Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

We’ve decided to lay down our tools for building our own personal hill. We’ve decide there really is a hill to climb. But we are still left with the question of who actually gets to climb it. The God who “dwells” on this hill owns everything because He created it all. Surely, not just anyone can make their way into His presence. A similar question was asked in Psalm 15. Almost every bit of that qualification list had to do with the worshipers relationship with others. This list, however, seems to give the other side. This one is mostly about our relationship with God. The four qualifications: 1) Clean hands. 2) Pure heart. 3) Worship God only. 4) Honest; though, considering the list, this is probably more about not profaning God’s name (see Leviticus 19:12). Isaiah seems to have these same principles in mind in the context of Isaiah 59:3. God doesn’t listen to the worship offered by those with defiled hands. Paul makes this same point in 1 Timothy 2:8 when he points out men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger and quarreling. While this statement demonstrates prayer with uplifted hands was a norm for Christians in the New Testament, his main emphasis is those uplifted hands were supposed to be clean. Perhaps the most pointed allusion to this passage is often overlooked by commentators and search engines (maybe because the Greek words aren’t the same as those in the LXX for Psalm 24:4). In James 4:8, James says sinners need to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. But, contextually, this was part of drawing near to God so He will draw near to us. This is part of submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil. It is part of humbling ourselves before God. And the pure heart actually means to be single-minded, which, of course, means our mind doesn’t go after other masters. We don’t become friends with the world or with false gods. But here is a fantastic principle we need to grasp. The person of Psalm 24:4 is not the sinlessly perfect person who has brought his/her own righteousness to lay out before God. After all, who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). Rather, this person is blessed with “righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:5). If we humble ourselves before God, He will exalt us (James 4:10). In other words, even the clean hands and pure heart are not made that way by our own strength, but are made so by the strength and grace of God as we resist the devil and draw near to the Lord. Who can ascend the Holy Hill? The one who resists the devil and draws near to the Lord. The one who seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Why the God of Jacob? Because Jacob was the one who sought the Lord’s blessing and simply would not let go no matter how much it hurt and how much it cost him until he got it (see Genesis 32:22-32). In other words, we were wrong in the beginning. Anyone can climb this Holy Hill. That is, anyone who really wants God more than he or she wants anything else. What do you want?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 24.

PODCAST!!!

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

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On Hills and Towers

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

When we realize everything that exists belongs to the Lord Yahweh, we are suddenly struck by an overwhelming question. Who among us could remotely ascend the hill of the Lord? Yet, isn’t that exactly where all of mankind wants to stand? As far back as Genesis 11, folks have wanted to ascend to the Lord’s domain, to dwell on God’s holy hill. Yet, they didn’t want to stand there as subjects invited into the Lord’s house. They wanted to stand beside Him as equals. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted to build their own holy hill that would rival any belonging to the Lord. What did they learn? The earth belongs to the Lord, not men. So do the heavens. The owner schooled them in new languages and scattered them across the face of His earth. And isn’t this exactly where mankind is today? It seems there are three kinds of people today. The first is busy building his own holy hill, whether it is a completely false religion or a personal version of Christianity. Few of these people are purposefully trying to stand with God as an equal, but in the end the person who follows his own religion is his own god. The second isn’t trying to build a holy hill at all. Rather, this person is trying to level the Lord’s Holy Hill as if destroying that hill will somehow mean he has proven God isn’t there. The third is merely climbing the Lord’s Hill. No doubt, this person makes mistakes, sometimes slides downhill, sometimes gets off the beaten path, but by the grace of God is making his or her way to be with the Lord. The earth is the Lord’s. Its inhabitants are the Lord’s. We only do what He gives us enough rope to do. Let us be careful, lest we get hung on the gallows of our own making. We need to climb the Lord’s Holy Hill on the Lord’s terms and stay there. Nowhere else is worth the climb.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 24.

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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The History of Israel

Today’s reading is Psalm 23.

When we compare Psalm 23 to 2 Samuel 7, we see David’s autobiography, being taken from the pasture to the palace. But we see more. David’s life mirrored the history of Israel. Therefore, so does Psalm 23. Though I admit it isn’t spelled out quite as plainly, in 2 Samuel 7, God reminds David of the years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness in tents. He does specifically call the judges He used during those days as shepherds of His people in 2 Samuel 7:7. In 2 Samuel 7:10, He explains His plans to plant Israel so they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. He will give them rest from their enemies. In other words, though not quite as literally as David, God took Israel from the pasture to the palace. There are other connections. For instance, in Deuteronomy 2:7, Moses reminded Israel that as God led them through the wilderness, they lacked nothing. In Psalm 78:19, Asaph refers to God’s work in the wilderness as spreading a table before Israel and then explained that when the rock gushed water it overflowed streams. And God was considered the Shepherd of Israel since Genesis 48:15. In other words, the story of Psalm 23 is not just an idyllic picture of comfort. But it is also more than the autobiography of David, it is the history of Israel. A pattern is emerging. This is how God deals with His people. He leads them from the pasture to the palace. Praise the Lord!

