There is a Distinction

‘Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers’ – Psalm 1:1

 

The very first line in the book of Psalms is a simple introduction, yet a profound truth, that reminds the reader that there is a distinction between the Godly and the wicked. That there is a division between those who know and love God (the Blessed) and those who are at best indifferent or at worse outright opposed to God. And that division should be visible when the life of a blessed person is examined. How they live day to day (walk), the judgments and worldview that they take (stand) and the people they are in deep community with (company) should be a daily working out of this distinction.  Obviously, humanity opposes this idea. The prevailing thought of the cultural worldview is that there are many valid ways to live and that it is inexcusable to declare someone’s life choice as invalid. No one today is called wicked, simply because they do not acknowledge God. And we must recognize that this ideology has even taken a foothold among the church; among those who are ‘the Blessed’. The people of God are continually tempted by fundamental cultural thoughts AND by their own fallen nature to mimic the way of life of the wicked; the ways of those who do not yet know Christ.

The purpose of this meditation is not to pass judgment on the world; not to condemn the wicked. Human society – of every generation – has a judge who will eventually issue his order against them (1 Cor 5:12). Rather, it is those who identify themselves as ‘the Blessed’ who need the reminder: You are separate and distinct, so live by that reality. This is not legalism. The Blessed are not called to live in obedience to God and in light of His Kingdom in order to belong; rather they are called to live this way BECAUSE they belong. The Blessed are invited and commanded (simultaneously) to live by the commands of God (walk); to take their stances – on issues – based on His view (stand) and to allow their greatest influences to be their fellow Kingdom citizens (company).  And it is this distinction that the King uses to bring others into His Kingdom and to display His glory (Ephesians 3:10).

There is nothing more tragic than to see the Blessed living as the wicked. To do this, requires someone to re-design God as they want him to be. AW Tozer said that the ‘idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they are true’. May this never be us! May the Blessed know God as He is, and may their whole person (mind, will and emotions) line up with Him in joyful worship!

Repenting of Heartless Worship

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalm 51

This past Sunday at Agape we considered the danger of external-only, heartless worship. We read the words of rebuke from God to His people in Psalm 50; people who were ‘doing’ all the right things, but doing them for all the wrong reasons. Their hearts had drifted from their LORD, even while they outwardly continued to bring him sacrifices. With no heart of worship present, their attitudes, thoughts and actions no longer reflected the God they claimed to serve. God rebuked His people and reminded them ‘The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me’. If our heart is filled with thankfulness to God, then it will lead us to live in a manner that glorifies Him. This is why Paul said in Romans 12 ‘I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him‘. Ultimately, our heart is the motivation of all we think, speak and do. Hearts that are submitted in thankfulness to Christ, will overflow and lead us to be submitted in action as well: living sacrifices, not mindless ones.

What does this teach us as a church, as a people who gather every week to celebrate and corporately worship our God together? I believe it teaches us to consider our motivations. Is the gathering of the church something that we attend each week as part of that ‘overflow’ of thankfulness? Do we approach that time as a gift, eager to meet with our fellow faith family and magnify the Lord in Thanksgiving together (Psalm 69:30)? Or is it something we do sleepily, out of tradition or a sense of duty? I imagine that all of us who take an honest and deep look at ourselves would at some point reach the conclusion that our worship has become routine; and our gathering with other believers has followed suit. When we reach that conclusion, the next step is repentance not condemnation. Paul teaches that there are two types of grief (or sorrow) we may find ourselves under: Godly or worldly. How do we tell the difference? By the action we are led into. If we are under worldly grief, then we will be tempted to give up; to quit trying. In this context, perhaps we will be tempted from gathering with the church; to just stay home or leave the community to find another one (assuming the issue is the church itself and not us). On the other hand, a Godly grief will lead us to repentance: a desire to keep going, but in a new direction; a direction that more appropriately resembles true, living worship.

