The State of the Union

Daniel prayed to a holy God for a faltering nation.

Daniel 9:7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame

The state of the union is simply this.  Fifty seven million Americans are missing from the union.  They will have no voice tonight.  No one will speak up for them.  Most will not even miss them.  So they think.

Some of them would have been forty years old now.  Perhaps a few would have been doctors.  Seems like we will be needing them.  Perhaps half of them would be taxpayers by now.  We have long since missed them.  What furniture will never be built?  What song will never be written?  What cure will not be discovered?  Yes, they are missed in fact if not in feeling.

But there is one who never lost sight of them.  He knew them in the womb and he knows them this very hour.  Father to fatherless he is called, and with a father’s care and a father’s wrath he will come to the aid of his own.

Which day of the week are your ears not filled with the noise of violence?  We decry the random, senseless death that unfolds before us daily.  But no amount of preaching, no amount of pleading, no amount of educating will bring back a respect for life on this side of the womb, while there is no respect for life on the weakest side of the womb.  There is nothing magical about passing through a birth canal.  There is only a legal fiction that one is life and the other is not.

If life doesn’t matter, nothing does.  That trilogy of ideas so sacred to Americans, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has long since been sacrificed on the altar of our self concern.  For without the first, the last two are meaningless and impossible.  If life doesn’t matter, nothing does.

Our judgment is unfolding before our eyes and we do not have the spiritual discernment to see it.  So we lay it at the feet of guns.  But if we take the guns, then it will be knives.  And if we take the knives, it will be fists.  And if we bind the fists, then the voices will shout their hatred of life into the darkness.  There cannot be a culture of life where their exists such a massive culture of death.

When Daniel sought the Lord, he made no excuses for his wayward nation and neither must we.  Let us pray and think and believe with Isaiah who reported…

Isaiah 1:16-18  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

For, what a wonderful Savior he is!

Trouble’s Shadows

As I read the following verses, I was struck by how reminiscent they are of Psalm 22.

Psalm 35:15-18  But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth.  How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!  I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.

Psalm 22 we readily attach to the Messiah for he quoted from it while hanging on the cross.  But the same experience of undeserved suffering, faithful pleading, and joyful anticipation of praising God for his deliverance is found in this psalm of David.  So much of David’s life was a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.  His troubles were but shadows of a far greater trouble.  His deliverance was but a shadow of a far greater deliverance.

You can’t have shadows without light.  David’s experience was truly a foreshadow.  The light was coming from an event still out in front of David.  John was there when the light broke into history and he wrote in John 1:9, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  John saw, heard, and touched him.  John circumscribed it all with these words.  “We have seen his glory…” (John 1:14)

David was a foreshadow of that glory.  The body of Christ has been called by the Light of the world to be the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14f)  If we fulfill our calling, we will not walk in shadows.  We will create shadows for others to see.  Our troubles will soon be permanently relieved.  For now, they are shadow makers.  And the deeper the shadow, the greater must be the light.  Didn’t Paul try to tell us?

2 Corinthians 4:7-11  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Trouble

Job 14:1-2  Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.  He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.

This is the voice of Job and it is the voice of experience.  He offers to us a strange comfort, no answers, just questions we all have.  Don’t believe the hype about Job’s patience.  If you mean sticking with it, then Job is your man.  If you mean containing your emotions and not complaining, you will find no help with Job.  He railed and demanded and pleaded… with God, mind you!  If you have swallowed the hype, you might want to read his words again.

Job had three well-meaning but misguided friends.  Be careful quoting the book of Job.  At the end, God said that these three got a lot of things wrong.  Job summed up their wisdom with this.  Job 13:12 “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes, Your defenses are defenses of clay.”  He even became sarcastic with them.  Job 12:2 “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”  These men did more for Job with their initial seven days of silence (Job 2:11-13) than with all their words combined.  (Lesson: Don’t know what to say?  Be quiet.)

Job gave expression to what people actually think and feel when they experience affliction.  That alone is comfort.  Job knew that all are “few of days and full of trouble.”  But Job set his troubles in the context of faith in God.  For a time, that didn’t make trouble easier to understand, but harder.  Job just didn’t get it.  But he believed in the one who did get it and kept calling on him.  When God did answer Job, it was not the answer Job was expecting.  Indeed, the answer was a series of questions.  (Job 38:1f)  While Job did not get the answers he was seeking, he did get what he needed most, the knowledge that God saw him and was with him.  And we are meant to take note that it was Job who was embraced by God at the end of his story, not his blustering friends.

