To whom do we align?

There are people who have power through words. They puff up their claims of what they will do to gain a following. Depending on our position we love them or hate them.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? (Psalm 52:1)

The Lord calls them a disgrace. This can either shock or elate us, depending on our attitude to their policy. Yet the issue the Lord has is not with their policy but their deceit.

Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit … You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! (Psalm 52:3-4)

These champions of the powerful word who strike down their enemies, and sometimes ours, are considered a disgrace by God. We have to consider carefully who we align with.

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin … he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)

Are we aligned with those who will be brought to nothing? Who should we align with?

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

The reason we align to powerful people is that they offer us hope. The contrast is when we trust in God’s unfailing love. As we take our nurture and love from him, we are empowered to model God’s love, offering dignity while surpassing the deceit of both sides.

Law meets love

Growing up in a culture that values keeping laws, I struggle when someone bends rules. So, when Jesus confronts the rule keepers I have disquiet.  Would I be on the wrong side of him?

Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ (Mark 3:1-3)

When those who elevate law confront Jesus we see in their hopes to accuse, self-righteousness. Having reduced godliness to keeping rules, their tunnel vision blinkers out God’s glory. Only obeying God’s rules denies his love.

Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)

If I see Sabbath as alignment towards God and his sovereign authority, then Sabbath elevates God’s love. If I see Sabbath as a law, then that alone matters.

… He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6)

When I struggle in self-doubt, I forget that the Spirit of God will lead me into crises of choice between my cultural norms and his way of love. As far as by grace he has transformed me, so his love will shine through.

Impact of loving God

Those who love God become like him and influence their world.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. [Psalm 36:5-6]

As we meditate on his character- love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice we aspire to become like him.

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. [Psalm 36:6]

We notice that the Lord loves and preserves all his creatures, both people and animals. They are valued as his creation. We join him, showing that same value.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. [Psalm 36:7]

As we aspire, and in some small way live out this love, people find safety with us.  In effect, they take refuge beneath God’s wings.

They feast in the abundance of your house; [Psalm 36:8]

As we generously share what God has provided, we demonstrate his abundant care.

you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; [Psalm 36:9]

Not being the source, we have no idea what will feed or give life. We merely pass on what he has given us. Then to our surprise, this is spiritual life to those who receive it.

 in your light we see light. [Psalm 36:9]

When we look at Jesus, the light of the world, we see the light of life. Though our situations are dark, he fills us with light from within.

What is prosperity?

Many are drawn to a prosperity of money, sex, power and fame, gaining influence over others to get what they want. Yet if we get, someone else must lose. We leave a trail of hurting people. So, the prosperous-

… wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. [Psalm 73:5-8NLT]

Those who have surrendered their souls for this prosperity are-

… like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. [Psalm 1:4-5NLT]

God desires-

… this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, … [Galatians 5:22NLT]

Instead of a trail of hurting people, those who choose God’s prosperity leave behind a trail of love, joy and peace. Love will be tested by the offer of ‘prosperity’ so I need God’s love to stay true-

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked … But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees … bearing fruit each season. [Psalm 1:1-3NLT]

When I invest in God, he blesses with a prosperity that brings joy, not mere appearances attempting to suppress a churning heart. So, do I choose to aim for the prosperity that offers what ‘I want’ or that which leaves behind love and good fruit?

Fear of the Lord

We all look somewhere for blessing, protection or help -people, organisations, wealth, ourselves, … This attitude helps us identify our gods.

Many do whatever it takes to stay within this protection and help. This is an attitude of fear. We may not cower, but we modify our behaviour to maintain protection.

O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord– he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the Lord– he is their help and shield. [Psalm 115:10-11NIV]

The one true help and shield is the Lord. To stay protected requires a certain degree of fear. Without the fear of the Lord we give in to our wilful desires or we look elsewhere for protection. Similarly, for blessing,

The Lord remembers us and will bless us: … he will bless those who fear the Lord– small and great alike. [Psalm 115:12-13NIV]

Wherever we look for blessing, we modify behaviour and attitudes to remain blessed. So, we honour the source of blessing. The Lord is the one who truly blesses, but we are tempted by many others.

he does whatever pleases him. [Psalm 115:3NIV]

Many hesitate to go wholeheartedly with God because he does whatever he pleases, not what we please. Yet God is love, so when we adapt to him we begin to truly love. By contrast those who fear other things become like them as they modify their behaviour to maintain protection or blessing, making those things their gods. What do you want to become like? Whom do you fear?

Dealing with attitudes

A clear indication of our failure to deal with bad attitudes is the presence of what Paul calls the acts of the flesh. These attitudes have created barriers that both block our experience of the love of God and keep that love from being expressed through us. Paul writes,

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Galatians 5:19-21NIV]

The characteristics of these acts of the flesh revolve around the fulfilment of self and have four clusters.

