Praying Psalm 28

psalm-28LORD, I call to You as my strength.  Please listen to me.  If I go away from our time together, and You remain silent, I just won’t be able to go on.  Hear my cry for help.  My hands are lifted expectantly …to receive what You have promised.  I am tired and riddled with headaches …burdened with the cares and concerns of my family and my church.

Please don’t lump us in with everyone else who follows evil and the evil one.  They say one thing but mean another.  You will reward them per their evil deeds as You see fit.  You will repay them what is right in Your eyes.  They don’t care about what You do or how You are working.  You will certainly destroy all they build.  It surely won’t last or be rebuilt.  But I care about what You do and who You are.  I want to see You work in and through me to encourage and fortify others and so that You might have mercy and compassion on these who do not know what they are doing.

You are a good and gracious God because You hear my voice when I lift it up to You.  You are my defender.  You are the source of my strength.  I trust You and receive help.  This brings me great joy.  I sing to you hymns of praise and adoration.  Give others this joy as they express their need in prayer, see You answer, and thank You for it.

You are my strength and refuge.  Just as You endued Your Chosen One with deliverance and resurrection, even so deliver us since we are in Him.  We look to His return expectantly.  Come and save us from the presence of sin.  Bless those with the inheritance You promised.  Lead us and carry us always.

Idolatry in the Interim

It is very difficult maintain a consistent testimony for Christ in American culture today.  It is all the more difficult to help others do the same.  A person can put much time and effort into people and be rewarded with very little.

Our Lord used Moses as an instrument to lead the enslaved Israelite people out of Egypt.  He descended upon Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning to give His Law.  His holy presence was awesome in the truest sense of the word.  He filled people with fear and wonder.

Yet when Moses spent much time with our Lord, set apart from the people he served, those people grew impatient.  Aaron allowed them to practice idolatry in the interim.  While Moses received the command that the people should not make for themselves any graven image, the people were fashioning a golden calf under the inept and weak  leadership of Aaron.

The LORD knew what the people were doing.  He spoke to Moses about it.  He sent Moses down the mountain so that he could see it unfold with his own eyes.  Moses came into the camp after spending  a lot of time with the LORD.  He was filled with anger and indignation because they were behaving so wickedly.  He smashed God’s commands against the surface of the mountain.  Those command would have to be given to him a second time (Deuteronomy – second law).

wall-street-bull1

America is certainly bullish about covetousness

American idolatry is much more sophisticated than the idolatry in Exodus 32.  Our country, the American dream of houses, lands, and things, positions of power, and a love for money are the new form of idolatry.  Covetousness is idolatry after all (Colossians 3.5).  And we are certainly bullish about these things.  Sometimes our god is our belly (Philippians 3.19) or our god is our preferences (Romans 14).  We believe in the so-called American ideal to have the freedom to do whatever we want.  Americans want no restrictions …nothing to weigh them down.

Exodus 32.19-20 records the reaction of a leader zealous for God:

So it was, as soon as [Moses] came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.

It is all too easy for us to go with the flow of the country.  Aaron should have stopped the idolatry when Moses was with God, but he ended up sanctioning it.  The pressure of the people was Aaron’s feeble excuse for failing to lead.  He merely through gold into the fire, and out came the calf.  That pretty weak.  We give the same feeble excuses today.  Instead of close communion with unfruitful works of darkness, we should expose those works (Ephesians 5.11).

Moses and Aaron form quite a contrast in Exodus 32.  Aaron, pressed by the people to give them what they wanted, led them to forge an idolatrous golden calf.  Moses was filled with indignation against the sin destroying those same people.  He pitied the people and prayed for them.  He destroyed their idolatrous calf.  He fasted for them.  Yet he was constantly despised by these same people.  But who truly loved them?  Was it Moses or Aaron?  We see Moses’ heart for the people in this companion text:

And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was angry with you, to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me at that time also (Deuteronomy 9.18-19).

