Category: Psalms (page 1 of 10)

The Devil’s Scheme

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” ~Matthew 3:16-17

Jesus is a 30-year-old man making his first independent appearance in the Gospel at the Jordan River. He’s being baptized. In Matthew, this is the very first thing Jesus does. And right out of the gate, right out of the water, God blesses Jesus. Jesus is blessed by God.

Jesus hasn’t healed anybody, he hasn’t fed anybody, he hasn’t taught anybody, and he hasn’t raised anybody from the dead. Jesus hasn’t preached a single sermon, hugged a single child, or rebuked a single Pharisee. As far as we can tell, Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. But he is blessed by God.

This is my Son. He belongs to me. He is part of me.
I love him. I am committed to him. I cherish him.
I am proud of him. I’m happy with him. I approve of him.

Jesus is blessed by God before he can do anything to earn it or deserve it. God’s blessing is not predicated on Jesus’ performance or on Jesus’ abilities to live a good life or on Jesus’ works on behalf of the Kingdom. God blessed Jesus because he is his Son. God loves Jesus because he is his Son. He commits to Jesus and he publicly affirms Jesus because he is his Son.

“This is my Son, whom I love” is a quote from Psalm 2, which is about God’s messianic King who’s going to put down all rebellion in the world and destroy all evil. “With him I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 53, which is about God’s suffering servant, the one who will die for the sins of the people. God gives Jesus his great blessing, he declares his eternal love and his deep approval of Jesus before Jesus does any of this. God’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ identity as God’s precious child is not tied to what Jesus does or accomplishes. Jesus is first and foremost blessed by God.

And the devil attacks that blessing.

In the very next verse, the opening of Matthew 4, Jesus is dripping wet from his baptism and led by the Spirit into the desert for a face-to-face meeting with the devil. And the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are, “IF you are the Son of God…”

He says it in verse three and he repeats it in verse six: “IF you are the Son of God…”

IF you are really loved by God… IF you really belong to God… IF you are really who God says you are… IF God is really pleased with you…

This is how the devil operates. This is his strategy.

God has just assured Jesus that he is God’s beloved child. God has just promised Jesus that he loves him and that he accepts him. And the devil immediately and directly attacks Jesus at that very spot.

Turn these stones to bread! Let’s see if you REALLY belong to God!
Jump off this building! Let’s see if God REALLY loves you!

The devil is asking Jesus to make God prove he really loves him and he’s really pleased with him. But you don’t need to ask God for demonstrations or proof unless you doubt. And that is the devil’s main goal. He wants Jesus to doubt the certainty of God’s unconditional love. He wants Jesus to lose the assurance of God’s eternal blessing and his approval. He wants Jesus to question it.

Do you see how the devil works?

It’s brilliant. And evil.

Peace,

Allan

Just Say the Word

A Roman centurion approaches Jesus in Matthew 8 and asks him to heal his servant back home. “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof,” he says to Jesus, “but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus observed that this soldier had great faith.

This Roman officer recognizes the power of Jesus. He calls Jesus “Lord” twice. This commander of men addresses Jesus as Lord when he was sworn to reserve that title for Caesar. You can’t serve two masters; there can only be one Lord. And this military officer says it’s Jesus. He recognizes Jesus as the superior and sovereign King, the true One, the only One, who can heal his servant. He recognizes Jesus’ power over nature and the elements, his power over demons and sickness and death. He knows Jesus’ power: Just say the word.

Here’s a commander of a hundred men in the Roman army. He’s stationed at a garrison just east of Capernaum. This officer has total control over the men in his company. He tells them when to come and when to go. They don’t use the restroom without his permission. Not only that, he controls all the Jews in this land they’re governing. With just a word, this centurion can order any Tom, Dick, or Larry on the street to march a mile or dig a ditch or carry a cross for a condemned criminal. This guy understands power. And he says to Jesus, “Just say the word.”

“Lord, just as easily as I tell Private Ted to clean his shield or mop the floor or drop and give me twenty, that easy, just say the word and my servant will be healed. I know that whatever you say happens. You just say the word and the forces that have paralyzed my servant will let him go. I have the authority to issue commands. My authority to make things happen comes from a higher power, from a general, from Caesar himself. But you, Jesus, you receive your power and authority from Almighty God in heaven!”

This commander’s faith is not great because he has confidence that Jesus can heal. His faith is great because he knows Jesus’ power comes  from God and Jesus has the authority from God to issue commands on God’s behalf.

