Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Relief from Troubled Times

LORD, happy is the man you discipline
 and teach from Your law
To give him relief from troubled times
 until a pit is dug for the wicked.
(Psalms 94:12-13 HCSB)
Most people do not find discipline to be a pleasant affair (we have a word for those who do — masochist). It is hard, it is work, it is discomforting. It pushes back against our natural tendencies. It does not stroke us — it slaps us!

But to those who yield to the discipline of the Lord, it brings cause for great happiness. It corrects us, keeps us from heading off into a deadly direction and a meaningless, fruitless life. It guides us back into our destiny, the purpose for which God created us from the beginning.

The Hebrew word for “law” is torah. It can just as well be translated as “instruction,” because that is what it is. God did not give it to us so He could lower the boom on us, but so He could release blessing to us. Not to enslave us but to enable us. In Psalm 1, we see that it is something to delight in and meditate on continually (v. 2). Why? Because it leads us into prosperity and fulfillment of purpose, a change of life that changes the world for the better (v. 3).

That is how the psalm writer takes it here; it is the path to great happiness. In his present situation, he was experiencing it as “relief from troubled times,” “rest from days of adversity” (NKJV), “a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil” (The Message).

He adds, “until a pit is dug for the wicked.” There is a day coming in which God will “balance the books” and set everything right. It is the final day, when His kingdom has fully come into the world and His will is being done everywhere on earth exactly as it is in heaven. Indeed, it has already begun, ever since King Jesus came and announced, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). We live between the time of its inauguration and its completion, a time many theologians refer to as “already/not yet” — already begun, not yet done.

In the meantime, there is still much trouble, much injustice, much evil. But there is often also a settling of accounts in the interim, when God lets the wicked experience the consequences of their evil actions. God will not forget us or leave us to their devices but will act decisively.
The LORD will not forsake His people
 or abandon His heritage,
For justice will again be righteous,
 and all the upright in heart will follow it.
(Psalms 94:14-15 HCSB)
The word used here for “justice” speaks of a verdict, as in a court of law. When God judges, He delivers verdicts that set things right and the upright, who walk according to His instruction and live according to what is right, will be satisfied. Though the enemies of God have come and gone, the people of God have endured, for He gives us relief from troubled times.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Flourishing Mindset of Prosperity

Yesterday, we looked at Proverbs 11:24-26, the comparison between those who are openhanded with their resources and those who are close-fisted, and the results each one receives. Here are more examples of sowing and reaping, and the attitude that leads one into prosperity.

He who earnestly seeks good finds favor,
But trouble will come to him who seeks evil.
(Proverbs 11:27)
This first one is about the man who seeks what is good, not just for himself but also for those around him. Not passively watching for it but actively planning and promoting it. He “earnestly seeks” it — the Hebrew verb means that he rises up early with the dawn to go after it. He shows favor to others, and that begets favor. He finds favor with God because he reflects the heart of God, and with men because they are blessed by his diligence. He prospers because he helps others prosper. On the other hand, the one who is out for himself at the expense of others will find a lot of trouble for his selfishness, and it will ultimately lead him to poverty.
He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like foliage.
(Proverbs 11:28)
Here is the heart of the matter — the core issue: What are you trusting in? Some trust in riches. They may have a lot of money or they may be completely broke, but it they are looking to wealth and riches as the answer to their problems, the source of their supply, they will inevitably fall. Putting your trust in riches is a poverty mindset, not the path to prosperity. It is thinking like a poor man.

Compare this now with the righteous. “Righteous” is a word that speaks of covenant relationship. God offers them friendship and promises to take care of them in all things. They believe God and are reckoned as righteous, just as Abraham believed God and it was put to his account as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). God made covenant with Israel and promised to take care of them if they put their trust in Him. When they believed God and followed His instructions, they prospered; when they looked to idols and worshipped other gods, they lost all they had.

