Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Putting false idols before God

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 115:3-9 (NIV):

“Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.
O house of Israel , trust in the Lord –
he is their help and shield.”

In the 2000 movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe’s character Maximus carries around with him little statuettes in a leather pouch as a reminder of his gods. At the time, the Roman Empire was winding down to its last 200 years (the movie setting is about 180 AD, when Marcus Aurelius dies.). The Psalms were written several hundred years before, but the character of people were similar. People—even the Israelites—worshipped idols of wood, stone, or metal. When Maximus lost his idols, he, too, was lost.

In Psalm 115, the idols were made of silver and gold. Sort of like today with money and “things.” Today, people may not carry around little statuettes in their pockets as their reminders, but they worship “things” and not the true God in heaven. The psalmist wanted the Israelites to realize that anything made of man’s hands were not worthy of worship. Instead, we should trust the Lord, because he is our “help and shield,” or protector.

So what are our idols? What is it we place before the God in heaven? What is keeping us from putting God first in our lives. The psalmist is telling us that those things made of wood, stone, or metal can’t speak to us, hear us, feel what we’re going through, or walk with us. And God is in heaven, doing as “he pleases.” What pleases him is hearing from us. Our God has ears to hear, and his commands to us are written down in his word, the Bible. When we open it up and read about his love and grace, it pleases him. We gain wisdom whenever we connect with God.

The false idols we put before God will never fill the emptiness we feel in our guts. That emptiness can only be filled by God’s truth and mercy. We want money to fulfill us, but it fails. We want that big house to meet our needs, but it doesn’t. We want that prestigious position at work to fill us up, but it leaves us empty. We want the love of another person to make us happy, but human love is never enough. We are here on earth to seek God and please him. When we obey his commands, God sends us blessings we cannot fathom. Our reverence for the Lord is what meets all our needs and fills us up, be they physical, emotional or spiritual. Earthly idols cannot compare.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to put aside all my earthly idols and put you first. Help me to seek out the blessings you have set aside for me. Amen

Friday, October 09, 2009

Holy, not happy

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 112:1 (NIV):

“Praise the Lord.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,

Who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalms 111-118 are considered the “hallelujah” or “praise the Lord” songs. These are meant to be uplifting and optimistic for the future. At the time they were written, they were meant for the future return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon. The redemption offered here means the recovery of something or someone for a payment or ransom. At the time, the Jews were in slavery, but Jesus gave his life as a perfect sacrifice, thus allowing all people to come into the presence of God. Previously, only Jews could be in God’s presence in the Most Holy Place.

Whoever you are and wherever you are, you can come to the throne of God whenever you need. God is a constant presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit. This is a great message for single adults who are struggling to find their way. Some people might call their previous marriage slavery. Some might call their current singleness a form of slavery. Still others who have remarried might feel a slave with little happiness. You might feel like a slave to debt or to your office. And then there are addictions.

OK, you’re saying, where does this “hallelujah” part come in? This all sounds rather unhappy. My wife and I are taking a marriage class right now called “Sacred Marriage,” by Gary Thomas. The subtitle of chapter 1 reads “A Call to Holiness More Than Happiness.” You may be saying, “But I want to be happy!” That’s my point. What Thomas means is that God wants us to seek holiness first, not happiness. Too many people think too often that life is about being happy all the time. Yet, the psalmists looked at suffering as a part of life.

What we need to realize is that we can be happy during troubling times. We become happy in all things by turning to the Lord in all things—and not just amid struggles. This psalmist says that we will be blessed when we fear the Lord, or “revere” him. When we delight in his commands, it means we want to be obedient. The key to being happy is to be holy first. We do that by walking with the Lord in a personal relationship every day. When we become holy, we become better people, whether we’re single, separated or married. That holiness factor makes us more loving and lovable, a trait that God wants us all to have. That’s how you become holy in all things.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, make me holy, like your son, Jesus. Help me to seek the things of your kingdom today. Amen

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A history worth reading

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 111:2 (but please read the entire Psalm) (NIV):

“Great are the works of the Lord;
They are pondered by all who delight in them.”

