Out of Exile (Psalm 126)

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad.
4 Restore our captivity, O Lord,
Like streams in the South.
Psalm 126:1-4

 

When God chose Israel to be his people, he made a covenant with them. A covenant is a binding agreement which makes people family. In a sense, God “adopted” Israel and made the people His own “family.” He pledged loyalty to them. He expected loyalty in return.

But instead of loyalty, God only received rebellion. Israel walked away from Him. And so God eventually walked away from the people. He kicked them out of the Promised Land and scattered them among the nations in exile.

But that’s not the end.

God had promised that they would come back to the land after 70 years:

“This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11).

Psalm 126 was written when the 70 years were up. The people are now back in the land. God had brought back the exiles!

Now back in Israel, the people think they are dreaming!

But there’s more context behind this song. Although the psalmist thanks God for bringing the people back from exile, he also prays for a return from exile: “Restore our captivity, O Lord, like streams in the South.”

So what gives?

Why is the psalmist praying for a return from exile when the people are already back?

That’s because there are two kinds of exile in the Bible: physical and spiritual exile.

Yes, the people were kicked out of the land. But more important was why were they kicked out: their hearts were far from God (Isaiah 29:13). That’s spiritual exile.

And the spiritual exile began all the way back at the very beginning when Adam and Eve were kicked out of God’s very presence in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24)

The psalmist knows that a physical return without a spiritual return is pointless. Because it doesn’t really matter if you are near your homeland, if you are far from God.

Which is why Jesus came to die: to end the exile. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly  were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13).

All of us enter this world in spiritual exile, separated from God. Our sins have created an insurmountable mountain to get to God. Our sins have created an unbridgeable gap to get to God. We have been far off, and we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God has shed the blood of Jesus to bring us near. Through His death on the cross, we are forgiven and made new. And God makes a better covenant with us, a new covenant. A new covenant where God is loyal to us not because of our loyalty to Him but because of Jesus’ obedience on our behalf (Hebrews 7:23-28; 8:6-13)

A Way Out (Psalm 124)

Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;
The snare is broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:6-8

God is our helper who comes through in the clutch for us. David is so thankful for God because He did not allow him to be torn by his enemy’s teeth. It’s like running out and scaring away a hungry hawk about to scoop up your Chihuahua. God’s help comes at just the right time.

The very day that my and I took our new baby home from the hospital, God spared me. After spending four days in the hospital, we finally got home. When he arrived, I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up some medicine for my wife.  I was extremely tired having just spent four days being woken up at all hours of the night. As I was driving to the pharmacy, I got distracted looking out the driver’s side-window. When I looked up, an Escalade was barreling towards me head on. I jerked the wheel so hard to the right, and we barely missed each other. When I got to the pharmacy parking lot, I was praising God. In an instant, my life could have been over. My family had just went from a family of three to four with the birth of our daughter. But it could have gone back down to three that day. God spared me and delivered me just at the right time.

What has the Lord done in your life?  How has the Lord saved you? God makes a way for us to escape. Even though there may be times when we are flailing in life like a trapped bird, God breaks the net. God has a way of making a way when there is no way. And He did that for Jesus too.

God made a way for us even through death. In Jesus’ situation, it looked absolutely hopeless. Jesus never did anything wrong, so no one could justly blame Jesus for anything. And yet He was unjustly condemned. The powers-that-be worked the system to make sure that Jesus was condemned. How unfair is that!

Jesus also found out that there was no other way to save the world than straight through death and darkness. As Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he desired to save the world any other way than death on the cross. Yet He still submitted Himself to God. So Jesus had no way out. And He died. But even in the darkest hour God punched a hole through death and made a way by raising Jesus from the dead. He can make a way out for you as well. Are you facing enslaving sin? Remember that you are a new creation, freed from the bondage of sin! Are you facing opposition? Remember that what people intend for evil, God uses for good! Are you tired and worn down by life? Remember that God will raise you up with new strength!

 

God is FOR You (Psalm 124)

 

“Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,”
Let Israel now say,
“Had it not been the Lord who was on our side
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive.”
Psalm 124:1-2

God is on our side. Literally, Lord is “for us.” David recognizes that if the Lord was not for him and his people, then they would have been destroyed. God is for His people. The New Testament picks up this truth and expands on it in Romans 8. After describing God using all things for our good and His great plan to make us look more like Jesus, Paul writes, “What will we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

I mean, the logic is pretty sound here, right?  If you have God on your side, then who is against you? Who can stand against you?  What do you have to fear?

