Jesus

My Help Comes from the LORD

smokey mountain

One of my favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. I think one of the reasons for that is because mountains make me feel very small. It’s hard to go to the mountains, see the majestic sky lines and the unbelievable views and not be in awe of God’s creation.

This year in particular, I felt very small. The house in which we were staying was surrounded by terrifying roads along with a terrifying driveway leading up to the house…and let me tell you, I probably prayed as hard and as fervently as we drove up and down these roads and that driveway as I’ve prayed in some time. There’s nothing like contemplating your impending doom, to get you praying…and praying hard!

I write all of this a bit tongue in cheek, but on a very serious note, I came back from vacation quite refreshed (even if it wasn’t that relaxing). I think one of the reasons I came back so refreshed was because I had time away from the everyday “hustle and bustle” of life to spend some time contemplating the things of God. And no matter where you find yourself, it is always a good thing, and a beneficial thing, and a soul refreshing thing to do…to contemplate the things of God.

For me personally, the mountains are a good place to do this. I’ve heard some say the beach helps them to connect with God in a way that they may not in their ordinary day to day lives.

With all of this being said, and aside from my terrifying drives that got me really close to God a few weeks ago, the fact is we as Christians here in America live in relative safety. We get to worship in relative safety. But this has not always been the case, and that is the backdrop for one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 121.

The backdrop of Psalm 121 is that of a pilgrim traveler that was making his way up to Jerusalem to go up to the temple to worship. And this pilgrim who was making his way to and from the temple would encounter many trials and dangers along the way.

I suppose in light of the immediate context of this Psalm, some might wonder how this Psalm would apply to you and I. Well, let’s take a closer look.

While it is true that you and I dwell in relative physical safety in our day, that doesn’t change the reality that we are still pilgrims in the midst of a dangerous world. This being true, we can see very plainly in just the first few verses just how applicable this text is for us.

In verse 1, the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Friends, even though we may not be facing perilous physical journeys right now in the way of dangerous mountain roads, the fact is that all of us deal with challenges in this world. Dangerous challenges that threaten to derail us on our journey WITH and TO God, and that threaten to derail us on our path to worship.

Our world and our lives are filled with things like sickness, the death of loved ones, difficult relationships, money issues, trouble at work, and we could go on and on. All of these things are in addition to the Spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face. (Of course the big one that sort of sums up all of these things up is SIN…We ALL deal with sin.)

Each of us could, I have no doubt name something that we are dealing with right now.

So…in this context, I love this question. Why? One, because it is an acknowledgement of and an awareness of the need for help. Secondly, because it implies that there is an answer, and there is help to be found.

The Psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from…?” As the Psalmist looks to the hills as a picture of the trials and dangers that await him, it reminds us that we are a people who do need help. Much like I said earlier about how the mountains help me to feel small and they humble me…so does our seeing and going through challenges and difficulties in our everyday lives. These things help us to remember that we are not self-sufficient. We are not strong. We are not the ones with all the answers. We are small…and we are in need of help along the journey of life.

But here is the reality. The truth is we are all tempted to look somewhere else, other than to God for our help. Unfortunately most of us, and maybe even all of us often look in places that offer no help at all or at least they don’t offer us the help that we truly need.

But, the Psalmist here in Psalm 121 gives us just the answer that we need, and tells us EXACTLY who we are to be looking to for our help. In the midst of whatever trial, and in the face of the mountains that lay before us.

Verse 2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Folks, we can and we MUST be looking to the ALMIGHTY, ALL POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN God of the Universe. The God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Look around at the world, look all you want, and you won’t find anything that God didn’t create. If God created it, He is sovereign over it. I know sometimes it seems like the world is out of control. Sometimes it seems like your problems, your hurts, your pains are too much for anyone to bear…but if you have the ALMIGHTY God, the creator of the world…the one who is sovereign over ALL things…then what should you fear? Nothing!

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Absolutely not!

Look what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?“

Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….” Verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is a lot going on in these verses, but I think we can sum it all up quite simply…You are in good hands with God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. There is nothing this world will throw at you that can destroy you if you are in the hands of God, and friends if you are in Christ, that is precisely where you are. Firmly in the hands of God.

And I think the Psalmist in Psalm 121 would agree. So,  no matter what challenge or what mountain you see before you on this day…be looking to the LORD, the only one that can truly give you the help that you need.

Walking Worthy of Our Calling

walking

Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

I think, I hope all of us know, that none of us is worthy of the Gospel…None of us is worthy of the grace of God, and being called to live the glorious life to which we are called to as Christians…None of us is worthy of the love of Christ. Certainly we all know that. And hopefully we all know that there is nothing that we can ever do, or will ever do, or that Is even within our power to do…that will ever, ever, make us worthy of the love of God…

So, what in the world does Paul mean here, when he tells us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling?

