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Psalms of Ascent (Part 2)

brown rock formation under blue sky during daytime
 
A few years back my daughter, her husband, a family friend and I decided to hike down into the Grand Canyon, sleep on the canyon floor and then walk up the other side the next morning.  It was one of the most arduous, yet most exhilarating experience I have ever undertaken.  The three challenges we faced were 1) keeping a solid footing on a trail that was often littered with stones and rocks; 2) making sure we were not overcome from heat, which reached over 130-degrees; 3) keeping our attitude positive when the trek became challenging.

Evidently, things haven’t changed in the past few thousand years.  Psalm 121 addresses these same possibilities for harm.  On Monday we explained how the Hebrew people were required to travel to Jerusalem three times each year to observe the high holy days of their faith.  In Psalm 121, the writer reminds his fellow pilgrims that the Lord protects them from the evil occasioned by the three threats.

First, he writes, He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  Our journey into the Grand Canyon was one where each step was calculated and careful.  Our journey in this world is filled with temptations designed to trip us up.  The devil, the world and even our own sinful desires cause us to wander off the Lord’s path of righteousness.  The Holy Spirit, through His holy Word, is the Light for our path.  We call on Him for strength to withstand temptation and walk by faith.

Second, the psalmist pens, The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. Our journey into and out of the Grand Canyon was no simple walk.  The scorching heat of the sun was definitely a factor, sapping us of strength.  The journey through this world, as we press on toward heaven, is not easy.  The painful effects of sin are around us and even within us.  We struggle with physical pains and material loss.  Illness and injury, unemployment and financial loss bring pain.  The Lord provides peace with His promise to use all things for good.

Third, we read, The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  We were pretty excited to begin our journey at 5:00 in the morning at 40-degrees.  The toll that the heat takes on the mind as well as the body is powerful.  There were times we became discouraged.  Sunstroke was a real threat for the Children of Israel as they journey toward the temple.  Sunstroke and heat stroke can alter one’s mental capacity.  The many discouragements that come from the problems of this world can cause us attitudes that tilt toward anger and antagonism; ignorance and arrogance and selfishness.  Trusting in the Lord gives us a heart of love for Him and for those around us.

Our hiking team made it safely to the other side of the canyon.  We grabbed a cool drink and celebrated.  One day we who believe in Jesus will gather on the other side—on heaven’s side.  We will drink of the waters of life and celebrate the grace of God that was the guide for our journey and our life eternal.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You walked in our world.  You know the troubles, the trials and the temptations we face each day.  We thank You for Your victory over sin and death and hell.  We thank You for sending your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith for the journey You have set before us.  Keep us strong in faith until that glorious day we enter into Your father’s house.  We pray in Your name, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

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Psalms of Ascent (Part 1)

mountain covered with green grass
 
Have you noticed that Psalm 120 through Psalm 134 are listed as “Psalms of Ascent?”  Deuteronomy 16:16 instructs God’s people to make three pilgrimages to the Temple each year to worship and offer sacrifices.  It is believed by many that these “Psalms of Ascent” were used by those who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  These psalms were sung by the pilgrims to provide them the reminder of God’s great guidance to Jerusalem and throughout their lives.

This week we’ll take a look at one of these “Psalms of Ascent,” Psalm 121.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming, I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (verses 1-2). While walking to Jerusalem, the Jewish travelers would pass by hills that were covered with images of pagan worship.  Altars to the gods Baal and Asherah were seen on the top of the hills.  The incantations of the priests and priestesses of the sun god, moon god and many other false deities could be heard by those who were walking toward the Temple to worship the one true God.

While the pagans worshipped their inanimate, powerless gods made of wood and stone, the Hebrews reminded themselves where their help comes from:  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  Their help was not found in gods that were created by man.  Their help was found in the creating God, who brought man into existence and breathed into Him the breath of life.  They worshipped the God who created the hills.  Their help came from the Creator, not the creation.

What an important lesson for us to learn as we make our pilgrimage through this challenging world.  It is easy for us to look to the things of the world to provide us safety, fulfillment, purpose and meaning.  In our modern society with its technological advancements, we can easily be drawn to rely less on the Creator and more on the created.  How easy it is for us to lift our eyes to the things of the world.

Our technological advancements and our comfortable conveniences are not bad.  It is not wrong to have things.  It is dangerous when things have us.  It is dangerous when we lift our eyes to the things of the world and trust that they will carry us through the trials of this age and provide us peace.

As Christians, our journey is filled with demanding and challenging twists and turns as we navigate a world filled with temptation.  As we journey through this world, let us lift our eyes to the hill called Golgotha.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and see in Him the gift of real life.  He is the promise of a life filled with purpose, because He is our gift of forgiveness and our promise of heaven.
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You, the God of all creation.  By Your Holy Spirit, focus my eyes on Your Son, my Savior.  Help me to always see Him as my guard and guide, my life in this world and my gift of life eternal.  I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior.  Amen.

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A Good Life

book pages on gray stone during daytime
 
[Jesus said,] “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” [Matthew 7:24-25]

What makes a good car? One that can handle everything you throw at it. What makes a good house? One that can endure all the weather and strain you put on it. What makes good clothing? Clothes that can stand up to the wear and tear of your lifestyle. What makes a good life? One that….

