Singing with the King (103) – Praying for Peace

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. (Psalm 122:6)

I’ve never posted an article based on current events (at least not one I can remember) but this needs to be said, and if I may be so bold, you need to answer this call.

I’ve always thought it was both good and necessary to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, something all Christians should do. Why? Because Jesus Himself grieved over Jerusalem, just hours before He was crucified:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23:37)

There was a brilliant but perhaps misunderstood prophecy made by the Caiaphas, the High Priest, regarding Jesus:

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation. (John 11:49-51)

Jesus didn’t die to prevent the Romans from destroying Israel. He died for their sins. And He died for you and me: “For God so loved the world…” And I think that’s why it’s necessary to expand beyond Jerusalem. We need to pray for all of Israel. We need to pray for the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. We need to pray for the peace of God’s Chosen People everywhere, not just in Jerusalem.

Paul in his book to the Romans reminds us Gentiles:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.”  Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. (Romans 11:25-29)

So let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and all Israel everywhere, because one day they will find peace, in the Prince of Peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Singing with the King (102) – Freedom (1)

Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. (Psalm 19:13)

I’ve always found hope in this passage. My kind of sin is not the kind that accidentally happens, or sneaks up on me, or the “Devil made me do it.” My kind of sins are accomplished by my own choice.

So what is a deliberate sin?

Some of the other definitions for deliberate are presumptuous, arrogant, and proud.

This sort of sin proceeds from an attitude self-confidence, or reliance on one’s own strength. Have we fallen into that trap? To prop up my rep; to advance my career? Choosing comfort over obedience, disinterest over compassion, arrogance over service? Where we think we can do it on our own? Or in a more accurate context, where we think we can do it on our own— without God? That’s a scary place to be, and if these sorts of sins become our practice, then we shall be far from God.

What does it mean to be controlled?

The Hebrew word for control also means to have dominion, or rule, or authority. Do you really want your sin to rule your life? Is that not the rightful place for God?

The word that gives us hope in this verse, is the first word: keep. Other definitions are: to restrain, to hold back, to keep in check. Having God doing the keeping is the only way we can keep our lives from being ruled by our sins— which by the way, are the very sins that have been paid for by the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only has paid the penalty of our sins, but He has taken away its power. So why would we kneel before a defeated foe? We ought not.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:12-15)

Another word for patiently endure is persevere. Now there’s a point to persevering or enduring, and Jesus stated plainly: You’ll be hated by all because of My name; but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (Mark 13:13) In James you endure the testing and the temptation because you will receive the crown of life. With Jesus we endure the hatred and the persecution to be saved.

Two things we can learn from these passages. First, we will have to face testing and temptation, hatred and persecution. Second, we can endure them, and win! In fact, the purpose of the things we must endure is to growth in the faith.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

 

Singing with the King (101) – Accept No Substitutes

My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sun-baked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones.  My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. (Psalm 22:14-18)

When you read those lines from Psalm 22, what do you see? If nothing comes to mind, let me give you another passage from the same Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Yes, those are the words of Jesus hanging on the cross. Now you can see how the above five verses describe the events surrounding the crucifixion. King David wrote these words about a 1000 years before Christ hung on the cross. You and I see it, but why didn’t the Old Testament scholars of the day (i.e. – Sadducees and Pharisees) see it? Well their authority was challenged, their way of life threatened, and they kinda got distracted.

I did a study a few years back on distractions. I talked about how life is filled with interruptions, and there’s nothing really we can do about that. The question was, do we let interruptions become distractions? Then do distractions become detours? Then do detours become dead ends? And by the time we get to a dead-end, it’s pretty tough to get out. And all along that downward-spiraling path, we miss what God is doing.

I don’t know who we can blame for these holiday distractions, but it’s really not so much about the blame as it is the effect. For instance, holiday used to really be holy day, as it was tied only to religious holy days, like Christmas and Easter. But then these distractions came along: Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer, trees, lights, and presents. But Christmas—that holy day— is about the birth of Jesus, God becoming man. And more distractions came along: bunnies and eggs… and chocolate! What’s not to like about chocolate? But Easter— that holy day— is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

With all the marketing and media blitz focusing on these distractions, it’s tough to remember the truth behind these holy days.

But then there’s Good Friday. As far as I know, nobody has been able to come up with a substitute or a distraction for that. But it’s kinda tough to come up with a distraction for something that deals with death and dying, torture and blood and sacrifice. And then you got that whole sin thing. What kind of cute things can cover up stuff like that? You can’t. So the next best thing? You ignore it. But you can’t do that either, because even though most Christians would prefer to fast forward to the resurrection of Christ, you can’t have the resurrection without the crucifixion.

