Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
A refuge and strength. An ever present help in times of trouble. A stronghold and fortress. These are just some of the ways that Psalm 46 describes our God.
It’s one thing to describe a place of refuge and protection when the skies are sunny and the bank account is full, but that’s not what’s happening in this psalm. The circumstances highlighted therein serve to heighten our need for an impenetrable stronghold:
“Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil” (Psalm 46:2-3).
We tend to look at verses like these and treat them metaphorically. Who among us hasn’t felt like the earth around us was shaking? That everything that we thought was stable was suddenly in motion? When the very foundations of our lives are suddenly thrown into turmoil? It’s times like that when we need a refuge. We need a fortress. We need somewhere – or Someone – we can go to and know that here, if nowhere else, is stability. Is tranquility. Is peace.
But there’s something else lurking in this psalm. Something that takes these words from the realm of metaphor into the arena of reality. It’s something that if we’re not careful, we can easily pass over. If you look up to the top of the psalm, right after where it says “Psalm 46″ and right before where it says “1″ you find that this song is credited to the sons of Korah. And that note of authorship is going to take you all the way back to the book of Numbers.
That’s where you find that Korah, one of the Levites, had become dissatisfied with his station in the Israelite camp. Here were Moses and Aaron, always talking about God and giving direction. “God said this” and “God said that” – over and over again, and Korah had had enough. After all, wasn’t the entire community of faith holy? Weren’t these all God’s chosen people? What right did Moses and Aaron have to command the entire assembly? That’s the question Korah and his gang asked, and Moses answered them:
“Tomorrow morning the Lord will reveal who belongs to Him and who is set apart, and the one He will let come near Him. He will let the one He chooses come near Him. Korah, you and all your followers are to do this: take firepans, and tomorrow place fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord. Then the man the Lord chooses will be the one who is set apart” (Numbers 16:5-7).
So that’s what they did. But it didn’t work out as Korah had planned:
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, all Korah’s people, and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol with all that belonged to them. the earth closed over them, and they vanished from the assembly” (Numbers 16: 32-33).
The rebels were swallowed up. Every trace of them was wiped away. Every trace, that is, except a handful of Korah’s children. The Lord allowed them to live, and evidently, these sons of Korah learned their lesson. They went onto become some pretty awesome Israelite worship leaders, later penning the words to Psalm 46. But that back story changes our perspective on the words of the psalm, doesn’t it?
This isn’t metaphor. This isn’t just a set of unfortunate circumstances. This is judgment language. These are the descendants of those who were actually swallowed up by the earth, and they were destroyed at the very hand of God. For the sons of Korah, God was indeed a refuge, but God was a refuge from God.
For when God is against you, where else can you turn except to God?
We might, then, look at Psalm 46 and see God as a stronghold when times are tough. When the money is lean or the health isn’t right. When the relationships are falling away and the future is uncertain. Or we might look at it and recognize that all of us were once under judgment as well. We, too, were destined to go down into Sheol as a consequence for our rebellion. God was against us.
But God was also our refuge. He imposed His judgment upon Himself at the cross. He took His own wrath that we might be safe in His arms. When God was against us, He was also for us. So when we were running from Him, the only place for us to go was to Him.
The punishment of God, on God, has brought us peace. And now we can truly embrace the exhortation of the psalm. Not because everything in our lives is right, but because God has Himself become our refuge from Himself:
“Be still, and know that I am God, and I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted among the peoples” (Psalm 46:10).
Here’s hoping Man of Steel is better than this:
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
The tax collector took a tentative step forward. Then another. Then he grabbed hold of the low branches and swung a leg up. He looked around briefly. The crowd was coming, the noise growing louder. Up and up and up. His heart beat faster and faster and faster. Still he climbed. He was sweating now through the weight of his clothes. He barely had enough time to consider, once again, why he was pushing his way up this sycamore tree, because the crowd was right below Him now, teeming with excitement. The leaves got thicker as he edged forward… and then he saw Him. And something burst inside of Zacchaeus.
He froze, like a squirrel caught on a limb too far from the next. It was a feeling like he’d never experienced, for to his great surprise, the man wasn’t looking at the crowd. He wasn’t glad-handing the people around Him, nor was He looking forward where He was going. He was looking into the tree. Right at Zacchaeus.
Can you imagine what went through his mind at that moment? Can you fathom the insecurity of suddenly seeing not only Jesus, but every face in the crowd turn upward? Can you see his face start to turn red as the mouths of that crowd started to turn upward in jeering laughter?
