A Reason to Pray

Today’s reading is Psalm 25.

Today, I want to share with you the second most important lesson I’ve ever learned about prayer. The most important lesson is that prayer, whatever aspect of prayer I’m practicing, is always about God’s glory and not mine. We find that all over the psalms. But the second most important lesson is demonstrated in this psalm. Many commentators talk about how hard it is to get a hold of this psalm. Is it a lament? Is it a meditation? Is it a prayer? Is it a praise? They struggle with the outline and wonder at the mixture of prayer and meditation. But the reality is this psalmist is not only teaching prayer, but teaching one of the number one keys to effective praying. This psalm goes back and forth between prayer to God and meditation on God because the psalmist is praying and then meditating on the reason for the prayer. This is part of prayer that I skipped for a very long time. When we plan our praying and embark on a prayer, we should consider, what about God would remotely make Him willing to respond to what I’m praying right now? What about God’s character, nature, word, will, promises leads me to believe God will remotely want to respond to what I’m laying out before Him? The psalmist anticipates a problem with his trek up God’s holy hill. I’m a sinner. He knows the only way to deal with that is if God forgives him. But why would God do that? Why should the psalmist remotely expect God to respond to the request to “Remember not the sins of my youth”? Why should the psalmist remotely expect God to forgive his sins and then protect him from his enemies? Because of Exodus 34:6-7. Because God had revealed to Moses and to Israel His very nature. His character. His name. His name is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving transgression, iniquity, and sin. And so the psalmist has a reason to pray this prayer. “Don’t remember my sins, Lord. Remember Your name.” And therefore, the psalmist asks the Lord to act for His name’s sake and pardon his guilt. That was the psalmist’s reason for this prayer. When you bow, what is the reason God should or would respond to the request you are making? Think it through. Tie it to the Biblical reason, and then offer it up to God. You’ll be amazed at what this practice will do to improve your praying.

Today’s reading is Psalm 26.


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Protect Me from Sin

Today’s reading is Psalm 19.

Yesterday, I wanted to make the connection between the Lord’s Word and our words. But to do so, I did jump over one of the most important aspects of the connection. We skipped over the important operation of the Lord’s Word in our lives and the mechanism by which it makes my words acceptable. Why do I need the Lord’s Word? Because I am a sinner. In that state, my outlook is skewed and my perspective distorted. In that state, my words and my thoughts are full of error and folly because they can be no other way. The only tool that will correct this is the Lord’s Word. Just as no one is hidden from the sun’s daily shining sermon, there is nothing in anyone of us that is hidden from the piercing glare of the Lord’s Word. The Lord’s Word uncovers my errors. The Lord’s Word unearths my secret sins. The Lord’s Word restrains me from presumptuous and rebellious sin. The Lord’s Word is what will make me blameless and keep me innocent of great transgression. As Hebrews 4:12-13 explains, the Lord’s Word is as a double-edged sword. It is living and active and is so effective it can even divide between things we aren’t even sure we know how to distinguish (for instance, the soul and the spirit). No one and nothing is hidden from its sight. We are all exposed when we open God’s Word. And that sounds painful, doesn’t it? I’ll be honest. It is. Being pruned by the two-edged sword rarely, if ever, feels pleasant in the moment. But in the end, when we are branches in The Fruitful Vine yielding the peaceful fruits of righteousness, we will rejoice with joy inexpressible. Let us cry out to God to protect us from sin, but then let us dig in to His Word and let Him do His Work with it.

Next week’s reading is Psalm 20.


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The Lord’s Word

Today’s reading is Psalm 19.