  • Physical gratification such as sexual immorality or drunkenness.
  • Emotional drives such as jealousy, fits of rage and selfish ambition.
  • Mental conceit causing factions and dissensions.
  • Spirituality to fulfil self, such as idolatry and witchcraft.

The antidote to these self-focused drives can be found in John 13-17 where Jesus uses many words and phrases to express himself as he describes receiving and overflowing with the love of God: Loving Jesus, obeying his commands, remaining or abiding in him, receiving and living by Holy Spirit.

This receiving of Jesus and his love inevitably leads to a choice. I must prayerfully examine the times I am tempted and ask, “What is it about my beliefs and feelings that I would prefer this over Jesus?” or, “What drives me in this direction?”

Can I trust Jesus for his fulfilment?

 

Ride victoriously!

Heaven holds a glory that is unseen by a cynical age. Take the fulfilment of Psalm 45 –

You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you for ever. [v2]

When sent to arrest him, the temple guards returned empty handed saying, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (John 7:46NIV) The religious leaders were indignant, saying the guards had been deceived. Do I have that simpleness of heart that recognises Jesus’ words of excellence and grace in today’s life situations – and lives in their light?

Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one; clothe yourself with splendour and majesty. [v3]

When Jesus refuted the Sadducees concerning the resurrection from the dead using a passage from Exodus, some teachers of the law commented, “Well said teacher” (Luke 20:39). One would have expected such wisdom to bring a desire for greater insight yet it brought only frustrated silence. Am I willing to openly wear the splendour of Christ speaking God’s word to a cynical world?

In your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility and justice; let your right hand achieve awesome deeds. [v4]

When, in Luke 7 Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman they are both judged by Jesus’ host. Can I, like Jesus, face the condemnation of the influential to ride in the cause of truth, humility and justice?

Going with Jesus is victorious! Yet the victory is perceived only by those with eyes to see.

Confident Future

With what confidence can we look at the future ahead of us? Do we look out with fear at Brexit, Trump and an uncertain world?

What joy for the … people he has chosen as his inheritance. [Psalm 33:12NLT]

Such joy in the face of uncertainty seems naïve. Yet it demonstrates where we hope.

We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. [Psalm 33:20-21NLT]

The current world order is turning upside down. What we have relied on in the past is crumbling.

The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. [Psalm 33:16-17NLT]

Our anxiety highlights the level to which we have depended on what is not God. We wonder how we will survive.

But the Lord watches over those who … rely on his unfailing love. [Psalm 33:18NLT]

And who is the Lord? Why should we trust him?

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken. [Psalm 33:10-11NLT]

These events are not accidental. God designed them to demonstrate who is worthy of trust. Yes, we don’t know where the future will take us, but we do know the one whose plans will stand. We know the one who has chosen us as his inheritance. We are safe!

Suspect activities

Can I legitimately participate in an activity or eat something? The question takes me down a line of law. Paul however turns the attention to our attitude towards God for it.

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:3-5NIV)

All things are created by God to be received by us with thanksgiving. In giving thanks to God we consecrate the item – set it aside in our hearts for God through His word and prayer. The limits are where we cannot give thanks, either because of prior conditioning or because it violates our first love for God.

This takes the focus away from whether it is good or bad and on to our attitude towards it. Can I receive this with a thankful heart? Romans 14:22-23 develops this –

Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23NIV)

In this passage Paul is concerned about what is suspect to some believers. If I cannot receive it in faith then I leave it.  Thanksgiving to God is a good indicator of faith to receive.

Asking out of need

When I am in need and I see people having the resources then I am tempted to speak in a way that will ‘help them’ answer my need. Some of this is right, the Lord often brings together those with need and those with resources, but what of the attitude –

Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts. May the Lord cut off their flattering lips and silence their boastful tongues. They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content. Our lips are our own—who can stop us?” (Psalm 12:2-4 NLT)

Whenever there is a need there is a temptation to deceit. If I puff up my proposal, those who hear may be more inclined to give. If I can tempt them to think more of themselves than they ought to, then maybe they will commit more to my need.

This attitude forgets God’s sovereignty. The Lord wants us to do our best in presenting our message. To flatter is a step too far. Flattering lips betray a deceitful heart, a heart that despises God. We forget that the Lord may have other purposes for the resource. if our deceit captures it, then other, weaker children of God can be left suffering.

The challenge is that flattering tongues sound plausible. Advocates of this approach master the silver tongue, that is why they become advocates and our joining in justifies their stance. Our protection is to walk in step with God, reflecting on what is said with a quiet heart.