Well, Paul isn’t telling us to work really hard so that we will prove ourselves worthy…we aren’t trying to earn any type of merit before God. We can’t do that, as we all know. But what Paul is trying to tell us here, is that we should live a life that is fitting and appropriate for one who is in Christ. Our lifestyles should reflect who we are in Christ…One commentator said that  we should, “live lives equal to the blessings we’ve received in Christ.”

That is a staggering thought…That we need to live lives that are equal to the blessings we’ve received in Christ.

So, the question becomes…How do we as the church do this? How can we live lives that are appropriate of ones who bear the name of Christ? Well, Paul tells us…Jesus told us…

We walk in unity…

So then the question becomes…What does unity look like? How do we achieve it?

Again Paul tells us…

We walk…we live, “…with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”

Well notice that three “fruits of the Spirit” that Paul also talks about in Galatians 5 are mentioned.  

Gentleness, Patience, and Love

So, we must understand first of all, that this is all a work of the Spirit. As the Spirit dwells within us, he changes us, and he enables us to live the types of lives that the Gospel demands of us.

So, does this mean we sit back and wait for the Holy Spirit to do his thing?

Absolutely not!! The Gospel…and the grace that we receive as a result of the Gospel is not an excuse for laziness or passivity…The Gospel and the grace given to us in Christ empowers us to get off of our lazy butts and do what we were created to do!

Glorify God…And again, God is glorified, Christ receives glory, when there is unity within the body of Christ.

So, what’s the first thing you think of when you see this list of attributes…”Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Love”?

When I read them, all I see is Christ.

So, how can we achieve unity within the body of Christ? By imitating Christ. By living as Christ lived…and we are to imitate Christ aren’t we? Ephesians 5:1 seems to think so…Paul says there to be imitators of God and to love like Christ.

So, let’s do what we should all do often, and spend some time thinking about Christ, and seeing how he put these attributes on display.

Let’s start with humility. Was Christ humble? Let’s look at Philippians 2:5-8

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”

Was Christ very humble? The God of the universe, making himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, becoming a man, and humbling himself to the point of dying on our behalf on a cross?

Yeah…I’d say that is pretty humble.

Was Christ Gentle? Well, he has certainly been gentle with us hasn’t he? We certainly don’t get what we deserve do we? Did Christ come in as a conquering king in power? Not at all…Christ didn’t come as a roaring lion…but he came as a lamb…of course we know that one day…this isn’t going to be the case…indeed one day he will come as that conquering king and that roaring lion…but this is what makes his humility and gentleness even more amazing…

Simply by the word of his mouth he has the power to conquer and pour out judgement…but yet he doesn’t…he has humbled himself, much to our benefit, and he has treated us with great gentleness…and obvious he is very patient with us…

When you take the humility that we’ve already talked about, and you take the gentleness that we’ve talked about…and you put them together…and when you know the entire story of who Christ is, and how Christ will indeed come one day in power…what is plainly obvious to me…is that Christ was not weak..

And I think many times, and I know you’ve all heard this before…but many times, people mistake Christ’s humility and gentleness and patience for weakness…but it is anything but that isn’t it…The Bible has a word that sums up these qualities perfectly…and that word is meekness…

Again, a lot of people mistake weakness for meekness, or think the two words are interchangeable…but that is not the case…Meekness is not weakness, but meekness is power under control…

Again, how do we see these qualities, humility, gentleness, and patience…his meekness…on display in Christ…Well…did Jesus ever retaliate when he was wronged, or when he was struck…even to his executioners as he was hanging on the cross he asked his Father to forgive them…for they knew not what they did…That is amazing to me. Jesus certainly wasn’t one to carry a vendetta is he? He was well aware that Judas was to betray him…but still he washed the feet of Judas just as he washed the feet of his other disciples…indeed all of them betrayed him…but how much love did he pour out on those men? Heck, how much love has he poured out on us, the filthy rotten sinners that we are?!?

Jesus, the Lord of creation, was and is always quick to forgive…Jesus was a defender of the weak and powerless…Jesus did not retaliate as he was struck and beaten and hung on a cross…Again, this Christ, is the Lord of all creation…yet we see him doing these things…forgiving, defending, and restraining himself…indeed he was the embodiment of strength under control. Power being restrained.

And, I think in this we see the patience of Christ clearly on display.

And in all of these things, we are to be imitators of Christ…

We are to live lives of humility. We are to be gentle and patient with one another.

