Paul, On Sin

Today’s reading is Psalm 36.

David speaks of Transgression’s first deceitful counsel. “You don’t need to fear God.” Notice, Transgression doesn’t advise, “You don’t need to believe in God.” Rather, he counsels, “You don’t need to believe God matters.” David says that for the person who listens, “There is no fear of god before his eyes.”

Did that statement sound familiar to you? It might. Paul quotes it in his dissertation on sin in Romans 3:18. For David, this lack of fear is the foundation for a life that sinks deeper and deeper into sin. For Paul, it is the culmination of sinful attitudes and behaviors. Either way we recognize the entire package of sin and its deceitful schemes.

Sin doesn’t have to convince us God doesn’t exist. Sin only has to convince us God doesn’t matter to our lives today. He isn’t watching. He doesn’t care. We can hide our sin from Him. We can always repent tomorrow. Everybody does it.

Ooh! Let’s stop and think about that last justification. Because that is actually part of Paul’s declaration on sin. His whole point in Romans 3 is that both Jews and Gentiles sin. The passages he quotes, including Psalm 36:1, stop every mouth and make the whole world accountable to God (Romans 3:19-20). Hold on, Sin told me my iniquity cannot be found out. Sin told me I’d never be held accountable. Sin lied.

In fact, consider one of Sin’s most insidious lies. “Don’t worry about me being in your life,” Sin says. “That’s why Jesus died.” Can you tell why that one is so insidious? Because it contains more than a kernel of truth. Your sin is the reason Jesus died. But Sin, Transgression, Satan want you to believe Jesus died so you would never be held accountable for your sins. They want you to believe Jesus died so you can keep living in sin. To Sin, Jesus’s death means sin doesn’t matter. But that isn’t what Paul teaches, and that isn’t what David was teaching.

Jesus did die because you sin. However, He didn’t die to let you continue in sin. He died to let you repent of your sin. He died to strengthen you to abandon your sin. He died to empower you to overcome your sin. Paul explains in Romans 6:1-4, that when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death. When we are raised, we have died to sin. We must not continue to live in it. Rather, we live a new life by the power of Jesus’s resurrection.

But understand this. After you are baptized, Sin and Satan are going to pull out all the stops trying to convince you to come back into their arms. Don’t listen. Jesus died to set you free from sin. Don’t let His death be in vain for you. Hang on to Jesus. He will set you free.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 36.

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A Real-Life Psalm

Today’s reading is Psalm 35.

I can’t prove it. However, I’m convinced our psalm is anchored in the real-life events of 1 Samuel 24. Saul was hunting David down. Somehow, in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi, Saul ended up in the exact same cave where David and his men were hiding out. Despite the urging of David’s men, he decided not to attack Saul, the Lord’s anointed.

Notice some connections between the record of the event and our psalm. In 1 Samuel 24:12, David says, “May the Lord judged between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (ESV). Psalm 35 begins, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.” First, recognize the call upon the Lord to do the heavy lifting here. But, and this is really compelling. In both cases, the first phrases are judicial terms (Judge, contend). In the second, they are combat terms (avenge, fight).

In 1 Samuel 24:9, David asks Saul why he is listening to men who are lying about him. In Psalm 35:11, David writes about the malicious witnesses who are testifying against him falsely.

In 1 Samuel 24:17, Saul admits to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil” (ESV). In Psalm 35:12, David claims, “They repay me evil for good” (ESV).

In Psalm 35:21-22, David makes a play on words out of the eyes and things being seen. In our psalm, he speaks of the lies of the false witnesses who claim to have seen some things. But then he drives home what God had actually seen. In 1 Samuel 24:10, David makes a clear claim about what Saul’s eyes had seen as part of his defense.

Thus, Psalm 35 is a meditation and series of prayers anchored in real-life events. Doesn’t it stand to reason then, that we can make some real-life application of this psalm for our own lives?