God now offers a new and better covenant with all who receive King Jesus the Messiah. The “righteous” are those who put all their trust in God, not in money. The result is that they flourish — they break forth, abound and prosper. They are exemplified by the man in Psalm 1, who delights in the instruction of the Lord and meditates on it all the time (Psalm 1:2). They are like trees planted by rivers of water, bringing forth fruit in season; their leaves do not wither, and whatever they do prospers (Psalm 1:3).

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon is the mindset of the world that idolizes money. Serving that mindset leads to worry and lack. Jesus gives the antidote a few verses later:
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
The kingdom of God is His rule and reign in the world. The righteousness of God is His way of doing and being right. When we diligently seek after that, putting our trust in Him alone, we will always have everything we need.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Will You Scatter or Hold Back?

There is one who scatters, yet increases more;
And there is one who withholds more than is right,
But it leads to poverty.
(Proverbs 11:24)

It might seem counter-intuitive, but the one who “scatters,” who disperses and gives freely out of his resources, is the one who sees increase in his resources and has all he needs. But the one who holds on to what he’s got and is tightfisted with his resources, giving only sparingly, will end up in lack. The Message says it this way: “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.”

Surely the apostle Paul had this in mind when he said, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). He was taking up a collection for the beleaguered believers in Jerusalem and seeking generous support for them. But the principle is universal: How you sow is how you will reap.

The psalm writer speaks of the righteous man and the blessing that comes upon him because, “He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor” (Psalm 112:9). The Hebrew word for “disperse” is the same one for “scatter” in Proverbs 11. This is a man who does not withhold his resources but gives freely and generously. Part of the blessing on him is that “wealth and riches will be in his house” (v. 3). Why? Because God can trust him to use it properly and give with an open hand, just as God does. As Paul said, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Generosity begets generosity, abundance begets abundance, and prosperity begets prosperity. But those who hoard and refrain from helping others — that is a poverty mindset, and it begets poverty. Wisdom goes on to say,

The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.

The people will curse him who withholds grain,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
(Proverbs 11:25-26)
The “generous” soul is, literally, the one who blesses (berakah). That is, he freely blesses others by his generosity. The result is that he will himself be abundantly blessed and will prosper. Because he has helped meet the needs of others, satisfying their thirst, his own needs will also be met. It is easy to become so focused on meeting our own needs that we forget about the needs of others. But if we will give attention to helping others, we will find that it comes back to us in unexpected ways and there will always be more than enough.

Even in our business dealings, it is the generous man who will prosper. The example here is of a vital commodity in a time of need. The man who withholds it from the market, in order to drive up the price, will be cursed by the people who need it most — he is trading on their misery. But the one who sells his produce at a reasonable profit will have the blessing (berakah) of the people. He benefits them and they benefit him. The Message renders verse 26 this way: “Curses on those who drive a hard bargain! Blessings on all who play fair and square!”

The first man is trying to squeeze all he can out of the situation, to bleed the market dry. He is playing a zero-sum strategy and thinks that he can prosper only at the expense of others. The second man is not afraid to about leave some money on the table. He understands that when he helps his customers prosper, he will prosper as well.

It is really all a matter of sowing and reaping. What you sow is what you will reap, and always in proportion to how you sow. Jesus taught this principle: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

That is a powerful promise for those who have learned to sow bountifully.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blessed to Prosper in Difficult Times

In Jeremiah, God describes the judgment that was about to fall on the nation of Judah because the people had turned away from Him and put their trust in false gods and foreign alliances.

The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus;
With a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart
And on the horns of their altars,

As they remember their children,
So they remember their altars and their Asherim
By green trees on the high hills.

O mountain of Mine in the countryside,
I will give over your wealth and all your treasures for booty,
Your high places for sin throughout your borders.

And you will, even of yourself, let go of your inheritance
That I gave you;
And I will make you serve your enemies
In the land which you do not know;
For you have kindled a fire in My anger
Which will burn forever.
(Jeremiah 17:1-4)
Historically, this was the time when the southern kingdom of Judah was carried off into Babylonian captivity. The idolatry of the people ran so deep that they even sacrificed their children to their idols. They revered the altars on which they shed the blood of their sons and daughters to their Asherim, the carved totems of their pagan god.