That is why I think the verse above is so appropriate. David wrote those words at a moment in his life when he became aware of his own guilty heart. Even as he had continued in his normal sacrificial routine, his heart had drifted and his behavior had followed. When he came face to face with his condition, caught in his sin, Godly sorrow led Him to cry out for God’s restoration: a pure heart, steadfast and willing spirit, restoration and sustaining. When we test ourselves and become aware of our own drifting from a true heart of worship, may this to be our cry! Perhaps this will need to be our prayer every day; or every Sunday as we prepare to gather together. But this we know: If we pray this with a genuine desire for repentance, our great God and Savior will be faithful to answer and help. Let us therefore go to Him with expectation!

Waiting for the Lord…

‘…How long will these people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’ – Numbers 14:11

‘Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God..’ – Deuteronomy 7:9

‘I wait for the LORD…and in his word I hope..’ – Psalm 130:5

‘I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done’ – Psalm 143:5

‘..When the son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ – Luke 18:8

‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ – Hebrews 11:1

As I write this, it is approx 7AM in the city of Hong Kong. In that city is my son, Jack. And today he turns 2 yrs old. And I will not be there to celebrate with him, although that has been my constant prayer for the past 10 months. We have all been there, in that place where after long periods of prayer – the thing that you asked for does not come, or does not come in the manner you hoped. How do you feel then? More importantly, how do you respond? What is the next step? For me, I am not angry. I am disappointed in the situation, but I am not disappointed in God. I am not bitter. But, I do wrestle with temptation. For me in-particular, when a prayer seems to go unanswered, that temptation works itself into my life in 2 ways: 1) I am tempted to be discouraged from praying consistently and passionately – even though Jesus implored us to ‘always pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1)2) I am tempted to think that God’s ‘silence’ equals inaction; that somehow he is not involved in whatever I am praying over. Now, I understand the fallibility of both of those temptations. But I am sharing what I wrestle with. Yours may be different; Perhaps it is anger or bitterness; resentment or separation. Whatever those temptations are, in moments like these we must combat them with the word of God.

The people of Israel saw many miraculous signs in their wilderness experience. But there were also days of ‘silence’ when it appeared that God was not present. The people assumed God had left them, forgotten them and abandoned them to the fate of death. Yet, God was there and was trying to teach them to not just rely on signs and wondersHe wanted them to believe in HIM, not just to believe in signs. God is a faithful God, and He desires His people to KNOW that; for it to echo in their souls as truth. Because the Psalmists believed in Him, not just His signs, they had the confidence to wait on Him in the ‘silent’ times; And their confidence was based on the promises, the word, that God had spoken. Because God is faithful, His word is faithful. It can be trusted. The promises He has made to us will be fulfilled. In those quiet times, when things are not coming together as we hoped – it is critical for us to remember what God has done; what He has already said. Meditate on how good He has been to you, and remember that HE is faithful and He will not change. His voice will come again. You can wait on Him in expectation. But will we? Will we wait on Him with confident, expectant, faithful hearts? That is the question that Jesus wondered, out loud. Faith is when you are assured in your spirit – by God’s spirit – of what He has promised. You are convicted these things will come to pass, not because of what you are seeing at the moment. But because your hope is in the faithful one.

I miss my son. I will mourn not being with Him tomorrow. But I have asked God to keep my heart faithful; to keep my prayers consistent and persistent; to keep me encouraged and to help me trust in His faithfulness to us. And He has answered that prayer. Even as I type this, even as I mourn missing Jack’s 2nd birthday, I am remarkably hopeful. I know that God started this adoption process; I remember all that He has done in the past year; I have been meditating on all of His works on our behalf. He has kept this process moving. He has removed roadblocks and He has knitted our hearts toward the son that He chose for us through adoption. I believe that. I KNOW that He is faithful. And I trust in the words that He has spoken to me – over the many days of this journey. And today – I hope in those words. I am convicted of what I cannot see. And I believe that soon, very soon, by His grace – I will hold my son. And I believe He can, AND WILL, do ‘far more abundantly that all that we ask or think‘ (Eph 3:20).

We have all been in this place, and we will all come to it again – over and over in our lives. My faith family, in the silent moments: rest in the faithfulness of our great God and Savior. Guard your hearts from temptation by trusting in His word. Meditate on all He has done. Believe in Him.