Pray the Psalms

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Today’s post is quite simple. I forgot my Bibles at home, so I could not write a post from there. I, instead, turned to a magazine I have for Worship Leaders, and inside was an excerpt from The Case For The Psalms: Why They Are Essential by N.T. Wright. In this passage, Mr Wright poses an argument for praying through the Psalms.

The basis for his stance is that we cannot fully understand Jesus if we do not have a complete understanding of the Psalms. Jesus, and his disciples, were Jews that had a deep knowledge of Scripture which is what led to the common quoting of Psalms. When we learn these passages, we get a better look at God and the whole story of Jesus Christ.

So I will now be posting Psalms for us to pray through each day. You can choose to join me if you’d like, but as the Heart Man, I am seeking to know God even deeper. According to Wright, this is possible by praying the Psalms.

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 1

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Trusting the Lord (From the Archive: 9/26/2013)

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So I must admit, I have a problem of letting things go and trusting God to take care of me. You could even ask my wife. Aside from “I love you” and “Can you help me with this?”, it’s probably the thing my wife tells me the most. When times get rough, it is the most important thing for us to remember, but the easiest for us to forget.

It seems to me that most people when they have trust issues with the Lord get referred to Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on you own understanding” (NASB). This really is a great verse from a great book. Solomon is trying to help us become wise. The reason we cannot lean on our own understanding goes back to our sinful nature. Even though we want to follow and obey God, our bodies and minds have an inclination to trust ourselves and put us above God. I tend to say a lot “I can fix this” or “How can I help?”. Statements like these are not inherently bad, but I don’t see much room for God to act in them; they are very me-centered. But when I have to hardest time in trusting the Lord is when my family is having financial difficulties.

I recently decided to re-read Isaiah. I found a verse that helps me more than Proverbs does, “If you will only obey [God], you will have plenty to eat” (Isaiah 1:19 NLT). I read that and thought to myself “ain’t that the truth”. There’s even a story about that in the Bible. In the Exodus 15-16, God decides to provide water, manna, and quail for His people. God’s instruction was for them to eat all of it in a day, and when they didn’t, it was rotten by morning. I’m reminded of a song by Kristian Stanfill called The Lord Our God. The lyric in my mind says “Our provision through the desert”. It’s a reference to the story in Exodus. God will provide for us. Today, He is asking us, through the words of Isaiah, to obey Him and He will provide for us.

So simply trusting God is necessary for our lives. And trusting Him through our rough times is even more important in our lives. I get stuck thinking I have to be the provider for myself and my family, but the truth is that God is that provider. Yes, he works through me for the provision, but it is ultimately Him that is the provider. So place your trust in Lord, and let Him help you through the days of your life.

I also thought of this hymn while I was driving today. I had heard a somewhat Jazz version of it while shopping at Hobby Lobby, but I thought that it would fit with this post as well. I thought this was a pretty good arrangement of this hymn.

I’m Just So Angry!

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Have you ever been angry? The obvious answer is “duh”. Being human we just get angry. As soon as I got to work today, someone yelled at me. Honestly, they were just trying to get my attention (I was listening to a podcast through some headphones), but something flared up from within me. I was angry, and my day continued to get worse. I just kept getting angry. There was no stopping me. If we came into contact with each other, I would be instantly mad at you no matter what you had done. This isn’t a very Christian way to be, and I certainly needed help getting past my anger. So I turned to the one place I could for help.

I was taken to the letter of James. “Understand this, my death brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21, NLT).

Being angry to simply be angry is not what God intends for us. He wishes for us to be loving to everyone. This doesn’t mean you can’t get mad. There is a difference. Being mad is about being unhappy about a situation, but being angry is just being upset and nothing can help you until you want release from your anger.

If you are feeling angry, or if you feel angry later on in life, I suggest prayer. Tell God how you feel and why you feel that way, and wait for a response from Him. You’ll be glad you did it.

Living the Christian Life (1 Thessalonians 5)

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I was not feeling well yesterday, so I decided to put off my post for 1 Thessalonians 5. I try not to blog on Saturdays so that way I can spend time with my family. However, since my family is all in bed and I am wide awake, I thought I would write!

As we finish up 1 Thessalonians, I find myself drawn to a few verses in the middle of this chapter.

“Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (5:14-18, NLT).

This is a great call and reminder for how we are supposed to live our lives, but it is also a great reminder of how not to live. Paul’s first point is to not be lazy or timid. Being lazy keeps us from doing God’s work. Paul just reminded the church, “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, NASB). Laziness is the exact opposite to what Paul believes we should be. We should be constantly working for the Will of God.