Because of this, God said that all their wealth and treasure would be taken away from them, along with their lands, including the high places where they looked to their idols for protection. They were going to lose all the inheritance that God had given them. They were giving it up of their own in turning away from Him! They would become the servants of their enemies in a land that was no longer theirs, a land they no longer recognized.

This is what would happen to the nation as a whole. But then God breaks it down to an individual level. For there were those who remained faithful to Him even in the midst of those who turned away. Of the latter, He says,
Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.
For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
(Jeremiah17:5-6)
Those who turn from the Lord and put their confidence in men will end up like the dry, barren shrubs of the salty wastelands. Even when prosperity comes, they will not see it. They will have no faith and be too full of bitterness to recognize when and how and where it comes. Instead, they will be anxious and envious, railing and complaining against those who seem to be better off than them. It is a curse of their own making. They turn away from good by turning away from God.

But God has something different for those who continue to trust in Him. They will be blessed to prosper, even in the difficult times.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)
God pronounces good upon those who trust in Him. They place no confidence in anyone or anything else. Their expectation and refuge is in Him alone. Consequently, they will be like the trees “planted” by water. The word in Hebrew actually means to be transplanted. God lifts them out of the parched places and establishes them in well-irrigated places where they can stretch out their roots and receive all they need.

Even when the heat comes, they will not “fear.” The word here is raah, which means to “see.” In fact, it is the word used for “see” in verse 6. Those who trust in men and idols will not see when prosperity comes. Those who trust in the Lord will not see when the heat comes; they will be so richly watered that it will not harm them. Indeed, their leaves will be “green.” This word is raanan, which means to be fresh and luxuriant; figuratively, it speaks of prosperity. There will be no anxiety, no worry, no fear, not even in drought. For there will be life — not merely surviving, but thriving.

They will not cease to yield fruit, their harvest will not dry up, nor will their crop fail. They will be blessed to prosper even in difficult times. They will have more than enough for themselves and out of their abundance they will be able to help others. They will not hold back but will have enough blessing to share. For their trust is in God, who is “able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

This is not the promise for a time far off in the future. It is for here and now. Just as it was true for those living in Jeremiah’s day, it is still true in these days.

Do you see your prosperity?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Proof of Our Reckoning

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” … Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:3; 23-25)
“Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” — that’s what Genesis 15:6 says. “Righteousness” is rightness, being right with God. It is a word of covenant relationship, a judgment or determination about whether one has kept the terms of covenant. God made covenant with Abraham that day (Genesis 15:7-21). Abraham believed and was judged to be right with God on that basis.

In his letter to believers at Rome, the apostle Paul shows how this has always been God’s way of being in right relationship with Him. It was not only Abraham who was made right with God in this way, but also everyone who believes the promise God made is counted as righteous.

This promise is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, Son of David, Heir of Abraham. Everything God promised Abraham funnels down through Him to all who are in Him. He was delivered up, nailed to the cross, for our offenses, all the ways we have been out of joint with God. More than that, He was raised from the dead for our justification. His resurrection demonstrates that our offences have been dealt with before God — and that God has accepted it — so that we may be judged as being in right relationship with God.

It is an accounting, a reckoning, an imputation. God puts Jesus’ act of obedience to our account. This is reckoned to all those who accept the fulfillment of what God promised Abraham, who believe that God has raised Jesus, Messiah and King, from the dead. We are now judged to be righteous, declared as being in right relationship with God through Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the proof of that declaration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Declaring the Son of God with Power

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:1-4)
This is the gospel of God, which Paul came to bring to the nations: God’s Son, Jesus, is both Messiah and King. The Anointed One has come and He is Lord over all. God has established this good news by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is the confession and the faith that changes the world.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)
(See also, The Gospel of God's Messiah King)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Second Day

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
(Psalm 16:10)
The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is traditionally called Holy Saturday. It is the Second day, stretched between the Cross and the Resurrection. It is a time of waiting. In the silence and stillness of this moment, it may seem like nothing is happening and that we have been abandoned, but it is in this in-between time that faith reaches its full measure.