Psalm 107 says, “God sends forth his word and heals.”

This army officer has picked up on the fact that Jesus is God’s Word, sent by God to heal.

Jesus tells this commander, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And the Gospel says his servant was healed at that very hour.

This is the beautiful reality in Jesus as the Son of God. The reality is he is almighty, he is all powerful, and he alone has the authority and power to heal and forgive and provide and protect. That’s the reality. And he willingly went to the cross to make that reality ultimately true for anything and everything that’s going on in your life today.

Just say the word, Jesus.

And he did. In the garden.  “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”

And he said it on the cross. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus would rather die for you than live without you. And he trusted himself to God, he put his own great faith in God, so the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven can be opened for you and for all who believe.

“It is finished!”

Now, there’s a word.

Peace,

Allan

 

Consistent Discipline

We’re in the middle of a sermon series at Central that we’re calling “Family Matters.” Yesterday we focused our attention on Christian parenting: raising our children by the love of God and the cross of Christ. The sermon I wrote wound up being two or three pages longer than the sermon I delivered. So, I’m using this space this week to lay out the entire sermon. There’s more here than what you heard Sunday or what you’ll find listening online. The title of the sermon is “So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” This is the Director’s Cut. Bonus Material. The unedited version.

Parenting is hard. It’s very difficult. Stressful. Parenting is the only job in the world that requires no previous experience, provides no training, you can’t quit, and people’s literal lives are at stake. That’s heavy. And nobody really knows how to do this. I used to have three theories about parenting before we had any children; now I’ve got three children and no theories!

The birth of a child causes parents to experience both great joy and abject terror. Nothing seems as innocent, as non-threatening, or was warm-hearted as the idea of children. At the same time, nothing can be scarier than the responsibilities we have as parents. And all parents feel overwhelmed. We’re not as equipped or as confident as we’d like to be. We all believe, in ways big and small, that we’ve ruined our kids. These gifts from God. These precious blessings. That’s what children are: gifts from God.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the one whose quiver is full of them!” ~Psalm 127:3-5

OK, but what do we do with them? Because it’s not science. Parenting is much more art than science. A lot of the advice we get, though, whether it’s from the church or from the world amounts to mainly technique. Strategies. Here’s how you install a car seat, here’s how you potty train, here’s how you set boundaries with phones and with dating. All that’s important and needed, but kids are not an operating system where we just need to have the right codes and punch them in. When do you put your foot down and when do you let up? I don’t know! I mess that up almost every time!

One of the best Bible passages for parenting is in 2 Chronicles 20. The people of Judah are facing a massive army from a foreign power, storming in wipe them out. Judah’s in trouble. And Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, stands up in the middle of all the people — including the wives, children, and little ones, it says — and he does not say, “Hey, we can do this!” He prays to God: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven?” Then he goes on in the prayer to say, “Here’s what’s going on, Lord; here’s what looks like is going to happen next…” And then he closes his prayer with this line:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” ~2 Chronicles 20:12

Now, our children are not a marauding army threatening to wipe us out. They could, maybe; they outnumber us and they are fierce. But this passage still says something about parenting. No matter how many books or blogs we read, no matter how many classes we attend or godly examples we follow, no matter how well things seem to be going, every parent reaches a point of powerlessness and despair. Things are awful. I’m messing this up. I don’t know what to do. I’m ruining my kids. Knowing that and turning to the love of God and the cross of Christ — I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you — that’s where we lose our guilt and our anxiety. That’s where we receive his grace and mercy and hope, for us and our children.

I’m going to give you five things that I think are really important. I am not perfect at these five things; in fact, a couple of these things are front and center for me right now because I’m realizing how terrible I am at them. These five things are all biblical and theological, they’re Christ-centered and Kingdom of God-focused. They matter. This won’t be an exhaustive list, this isn’t all of it. But these five things feel really important to me.

Consistent Discipline – I’m not just talking about the punitive stuff or the corrective stuff. You know, you talk about parenting and you say the word “discipline,” and people react. Why did you say “discipline?” Why do you focus on “discipline?” Why is “discipline” the first thing you said? What about love and affection and nurture?

Hey, love and affection and nurture are discipline!