The psalmist also knew that all face affliction.  But he recorded the different effect that affliction may have.  Psalm 34:19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.  Then, two verses later… Psalm 34:21  Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.  Or as the apostle Paul came to see it, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8)  Trouble is wasted on the wicked.  The faithful get to see the hand of deliverance.

At one point, loathing his own life and pleading with God, Job asked, “Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees?” (10:4)  Job didn’t understand but God did.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”  (John 1:14)  God became man to see what we see.  He died and rose again, that we may see what God sees.  “…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Text That Got Stephen Killed

Isaiah 66:1-2  Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

You wouldn’t think that men would kill you over a sermon, but they will.  Not just any sermon, mind you.  My Dad was the first to teach me the phrase, “then the preacher quit preaching and went to meddling.”  Stephen’s message (Acts 7) was meddlesome.  And it was just at the point where Stephen quoted Isaiah 66 (see Acts 7:48f) that his message hit home and the hearers began to look around for stones to throw.

The heart of God’s words, as Isaiah first penned them and as Stephen accurately preached them, was aimed at the hearts of men.  They are directed to people who trust their religion but have yet to trust the living God.

Both Solomon’s and Herod’s temples must have been magnificent buildings.  But it is a short journey from admiration to idolatry.  It begins when men forget.  King David wanted to build that first temple.  But God said no. (2 Samuel 7)  If only we could remember the reasons God says no.  He told David no because David had it upside down.  God was in fact building a house for David.  It was David who needed God, not God who needed David.

Whether it is In Isaiah’s day, on the day when the first Christian martyr died, or on this day, people do not like having their pride challenged and their trust exposed.  It can still get you killed in some places.  But his word endures.  The God who made a world of sunrises and sunsets, no two ever alike, is not impressed with the grandest constructions of men.  No building however great, no ritual however elaborate, no man however regal or pious will save us if God does not save us.

They didn’t like this message in Stephen’s day, so they killed the messenger.  But when the Lord corrected David, David welcomed it.  You can read his humble thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 7:18f.

God looks with favor, not where men build monuments to themselves, but where he finds humility, contrition, and trembling.  Humility begins when we see him truly.  Contrition begins when we see ourselves truly.  Trembling begins when we truly understand what we hold in our hands when we hold the Scriptures.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Confession

Psalm 32:1-2  Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven… and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

The road to confession is truth.  Isaiah first saw that his own lips were unclean and then he saw the unclean lips of others. (Isaiah 6:5)  Jesus counseled his followers to get the log out of their own eyes before practicing spiritual optometry on others. (Matthew 7:1f)  Truth is the most fundamental reality and honesty the most fundamental response to it.  Deceit has no benefit.  Trying to fool men is seasonal.  Trying to fool God is stupid.

Psalm 32:3  For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

The enemy of confession is silence.  Unconfessed sin chokes a child of God.  Secular man can be quite happy in his sin, for a season.  The believer can never be at rest concealing known sin.  Nothing so saps the spirit of the faithful as trying to hide something from God.

Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

The bounty of confession is forgiveness.  Oh how sweet when the chains of sin are broken and the burden of guilt is lifted!  How foolish our silence appears as we look back on the misery that it created!

Psalm 32:7  You are a hiding place for me

The comfort of confession is assurance.  God knows the worst of it and bids us come.  This is what fooling ourselves about sin really costs us, a hiding place in God himself.  If he knows me at my worst and loves me, there is only one thing that keep me from him.  Me.

Psalm 32:8-9  I will instruct you… be not like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

The aid of confession is correction.  True love doesn’t look the other way.  It helps.  Since he has made it possible to come near, stay near.  His correction is gentle with those who will be gentle.

Psalm 32:11  Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice

The result of confession is joy.  Confession of sin is like the parting of clouds.  The sun was always there, but now we see it and it rejoices the heart.  God’s unfailing love, forever nailed down at the cross, doesn’t change.  The clouds of sin are our creation.  Confession reveals the enduring love of God.  John 3:16.  There is no greater love to be found!

What a Savior!

Sovereign Grace

(This post is one of three on Psalm 24: Sovereign Right, Sovereign Justice, Sovereign Grace. I hope you will read all three to get the full picture.)

Psalm 24: 7-8  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Psalm 24 pictures the people of God ascending Zion’s hill in procession to the Temple.  Imagine that along the way one worship leader asks the question, “Who may ascend?”  Then another worship leader responds, “He who has clean hands.”  As they approach the gates, from somewhere a shout goes up.  “Lift up the gates that the King of glory may come in.”  What is wrong with this picture?