David had prophesied this moment long before, in a passage deep with messianic hope. He speaks to God with calm assurance and in a voice bigger than his own:
I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:8-11)
It was a difficult time for David and he was in great need of God’s assistance, but the psalm begins, not with fear, but with a note of confidence. “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” There is no sense of being forgotten or abandoned. There is only the recumbency of faith and the expectation of hope. God will reveal the path of life, fullness of joy and glory at His right hand.

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It is the beginning of Psalm 22, which depicts and intense humiliation — the rejection of Messiah. Halfway through, though, there is a turning point where He declares, “You have answered Me” (v. 21), and the psalm finishes with grateful praise. In the Jewish manner of recalling an entire passage by reciting the opening lines, Jesus had the entire psalm in mind. Though, at that moment, He experienced most deeply the sense of being forgotten by God, He also knew that God would answer Him and that He would praise God “in the midst of the assembly” (v. 22). He would not be abandoned; God would deliver Him. Before He breathed His last breath on the cross, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

Now the Second day had come and Jesus was enshrouded and buried in the tomb. The disciples were still reeling from the events of the day before. How forsaken, how abandoned by God — and even by Jesus — they must have felt. He had promised them the kingdom of heaven; now the King was dead. Though Jesus told them ahead of time, on more than one occasion, of how He would be delivered up to death, He also spoke of the resurrection that would follow. Now they were in the in-between time and, traumatized by the cross, they could not see the promise of the Third day. But God had not abandoned them, just as He had not abandoned Jesus. It was just a time of waiting while the victory of the cross brought forth the victory of the resurrection (which revealed the victory of the cross).

It can be very easy to feel abandoned by God on the Second day, when life gets difficult and heaven is silent. When we cannot see what is happening “behind the scenes,” it so often seems like nothing is happening at all. But as Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The power of the resurrection is at work and there is always a Third day.

Because God did not abandon Jesus, He will not abandon you. Even in the silence and stillness of the Second day, we have the promise of the Third. What is needed for the in-between time is the patience of faith.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Consecrated on God’s Holy Mountain

I have consecrated My King on Zion, My holy mountain.
(Psalm 2:6 HCSB)
The nations raged, the people plotted together, kings and rulers conspired and set themselves against Yahweh and His Messiah (Psalm 2:1-2). “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us,” they said (v. 3). God’s response?
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
(vv. 4-6)
Yahweh laughs! All their rage and spite and conspiracy amount to nothing, because God has set His King on His holy hill, Zion. The Hebrew word for “set” means to “pour out,” as a drink offering, and by analogy speaks of anointing a king. It is a consecration, a setting apart for God’s special purpose. Zion, God’s holy hill, speaks of Jerusalem, the place He chose to manifest His presence in a special way among His people.

This is a messianic prophecy, as good as done when God first spoke it as it is today. It happened in history with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, God’s Anointed King. He was consecrated, poured out as a drink offering, when He carried a wooden cross up God’s holy hill and allowed Himself to be nailed upon it. Though it did not seem like it at the time, this was the place of victory over His enemies — and ours. In the old prophesy, Messiah recounts God spoke to Him.
I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(vv. 7-9)
The apostle Paul speaks of that victory in this way:
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Here are the enemies of King Jesus and His people — vanquished. The indictment that stood against us, the list of crimes we have committed against God and each other — wiped out, thoroughly obliterated. The principalities and powers, all the demonic forces that oppressed us and held us in subjection — completely disarmed. As John said, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And from the author of Hebrews: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

All these evil powers threw everything they had at Jesus that day when He hung from the cross. Everything — and it amounted to nothing, as they soon discovered when He committed His spirit into God’s hands, who raised Him from the dead on the third day.

What remains now is an invitation for all who have ever set themselves against God. It is a word of wisdom, a warning and a promise.
Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
(vv. 10-12)
God consecrated Jesus on Zion all those centuries ago. It was the day of victory that changes the world — and all who put their trust in God’s Messiah King.