A Body of Idolatry

June 16, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Romans 12:1 commands us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. If we take this literally, and I think we should, then it will remind us that all our limbs and sensory organs are to be dedicated to serving and glorifying God. If we ignore this command we run the risk of living like idolaters.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.

Psalm 115:4-7

A material idol, designed to act as, or represent, a false god, has a mouth that can’t talk, eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear, a nose that can’t smell, hands that can’t pick up anything, feet that can’t walk, and a throat with no sound. And then comes the kicker:

They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

Psalm 115:8

These idols are made by the very people who are worshiping them! How can they be so self-deluded?! Imagine praying for deliverance to a little figure that needed you to even carve it into existence. Can people really believe that a god would be dependent upon its own “creator?”

It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Logic, apart from the wisdom that comes only from the True and Living God, is not our strong suit. In fact, if we do not keep our hearts diligently focused on God, we will quickly fail into delusion and all sorts of idolatry.

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

Proverbs 4:23

Then, pretty soon, we will usurp the use of the mouths that God has given us, and start speaking disrespectfully, rebelliously, and deceitfully.

Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.

Proverbs 4:24

Next we’ll stop looking for God’s beauty in His creation, and we’ll studiously avoid looking for people who are genuinely needy or who make us feel uncomfortable, and we’ll instead use God’s gift of vision for peeking at forbidden and ugly-but-seductive things.

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.

Proverbs 4:25

Before we know it, our idolatrous feet will follow our idolatrous eyes and hearts right off of God’s safe path and into the world’s bramble of unfulfillment, heartache, addiction, danger, and desolation.

Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:26-27

We are poor identifiers of our own idolatry. Most of us think that our common sense would kick in somewhere around the time we started placing offerings into the hands (hands that we ourselves had fashioned!) of idols that could not hold the very things we were trying to give them. But, no, here we are, hopefully knowing somewhere deep down that we – and all of the complex creation around us – were made by Someone infinitely greater than us, yet still trying to give our time, talents, and treasure to man-made idols, such as political parties, houses, cars, electronic devices, investment portfolios, clothes, and entertainment. What a contradictory race of creatures we are, to desire to be “blessed,” but to want to dictate, design, and direct our own trivial blessings, while our Supreme Maker and true source of all true blessings, is relegated to the sidelines of our lives and largely ignored.

Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield. The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great. The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children. Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth. The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.

Psalm 115:11-16

A One-Question Quiz for Boys

April 28, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

Psalm 119:9

It’s one of the greatest Q&As of all time, packed into one clear and vital verse.

Q. How will a young man clean up his act and live right?
A. By purposefully and vigilantly moving through life with the Bible as his guide.

The psalmist asks and then answers his own question without hesitation, but are you and I convinced of this solution? I hope we are, because a wrong response has dire consequences: Psalm 34:16; Ephesians 5:3-6.

We sometimes use the colloquialism, “young men,” when we refer to boys – even those who are fairly far from the age (or maturity) of true manhood, and Bible does the same thing here, translating it from the Hebrew na’ar. Boys do not come into this world with clean hearts, and they do not start their journeys through life on clean paths. No, they start off with dirty, sinful, corrupt, and foolish hearts, bent toward heeding the world’s beckoning call to travel down its own dark, dangerous, deceitful, and disobedient alleys. Thus, the question in the first part of the verse presupposes that a young man’s “way” has need of purification (cleansing).

Thankfully, the Lord God Who reigns over this sin-sick world has provided a ready-made and easily-obtainable means for such cleansing. This antidote is not, however, a one-time vaccination or smoothly coated pill, quickly ingested and then forgotten. No, it is a remedy that requires young men to “take heed” – to look and listen carefully.

The Word of God is to be kept ever before their eyes. It is to be ingested through reading, and through attendance on teaching and preaching by trained and ordained men of God. Its principles and precepts are to be applied thoughtfully and rigorously as sign posts, warning lights, fuel for the journey, and dutiful directions at every twist and turn, every high-speed straightaway, and every providential detour along life’s course.

Even the Children

March 20, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Psalm 148 is a psalm which commands us to praise the Lord.

Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Psalm 148:1

In fact, it commands all of creation, the whole universe, to praise the Lord.

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.

