Saturday, May 30, 2009

Divine Portrait of Prosperity: Psalm 128

God gives us a number of wonderful portraits of prosperity. Here is what it looks like in Psalm 128:

Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you out of Zion,
And may you see the good of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
Yes, may you see your children’s children.
Years ago, when I was going through the Psalms of Ascent, writing a song for each one (I call them the “Pilgrims Psalms”), I struggled with this one — it seemed too good to be true. It portrayed happiness and prosperity as something God has for all His people, for all who fear Him and walk in His ways. But that clashed with the theology I had learned, the religious mindset I had been discipled in up to that time.

Growing up in church and going through Bible college, I was taught that God wanted us to have joy but not necessarily happiness. “God would rather you be holy than happy,” other Christians would later tell me. As if we can only be one or the other, or that holiness and happiness are like matter and antimatter and would annihilate each other if they ever came into contact.

Then there was the question of prosperity. “God doesn’t have prosperity for everyone,” I was advised. “You can’t expect that things will always work out for you.” Life for the Christian is “blood, sweat and tears, and hard, hard work,” I remember someone saying. Oh, joy!

But here was the psalm writer speaking unabashedly about having prosperity, being fruitful, enjoying the produce of our work — and being extremely happy! The Hebrew word for “blessed” in the first verse literally exclaims, “How happy!” or “What happiness!” It is the kind of happiness that comes from everything going well in your life. That is hard for some people to accept, but it is what Psalm 128 describes. The Message puts it this way:
All you who fear GOD, how blessed you are!
How happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!  (vv. 1-2)
The Contemporary English Version reads, “Your fields will produce, and you will be happy and all will go well” (v. 2).

So I made the decision to leave behind all those old voices that were still ringing in my head and go with what the Word of God now set plainly before my face. I wrote the song according to the psalm. No apologies, no regrets. Oh, some have tried to talk me out of this expectation, often “spiritualizing” the life out of this and similar Scriptures. But they are too late — I’ve already seen it in the Word and have been experiencing it in increasing measure in my life.

I hope you do, too. Even, or especially, in these difficult times.

The favor God has for His people extends even to happiness and prosperity, for all who live in awe of Him and walk in His ways. Set your expectation on this.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Name and the Promise

You have exalted Your name and Your promise above everything else. (Psalm 138:2 HCSB)
For the past ten months or so, I have been using the Holman Christian Standard Bible for my morning Bible reading and praying in the psalms. Over the years, I have heard this verse quoted often, from the King James and similar versions: “You have magnified Your word above all Your name” (NKJV). Much was made of the idea that God exalted His Word even above His name. This was not meant to take anything away from the name of God, but to demonstrate how valuable is His promise.

However, as I was praying recently through this psalm, I noticed that the Holman Bible renders it quite differently: God’s Word is not exalted above His name, but both the name and the promise of God are exalted above everything else. So I did what I usually do when I am intrigued by a verse or phrase or word in Scripture. I went checking through other versions to see how they have it.

The King James, the New King James and the Modern King James have “word” magnified above “name.’ So do the Jewish Publication Society Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Revised Version, the Literal Translation of the Bible, the Bible in Basic English, the Third Millennium Bible and Young’s Literal Translation. But here are how some of the other versions read:
You have exalted above all things your name and your word. (New International Version)

You have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame. (New International Version 2011)

You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. (New American Standard Bible)

You have exalted above all things your name and your word. (English Standard Version)

Your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. (New Living Translation)

You have exalted your name and your word above everything. (New Revised Standard Version)

You have shown that your name and your commands are supreme. (Good News Translation)

Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word. (The Message)

You were true to your word and made yourself more famous than ever before. (Contemporary English Version)
The Amplified Bible has it both ways! “You have exalted above all else Your name and Your word and You have magnified Your word above all Your name!”

Just goes to show that translation is not an exact science. Actually, there is a bit of an art to it. Many of the variations between the versions, once you get past the distinction between the dynamic equivalent translations (such as the NIV) and the more literal formal translations (like the NASB), is pretty much just a matter of style. But sometimes the text itself can be so nuanced (or, at times, even uncertain), it is not clear how it should be rendered.