But being timid is a hindrance to God’s work as well. Even if we aren’t lazy, timidity can cause us to not do as we are supposed to. Paul writes to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). If God has given us power, than what must timidity be? I believe that if it does not come from God, it must be from Satan. Therefore, if we are timid, that is the work of the Enemy attempting to stop the Will of God. As God’s children, it is our duty to always be after the same things as God, and so we must not be timid.

Caring for those who are weaker and being patient with everyone is probably the hardest thing for me to do on this list. This is necessary because we cannot bring up strong believers if we do not care for the weaker ones and be patient with them. Everyone is weak when we first come to faith. Think of any well known believer and think of the faith they have. When they first came to faith, they knew nothing except for the love of God. Someone spoke into their lives and brought them up to where they are now. It is important for stronger Christians to come along side weaker Christians and help time rise to a place even greater than their mentor.

I’m going to skip over the next point for a moment and move on praying. Prayer is an important part of the Christian lifestyle. It is our time to speak to God, and hear back from Him. I’ve been hearing a quote a lot here lately that I think needs to be shared. “Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is the most essential part.” (Andrew Murray). I think too many Christians view prayer as our time to give God our list of demands, what we think He should be doing in the world or for us. While it is important to tell God what is on your heart in prayer, it is even more important to have a conversation with Him and let Him guide you.

The last point is that we should alway be joyously doing good, and be thankful no matter the situation. I can admit, sometimes I don’t want to do what is good, sometimes it’s just to hard. And sometimes I’m not happy about doing the right thing, but I should be. The right thing is always good and pleasing to God. When we recognize this, our hearts can sing because we are pleasing God and making Him smile! Unfortunately, the world doesn’t like what makes God happy. It seeks to remove God from here and most assuredly doesn’t want His Will to be done. For this reason, doing God’s Will can place us in unfortunate circumstances. We are reminded by Paul to be grateful, despite the circumstances, because if we are doing what we are supposed to, God is still happy even if we find ourselves in jail.

The message we get from 1 Thessalonians is that God is not simply pleased by us “following the rules”. He wants us to completely follow Him, no matter what it takes. The Thessalonians were a church that never allowed itself to simply “do Church”, rather they excelled in doing the work God had for them and thus, “being Church”. What is God speaking to you? Have you not been completely His? I encourage you to spend time in prayer and seek out what He has for you. Being a Christian is a hard path, but our main goal is for Jesus to say “Well done”. We want Jesus to be proud of the work we have done, not simply tolerating. So get ready and be prepared for what God has in store for you, it will probably be hard, but I promise it is well worth it!

Being Holy (1 Thessalonians 4)

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In today’s ready we get a few glances into what is the matter with the church in Thessalonica. Until this point, Paul seems to be giving the church praise after praise, without addressing any issues within the church. In chapter 4 he speaks to them about living lives that are pleasing to God, and what is going to happen with believer who have died.

The first point is what really grabbed my attention today. Paul defines this by saying, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” (4:3, NLT). I’m sure that the problem Paul is addressing is someone saying, “Since we’re saved from our sins, does it really matter if we keep on sinning?” This is a continuous problem in the early Church, since Paul addresses it frequently; most notably in Romans, “What sall we say then? Are we to continue to sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NASB). Paul goes on (in Thessalonians) to mention not harming or cheating against others (4:6), and finishes this little section by saying, “Therefore, anyone who refused to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (4:8, NLT).

God’s desire is for us to be holy, but what does that mean? It sounds like a lot of rules that we must follow, but really it is more that that. The word that is being used here (hagiasmos) to describe holy means dedication to God, both in faithfulness to Him and in active service. It is a process, not an achievement. John Wesley describes grace in three parts: previenient, justifying, and sanctifying. That sanctifying grace comes to us after we have accepted Christ, and is what works within us to be holy.

This understanding shows me that it is obvious that we cannot simply accept Christ and do nothing about it. There are obvious exceptions to this, one being the thief that accepted Christ while on the cross with him. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NASB). But for those of us that accept Christ long before we are on our deathbed, we are called to become holy, to be set apart for God and for God alone. This means we cannot sit idly by and do whatever we’d like. There’s are reason that “sinful nature” is also called “ways of the flesh”. Our natural status is for us to rebel against God. Paul tells us that if we work to become holy, we “will control [our] own body” (4:4, NLT). So to become holy is a path that we must forge, it is not something that just happens to us.

Spend some time in prayer today. Figure out where that next move is on this trip to holiness.

Thanks For Being Awesome! (1 Thessalonians 3)

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“Actions speak louder than words” is a phrase we’ve all grown up hearing. It’s biggest implication when I was again was around receiving gift either for my birthday or for Christmas. But it means so much more than simply acting grateful.

