The Purpose of Blessing

God be merciful unto us, and bless us;

and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.

That thy way may be known upon earth,

thy saving health among all nations.

Let the people praise thee, O God;

let all the people praise thee.

Psalm 67:1 – 3

Background: Daniel 5,7; 2 Chronicles 36

It had been almost 70 years of exile in Babylon and Daniel had just received another vision.  His first vision had been of a giant statue made of various metals – each speaking of different Gentile kingdoms that follow each other in world domination.  The head was gold – symbolizing the Babylonian kingdom, the shoulders and torso were silver – denoting the Medes and Persians, the waist was bronze  – speaking of the Hellenists, headed by Alexander the Great, and the legs were of iron – hinting of the iron hand of the Roman empire.  Holding it all up were two feet made of a mixture of iron and clay, pointing to the alliance that would produce the final Gentile world kingdom – that of the Antichrist.  At the end of the vision, a stone, that represents the coming kingdom of Christ, came and crushed the feet as well as the rest of the statue. 

This vision was like the one in chapter two of Daniel but from a different viewpoint.  The vision of Daniel, chapter seven, were of four fierce beasts coming out of the Mediterranean Sea – not a beautiful statue.  The first beast was a lion that had eagle’s wings. The wings were eventually plucked and the lion stood up like a man and was given a man’s heart – a picture of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling experience.  The next beast was a bear with three ribs in its mouth and was raised up on one side and a voice was heard inviting it to eat much flesh speaking of the ravenous nature of the Medes and Persians.  The third was a leopard with four heads and four wings like a bird and symbolizes the Hellenistic empire under Alexander the Great that was divided among his top four generals after his early death. 

The fourth beast was a hideous beast that was “dreadful and terrible.” It was very strong and had iron teeth.  With those teeth it devoured and destroyed kingdoms, and stamped down what was left.  What really distinguished it from the other were the its ten horns and that three of the original ten broke off and were replaced by a little horn with a mouth that spoke great things.

At the end of the vision – instead of a stone there was a man – the “Ancient of Days” who makes a glorious appearance with a million personages waiting for His command.  The hideous beast was slain and given to the flame, the other three beasts had their dominion taken away although they were allowed to live for a “season and a time.” Then the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven and was given an everlasting dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will not be destroyed, that all peoples and nations should serve him.

It is at this point that Edward Reese places this Psalm in his Chronological Bible. It is directed to the overseer of the musicians and was to be played on the neginoth  – a stringed instrument (it could also mean a taunting song (Job 30:9.) Like the other songs of uncertain origin in this group, it could have been written by David but not attributed to him.  Whoever did write it, the psalm does seem to fit here as its scope (“all nations,” “all the people of the earth,” “all the ends of the earth”) fits the universal vision of the future that Daniel gives to us in chapter seven of his book. 

The psalm begins with a cry for blessing. Israel and the Jewish people were blessed, have been blessed through the years, and will continue to be blessed by God per His promise to Abraham. They have also suffered much over that same time. This psalm is placed at the end of 70 years of suffering, as captives of the Babylonians, because of their idolatry.  

Israel had been a blessed nation, but they forgot the purpose of that blessing.  Verse one asks God to be bend down and help them, to bless them, and for his face – his attention and care – to shine upon them. This was an echo of the benediction that God commanded Aaron and his sons to pronounce upon the newborn nation of Israel in Numbers 6:24 – 27. The problem was they eventually forgot the reason for that blessing. They might have even thought the blessing came because it they were better than other nations, or more righteous.  

Seventy years of captivity could have awakened them to the purpose of that blessing.  The psalmist who penned this song certainly understood it – “that Your way may be known upon earth and Your salvation (Yeshua is the word used here) among the nations.” God’s whole purpose in blessing the nation of Israel was to show the whole world His way, to let them know His provision of salvation so all people could praise Him.

At this Selah, pause for a moment and consider why God has blessed you. God blesses His people – the Jewish people because they are descendants of Abraham and the Gentile Christians because they are “grafted in” to that same “olive tree” (Romans 11:13-36.) God also blesses whole nations to the degree that they bless His people and walk in His ways (Genesis 12: 1-3). The reason He blesses us is seen in the verse before our Selah.  First, so that you can show the wisdom of His ways in your everyday life.  This was the purpose of Israel’s existence – that they would keep the statutes and laws they were given and, in that way, the nations around would see the fruits of obedience and recognize Israel as a wise nation (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). As Christians there should always be something different about the way we conduct ourselves.  Are you using His blessings to help you order your life in the way Jesus taught us?  When you do, even if it goes against our nature (which it does most of the time) it opens the door for God to work in ways that all around can see. 

Another reason for God’s blessing is so that His “saving health” – Jesus – cold be known among all nations.  When God blesses us, He blesses us with resources – energy (health), finances, talents, and time. Some of us may be wealthier in one than the others.  But they are all given to us to invest.  Jesus makes this point in a parable that He shares with His disciples because, as they neared Jerusalem, they thought the kingdom of God was soon to appear (Luke 19:12-27).  In this parable, a nobleman was going off to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  Before he did, he gave each of his 10 servants a mina and told them, “Trade with this until I come back.” The nobleman was hated by many people there (Luke 19:14) and knew, that if servants would trade wisely and diligently, his influence and authority in that area would increase greatly. While he was gone most of his servants traded wisely – but there was one who wrapped up his mina and buried it in the ground.  When the master returned he rewarded those who used the money wisely and punished the one who hid it in the ground.