In another study, we’ve talked about our job as a branch. That is, our job is simply to abide in Jesus, being the conduits through whom His power, strength, and life flow in order that the Vinedresser can bear fruit through us for His glory (see John 15:1-11). One of the three super-charged activities of Jesus-abiding is to abide in His Word and let His Word abide in us (John 15:7). In Psalm 19, we discover why this mutual abiding is so powerful. The psalm uses six terms to describe the Lord’s Word (Torah/Law, testimony, precept, commandment, fear, rules [ESV]). These terms encompass every aspect of the Lord’s Word from the generic to the specific (Torah to commandment), from its source to our response (God’s testimonies to our fear), from where it provides limitations to where it provides equipping (precepts to rules/judgments). This sixfold repetition is not supposed to send us down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out the nuanced differences between the terms, but rather to help us see that David is talking about the Word, all the Word, every aspect of the Word, every feature of the Word, and the Word in its entirety. The Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true. Can anything else to which we have constant physical access make these claims? Notice what the Word accomplishes. Like the good shepherd of Psalm 23:3, it revives the soul. Like the Proverbs, it wisens the simple. Like a great victory or great feast, it rejoices the heart. Like a dab of honey after a long day of battle, it enlightens the eyes (see 1 Samuel 14:24-30). Like nothing else but God alone, it endures forever and, by implication, is the means by which we will endure forever. And again, like nothing and no one but God, it is altogether righteous; that is, it sanctifies us. And David claims if a pile of gold was behind Door #1, a feast of the sweetest foods behind Door #2, and God’s Word behind Door #3, he would choose Door #3. He would choose that not because abiding in the Word would get him gold and feasting, but because the Word is greater riches and more satisfying than those other two choices. With all this on the table, why would we do anything but abide in the Word of the Lord? We can abide in no other way.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 19.


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My Rock and My Redeemer

Today’s reading is Psalm 19.

Let’s begin this week with the end in mind. Where is this psalm going? “O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Absolutely! It is how Psalm 18 began. Once again, we find two psalms that seem to go together. They form a wonderful package. Yes, yes, we can study them separately as individual literary units, but they are placed together because they complement each other. Back in Psalm 18, David had claimed he was blameless in vs. 23. However, in vs. 32, he also explained that he wasn’t blameless because of his own strength, but because God had equipped him with strength and made his way blameless. All in the context of God being his rock, fortress, salvation. And now we discover the nature of the Lord’s equipment and strengths. It’s the Lord’s Word! We cannot claim the Lord is our rock and redeemer if we ignore His Word. Make the Lord your Rock. Make Him your Redeemer. Get into His Word. Love it. Learn it. Live it. Then you will be like the man who builds his house on the rock and when the storms of judgment come, your house will stand. Otherwise…

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 19.


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We Would See Jesus

Today’s reading is Psalm 17.

You’ve read Psalm 17 six times this week (at least if you are following our Bible reading plan). Perhaps you should go back and read it one more time right now. Listen to the claims David makes about his own integrity and righteousness. “You have tested me and will find nothing.” “I have avoided the way of the violent.” “My steps have held fast to your paths.” “My feet have not slipped.” Wait a minute! Can David actually claim these things? We all know he can’t. Every commentator knows he can’t. Which is why the commentaries will consistently claim David is merely referring to whatever accusations are being made against him. They assure us David isn’t actually trying to claim he never sinned; he is simply innocent of that particular sin. Further, if we are going to claim David really is the author (and some suggest otherwise), we have to put it before the whole sordid affair with Bathsheba and Uriah. Surely he could never have written anything like this after that. And you know, as it applies to David, that is the best we can do. In fact, his reference to steadfast love in Psalm 17:7 calls to mind the name of God who also forgives sin (Exodus 34:6-7). But what if Psalm 17 is more like Psalm 16 than we’ve considered? Peter and Paul said they knew David was actually talking about Jesus in Psalm 16 because his claims about Sheol and the corruption of his flesh weren’t literally true for himself. Couldn’t Peter and Paul say something similar about this psalm? Couldn’t they say, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both sinned and walked the path of violence. And we can recount his sins”? Wouldn’t the logical conclusion that they could continue, “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the sinlessness and resurrection of the Christ, that He would live a perfect life and even though He would die He would awake and behold the face of God in righteousness and be satisfied with the likeness of God”? Didn’t we recognize in Psalm 15, that Jesus is the only one who measures up and who can claim that He will not be moved? And now in this psalm, David claims his foot has not slipped. Guess what. That is the same word as “moved” in Psalm 15:5 and “shaken” in Psalm 16:8. In Luke 24:44, Jesus told the apostles that everything written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that the Christ should suffer, die, and rise up. I get it, Psalm 17 doesn’t say the resurrection will happen on the third day, but we should see Jesus in this psalm. He’s there. His vindication did come from the Lord. He sought His refuge at God’s right hand. He did sleep, and He did awake. He is satisfied with the presence of God. And that alone is why this psalm gives us hope that the same can happen for us. Praise the Lord!

Next week’s reading is Psalm 18.

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Today’s reading is Acts 27.