If there is one real-life application we should get out of David’s experience in the Engedi cave and this series of prayers he wrote about the experience, we must trust the Lord to fight our battles. We must leave vengeance to the Lord. I know we struggle with imprecatory psalms. We’ll talk more about that in later posts. But notice, despite what David asks God to do, when we look at this in the context of real-life, David didn’t take vengeance, he left it to the Lord.

This is even more noticeable in 1 Samuel when we go to the next chapter. That is where David almost lost this high ground. He almost took his own vengeance on Nabal, but was stopped by Nabal’s wise wife, Abigail. In fact, we may recognize some connections with this story as well. Abigail argues against David trying to work salvation for himself (1 Samuel 25:31). In our psalm, David asks God to declare, “I am your salvation!” (Psalm 35:3). According to 1 Samuel 25:39, Nabal had received his own evil on his own head. In Psalm 35:7-8, David prayed that his enemies would fall into the pit they had dug and be caught in the net they had laid. Further, in this story we find another reference to a man repaying evil for David’s good (see 1 Samuel 25:21). Finally, David sought peace for Nabal and his men (1 Samuel 25:6-8). But Nabal did not speak peace back to David. Psalm 35:20 refers to those who do not speak peace to those who are quiet in the land. Real-life events. A real-life psalm.

God is our real-life salvation, our real-life deliverer, our real-life avenger. We must trust Him. We must put the real-life judgment of our enemies into His hands. He will do what is right in our real lives.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 35.

PODCAST!!!

Click here to take about 15 minutes to listen to the Text Talk conversation between Andrew Roberts and Edwin Crozier sparked by this post.

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Holy Heroes

Today’s reading is Psalm 16.

I love the New Living Translation of Psalm 16:3: “The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!” When we take refuge in God, we look up to the right people. It is so easy in our day and age to idolize actors, athletes, authors, singers, and that new phenomenon that graces social media, the influencer. We might look up to world leaders, social activists, community organizers. And, no doubt, any one of these folks may have some qualities worth emulating. However, we need to choose our heroes carefully. And the greatest characteristic we need to be looking for is whether or not they are following Jesus. Are they one of the saints? I get it. Many saints have clay feet (actually, don’t we all?). In fact, we may see some people in the world who seem to have life together better than some of the saints we go to church with. Yet, it would be better to imitate the poor begging bum on the side of the road who is following Jesus than the successful millionaire in the gated community who isn’t. Can anyone say, “Rich man and Lazarus”? Finally, we need to be aware we can’t take refuge in God if we don’t delight in God’s people. Most of the time, when people think they are making it “Just me and God,” they are actually practically living “Just me.” And that never works. Who are your heroes?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 16.

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The Lord’s Guest

Today’s reading is Psalm 15.

God answers David. Again, scholars will say this is some temple liturgy with the worshipers asking if they can come in and the priest responding. Maybe that is how the psalm was used. I don’t know. But I know how the psalm is written. God is asked a question, and the answer is given. And honestly, it is not at all the answer I expect. I expect the answer to be all about how the questioner relates to God. I expect things like “He who worships purely,” and “She who never takes My name in vain,” and “He who prays three times per day,” and “She who has no other gods before me,” and so on. But that isn’t God’s answer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this psalm is representative and not exhaustive. That is, this is a snapshot giving a general sense, not a doctoral dissertation explaining every detail. However, everything on this list is about the worshiper’s relationship with other people. This person is honest, loyal, trustworthy, dependable, supportive, discerning, kind. It reminds me of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:23-26. There, Jesus explains if we are worshiping God, but remember our brother or sister has something against us, we are supposed to go take care of that first, then come worship God. In other words, the guest of the Lord treats other people the way the Lord would. The guest of the Lord doesn’t assume that hanging out in the temple makes up for mistreating people. As always, the point of this is not to say if you love your neighbor, it doesn’t matter how you love God. The point is if you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love God. So now I have to ask, based on how I treat others, am I welcome in the Lord’s house?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 15.