After Jesus had risen, he spent some time walking along the road to Emmaus with some disciples. And he asked the question: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26) It was necessary.

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb 9:22)

Did Jesus Christ die for you? Are you forgiven? That’s what the crucifixion is all about. That’s what Good Friday is all about. There ARE no substitutes. Only…

He died for your sins.

Singing with the King (100) – Death

The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.  The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. (Psalm 18:4-5)

I don’t pretend to know the kind of peril David was facing here. I have not been in any life-threatening conflicts. I have not been the ruler of a kingdom that seemed to be as often in war as not. My brush with death would include a motorcycle accident some 40 years ago where I ended up in the Emergency Room at a hospital in Camden, New Jersey. And a heart attack last year.

Two major things I learned from those incidents. From the first, don’t waste time. From the second, “Father, my life is in Your hands, and I will rejoice in whatever You choose to do.”

Back to David. These cords and snares could have been wrapped around him personally, or they could have been entwined around friends and fellow servants of the Most High. And to that I can definitely relate.

I have four friends that have been entangled and entwined by cancer; three of them lost that battle. One was an audio engineer, the next a small business owner, and the third, a mechanical engineer. One was a long and drawn out battle, the other two were brief.

My last friend was a brilliant molecular biologist, with some ground-breaking research; and currently is a consultant to rather large corporations, freeing them from entanglements that could have destroyed their businesses. He continues to suffer much, with this entangling affliction, but he has learned to deal with this “new normal”. How long this battle endures, only God knows.

The Apostle Paul understood this battle: We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-17)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

The one thing my four friends have in common is Jesus. Now they may not have had the understanding of Paul, but three have achieved the same goal and the fourth will as well.

So where does that leave us who are witnessing these entanglements up close and personal? Back to King David: In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. (Psalm 18:6)

In the midst of our tears, it’s up to us to cry out unto the LORD, that He may rescue. That He may heal. In an email I sent out to my work family, I told them I have been asking the LORD to heal him everyday, for five years; and will continue to plead that the LORD would heal him, even up to his dying breath. And I have written this to put my friend’s struggle into context—God’s eternal context. And to ask you to pray for healing as well. And pray for his son and daughter.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 4:15)

Please pray.

Singing with the King (99) – One Stop Shop

You alone are God. (Psalm 86:10)

Last time we looked at this Psalm with a more or less theological approach. We considered this verse the way David was seeing it, the way he was seeing and knowing the LORD. But then we continued on with more verses from this Psalm to understand why David knew this to be.

Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.  But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (vs. 2-5, 15)

Notice the couplets:

Protect me— I am devoted to you.

Save me— I serve and trust you.

Be merciful to me— for I am calling on you.

Give me happiness— I give myself to you.

Then David lists off a string of characteristics about his God, who alone is God: good, ready to forgive, full of unfailing love, compassionate, merciful, slow to get angry, filled with unfailing love, and faithfulness. Who wouldn’t want to come to a God like that?

I mention all this again because God being the “one and only” is more than just a theological truth, it’s a relational truth. What I mean by that? Not only is He God alone, He’s all you need. Consider these following verses:

In heaven I have only you, and on this earth you are all I want. (Ps 73:25)

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (Ps 23:1)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps 37:4)

The apostle Paul picks up on this theme in in his letter to the Philippians: And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (4:19)

So now we have in effect, a double-edged sword. The LORD, he is God alone. And he’s all that you need. God does not call you into an exclusive relationship, just to exclude you from all else. Your salvation need and you relational need are one.

Your salvation is both eternal (John 6:40), and to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

Your heart has more than you can ever ask or imagine:

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The greatest need for your heart? The greatest need for your soul? Jesus Christ… Only.

Singing with the King (98) – The End

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (Psalm 73:16-17)

For those of you who know me (and I may have mentioned this a few times in this blog), Psalm 73 is my favorite. Now it breaks my heart that David didn’t write it… but I still love this one.

I’ve talked about this verse before in number 72, called Understanding. But tonight I need this to be more immediate, more urgent.

So who’s end is Asaph talking about? Well he wraps it up with an explanation in the last two verses:

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Those who are far from the LORD. Do you know anybody like that? I’m sure you do. We all do. Now the good news is that thought they are far from Him, they are near you, and you have another new year to talk to them. You have this new year because God is patient:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Now note it doesn’t say that He is patient with that with those who are perishing, those who are far away. No, it says He is patient with you. Why? Well who’s supposed to tell them about Jesus if it’s not you?

I end with the words of Jesus as an urgent reminder:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

As we draw another year closer to the return of our Lord, who is it you need to share the love of Jesus with? Not all ends are good ends.