The good news is that we don’t have to do these things alone. The Holy Spirit enables us and strengthens us so that we are able to do these things…But one of the major ways in which the Holy Spirit works is He points us more and more to Christ, and opens our eyes so that we can see Christ more and more clearly…And as we meditate on who Christ is, and how he lived, and what he’s done on our behalf…we are amazed, in awe…and then we desire to be more and more like him…and we work together with the Holy Spirit and He molds us more and more into the likeness of Christ…

And then we begin to see these qualities in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Then we as the church will truly be walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

A Psalm for Thanksgiving

thanksgivng blog

Psalm 100 is the only Psalm in the entire book of Psalms that is specifically labeled and referred to as a “Psalm for giving thanks.”

It certainly isn’t the only Psalm used to give thanks, or the only Psalm that speaks of giving thanks, or that exhorts us to give thanks. We see expressions of thanksgiving or exhortations to give thanks all throughout the Book. Psalm after Psalm encourages us to consider the LORD, His love, and to give Him honor and praise for who He is.

Yet, this is the only Psalm that is specifically labeled and given the subscription “A Psalm for giving thanks.” With this in mind, I think it does us well to take some time to consider this Psalm and to see what it might tell us about the giving of thanks, especially on a day like today in which many of us will come together specifically for that purpose. To celebrate our LORD and to give him thanks…

The picture we have in Psalm 100 is the people of God coming together to worship their king, and the Psalm expresses for us what that is to look like…

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD…” Some of your translations may say to “shout”.

“Serve the LORD with gladness!”

“Come into his presence with singing!”

Now shouting is a bit out of character for some of us, but the picture we have here is of a people called into the presence of their almighty God and King and being so filled with awe and joy that they just can’t contain themselves. Their hearts are full of joy, and this joy simply flows out of them.

Folks shout for joy at a lot of things. You can go to sporting events and hear people shouting for joy and celebrating the feats of their favorite team or athletes. Sometimes folks shout at their own TVs. You can go to a concert and hear people making joyful noises as talented musicians perform on the stage. Some of us may shout for joy today at all of the delicious food that is going to be on our tables. But here is my question for us all, and this is a question that we have to ask ourselves…

What thrills our soul?

If the Lord God thrills your soul, how and why would you hold it in? Make a joyful noise! Shout for your king! Sometimes we come to church and it looks more like we are coming to a funeral than the fact that we are coming to praise and worship a risen LORD. Folks our God is alive and when people come into his presence they ought to look alive. Coming to church isn’t a funeral but a celebration and our worship ought to look like it.

So, again…let’s make a joyful noise to the LORD, and shout for our king!

But, true worship doesn’t stop at giving God lip service does it? Verse 2 tells us to “serve the LORD with gladness.” I don’t believe the Psalmist has in mind simply coming to church…because worship doesn’t just happen in the church house does it?

In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus praises his people for serving him by caring for the needy. He praised his people for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing those who needed clothing, looking after the sick, and visiting with those in prison…

Now, time keeps me from exploring these things enough to truly given them justices, but I think we can see clearly that worship isn’t simply what we do when we come to Church, but worship is also what we do when we leave the church!

In Hosea 6:6 God himself says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Jesus Himself told the Pharisees to, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” God isn’t only interested in how we come to worship him in church, though that is important, but it is infinitely important how we serve him when we leave the church as well…

Doesn’t Jesus say that the great commandment is to, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…AND TO…love your neighbor as yourself…”?

So, in a lot of ways and in a very real sense the way in which we love our neighbors and other people reveals how much we really love God.

Now don’t think I’m ONLY talking about physical needs, I’m not. But taking care of folks physical needs is extremely important…James 1:27 says that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” So what James is really telling us here is that if we aren’t caring for other people, those people who are hurting, and suffering, struggling, and in need…then our religion isn’t worth a whole lot…

But, like I said, I’m not just talking about physical needs. We are also called to care for folks and to tend to their spiritual needs…There are those who are spiritually hungry, spiritually thirsty…We must feed them with the Word of God, we must tell them where to find the living water…the only thing that can satisfy the thirst of their souls. Jesus said that those who drink of the water he will give will never thirst again…So let’s give them the living water of the Gospel that leads to eternal life!

Jesus praises his followers in Matthew 25:35 for bringing in the stranger, and we too are to give the Gospel to those who aren’t like us…the “strangers” if you will. We are to give folks clothing, help them to clothe themselves with the righteousness of Christ…We are to care for the spiritually sick and hurting, and certainly we are to proclaim the Gospel, and point those who are in spiritual bondage and in a prison of their own sin to the only one who can set them free…which is of course the Lord Jesus.