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The Lord Tests

Today’s reading is Psalm 11.

David doesn’t believe the foundations are destroyed, and he refuses to destroy them by abandoning them. But not all of the foundations can be our favorite. It won’t surprise me if this one falls at the bottom of our favorites list. However, it is one of the foundations. The Lord tests the righteous. In other words, when the counselors tell him the jig is up, God must not be on his side anymore, he needs to toss his uppity morals and righteous principles out the window because they obviously aren’t doing him any good, David responds by saying, “Don’t you know the Lord tests His people?” There are obviously going to be bad times. God lets us into the crucible, sometimes He even puts us there. Why? Because He fell asleep on the job? No. Because that is precisely where we need to be. It is actually for our good. Like gold or silver in a crucible, God sends us through the fires so the slag can rise to the top. That is the only way it can be skimmed off. The question is when the slag rises to the top, will we let God skim it off, or will we cling to it, defending it, acting like it isn’t that bad, like we can’t be blamed for what we do while in the fires of testing? Deuteronomy 8:16 tells us God provided manna for Israel while they wandered in the wilderness in order to test them, to do them good in the end. Certainly, when the devil tempts us, his goal is to make us fall. However, when the Lord tests us, His goal is to expose us, refine us, and grow us. Walking through the fire is not a time to abandon the Lord, it is a time to rely on Him even more. The Lord tests even the righteous. It’s one of the foundations. Don’t abandon it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 11.

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Don’t Fall for the Lies

Today’s reading is Psalm 10.

While the psalmist and his faith come out on top even as the situation has gone from bad to worse, we need to recognize what a dangerous place he is in. His faith is on the edge of a knife. If it leans too far, it will topple off and be lost. Notice that the wicked in vs. 11 claim God “has hidden his face, he will never see it.” Does that sound familiar? In vs. 1, the psalmist had asked, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” The psalmist and the wicked are dangerously close in their opinions of God. In fact, it likely wouldn’t take much more to convince most people, if they were in the psalmists’ shoes, that the wicked were correct. The wicked are spouting lies about God: He doesn’t exist; He doesn’t see; He doesn’t care; He can’t win; He won’t judge. We will hear these same kinds of lies. In fact, modern atheists, agnostics, and skeptics spout them even today. They see suffering and sin go unaddressed in the world and claim God must not be out there. And, sadly, Christians fall for the lies every day. They are made to feel like fools for faith and prayer, and they finally give up. Don’t do it! Don’t give up! Don’t fall for the lies! God is there. God does see. God will win. God will judge. He does it for His reasons. He does it in His time. He will not be manipulated by atheists, agnostics, and skeptics who demand He jump through their hoops to satisfy their curiosities and questions. He has provided evidence of His existence and His work. It is sprinkled throughout our privileged planet. It is all over the accounts of Jesus and the effects He has had on the world. Hang on to Him. As He has done over and over again, He will always do. He will in the best time and in the best way break the arm of the wicked, that is, crush the strength of the wicked. He will do justice to the orphan and the oppressed. Don’t let go of God. Don’t fall for the lies.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 10.

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Simon: A Picture of Discipleship

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

Yesterday’s picture of discipleship was great, wasn’t it? Learning that Barabbas is us and we are Barabbas is just awesome. Jesus died in my place so I don’t have to. Wow! Today’s picture is just as great, but we rarely see it that way. In fact, this is a picture many Christians forget and ignore. We love the picture of Barabbas. We rush through the picture of Simon of Cyrene. Here is a fellow seized by the Romans to bear a burden because they could do that to subject people. Now imagine in your mind’s eye watching these two men walking up Golgotha’s hill–Jesus leading the way with Simon following in His footsteps while carrying a cross. That is discipleship. Discipleship is not waving at Jesus as He walks up Calvary and then heading on our merry way. Discipleship is placing the cross on our shoulders and falling in line behind Jesus. He is still the one that does the dying, praise the Lord, but we carry the cross. We walk in His footsteps. We follow Him wherever He goes, even if it is up the hill of death. Bearing the cross is not merely going through some hardship. Bearing our cross is walking in Jesus’s footsteps. In today’s story and yesterday’s, we find the complete picture of discipleship, confessing Jesus as both Savior (the picture of Barabbas) and Lord (the picture of Simon). We take comfort in the salvation from His sacrifice, and we willingly lift up the cross to bring glory to His name.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 23.