The mina is the Gospel.  Christ has committed this Gospel to every believer to “trade with” until He returns.  His blessing of whatever resources (energy, finances, time, or talents) He has given you is to be used to promote His authority and influence through the Gospel. Of course, those blessings are given to sustain and bless you and your family (that, in itself, is a testimony to others of God’s mercy) but His blessing is always abundant – above and beyond what we needand that is for a reason. That “abundance” may be one or two extra dollars, or may be a free hour during the week. If so, how are you investing them? I know a pastor’s widow who is 93 years old, still ambulatory, active, happy, and very alert. Before her marriage she barnstormed the Penn-York area as an evangelist. During her 60 years as a pastor’s wife she worked tirelessly, expending what seemed to be endless time, energy and finances for the Gospel.  After her husband died she has held countless garage sales and would give all the proceeds to missions. She gave what little she had – so God gave her more – then she used that as well.  By the way, her pastor-husband lived the same way and together they made a huge impact in our area for the Gospel. 

God blesses us for a reason.  As we understand that, and act accordingly, He blesses us more.  Sometimes those blessings do not look like blessings – but more like opportunities to invest time and energy to help someone else and bring glory to Him in the process.

Being Made Whole

Thanksgiving is a day that we set aside to give thanks.  What does it mean to give thanks? First of all, it means that we give thanks to someone – a person. We do not give thanks to the air, or just to make ourselves feel good.  Sometimes we thank a pet or a service animal who, although they may not understand our language, has a way of perceiving that gratitude. However, most of the time, we give thanks to a person, whose acts helped us in some way.  A habit of thanking neighbors, friends, parents, grand-parents, service members, first-responders, and others for their help, generosity, love, and/or concern is a noble act.  It reflects humility, a knowledge that we need others to survive and thrive.  It is the recognition of the sacrifices others chose to make on our behalf. Giving thanks to others also helps us because, by acknowledging these acts of others, we are lifted out of the bubble of “me” and into the freedom of “us.”

         But Thanksgiving Day goes farther than thanking those around us for their kindness. In the middle of the Civil War, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday set on the last Thursday in November.  The purpose was made clear in the proclamation:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

ˆ        Mr. Lincoln established Thanksgiving to be a time to thank and praise Person , in the midst of a horrible war – God Himself – for the deliverance He had given and the blessings He had bestowed. This thanksgiving was also to be accompanied with national remorse and repentance for the perverseness and disobedience of slavery that brought on the bloody civil war.  It was also to be a time of fervent prayer to God to heal the wounds of the nation. 

         In Luke 17:11-19 we read of ten men who were lepers. When they saw Jesus they all cried out for healing.  Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest (for examination).  On the way, they were cleansed – the leprosy was gone! One of them turned back, ran back to Jesus, fell at His feet – giving him thanks.  After asking where the other nine were, Jesus’ told the leper to get up and go on his way because his faith had made him whole.

         Having the faith to stop, return, and give thanks literally made him whole. What was the difference between being cleansed and being made whole?  I am not sure, but perhaps the other nine only received a healing of the disease. Their sores dried up, the scabs disappeared, but the damage that was left – the missing noses, fingers, or ears – was not repaired. The tenth leper, however, was made whole.  This could mean that the all the damage done to his body by that terrible disease was healed because of the faith that caused him to stop and give thanks. 

         Giving thanks to God is a fruit of faith.  It recognizes Him for who He is.  Stopping to give thanks brings healing to our souls and makes them whole.  Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord, our Shepherd, restores – or resets – our souls. That work goes faster and deeper when we are thankful, even in the midst of difficult situations. It is a simple, but often neglected truth – giving thanks makes us whole.

         I believe that Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving did much toward ending the Civil War and making our nation whole because many of our citizens were people of faith. Unfortunately, today, many Americans do not believe there is a Person to thank – just a superstition to debunk. It is left to us who believe, and know our God, to join with our loved ones to thank Him this Thanksgiving and to, as the proclamation invites, “fervently implore the intervention of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it. . . .” In other words, to make it whole again as well. 

Measuring Our Days

Lord, make me to know mine end,

and the measure of my days, what it is;

that I may know how frail I am.

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth;

and mine age is as nothing before thee:

verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.

Psalm 39:4,5

This was a Psalm for public worship.     It was written and sent “To the Chief Musician – even to Jeduthan.” Jeduthan was a Levite of the family of Merari and the chief of one of the three choirs of the temple whose descendants also formed one of the perpetual temple    choirs.  Reese, in His Chronological Bible, places it among the 6 Psalms he associates with David’s sin with Bath-Sheba.  It is a Lament that deals with the brevity of life which could have been prompted by the death of David and Bath-Sheba’s newborn son. 

         In Psalm 23, David talks about how the Lord was with him as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. This “shadow” can refer to a close call, a life-threatening situation, or even a terminal illness. But this valley does not have to be the valley of the shadow of our death.  It could be the death or impending death of someone very dear to us. 

