Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tired of Living on Your Tears?

Reading: Psalm 42  
When I was much younger, I thought the opening of Psalm 42:1 was an expression deep passion for God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” I suppose that was partly due to not reading it in context carefully (my greatest exposure to this verse was from lyrics in a song), and partly due to my own experience of life. Depression was far from me and life was all before me. I am generally optimistic.
However, the experience of life and many times of reading Psalm 42 have made clear that the deer in this psalm is a deer that is dehydrated and is about to pass out. This deer is in a dessert place and all is dry—not dripping with passion. This thirst for God (Psalm 42:2) is not a deep, intense, longing desire, but a deep, intense desperation. It might be expressed as, “I'm going to die if God doesn't show up and meet with me.”
Why? Why is the psalmist feeling as if it is “God, or bust!”? In contemporary terminology we would say he is depressed—seriously, clinically, actually, whatever other term you'd like to apply, depressed!
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" … (Psalm 42:3)
The psalmist is experiencing life in such a way that those looking on question what's wrong with him. “Where is your God?” expresses their doubt about whether his God exists, or whether he has been forsaken by God (due to sin). Jesus experienced this kind of ridicule and mockery (Matthew 27:43). That was what he experienced from the outside. But worse still was what he experienced from within.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)
From within, the psalmist experienced doubts about God's intentions toward him. Though the language may seem foreign to us at first, it is not so difficult to comprehend what is meant. The psalmist's experience of life right now is as if he is in the sea, trying to find shore, but God keeps pummeling him with wave after wave crashing in on him. Every time he comes up for air a wave pummels him again.
The word for deep is also the word for the sea, or the abyss. This is the “pit”— the pit of despair. The psalmist is going from one pit to another, one depth of despair to another, because, as far as he can tell, God is directing the storm to pummel him. Are you in that place in now? Have you been? Do you know someone who is? This psalm is written for you and me in times like this. It is written to help us pray when we are in despair, and to help us know how to pray with others when they are.
In his despair the worshiper remembers when things weren't as they are now. He remembers times when he participated with the people of God in joyous praise and festivities before God. He recalls the time when all was bright. (Psalm 42:4) But now, all is dark for him.
The psalmist then does something instructive. He speaks to his own soul, to his own thoughts and heart. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5) Sometimes it just helps to vocalize this truth. To remind ourselves of God's promises though our feelings are screaming otherwise.
However, the psalmist doesn't merely tell himself truth that he doesn't feel. He also is honest to God about how he feels. He brings his toughest questions to God also.
9I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" 10My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:9-10)
And then he repeats the instruction to his own soul. (See Psalm 42:11)
When we are in the place of despair, depression to the point of feeling we will die if God doesn't answer us, when it seems we have been living on our tears, we must remember that there were better times, we must speak truth to our souls about God's promises for our future, and we must be honest with God about what we are suffering and experiencing. Bring your worst fears to God. Bring your depression to God! But also bring His promises. This is a prayer for the depressed. This is a prayer for all of us as we learn how to pray with and for each other.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Riches of God's Glorious Inheritance in the Church

