If 2020 Were a Psalm

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord forevermore.

Psalm 93

The Lord reigns. I went to thesaurus.com and this is what I found for the word reign. The Lord dominates, governs, holds sway, occupies, administers, bosses, commands, influences, manages, overrules, rules, sits, is in power, is in the driver’s seat, is supreme, heads up, rules the roost, runs the show, superabounds, wears the crown.

The world is established. Again, I went to thesaurus.com. The world (earth) is entrenched, settled, fixed, rooted, secure, set, stable, vested, deep-rooted, permanent, unshakable. The world will not come to an end until the God who reigns, dominates, governs…you get the point…decides it will. China will not end the world. America does not rule the world. Trump or Biden will not determine the the end of the world.

If 2020 were a Psalm, God would still be in charge.

If 2020 were a Psalm, we would grab a life jacket and scream for a lifeline. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. (vs. 3) It’s been raining since March. Hurricanes. An earthquake. Violence. Covid. Did I mention an earthquake? In North Carolina! Yes, the floods have lifted up their voice. Israel feared the water more than anything. Incidentally, that’s why in the book of Revelation it states in heaven there will be no more sea. Israel’s fiercest enemies were the Philistines (the word literally means “sea peoples”) who came across the Mediterranean from Greece and wreaked havoc.

The floods have lifted up their waters in your life too. Divorce. Death. Cancer. Job loss. Soured friendships. Unbelievably difficult work situations. You’re struggling to hear God’s voice because the roar of the waves that are slapping you in the face every time you stand up.

If 2020 were a Psalm, we would be honest about how hard life has been…and still is.

If 2020 were a Psalm, we would look up to the Lord who reigns above the roaring waters. Why? Because He is mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! And we would see a God who is undeterred, unmoved, unaltered and unafraid. He is not caught off guard, surprised, bewildered or wondering. Not at all!

His decrees are very trustworthy. Holiness is the doorbell to his house. Now and forever.

How Tears Become Springs

If you’ve ever been to a college campus something quickly becomes quite obvious: there are places where they didn’t build a sidewalk but they should have. Students (and faculty…I’m guilty) have created well-worn paths to favorite destinations. Grass grows everywhere but on these paths. No one has to tell an incoming freshman to walk there–she just does.

Our hearts are the same way. In our hearts are well-worn paths; oft-traveled roads to anticipated destinations. The psalmist knew this.

Blessed are those who strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Psalm 85:5, ESV

Zion, or Jerusalem, was God’s holy city on whose hill stood the temple of God. In that temple was the holy of holies where God’s glory dwelt. The old hymn says, “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion.” To go to Zion meant to run to God. To go to Zion meant to offer sacrifices for sins committed, or to offer praise for prayers answered.

Where are the well-worn paths in your life? Where do you travel without even thinking about it? Is Worry your Highway 70 when life unravels? Do you sip your coffee at Control Coffee Shop? Is the Fear Factory your favorite place to shop? Do you frequent the Complaining Confectionary when problems are many and solutions few? Is Guilt Grocery your favorite corner store?

When your oft-traveled destination is God, the unusual occurs.

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

Psalm 68:6-7, ESV

When your destination is Zion, even the Valley of Baca (the Valley of Tears) becomes a place of springs. We all travel through the Valley of Baca. You cannot avoid tear-filled days and anxious nights. The cancer diagnosis. The car accident. The disappointing child. The bickering coworker. Unmet expectations. More bills than money. More money than happiness. The question is where you will come out on the other side. If in your heart are the highways to Zion, you will go from strength, through tears, to strength. And in between, your tears will become springs. Strangely enough others will drink their fill from your salty tears and never taste the salt.

And you can be sure you have a traveling companion. God goes with you, giving you all you need for all you face.

No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Psalm 84:11

The God Who Rides in the Heavens

Perspective is everything. What I can see from the top of Mount Mitchell is so different from what I can see on Mackey’s Creek. The problem is that if I live on Mackey’s Creek I only get a “Mackey’s Creek” perspective.

God is not like that.

In Psalm 68 King David is staring down enemies. They are fierce…people who hate God. He writes, “As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!” (vs. 2). In verse 3 he describes the righteous as they wait for God to exact justice. At the end of the psalm is the declaration of a God who “rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.” (vs. 33)

Who is this God who rides in the heavens, who sits above it all, who sees from a vantage point no one has? Is God aloof? Does he care? Can he identify with earthlings?