         Walking through this valley is what one could call a “depressing blessing.” None of us choose to enter there but our Shepherd will take us through it because we need that walk. One reason we need it is because of what David was speaking here – to begin to grasp the reality our own life’s end before we get there.

         In 2009 I was diagnosed with a malignant GIST tumor in my stomach.  I had a third of my stomach removed and ended up spending ten days in the Oncology floor of a hospital. Although weak and in a lot of pain my life was not in danger (I called it a “nasty spat” with cancer – not a battle), and I was recovering well. However, the people around me were not.  I could hear the suffering in nearby rooms and a depressing pall of death seemed to pervade the floor. I had always known I was going to die someday, but it was during that time I really felt the gloom of that valley for the first time.  I felt I had crept up to the edge of a very deep chasm, peered over and immediately shrunk back.  I knew I was ready, by the grace of God, to go to heaven – but I was not sure if I was ready for the process of getting there.  God let me know my “end” and it changed the way I looked at a lot of things.

God gives us the water of our our lives in manageable “drips” called “days”.     My hospital stay reminded me that my days were measured.  It is important to note that, in this psalm, David asked God to know the measure of his days – not his weeks, months, years, or decades.  That is because if we manage our each of day well, the longer periods will fall into line.  Moses prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 90. When confronted with the eternity of God, and the shortness of man’s life on earth, he cries out – “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” 

         Days well managed for God build up to become a legacy – a testimony for those who come after us. David was one of only four people in the Bible who passed into eternity with the epithet – “full of days.” The other three were Isaac, Job, and Jehoiada (the priest who raised and mentored King Joash.) The term “full of days” could mean “satiated with days.” I tend to think it could also mean they died having lived lives of “days which were satiated” – full of knowing and following God’s will for each 24 hour “drip.” They valued and numbered each of their days and that motivated them to get wisdom above everything else (Proverbs 4:7). 

         A key element in gaining wisdom is the understanding that David was asking for – a knowledge of his frailty and smallness as well as God’s power and greatness. In the Selah verse (v. 5) David tells the Lord that his days were only as wide as a hand and counted as nothing before His eternity.  As the king of Israel, David realized that even with all of his accomplishments, status and riches his life was really nothing more than an empty shell or a dry husk. 

         It is true that God loves us and we are of infinite worth to Him. But until we get to the point of abhorring ourselves and like Isaiah “come undone” of our pride and “accomplishments” there is not much He can do for us.  It is good to pause like this Selah asks us to and, like David, ask God to help you know “the measure of your days.”  Remembering that our days will end and we will step into eternity is a solemn, not a morbid, exercise.  It should motivate us to fill up every “hand-breadth” size day with activities that will have effects that will stretch far beyond the edges of time.  Besides the obvious activities of prayer and Bible reading they could include things like a timely text message to a friend in need, an attempt to reconcile with someone you offended, or an offering to missionary.  The list could be endless. Measuring your days is a tremendous motivator to pursue Him with everything within you.

Live by the Truth!

Several years ago, while working for a company in Texas, I met a middle-aged Russian woman who was on-loan to our office to conduct some training.  She was beautiful, happy, outgoing and easy to work with.  During some down time, while several of us were sitting around, I asked her what is was like in 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed. 

         Her bright face quickly saddened and she said, “I was a teenager at the time and I suddenly realized we all had been living a lie.” Her answer surprised me – instead of the happiness of being free from Communist tyranny – there was the grief of realizing everything she had been taught by her government, and had believed, was a lie.  People had been imprisoned and killed by lies.  Their society was ruled by lies. She had been living by lies.

         That is one reason my interest was piqued when I heard of a book by Rod Dreher titled Live Not by Lies – A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Penguin Publishing.) Mr. Dreher is a conservative blogger and serves as a Senior Editor of the “The American Conservative.”  He has also authored three other books – The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (about his late sister), How Dante Can Save Your Life (about his love for the poet), and The Benedict Option (a call to Christians to divorce themselves from the secular mainstream of America.)  The timing of this, his most current book – being so close to an election that could have dire consequences for freedom in our country – caught my interest.  As Christians, where should we stand should our government go completely in with the socialist agenda?  If, on the other hand, we are able to keep ourselves from being sucked into tyranny this time, how should we live in a culture that is steeped in false narratives that continue to pull us that direction? This book provides answers which are both disturbing and encouraging. 

         The title of the book is a quote by the Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn from his final message to the Russian people before his forced exile from Russia entitled “Live Not by Lies!” In that piece he challenged the idea that the socialist, or communist, system was so powerful that ordinary people could not challenge it.  Mr. Dreher sums up the rest of Solzhenitsyn’s essay:

The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology of lies. The system depends on its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe.  You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and within your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!” (page xiv)

         The book is divided into two parts. The first (the most disturbing) is “Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.” In these four chapters Dreher introduces us to the creeping totalitarianism in our country through the eyes of those who lived through it in the Soviet Bloc.  These stories revolve around a Jesuit priest named Tomislav Kolakovic (to whom the book is dedicated.) He was a Croatian priest who fled to Czechoslovakia from the Nazis.  As the war came to an end, the Nazi threat diminished and the Soviet threat increased. Kolakovic knew what was coming and started to prepare his congregants for the inevitable. He soon gained a following and they adopted a motto – “See, Judge, Act.”  Be awake to the realities around you, seriously discern the meaning of those realities in the light of the truth of Christianity, and then act to resist the evil.  His strategy worked – although the Slovak Christians were the most persecuted in the Soviet Bloc, the Catholic Church thrived in its resistance.