I have lived with the one translation, where God’s Word is magnified above His name, for many years now, though the logic of it seems a bit disjointed concerning the being of God, and I have never been fully able to explain it, even to myself. So I think I will meditate on the other translation for awhile. It makes more sense to me that the name of God and the promise of God are on a par with each other, while they are both highly exalted above all else. That, it seems to me, is as it should be.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Alignment of Heaven and Earth

Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
God’s plan is for everything on earth to be brought into perfect alignment with heaven. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He made man in His own image and according to His likeness. Then He blessed man — male and female — to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion (Genesis 1:28).

The Hebrew word for “subdue” means to bring into subjection. The word for “have dominion” means to rule over, to bring under control. Both words speak of bringing the earth into alignment. Alignment with what? With heaven. Man was created to be like God and given dominion over the earth to bring it into line with the domain of heaven.

Of course, there was a major kink along the way, and that was when Adam decided to rebel and disconnect from the life of God. Jesus, eternal Son of God become flesh, came to restore us back to the Father and His purpose for us on earth — to bring it into line with heaven. Indeed, everything in heaven and earth is brought together in Jesus, the God-Man (Ephesians 1:10).

In Him, the kingdom of heaven comes near to us, and He has authorized us to live and act according to it. He teaches us to pray, in what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, “Kingdom of God, come! Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, my paraphrase). He promises us, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

To “bind” something, in the Hebrew understanding of Jesus, means to forbid it. To “loose” something means to allow it. In the Greek text, “will be bound” is in the future perfect tense and literally means, “will have already been bound.” Likewise for “will be loosed.” Jesus gives us the authority to forbid on earth what has been forbidden in heaven and allow on earth what is allowed in heaven. In other words, we again have the power to bring earth into alignment with heaven.

We see this same authority reiterated a bit differently in the next verse: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). The Greek word for “agree” is symphoneo, which is where we get our English word, “symphony.” It is about accord, not discord. It is being in harmony. When we are in harmony with each other about anything on earth, it will be done for us by our Father in heaven. Notice again the connection between heaven and earth: When we agree on earth about anything, our Father in heaven will do it for us.

How can this be? Jesus tells us in the next verse: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This is what qualifies us to walk in the promise of verses 18 and 19. It is all about Him. We do not have this authority of ourselves. It comes from Jesus. To gather in His name means that everything we do is about Him. We come together for His agenda, not our own. We act as He would act and ask as He would ask. Jesus is always in alignment with the Father, and when we fellowship with Him, we come to know the Father. Our hearts begin to beat with the rhythms of His heart, and in that is the power to change the world.

As we fellowship together with the Lord Jesus Christ, in harmony with each other and our hearts beating with the passions of God, we are positioned and empowered to receive the promises of God, to change the world and bring earth into alignment with heaven.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Divine Woo-Hooooo!

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the humble with salvation.
(Psalm 149:4)
The Lord takes pleasure in His people. He is fully satisfied with us, takes delight in us, even enjoys us. See how great is His joy:
The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)
The Hebrew word for the first “rejoice” in that verse is sus and speaks of ecstatic joy. The word for “gladness,” simcha, speaks of mirth and pleasure. The second “rejoice” is giyl and literally means to spin. The word for “singing” is rinnan, a high-pitched sound of jubilation — imagine God shouting Woo-hooooo! God takes such great pleasure and ecstasy in us that He sings and dances over us with whirling and twirling and jubilant shouts. That’s joy!

Who are His people, and how is it that we are pleasing to Him? They are the “humble.” The Hebrew word is anawim and refers to those who are lowly, poor and weak. They place no trust in themselves but look to God for their deliverance. They do not live proud and arrogant lives; they know they are fully dependent on Him. They are the ones Jesus speaks of in the Sermon of Heaven on Earth (a.k.a., Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

God delights greatly in those who believe His promise and trust in Him. These are the ones He beautifies, dignifies, with salvation — deliverance, healing and prosperity — with Jesus! (See The Fellowship of Drunken Glory)

If you are trusting in the Lord and believing His promises, He is ecstatic over you, rejoicing with singing and twirling for joy. Listen for His Woo-hooooo! and join in His revelry.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Fellowship of Drunken Glory

Let the saints be joyful in glory;
Let them sing aloud on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand.
(Psalm 149-5-6)
What a picture this paints in my mind. It is one of unmitigated, boisterous joy. The English translation is a bit too tame for it, though.