Verse 4 answers that question:

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Psalm 68:4-6, ESV

The God who rides in the heavens rides through the deserts–your desert. To the orphan he is dad, to the widow He is protector, to the homeless he is a homemaker, to the prisoner he is the just judge who leads you out to prosperity. If God only rode in the heavens, he would be distant, detached, indifferent. If God only rode through the desert he would be dependent, defenseless, finite.

The God who rides in the heavens rides through your desert.

William Cowper, who battled depression and anxiety, wrote eloquently about the God who rides in the heavens and through the desert:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm

Deep in unsearchable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain

So what do you do in the meantime? Let him carry you. Verse 19 is where we live…between the God who rides through the desert and in the heavens.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.

Psalm 68:19

What Dr. Dobbs Taught Me About God

Dr. Dobbs was my freshman biology professor at Wofford. One third of the freshman class at Wofford thought they wanted to be doctors! I was one of them. Day one, Dr. Dobbs walked in, chewing on a cigar, and began lecturing. He expected we could read the syllabus and figure out how the course worked so he didn’t waste time explaining it. He began lecturing. He lectured for fifty minutes and dismissed class. Day two was the same. Every Monday, Wednesday he lectured. Every Friday, he quizzed us and then lectured. Three times a semester we had a major test. We had one final exam.

Then there was lab. We dissected a pig–all semester. Our final exam was pins stuck in all kinds of parts of that pig with numbers. Our task: identify each part. When we walked into the lab for the final, Dr. Dobbs was standing down front, chewing on his cigar. At our stations was a piece of paper with around a hundred blanks lines. We began at one station, and when the time was up he would say, “Next” and on to the next. I was never so glad to finish an exam!

Dr. Dobbs was a great professor because he gave great lectures and great tests. And he convinced me (and about 100 other students) that we were not supposed to be doctors. Wofford had a 98% acceptance rate into medical school…because of Dr. Dobbs. He readied future-doctors and weeded out would-be doctors.

In Psalm 66, the Psalmist writes, “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” (10-12)

God is like every good professor, or maybe we should say that every good professor is like God. Every good professor tests his students after he has taught them. Every good professor teaches well and tests well. God does too. Every good silversmith heats the silver to rid it of impurities.

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply. God actually rises up storms of conflict in relationships at times in order to accomplish that deeper work in our character. We cannot love our enemies in our own strength. This is graduate-level grace. Are you willing to enter this school? Are you willing to take the test? If you pass, you can expect to be elevated to a new level in the Kingdom. For He brings us through these tests as preparation for greater use in the Kingdom. You must pass the test first.”

A.W. Tozer

I finished Dr. Dobbs’ class with a hard-earned “B”…and I wasn’t used to making B’s. I clearly did not become a doctor, but I learned something. I learned how to listen in class, study outside of class, and I learned that the best professors teach well and test well.

God is the ultimate professor. And he’s my Father.

He’s testing me. And you too. The Psalmist passed his test. We can too.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!

Psalmist, 66:16-20

Why You May be So Angry…And Not Realize It

Since March everything has changed. Family get-togethers have become taboo. A handshake has become an awkward elbow-tap. Once recognizable faces are covered with an array of masks. Ball stadiums sit empty, health departments packed full. Everything has changed.

We have learned some things about ourselves. We are spoiled. We really don’t have to go out and eat every day. We don’t have to go to our favorite vacation spot. We don’t need to shop near as much as we thought we did. We are also sad. We miss hanging out. We want to touch, embrace, shake a hand, give a high-five. We long to sit around a table together and not wonder if we’re at risk. We’re weary of hand sanitizer, masks and bad news. We want to be normal again…whatever that is.

We’re grieving. When you experience loss you grieve.

Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss.

–Psychology Today

Some have lost loved ones to Covid or other illnesses. Some have lost the ability to walk into a nursing home and sit with their mother, father, grandfather, friend. Some have lost their jobs, others have lost the ability to have a proper funeral for their deceased loved one.

We’re grieving.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross researched patients who had to come to terms with their terminal illness diagnosis. She determined that these patients go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I agree with David Feldman (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201707/why-the-five-stages-grief-are-wrong) that the stages of grief are more like a roller coaster. Sometimes people go back and forth, looping from one stage to the next, and back to the prior stage. Grief is messy.