         Dreher goes on to say that the survivors of Soviet totalitarianism are the Kolakovics of today – warning us of a coming totalitarianism – a “soft” totalitarianism that seeks to control all aspects of our lives. He describes this soft totalitarianism in this way:

This totalitarianism is therapeutic. It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing. (page 7)

         The author goes on to say, like all totalitarianism, this brand seeks to displace all prior institutions and traditions and bring everyone under the control of its own ideology. The most disturbing thing about this section is the way the Mr. Dreher introduces us, throughout this section, to the words of former dissidents and Soviet citizens – now living in, or observing, the West – warning us that “this was the way it started with us.” 

         The second half of the book – “How to Live in Truth” – is encouraging.  It lays out specific principles and practices that were followed by Christians of all stripes that helped them live by the truth while under Soviet totalitarianism. Dreher does a manful job of research to enable us see these practices lived out before our eyes through the lives of real Christians who lived under a hard totalitarianism. The author groups these practices and principles into six groups:

  • Value nothing more than truth.
  • Cultivate cultural memory.
  • Families are resistance cells.
  • Religion: the bedrock of resistance.
  • Standing in solidarity.
  • The gift of suffering.

When I was a boy, I used to look through the training manuals my father was allowed to keep after serving as a soldier in World War II. They were concise and practical. They were designed to help him survive, fight, and win in a very hostile environment – a war.  As a Christians living in America we are also called to survive, fight, and win in a war that is both spiritual and cultural. Rod Dreher has helped increase our chances of surviving and winning this war through this manual – I highly recommend it.  

What is a Birthday?

While celebrating a birthday recently I began to wonder, “What is a birthday?” “What purpose does it serve in my life?” Beyond all the obvious reasons for celebrating, such as affirming our love for the birthday person, giving friends and family a reason to get together to celebrate, and (of course) the cake and ice cream, why should we stop and take the time to observe the passing of another year in our lives?

            We do it to maintain perspective – and we do that by looking in three directions.

            A birthday is a time to look back.  It is a time to pause and remember how far we have come. It is a time to remember our parents, our childhood, and our upbringing.  If you are like me, it is also time to remember bringing up your own family, your children’s childhood, the wonderful woman who was your wife, the loving mother of your children, and who is now gone. It is a time to remember the privilege of giving of yourself to your work and the great people with whom you worked. And, in it all, it is a time to see God’s hand – His blessing – in both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the easy and the hard, the therapeutic and the traumatic – and thanking Him for every minute of it.

            A birthday is a time to look forward.  The race that is still ahead – where will it take me?  What do I need to do to run it?  Am I doing what I need to do to run it?  The fight I still need to fight – where is it?  How do I fight it? How do I get and stay in shape to fight it? Unfortunately (but, in truth, it really is fortunate) our vision in this direction is much more limited than our look to the past.  Instead of the decades of experience, all we may see ahead are days of uncertainty, even fear. They do not need to be so. Bolstered by our look to the past, all we need to see looking forward is the next step.  God has seen us through thus far and He will continue to do so. We just need to stick close to His side.

            A birthday is a time to look up.  There have been many who have gone before us and have left a testimony of God’s faithfulness.  There are so many of them, the writer of Hebrews calls them a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12 :1-6).  A cloud is made up of millions of droplets of water – so a “great cloud” of witnesses represents a HUGE number of real, flesh and blood people who have walked this walk of faith through this fallen world before us. Hebrews also tells us (in chapter 11) that they all left us a testimony of God’s faithfulness before leaving this world – but without receiving the promise, sometimes after horrible suffering. Why is this? It is because their faith looked beyond time to eternity. Their faith could see what those without faith could not see – God’s eternal purposes. Eternity is what gave their life meaning and caused them to make a difference in the world. And that was all that really mattered.

            That is why Hebrews tells us we can run whatever is left of our race with endurance by looking up – to the One who began our faith, and the One who will finish it – Jesus. He was able to endure the agony of the cross and regarded the shame of the cross as a small price to pay for the joy of providing redemption to “whosoever will.” Our lives can also have a redemptive effect on those we know (and the joy that goes with it) as we keep our eyes on all He did for us and what He wants us to do for others. 

If, on your birthdays, you look back with deep regret, or look forward with dread, take some time today to look up to the One who gave Himself for you. Trust Him to save you from your sin.  Stay close to Him and let Him lead you on the path He has planned. 

Trust me, there is nothing better.

How To Choose a President

We are rapidly approaching what could be called the most contentious election of the last century.  The effects of the pandemic, civil unrest, the vitriol, and now – an open seat on SCOTUS – have turned this election into a political knife fight. Some have even floated the horrible possibility of a civil war after the election. 