In today’s chapter we see a church that has been acting like Christians. They have known the love of Christ and they are doing their work to spread it. Paul was worried about them and wanted to know what they were doing, so he dispatched Timothy to go find out. When Timothy returned, he shared the great news of how this church was doing and how they were anxious to get to see Paul again.

I’m sure Paul had reached a point in his ministry that was not doing to well. Anyone who has been involved in ministry knows there is a natural ebb and flow to how it is effective. There are times when people accept it with open arms, and there are other times they are closed off and you feel like you’re just bashing your head against a wall. The reason I feel that Paul has reached a point like this is because of what he says in verse 8, “It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.” (NLT).

Paul felt renewed to find out that the Thessalonian church was doing so well. But how does this help us? It seems like this chapter is simply Paul thanking the church for being awesome and that it made him feel better to find out they were doing so well. But I refer you back to that opening phrase, “actions speak louder than words”. What are you telling people through your actions and behaviors today? Are you sharing the love of Christ, or just trying to make it through the day. We never know who we affect by simply being ourselves. We may not be standing in front of a group of people, delivering a sermon. But our very lifestyle can be a sermon. If you live you life out according to God’s Will and Jesus’ teachings, that can do more to change hearts for Christ than the most eloquent speaker in the world. So think about what you do today. You never know who could be watching.

For Whose Glory Are We? (1 Thessalonians 2)

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In today’s reading, Paul is speaking about the work that he, Timothy, and Silas had done in Thessalonica when they were there. But there were a couple verses that grabbed me to bring to focus today. “Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” (2:5-6, NLT).

These verses speak a simple enough message for us to just read and understand. But it goes a bit deeper than that. Paul is saying that at no point in their ministry in Thessalonica, did he tell the people what they wanted to hear. He didn’t try to gloss over the ugly parts and highlight the nice bits. They didn’t just come to them and ask for money. Pretend to be their friends as long as they listened to they listened to Paul’s teachings.

This sounds a lot like the human condition to me. I am of the mind that a consequence of our sinful nature is that we want people to like us, and we will only like others so long as there is something to be gained from that relationship. This is not a godly way to be. He calls us for more than that. Paul says “Never once did we try to win you with flattery”. As Christians, it is hard for us to understand this message. We know that our call to follow Christ means that we must love others, but what does it mean to show that love. The world tells us that if we love someone, we can never be against them or disagree with what they believe. A great quote from Rick Warren that speaks on this issue is this: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Paul is writing in this verse that he did not care what the people thought about his message, so long as he was giving the Word of God.

I feel that these issues cause leadership of the church problems. I know I have said myself, “But what if we lose people?” But I’ve realized where this question comes from. It is founded when we view the church as an organization, not the bride of Jesus! Who cares if we lose people? Yes, the money is necessary to keep our buildings running, staff salaries, ministries funded, and anything else that your church needs it for. But the Church is not an organization. It is people spreading the love of and teaching about Christ. Just as Paul came to Thessalonica not worried about money, I think we, as Christians, need to not worry about what we can get out of relationships. Instead, let’s worry about what we put into them. Trust me, no matter the relationship, there is someone wanting to “get something out of it”. But what are you contributing? Are you giving your all to help the Gospel, or are you just interested in your own salvation?

The last verse I feel is the real meat of this section, “As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” I think of some famous worship leaders and pastors that get some great praise from their fellow humans (myself included), but do you know what they have in common? They aren’t doing for themselves. They are out there doing their ministry in order to further the name of Jesus! They didn’t set out saying, “I want the world to know my name”. Rather it was, “I want the world to know Your name.” If we want further proof that this is the way it is supposed to be, just look at the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, NASB). It’s not baptizing them in the name of whomever brought them to Christ, it is in His name. All of this, everything we do, has nothing to do with us once we surrender our lives to God. We are meaningless. I am reminded of a book I read a few months ago that’s title sounds confusing, but means exactly what I am getting at here: I Am Not But I Know I AM. The pastor is telling us that if God is I AM, then we must be I am not. It’s about God, not me. We are here to further His Kingdom, not our own.

Please reread 1 Thessalonians 2 with me today. Let Paul’s words sink in and show us that it is not about giving people a message they will like, or us trying to get something from them. Instead it is about glorifying God’s name above all other names! We aren’t here for man’s glory, we are here for His!

Faithful Work, Loving Deeds, and Enduring Hope (1 Thessalonians 1)

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We are going to start taking a look at Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica. This epistle is one of the first that Paul wrote, probably even the first. This letter was written in order to give encouragement to the Christians found in Thessalonica. This would have been something the church needed since it was located in Greece. At the time, Greece, not only was highly philosophical, but also believed in many gods. The Christians faith, not only taught against several things the Greek philosophers were teaching, but also taught that there was only one God. In this world, I’m sure Christians needed lots of encouragement.