Psalm 148:3-5

Kings and rulers, “ordinary people,” men and women, the young and old, all types of people are commanded to praise the Lord. This makes sense, but it is not limited to those with any sort of advanced understanding of how they are to worship. No one is exempt, regardless of maturity level or even sentient intelligence, for that matter. We would do well to remember this in our corporate worship services. There can be a temptation for those of a more advanced understanding to seek to eliminate the distraction of those who might not worship with the same mindset, decorum, or sophistication. However, it is clear that the Bible would not have us give in to this temptation. If even the seas, mountains, birds, and cattle can praise the Lord, how much more should we encourage our children to worship alongside us!

Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:

Psalm 148:12

Why should the Lord be praised by so inclusive a throng? Because:

Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.

Psalm 148:13

Heman and the Master of the Universe (Part Four)

March 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Posted in Heman and the Master of the Universe | 1 Comment
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Heman, the psalmist of Psalm 88, prayed:
1. Openly
2. Obstinately
3. Obnoxiously
He also prayed:
4. Obstetrically

“Obstetrician” is from the Latin term for a midwife, obstetrix, which has the same root from which we get words like “obstacle.” It has the literal sense of “standing in opposition to,” and you can picture a midwife’s position, “standing against” (literally, of course, not figuratively) a woman in the process of giving birth.

midwife

Heman was not afraid – as bizarre as this sounds, in a sense – to stand “in opposition to” God. However, as is the case with a midwife, he was not actually opposing God with his prayer. He was trying to “bring forth” – to bring forth from pain a “delivery/deliverance.”

Heman wrestled with God for healing, deliverance, or at least understanding.

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise [and] praise thee? Selah.

Psalm 88:10

Heman rhetorically asked God, “How will I praise you if I die?”

Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? [or] thy faithfulness in destruction?

Psalm 88:11

This kind of praying sounds foreign to our ears, but it is not all that uncommon in the Bible, where the petitioner in extreme circumstances sounds as if he’s trying to bargain with God. Abraham did this for Lot as he tried to persuade God to spare Sodom. Moses did this for the people after their idolatry with the golden calf. Here Heman seeks to do it for himself, but he frames it as an opportunity for God to get glory.

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

Psalm 88:12

Heman also prayed obstetrically not just in bargaining with God for his life, but in the sense of wrestling with God. This kind of praying does not displease God if we are sincere, and if our heart still retains a reverence for Him and a desire to truly know Him, to know His will, and to receive His blessing. Jacob did it. Job did it. Asaph did it in Psalm 73. Habakkuk did it.

Questioning God’s judgment, wisdom, knowledge, or faithfulness can be a dangerous thing, but He may allow it if, through it, we have a true desire to draw closer to Him.

I [am] afflicted and ready to die from [my] youth up: [while] I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, [and] mine acquaintance into darkness.

Psalm 88:15-18

In the darkness we are driven to root out the sins that may have caused our suffering, and this brings us to an intentional spending of time with Him in the awareness of His presence. Even if our suffering is not being caused by specific sins, the Lord’s painful, but gracious, isolation of us from the presence and succor of our friends and loved ones can force us (or free us) to seek Him as the only Light that can shine into, and light our way out of, the deepest midnight darkness of our circumstances or our souls.

Heman and the Master of the Universe (Part Two)

January 17, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Heman and the Master of the Universe | 4 Comments
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In part one we saw that Heman, the psalmist of Psalm 88, prayed openly. Now we see that he also prayed obstinately.

O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:

Psalm 88:1

Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.

Psalm 88:9

But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.

Psalm 88:13

Praying day and night, praying with tears and grasping hands, praying first thing in the morning, as though the Lord would hear our prayers before He even (figuratively, of course) begins HIS day – this is what is called praying with importunity. And, while it may be an annoyance to us when someone pesters us this way, it does not bother the Lord.

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Luke 11:5-10

This asking and this seeking and this knocking is an insistent, faithful, and strenuous calling out to the Lord in prayer, which may very well incline Him to respond. Regardless of whether He grants our plea or not, though, it pleases Him because it teaches us dedication and persistence, and because it brings us to intentionally spend time with Him in the awareness of His presence.

Next time we will see that Heman even prayed obnoxiously!

Wise Watering

January 2, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Biblical farming, I Corinthians | 5 Comments
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You may have heard the term “church planting.” We tend to describe the work that goes into the establishment of a local Christian church assembly in a new location with this agrarian terminology because this was how the Holy Spirit taught Paul and the first Apostles to think of it.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

I Corinthians 3:5-6

It makes sense that, in doing the work of ministry – in winning new converts to Christ and in establishing local churches – that the planting comes first, and then the watering. Anyone who knows anything about farming or gardening would know that it makes little sense to water a seed, and then bury it in parched earth. That does not mean, however, that the watering is less important than the planting. Both are vital to the laying-down of foundational roots and new growth.