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On Gifts and the Giver

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

The rich fool in Jesus’s story is so close to wisdom. In fact, when he says he should eat, drink, and be merry, he is practically quoting Ecclesiastes 5:18 (see also 8:15). He is so close and yet so far because he missed Ecclesiastes 5:19. He missed the basis for eating, drinking, and being joyful. His ability to do so was a gift from God. When we recognize this, we see part of the rich fool’s problem. He was focused on the gift and ignored the Giver. He thought the reason he would have no worries was because he had been so successful and he had produced such a big crop and he could build bigger barns. In all of this, he forgot God. He needed to rely on the Giver, not on the gifts. The same goes for me. I struggle with this. I often view money as security. So, I beg God for financial prosperity and gifts. But savings accounts won’t save me. IRAs and 401(k)s will not preserve me. If God blesses me with those gifts, fine. But my security is God. Today, I want to depend on the Giver more than on His gifts. I don’t want to be a rich fool (or even a middle class fool). I want to know God. I want to love God. I want to be close to God. I want to rely on God. How about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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Fear, No Fear

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

I’ll be honest with you. I try not to be an alarmist Chicken Little, but I am presently convinced that a new persecution against Christians is starting and will only increase over the next two decades. So, I needed the reminder that the worst anyone can do to me is cause me physical pain and death. They cannot take my salvation and eternal hope away. Therefore, ultimately I have nothing to fear from the world. However, God can take it away. Therefore, my respect, my awe, my reverence, my fear needs to be directed toward Him. (This is why I need to abandon the hypocrisy Jesus talked about in the previous paragraph.) Then Jesus seems to switch topics, but what a comforting modification to His teaching about fear. Yes, I need to fear God who can kill my body and cast my soul into hell. However, the one who can do that values me more than the sparrows whom He never forgets. He has numbered the very hairs of my head. That is, He knows me. He cares for me. He loves me. The very last thing He wants to do is kill me and cast me into hell. The pagan gods might punish a person for no reason other than the god woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Our God is not that fickle. He doesn’t forget His own. Certainly, I need to fear God if I’m being a hypocrite. Certainly, I need to fear God if I decide to turn my back on Him. Certainly, I need to fear God if I am really reinterpreting His will based on my own. However, I don’t need to tiptoe in terror as if I might accidentally misspeak or mistakenly misstep and get tossed into hell. It is awesome to know that the One Power in the universe that does have that power, doesn’t want to exercise it. Thus, while I fear God, I have no fear of God. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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Beware Hypocrisy

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

In last week’s reading, we learned about the sins of the Pharisees. For so many things they actually did get right, they struggled with hypocrisy. Their insides often didn’t match their outsides. Even the good things they did were often done with ulterior selfish motives. The great problem with this is that they not only ignored the kingdom of God, but hindered others from entering. Their hypocrisy spread secretly like leaven to all who looked up to them. It influenced others, who were not Pharisees, but thought the Pharisees were spiritual giants. Thus, Jesus warns, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Then He explains why we need to beware. Those internal bits and pieces we try to hide and cover up with a shiny veneer, will all eventually be exposed. This is not merely an issue of final judgment. It is simply the fact that whatever is inside us, whatever really drives us, whatever we say in the dark rooms with our closest friends, will eventually be exposed to everyone. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is what we hope to keep covered up will come out. And, of course, if somehow we are able to keep it hidden for now, God knows and in judgment it will be revealed. Beware hypocrisy, it will not protect you.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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