         With all this in the mix, we need to keep a level head as well as a watchful eye. We know in our hearts, and have heard everywhere, the results of this election will have profound consequences. Who should we choose when we walk into the voting booth on November third (if you haven’t already voted)?  What should we look for in a candidate?  We are constantly besieged with advice, slogans, and appeals from both sides.  Is there an objective standard, one far removed from the drama of the present day, we should use when making our decision?

         I have found one. It is about 3,000 years old – given by one of the most famous kings in history, King David, on his deathbed.  It is found in 2 Samuel 22:3,4:

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me,

He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,

even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth

by clear shining after rain. (KJV)

         With these words David was sharing God’s own direction to him years before, when David was given the task of leading His people.  Let’s look at this standard a little closer.

         He rules over men. The word for “rule” (Hebrew – masal) means to have dominion over.  The President of the United States does not exercise total dominion over the country but, as the Chief Executive, he is the most powerful and influential single person in our government.  From the man or woman that holds that position emanates all of the power of the Executive Branch. We have been one of the few countries in the history of the world to have the great privilege of actually choosing the person who holds this power and influence.  We make our choice by voting. It is imperative that we exercise that right to choose and choose well.  You may not be enthusiastic about either of the candidates but vote anyway, after weighing your choice by these standards.

         He must be just. Although the president does not make the laws in our country they cannot be enacted without his signature (unless there are enough legislators to override his veto.)  That is a lot of power. How will he use his power of the veto? What type of legislation will he promote? 

Is it possible for legislation to be unjust?  Of course it is – our nation’s history bears witness to this.  The “Jim Crow” laws and some Supreme Court decisions, such as Dred Scott, all supported the “legal” injustice of racial inequality and slavery even though these are evil. How do we know if a law is just or unjust today? There is an objective standard – the Law, God’s law, the principles that come out of the Ten Commandments – by which a president can evaluate proposed legislation.  

         In choosing a president we need to consider whether or not he will execute his duties justly.  Will that man weigh the matters before him – whether signing (or vetoing) legislation, developing foreign policy, or choosing a Supreme Court justice – by the transcendent principles of the principles of God’s Law or by the fickle trends of political convenience and the whims of his donors? Even more importantly, does the candidate really believe there is an objective standard for right and wrong, or does he or she think that post-modern “narratives” that proceed from the press, Hollywood, and academia should decide our course? Consider his record – what has governed his decisions in the past?

         He must rule in the fear of God. Not only should a president be guided by the Law but he also should conduct his administration believing he will be held accountable to the Law-Giver.  He should have a sense of responsibility, not only to history but to the God of history. This will include considering the impact his decisions will have on the people they affect.  God is the Father to the fatherless and the Judge of the widows – the most vulnerable in out society (Psalm 68:5). Today we could also include those with disabilities and the unborn.  A good candidate will understand that God is the Defender of those least able to defend themselves. Even more than that, a president should see himself as God’s instrument in executing that defense and work hard to fulfill his duties for those who he leads. 

         I don’t know any leader of any nation who has ever completely lived up to these high standards. We are all flawed people living in a fallen world. David himself did not live up to them, but we do have the promise that someday his descendant, the Messiah, will when He returns to earth. Until then, in the United States, it is our privilege and solemn responsibility to choose the candidate who we believe comes the closest to these two standards.

         What will be the effect of such leadership? According to David, it would be much different from the gloom that today’s pundits predict. According to him it will be the promise that comes with a bright and clear morning – a new growth everywhere and a clarity that is like the fresh air after a rain shower. 

Could this be a new morning in America? Possibly.

“For Real” Repentance

It’s no secret that repentance can look real even when it isn’t. We have all met Christians who have “repented” but, in reality, only switched the track on which their selfishness runs. Worse than that, we can remember when we have done the same thing! 

Repentance is not a one-time act in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. As mentioned in a previous post (“Repentance”), we are aiming for a horizon (lined out in the Beatitudes.)  As in any flight, this requires frequent “course corrections” and adjustments to keep our course aligned with that horizon. 

How do we know our repentance is real and not just a product of our emotions or an effort to save our reputation? How can we keep from only shedding “crocodile tears” when we should be seeking real life change?

The answer lies in the stories of Saul and David.  Both were kings. Both had committed serious sins. Both were confronted by prophets for their sins but only one of them repented for real.  The other king produced and directed a touching repentance show – crying “crocodile tears” – putting his life into a shallow dive from which it never recovered. The story this second king is told in 1 Samuel 15.

A few years after being anointed king of Israel by Samuel the prophet, Saul was busy establishing the kingdom of Israel and fighting its enemies on every side.  This included the nations of Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. He also had some skirmishes with a group called the Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:47-48). After this, Samuel the prophet came with a message from the Lord to Saul that he was to utterly wipe out the Amalekites – men, women, children, and all livestock – because of what they did to the children of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness.

At first Saul obeyed, gathered an army, and then destroyed the almost all the people – he kept the Amalekite king and the best of the animals alive. God quickly informed Samuel about Saul’s disobedience and the prophet went to confront Saul with his sin. When confronted, Saul protested that he did obey the command of God by bringing the king of Amalek and allowing the people to bring the best of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord. 