Psalm 106.23 says that “had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath,” the LORD would have destroyed them.  The people owed their lives to Moses and His compassion for them.  So those who would lead people to Christ must prevail in prayer and patiently lead them.  Someone must stand in the gap or breach before the LORD on the behalf of idolaters today.  Will the Lord find someone to do that?

Resisting Gossip

41i5pjfaa8lA small fire rapidly becomes a large conflagration that takes weeks and sometimes months to contain in the vast woodlands of California.  It’s amazing how a small campfire or a cigarette carelessly tossed from a car quick becomes a large wildfire in our state.  James said, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles” (James 3.5)!  He then takes this illustration and applies it to the way we communicate with the tongue.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (James 3.6-8).

Proverbs 16.27 provides a good parallel to this passage:  “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.”  James calls the tongue an outright fire, namely a world of iniquity.  Iniquity is unrighteousness.  The expression “course of nature” literally means “the wheel of nature”.

What is this wheel of nature?  Bible scholars have struggled to explain it, but it seems to refer to the broad sweep of past, present, and future human existence.  The wheel is set on fire by Hell because Satan, a slanderer himself, energizes the world with gossip and slander in order to burn it down, defile it, and poison it.  We use our tongues to cause strife, jealousy, and division.  James will say, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3.16).

I can think of no area of speech that needs to change more in Christian circles than in the way we gossip about one another.  Matthew Mitchell characterizes people who gossip as spies, grumblers, backstabbers, chameleons, and busybodies.  It is instructive for us to know well these characterizations and pray that our Father would keep us from their evil:

  1. The spy is an informer.  Instead of concealing secrets he knows, he takes great pleasure in revealing them.
  2. The grumbler is the person who sows strife through complaining about others behind their backs.  They complain about parents, teachers, pastors, bosses, and politicians.  They complain about their jobs and paychecks.  They are discontented.
  3. The backstabber desires not only to slander another; he desires to inflict great pain on that person.
  4. The chameleon fears men more than God.  He doesn’t want to be left out so he passively listens to what he knows is wrong.  He magnifies people over God.
  5. The busybody lives vicariously through the stories of others.  Their own undisciplined lives allow them to squander away time by getting involved in matters which do not involve them.

Jesus said that “every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12.36).  Mitchell wrote, “The foolish people of the world do not exist for my entertainment.”  If we would simply be good fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, evangelists, and sons and daughters of God, we wouldn’t have enough time to revel in the sin of other people – on the big screen or otherwise.

Why Do We Need It?

Psalm 19.7-14 teach that the counselor cannot blend together modern psychology and the Bible without severely compromising the sufficiency of Scripture.  The quality of the Scriptures is perfect and restorative.  The Bible is the only trustworthy source of wisdom.  The right paths of Scripture lead to joy.  It provides clear illumination in a very dark age.  The Scriptures are flawless and endure forever.  They are true and righteous altogether.  Forsaking the sufficiency of Scripture means forsaking the sufficiency of God Himself (Jeremiah 2.13).  The Scriptures provide “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1.3).

Romans 15.4 states that believers “are full of goodness, filled with knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.”  Yet the world warns the Christian that he should not enter a venue for which he has not been prepared.  Modern psychologists, medical doctors, psychoanalysts, and so-called settled scientists generate all kinds of error.  Many of God’s people are duped into believing that the Scriptures are insufficient to meet the needs of the inner man.

Many so-called Christian counselors grope for the latest and greatest psychological theory and then bend Bible verses to support it.  But God’s Word has everything we need for every good work (2 Timothy 3.15-17).   Since God has given us His Word, we can meet every true need as a biblical counselor.

