Call to Worship – Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    An ever-present help in trouble.…

God is not an abstract helper; He is not a thought or concept that we use as a coping mechanism to see us through difficult times.  He is present – not just present, but actively present.

God does not passively observe the things that happen on earth and in our lives. He is sovereign; he does whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115.3).  He is actively working out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster (Prov. 16.3). He is with us in every circumstance; there is no place that we can go where God is not (Psalm 139.7-12). He does not take a break; he neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121.4).

That is why the psalmist writes, “therefore we will not fear though the earth give way; though the “nations are in uproar [and] kingdoms fall,” the city of God and the people of God will not be moved.  The things that we see happening in the earth that strike fear into the hearts of men are all part of God’s workings.

What do we need to know?  We need only to know that the Lord Almighty is with us…he is our fortress.

What do we need to do? We need only to be still, and know that He is God; He will be exalted among the nations.

He is indeed a mighty fortress!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 8

“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

When the name of the LORD passes our lips, is it accompanied by the majesty that goes with it?

• Is it accompanied by thanks and praise?
• Is it spoken with fear and reverence?
• Is it spoken to others – to let them know of His majesty?

Nowadays His name has become an exclamation point; His name has been used to curse others; His name has been used to express everything but His majesty.

“You have set your glory above the heavens.”

There is something beyond the heavens; when we look up and take a moment to take in the majesty of God’s creation in the heavens, those very heavens are telling us that there is something beyond them. It is the glory of God!

Psalm 19.1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”

While we can marvel at the fact that we have been made a little lower than the heavenly beings and given dominion over the works of his hands, we must always remember that we are part of God’s creation. We have not been created to celebrate our own greatness or awesomeness; we were created to celebrate and proclaim His.

“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Let us be a people whose lips proclaim the majesty of God!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 84

Call to Worship – Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God… (v.1-2)

To worship at the temple was the greatest joy of the psalmist, to the point where his soul longed – even fainted for the courts of the Lord.  Elsewhere, he writes:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God. (Ps. 42.1)

His thirst is for God himself.  Jesus expressed this same longing during his time on earth when he said, ““My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” The worshiper’s longing for God surpasses even the desire for the things that we need to sustain usGod himself is the prize.

To worship at the temple meant a journey of at least a day; worship at the temple was required for the appointed feasts, but it was not seen as a duty by the psalmist.

Being in the presence of the Lord was worth whatever effort we need to make.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” For us in Christ, God’s spirit now dwells in us.

How blessed we are!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 34:8-22

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34.8)

We have an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good!

This is an invitation that comes from David, someone who had been “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4.8-10).  In other words, this invitation comes from someone who is in deep relationship with God (Ps, 34.1-7) and who has seen God’s faithfulness firsthand. His testimony is clear: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (v.6).

David goes on to testify:

…Those who fear the Lord have no lack
…Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing
…His eyes are toward the righteous
…His ears hear our cry for help
…He delivers us from all our troubles
…He is near to the brokenhearted
…He saves the crushed in spirit
…He redeems the life of his servants
…there is no condemnation for those who take refuge in Him.

But within this invitation to taste and see is also an invitation to discipleship:

 “Come…I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

It is the same invitation that Jesus extends to us in the Gospel: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11.29)

So come – taste and see – but stay and learn. Learn firsthand the things that David testifies to in this Psalm, that we would in turn, testify as David did and invite others to taste and see.

Taste and see!

Managing our Master’s Possessions

Text:  Luke 16:1-9; 10-13

The manager in our text was in charge of his master’s estate. He had oversight of the household supplies and budget – much like Joseph who was put in charge of Potiphar’s household and of everything that he owned (Genesis 39). The difference here is the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered – meaning that his master prospered as well.  In fact, Potiphar did so well that “he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.”

The manager in our parable however is dishonest, and as a result, his master’s possessions go to waste. His mismanagement finally catches up with him and he is fired. Here we see the biblical principle (spiritual physics) of reaping and sowing illustrated (Gal. 6:7).

How does the manager react when confronted? Unlike David’s confession in Psalm 51, there was no confession. There was no acknowledgment of sin; there was no crying out for forgiveness.  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, the manager’s default reaction of self-preservation kicked in.  That is the sin nature that resides in all of us; when confronted by our sin, our default reaction is to hide from God and to try to fix things ourselves.