After Samuel rebuked Saul with the declaration that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” Saul raised the curtain on his repentance drama. His opening lines were spot on – “I have sinned” (1 Samuel 15:24) as he confessed that he trespassed against God’s commandment and feared the people more than God. But the plot took a twist as Samuel prepared to leave Saul – never to see him again. Saul begged the prophet to go with him as he returned to the people to worship the Lord.  Samuel refused and started to walk away and, as he did, Saul grabbed Samuel’s robe in desperation and it tore. Samuel used this as an illustration of how God was going to tear the kingdom away from Saul and give it to someone better. Saul continued to beg Samuel help him save face and return with him to worship the Lord in front of the people. Samuel finally relented and returned with Saul to worship and then went on his way, leaving the king to his stubborn and rebellious ways.

On the other hand David, who was Saul’s successor, committed two sins that were much worse than Saul’s (see 2 Samuel 11,12).  First, he committed adultery with Bath-Sheba.  After he found out she was pregnant with his child, he tried to hide his sin by calling her husband, Urijah, back from the war under the guise of getting news of how it was going.  When Urijah chose to lodge with David’s servants instead of going home to be with his wife, David conspired to have him killed in battle. 

David was confronted by the prophet Nathan – and through him, God pronounced a severe judgment on David ‘s family because of his sin.  When confronted, David responded like Saul – “I have sinned” (2 Samuel 12:13) but the similarity ends there.  David’s repentance was real and is on full display in Psalm 51.  You might call this psalm an “Anatomy of Real Repentance.” It is worth some serious study – there is a lot to learn there – but let’s look at a few key points.

  • David approached God on one basis alone – Yahweh’s lovingkindness and tender mercies.  All of David’s past victories and virtues are forgotten here – they do not matter. These two sins outweigh them all (vs. 1).  No matter how “big” or “small” – our sin is still sin. When we really repent, we approach God the same way – on the basis of His mercy alone.  Forget your past successes.
  • Unlike Saul, David did not try to escape the consequences of his sin. He did not try to save face – just the opposite!  He wrote this whole psalm about his sin and there are fifty-two verses in 2 Samuel detailing the sordid affair. In Psalm 51:2 he asks God to “wash me thoroughly from my sin.”  The word for “wash” (Hebrew – kabas) is not the word for taking washing your hands or taking a bubble bath.  It is the word for washing clothes. It literally means to trample because trampling the clothes with the feet was the “agitation cycle” in ancient times. Not only was David not seeking to escape the consequences of his sin, he was inviting them! “Trample over me many times because of my sin.” In other words – “Work this filth out of me, no matter what You have to do!” is the attitude of a repentance that is for real.
  • He was very aware that he had trespassed into forbidden territory. He grasped the seriousness of his sin – he did not seek to minimize it. He saw it for what it was – not a mistake or a weakness – but a slap at a holy God.  In the New Testament, the word for “confess” is homologeo which means to “agree” or to “say the same thing.” This comes when we see something the same way as someone else.  Somebody who has truly repented has taken the time to see his sin the way God sees it (vs 4).
  • He knew the only remedy for sin was blood.  Hyssop tree was a bushy plant whose sprigs were used to strike the posts and lintels of the doors of the Israelites when the death angel visited the Egyptians the night of the Passover. The blood of a lamb without spot or blemish was the only thing that saved them that night.  A repentant heart knows that forgiveness can only come through the blood that Jesus shed for us (vs. 7,9; 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:22).
  • Finally, David prayed for restoration.  He did not pray for the restoration of his reputation – he prayed for a restoration of his relationship with God. He asked for a clean heart, a right spirit, the privilege of living daily in His presence, the joy of his salvation, and that God’s Holy Spirit would not be taken from him.  He did not ask for restoration just he could feel good and sleep at night.  He prayed for this so he could teach his fellow transgressors God’s ways and turn back to Him.  When we repent “for real” we seek God’s restoration so He can use us to restore others.

To truly repent is the beginning of eternal life.  It opens the door to a relationship with God Himself – the Creator of heaven and earth!  The blood of the lambs and bullocks of the Old Testament were God’s “placeholders” – speaking of the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus – cleansing us like David was cleansed.  

Look over Psalm 51 for yourself.  Study it.  Ponder it. Pray it to God from your heart. Real repentance is the most important thing you can do in your life.

Repentance

Today is the central day of “The Return” – a movement for national repentance led by Rabbi Jonathan Kahn – held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Along with other churches, the church I attend will be joining with the march virtually and I am looking forward to it.

         What is repentance?  I have heard it explained as a “180 degree turn” in one’s life. “I was once going south and now I am going north” – a radical directional change in one’s life.  I maintain that this is what resultsfrom repentance – but repentance is more than just a change in direction. Repentance comes from a change in our hearts. 

In the New Testament the word “repent” is first heard from the mouth of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1,2).  It is also the first word we hear Jesus speak in His public ministry (Matthew 4:17)!  The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeo which is defined in Vine’s Expository Dictionary as to “change one’s mind or purpose.”  I have heard it described as a change in one’s moral center – a change from my morals centering around what best pleases me, to my morals centering around what best pleases Him.  This change leads to another change – in my disposition, or my state of mind, toward different areas of my life.  The way I look at myself, others, sin, my “rights,” my relationships, and the needs of others, are all changed when I repent. All of this brings about that “180 degree turn” in the way we live.