And grief is angry. Scripture doesn’t forbid anger…as a matter of fact, Scripture commands it. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27 “Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath and give no opportunity for the devil.” If you have lost something valuable, you are grieving. And if you are grieving, you might be angry–and not know it.

How can you know if anger is lurking beneath the surface? Here are three simple diagnostic questions:

  1. Do things that don’t normally bother you now irritate you?
  2. Are you “short” in your responses to the most important people in your life?
  3. Do you complain more and thank less?

You may need to have a sunset showdown. Today. Get alone with God, or God and a trusted friend, and talk out your anger. Consider these simple steps:

  1. Write down what you are grieving most.
  2. Tell God.
  3. Tell your spouse, a trusted friend, or an accountability partner.

And do that again. Every day if you have too. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. And be thankful. As Christians we have a mandate and an opportunity others do not:

Be thankful in all things, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV)

Fret Not

Merriam-Webster defines fretting as “to cause to suffer emotional strain.” The Hebrew word occurs ninety times in the Bible. In the Hebrew, the meaning is more intense: to be hot, furious, become angry, be kindled. To fret is to be worried and angry, anxious and frustrated. Fretting and envy are close cousins.

King David writes Psalm 37 as an older man, looking back over years of battle. He was Israel’s bloodiest king, routing enemies on all sides in order to settle the land and protect his people. It is from David’s words here that we find real reasons why we shouldn’t fret.

Don’t fret because evildoers will fade away. Evil has an expiration date. They will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Green grass that sprouts over night withers under the intense heat of the sun. This is a vivid picture–I wonder if it’s a play on words. No one is more angry with the injustice that is happening to you than God. He, at his very core is just, and hates injustice. For the evildoers shall be cut off. The Lord laughs at the wicked, he sees that his day is coming. (37:9,13)

Don’t fret, it tends only to evil. It’s hard (not impossible) to be angry and not sin. Anger is like a caged lion–open the door too soon and it will come roaring out with little or no concern about who or what is in its path. Paul encourages us to be angry and do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26)

Now that we know what not to do, what do we do?

Trust.
Delight.

Commit.
Be still.
Wait patiently.

What if we trust instead of go on a tirade? Delight instead of demand? Be still instead of be stupid? David answers…

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. (Psalm 37:25-26, ESV)

My Enemies Meet My God

jon-tyson-YtYNavix3pw-unsplashDavid was a ruddy teenager on a Grubhub delivery. Too young to be on the battleground, his dad tasked him with the job of carrying bread and grain to his older brothers enlisted in the army in a monumental standoff with the notorious Goliath. David’s brothers, along with all of their comrades, were terrified. When David looked at the 9-foot-tall behemoth, he saw an even bigger God: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

After navigating the disdain of his brothers and the red tape of Saul’s attempt to put David in his own armor, he took a sling and a few stones and approached Goliath. Goliath saw David’s stones and mocked; David saw Goliath’s sword and remembered: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied….For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” You could summarize David’s statements with this one declaration: my enemy meet my God. Little did David know that his one battle would be the predecessor of many. The Saul who offered David his armor would soon hunt David down.

Psalm 18 was written with that reality in mind.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1-3, ESV)

Saul pursued David because he was jealous, furiously jealous. David did nothing to provoke Saul’s jealousy, nothing to cause Saul to muster his troops and come after him. In Psalm 18 it is as if David feels the need to introduce his enemies to his God. Some of you need to do the same. Now I am convinced that, for most of us, our enemies aren’t real people with skin on. Most of us fight enemies within and the enemy of our soul (Satan) without.

Let me go on record by saying that Satan is furiously jealous of you. If you belong to Christ, Satan thought he had won the battle…til Jesus came out of the grave. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Satan knows the future. He does not!

For three days he celebrated while the angels wept. But when Jesus came out of the tomb, he winced, he wiggled, he writhed in ego-devastating pain.

And he is insanely jealous of you and will do whatever it takes to take you down, or to make you down and out. Introduce him to your God. Here David uses nine words to describe his God. Let me paraphrase:

My weakness, meet my Strength. My instability, meet my Rock. My vulnerability, meet my Fortress. My addiction, meet my Deliverer. My flesh, meet my God. My insecurity, meet my Refuge. My doubts, meet my Shield. My lostness, meet my Salvation. My strongholds with a little “s”, meet my Stronghold with a big “S.”

