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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Through the Psalms Part III

Sometimes people wonder what the purpose of the Old Testament is if we have the commands God has given to us in the New Testament. We take our beliefs from the New Testament, so what's the point of the Old Testament?

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Psalm 78 gives us a good reason why God wants us to pay close attention to the Old Testament. This Psalm is a Psalm of Asaph, and in it, Asaph says this:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have hard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell them to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Asaph then explains why the generations to come must know about what God has done for the past generations:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Asaph gives four reasons on why it was important for his generation to recite the works of God to the younger generations. First, recalling to mind the things God has done in the past helps us to trust in God. The ability to call to mind all the times God helped us in the past gives us hope that God will do the same, even when the future seems bleak. These reminders help to direct our focus on a truth that God will come to our aid, just as He has done in the past. So the first two reasons go hand in hand, recalling to mind the works of God helps us not forget what He has done for us.

The third reason Asaph gives is so that we will keep God's commandments. This might seem like an odd reason for recalling the past, but there are two ways this can be viewed. The first is that remembering how God worked in the past ellicits a response of wonder at God's power. When we remember who we are and who God is, we are better able to keep God's commands, recognizing God deserves our obedience to Him. The second reason could be taken that in recalling what God did for Israel, they also remembered what God did to their enemies. It's a scary thought to think about what happens to those who oppose God.

The fourth reason Asaph gives is to ensure that the younger generation will not repeat the same mistakes their forefathers made. There was a purpose behind knowing all of this historical information.

So if Asaph urged the Israelites to recall the deeds of the Lord from the past, how much more should we as Christians do the same? It seems like that's the reason for the Old Testament. It serves as our guide of how we should not behave, how we should fear God's punishment upon the Israelites, and it also gives us hope of how God led His people through the wilderness with the promise of an even greater hope of the Messiah to come. They couldn't see the fulfillment like we can; all they could see was one side of the picture, and yet God still led them.

That's the way it is with us. We can only see half of the picture, this side of Heaven. We cannot see the fulfillment of our eternal life in Heaven yet, but we know God is guiding us toward that. We are better able to understand this when we see how God led His people and still continues to lead us today. So take some time to reflect on the Old Testament. Don't dismiss it as pointless information irrelevant to today. It's very relative to today, serving as a reminder for all of us!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Through the Psalms- Part II



Sometimes it feels like God has forgotten us and our prayers. Maybe we've prayed for something for years, like the salvation of a friend or relative. Counting up the amount of time you've spent praying for that one thing over the span of several years equates to quite a bit of time begging the Lord to hear you. And because of that large quantity of time spent without a change in circumstances, you might be wondering, Has God forgotten me?

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Asaph felt the same way as he wrote Psalm 77. Just as you and I pray because we believe God hears us and will respond, so Asaph begins his journey of begging for deliverance: "I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord . . . ." It's unclear what is bothering Asaph, but it's enough to make him physically ill, " . . . in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak." Perhaps you can relate to Asaph's feelings. You are so bothered by your circumstances that you're up at night worrying, wondering, and waiting. Maybe you even pray more so at night on your bed, and like Asaph feel tired and worn out with your cries.

 Asaph can't find comfort in praying. He's not finding peace and rest, and as his mind tries desperately to find a way to peace he remembers something, "I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, 'Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.' Then my spirit made a diligent search: 'Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?" Asaph goes back in time, thinking about what God did for him years ago. Unfortunately for Asaph, he has been in distress for years, perhaps just like you, as he has to carefully recall the past and retrace his remembrance of God's help for him. He begins to ask himself rhetorical questions. He knows the answer to them: "Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?" We all know the answer to that- No. God will not forsake us. Asaph reminds himself of that and a lightbulb comes on: "Then I said, 'I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.' " He decides to repeat back to God about the promises we know are to be true of Him and appeal to God to answer through God's own words He gave to us. This brings Asaph hope, and it should to you as well.

Perhaps you have not been able to find comfort in praying. Don't stop. Do what Asaph did and recite the promises God has given to us. Make a list. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that God hears and will respond when it's in His timing. This seems to be the turning point for Asaph who then continues on, "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds." Asaph decides to remind himself of all that God has done for him the in the past, how God answered him in the past. And I know we all have those moments to look back onto too. Remember the time when God answered your pray almost immediately after you finished praying? What about all of the other prayers He answered? Bringing to mind all that God has done for us in the past helps to assure us that He will be faithful to continue to answer in the future. It reminds us that God is in charge still and that our God is great enough to conquer even this problem.