PODCAST!!

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

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The Only One Qualified

Today’s reading is Psalm 15.

Well, we’re in a bit of a quandary, aren’t we? Only the blameless get to dwell with the Lord. We water that down a bit so we can pretend we fit. However, we look at Psalm 15 as a mirror, and we can’t even see ourselves in it. Oh, we try hard. Sure, we are better than some people at it. But when the reality settles on us, we know there is really no hope for us. We start to turn away in sadness like that young ruler who had many possessions. We stop to wonder, “But who qualifies? Does anyone?” Yes! One is qualified: Jesus Christ, the righteous, the incarnate Son of God. He fulfilled every bit of this description of God’s welcome guest. He had every right to live on God’s Holy Mountain. And yet, what did He do? He died on God’s Holy Mountain. Every bit of the judgment for not fulfilling Psalm 15 was poured out on the only One who was qualified according to it. Why? To prepare a dwelling place for us (John 14:1-4, 24). The righteous requirement of the Law is that sinners die. Those who are unqualified don’t get to dwell with God. But Jesus, the only qualified one who knew no sin, died a sinner’s death fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law. Those who die with Christ fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law in Him (Romans 8:4). And through that grace of fulfillment, we are granted access to God’s Tent on His Holy Hill. Again, none of this means we ignore the Psalm 15 qualifications for dwelling with God. Rather, through Jesus’s death and God’s Holy Spirit of grace we meet the qualifications. Yes, we still often fail at these qualifications, but we hang on to Jesus and keep climbing God’s mountain. By God’s strength and grace we will summit the Holy Hill and we will dwell with the Lord. Hallelujah! So my big question for you is not how good you are at being blameless, but have you died with Christ? Do you even know how? If you are interested in learning how, read Romans 6:1-4. Then shoot us a message. We’d love to help you take up your residence on God’s Holy Hill.

Next week’s reading is Psalm 16.

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Why Israel Lost

Today’s reading is Psalm 15.

Have you ever thought through why Israel and Judah were driven out of the land of God’s dwelling? God had promised to dwell in their midst and plant them to dwell in their own place. Yet, they were defeated by Assyria, then Babylon, and ultimately by Rome. Psalm 15 is the answer. Do not consider Psalm 15 as merely a request for who might live on the temple mount. Rather, it is a question about who might sojourn under the protection of the Lord who dwells in the midst of His people in His Tent (tabernacle or temple) on His Holy Mountain. Jeremiah 7 brings this home. Jeremiah stands in the gate of the temple to proclaim the word of the Lord. Notice how “dwell in this place” seems to refer to dwelling in the temple in Jeremiah 7:3, but refers to the Promised Land in Jeremiah 7:7. Folks were trusting in deceptive words, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” Yet they were oppressing orphans, widows, and sojourners. They stole, swore falsely, murdered. Yes, they also committed idolatry. Then they thought they could continue to sojourn under the shadow of God’s Holy Hill. They thought they could continue to find sanctuary in the temple. They thought they could continue to dwell where God had planted them. But, He explained, He would only let them dwell in this place if they changed their behavior. If not, He would destroy His own dwelling place and cast them out of the land. Why were Israel and Judah kicked out of the land? Because only Psalm 15 kind of people can sojourn under God’s protective wing. Israel and Judah were not made up of those kind of people. Psalm 15 is serious business. How have you measured up?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 15.

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But David Always Fled to the Mountains!

Today’s reading is Psalm 11.

So, I’m struggling with what many commentaries say about this psalm. Over and over, they claim David is being given advice to flee to the mountains when he is being attacked, but he refuses. My one problem with this is David always fled to the mountains. When Saul was threatening him, he literally fled to and hid in the mountains. When Absalom conspired against him, David fled across the Jordan. Trying to make this a literal counsel received by David that he rejected will only work if we assume there was some other time of attack not recorded in the Scripture in which David decided not to flee. Which leaves me asking, what on earth is this about? Perhaps it isn’t intended to be taken literally, but metaphorically. That is, perhaps the point of the psalm is not about some time David refused to run to the mountains, but rather a time when he refused to take refuge in himself. Perhaps it is a time when the counselors were claiming God was no longer on David’s side, the foundations had collapsed, the righteous can no longer rely on being righteous. But David refused. Relying on God when Saul was chasing him meant hiding in the mountains and in other places. Relying on God when Absalom was conspiring against him meant fleeing across the Jordan. What neither time meant was deciding to fight his own way. With Saul, it didn’t mean striking God’s anointed, even when a good opportunity presented itself. With Absalom, it didn’t mean killing folks like Shimei along the way. Even when counselors were concerned that God was no longer looking out for David and it was time for him to look out for himself, David put his trust in the Lord. I need to do the same. How about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 11

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Thousands of Jewish Christians

Today’s reading is Acts 21.