Zion above all other hills and the Temple above all other places were regarded as the special place of God’s presence.  After all, whose holy place was it that they were seeking to enter?  So, if the Lord is in his holy temple (Habakkuk 2:20), who is this approaching the temple with the people?  We ask with the throng and with the psalmist, “Who is this King of glory?”  We ask more.  How did he come to be out here with us, and more importantly, why did he come to be out here be with us?

You might justly remind me at this point that Psalm 24 is poetry and that I might be taking literally what I should not.  I would agree with you but for this.  Malachi 3:1  Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  And this.  Matthew 21:12  And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

Prophesied and fulfilled, the King of glory came suddenly to the Temple, and as Malachi also predicted, no one could stand the hour of his coming or the glory revealed in him.  His cleansing of the Temple was symbolic, not permanent.  Within the week he would prophesy the doom of the physical Temple.  Then he who ascended Zion’s hill would also ascend Calvary’s hill.  While he died on the one hill, on the other hill, in the soon-to-be-gone Temple, a curtain was torn.  And everything that kept me from the worship I desperately need, the dirt on my hands and the dirt in my heart, was laid to rest.  He whose hands were spotless, whose heart was pure, whose love for the Father’s glory was so boundless that hell could not dismay him nor death defeat him, the King of glory went up for me.  To him the gates opened.  To him the ancient doors were flung wide.  Because of him the curtain wasn’t merely drawn but destroyed.

Now this sovereign King of glory, sovereign in his right, sovereign in his justice, and sovereign in his grace, bids us come.  Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Why did he come?  We had no other way in without him.  Now he has left us the most sublime prepositional phrase in any language, in Christ.  The gates open for him.  O, may I be found in him!  And, O, may you be found in him too!

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Sovereign Justice

(This post is one of three on Psalm 24: Sovereign Right, Sovereign Justice, Sovereign Grace. I hope you will read all three to get the full picture.)

Psalm 24:3-4  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart...

The opening verses of Psalm 24 declare God’s sovereign right over the world.  Verses 3 and 4 confront us with God’s expectation of the world he made.  The psalmist raises a question and then provides an answer.

Who can worship God?  Most of my upbringing both in and out of church said, “Anyone can worship!”  But the psalmist doesn’t agree with my upbringing.  He says, “Not so!”  Who is right, my upbringing or the psalmist’s declaration?

“Who shall ascend” is about the procession to the worship center.  “Who shall stand” is about what happens inside the worship center.  But the psalmist’s response to his own question reveals that worship is about more than going to a special place.  Because of the condition of the hands and the heart, geography is made meaningless.  We know the score when it comes to other things.  Parking in the garage doesn’t make you a car, sitting in McDonald’s doesn’t make you a cheeseburger, and holding a seat in Congress doesn’t make you smart.  There must be more going on than mere presence in a place.

God’s expectation that we have clean hands and a pure heart is just.  He made us and he knows better than we do what we are made for.  The psalmist’s declaration is in harmony with all of Scripture.  Moses’ pleaded to see the glory of God, but God loved Moses and would not destroy him.  Destroy him?  Yes.  Exodus 33:18-20  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again or he could not see the kingdom of God.  And the writer of Hebrews declared in 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  There is a holy requirement to experiencing the presence of a holy God.  Neither Moses nor Nicodemus attained it.

God exercises his sovereign right by placing a just moral expectation on us.  The question then becomes whose hands are clean and whose heart is pure?  That is the path to genuine worship and I, at least, am in deep, deep trouble.  I have seen enough of myself to know that I will certainly worship something.  Having fallen at the feet of others, having bowed down to things, and, by far the worst, having worshiped an inflated image of myself, I know that the only thing that can keep my life together and answer this deepest longing of my heart is the worship of Almighty God.  But my hands aren’t clean.  And my heart isn’t pure.  This is probably the only time I have been anything like Isaiah, but we were in the same boat when he said, (Isaiah 6:5) “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Thankfully, Psalm 24 doesn’t end here.  There is sovereign right and sovereign justice.  But there is also sovereign grace.  “Lift up your heads!”  I see a Savior coming…

And O what a Savior he is!

Waiting on Answers

Psalm 88:13-14 But I, O LORD, have cried out to you for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before you.  O LORD, why do you reject my soul?  Why do you hide your face from me?