But then Jesus spoke, and when Jesus speaks, everything changes:
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5).
That’s a bit impolite, isn’t it? I mean, Jesus isn’t making a request here. He begins with a command to come down and then continues not by asking, but by declaring that He’s going to hang out at Casa del Zacchaeus that night. He must do so.
I suppose you could look at that must as an imposition both on the Son of God as well as the tax collector – that Jesus was saying that much as He would like to stay in the home of someone more reputable, He simply can’t. He has His orders, and like it or not, He’s going to that house to stay. Yes, He’s going to that house to stay. You could look at it like that, or you could see the beauty in that must.
The beautiful “must” of Luke 19 reminds us that Jesus didn’t have any questions about what He was doing on the earth. He knew what He was sent here for, and He was perfectly willing to sully His reputation by hanging out with the likes of you and me and diminutive money-grabbers like Zacchaeus. Jesus wasn’t on some rogue mission from the Father, but instead was perfectly intentional about what was happening. He Himself would go on to say: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
He must do this, and He must do it whether we like it or not. Indeed, most of us do not like it. At least not at first. We don’t like Jesus’ intrusion into our lives. We don’t like His outlandish claim of Lordship and dominion over our habits and thoughts. We don’t like His calls to complete trust and obedience. He forces His way into our houses, and it’s a bit uncomfortable. At least at first. But then, in retrospect, we find that this is an invasion of grace. Of love. Of mercy. It is an through His demands that we find true freedom and hope and joy.
We are sought. And because we are sought, we are found. And only when we are found do we look back and realize just how lost we truly were.
The classics never die:
My children are very, very different. Take, for example, the things that we do together. If I went to Joshua, my 8 year old, and said, “Son, we can do anything you want to do for the next hour.” He’s probably either going to have us building a battle constructed of Lego’s or playing some intricately-ruled game of his own making in the backyard (last time, we each got to choose 12 super powers and I had to make a list on my phone to remember which ones I had).
The little girl is different. Same question given to Andi, and we would find ourselves either coloring a picture or dressing up dolls, putting them to bed, and then waking them up to give them breakfast.
The other boy is still different. Christian, the 3-year-old, is a bruiser. He’ll want to wrestle. Hard. And he won’t be content until he is jumping up and down on my chest doing his best to puncture my lungs with a fractured rib.
Three kids. Same mom. Same dad. Incredibly different. You can probably relate.
So, dads, I wonder if this Father’s Day we might challenge each other in light of these differences. I wonder if we can exhort each other to understand and embrace everything that makes us dads and everything that makes our kids kids. Here, then, is the challenge:
Be a student of your children.
Don’t fall into the temptation to believe that your kids like everything you like and want to spend time doing the things you like to. And don’t fall into the temptation of believing that you can love them, discipline them, or reward them in the same ways. To do so is laziness on our part.
Instead, let’s study them. Know them. Figure them out as best we can. This, after all, is what our own Father does for us. He knows that we are differently talented, gifted, and wired, and He wants to encourage us to live in the middle of that. So shall it be with our own children.
Happy Father’s Day, guys. Let’s make the most of it.
I’ll admit that just watching this made my stomach lurch. Anybody out there been on this thing?
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
“Where are you?”
The question wasn’t one of proximity. The Lord knew exactly where they were, though they were doing their best to hide from Him. Adam and Eve had sinned. They knew it. God knew it. And how they were cowering in new emotions they had not previously felt – fear and shame. The Lord beckoned to them:
“Where are you?”
It was more than a question; it was an invitation to stop hiding. To come into the light. To acknowledge what all three of them knew to be true. Still today, when we find ourselves refusing to acknowledge the truth of our actions as if God could be fooled by our makeshift emotional hiding places, we hear His voice calling us to come into the light.
That’s what confession is: It’s coming into the light. It is allowing yourself to be exposed. It is acknowledging what is plainly obvious to you and to the God who created you. But here’s the thing: Only those who are truly confident in the love of God are ready to confess.
By way of illustration, think about your closest relationships. Maybe it’s with your husband or your wife; perhaps a roommate or a best friend. Now consider that you have clearly wronged that person. Maybe that wronging is relatively small thing. You spoke harshly or you failed to remember something you were supposed to. Whatever the case, you screwed up. You know it. She knows it. So what do you do? I’d postulate that your readiness to confess is dependent upon how deeply you believe they truly love you.
