Category: Psalms (page 1 of 12)

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their works to the ends of the world.

Suffering is Real. So is God.

“Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward.”  
~Job 5:7

As surely as the wind blows in Amarillo. As surely as the Cowboys lose to the Eagles in December with a playoff berth on the line. All people are born to trouble. It just happens. It’s a fact. Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble.”

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”
~Psalm 130:1-2

This Psalm of Ascents does two things to the problem of suffering and pain. First, it gives human suffering dignity.

This is an anguished prayer. And by bringing the pain and suffering out into the open like this, by making the pain public, the psalmist gives dignity to suffering. The psalm doesn’t treat suffering like it’s something to be embarrassed about or something we’ve got to hush up or lock up in a closet somewhere so nobody can see it. The writer owns it. I cry to you. Hear my voice. Be attentive to my cry. I am suffering. Me!

And it doesn’t treat suffering like it’s a mystery or a puzzle to be figured out and explained. The pain and suffering is just proclaimed. Boom! Here it is! The depths, acknowledged and expressed. It’s in the open.

And if that’s all this psalm did, that would be huge by itself. Giving dignity to human suffering? Nobody does that. Our culture does not respect people in pain. Our society says everybody should be constantly happy and healthy. And, if you’re not, well, something’s wrong with you. You’re a problem that has to be solved. Everybody you know will try to fix you. And when they can’t fix you, they’ll forget about you.

The problem is that we want to cover up our suffering. We want to ignore it. But that’s not the reality. Suffering is real. It happens to everybody. Psalm 130 knows that and dignifies it by talking about it. This cry comes from deep, dark place; and it’s real. Christians respond to suffering as reality, we don’t deny it as an illusion.

If we ever wanted to ignore suffering, we certainly can’t do it right now. The virus pandemic, the racial injustice, and the economic disasters won’t let us. All the sickness and death, all the disparity and violence, all the poverty and loss — it’s all real. And we don’t avoid it out of fear; we face it in faith.

And we don’t pretend like there are easy answers. No cliches here about what went wrong and how to fix it. No quick Band-Aid to cover it up so nobody has to see it. Psalm 130 is like the whole Bible, really. You never read in the Bible that there’s a quick fix to suffering: take a vacation, pick up a new hobby, go get a massage. Human suffering is held up and proclaimed as the real experience of all people. It’s given great dignity.

And it’s given to God.

All this deep, dark suffering is lifted to God, which means God is taken seriously. God is real. The name of God is used eight times in the eight verses of Psalm 130. It’s not a religious formality, God is at the very center of the whole thing. God is described in this psalm as a personal redeemer: he is personal, so you can have a real relationship with him and he is a redeemer, which means you can expect to receive help from him. Even in the middle of suffering, there is great meaning to your life because there is salvation for your life.

Psalm 130 tells us God forgives sin. It tells us God is full of steadfast love and abundant redemption for us. The psalm says God is not indifferent toward you or apathetic about what’s happening with you. He acts decidedly and positively toward his people. He’s not rejecting. He’s not condemning. He’s not silent, still, absent, missing in action, or not paying attention. And he’s not stingy. He’s not doling out just enough so that you can barely survive each day. He comes to us and he gives us everything.

The presupposition behind the Scriptures is that God’s child is in distress and God’s intent is to help the person out. He is on my side, remember? Psalm 124. He is my help.

We know this about our Father and that’s why we bring our pain to him. That’s why we can face it and live through it. Our God is in control of it and he’s the only one who can do anything about it. And he will. He does.

That’s why we bring our suffering to God in prayer. We don’t write letters to the editor, gripe and complain at the beauty shop, or look for relief in alcohol or drugs or Facebook. We bring it to God. We immerse it in God. Your suffering is real. And our God is real. That’s where we find our hope.

Go Mavs.

Allan

Secure in the Lord

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~ Psalm 125

God wants you to be more sure of your salvation than you are. You belong to him forever. But we don’t always talk like it.