Think about like an athlete training for a competition. She practices every morning evening, she eats all the right foods, she takes instruction well from her coaches — that’s all discipline. She lifts weights, no sodas or Mickey D’s, she runs every day — that’s all discipline. She sleeps when her friends are out partying and her parents cheer her on from the stands — that’s discipline. And those practices shape her and guide her for her athletic future.

Hugging your child is a discipline. Saying “I love you” is a discipline. Reading a bedtime story is a discipline. You might say, “No, those things come naturally to me because I love my child.” That may be true, but you probably don’t feel like doing those things all day long every single day. Sometimes you’re exhausted in the afternoon and you just want to go to bed. But you still sing “Jesus Loves Me” to your child and pray with him in his room. That’s discipline. You’re not just showing affection to your child in that moment, you’re building practices and rhythms that, over a long period of time, come to show your child that she is loved and how to love others.

Maybe it’s really easy for you to say “I love you” to a spouse or a parent at the end of every single conversation. But that’s because you’ve practiced it so many times.

Consistent discipline. When you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you go to bed, when you wake up — consistent training (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teaching your child the Bible is discipline. Modeling how to pray is discipline. Singing songs together, daily and weekly chores, drivers ed, worshiping and serving together with your church, showing your teenager how to apply for a job — all of that is discipline. Of course, correcting behaviors that don’t fit with our family or with being followers of Jesus is part of discipline, too. And it needs to be consistent.

Peace,

Allan

Understood By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul corrects himself here in the middle part of his letter to the churches in Galatia. Knowing God is good and it’s important, but it’s not the main thing, it’s not the main point. Rather, Paul says, or more importantly, you are known by God. That’s the primary thing. Yesterday we suggested that, in the language and context of Scripture, being known by God means to be chosen by God. Today, I’d like to explore today the idea that being known by God is to be understood by God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” ~Psalm 139:1

Psalm 139 and others like it insist that God knew me before I was born: “Your eyes saw my unformed body.” God knows everything that’s going to happen to me before it happens: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  You know what I’m thinking before even I fully know what I’m thinking. You know what I’m going to say before I can even organize my words. “You have laid your hand upon me.” You know me. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it’s too lofty for me to attain.”

You know me, Lord, better than I know myself. You understand me.

The psalmist doesn’t see that as scary. He sees it as a tremendous blessing. A great comfort. God perfectly understands me.

God understands you. He knows the true you, inside and out. He gets you.

Yes, God sees your sin. He sees it clearly. And he understands what makes you sin. He knows how you were raised, he knows the things that have happened to you, he knows the pressures you feel, he knows about your frustration and your guilt. God knows how hard you try, he knows how remorseful you feel when you fail, he knows all about your inner confusion, and why you have good days and bad days. God knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t know how to articulate. He knows you. He understands you.

Richard Baxter said, “To be known by God is to be approved and loved by him and to be assured that all your concerns are perfectly known to him and regarded by him. This is the full and final comfort of a believer.”

I know the way I was raised and where I grew up and what’s in my DNA and the things I’ve done good and bad and the things that have happened to me good and bad have all shaped who I am. I know all those things influence how I think and act and respond. For good and bad, it’s who I am. But I don’t understand how all of that actually works. And I don’t know much at all about how to accentuate the good things in me and change the bad things in me. But God does. God has searched me and he knows me, inside and out. He understands me.

And he understands you. That means he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows precisely what kind of love you need. He knows what kind of assurance you need. He knows exactly where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to take care of you.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~1 Corinthians 13:12

Peace,

Allan

Against All Odds

I don’t know how Easter Sunday is for you. Maybe you go to church on Easter and you’re great. You’re excited. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is a part of who you are every day — the power and the life — and celebrating it with God’s people on Easter Sunday is a true highlight for you. Maybe you go to church wanting to be excited, but once you arrive, it all seems like empty ritual. You feel like an outsider, not an insider. Like a spectator.

Or maybe it’s bad. You feel like the odds are totally stacked against you. You’ve had faith that the world is basically a good place but you can’t find proof of it anymore. Disease and hunger and violence are not going to be solved by arrogant dictators and power-hungry politicians.

You’ve had hope in our culture, that the advances of science and technology would heal us and bring us closer together. But we are sicker and more lonely as a people than we’ve ever been.

You looked for life in your family and friends, the people you trust, the people who love you. But they’ve let you down. They’ve disappointed you. They’ve hurt you.