The word translated as “watered” in I Corinthians 3 is potizo, and it does not mean to simply pour water on something for the purpose of getting it wet. It has the idea of “watering” in the sense that a herdsman “waters” cattle. It is the pouring of water as an offering, invitation, or encouragement to DRINK.

When we are “watering” new converts, we don’t want to blast them with a fire hose in the hopes of getting them clean, and we don’t want to dunk them merely for the purpose of a spiritual bath. We should water them with the Word of God, with kindness, love, fellowship, camaraderie, and encouragement.

watering-can

Our desire is to grow strong trees, drawing their hydration from the life-giving water of Christ Himself, not fleetingly-damp tumbleweeds, who sipped in enough moisture to barely count as vegetation, only to be blown away, out of sight and out of mind.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Psalm 1:1-4

Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5-8

Heman and the Master of the Universe (Part One)

September 8, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Heman and the Master of the Universe | 4 Comments
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[[A Song [or] Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.]] O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:

Psalm 88:1

Heman was a musician and a Levite. He was an overseer of music (not lyrics) in the Temple. He was also a prophet, and was renowned for his wisdom.

For he [Solomon] was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about.

I Kings 4:31

In Psalm 88 he was inspired to write a psalm for the sons of Korah, meaning it would be included on a regular basis as part of Temple worship. It is a song based explicitly on Heman’s life and personal experiences, but also inspired by the Holy Spirit. We get the true feelings of Heman, although the articulation of them is breathed through him by the Holy Spirit, and Heman’s feelings are grief, pain, terror, sorrow, frustration, and utter despair.

Psalm 88 is roundly considered by all its commentators to be the saddest Psalm, and perhaps the saddest chapter in the whole Bible. It is in some ways the least hopeful, the most discouraging, the least joyful. So why study it? So that we may prepare for our own coming distress or depression, or make some sense of – and glean some truths about – some period of suffering we may already be experiencing. Because, whatever your view of Heman’s reaction to his suffering, his complaining, his groaning, his self-pity, you will have to admit that he did the one thing the Lord would unquestionably have us to do if we ever find ourselves in this condition: He prayed.

Heman prayed openly.

O LORD God of my salvation…

Psalm 88:1

This might be the one glimmer of brightness in the whole psalm – and it comes at the beginning. Heman knew God was his Savior. Therefore, he addresses the only One Who can help, and, as he views the entire universe to be against him, he addresses his pleas and petitions to the Master of the Universe. You and I, when we find ourselves in despair or danger, must openly seek help from the only One who can truly provide it.

Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;

Psalm 88:2

Do not sit there sobbing, hoping that the Master will notice you. Address him specifically and boldly. Heman asks God to “incline” (in modern English we would probably say “recline”) His ear – to stoop down – to condescend. This may sound presumptuous, but it is an open statement of the obvious fact that, if the sovereign Lord of all creation is to deal with us, He must (and He has proven that He will) stoop down to our lowly and pitiable level.

Heman is honest about his mental condition:

For my soul is full of troubles…

Pslam 88:3

He admits that he has become consumed with his fears and has trouble focusing in his prayers.

… while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.

Psalm 88:15

How easily are we distracted in prayer? Did you know you can actually ask the Lord to help you focus in prayer as part of your prayers?

Next time, we will see that Heman also prayed obstinately.

The Louisiana Flood of 2016

August 18, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Posted in The Flood | 4 Comments
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I don’t know if, after a few months or a few years, the title of this post will be the official name of the flooding event that took place in South Central Louisiana on the weekend of August 13 or 14, 2016, or not. I don’t even know if it will have an official name. Many people (not including me) are already angry that the national news media – neither while it was happening, nor up til now – has given it the attention that these types of weather catastrophes usually garner (for reasons I may cover in a different post later).

Regardless, though, of whether the event ever enters or remains in the national consciousness, I doubt it will ever be forgotten by my neighbors. Apparently, the house in which the Lord allows my family to live sits on something of an imperceptibly elevated ledge, but our neighbors suffered massive flooding in their homes, and many had to be evacuated – some in boats, some in huge National Guard trucks with giant tires, and some in Blackhawk or Red Cross helicopters! The local news media is reporting that 90% of the homes in my parish (the equivalent of a “county” elsewhere) suffered flood damage. Not us, thankfully. While the water spilled across the highway in front of our house, and while it became a rapidly rising lake on the road behind us, and while it filled my next door neighbor’s home with a foot of water, my old Sunday School teacher, now a pastor, John Wilkerson, called to check on me. He lives in Indiana now, and, with AT&T cell service completely down, he somehow still had my landline number. As he prayed with me on the phone, asking the Lord to “honor His servant” (John 12:26), and to stop the encroaching waters, I became immensely humbled. I know that I belong to Christ, and that He shed His blood for me and saved me, but I also know for sure that I am not worthy of any honor! I am a faulty and neglectful servant at best, and much, if not most, of the time, the term “servant” itself could scarcely be applied to me due to my selfishness and impiety. However, after we finished the call, I walked outside to check. Thirty feet from my house the water appeared to have stopped, and maybe even receded a couple of inches. We were spared.

