Monday, January 21, 2013

Your Kingdom Come: A Meditation in Psalms 9–10

Reading: Psalm 9 – 10  
Scholars debate whether Psalm 9 and 10 were originally one psalm or two, but they agree that these two psalms are clearly intertwined. These psalms use consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning in Psalm 9 and finishing in Psalm 10. Viewed this way, we can see two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Although these psalms seem very different, they are very closely related. In Psalm 9 the Lord appears very much in charge; In Psalm 10 the wicked rule the day. Which is it?
The Bible doesn't ignore or shrink back from the difficult realities of life in a fallen world. Though we may view these two sides as a contradiction, the Bible takes these two very different realities and places them right together in tension. Why? Why is God's rule over the affairs of the world set in tension with the prosperity and scheming of the wicked? What is God's intention for us in these psalms?
Psalm 9: God Rules Over the World
In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the heading above Psalm 9 reads, Celebration of God's Justice. Here we see God executing his rule over the nations of the world, over the wicked, over the oppressors of the world.
3My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you. 4For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously. 5You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. 6Endless ruin has overtaken the enemy, you have uprooted their cities; even the memory of them has perished. (Psalm 9:3-6)
This is the world when everything goes as it ought to go—at least as it ought to go in a fallen, broken world. Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people. When the bad people do bad to good people, God deals with it. “The Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for judgment.” (Psalm 9:7 HCSB)
In American church culture many shy away from talking about God establishing His throne for judgment. Judgment is perceived all too often as a bad thing (and it can be if we are talking about evil human judgments). But judgment, righteous and just judgments, are a good thing, a wonderful thing for the oppressed—those who are being unjustly treated and harmed. Real justice is the answer to the cry of the person wronged when he cries out, “It's not fair.” It fixes that situation. God's rule, His Kingship (throne) is established to right the wrongs.
Not only does God sit enthroned forever, not only is He enthroned in heaven (Psalm 2:4); God sits enthroned in Zion—in the midst of His people (Psalm 9:11). God doesn't just rule from a distance; God rule is close and personal, He is ruling not from a ivory tower far away, but from a throne in the middle of “our city,” right where we live! Zion is the city of the Living God, the dwelling place of the Almighty. Here the Lord is called, “he who avenges blood.” (Psalm 9:12). The wicked shed the blood of the innocent, but God doesn't give them a pass; He takes up the cause of the innocent.
This is encouraging news in a day that the innocent are being slaughtered by the millions in our own cities and towns across this nation in abortion clinics. God will deal with the manipulating doctors and nurses who, using the fears of young and naive pregnant women, pressure them into killing their children. God will deal with the politicians who for the sake of personal gain manipulate the voters to keep this slaughter going. God is the One Who avenges blood.
This psalm looks at the brokenness of the world from one side of the coin. It ends (Psalm 9:17-20), however, reminding us how God's rule often comes. We get a hint that sometimes justice delays until the grave, but are reminded that the needy will not always be forgotten—which means they sometimes appear to be forgotten. Then it ends with a cry to God to arise and not allow man in his wickedness to triumph. This is a cry of “Your kingdom come; Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
Psalm 10: The Wicked Rules Over the Powerless
In Psalm 10, the coin is flipped and we see the same world from the other side.
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
There are days when we see the world through the eyes of Psalm 9 and days we see it through the eyes of Psalm 10. What kind of day have you been experiencing lately? Does your soul celebrate with confidence that truth that God will right every wrong? Or does your soul cry out, “Why are you so distant? Why have you taken a vacation in a time of trouble?” God has given us ways to communicate with Him, to pray, in each of these places.
This psalm continues for 10 verses describing the observable rule of the wicked. The kingdom of the wicked seems firmly in place. The wicked one...
hunts down the weak... boasts... blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD... does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Yet, “His ways are always prosperous... your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies (who are the righteous)... He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me; I'll always be happy and never have trouble." His mouth is full of curses, lies, and threats... from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims... he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, "God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” (Psalm 10:2-11)
What is the psalmists response?
Does he give up and decide that God must have died or not exist because the world feels out of control? Does he simply utter a pious platitude about how God is in control and he trusts that God is wiser than we are? While God is certainly wiser than we are, that is not what the psalmist does. The psalmist refuses to accept the world this way. Psalm 10:12-18 are the response of the psalmist, and teach us what our response is to be when God seems to have taken a vacation. He cries out in response with what may be summed up as a prayer saying, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  The words are different, but the meaning is the same.
Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless....The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.
The psalmist teaches us to cry out to God against the injustice of this fallen world. God calls us to pray that this injustice would be overturned, and He will answer (Luke 18:8). God is no more delighted by the wickedness and brokenness of this fallen world than we are—indeed He is more grieved than we are. Speaking of our call to petition God to bring about His justice, His kingdom rule, in this unjust world where the wicked rule, David Wells says it well,
petitionary prayer only flourishes where there is a twofold belief: first, that God's name is hallowed too irregularly, his kingdom has come too little, and his will is done too infrequently; second, that God himself can change this situation. Petitionary prayer, therefore, is the expression of the hope that life as we meet it, on the one hand, can be otherwise and, on the other hand, that it ought to be otherwise.
Always pray and do not lose heart! (Luke 18:1)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Devotional Thoughts for the New Year: Don't Forget What the Donkey Remembers