How do we know if we have repented, or need to repent? That is why the next words we hear from Jesus in the New Testament are the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  These describe the man or woman who has truly repented.  They are the picture of a repentant heart. 

I like to describe them as the horizon by which we need to orient our lives.  I am not a pilot, but have always been interested in aviation. Before computers were able to consolidate all the information a pilot needs to know into a few screens, a key indicator of how a flight was going was the “attitude indicator.” This is a circular dial that had a line (representing the wings of the airplane) that seemed to  “float” above a stationary line (representing the horizon). If the floating line dropped below the stationary line – you were in a dive. If it rose above the horizon, you were in a climb.  If the floating line leaned to the right or left – it showed that the plane was turning. The whole purpose of the attitude indicator was to show the plane’s disposition to the horizon. This is especially important during times when the real horizon could not be seen.  

The Beatitudes are our “attitude indicator.” They provide a “horizon” for our lives and help us gauge our disposition to that horizon.  Are we in a slow dive, or are we in too steep of a climb and heading for a stall?  Are we beginning to roll? We should be visiting the Beatitutdes often to keep ourselves level and right-side-up in an upside-down world.  

How to Treat Your Enemies

In our everyday life it is normal to encounter those with whom we have disagreements or even personality conflicts.  However there are a few times in life when we encounter people who not only dislike us – they hate us.  They do not just want to avoid us – they want to destroy us politically, socially, financially, or even physically.  Enemies are not just people who treat you bad because they are having a bad day, they are people who just want you gone and are willing to do what they have to do to see it happen.

Sometimes we have an enemy because of something stupid or sinful we have done.  If that is the case it is time to “leave your gift at the altar” and do whatever is needed to seek reconciliation. When we acquire an enemy we should first stop and ask ourselves if they are hating us because we did what was right or what was wrong. 

I have only encountered one or two real enemies in my life.  I expect that will change for all who willing to live as a Christian in this post-modern world. That is why it is important to revisit Jesus’ teaching on how we are to treat our enemies and even those who are just having a bad day (it is good practice for the day we meet a real enemy)! 

 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,  Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.  And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.  Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.  And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.  And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Luke 6:26-36

  First of all, we see that it should be unusual for a Christian not to have an enemy at least sometime in their life. As followers of Christ in a fallen world it is inevitable that we will  meet a few people who will hate us.  As the world system doubles down on its rebellion against God, this hatred of us will increase.

This doesn’t mean we should not defend ourselves or those for whom we are responsible. Like Paul the Apostle, we should avail ourselves of whatever rights as citizens that are left to us, and do so in the spirit of our Redeemer. In this passage (and in a parallel one in Matthew 5: 43-48) Jesus gives us four steps to follow to help us do just that. 

Love your enemies. In Matthew – Jesus puts this command in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom of the day – to love your neighbor but hate your enemy. Why should we love our enemies? We must love our enemies because hating them does not destroy them – it destroys us.  Returning an enemy’s hate increases their influence over you and destroys your soul. 

Another reason to love your enemy is because there is a reward for doing so.  Apparently loving our enemies pays very well – mostly in the influence you will have on others. John tells us in 1 John 3:1 that we are the sons of God – but those around us do not know that yet.  But Jesus tells us that loving our enemies transfigures us (in a sense), so those around can recognize us for who we really are – the children of the Highest. This moment comes when we love our enemies. 

But how do we love someone who is out to destroy us? Jesus follows this command with three others that, if followed, makes this impossible task not only possible but inevitable.

Do good to them which hate you. Having an enemy is a powerful opportunity to demonstrate what the love of God really looks like. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells us that His Father does not withhold what people need because of their faults and neither should we.  When confronted with one who hates us we need to intentionally look beyond their efforts to destroy us and see their needs.  This introduces a paradigm shift in our attitude that is the first step to truly loving our enemy.  

When we do good to an enemy by meeting his or her physical needs with our “treasure” (time, money, energy), we are also investing in them emotionally.  In Matthew 6:21 Jesus said regarding giving, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This helps us to truly forgive and even love those who hate or offend us in some way.  A note of caution here: Timing is essential. An attempt to help may be perceived by an enemy as only an attempt to placate his anger if it is offered at the wrong time. If your help or generosity is rejected – do not be discouraged, but keep praying about the matter. God will open up opportunities that will amaze you!

Bless them that curse you. A curse does not have to be a “four-letter word.”  It could be an angry insult, a whispering campaign to sully the reputation of another, or just plain trash-talk. It is using our mouth to strike back at our enemy in some way.  However, gracious words spoken to or about  a foe can go a long way in extinguishing the fire of an enemy’s wrath.  Solomon tells us that tender words sends wrath into retreat while painful words only stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). He also tells us that soft words go a long way to breaking down barriers (Proverbs 25:15).