In Acts 27:10, Paul perceived if they traveled away from the Fair Havens, it would mean great loss of not only the ship and cargo, but of their lives. However, by the time we finish the chapter, we learn nobody died. What’s up with that? Isn’t Paul inspired? No. Paul is not inspired. The Scriptures are inspired. We need to recognize the difference. Inspiration does not mean everything Paul ever said came from God. Inspiration means God got what He wants in the Scriptures. Paul didn’t walk around spouting God’s Word. Certainly, as a prophet, some things he said were a result of that gift. Most definitely, the letters we have left behind, since they are Scripture, were what God wanted written. But this statement was Paul speaking from his own wisdom and knowledge of sea travel. He was a smart man. Without God’s intervention, what he said would obviously have been true. However, it wasn’t God’s message to the captain or the people. The message from the angel, of course, was God’s Word. That message was God-breathed; it was inspired. Apostles, prophets, people are not inspired, God’s message is. We need to maintain the difference.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 27.

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It Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

Did you catch the following statement in the Jerusalem letter: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden…” Wait! What? When did the Holy Spirit say anything about this issue? I’ve read the whole chapter again and again. I don’t see any intervention or revelation from the Holy Spirit. There is no parting of the clouds. There is no descent of a dove. There is no voice from the heavens. How can they claim this seemed good to the Holy Spirit? Because they were relying on the Spirit’s prior revelation and teaching. The Spirit had directly stated as much back in Amos 9:11-12 (the passage James quoted), the Spirit had given good examples of this by signing off on the work of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, the Spirit had most definitely implied Gentiles could be water baptized for the remission of their sins when the Spirit Himself baptized them. There was no new revelation. The whole decision was based on interpreting the past work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, this was still the decision of the Holy Spirit. Keep that in mind today. When we do things based on what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the Word of God, it is still the Holy Spirit doing it. Further, we can be assured the Spirit agrees with us everywhere we base our decisions on the revelation of Scripture.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 15.

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Please, Forgive Me

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.

In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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Today’s reading is Luke 13.

Many today suggest finding authorization through the implication of Scripture is cheating. It isn’t really authority, they say. I get it, implication is not as easy as finding an actual statement or example. With implication it takes more work to make sure we are truly being biblical because we are claiming something is authorized that isn’t specifically told or shown. But notice how Jesus knows He is allowed to heal the disabled woman on the Sabbath. He doesn’t know it because the Law ever explicitly says, “Thou shalt heal on the Sabbath.” Rather, untying a donkey or an ox on the Sabbath so it can get to the water is lawful. If it is lawful to loose animals, it is lawful to loose humans who are more valuable to God than animals. To restrict loosing the woman on the Sabbath is hypocrisy. That is, to restrict what is implied is hypocrisy. No, this doesn’t mean everything I like is authorized, but it does mean when we are teaching and acting in ways God implies in Scripture, we are teaching and acting in His name, not our own. In fact, it is the very principle Jesus Himself used. Keep studying. Keep learning. Keep following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 13.

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Inspiration, Revelation, & Research

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

I fear I too often oversimplify things. I usually do this to keep from causing difficulties or doubts. However, I’m learning that while it avoids difficulty in the short run, sometimes it causes problems for people in the long run who discover how complex things are and then believe we Christians don’t know the complexities. For instance, sometimes I gloss over the true nature of inspiration of Scripture. The recorded Word is very much like the incarnate Word. It is a coming together of deity and humanity. Inspiration does not mean God Himself wrote the Scriptures using men’s hands as the tools. It means God got His message to people. He got what He wanted in there. However, how did He do it? He used men. Certainly, there were times when God told men through miraculous revelation what to write. However, there were other times when men experienced and researched and then recorded what they knew from very natural means. Luke makes this case at the beginning of His book. He doesn’t claim to have sat down in his office and simply allowed God to guide his hand in the writing. Nor does he claim God dictated this book to him. Rather, he researched, studied, interviewed. That is, he acted like an ancient Greek or Roman historian. Through those means, God got what He wanted in this book. Therefore, when we refer to passages in Luke we can say at the same time, “Luke said,” and also, “The Holy Spirit said.” Just as incarnate deity in Jesus Christ poses difficulties at times, inspiration through human authors does as well. It is complex. That, however, is the beauty. God working in man, working with man, working through man. Isn’t that just like our own lives as we walk with God? Sometimes it is messy, but the end result will be glorious.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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