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Archive for September, 2018

The Living God

September 26th, 2018

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:2)

The psalmist longed for the “living God” – not for the dead “god” of the past, not for the misshapen pagan ideas about God that had littered his mind in the past, not for the deadness of legalistic concepts of God, and neither for the sleepy, aloof “god” that some conceive of as far-off, distant, and uncaring. The living God was the God of instant help, of close companionship, of strength and wisdom, and of redemption and salvation.

The living God satisfied hearts

Another psalm by the sons of Korah used similar words:

My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

In that beautiful psalm the author notes that in the temple of God “even the sparrow finds a home,” noting the nesting birds and how they depict the loving grace of God.

The sons of Korah had a dubious beginning in scripture, being unhappy with their assigned positions to care for the things of the tabernacle, and aspiring for the more public role of serving priests, they were part of a rebellion that occurred in the wilderness, causing God to bring judgment (Numbers 16, 26:9-11). Later the sons of Korah necame doorkeepers and custodians of the temple (1 Chron. 9:19-21). But they wrote eleven of the psalms, among which are the memorable inspired words:

As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)

They had learned that what the soul truly longs for is not fame or power but loving acceptance by God. I believe that virtually every person who has ever held a position in Christian leadership for very long has been impressed by two thoughts – (a) their unworthiness to hold the position and (b) the inner desire of their heart to be in the company of those who love and accept them unconditionally. Often Christian leaders are pressured by immature Christians to please them – and immature Christians are never pleased actually – and feel pulled this way or that way.

Which is why it is so important that we know the living God as the God who satisfies hearts. If we do not stand in Him and rest in Him and feel His leadership and His peace, we will be miserable in our service. And make others unhappy in the process.

The living God defeats enemies

Joshua also used this phrase “the living God.” As he led the nation into the promised land, he said to them:

This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. (Joshua 3:10)

These nations represented more than opposing viewpoints. They personified the fallenness and sinfulness of the world, and the cultural backdrop that Israel had been called out of. They practiced child sacrifice along with other immoral practices in their religions and were evil and despicable societies.

Their evil was a constant temptation to Israel, just as the world is to us. We are not called to wage physical war against sinful societies today – though for one practicing child sacrifice nations might agree as a united force to take military measures to stop the practice – but we are called to put an end to sin and to association with sin in our lives. We need the strength of the living God to do so.

The living God moves by His Spirit in this world and in our hearts, and He takes captives our thoughts to make them obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5). Dead legalism will only motivate us not to get caught in our sinning, but the living God brings victory over sin in our hearts. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6).

The living God delivers His people

The prophecy of Daniel also uses this phrase, following the deliverance of Daniel from the lions’ den. King Darius said the words, but the phrase he must have learned from Daniel. Finding Daniel alive in the morning, after having spent all night among the lions, the king exclaimed of the God of Daniel:

for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions. (Daniel 6:26-27 ESV)

The living God has a living and eternal kingdom and He shall fulfill His promises to His people. In eternity we shall live because He lives. The angel in Revelation swore by Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 10:6) and in Hebrews it is written of Christ:

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Our salvation and deliverance is secure because it is upheld by the eternal One of the universe – God Himself. Because He is the living God, we have hope and confidence, as well as comfort, deliverance, and victory.


The Help of His Face

September 21st, 2018

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. (Psalm 42:5)

The psalmist knew what it was like to be on the mountaintop of successful ministry and to be in the valley of blame of failure. Anyone who serves the Lord very long will experience these two deceptive moments and must be prepared for them. Rudyard Kipling wrote: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”

This type of thing happens in the careers of most people. Rarely, whether you are in business, education, medicine, or military, do you always go from success to success, from triumph to triumph. And it happens to those who serve the Lord as well.

The deception of triumph

Certainly it is more fun to be successful in any venture, than to seem to be less than successful. But success rarely depends on one single person alone. It comes due to a combination of realities – timing, mood, opportunity, chemistry, and unseen thoughts. Often the Spirit moves among a people, like the wind blows (John 3:8), and people respond to Christ and to His call to serve. And some situations there is less movement by God and less faith by people.

There is a scene in the film The Bear that depicted for me the reality of ministry. The film tells the story of an orphaned bear cub trying to survive in the wilderness. In a dramatic moment in the film a mountain lion chases the young vulnerable cub across the hilly terrain until the cub is cornered. But rather than cowering in panic, the cub stands its ground, letting out a brave roar, and the mountain lion stops its charge and runs away. Just as we think that the cub had successfully defended itself, the camera widens its view and we see a full grown bear standing behind the cub growling as well.

I thought to myself, how often we are like the cub, thinking that we in our courage, or creativity, or cleverness, have been successful in our lives, when in reality it was God who stood behind us and orchestrated the entire matter. He sent the right people, and the Spirit blew among the society, and success happened from His hand. We were just a simple part of a much larger work of God.

Christ told His disciples, when they returned rejoicing from the success of their mission: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). All that we have is really is what the Lord has prepared for us in heaven. And that is what we are to hold on to. In the heady moments of successful ministry we can delight too much in the fruit of our efforts and not enough in the Lord Himself.

The help of His countenance

We could also speak of the deception of disaster, to paraphrase Kipling. Keil-Delitzsch points out that it is the spiritual man that must comfort the natural man in our hearts. It is the new nature in Christ that is given us at salvation that must grow and lead within our hearts, and not our old fallen nature with its focus on outward results. The “help of His countenance” is the look of mercy from our heavenly Father. It is the nurture of the merciful face of God that lightens our burdens and enables us to rediscover our joy.

In many ways, the relatively fruitless times of ministry become greater blessings to our hearts than the seemingly successful times, because they require us to turn our thoughts to God, to look up to Him, to commune with Him and to rest in Him. Success in any field tempts us to take our eyes off of Christ, and seeming failure teaches us to look at Him afresh.

The New Testament speaks often of “bearing with one another” (Col. 3:13), meaning to endure and to continue even when it seems pointless and difficult. People who are agreeable and pleasant and enjoyable to be with are easy to serve alongside of, and it takes no special amount of character or spiritual discipline to do so. But we reveal that we have been with God when we are able to graciously endure difficult people and difficult circumstances.

We all need, in our souls, to spend time looking at the merciful face of God, to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life and service to God, and just in isolation commune with Him. The psalmist was dealing with a period of his life that seemed relatively fruitless. In His younger years he had been with the multitude, leading them in excited worship, but now he felt forgotten by god, a source of reproach by his enemies. The only way out of this depression was the renewed vision of the merciful face of God.

This treasure in earthen vessels

One of the most meaningful passages of scripture to me is the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul explains how he kept going in service: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Then he goes on to say that we are “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed” (4:8), because the life of Jesus is within us.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (4:16). God is constantly at work within us. And it is exactly this reality that makes the Christian message compelling – not that everything is always pleasant, or easy, but that God is constantly at work. If we will let Him, I believe God can turn these seemingly dark times into beautiful periods of light and life, times in which we rejoice in Him and grow in Him more than ever before.

After all, the only problem we really have is with our earthen vessels we call our human bodies and minds. We have no problem with the power and grace and mercy of God. The Father is always at work (John 5:17). Our need is to slow down long enough to listen to Him and to experience the salvation that comes through seeing His face.

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