So…what have we seen so far? First…we have seen that we are to worship God.

But we have also seen how we are to worship God…

We are to worship him with a joyful noise…we are to sing songs of praise…and we are to be caring for those in need. Both physically AND spiritually.

Now, let’s look at the “why”

Verse 3, “Know that the LORD, he is God!”

God is God! God is our creator. Why do we bow before him in worship, why do we give him our praises? Why do we give him thanks? Because He is our creator God. The Psalmist tells us to “know Him”…Friends, there are a lot of people who know a lot about God, but they don’t really “know” God. It isn’t enough for us to just know a lot of stuff about God, but we must know God as He is…even more importantly, we must have a relationship with God…we must have an intimacy with God…that is what the Psalmist is really trying to convey here…an intimate relationship with God…

Satan knows a lot about God…but he isn’t saved is he. So we must move beyond a head knowledge of the LORD and get a heart knowledge. It’s not enough to know him in our heads, but we have to know him in our hearts as well…

So, how do we come to know God as He is? Well, we must spend time in His Word. We must spend time seeking Him in prayer. We must do both of these things alone, and corporately amongst other believers. (Church, Small Groups, Bible Studies/Prayer Meetings)

And as we come to know God…as we know the real God as He is…we see that He is Lord of all…and if he is Lord over all…then that means that we are not. God is in control, God is in charge…we are not. We have a tendency to think much more of ourselves than we ought to…and it’s really hard to worship God when we are too busy worshiping ourselves.

But the Bible makes it crystal clear that He is God and He is the LORD. He is the creator, and we are the creatures. We are the created ones…So, it is imperative for us to see God as He is…because when you truly get a glimpse of the true God, of the God of the Bible…and the God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, then everything changes…

Isn’t that what happened to the Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road? The Apostle Paul was Saul of Tarsus…zealously serving the God in the way that he thought he should…persecuting and trying to destroy the church…trying to climb the ladder of success in Jewish circles…but on that Damascus Road Jesus revealed to Paul who He truly was…and Paul was a changed man. And I think we know the story of Paul…But that’s what happens when you truly get a glimpse of God and Lord Jesus in all of his splendor and beauty…You are changed…

We must know God as He is to worship Him as we should.

But guess what the best part of knowing God is…?

Being KNOWN BY God.

Verse 3 of Psalm 100 says that “…we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

So, not only is God our creator as we talked about earlier, but God is also our redeemer. And knowing God as your redeemer, knowing God as your Savior is even more important and even more life changing than knowing Him as your creator!

It’s one thing to know there is a big God up there who created all things, including us…but it is a whole other thing to know there is a big God up there, who came down here, came down to the earth, took on human flesh, took my sins upon Himself, and saved me FROM the hell that I deserved, and saved me TO an eternity with Him. That is an amazing thing…

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my own and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…” (John 10:11, 14-15)

Jesus, the good shepherd has redeemed us and made us the sheep of his pasture.

If we had no other reason to thank God, this is reason enough. Not only has he made us and given us life, but he has redeemed us and given us spiritual life…he has given us an eternity with Him. He has given us as Ephesians 1:3 says, “Every Spiritual Blessing…” and as I told my church this past week…if we have Jesus, what more do we need? The Spiritual blessings we have in Christ are far superior to the physical blessings we enjoy, as great as they are….(Not to say we don’t give thanks for the physical blessings also…)

This is why we give thanks as it says in (verse 4)…this is why we praise…this is why we bless his name.

Verse 5 says, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Friends, we have a good God. A God who has ALWAYS been good. We have a God who has blessed us far more than any of us deserve. And we have a God who will ALWAYS be good. We have a God who is unchanging.

Our text says, “His Steadfast love endures forever…”

In 1 John 4:8, John says that “God is love.” God is many things…God has many attributes, (Holy, Just, All Powerful, All knowing) but love is the overarching attribute of God. Love is what holds all of the other attributes of God together…Every attribute of God falls under the umbrella of His love. And it is God’s love that is so attractive and endearing to His people…

God is also faithful…

We live in a world that is changing, and changing fast. I was talking to someone the other day and I mentioned it Sunday in church, that the world is really in a lot of ways a terrifying place…But in a terrifying world that is changing so fast, we can rest in the fact that we have a good God who doesn’t change.

God has been good in the past and he will always be good. God has been loving in the past and he always will be. Has God ever seen you through difficult times? Then He will again.

This God who is good…this God who is love…this God who is faithful…is the God to whom we must come and give thanks. This is the God whom to which we sing our songs of praise. This is the God whom we come and worship…this is the God that we serve…

So, people of God…Let us…

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Amen..