Seriously, what makes a good life, if it isn’t one that can handle the wind and the rain and the pain of everything that comes our way? That’s exactly what a good life is. That’s exactly what a good faith system is: one that can take the strain and stress of being human. 

Our world today cannot handle the pain and trials of life. We need quick fixes, self-justification. We need easy solutions and good customer service. We need to be able to return what we don’t want- and get refunded for it. We get unhinged when our favorite political candidate doesn’t win. We start thinking about how we can legislate the good life rather than do the hard work of living one. I’m afraid we’ve lost the art of a life that can handle the storms.

Jesus made it clear: there’s only one way to a good life. It isn’t by judging others. It isn’t by demanding your rights. It isn’t merely calling on the name of the Lord. A good life is built on the Rock of God’s Word and daily holds up under the wind and keeps out the flood. 

A good life doesn’t keep evil away. A good life has a way of dealing with evil. A good life isn’t following a how-to program. A good life is following Jesus. We can talk for quite awhile on what’s good- after all, the first sin was wanting to know good and evil for ourselves! Jesus is calling us to follow him into a good life. 

He has done the hard work. Jesus has laid the foundation by rolling away the stone from his tomb. We have the foundation of eternal life and resurrection hope. And that guides us every day as we follow Jesus through the storms and winds and waves that come our way. 

You aren’t going it alone. Jesus has already traveled this way. And he assures you that you can have a good life, too, not found in fickle feelings or passing possession, but in following him and praising God.

Prayer: Dear Holy Spirit, build us up on the solid rock of Jesus’ resurrection. Work in us all good: peace, patience, kindness, love, joy. Point us always to the love and forgiveness of God, and guide us in the good way of everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

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Generosity With an Abundance of Joy

selective focus photography of person holding white clustered flowers
 
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (II Corinthians 8:1-7 ESV)

Generosity is an interesting word.  It can relate to so many different things.  We can be generous with our time as we pay special attention to someone.  We can be generous with our talents as we give someone a hand with a task they are not personally equipped to handle.  We can be generous with our treasures as we provide resources for an important person or project.

In our reading Paul speaks about generosity.  Here’s what we learn from these seven verses:

  • Verse 2: in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  Generosity isn’t about an abundance of wealth—it is an abundance of joy that moves us to share all good things.
  • Verse 3:  they gave according to their means.  In other words, God never expects something from us that He hasn’t already given to us.
  • Verse 4:  begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.  Generosity looks for opportunity to bless others.
  • Verse 5:  they gave themselves first to the Lord.  Generosity is about a relationship with the Lord who is so generous to each of us.
  • Verse 7:  you excel in this act of grace.  Being generous is an act of grace.  Grace is doing something simply out of the faith and joy that lives in the Christian heart.

How wonderful it is to joyfully respond to the grace of God by sharing what He entrusts to our keeping.

I marvel at Your generosity, gracious Lord.  While we were still sinners You died for us.  You gave Your life on our behalf that we would have eternal life in heaven.  Teach us generosity that we would follow You in all boldness of faith.  Amen.

 

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A Truthful Life

man in blue and white striped crew neck shirt reading book during daytime
 
[Jesus said,] “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:46-48]

Just give it to me straight… I recently filled out a survey, which promised to give me $100 if I completed it. After getting done, they clarified – I was eligible for $100 worth of magazines. Ugh… okay, that could still be worth something, even if it’s not $100. After picking four interesting magazines, they then informed me that I would have to pay a $2 fee per magazine subscription! So much for that survey…

Life can feel gimmicky. Faith can seem to be just one more hoop to jump through. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gets rid of all gimmicks. Jesus eliminates all the wiggle room that centuries of people had built around the truth, to make it seem like they were accomplishing what in fact they were not. 

“You’ve heard it was said… But TRULY I tell you…” is the refrain of this portion of the sermon on the mount. And Jesus concludes it by letting people know: You must be perfect as God is perfect. Quit talking about perfection. Drop your sales pitches. Stop virtue-signaling. Live by the truth.

And the truth is not nearly as hypothetical or debatable, according to the way Jesus spells it out. It’s not merely “don’t murder;” don’t even use hateful speech. It’s not merely “don’t have affairs;” don’t even lust in your heart. It’s not “honor your promises;” quit making promises and just do what you say! 

Jesus makes it clear: a truthful life is lived out word by word, interaction by interaction, day by day. The powerful and truly convicting thing is that Jesus didn’t merely say these things. Jesus did it. Jesus demonstrated a truthful life, in every interaction, all the way up to the cross, as he forgave the very people who murdered him. He embraced “truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51). And the Truth has set us free.

Live by the truth. Love your enemies. Strive for perfection. And remember, it’s not in the thinking and believing and saying the right words; truth is in the doing. And Truth is in you because Jesus is in you! 

Prayer: Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Guide us in Your Way by your Truth, into eternal Life. We trust You, because Your love has changed us. Continue to work in us and through us day by day. In Your name we pray, AMEN.

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