The book of Psalms is replete with the prayers of hurt and anguished people.  But in most cases there is at least a note of resolution.  Sometimes the answer is revealed.  At other times, though the answer is not seen, there are notes of hope and praise alongside the sorrow.  Psalm 88 has no resolution.  The troubles of this person’s life are offered up in prayer and there they seem to remain.  The psalm ends on a most somber note.

We are the children of novels and movies more than the children of Scripture.  We want to see pleasantness dissolve into madness and be restored to bliss in ninety minutes or less.  If we prefer books to movies, we may be prepared to wait a little longer or we may, at the height of the story’s anxiety, read the last chapter for the sake of relief.  But please don’t ask us to wait.

But life is not a novel and the Scriptures are often uncomfortable.  It is true that we know the ending and this is an unspeakable comfort.  But we are not yet living the end.  We are living today.  And if we are honest with ourselves, there are days and even strings of days in which we are where the psalmist is, broken, hurting, anxious, perplexed.  We bring our sorrow to the Lord in the morning and, when night falls, the old ache is still present.  It is often the unpleasant business of faith to wait on answers.

If God wanted to deceive us, he would have left Psalm 88 out of his book.  But God is no cheater and his book tells the truth, unvarnished.  Psalm 88 is precious beyond words for this very reason.  Surely it is fitting for us to bring our sorrows to the Lord of the universe.  For though we do not see the answer to this prayer, God has preserved the prayer for all time in his book.  Do you think, then, that it mattered to him what his child of faith was experiencing?  And isn’t this just the balm our soul often needs, knowing in our heart of hearts that we matter to him?

Psalm 56:8 You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your book?

Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his mercy he redeemed them, and he lifted them and carried them all the days of old.

John 3:16 – you can’t matter more than this!  What a Savior!

Sovereign Right

(This post is one of three on Psalm 24: Sovereign Right, Sovereign Justice, Sovereign Grace. I hope you will read all three to get the full picture.)

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein

Psalm 24 is the capstone of a trilogy of psalms that lead us straight to the cross of our Savior and beyond.  Psalm 22 was in his heart as he hung upon the cross.  The psalm pictured, at times literally, the experience of the Christ in his suffering.  Psalm 23 can not be read from a Gospel perspective without thinking of John 10 and the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.  Psalm 24 asks us to consider what is required of men to come into the presence of such a holy God and then ends with an amazing picture of God, not waiting for us to come to him, but coming to us.

But that is not how Psalm 24 begins.  It begins with a bold assertion of the sovereign right of God over his creation.  The opening verse is one of the profoundest statements in Scripture.  It is an unfolding of another profound verse, Genesis 1:1, which declares that God created the world.  Psalm 24:1 states the obvious implication of his act of creation.  It is his.

Consider what it means for you to own a thing.  You have certain rights over it.  You may sell it, use it, dote upon it, neglect it, abuse it, or enhance it.  You have a very broad right over what belongs to you.  But you do not have an absolute right.  If it is a car, you may drive it.  But you cannot drive it through your neighbor’s front door.  At least, you shouldn’t.  And you won’t without consequences.  Your right is limited by the right of another.  For while you own the car, you do not own the world.

If God made the world, it is his and his right is absolute.  He may do with it whatever he pleases.  This idea is especially galling to men who are in rebellion against God.  It is even troublesome to many whose common sense demands a belief in God, but who find it hard to sort out the happenings of their own life, not to mention the pervasive evil that afflicts the world they see every day.  But whether we love or hate the idea of God’s sovereign right over the world, there it is.  The Scripture asserts no other possibility but that God made it and it is his.  Therefore whatever happens in it, he either approves or he allows.

I would hope that any thinking person would be feeling a little friction at this point.  Friction is good.  It is a sure sign of movement.  And if our generation needs anything, it needs to move.  For the place where it is standing is filled with undetected dangers.  A world without God is called hell.  As meddlesome as a sovereign God is, it is nothing compared to the meddling of hell.  The first meddles because he loves you.  The second meddles because he hates God.  Foolish modern man believes he can have a world without either.  That idea is the ultimate pride of man and a sure sign of the triumph of hell.  When God leaves, hell flows freely and all will be swept in the tide.  So, let’s have a little friction.  Somebody might move in time.

I am glad that God’s sovereign right over the world is not all that Psalm 24 asserts.  Next, sovereign justice.  Then, sovereign grace.  But justice is meaningless if he has no right to assert it.  And grace is pointless if there is no justice to offend.  The world is his and he does with it as he pleases.  I am so glad that he is always pleased to save sinners!

John 3:16.  What a Savior!