Singing with the King (97) – Foundations & Righteousness

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?           (Psalm 11:3)

When I was younger, many years ago, I heard Billy Graham talk about how he did his devotions. He did 5 Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs a day. So every month, he would go through the entire books of Psalms and Proverbs. When I don’t have time to do my study, that’s when I do this same devotional. But I only do the Psalms. So like today, being the 28th, I would read Psalms 136-140. The great thing about this approach is that if you miss a day, you just multiply the date x 5, back up five, and start there. No need to make up.

A few years back I started using the NLT. Years and years of the NAS kinda got familiar, so I picked a new translation to stir things up. And it was a great move. As we look at the above verse, which is the NAS, here’s what the NLT has, and it provides, what I think, is some excellent insight:

The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?

So we move from plain old foundations to foundations of law and order. Now if you look up the word foundations in the Hebrew, you don’t find anything in its meanings anywhere that specific. But I think this translation does David justice. And I believe that it has just as much to do with us today as it did King David.

Our foundations have collapsed. I doubt anybody would debate that. We have suffered a collapse, but the opinions surrounding why, are as varied and divisive as our culture. For the sake of moving on, let’s assume David’s description and definition would be best, much of it having to do with a complete lack of understanding of Who God is, what He does, and outright denial of Him having any right in declaring to us how we should live, both as individuals and as a nation.

So the question still stands: What can the righteous do? And the beginning of our answer—we need to be righteous, and proclaim His righteousness.

But the complete answer comes in the next verse:

But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. (vs. 4)

Deny Him, ignore Him, dis-invite Him. He still rules. Remove Him from academia, from the marketplace, from politics, He still shows up in the hearts of the Righteous. And it’s up to us to make Him and His Way plain. Because the day is coming when, as David said:

The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked, punishing them with scorching winds. For the righteous Lord loves justice. The virtuous will see his face. (vs. 5-7)

Simply put, Jesus tells us that the two greatest commands are: Love God and love people. If the righteous of God we do that, love will go a long way in healing and repairing these foundations.

Singing with the King @ Christmas (14)

Christmas Star

O Holy Night

Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Although one rarely “pines” anymore, when I read this line, I feel the hopelessness and helplessness pressing in. In Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, he said: And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:18-19, 24-25) Sounds pretty hopeless. But then comes Romans 8:1 – So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

That’s where the hope comes in, and the thrill of it, allowing us to rejoice, because we belong to Jesus.

God did this because he wanted you Gentiles to understand his wonderful and glorious mystery. And the mystery is that Christ lives in you, and he is your hope of sharing in God’s glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)

May Christ be you hope this Christmas season.

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Singing with the King @ Christmas (13)

Christmas Star

The First Noel

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from the country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of
Israel.

Noel is French for Christmas, so the title means: The First Christmas. And since the lyrics focus on the birth of the Christ Child, that would make (obvious) sense.

This verse it speaks of three Wise Men; and I suppose I could talk about the fact that although tradition gives us their names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, not only do we not know their names (for the Bible doesn’t mention them), we don’t even know if there even were three Magi. We assume three because of the number of gifts mentioned.

And I suppose I could talk about the meaning of the gifts, but that does not have much to do with this hymn either. However, I do believe the author of these lyrics did accurately represent the commitment of these Magi: To seek a for a King was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went.

Is there something in your life you have pursued, wherever it went? Did you pursue a person? A goal? Stuff? Wealth? Position? Power? Here were three Magi who were very familiar with wealth, position and power. But who did they pursue? A Jewish King. Why? Because if they knew about the birth of this Jewish King, then they knew about the Jewish God. And I believe they understood that this was The One True God.

To choose to follow the King was and is counter-cultural, and is oftentimes perceived as a foolish errand. But the Magi didn’t care. They chose to follow the star wherever it went, until they found… Him. Do you know what to follow? Are you willing to look for Him with that same kind of commitment?

 

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Singing with the King @ Christmas (12)

Christmas Star

Good Christian Men Rejoice (In Dulci Jubilo)

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart, and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy!
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He hath
opened the heavenly door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

So what was Christ born for…or more properly, for what was Christ born? Or another way of asking: What is the “this?”

Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:7-11)

Not only did Christ open the door to heaven, He IS the door to heaven. And He is the Only door to Heaven, and to our Father in Heaven: I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

When Christ was dying upon the cross, He did it for you, so that you may have a way into heaven, and experience endless, eternal bliss. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 11:3) He was willing to die for the joy that was awaiting Him; of accomplishing His Father’s will to be the one sacrifice for sins, setting us free, and making a way for us to the Father.

When you hear the Christmas Carols rejoice! You could be hearing the songs of Heaven.

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