The way we talk does reveal what’s inside our souls. We say things like, “I hope God just lets me sneak into heaven” or “I’ll be happy just to slide into a little back corner of heaven.” We hear things like this at funerals. “If she’s not going to heaven, none of us has a chance!”

Why? Because she’s so good? Like our salvation is somehow tied to our works?

We don’t believe that. Your salvation has never been tied to what you’re doing or not doing. Your salvation is solidly secured in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!

You say, “I hope I’m good enough.” You’re not! You say, “I hope I’ve done enough.” You haven’t! Your salvation is in the Lord!

He meant it when he said, “It is finished.” Your deliverance from sins, your rescue from death, your salvation and eternal life — it is finished.  It is done. Not by you, no way. But by God in Christ for you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us; not after we all became saints.

Your salvation is not about you. No matter what your feelings tell you, no matter what bad things happen to you, no matter how many times you slip and fall along the path, those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever.

The cross is not just something God did, it’s who he is. The cross is the essence of God’s being: God in Christ reconciling the world back to himself, personally taking care of everything that might separate you from him. Jesus doesn’t overlook or forget your brokenness and sin, he becomes a part of it. He enters into and participates in your brokenness and sin in order to heal and renew, to bring life and to overcome.

That’s the good news of the Gospel. That’s what we proclaim. And we probably don’t do it enough. I figure if the people in our church are weary or beaten down, if my brothers and sisters at Central are discouraged or tired, maybe it’s because I’m not announcing the Gospel enough. Maybe I’m talking too much about what we do and not enough about what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ.

I don’t believe in once-saved-always-saved. But I also don’t believe in once-saved-barely-saved.

Jude 24 says our God is able to keep you from falling and will present you in his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

Being a Christian is like living in the security of a mountain fortress in the hills of Jerusalem. All the way safe. All the way secure.

Go Mavs!

Allan

Secure in Not “Falling Away”

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Another thing that can mess with our safety and security in the Lord is the possibility of “falling away.” Backsliding, maybe. I once was lost but now I’m found. And I might get lost again.

Some Christian traditions teach “once-saved-always-saved” like it’s a non-negotiable contract. Once you say “yes” and sign on the dotted line, you can’t become a free-agent again no matter what the league commissioner rules. Well, that’s just not true. You certainly can turn away.

If God does not force you to faith in the first place, he’s not going to keep you against your will. Think about Judas. Think about Hymenaeus and Alexander. The Bible says they rejected their faith and their good conscience. They shipwrecked their salvation.

“Those who turn to crooked ways, the Lord will banish with the evildoers.” ~Psalm 125:5

So if it is possible to fall away, how do I know I haven’t? How do I know I haven’t already lost my faith, especially when my feelings are bad on the inside and bad things are happening to me on the outside?

Please, hear this. It is not possible to drift unconsciously from faith to out of favor with God. It doesn’t happen without you knowing it. It can’t. Yes, we all wander around like lost sheep, but Jesus is a faithful shepherd who pursues you relentlessly. Yes, we have our ups and downs, but he is a rock. A mountain. We do break our promises sometimes, but our Lord never breaks his. Discipleship to Jesus is not a legal contract where  if we don’t live up to our end of the dead, God is free to bail on it, too. It’s God’s covenant. God establishes the conditions and he alone guarantees the results.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:28-29

How does the song go? No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand?

Yes, you can quit if you want to. You can say “no” to God. You can turn to the crooked way. God is not going to hang onto you against your will. But you’re never going to accidentally fall away from God or lose your salvation without knowing it. Turning away from God, losing your salvation, is a deliberate decision. In fact, we should never use the phrase “lose your salvation.” Nobody loses his or her salvation like you lose your car keys. You can give it back. You can turn your back on it. But it’s no accident or oversight. It’s a sustained, determined, on-going rejection.