When Paul got to Jerusalem, James and the elders of the Jerusalem church wanted to impress upon him how important it was that the Jewish Christians understood he wasn’t teaching them to abandon the Law or forsake Moses. They asked him to “See how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.” That is amazing because back in Acts 8:1, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were scattered. Essentially, only the leadership of the Jerusalem church was left in town. But by Acts 21, there are thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem again. WOW! That shows the incredible working and grace of God. When the Lord’s hand is with a congregation, it is amazing what can be done. It also shows God’s incredible use of strong leaders. When Jesus conducted His life ministry, He did make disciples, but mostly He developed a handful of leaders. God used that handful of leaders from the day of Pentecost onward to cause exponential growth in the kingdom. And when the church of Jerusalem was scattered, it was essentially that same handful of leaders that God used to prompt exponential growth again. It’s important for churches to make disciples, that is our commission. However, as we make disciples, let us also develop leaders. After all, it is the leaders who will do the lion’s share of making more disciples down the road.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 21.

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The First Church Council?

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

We’ve all read it. There is a big debate in Jerusalem. By the time it is done, they all agree that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised. A letter is written to explain the decision and sent out to all the churches. And there you have it. The very first church council. It was the very first meeting of church representatives under the auspices of the mother church debating, figuring out, and voting to determine church doctrine and practice. Or is it? Go back and read it again. Is that really what happened here? Not at all. Paul and Barnabas do not go to Jerusalem to find out what to teach about circumcision or to help decide what to teach about it. They go to Jerusalem because folks from that congregation had come to Antioch (and gone to other Gentile congregations) teaching what they both knew to be false doctrine. They went to Jerusalem to find out why folks were coming from that congregation teaching this error. It led to a public discussion and debate that included the apostles, elders, and maybe even the entire congregation. However, they weren’t debating in order to decide what they were going to teach, they were debating to uncover what the Holy Spirit had already revealed on the matter. This is no church council and this is no creed book. This is what happens when one church’s members start impacting another’s with error. They get together and talk about it. Praise God in this case everyone was willing to submit to truth. If only that would happen every time we have these kind of disagreements.

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

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The Parenthesis Closes

Today’s reading is Acts 11.

Acts 11:19 sounds vaguely familiar. Oh yeah. It says something very similar back in Acts 8:4. Both mention those who were scattered and preaching due to the persecution surrounding Stephen. This second one adds the detail that some people started preaching to Gentiles. The technical term for Luke’s rhetorical device here is inclusio. Good luck finding an excuse to use that in a sentence. I typically refer to it as a parenthesis or bookends. You have the same statement made at the beginning and the end. That means everything in between is supposed to be seen as a unit. And that is the point. Luke was giving a series of arguments to prepare us for the shift from Christianity being dominated by the Jews to being dominated by the Gentiles. But the entire parenthesis essentially has one point. We see the salvation of a Samaritan sorcerer, an Ethiopian Eunuch, the Priest’s persecutor, and even a Caesarean Centurion. The message is quite simple. If these guys can be saved, anyone can be saved. If these guys can be saved, you can be saved. If these guys can be saved, I can be saved. Praise the Lord!

Today’s reading is Acts 11.

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Barnabas: A Son of Encouragement

Today’s reading is Acts 9.

We started the week with the shocking choice of Saul, but we are seeing a whole cast of supporting disciples who made Saul successful. Without Ananias, Saul would have not even been a Christian. Without Barnabas, Saul would have been forever on the outskirts of the church. It took Barnabas, a son of encouragement, a merciful, compassionate, trusting disciple to bring Saul in and stick his neck out for Saul before the apostles. By the way, did you notice that it wasn’t the Holy Spirit who brought Saul before the apostles? It wasn’t the Holy Spirit who revealed to the apostles or the Jerusalem church that Saul could be trusted. It was Barnabas. Why? Because God works through people. We need to be the kind of people the Holy Spirit works through. We need to be the Barnabases that God uses to grow the church and comfort the brethren.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 9.

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