My “I can’t” meet my “I will.” I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

The battle is the Lord’s. Your battle belongs to your God.

A Few Words From Me…and many words from my Favorite Black Preacher

My heart is heavy. I know your hearts are weary too. We are in a pandemic and pandemonium. I have three brief observations.

  1. The police officer who killed George Floyd is one police officer–not every police officer. I know many police officers. They are public servants, humble men and women who do great work every single day. The one who killed George Floyd does not represent them–at all.
  2. The looters who vandalize and destroy businesses, police cars and public buildings are not every American. I know many Americans, black and white, who are disgusted with what happened in Minneapolis. I’m one of them. I can’t bear to watch the video. There are people of all races, Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, who are outraged. They are wonderful, articulate, respectful people who get up every day, go to work, love their families, support their communities and make the world a better place. The very small percentage of people defacing and destroying do not represent them–at all.
  3. I propose a third pan–panacea: a remedy for all ills or difficulty. I’m not being a pollyanna when I say that Jesus died for George Floyd and for the cop who killed him, for the looters and the business owners. That’s the other side of love. I could say more, but Dr. Robert Smith, the best African-American preacher I’ve ever heard, says it better than I ever could. When you take the time to listen to this sermon, you will understand why I’ve listened to it six times.

 

Your Destiny

ashley-van-nuys-etEZfkEWzNM-unsplashDestiny. The word has been abused and overused in some church circles, unused and neglected in others. I confess that I fall into the latter group so this blog is my repentance. Rather than over-spiritualize and overthink destiny, let me encourage you to connect it with the word “destination.” In a sense, your destiny and your destination are one and the same.

If I am a truck driver and I have to drive to Florida to pick up a delivery, turn around and drive back, Florida isn’t my destination–it is simply a stop on the way. However, if I’m a dad with two little kids who have watched all the Disney movies, and my little girl can’t wait to see Cinderella, and my son can’t wait to see Buzz Lightyear, Disney is my destination. I’m not even thinking of home as I drive to Florida…I’m thinking about Disney.

Paul wrote about destiny.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, ESV)

Our destiny is God Himself! Did you get that? Oh my! Whether we are awake (that’s an euphemism for being alive) or asleep (a metaphor for death), we are with him.

Since Jesus died for us, we get to live with him.

What does living with him look like–now and then? Over the course of our twenty years of marriage, Wendy and I have had more than a dozen kids live with us who were not ours. They had their own beds, ate at our table just like our own kids, used our towels, soap and toothpaste. If they were old enough, they drove my truck, played basketball in our driveway, and even went with us on trips. They lived with us and for that time, we didn’t view them as anything less than our own kids.

We live with Jesus now. That’s our destiny. We will live with him then. That’s our destiny. Asleep or awake, our destiny is Jesus himself! What are we to do with this momentous knowledge? Encourage one another! Build one another up!

Encourage five people today.

Here’s my challenge today. Encourage five people…intentionally send a message to five people to encourage them and see what happens. You will be blown away by how much they needed your timely words. After all, they are your brothers. They are your sisters. They are family! And we all have the same destiny.

The Solid Rock

I’ve just started a small book written by John Piper. My friend, and member of my Life Group, Jeremy Pittman, recommended a brief Bible Study based on the book: Coronavirus and Christ. I won’t recommend a book I haven’t read, but I do want to share a few words from the foreword.

This is a time when the fragile form of this world is felt. The seemingly solid foundations are shaking. The question we should be asking is, Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken–ever?

This entire ordeal has shaken the foundations of what we consider to be near and dear to our hearts. Where the coronavirus once reigned, confusion now reigns. We wonder who and what to believe, how we should think.

If you’re standing on the Rock, you can wonder without wandering.

Tonight my friends Jamie Burnette, Savannah Allison and I will gather around the piano to sing old hymns and some newer songs too. One of them will be “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Join us on Facebook Live around 7:15. In the meantime, I’ll let you know how the book goes and share morsels of encouragement where they emerge.

I love seeing young people on fire for God. Enjoy this rendition of The Solid Rock.