1 Thessalonians 5 says the God of peace is sanctifying you through and through. He is making you holy. He is keeping you blameless. He calls you, he is faithful, and he will do what he’s promised to do. He’s the one making your salvation happen, not you.

But I’m a sinner.

All the great people of faith you know are sinners! I don’t know a single perfect Christian, do you? I’ve never met one.

Our security is not tied up in our performances. It’s grounded solidly in the faithfulness of God.

The first line in Psalm 125 says “those who trust in the Lord.” Not those who trust in their obedience or in their own righteousness.

“This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life… I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” ~1 John 5:11-13

God wants you to be more sure of your salvation than you are. You belong to him forever.

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Midst of Suffering

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Living as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not like walking a tightrope without a safety net. This is not a situation in which you’re 200-feet up, trying to keep your balance, and taking extra care with every movement and twitch. A fly landing on your nose is life-threatening. People are watching you, everybody’s paying attention, some are secretly hoping you’ll crash and burn. That’s not the Christian life. It’s not a tightrope where every single step you take is a life or death deal. It’s more like sitting safely and securely inside a fortress. If you’re a Christian, you’re protected. You’re safe.

Even in your sufferings. Even when bad things happen to you. When you lose something you think you can’t live without. When your loved ones suffer pain. When you’re the victim of an injustice.

Psalm 125 says you’ll be OK because you’re surrounded by God. He’s got you. As long as the Lord is your God, you’ll be fine.

Whoever wrote Psalm 125 did not have anesthesia at the hospital, he didn’t have Tylenol or antibiotics in his medicine cabinet, and he didn’t have a government spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense. The writer here endured pain and suffering and threat personally and with the people around him every day. Why did that not destroy his confidence in God?

“The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” ~Psalm 125:3

The wickedness won’t rest, it won’t last, it won’t stay with you permanently. The bad stuff is always temporary.

“…for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” ~Psalm 125:3

If the evil is permanent, if there’s no hope for deliverance, even the most faithful and devout person will break. They’ll use their own hands to do evil — it’s too much. But God never allows that to happen. The pain and the suffering are never too much for our faith.

“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

At some point, at just the right time, it goes away. The bad stuff is never too much for your faith. And it’s never too much for our God.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:31-39

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Face of Our Feelings

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

A lot of us grew up with a view of our salvation as something we slip in and out of pretty easily. According to what we do or don’t do, what kind of day we’re having or the last time we prayed, we might be saved or lost. If you’re not on constant guard, if you’re not vigilant in doing everything in exactly the right way, your mortal soul is in jeopardy. Losing your salvation could happen to you gradually or all of a sudden. Your status with God is fragile. Your salvation is a delicate thing. You’re worried about your worthiness. You’re anxious about your standing. There’s always a question. Always a doubt.

There’s a Greek word for this: Baloney.

There’s also a West Texas word for it. But I can’t use it here.

The Scriptures are clear that our salvation with God in Christ Jesus is secure. We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to look over our shoulders in dread at what might take us out. The Christian life is not like walking a tightrope where every single step is a life or death deal.

Of course! I know this. In my head. I know this as a solid, indisputable fact. In my head. But my heart doesn’t always acknowledge this truth. My gut sometimes disagrees. Sometimes we do get anxious about our own salvation. Sometimes we do slip into uncertainty. We slip into fear. Or maybe we don’t slip into it; maybe we kinda live there.

Did I know what I was doing when I was baptized? Have I really been forgiven for my past? Have I really been good enough? Am I really doing enough?

Legalism is a disease we all have. We’re all in different places in our recovery, but nobody’s completely cured. If doing the rules and obeying the commands is what saves me, then, yes, I should be worried. But if it’s not… thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I want us to consider Psalm 125 this week to banish our insecurities and grow our confidence and Christian assurance. I’d like for these holy ancient words to get into our souls and remind us that we are safe and secure in Christ  in the face of our feelings, in the middle of our sufferings, and despite our sins.