Now, if that’s all the Bible said about God being on our side, then it would be very easy to agree with the Prosperity Gospel preachers that say, “Hey, God wants you to be successful and He wants you to be materially rich! By the way, God is going to make everything you do prosper!” But Romans goes on to actually explain what God being for us means in the next verse:

“God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

God is on your side by not sparing His own Son from death. God sent Jesus to die on the cross. Before God can be for you, He is against you! Earlier in Romans, Paul writes, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Because of our sin, God’s wrath stands against us.

Romans talks about how we have substituted worship of created things for the Creator (Romans 1:21-23). Because God is God and the Creator of all, He is due all of our worship. To degrade an infinite God means to deserve infinite punishment. We all deserve to go to Hell. He is against us, but the good news of Christianity is that God can be for you. He can be on your side because He did not spare His own Son. He gave His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

As a result of God being for us, He will give us everything (“all things” Romans 8:32) that we need to look more like Jesus. God will bring everything into our lives to make us grow and exhibit the character of Christ in our own lives. Sometimes this means rest and respite. Sometimes this means suffering and pain.

 

Little Notes on Anger

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. – Proverbs 14:29

Great understanding of what? I think the patient person has great understanding of himself. He knows anger only hurts himself. When you harbor anger, you can begin to have it harden to hate. It can affect even your health: you grind your teeth, put great strain on your heart, etc.

The patient person also has great understanding of his circumstances. He knows that anger will solve nothing in dealing with people. It will merely drive them away.

Most importantly, he has great understanding of God. He knows that God is “slow to anger.” To be patient and slow to anger is to exhibit the very life of God in our life.

Fatherhood for Older Father’s

Two weeks ago I preached on fatherhood from Ephesians 6:4. Unfortunately, due to a congregational medical emergency, I wasn’t able to conclude my message. Here is my conclusion:

Some of you in here may be thinking, “What can I do? My children are all grown up and out of the house! I’ve blown it with my kids!”

Parents who have adult children can express much regret after hearing about God’s calling to raise up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). For some, they regret not being a Christian during the time when they were raising children. Having come to Christ later in life, they look back and see how their sin has alienated or hurt their children. For others, they regret that although they knew Christ, they did not take God’s Word seriously enough to seriously invest in their children spiritually.

Either way, you may find yourself in a position where your children are adults and out of the house, and seemingly far away from you–both physically and spiritually.

It’s not too late.

It’s not too late to begin repairing any damage that was done. And it’s not too late to begin influencing your adult children for Christ. But how?

It first comes with an acknowledgement that God is a God of restoration. God delights in taking our lost and ruined lives and restoring them. All of us are made in the image of God. But due to our sin, that image has been corrupted and effaced. Yet through Jesus we are “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:10). God loves restoring things. Especially the lives of His image-bearers. He can bring restoration to your relationships with your adult children. He will do it through the gospel of Jesus Christ. By seeing your own sin and “owning” your own sin, God will bring you to the point of crying out for forgiveness. The Bible tells us that forgiveness was purchased for us through the brutal crucifixion of our Lord and His glorious resurrection from the dead. In Christ, you can be forgiven of all things–even parenting mistakes.

Remembering your forgiveness in Christ, then, gives you the power to forgive and reconcile with others–even your own children.

It’s easy to allow objections to flood our minds, however: “But what’s the point, it’s been so long!” Years may have passed since you’ve even had a meaningful conversation with your child.

It’s not too late.

Think about this way: Imagine you’ve been estranged from your child for 50 years. 50 years! That’s a long time. Now on your deathbed, your child comes to you. Would it be pointless to reconcile? Does it make sense to say, “What’s the point now. I’m almost dead. It’s been too long.”? No way! Of course you would reconcile. And although for yourself it may be too late to really build upon your relationship (since you’re on your deathbed in this imaginary scenario)…think about all the good it would do for your child! Reconciling on your deathbed may actually change the course of his/her life! The focus isn’t so much upon what you could get out of it, but upon the good that it would do for your child.

So why not now?

You’re not a failure as a parent. God has brought you on this journey so far and He has brought you to this point. You can’t go back and re-do their childhood years. But you can make a fresh start today to reach out to your children.

With God’s help, it’s not too late.

It only takes one chapter to crash and burn: Reflections on 1 Kings 1-11

The establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel takes ten long chapters to describe (1 Kings 1-10). But it only takes one chapter for the kingdom to begin to fall apart; the crash and burn is inevitable (1 Kings 11).