I want to thank and praise the Lord for protecting my wife and children, and the home that He allows me to manage. The next few weeks and months will be busy. We have already begun to tear out and clean out the damaged parts of the church building where our family meets, worships, and ministers, along with many of our church families’ and neighbors’ homes. There will be great opportunities to minister and to share the Gospel. The love of Christ, by His grace, will be made manifest, the Word will be proclaimed, and my prayer is that souls will be eternally saved.

I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.

Psalm 32:5-6

Our Great Needs

June 6, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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It goes against our human instincts to admit that we are needy. We don’t like to confess that there are things we cannot obtain on our own, or that we have gotten ourselves into trouble without the ability to get ourselves out. Asking for help is inherently humbling, and we want to see ourselves as self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-made, self-taught, and fortified with heavy doses of self-esteem. In actuality, though, “self-deluded” might be a more accurate description when we are thinking this way. J. Stuart Holden (who narrowly missed going down with the Titanic due to his wife’s voyage-cancelling illness) once preached, “Our needs are the greatest things we have – far greater than our possessions or accomplishments or desires.”

The “needy” in Scripture are often lumped together with the “poor,” and these two conditions are the source of great injury to human pride, because the Lord speaks of the poor and needy as objects of divine pity, while men see them as objects of derision or scorn. However, this may be a blessing in disguise. For, it is when we are completely helpless before our enemies or circumstances – when our needs by far outweigh our resources – that we get desperate enough to call upon our great Help and Deliverer.

All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?

Psalm 35:10

Who is the one Being in all of existence Who has never had, and never will have, a single need? The Holy Lord of Hosts is the single indisputable answer to this question, and when we recognize this fact – combined with the fact that He loves us enough to hear our cries for help and pleas of weakness, and to come to our aid – then we are perhaps closer to a right understanding and knowledge of His glory, character, and attributes than at any other time.

Much harm has been done by the modern professing church in attempting to exalt the “felt needs” of sinners over the unvarnished proclamation of the truth about God, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, although we love and serve a great God, the only thing “great” about ourselves is our massive needs.

Two Thrones

May 16, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Posted in Hebrews | 4 Comments
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Years ago I read a quote that I really liked, and I jotted it down: “God has two thrones – one in the highest Heaven, and one in the humblest heart.” The problem is that I forgot to write down who said it, or where I read it. My best guess is that it is somewhere in a collection of volumes I have – compiled by Warren Wiersbe – of famous sermons by famous preachers on different topics. However, I haven’t been able to relocate it, so I can’t be certain of giving credit to who said it, although I have seen it attributed “on the internet” (a dubious source at best!) to D.L. Moody.

In any event, I think of that quote often. First, I think about the amazing and fearful idea that the almighty, sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe would deign to take up residence on the petty little throne of my insignificant and obscure heart. What a simultaneously humbling and encouraging thought! And what a stark and convicting reminder of how often and how treacherously I am guilty of trying to weasel my way back onto that throne after I have supposedly ceded it completely to its rightful Owner and King!

God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.

Psalm 47:8

Second, I think of just how high the throne of the highest Heaven must be, and just how mighty must a King have to be Who would ascend to this throne. A well-known (and increasingly criticized and even ridiculed) evangelical plea says that we need to “ask Jesus into our hearts.” Regardless of the theological accuracy of the wording, the idea is astounding, for this Jesus on Whom we must call for our eternal salvation did Himself once ascend to the throne of the highest Heaven – as God, yes – but also truly as a man. Being an immutable being, if He has indeed “come into” my heart, and is indeed seated on the throne there, He must rule with the same authority invested in His Father’s throne on high. How dare I, mere creature, guilty of abominable and despicable treason, taint the holiness of His throne room or the air around the righteousness of His scepter with vanity or sin? What an exhortation to love, fear, obey, and live for Jesus!

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

Hebrews 1:8

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