The integration of modern psychology and the Scripture tends to fixate on how one might have a particular need and not the why behind that need.  For instance, we might recognize a need to be better parents.  Yet our greater need is understanding why we are such bad parents.  We should be asking, “What is wrong with us?”

maslow-pyramidAbraham Maslow focused upon what motivates a person.  He asked about what desire, want, or yearning compels a man.  Maslow asked, “What do you want?”  Some want respect.  Others want to be accepted.  Still others don’t want anxiety to rule over their lives.  Maslow fixates on our needs.  The Bible teaches us to interpret those desires or needs honestly.  Our desires are termed the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.  Those lusts or desires are idolatrous cravings to meet legitimate and/or sinful needs.  The Scriptures teach us to change what we desire.  The Scriptures re-direct our desires through our needs and show us the benefit of living an eternal quality of life.

Larry Crabb is an integrationist.  He wrote that the Bible is sufficient “because it provides either direct information or authoritative categories for answering all questions about how life should be lived on this earth and about how it can be lived according to an effective pattern. Whenever the Bible is not explicit about a given concern, biblical categories provide a framework for thinking through an adequate response to that concern [emphasis mine].”  The biblical counselor might agree with this statement, but David Powlison challenges the way Crabb frames his authoritative and biblical categories.  Are they truly authoritative and biblical?  He counters:

[W]here does Crabb in fact get his system-shaping categories? Scripture nowhere yields Crabb’s view of “deep yearnings/needs for relationship and impact”; his Jesus Who encounters us primarily as the meeter of our needs; his reductionistic analysis of the psyche into four nested circles of emotion, volition, rationality and need; his distinction between casual, critical and crucial longings; his definition of ontological maleness and femaleness. These ideas are the drive train and steering mechanism of Crabb’s distinctives. These ideas are explicit betrayals of Crabb’s stated goal. These ideas are exegetically and theologically insupportable. “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Good intentions are no hedge against the noetic effects of sin on systems of thought.

We need to challenge one another about the idea of meeting needs as the goal of biblical counsel and help.  Perhaps what truly needs to change is what we feel we need.  Perhaps a need is nothing more than a want.  Sacrificial, service-minded Christianity thrives only as we love God supremely and love others as we love ourselves.  A genuine love for others informs them of their need to demonstrate the righteousness of God for the glory of God.

Is the Bible Accurate?

The Bible is God’s revelation to mankind.  This revelation is accurate, progressive, and purposeful.  All Scripture, the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, is given by inspiration of God.  Inspiration refers to God breathing out His word and human authors recording it (2 Timothy 3.16).  Human authors did not direct the writing; the Holy Spirit did (2 Peter 1.21).  We are confident that we have the very words of God.  The actual words of all Scripture are inspired (1 Corinthians 2.13).  God breathed out the total product, carrying along the authors in various ways, and gave to mankind His revelation in the words of the Bible.  Inspiration is God superintending over the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded His message to mankind without error in the words of their original writings.

The reason people dispute the historic fall of Adam and explain away the miracles of Jesus Christ is that they deny inerrancy.  When one denies the inerrancy of Scripture, he is susceptible to taking a very loose view of sinful practice such as adultery or homosexuality.  He tends to view the Bible through modern psychology.  Inerrancy demands that all Scripture is without error in all parts and with all words (Matthew 4.4, 7, 10; 5.17-18).  Simply put, inerrancy points up the fact that man has God’s words, and God’s words tell the truth (Romans 3.4).

The Old and New Testammislabeling-the-word-of-godents, as originally given by God, were plenarily (fully and completely) and verbally (word for word) inspired by God (God-breathed; 2 Timothy 3.16-17).  God preserved the Bible as His only absolute and infallible authority in matters of Christian living (2 Peter 1.19-21; Psalm 19.7-11).  Behind every word of God is the authority of God.

Summarily, the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Word of God are interrelated themes.  Inspiration assures us that we have the very words of God.  These words are inerrant and preserved within the manuscript evidence, but not in any one translation.  Since we have the inspired, inerrant words of God, they are more than enough for us to authoritatively answer ultimate life-questions and meet our own needs along with
the needs of those we seek to help and counsel.

I believe that no translation available can bring out all the riches of God’s revelation.  Much truth and insight are gained through the study of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and sound translations, English and otherwise, of the Scriptures.  The God-breathed, inerrant Scriptures are found in the original autographs, and it pleased the LORD God to preserve His Word through thousands of manuscripts and more than one sound translation.