Let the saints be joyful in glory. The Hebrew word for “joyful” is alatz. It speaks of great merriment. Picture someone jumping for joy. Why? He has been covered in glory, the goodness of God poured out on him, and he has an intense awareness of it.

Let them sing aloud on their beds. The Hebrew for “sing aloud” is ranan. It is jubilant joy, lively singing, loud, shouting joy that cannot be silenced. Imagine someone singing and shouting as he lies on his bed. He is inebriated with joy, drunk on the glory of God manifesting in his life.

Let the high praises of God be in their mouth. The Hebrew for “high” is romam. It speaks of something rising up. It comes up from a place deep in the heart and flows forth from the lips. It is not quiet, somber or sober. It is not a dirge and it is not very “dignified” (see 2 Samuel 6:22, where David, in his ecstatic joy, said, “I will be even more undignified than this”). It is ecstasy and exaltation, overflowing joy, carried away with the object of its praise.

And a two-edged sword in their hand. The Message has, “Brandish their swords in the wild sword-dance.” It is part of the warfare of praise, to fulfill the Word of God upon His enemies (see verse 9). In the New Testament, we have the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). It is like a double-edged sword. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

What is the cause for all this wild rejoicing and crazy sword-dancing? Look back to Psalm 149:4, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people. He will beautify the humble with salvation.” God takes pleasure in His people and shows them His favor.

He beautifies the humble with salvation. The Hebrew for “beautify” means to adorn, to embellish, to make sparkle and shine. The humble are those who make no assumptions about themselves but are wholly dependent upon God, trusting in Him alone. God adorns them with “salvation.” The Hebrew word speaks of deliverance, health, help and includes victory and prosperity. As a noun, is it yeshuah. As a name, it is Yeshua, Hebrew for “Jesus.” All those who trust in God through Jesus Christ are made beautiful with the multifaceted splendor of divine salvation. It is the source of crazy joy.

Faithpoint: The pleasure God has in His people overflows with abundance to them. It is deep, intense, loud, vibrant — and even undignified. It is the drunken glory of all who know Him, who are intoxicated with His love and inebriated with His joy. This honor belongs to all His saints, so come to God by faith in Jesus Christ and drink deeply of Him. Yield yourself to His Spirit and join in the Fellowship of Drunken Glory.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Resisting the Messenger of Satan

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Therefore submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Paul was dealing with demonic resistance to his ministry. A “messenger of satan,” he called it (2 Corinthians 12:7). Three times, he asked God that it might depart from him. God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

In other words, “Paul, I have already given you everything you need to deal with this. It’s not about your strength, it’s not even about your weakness — it’s about My strength being made complete in you.”

James speaks a similar word about resisting the messengers of satan: “Therefore submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” There are three parts to this word. Two instructions and one promise:
  • Submit to God
  • Resist the devil
  • The devil will flee
Our part is to submit to God, to yield ourselves to Him in obedience. Paul had done this. But we have a second instruction to obey that is just as important as the first: Resist the devil. The Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi and means to stand against, to oppose.

See, Paul asked God that this devil that had been harassing him might “depart.” The Greek word is aphistemi (note the root, histemi). Paul wanted the devil to desist, to stop standing against him, to cease resisting him, to withdraw — to flee! But he wanted God to make it happen for him. However, as James teaches us, that’s not how it works. Paul was trying to get God to resist the devil for him, and that was not working out too well for Paul because the devil was not fleeing.

However, God wanted Paul to learn how to resist (anthistemi) the devil for himself. In fact,He had already given him the grace to do so. Indeed, Paul already had everything he needed to deal with this satanic messenger, he had just not yet learned how to do so.

He finally did understand, though, as we can see in Ephesians 6, where he teaches us how to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (v. 10). Notice how that echoes 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My strength.” The Greek root for “strong” and “strength” is dunamis, power. We are to lay hold of God’s strength, to be empowered with the power of God. How do we do that? Paul details it for us (Ephesians 6:11-18):
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand [histemi] against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground [anthistemi], and after you have done everything, to stand [histemi].

