Thursday, November 25, 2010

A man after God's own heart...

I've had David on the mind lately--David the king, outlaw, poet, shepherd, warrior, murderer, seeker, and worshiper.

What is it, exactly, that made him "a man after God's own heart?" It couldn't have been his righteousness...anything he did, for we all know how often David screwed up.

I love the Psalms. It is, I think, the part of the Bible that I turn to more often than any other. I love Ephesians, but there are days when I can read it and get nothing new out of it. It's the same with Romans, and the Prophets, and even the Gospels which I've read and heard hundreds of times through my life. It's true of a lot of the Bible.

But the Psalms...they're different. For they aren't necessarily there so I can "get anything out of them." When I read, "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary." ...those words aren't there to teach me anything (though they can anyway). They're there for me to speak out, to echo from my heart. As are those that are crying out to God for help.

Good and bad, struggle and victory, it's all there in the Psalms...and I think it's there, it all it's variety, to show us the inside of what it means to be a man after God's own heart.

What do we see of David's heart? What is it that God liked so much?

In writing out everything that I am seeing, I'm discovering that this is far too long for one I might end up doing a little series.

But today, for Thanksgiving, I'd like to focus on how David always found a way to praise and thank God.

Look at Psalm 69. When David wrote this, he obviously wasn't feeling so triumphant or victorious (v. 4). He feels worn out and exhausted (v. 3) and as if he's drowning (v. 2 & 15). He is fully conscious of his sin in the way we are when we've just screwed up and we know it (v. 5). He feels totally alone, for no one is offering him sympathy and comfort (v. 20). Have you ever felt that way?

So what is the response of a man after God's own heart? What does he choose to say and do? How does he respond to God when he feels this way?

Verse 16: "Answer me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good; According to the greatness of Your compassion turn to me, And do not hide Your face from Your servant."

He relies on God's greatness and goodness. He doesn't doubt that it is there, even though he's going through all this stuff, and He knows that God's greatness and goodness is the only reason that He can call on God for help.

It's all about God.

And he therefore says, "I will praise the name of God with song, And magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord...Let heaven and earth praise Him..."

How about when David sins with Bathsheba? What is in his heart when he is finally convicted of His sin?

Psalm 51:
"Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion, blot out my transgressions," and "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise." For he knew that, "A broken and contrite spirit, O God, You will not despise." And therefore God would restore him and forgive him, and therefore God was worthy of praise and adoration.

How about when he's afraid?
Psalm 56
"When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise..."

I could list hundreds of verses.

But what I want to point out is that, for this man whose heart God didn't matter what his circumstances or what was going on. The Psalm may start with struggle, and pain, and anger, and defeat...but it always ends in praise.

David knew that God is enthroned upon our praises (Psalm 22), and that praising Him in every circumstance is surrendering every circumstance to Him, that He may use His power to work His will in it...and that His will was always good, therefore He is worthy to receive the praises that allow Him to work!

It's the most glorious circle that ever existed...and this man after God's own heart chose to initiate this unending circle, rather than the vicious circles of condemnation and defeat and powerlessness that are out alternative.

I'd like to challenge anyone who struggles with discouragement and depression and loneliness and emptiness. Take Psalms to your heart. When you feel that way and you can't find the words to praise God, open to the Psalms and flip through until you find one that echoes what you're feeling. Let the words of the Psalmist echo your heart, and allow your heart to follow through until it speaks words of praise.

As for me, today, "I will enter His presence with thanksgiving..." (Psalm 95)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dead men thriving...

I wrote this a week or two ago...and didn't post it. I think I need the reminder of it now.

Somehow or other I ended up going through Hebrews this week, and this morning I read Hebrews 9:17 - “For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.” Somehow this struck me differently than it has in the past. I guess I'm more familiar with the later verses that say that it is blood that enacts a covenant. But when I read this now, I interpreted it to mean that the covenant is meaningless or powerless until after I am dead. How fortunate it is, then, that there are these verses!

Ephesians 2:1 - "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins..."

Ephesians 2:5 - "Even while we were dead in our transgressions..."

You see...I am dead, and that is the only reason I can claim the new covenant promises God has made! Here's the whole passage:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
We all want that...the surpassing riches of His grace. But so often the devil tempts us into thinking that we have to maintain some sort of spiritual status quo to receive it...something on some platform high above where we generally feel we are.

But the status quo is dead. We are not supposed to be striving to get ourselves up to the top, for dead men don't strive. We're just not all that good are remembering how dead we are, or that death can be a very good thing when God gives us the revelation of it.

"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)

You see, it is only when we really realize just how dead we really are, that we are then able to say, "For I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Then we can tell the devil when he comes against us, "He who has died is free from sin!" (Romans 6:7) Therefore, "You have no power over me!"

And it is then, when we begin to see ourselves as being "free indeed" (John 8:36), that we begin to "know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." (Ephesians 1:18-19)

This is how only dead men and women are truly capable of thriving...

Monday, November 08, 2010

All-consuming love...

Love has been on my mind a lot for the last three or four years. You see...almost everything that God has revealed to me, convicted me of, and changed in me has to do with getting rid of pride and selfishness and substituting them with love. Interestingly enough, everywhere I go, both offline and online, I've seen Him doing the same thing in His people everywhere. He's been opening our eyes to the selfishness that the world easily sees in us (and uses as proof that we are hypocrites), but to which our pride has blinded us.

Furthermore, I've seen that in almost all of us, this level of love He is leading us all to is sacrificial. Very sacrificial. Which is biblical, for "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life(style) for his friends." (And, of course, Jesus Himself told us that the "friends/neighbors" whom we are to show love to might also very well be our enemies...which wasn't a new NT idea, either.)