Reading: Micah 2
Covetousness (a.k.a. greed) is responsible for no small share of poverty in the world. It may be that the 10 commandments end with covetousness because that is the heart issue behind so many of the other commandments. Covetousness drove the wicked in Israel to move the ancient boundary stones (on a nice day), gradually encroaching on the helpless (Prov 23:10-11), or just outright seizing the when it is in their power to do so.
Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. 2They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.... 9You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever. (Micah 2:1-2, 9)
One's inheritance in Israel was central to their ability to sustain themselves. Here the inheritance is not merely referring to an estate received by a child from its parents, but also to the land received by the children of Israel as a gift from Yahweh (ISBE). Through God's rich inheritance given to His people, they would have land and sustaining provision through life. They had to work the land, but land they had.
However, orphan's and widows were easy targets for those who would confiscate their properties. The powerful have connections with other powerful people. The weak have no connections because people have nothing to gain by helping them. By the time Jesus came the rejection of God's law had become so deep that the Jewish teachers of the law were devouring the widows houses (Mark 12:40).
Jesus came announcing the year of the Lord's favor—“the year of jubilee” (Luke 4:17-21). In fact, the preaching of the Gospel is described as announcing this good news to the poor. This year of the Lord's favor was the year, every fiftieth year, when everyone in Israel was returned to their inheritance. If they had sold the land to pay their debts or survive, it would be returned. It was a year that meant loss for the powerful and gain for the weak. It was indeed “good news for the poor”.
Jesus proclaims the return of everyone to God's rich inheritance for them. How does He bring this about? The Gospel certainly hasn't brought every Israelite back to their land of original inheritance as distributed in the book of Joshua. In fact most of the tribes can't even be located today. So how does Jesus bring this about?
Christ's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and we often have difficulty seeing things as they really are. Paul prayed that the church would see “the riches of God's glorious inheritance” ...and then he tells us where to look, where it is... “in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18). Psalm 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in families...” (Psalm 68:6 NIV). One translation says, “God provides homes for those who are deserted...” (Psalm 68:6 HCSB). Which is it? Both. God provides homes for those who are deserted by setting the lonely, the solitary, in families—the church of the Living God.
This family, this provision, this, God's inheritance for us in His holy people, is what Jesus was speaking of when He answered Peter's, “What's in it for us?” question.
28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!" 29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30)
The church is to be a community, a family, in which we recognize that God's provision for us is not just for us personally, but for us as the community of God's people. This is why being part of a church family in particular is so important. Particular families in Israel received an inheritance, not disconnected loan individuals. So God knits us into His family (Ephesians 2:19) and as members in a particular family where we know other and can be known by others. Where we meet the needs of other and have our needs met by others.
In order for this to happen, we must put greed (covetousness) to death (Colossians 3:5), so that it is never heard of in our midst (Ephesians 5:3). Sadly, all too often is it not only heard of, it is modeled by leaders and even preached on from pulpits... not against it, but how to effectively covet and get whatever you want!
This is a kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace. In order to be a part of this justice we have to live our lives free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). As we do, justice will unfold as we restore inheritance into each others' lives by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

God Hears Groaning

Reading: Exodus 1–2  
Do you groan? Are you groaning? God hears groaning. Paul tells us that the whole creation is enslaved by the corruption or depravity in the world (Rom 8:21 NASB). Presumably the creation is enslaved by the wickedness done upon it by the wicked. Not only the creation itself, be we too groan. We groan while we wait (Rom 8:23). In context, we might conclude that we groan because of the wickedness done to us and to others. (See also James 5:4-8.)
The Israelites groaned also. They had been subjected to slavery and with that, all that slavery entails. Their lives were full of oppression and misery. Injustice proliferated. None of that could stop the Israelites from multiplying. In fact, the more oppression, misery, and injustice they experienced, the more they multiplied and grew (Exo 1:12). So Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew boys born be killed. However, the Hebrew midwives feared God more than the king and didn't obey (Exo 1:17).
All of this led to Moses being adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and out of Pharaoh's coffers, Moses' mother was compensated for nursing her own child. Decades later, Moses is in the wilderness, the people are still suffering, and they are groaning. Groaning because of their forced labor, because of the injustice of their oppressive condition, and they cried out for help to God. God heard their groaning and their cry for help.
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. (Exodus 2:23-24)
Do you groan? Are you groaning? If not, why not? Is it because you have nothing to groan about? Consider the lives of the innocent being snuffed out daily in our own cities through abortion (Pharaoh is still at work!). Consider those being abused or suffering the scars of such abuse. Consider those with debilitating illnesses, or unloving husbands, or wandering children, or alcoholic parents.
Truth be told, there is plenty to groan about. We must cry out for help to God, for God hears such cries. Far too often, however, we are inadequately informed as to how to pray and feel inadequately able to pray for these kinds of things. We just grieve. Sometimes we try to ignore the grief because we don't know what to do with it. Sometimes we acknowledge it but don't know how to pray.
But there is someone else who will help us pray. Not only are we groaning inwardly about these things, but we do so because the Spirit of God within us groans in ways that not even words can express. He helps us to pray when we know not how with this groaning (Rom 8:26).
But,” you say, “What good will it do to groan, if I still don't know what to say?” Don't worry! God understands groaning. He knows the mind of the Spirit within us and He answers according to the very yearning in our hearts for it is in accordance with His will (Rom 8:27). So, pray. Pray, and don't be afraid that you don't know exactly what to say. Bring your voice to God with cries for help. And when you cry for help, God will hear.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,