Stand firm [histemi] then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
God has given us His all-sufficient grace, empowered us with His own strength and provided us with the complete armor we need to stand against every messenger of satan. He will not do Himself what He has given us to do, but He has promised that when we submit to Him and resist the devil, the devil will flee.

See also Pulling Paul’s Thorn and Super-Elated with the Things of God.

Friday, May 8, 2009

When Spiritual Corruption Defiles the Land

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” (2 Samuel 21:1)
Evil corrupts the land. Not necessarily by physical pollution — Saul’s murder of the Gibeonites did not particularly damage the natural environment — but by marring the underlying reality of the land. The natural realm arises from the spiritual, for the heavens and the earth were created by God, who is Spirit.

Spiritual defilement has catastrophic effects on the ecosphere. We see this especially in Genesis 3, when Adam rebelled against God, disconnecting from the divine source. Because man was created from the earth to have dominion over it, when Adam sinned, the earth was corrupted (Genesis 3:17-19). That is why Paul said that all creation groans, waiting for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:18-23). The redemption of man means healing for the earth itself.

The pattern of spiritual corruption defiling the land is repeated often in the Bible:
  • In the generation after Adam, Cain slew Abel, and the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10).
  • Sexual immorality — fornications, adulteries, homosexuality, bestiality — defiles the lands (Leviticus 18:24-25).
  • Bloodshed defiles the ground (Numbers 35:34-35).
  • Idolatry, the worship of false gods, defiles the land (Jeremiah 16:17-18).
  • Breaking the laws of God devours the earth with curse (Isaiah 24:4-6).
  • In addition to bloodshed and adultery, lying and speaking evil of others causes the land to mourn (Hosea 4:1-3).
Famine came on the land of Israel for three years in a row. David sought the word of the Lord about this and discovered it was because of Saul’s murderous heart and bloodthirsty ways. A restitution was required, not to God but to the Gibeonites. When David complied, the famine passed and the land was healed. For the generation after David, and forward, God made this promise:
If My people, who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
The redemption of humanity and the healing of the land is ultimately based upon Jesus, “Mediator of the new covenant” and the “blood of sprinkling that speaks better things that that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). The blood of Abel decried defilement. The blood of Jesus declares healing, not just for us, but also for the land.

Spiritual defilement corrupts the land, but repentance (turning to God) and righteousness (doing things God’s way) brings restoration.

(See also Why Does the Land Mourn, Alienated from the Land and Healing a Defiled Land.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Prayers for This Day

Here are some of the texts God has led me to on this National Day of Prayer, to pray for repentance, revival, renewal and restoration in our land. Among the citizenry as well as our leaders.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

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.
(Psalm 2:10-12)

Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge
  with sharp teeth;
You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small,
And make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them, the wind shall carry them away,
And the whirlwind shall scatter them;
You shall rejoice in the Lord,
And glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The poor and needy seek water, but there is none,
Their tongues fail for thirst.
I, the Lord, will hear them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

I will open rivers in desolate heights,
And fountains in the midst of the valleys;

I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
And the dry land springs of water.

I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree,
The myrtle and the oil tree;

I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine
And the box tree together,

That they may see and know,
And consider and understand together,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it.
(Isaiah 41:15-20)
Let our prayers have teeth to thresh through the mountains and advance the kingdom of heaven on earth in this hour.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Expectation is the Soul of Patience

In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice;
In the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.
(Psalm 5:3 HCSB)
This is one of my favorite verses in the Psalms, and has been very helpful to me in the past. When we lift our prayer to the Lord in faith, there is an expectation. Though there is usually a period of waiting in between “Amen” and “There it is,” expectation is the soul of patience. “Faith is the substance [underlying reality] of things hoped for [expected]” (Hebrews 11:1).

Why does David have such expectation when he prays? It is the confidence of knowing this:
For surely, O LORD, You bless the righteous;
You surround them with Your favor as with a shield.
(Psalm 5:12 HCSB)
The favor of God belongs to those who are His and is seen by those who walk in His ways. Being assured of His favor creates expectation. Confident expectation causes us to endure. It is the soul of patience. (See also, Praying With Expectation.)