Maybe you can’t even believe in yourself. You can’t sleep at night because of the things you’ve done in the past. You can’t look at yourself in the mirror because of the things you’re caught up in now. The obstacles to faith and hope and life have boxed you in. The odds are stacked against you. You feel like you only exist. On a dead-end street. Maybe.

Maybe the bad news in the world drives you to despair. Maybe the bad news at work or at the doctor’s office is overwhelming. Maybe the bad news in your marriage or with your kids or the bad news between you and your parents is too much. Maybe the bad news of your past and current sins — the odds are stacked against you. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t feel good.

Let’s talk about bad news.

The bad news is Pharaoh’s army is going to win at the Red Sea. Those were the odds that day. Pharaoh’s army was favored by 497 points. The over-under was four-million dead Hebrews.

The bad news is the little shepherd boy with the sling is no match for a trained warrior giant.

The bad news is Peter can’t walk on water.

The bad news is a virgin can’t have a baby.

The bad news is the authorities crucified our Savior.

The bad news is dead people stay dead.

I’m telling you right now the declaration of the angels is true: Jesus is alive! Jesus lives! That stone was rolled away from the tomb not so Jesus could get out but so we could all look in and see for ourselves, so we could see and proclaim the truth that our God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were!

He calls the things that are wrong in your life, right. He calls the things that are broken in your family, fixed. He calls things that are missing in your soul, the things that are lacking and bad, he calls them found and saved and overflowing with goodness and life!

Psalm 112 says the one who belongs to God has no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Can you hear the good news? Are you able to hear the power and the life our God so longs to give you by the resurrection of Christ Jesus? Hear the good news, believe the good news, and walk through the door into a brand new world where the ultimate reality is not dying and death, but where Jesus is the risen and reigning King and his gift is everlasting life.

Peace,

Allan

The Snare Has Been Broken

“Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
Psalm 124:6-8

The child of God who wrote this psalm is not singing about some great life, how the Lord has protected them from all trouble. These people go through a ton of trouble: angry mobs, flash floods, traps and snares. They’ve gone through the worst but they still find themselves alive and in one piece. They’re intact. The Lord is on our side. God is our help.

The psalm begins, “Let Israel say!” Everybody is singing. This is a passionate corporate expression of faith. Everybody joins in. This is the corporate reality for God’s people. The psalm is very enthusiastic about this.

And we’re very suspicious about enthusiasm. We’re cynical when somebody’s just a little too excited. Or sure. Advertisers have trained us to be suspicious.

LeBron James is being paid $252-million over six years to be enthusiastic about Sprite. Beyoncé gets $50-million to be excited about Pepsi. When we know these things, we inwardly discount the witness. I think it was Mark Twain — somebody — who said “Sincerity is the key to success; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Maybe it was Woody Allen; I can’t remember. But this is the world we live in. We know that when LeBron and Beyoncé are talking about soda or Matthew McConaughey is pontificating on the merits of driving a Lincoln, their words are written by professional copywriters and their testimony is given in exchange for money.

So when we read the words of Psalm 124, our first reaction might be, “Great poetry! Love the sincerity! Who’s your copywriter? How much did you get paid?”

Psalm 124 is not a commercial that pops up to remind us, “Things go better with God,” or “You’re in good hands with God.” This is not a media campaign to convince us that the Lord is better than all the other gods. It’s not a press release. This is a sincere prayer from honest experience. And it’s credible. Disciples of Christ, people who walk in the way of the Lord and sing this song in all kinds of weather — this psalm fits with their experience.

We’re in the snares all the time. We live on the edge of disaster and doom. Christians are in trouble a lot. And we’ve all been in places where it felt like there was no way out. It’s over. And then, all of a sudden, there is a way out. Suddenly, the snare breaks and you’re out! You’ve escaped! You’re alive and in one piece and you’re still going! It’s unexplainable, but you’re free!

Remember the old Batman television series? At the end of every episode the caped crusaders were trapped and it looked like there was no way out. Robin was hanging upside down over a vat of acid, Batman was tied to a conveyor belt that was pulling him toward a bone saw — it was over. Will they escape? Will they get out? It doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And the narrator wants you to believe it’s hopeless. It’s over. But then next week at the same bat time on the same bat channel, they escape. They’re rescued. They’re delivered. And it always happened so fast you were never quite sure how it happened. But it was always so matter-of-fact.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

“Praise be to the Lord who has not let us be torn by their teeth!” I think God wants us to sing like that as we walk the way of discipleship every day. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”

Peace,

Allan

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