How can we bless those who are cursing us? First, we must make up our mind to do so – this a command, not a request.  It is our duty,  as followers of the crucified One, to always render blessing for cursing (1 Peter 2:20,21).  Second, we need to look for ways we can give a good report about our enemy. Is he a good father, or is she an efficient secretary?  Do they work hard?  Don’t lie or flatter – but pray about the matter, and seriously think about their good points.  I can assure you – even the meanest enemies will have some!  Also, beware of the talebearers . . . the gossips who will try to bait you into cursing your enemy “secretly” so they can carry the news back to them to hear their response.    Some people just love a good fight – don’t give it to them!

Blessing an enemy has an effect on us as well. As we consider their good qualities, they suddenly don’t look like the monsters we thought they were.  Blessing an enemy humanizes them in our eyes. We begin to see that they really are not that different from ourselves.

Pray for them who despitefully use you. It really stings to be on the business end of a threat. Jesus makes it clear our first response is not to pray against our enemies – but to pray for our enemies.  Why should we do this?  First of all, we do not need to pray against our enemies because God already said that vengeance is His – and He has already promised to repay (Romans 12:19-21).  When He does repay – that is our opportunity to help! Second, praying for our enemy gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to keep our hearts soft toward that person so we will joyfully seize that opportunity to help when it presents itself.  Third, we are to pray because that physical enemy we have is God’s reminder to us that we have a much greater enemy who is always at war with us (even when everything is going well).  Flesh and blood enemies wake us up to the reality that we are always wrestling against principalities, powers, the rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places whose whole purpose is to destroy us (Ephesians 6:12). Your physical enemy is only a pawn in a much larger game and if you respond to his hatred in kind you become a pawn as well!  Praying for your enemy is the remedy.  A proper response to an enemy actually begins with praying for them.

As you will see in my next post, enemies can be a mighty blessing if we respond correctly.  God has a social economy that operates differently than ours in every way.  As we walk in His ways (which are much higher than ours) the doors open for Him to show His glory and draw people to Christ.

The Last Laugh

One of my favorite TV shows as a child was “Hogan’s Heroes.”  The comedy portrayed a crew of cunning saboteurs (aka: “POW’s) who were always able to pull the wool over the eyes of a group of bumbling Nazi’s.  A few years ago, I was wondering how many of the cast were still alive and what they were doing.  I found out that their present was not as interesting as their past.  Here is a brief synopsis of what I found:

Otto Klemperer (Colonel Kink) was the son of another Otto Klemperer – a world famous Jewish German conductor who had been discharged from his post at the State Opera in Berlin by the Nazis and went, with his family, into exile in the US during World War II.

John Banner (Sergeant Shultz) was a young Austrian Jewish actor who was touring Switzerland with an acting company when Nazi Germany and Austria united in 1938. Unable to return to Austria, he emigrated to the US as a political refugee.

Howard Kaine (Colonel Hochstedder) was born in 1926 to a Jewish family in Nashville, Tennessee and began acting when he moved with his family to New York City.

Leon Askin (General Burkholder) was born into a Jewish family on Yom Kippur in September of 1907. He became a famous actor in the “Louise Dumont Playhouse” in Dusseldorf until he was thrown out of the theater as a Jew. About a month later he was arrested by the SA, taken to the SA barracks and beaten by a member of the SS.  After his release, he emigrated to Paris where he eventually ended up in an internment camp in 1938. He remained there until he emigrated to New York in 1940.

Robert Clary (Corporal Louis LeBeau) grew up in a French Orthodox Jewish family as the youngest of 14 children.  In 1941, when the Nazi’s took over in France he endured the isolation, the curfews, the ghettoes, and the mistreatment of the Nazis. In 1942, at the age of 16, he was interned in a concentration camp (see .  It was the last time he would see his mother and the eleven other family members who were imprisoned with him (see here).  As the war wound down, he was transferred to other camps until he, along with his fellow prisoners, were liberated.

I find it interesting that for six funny years these six men were given an opportunity to stand back and have, in a sense, the “last laugh” on the regime which had murdered their family members and threatened their very existence just because they were Jewish.

The Bible tells us of another who will have the final laugh at those who rise up to destroy the Jewish people and the heritage they represent – God Himself.  To those rulers who would set themselves against Him, and His anointed, the Bible tells us:

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, And vex them in his sore displeasure.         (Psalm 2:4,5)

From the ancient Egyptians, to the Babylonians, and on to the Nazis, history is littered with societies who have opposed, conquered, and oppressed the Jewish people. Once world leaders, now they do not exist, are shadows of the societies they once were, or have become mere by-words illustrating human arrogance and cruelty.

As a Christian I believe God still looks at the Jewish people as “His people.”  He still has a plan for them, and that plan is intertwined with the return of Jesus, the Messiah, to earth.  Until that time, God’s promise to Abraham to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him is still very much in effect.  As an American, I believe that our nation should always take that promise of blessing and cursing very seriously.  Although many do not see it this way – it is God’s mercy that the Trump administration is pursuing a more positive course with Israel than the presidents who came before. It is my prayer that this course will continue through future administrations as well.

There is a saying that “He who laughs last, laughs best.” The Bible tells us that God will have the last laugh – and it will be at those who opposed Him, His people, and His Christ.  

On which side of the laugh will you be?