As part of my online degree studies, I’m taking a History of Western Civilization class. I find history fascinating and I love reading about the different cultures of the world. When I looked into seminary a few years back, I was most interested in studying the history of my faith. Those stories tell us who we are and where we come from. I’m only halfway through the class, and so far we’ve studied the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans.

The history of the Hebrews shows that they are the only civilization that left information behind in order to understand him better and to live a better life. The Psalms consist of writings from man talking back to God in an ongoing conversation. Mostly, we hear from David, pleading for help with his enemies, later praising God for his wondrous works, and, finally, he is confident that God will act righteously – again. We read these stories in order to increase our faith that God is working behind the scenes on our behalf. It’s a story of redemption.

The Greeks’ history tells us how they started the democratic process, but the famous Greek philosophers eventually came to the conclusion that the gods lived on the mountaintops and didn’t interfere with our lives here on earth. The Romans believed in self-determination in conquering the known world, and they let people retain their religious beliefs, for the most part, as long as they worshipped Caesar first. The rest of our world history is about man, not God.

Yet, the Bible shares a constant story of a God wanting to be first in our lives but isn’t demanding. He wants our love in return, certainly, but he gives us freewill to choose or deny him. God constantly interacts with his people in order to show his love for us. He wants us to know him, so he shares his story with us in a period covering some 6,000 years, from the time of Adam in Genesis to John’s writing of Revelation in about AD 95. Even though mankind does not deserve God’s grace, he continues to reach out to us in ways we can’t fathom. Just when we think all is lost, and we have no way out, God restores us. Open the Bible today and find out more about who God is.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, you are truly an amazing God. You reach out to us, your people, every day of our lives. Even though we don’t deserve it, you give us unconditional love by wanting to be a part of our lives. Even in the most minute details, you care about us. Amen

Monday, October 05, 2009

God helps us find the truth

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 109:1-2 (NIV):

O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.

Sometimes kids lie. No, really, they do. They lie to each other, they lie to themselves, they lie to anyone who stands in front of them. They even lie, gasp, to their parents. This may come as a total shock to a parent whose child hasn’t yet reached adolescence. As a teacher, I was utterly amazed when some kids would lie to my face after being caught breaking a rule, and continue to deny it even when presented with evidence. The plan seemed to be deny, deny, deny … and then, blame it on someone else when that failed!

In other words, they’re shirking responsibility for their actions. OK, confession time: I lied to my parents, too. This isn’t a new trend in the 2000s. Kids have been lying since before David’s days. Yes, people lied to David, too, and he was king! He cried out to God about how mad it made him. Then he asked God to speak up about the liars who were ruining his good name.

This is what my wife and I have been confronted with for the past few months. We learned a couple of valuable lessons we want to pass on to others. One, when we were suspicious, we asked God to reveal the sin to us. God was not silent. Two, when presented with the evidence, graciously confront the sin. Ask open-ended questions that gives the kid a chance to confess; don’t just make accusations. Third, there must be consequences to sin. God disciplines his children because he loves us and doesn’t want to see us in pain down the road, and parents must model that with their kids. And, finally, love must be a constant

Imagine if there were no consequences to our sins. What if we placed a finger over a hot flame but didn’t feel anything – and the next day our finger would fall off. We need pain and consequences in order to teach us not to repeat painful mistakes. How do teenagers learn if there are no consequences? Without consequences, kids would continue down the path to destruction. When kids get on the wrong path, we, as parents, must do whatever it takes to get them back on a godly path. We can count on God being on our side when it comes to lying and deceit. He will not remain silent.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, we praise you for being a God who loves us so much you confront us daily with our sins. Your goal is always to have a relationship with us, and you know this is the only way. Amen