There are three things — I’m speaking very broadly here — that get in the way of the solid security we have in the Lord. The first of these is our feelings. The way we feel. Our feelings can hijack our security.

Psalm 125 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” But I do get shaken. It happens a lot. One day I’m full of faith and confidence as a beloved child of God, the next day I’m questioning and doubting almost everything. I wake up one morning full of energy and assurance in what God’s doing in me and through me, the next day I’m gray and moody and not real sure God’s doing anything at all. One day I’m a man of God, the next day I don’t know.

Cannot be shaken? That’s not me at all. I can be shaken by almost anything. Sadness, joy, success, failure, a bad meeting, another change in the coronavirus restrictions, a phone call, a disagreement — I’m like a thermometer, just going up and down according to the weather around me.

OK. Maybe so.

Think about the children of Israel. Up one day and down the next. Hot and cold all the time. One day they’re marching in triumph through the Red Sea, the next day they’re griping because they used to eat steaks and cheesecakes in Egypt. One day they’re worshiping God in his holy presence on Mount Sinai, the next day they’re dancing in the valley around a golden calf. One day they’re eating with Jesus in the upper room, listening to his words, basking in his love, pledging their allegiance; the next day they’re receiving warmth from someone else’s fire and swearing with holy curses they never met Jesus.

Up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo. You get whiplash with these people.

But the whole time, there’s something very solid and very steady: They are always God’s people. That never changed. God is faithfully and steadfastly with them. He never leaves them. He never forsakes them. He’s right there with his mercy and grace and love. You get the sense that everything that happens with God’s people happens in this bubble of God’s security. It all happens, the good and the bad, with this God who is always with them, constantly redeeming and restoring, forgiving and loving.

Following Christ is an up and down thing for us. But we don’t rely on our feelings. Our feelings about God are not as important as the facts about God. I had a professor at Austin Grad, Dr. Michael Weed. If somebody was talking about a church service or a worship experience or a spiritual conference and said, “I felt the Holy Spirit,” he would say, “Maybe. Or maybe it was indigestion.” His point was that you have to go on more than just feelings. Feelings can be deceptive. You can’t always trust them.

So we refuse to trust in our ups and downs; we choose to trust in God. We refuse to believe in our darkness and doubts; we choose to believe in God. Not feelings, but facts.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death!” ~Romans 8:1

You know what the law of sin and death is: you sin, you die! We’re not under that law anymore! Why? Because by the sin offering of Christ, “the righteous requirements of the law have all  been fully met in us.”

My salvation relationship with God cannot be shaken. I’m a mountain. It’s not psychology, it’s geology. My security doesn’t come from how I feel today, but from who God is both now and forevermore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The puck drops this afternoon on the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have little confidence in our Dallas Stars. They’re facing off against Calgary in this best-of-seven series, with some of the youngest, fastest, most skilled players in the NHL. But something’s not right. They can’t score a goal to save their necks. They’re great defensively — Stars teams always are. But they’re averaging less than 2.6 goals per game this season. Can’t light the lamp. Can’t put the biscuit in the basket.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn don’t look right. And we’re not sure if goalie Ben Bishop will even be dressed. What does “unfit to play” mean?

This same Stars team took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blues to seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year. It was wild. Thrilling. I believe NHL playoff hockey is better than football, the most exciting thing in the wide, wide world of all sports. And the Stars were playing so well before the global pandemic shut it all down. I was so sure the Stars were ready to take that next step and go all the way to the Conference Finals and maybe beyond this year. But the four month layoff has been disastrous. I guess. The Edmonton bubble isn’t working.

But it’s still playoff hockey. It’s still the coolest game on earth. It’s the only sport that has a true sudden death. It’s the only sport in which outcomes turn on an instant that you and I never see coming. So, here’s hoping I’m wrong about the Stars’ chances against the Flames. And here’s to playoff beards and penalty kills, to empty nets and overtime. Here’s to the start of sport’s most entertaining and most demanding championship tournament.

Peace,

Allan

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