Reading: Isaiah 1  
The year 2013 begins with a nation still grieving the tragic loss of 20 children and 6 teachers in Newtown, CT. As necessary and appropriate as this grieving is, there is an unspoken national hypocrisy going on. Many who grieve the loss of these children through this gruesome slaughter would have celebrated had Adam Lanza gone to medical school and become an abortionist. He could have killed 20 children a week and been celebrated. Why? Because those babies are viewed as infringing on the freedom or happiness of another person, giving that person the right to be the judge, jury over the child, and the doctor to be the executioner.
Just because one person doesn't want a particular child, it doesn't lessen the value, the human value, of that person. Adam Lanza apparently did not want those children in Newtown, but that didn't make their lives meaningless. And if a mother or father does not want a child, or if the government of our nation does not want the children of particular segments of our population, that does not make their lives meaningless.
Since 1973 the number of children snuffed out through abortion is greater than the population of half the states in our nation added together. Or to look at it another way, it would be equal to about the populations of California, New York state, Connecticut, and Colorado added together. Where is the outrage? Where is the media coverage? Where is the grief? This does not minimize the grief of the families that suffered the loss of their children in Newtown, nor does it minimize the greatness of the loss of each one of those children. However, the greatness of each of those children lost in Newtown, when understood, magnifies the greatness of the loss through abortion.
Today our nation faces many threats: lunatics like Adam Lanza or James Eagan Holmes (Colorado movie theater shootings), terrorists desiring the destruction of our nation, an economy at its breaking point, moral chaos, and natural disasters the likes of “Superstorm Sandy.” We may well view these issues as the cause of our nations woes, the root problems themselves. However, I am not so sure they aren't the result of our root problems. Like the faithful city of old, the United States, also once a “faithful city” has become “an adulteress”. How so? “Once full of justice” (no, not perfect, but at least attempting to protect the helpless), “but now, murderers!...they do not defend the rights of the fatherless.” (Isaiah 1:21, 23)
How did we get here? What is the root cause of these plagues on our nation? I believe it may well be that we have forgotten what the donkey remembers.
2Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." 4Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. 5Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. (Isaiah 1:2-5)
Isaiah is speaking to the nation of Israel, not the United States. However, Old Testament Israel is in many ways a microcosm of the world. That is to say, God chose Israel to be a messenger to the world. In her disobedience she still fulfilled that calling by modeling for the world the problem with rebellion against God. In truth, all people owe allegiance to God (Acts 17:24-30), for God is the maker and therefore rightful master of every nation. Whether a nation is a Christian nation or not (if there is any such thing) doesn't matter: even heathen nations owe allegiance to God and will suffer harm for living in rebellion against Him. Therefore there is a lot applicable from Isaiah to our own day and nation. Even a donkey knows his masters feeding trough (Isaiah 1:3 HCSB), but as a nation we have forgotten. We are in active forgetting mode: actively trying to deny our Creator.
What does this mean for believers? One may say, “I can't control what the world around me does, so how does this effect me?” True enough, we cannot make the world around us remember God. However, we too must not forget our Master's feeding trough. Where are you feeding? Where have you been feeding in 2012? Where are you going to be feeding in 2013? This I know, if we are going to see a change in the course of our nation it will come only when believers are remembering our Master's feeding trough. It isn't the TV, the radio, the onslaught of meaningless reading materials that are so popular today. There is only one source of Living Water—Jesus Christ. And the place where we feed on Him is through His word, by His Spirit in the place of prayer. It is found in churches where the word of God is proclaimed and explained. It is relationship with Him and His people.
I am not talking about trying harder to be good Christians. That will never do. I am talking about relationship with Him in truth. Relationship that is rooted in how He has revealed Himself to all mankind—the Gospel. Relationship that is personal. I am talking about knowing where we find nourishment. You can't keep eating empty food and expect to stay healthy. Spiritually, we must go to the only place we can find real nourishment: to our Master's feeding trough.
Remembering our Master's feeding trough will be so vital for the church, for every believer, in 2013. Only a church that is feeding in our Master's feeding trough will ever be the witness of God to the world of the life that is truly life. We may or may not ever get laws passed that will protect the unborn, but if we are feeding in our Master's feeding trough, we will have the courage to persuade the mother of the unborn to choose life, we will have the compassion to minister Gospel truth and forgiveness to the mother that has already had an abortion, we will have the strength to adopt children, or foster children, show mercy to the fatherless and orphans, or strengthen the parents and family grieving the loss of their sons and daughters in tragedies like Newtown. Only then will the church be the church it is called to be.
Here are some practical steps to take in order to feed at our Master's feeding trough:
  1. Find a Bible Reading Plan that can work for you. Preferably one that is not dated so you won't get so discouraged if you fall behind. Here is the one I use. Develop a habit of reading that is similar to your habit of eating—regular and necessary.
  2. Find a church that is faithful to the Scriptures and be a faithful member there.
  3. Develop a regular habit of both private and group prayer. Use the Scriptures to help you pray. There are psalms and many prayers written in Scripture that will inform our prayer.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,