Paul opens this letter the way he typically opens, with acknowledgement of who is writing and giving thanks for the church and what it is doing. Paul gives thanks for their “faithful work, loving deeds, and enduring hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NLT). These are the marks of the Christian lifestyle. If we are to be true followers of Christ, and get to know the heart of God, than these three things should be present in our own lives as well.

“For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.” (1:5a, NLT). This fits with something Paul writes later, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14, NASB). These two passages together show me that the Spirit matters. Many evangelists get frustrated when they tell people about Jesus, but they see no conversions. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to make any difference in people’s lives. Plus, the Spirit must also be affecting the people you’re talking to, otherwise it won’t make sense to them. People who only see the world, can only think in terms of the world. My mother remembers a time before I became a Christian where I asked the simple question, “How can you believe in a god you can’t see?” I feel that this is common of people who don’t have faith, because they judge the world through scientific observance, which largely relies on experience. Paul was this same way, but if we read Acts 9, we see that his experience changed him into one of these “spiritual people”.

“So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.” (1:6a, NLT). This is also important for us to hear today. The Christian life isn’t easy. Looking back at 1 Corinthians, people often think we are foolish, because they don’t understand Jesus Christ or God. So they make attacks, calling you “dumb”, “silly”, “ignorant”, and when it comes to current issues “hypocrite”, “bigot”, and other hurtful things because you are standing up for the God that loves you. The message of Jesus Christ brings suffering on our lives. It isn’t easy. But it is our duty to spread the message as far and wide as we possibly can, despite any harm that can come to our bodies or reputation.

“And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere,” (1:8a, NLT). Our faithfulness to God, speaks volumes louder than any words we could use. Paul is writing that because of the love and joy the Thessalonians showed, the message of Jesus was spreading just from knowledge of who they were. It reminds me of churches that are known around the world like Passion City Church (Atlanta, GA), Hillsong Church (Sydney, Australia), Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA), among many others. People know these churches, and knowing who they follow causes people to want to search out who this Jesus is. By living like Christians, we cause people to want to know what is up with us. Often times when people first accept Christ, people notice a difference and ask what it is. When they hear that it was Jesus, many others begin to try to find Jesus for themselves. So our own lives and actions can teach better than any amount of speaking and teaching we could ever do.

Open the Eyes of My Heart

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There’s a song that has been around for awhile that it’s become a standard for all worship teams, Open the Eyes of My Heart by Paul Baloche. It’s a great request for God to open us up so that we can learn about Him. It expresses our basic need to see and know God in all His glory. God created us to not only care for His Creation, but to also be in communion with Him. We yearn to see God and know Him. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “I pray that they eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Ephesians 1:18, NASB).

Use this song as a prayer today, that we may come closer to God and learn more about Him.

 

The Spirit Inside

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There is a Scripture that I’ve been wrestling with this week. It all started while I was preparing my heart for worship on Sunday, and watching a sermon video. I think I’ve gotten what it has been saying to me, so I thought I would share. The passage is found in Ezekiel, right before one of my favorite stories in the Bible (the Valley of Dry Bones). God is talking to the people of Israel, for after they have been exiled from the Promised Land:

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. The I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” –Ezekiel 36:24-27, NLT

This passage floored me when I read it that morning! I couldn’t believe I had ever missed this section before (during the other times I’ve read through Ezekiel).

As I was saying yesterday, sin makes us dirty and filthy. It’s not a place you, or God, want to find yourself in. So God is saying to the people of  Israel that He knows what they have gone through, but He wants to make them clean. He will take their sin from them, so that they may learn to live a clean life. This new life that He wants to give them is by taking away their selfish desires and giving them a heart to care for others. He then says that He will put His own spirit within them so they will know what it means to follow God.

God makes this same offer to you and me. The difference between them and us is that we understand God fulfilling this promise through Jesus Christ. While he was on earth, Jesus taught us what it meant to follow God and live godly lives. It wasn’t all about the religiosity of the Pharisees (and even the same as many Christians today), instead it was about loving God and loving one another. To love God means to help others and love them. John writes this, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17, NASB). So knowing the love of God, compels us to love and care for others. This is the problem that the ancient Israelites were facing. They knew God, but they cared more about the rules then what it meant to be the Children of God.

The Spirit of God lives within us. This means God lives within us. He is not some bearded man in the clouds watching the world from his throne. He lives within you and I, by our acceptance of Christ’s saving death. The Cross not only saved us from our sins, but allowed us to have the closest relationship with God no one before him was able to have. We are able to know God in this way because of the Spirit. Paul writes, “For to us God revealed [the things of God] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depth of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by humans wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13, NASB). This knowledge of God helps us to see and know what it means to follow him!