If you know they love you, then why not own it? Why not confess? Why not ask for forgiveness? You can do this when you are secure in love because you know that they are not waiting there to berate you for your transgression. They aren’t salivating at the opportunity to beat you over the head, over and over again, for what you’ve done wrong. Instead, and because they love you, they are ready to hear your confession and tell you that you are forgiven.
But what if you didn’t know that? What if in that relationship there have been occasions before when grudges have been held? What if their pattern is to bring up your wrongs over and over again over the course of weeks or months? What do you then?
In a word, you justify yourself.
Instead of truly owning your sin, you begin to craft a ready defense meant to prove that you might have indeed something wrong, but you had good reason to do so. Or else you begin to recall all the ways they have wronged you. These become your bullets to fire in the coming attack, and you want to make sure you don’t run out of ammunition.
See it? The more convinced of the love of another the more ready you are to own your own sin.
In the case of Adam and Eve, it was the love of God that the serpent attacked. In his subtle temptation, he was leveling a charge at the loving character of God: If He really loved you, He would not have held back this tree from you. And the humans believed it. They were still holding onto those questions about God’s great love, and that’s why they found themselves hiding behind the trees.
But God’s love was not, and is not, dependent on the goodness of those it’s given to. His love finds its root in Himself and in Himself alone. So even then, in the first days of creation, God was willing to demonstrate His love again. He did for Adam and Eve what they could not do for themselves – He covered their shame. But His covering was costly:
“The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
Thanks God He did it again. Thank God He demonstrated His love to you and I, too. Oh, it cost Him – greatly. But thank God that we are now clothed not with leather but with righteousness. So what are we going to do with that great love of God?
Surely there are many answers, but today consider this one: Because of God’s great love, you can own your sin. You can come into the light. And so can I.
According to Thomas Jefferson (who likely borrowed the quote from others), “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
Maybe he borrowed the quote from Paul… or at least the idea behind it. The apostle was the one who originally wrote, “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm them and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). There is an active command here – to stand firm in the freedom Christ has bought from us. In other words, freedom is not to be taken for granted. It must be watched and fought for. If indeed you are careless, you will naturally drift away from the freedom for which Christ has set you free.
That makes sense politically, doesn’t it? The quote above has been used and reused again and again in a variety of disagreements, conflicts, and wars over the past 250 years or so in our nation. It has been the battle cry for the United States to take a proactive stance both at home and abroad. And the effort lives on – if we simply exist, then we will drift into non-freedom. We must fight.
And we must fight on a personal level in Christ because of our natural propensity to drift back into slavery. If we are not vigilant, our natural bent is to drift toward bondage. But slavery to what? And why? Surely once we have tasted freedom we would never, ever revert back into what Jesus has freed us from. Or so you would think.
Later on in the chapter, Paul writes this: “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13). If we are not vigilant, we will instead finding ourselves viewing freedom as an opportunity for indulgence. The thing is, this indulgence in the flesh may be either conscious or subconscious.
Consciously, we can indulge our sinful nature by looking at the grace of Jesus as license for immorality. We can simply sin and sin and sin, always counting on the fact that Jesus – sweet Jesus – is ready to forgive. We become grace abusers in this case. But we might also indulge our flesh subconsciously. This was the situation of the Galatian church. They weren’t grace abusers; they had drifted into the slavery of legalism. Though they had started out living in grace, they had chosen to revert back to the law and were resting in their ability to merit favor before God by their own acts of righteousness. This, too, is an indulgence of the sinful nature.
They were indulging their sinful pride. This is our drift. This is what happens when we are not vigilant.
A bit ironic, isn’t it? That our commitment to grace alone must be guarded? That we might either consciously or subconsciously yoke ourselves in slavery? And that in either case – when we abuse grace or when we negate it, we are indulging our sinful nature?
It’s true. And because it’s true, we must watch. We must stand firm. We must, for lack of a better term, try hard at being free.
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
From Jared Wilson
What if we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 from the reverse angle? I think it helps us put so much of our pettiness and self-interest in stark perspective and shows love as that much more beautiful.
Impatience and unkindness is hatred.
Hate is envious and ego-centric.
Hate is arrogant and rude.
Hatred is insisting on one’s own way;
hatred is irritable or resentful;
it celebrates sin, and it mocks what is true.
Hate is whiny and thin-skinned,
a born quitter.
But hatred ends . . .