This manager who had abused his position and squandered his master’s possessions, continued to look out for himself; his interest was in preserving his lifestyle.  He had a position of status with the business people in the community and he probably had a nice room in the main house, if not his own quarters; he wasn’t about to give that up.

He rules out manual labor, and he rules out begging because of the shame; he’s a proud man.

Instead, he finds a way to keep those who are indebted to his master indebted to him; by discounting the debt owed to his master.  In the business world, we call this a “win-win;” were all parties come away with something favorable:  the master of the house recovered some of the money owed to him; the debtors got a break on the amount owed, and the manager found a way to keep his relationships.  His shrewdness draws praise from his master – not that the master approves of his deeds; he is admiring the manager’s ability to look out for himself.

Before we go off thinking of how we can emulate this man in our own practices, let us also remember that receiving the approval of men doesn’t mean that we have approval from God. And as we will see a bit later, you cannot have both.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus is drawing a contrast between the people of this world and the people of the kingdom – and to call his followers to account.

“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

This is not a compliment; Jesus is letting us know where we fall short.

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

He is telling us that the people of this world (unbelievers) do a better job of using their money to advance their own (selfish) interests than the people of God use money to advance the kingdom of God and his purposes.

Put another way, when Jesus says to “use worldly wealth…” he is reinforcing his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:19-24).

It’s important to remember that there is much encouragement here. We have the promise and reassurance that God knows what we need and promises to meet those needs. As the people of God, we have been freed from worrying about the material needs of life. God has freed us so that we can concern ourselves with building the kingdom of God and live a life of faith that is pleasing to him.

If our priority is to accumulate treasures on this earth, then Jesus says that our “eyes are unhealthy, and [our] whole body will be full of darkness,” meaning that if we see everything in terms of what we can get for ourselves, that view will affect or infect every area of our lives as we make decisions with ourselves at the center of our thinking.

We have to ask ourselves some questions:  How are we handling our worldly wealth?  Are we using it to enrich ourselves and to elevate our own status and lifestyle? Or, are we using it to advance the kingdom of God and to build up the people of God?  Are we using it to bring increase to our Master, or do we bury it in the ground to try to preserve it?  (Matt. 25:14-30)

The early church (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b) beautifully illustrates this principle of using money to advance the kingdom of God and build up his people:

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

The concept of “mine” took a back seat to the purposes of God.  No one was working to accumulate wealth or to store up treasures on earth. By sharing and giving, the believers were working to store up treasures in heaven. They understood that worldly wealth will someday be gone (Luke 16:9), but it can still be used to build eternal things.

We can take this passage and use it to examine our own lives. How we handle worldly wealth reveals what is in our hearts:  if we are dishonest with little, we will be dishonest with much; if we’re not trustworthy with worldly wealth, how can we be entrusted with true riches?

Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can serve both God and money. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) thought they could do both. They were wrong.

Jesus said it plainly: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

What can we take away from this parable?

  1. Money and wealth are not inherently evil. It is the love of money that is a root or source of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Pharisees were lovers of money (v.15) and they viewed Jesus with contempt when he spoke this parable. Their love of money caused them to void the commandment of God and replace them with their own traditions (Matt. 15:3-6).
  2. God wants us to see money differently. Instead of using it to secure a lifestyle for ourselves, we can use it to build his kingdom, bring him glory and build up his people. (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b, 34)
  3. God has freed us to do so (Matt. 6:25-33). He has promised to meet our material needs; he tells us not to worry about these things, so that we can be free to serve him fully and joyfully.

A Picture of Contentment

What is the picture of contentment? It’s a phrase that we use to describe someone who is at peace in their current circumstances. Perhaps it’s someone lying in a hammock in their yard, or a child asleep in its mother’s arms, or someone enjoying the company of friends.

The Scripture gives us a description in Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

What can we learn from the Psalmist?

“My heart is not lifted up…”

Contentment starts with a humble heart; the heart is not proud or conceited. The humble heart does not think more highly of itself than it ought to (Romans. 12.3).