1 Kings opens up following the exploits of David from 2 Samuel: David is clearly king, but now he’s old and dying (1:1-4). Who will be king in his place? Because David had multiple wives who had multiple sons, many people vied for the throne, like Adonijah (1:5-10). After some political intrigue, however, Solomon eventually becomes king over Israel (1:11-53).

Solomon settles old scores and consolidates his power (chap. 2). God then promises to grant Solomon’s prayer request; Solomon asks for wisdom in how to administer justice (chap. 3). The next six chapters detail Solomon’s building of the temple, the beautiful and intricate artistry which goes into the temple, and the dedication of the temple (chapters 4-9). The Queen of Sheba (possibly Ethiopia) shows up and asks Solomon a bunch of questions which he wisely answers, flabbergasting her with his wisdom and the wealth of the kingdom (10:1-13). The rest of 1 Kings 10 is pretty much flaunting Solomon’s wealth (10:14-29). I mean, in Solomon’s reign, silver was devalued because it was so common (10:27). The summary verse: “So Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (10:23). Not bad.

But after those ten lengthy, detail-filled, chapters, 1 Kings 11 opens on an ominous note: “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…” (11:1a). What’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that God explicitly commanded the Israelites (especially the king) not to marry foreigners (11:2). God said this not because He is racist. He said this because He is anti-idolatry, “for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods” (11:2b).  As expected, Solomon turned to idolatry: “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab” and he built other shrines as well (11:7).

God did not take Solomon’s idolatry kindly and promised—remember this was after ten long chapters to get the kingdom established under Solomon—God promised that He would “tear the kingdom from [Solomon]” (11:11). All is lost. The slide into exile is inevitable now. The wealthiest and wisest king in all of Israel’s history is cut down after the first eleven verses of chapter eleven in 1 Kings.

What does this all mean for today? I am reminded of a few things:

  1. It can take years to build something, but only a few moments to tear it down

The kingdom of God in Israel took years to establish, beginning all the way back in 1 Samuel with the selection of Saul. But even though it took such a long time to build the kingdom, God did not hesitate to judge His people and tear the kingdom away from Solomon in an instance. God is not above judging churches the same either way, I suppose. It could takes years to build up a church into a thriving ministry, but only a few moments of sin to cause it to come tumbling down. God won’t necessarily keep a church running just because it seems successful from a human perspective.

  1. Who you closely associate with matters a lot

Solomon’s heart was turned away from God because he loved foreign women. The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that believers have to be very careful of who they get into bed with—both literally and figuratively. When you love someone, they will influence you. If their heart is not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord, then they can lead you away from Him. It this same mentality which undergirds Paul’s admonition: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 6:14). Now, Paul is not forbidding friendships or association with “sinners.” As Christians, we must be in the world (befriending people to share Jesus) but not of the world (living according to its value system). I like the image of being “yoked.” It calls to mind farming imagery where two oxen are yoked together to plow a field: they are working in unison for the same goal. Are you “yoked” to someone who loves God or someone who doesn’t? Their influence on us is real.

  1. Idolatry is the root of most (or all) sin

Solomon was lead away into idolatry with the fundamental issue being worship: Who will he worship? Will he worship Molech or Chemosh? Or, the true and living God? The same issue is at the heart of church ministry today. Will church leaders worship the one, true living God? Or will we worship “success,” numbers, the lust for bigger and bigger? Will we surround ourselves with faithful followers of God, or “yes-men” who merely affirm every decision we make? If we love God, we will then allow our practices to be shaped by God’s word and not merely human wisdom?

What Does God Really Promise Us? 10 Always True Promises

The problem with the prosperity gospel–the belief that God wants you healthy and wealthy–is not that it promises too much, but that it promises way too little. It forfeits the pattern of suffering now, glory later, which runs through the New Testament. Such teaching is also deceiving because it can lead people to despair, for they can believe that God is not coming through on His promises when they get sick or lose their money. So what does God actually promise us? There are many promises of God that we as Christian can bank on, but here is a sampling of ten always true promises:

1. God works out all things for our good–to look like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29)

2. God forgives all of our sin (Romans 8:1)

3. If we walk by the Spirit, we won’t carry out the evil desires lodged in our hearts (Galatians 5:16)

4. We will be persecuted for our faith (2 Timothy 3:12)

5. If we endure to the end, we will be saved (Matthew 24:13)

6. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20)

7. God will give us wisdom, if we ask in faith (James 1:5-8)

8. God will forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

9. God will complete His work among us at the Second Coming of Jesus (Philippians 1:6)

10. God will be our God forever, and we will be His people (Revelation 21:3)