So we are ultimately called to lay down our life (and every part of our life) for any and every human we encounter, for it is in losing our life, that we will find it. In fact, Jesus said that if we work to save our life, the end result will be that we will lose it. How serious a warning this is!

Thankfully, it seems that this losing-and-finding-thing is progressive. The more we surrender our lives and willingly lose parts of it for Him, the more we find of the life He intends for us.

What I find most remarkable...miraculous, the reality of the love that He is placing inside of me. It seems to be growing, totally independent of any effort of my own.

It begins as He proves Himself faithful to His promise: "You shall seek Me and you shall find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." I have discovered that seeking Him must be coupled with repentance, humility, and obedience in choosing to show love. Look at Isaiah 58. It has it all. God's call for us to repent, to humble ourselves, and to chose the actions of love over selfishness and retaliation against those who have hurt us.

As I do this, I come to see Him and to know His very nature more and more. And everything I discover about His nature is a product or aspect of love. His anger, His justice, His compassion, His jealousy, His grace...all of it. Just as I know it is my father's nature to be logical and a calm, quiet thinker, I know that it is my God's nature to love, because the more I get to know Him, the more that is all I see.

And as I get to know this love, the more I find this love beginning to flow through me. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that I'm never rude or inconsiderate, and it doesn't mean that I display His love anywhere near perfectly. I wish it did, and hopefully one day it will.

What I'm talking about is more the difference between knowing that you should like spinach and actually being hungry for it. The difference in me is just as remarkable. Love that once only existed in my mind as a decision now carries a rhythm of pain and beauty inside my heart...pain felt through compassion on behalf of the person who hurt me...instead of my own pain. This is something that is far beyond any choice or action of mine. This is something God is doing.

And as He does it in I step aside and stare in awe and wonder at the love He allows me to feel, I discover that my knowledge of His heart grows. And I see the world through His eyes more and more clearly. And it becomes more obvious how the Bible is the spelling out of the beautiful plan He has for a creation He loves so dearly.

Hebrews 12:29 says that, "Our God is a consuming fire," and 1 John 4 says twice that, "God is love." I am finding that it is His very nature--the very power and completeness of His love--that is this all-consuming fire. For where His love flows, anger melts. Hatred is powerless. Bitterness and strife dissolve. Pride itself stumbles and fails. And in the place of these evils, compassion becomes empowered. Grace becomes manifested. Mercy becomes complete. Patience becomes effortless. Goodness becomes an outcome instead of a goal. Everything that is contrary to His nature becomes powerless, and everything that is a part of His nature becomes empowered.

And this is what Isaiah 58 is talking about at the end:
11"And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
12"Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Love and rejection...

What do you do when someone very near and dear to you is offended, hurt, and angry because you are acting out your beliefs? What do you do when you're unjustly accused and judged? When your actions appear to have been someone you love beyond measure?

Once again, I am up against the fact that my love will always be inadequate. It will always fall short in some way or in some instance. The only thing I can do is trust my loved ones to His love. I must continually humble myself and ask that He continue to teach me to disappear, that the only Love that is perfect will shine more and more clearly, as the days and trials continue.

Is love meant to be exclusive? Did Jesus ever encounter a set of enemies...and love (in action and words) both of them? I think He had to have, human nature being what it is...and His nature being what it is.

But were both parties able to feel and acknowledge His love? That is what I don't know. What "enemies" (of anyone) show up during the time of Jesus?

Most of the Pharisees didn't seem to be able to feel His love, even though He loved them enough to ask God to forgive them...even though he met with one face to face and spoke the ultimate words of love to him, that He was about to give His life for that Pharisee. That indicates his willingness to reach out and minister to one of His own "enemies." I wonder if Nicodemus felt Jesus' love, even as he was part of the group plotting His death? Was that what caused him to seek Jesus out?

Are there any stories of pairs of enemies who came to Him? I remember those who brought the woman caught in adultery...He certainly reached out in love to the one who was obviously in the wrong...but maybe this isn't an accurate example either.

Jesus loved/loves everyone, for He was/is the face of the Father, and God is love. We know this.

Did everyone feel the love that was there for them? Did the Pharisees? Did the soldiers who cast lots for His garments? Did Pilate? Did the high priest? Or how about those who weren't his enemies? Did all 5,000 whom he fed feel His love? Or did some of them merely come to see and hear the latest attraction? What about all those shouting Hosanna?

It doesn't seem that they all did. Some, at least, were deceived to the point that they couldn't see that love for what it really was, or else they did feel it but were somehow still able to reject it...and Him. Or else...something, for I doubt many still believed in His love when they were shouting "crucify Him."

And that leads me to an uncomfortable realization. If even the love of Jesus in the flesh could be overlooked, missed, ignored, and rejected...then my love can be, too.

Even if Jesus' love did shine through me would not always be received. For whatever reason, it...and I...can count on rejection. Even rejection of love. Even rejection because of love.

Lord, teach me to count the cost. To follow Your ways no matter the cost. Open the eyes of my heart to know how to love like You, but please also teach me to rest in Your love and sufficiency for me in situations like this. Give me the grace to love those who love me, and love those who hate me, and love those who are hated by those I love, and love those who hate those I love...for I know that is what You do. Enable me to recognize and reject bitterness and anger and offense in my own heart. I am willing to walk this painful path and learn what lessons You have planned for me in this season. And I am willing to hold onto You, no matter what You allow to be taken away from me.

Photo credit: Megyarsh
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