A Glorious Life

holdinghands-smallIf you are honest, you find it difficult to live in this world and not envy those who are successful and prosperous.  We know that it is so foolish and ignorant to be this way as Christians, but there is no stopping us.  We are driven like animals to have what we want and what they have.  We feel entitled to it, that we deserve it.  We need it.  This is how we feel, and yet we do not have what we want or what they have.  We have what we need, but sometimes our needs are redefined by God.

The psalmist said after admitting that he was like a ravening animal before God, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.  You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73.23-24).  How do you go from a position of a foolish, ignorant beast to someone who is so closely and intimately connected with God?  It seems like quite a contradiction.  I think the answer is to focus on what lasts …what comes afterward.

All envy and foolishness dissipates when we compare the temporary prosperity of the ungodly with the enduring, eternal prosperity of the godly.  It’s why we understand we were foolish, ignorant beasts beforehand.  We consider what comes afterward to bring to light our faulty thinking beforehand.

God’s Presence in Present

“Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand” (Psalm 73.23).  Christians are continually with God, and He is continually with them.  He holds us.

  I Am with God Continually

I need to be with God continually.  Christians do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with the dark principalities and powers of Satan.  If I face these on my own, there is no hope of victory.  If I am not continually with God, then I am continually in despair, disillusioned about life.  God is my Father.  He assures me that I have a refuge in Jesus Christ.  I am reconciled to the Father through Him.  “I am continually with You.”  He is always with me.  I am always crying out to Him.  I cast all of my care upon Him, and He sustains me.

God Is Continually with Me

When my boys were small, I took them by the hand to steady them as they learned to walk.  If they fell, I picked them up.  If they toddled toward danger, I redirected them.  I was continually protecting and guiding them.  I provided a safe place for them.  Their mother comforted them.  All of this effort allowed them opportunity to grow and mature.  God takes me by my right hand and holds me up.  He keeps me safe.  “My foot stands in an even place” (Psalm 26.12) so I am grateful to the LORD.

God’s Promises for the Future

“You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73.24).  In the near future, He will guide me with His counsel.  But after I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Him, He will receive me to glory.  Guidance in life and glory in eternity are precious promises for my future.

   Guidance in Life

God knows the way I need to take in life.  I have a general idea of the way I should go.  The Lord has arranged it so that I can’t see all the turns and twists.  I have a general idea of what I’m going to do tomorrow, but only if the Lord wills.  I know the next few steps to take as the Lord holds me by the hand, but I don’t see the entire journey ahead.  I take a step and sometimes regret it, but God knows the way that I take.  He knew the step would lead to heartache for me, but His counsel guides me in joy and in pain.  God shuts a door and opens another, and I step through it.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed and distressed by the decisions which must be made.  We need to hear God’s calming voice through His providential working and lovingkindness.  “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You” (Psalm 143.8).  He speaks to me everywhere.  He says, “Fear not, I will help you” (Isaiah 41.13).  That’s a promise for me.  He assures me by teaching me the way I should go.  He will guide me with His eye (Psalm 32.8).  The LORD gives me guidance in life.

Glory in Eternity

God will receive me to glory …afterward.  This present life ends.  We never think it will, but it does.  Yet I look forward to that end.  It is my high calling.  The work begun in me by the Lord will be finished in that day.  We should be as confident of this as Paul was (Philippians 1.6).  “I am persuade that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39).

So, our lives are very difficult at times.  People in the world do what they want when they want.  We fight against what our flesh cries out for.  Our lives are often filled with consternation, and the world goes on without a care.  But these moments of consternation are pivot points directing us back to God.  What is wonderful is the joy that fills our lives through it all.  Difficulty and consternation drive us to God and redirect our lives so that what we desire lines up with what God desires.

We have something the carefree world cannot have.  We have a life which can demonstrate the righteousness of God for the glory of God.  We have a glorious life.