Asaph recognizes this as he says:

What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people . . . When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; our lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Asaph ends his Psalm with a recognition that God was big enough to lead His people through the sea, leading the reader to conclude that God is fully able to do so with Asaph's problems, and not just his, yours and mine too! Think about all of the miraculous ways your prayers have been answered, prayers full of impossible requests that God granted. And if you can't think on those, do what Asaph did and go all the way back to how God helped the Israelites, His people.

Although Asaph couldn't end with letting the reader know his prayers had finally been answered, he was able to end his Psalm with hope. Hope is what kept Asaph going, and it's exactly what should keep you and I going. Whatever your circumstance, whatever the request, whether you've been praying for five days or ten years, God will answer, we just need to wait and remind ourselves of His promises and His faithfulness as our God.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Through The Psalms- Part I

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I'm reading the Psalms again, for the fourth time this year, I believe. I just can't get enough of them. With that being said, I decided to share what God has revealed to me through reading the Psalms by creating a mini-series on the Psalms.

Many of the Psalms are written by men crying out to God for deliverance, mostly from physical enemies, but regardless of the type of opponent, these passages apply to us even today. Psalm 73 is a psalm written by Asaph, not David. In Psalm 73, Asaph expresses a fault of his- envying the lost, the unbelievers, the wicked. He starts off with praise to God, obviously looking back and reflecting on an event God got him through, "Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped." Asaph decides to let us know what almost caused him to sin, "For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." He then explains why he was envious, "For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind."

How many times have we thought that about unbelievers? How many times have you looked with envy at that person who got a great high-paying job, while you are barely scraping by? How many times have you envied someone who seems to have a great life traveling here and there without the hindrance of a spouse or children? Or what about the unbeliever who has been in many relationships and you're still waiting? Maybe when you look around you, you wonder why they seem to have it so good when they don't even acknowledge God for what they have. Asaph did that too. He focused so much on what everyone else had that he did not have, focusing on how unfair it was because he believed and trusted in God, yet God had not given him something honorable and good to desire that the wicked had, but he should have had. When he took his eyes off of trusting God and looked at his circumstances he almost despaired, "All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning."

How many times have you given up like Asaph? How many times have you thought, "I can't do this anymore. God's not giving me a good desire that I want when I repeatedly ask." The despair is real, and sometimes it seems like you just can't continue on with the day. It's a struggle. And so it was with Asaph, "It seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin . . ."

When Asaph made the effort to get up and go to the house of the Lord, to seek Him continually, to keep on worshipping the Lord despite his circumstances, that's when God opened his eyes and allowed Asaph to realize the error of his ways. God will punish the wicked, maybe not now but eventually. Asaph realized that his momentary suffering was better than an everlasting suffering that the wicked will experience. And when he fixated his eyes on what God had given to him- eternal life- he was able overcome his sorrow over his circumstances.

What's even more amazing about this passage is that Asaph did what many of us do when we're upset about our circumstances- we become angry with God, "When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you." He admitted how cruel and evil he was to God, not realizing that God had given him so much more than he deserved. God's reaction to Asaph's cruelty is a perfect reminder, "Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory." No matter how we treat God, He will never treat us back with the same cruelty we gave to Him. He takes us back when we don't deserve it, and that's what also helps Asaph to realize that even though his circumstances haven't changed, his perspective has, and that makes all the difference.

Asaph ends with the realization of who God is and who he, Asaph, is as a person, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Because Asaph's focus has been directed towards God, he realizes that God is all he needs. Asaph acknowledges that this life will bring us down to despair, but God will give us hope to strengthen us during those times- there's no doubt about that!

Asaph then resummarizes what he has learned, "For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge that I may tell of all your works." Asaph knows that the ungodly will suffer greatly, and he is thankful that though he may not have what he so desires from this earthly life, he realizes that God is greater than anything on this earth, and that as long as he has God now, he will have him eternally.

What a powerful Psalm! Whatever you may be struggling with, remember Asaph's pattern of redemption from his despair. 1.) Asaph continued serving the Lord despite his circumstances. Maybe you want to take a break from volunteering or your Bible study or other church activities. Maybe you want to skip a church service. Don't do that- follow Asaph's lead and continue on. God sees perseverance and rewards that. 2.) Direct your focus on what God has done for you and not what He hasn't done yet. Continuing to read the Bible, to pray constantly, and to worship the Lord allows us to redirect our focus on God and not the problem. 3.) Give praise to God even when your circumstances don't change. Remember that God will reward you in due time. Don't lose heart!