It seeks the things that are above with Christ (Col. 3.1-2), and not the things of earth – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2.16). While others strive to get to the proverbial next level of achievement or success, the content heart seeks its fulfillment in Christ.  It doesn’t seek to build towers (Gen. 11.1-9).  Remember what happened with the tower of Babel?  The men working on that project wanted to make a name for themselves to avoid being scattered all over the world; God intervened by confusing their language and scattering them all over the world.  If your push toward greater achievement seems to be thwarted at every turn, you might want to pause and ask why.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard and put our best efforts into the things we do. After all, all hard work brings a profit (Prov. 14.23); if we are found to be faithful with little, we will be entrusted with more (Matt. 25.14-30).  But why do we do what we do? Is it to make a name for ourselves, or is it to make God known to those around us?  The difference matters.

“I do not occupy myself with things too great…”

If we run after audacious and impossible goals, we might get praised for our ambition and determination, but we will wander from the things that God has put in front of us.  Pursuing goals that are too great can only bring anxiety and restlessness to our souls and a shift us away from our priorities. We start to distance ourselves from people and circumstances that we perceive to be standing in our way, isolating ourselves and rejecting sound advice (Prov. 18.1). Paul warns of this when it comes to the pursuit of wealth. The desire for wealth causes us to fall into temptation and harmful desires that lead to ruin, and can cause us to wander from the faith (1 Tim. 6.9-10).

The content heart knows that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2.10).  The content heart knows that God will complete the work that he started in us, and that he is at work in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 1.6; 2.13).

“…like a weaned child with its mother”

A nursing child is driven by instinct, needing to be attached to its mother’s breast for food. Like a nursing child, some people are driven by the need for more:  more money, more recognition, more authority, more relationships, more approval, more success, and more achievement; whatever it is they seek, they never seem to have enough of it.

A weaned child is content to be near its mother; it doesn’t need to satisfy its impulse for more milk.  We need to be satisfied with Christ, resting in the knowledge that he will never leave or forsake us, that he will supply all of our needs, that his peace will guard our hearts and minds, that we he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and will be kept until the day of redemption.

Resting in this truth will calm and quiet our souls as we rest beside still waters (Psalm 23.2)

“O Israel, hope in the Lord…”

The content heart encourages others; it reminds others that God is trustworthy and that we can put and keep our hope in him forevermore.

Are you content?

The Beasts are coming to Devour

All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
all you beasts in the forest.
His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
loving to slumber.
The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
“Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.”

For some reason, this passage has really pushed a hot button with me today, and I find myself getting angry.  Why?

In this text from Isaiah 56.9-12, Israel’s leaders are being called out for their irresponsibility. How were they being irresponsible? What were they supposed to be doing?

Their leaders were supposed to teach the people; they were supposed to teach the people God’s law (Deuteronomy 17.14-20).  From the king on down, they were supposed to teach the people to fear the Lord their God by keeping all the words of the law and not turning aside from the commandments.

We know from reading through Israel’s history and the writings of the prophets that idolatry, immorality and injustice quickly made their way into the nation, and God had to punish his people.  God specifically takes the nation’s leaders to task.

“His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge
…they are shepherds who have no understanding”

The leaders, referred to as watchmen, were blind and without knowledge. They didn’t know the law; they didn’t know God’s ways; they became blind to the dangers facing the nation.  These leaders, who were supposed to meditate on the law day and night and speak about it always (Joshua 1.8), had become “silent dogs;” they let everyone go their own way without teaching what was right. What is even worse is that they turned to their own way, “each to his own gain,” using their status to satisfy their own appetites and teaching their people that “tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.”

So why am I angry?

If we fast-forward to the present time, I see the same thing happening.  I see leaders who are not preaching the Gospel; leaders who are not teaching their people God’s ways, leaving them ignorant toward the things of God.

I see leaders who have achieved celebrity status and are living their best life now, with mansions, private jets and luxury cars – all paid for by their congregations.

I see leaders teaching their people to pursue wealth, prosperity and earthly things that will only pass away, instead of teaching their people to pursue righteousness and the things that please God.

I see leaders who have turned a blind eye toward – and even celebrate the things on which the wrath of God will eventually come.

The beasts are coming to devour and the watchmen are blind; the watchmen are silent and ignorant.

If you are a church leader, I am begging you, hold firm to Paul’s pastoral exhortation:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2.15

If you are a church leader, I am begging you, hold to the trustworthy word as taught; give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1.9).

The beasts are coming to devour.