of guts, it most certainly is a divine “determined gentleness” as Reverend Mundy explained. This gentleness is expressed in our acknowledgement of our sin problem. This gentleness is also expressed in the overflow of our genuine love for Christ and others. There is a dying to self involved that requires humility. I have always thought the rule of thumb in the selection of a spouse should be kindness. Other attributes don’t even come close to kindness in my thinking. But, maybe a stronger word would actually be “meekness” as it conjures up the idea of humility, gentleness, patience and no ego.

I love it when God brings His Word to confluence in what might otherwise seem coincidental! He never wastes a moment in cementing truths that we need to apprehend at any given time. For me, a couple listens to Tim Keller’s recently recommended sermon “Abraham and the Torch” (http://www.GospelinLife.com, audio podcast, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY, 2-18-15, Genesis 15:1-21), my own musings on Psalm 37, and today’s sermon on meekness as “determined gentleness” – these reminded me that God is emphatically whispering something He wants me to comprehend.

Definitely, how I can know peace and joy in a broken and sinful world? The sparkling convergence of these scriptural messages simply boils down to holding onto the deep Anchor, the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. When my anchor is gripped by the solid rocks beneath the turbulent waters of life’s circumstances, I can fully entrust myself to Jesus. When my anchor is locked securely in the trusted place, nothing can disturb it. In this great hope I am freed to reflect the meekness of Christ and to enjoy the inheritance God has promised in Matthew 5. The One person – the Anchor of my soul, makes the other thing – meekness, possible. It is never about what happens in life, but all in the way we respond to what happens – with that divine “determined gentleness” of our Lord.

 

 

 

The Coin of the Realm

Daffodils-006

Psalm 37: (3b) “Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture; (9b) But those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land; (11) But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity; (22a) Those the Lord blesses will inherit the land; (27) Turn from evil and do good, then you will dwell in the land forever; (29) The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever; (34a) Hope in the Lord and keep His way. He will exalt you to inherit the land.

The country of my heart is the kingdom of God and the currency is Jesus and the finished work of my Lord on the cross. In my favorite “fret not” chapter in the Bible (Psalm 37), the land of inheritance is mentioned frequently against the backdrop of continuous evil.

How easy it was to reflect on “the land” yesterday during an 82-degree sunny spring day! Daffodils that lined the roadside lifted my spirit, not only to appreciate the promise of summer, but to look up and reflect on the “things above” mentioned in Colossians 3:1-2: “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

During this season of Lent, I am grateful that my “coin of the realm” is the shed blood of Jesus Christ and that my land of inheritance is God’s kingdom. There I always enjoy safe pasture, peace, the prosperity of my soul, and hope. My heart will dwell on “things above” that the daffodils only whisper subtly to me as I drive along the road.

My Lord. My land.

 

The Balance in God’s Character

Scales collage

Psalm 37:9 “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

Since God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, I may be presumptuous in writing a few finite thoughts here about how God can be both just and merciful at the same time. On the other hand, God’s Word has much to say about this “justice-mercy” symmetry in His character. So, I’d like to briefly process the balance here because I believe God wants me to earnestly seek Him and understand His character as much as I can.

The “punishing-blessing” image of God that we sometimes hear about in churches turns out to one of many false narratives. The lie: God punishes bad people and blesses good people. Incomplete. Unbalanced. False. Yet, punishment and blessing are actions of God that must be understood in the larger context of the whole counsel of God’s Word.

In James Bryan Smith’s book THE GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL GOD, the author recommends moving our sights to the larger tapestry of God’s grace and generosity when we, at the same time, consider that He is also not indecisive when it comes to evil. When I read the 32nd and 34th chapters of Exodus, I am convinced that God was only seconds away from exercising His holy character and objective/rational response to human rebellion and idolatry in the early verses of 32, BUT that He relented because of the prayers of Moses and exercised patience by giving sinful people another opportunity for repentance. Justice and mercy is “both/and.”

Reading on in Exodus and beyond. The sin cycle repeats over and over in scripture. So does the forgiveness cycle. Smith says that “wrath” is not a word that describes who God is, but rather, “wrath” describes what God does because of His essential nature. He makes it clear in his book that “wrath is the act of a holy God toward sin.” The lightbulb for me is in discovering that God does not ever shame me into good behavior. He doesn’t use fear or guilt tactics to make me do right. He doesn’t force my choices, but He loves me enough to truthfully describe the consequences of sin, both short term and long term. He does promise judgment while He does permit my choices. His Word is true.

God acts out of determined, decisive “pathos” rather than irrational or explosive “passion.” “Pathos” is not a household word, but Smith explains that it means “an act formed with care and intention” which is the result of firmness and resolution. In the Exodus story, the rebels got tired of waiting for God and decided to make their own god out of gold. One corruption then led to another. The next thing you know, God calls out these people as “stiff-necked.” I can relate.

It sounds all too familiar to me. In my lack of trust and patience, I turn away to all kinds of things as replacements for God, mainly “me” – my own form of a golden idol. I take matters into my own hands. Then I begin to believe God will never show up, like they did. Just as God asks Moses to leave Him alone so that He can destroy the rebels, Moses prays for a favor. God made His response known. Now here comes mercy. Exodus 32:14 says, “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened (planned).”

But, the seemingly endless circle of rebellion and idolatry starts again…just a few verses later.

Here is my hope. God declares Himself resolutely in Exodus 34:6-9. “And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,’ he said, ‘ then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.’ ”

Churches may or may not soft peddle the part about the “sins of the fathers.” It is a hardcore truth, the kind we don’t like to think about. However, I have lived long enough to recognize that the consequences of the “sins of the fathers” follow clearly on to the next generations… (I will refrain from giving examples). God’s Word shows itself to be true in this. God is resolute. He is determined. His justice is hard to understand, but is nevertheless a reality.

From one stiff-necked person trying to encourage another stiff-necked person (whoever reads this), my joy is that God lovingly gave us the gift of His Son Jesus to provide forgiveness for sins. This is mercy. And God wholeheartedly opposes all things that destroy His precious people – namely sin. This is justice. Wrath is an action of God contingent upon human sin and the absolutely necessary determination/decision of a loving and holy God. This is the balance.

Evil men will be cut off. God promised. Fret not. Those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. God promised. Fret not.

Lord, take me as Your inheritance and forgive my sin.