Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

Is the psalmist serious?

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!

Psalm 97:1

The LORD reigns? Is the psalmist serious? Have you looked around at this world lately? Just click over to the news websites and read the headlines. There are wars, earthquakes, storms, starvation, genocide, etc. and the psalmist says the LORD reigns? How many centuries have gone by since Jesus died on the cross? And the gospel is just as neglected today, inside and outside of the church, as it was when Christianity first started. The LORD reigns? Is God being honored in the lives of his people? So many churches are frenetically trying to attract the masses, but instead the majority of churches are being deserted instead of inhabited. Every day you and I both are surrounded by people who could care less about the things of God and God has no perceived authority over these people? The LORD reigns – are you kidding me? Can we really look around at this world and declare with the psalmist, The LORD reigns?

The psalmist is NOT looking to the day when the LORD will reign. It doesn’t say some day the LORD will reign. It doesn’t say that the LORD used to reign more than he does now. It says the LORD reigns, present tense. He has always been sovereign and he will always be sovereign. Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” Ps. 47:8, “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” The overwhelming message of scripture is that our God reigns.

In this visual culture in which we live, the problem has become that it is our observation of what we see in this world that has become our starting point. We take all that we observe and we say this is reality – now how do I interpret the scriptures in light of the reality that I observe. Instead, the starting point for interpreting everything we see should be our knowledge of God. We have completely reversed this. We take what we perceive as reality and impose those presuppositions upon what God has said about himself. So instead of saying how do I interpret what God has said in light of the reality that I observe…we should be saying how do I interpret the things I’m observing in light of the reality of what God has declared.

For example, what if you had been alive during our nation’s civil war; a time in our nation’s history when, literally, our country was being decimated by war. What if you had been the President of the United States during such days? If things were merely based on what you saw with your eyes, then you would’ve scoffed at the words of Psalm 97:1. That is not how Abraham Lincoln saw things. You can go to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and read the words etched in stone that he spoke at his 2nd inaugural address. I was just blown away a few months ago when I stood in that place and read these words regarding slavery and the civil war and God’s sovereignty – “The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh [Matt.18:7].’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether [Psalm 19:9].” Abraham Lincoln understood that there was a greater reality out there than just what can be perceived with our eyes. And as believers in the living God we must always ascribe to Him the divine attribute that Lincoln called providence and what I have referred to as sovereignty.

It is at this point that the Psalmist says rejoice and be glad. And what is our ground for rejoicing? What reason if any do we have to be glad right now? Let me ask you – how would you comfort a young person who was abused by a family member for years? How would you give hope to someone who is diagnosed with terminal cancer? What would you say to counsel a couple whose marriage is falling apart? Would you tell them that God is helpless? What scripture would you point them to which says God had no control over what happened to them or that he is frustrated and disappointed by what IS happening to them. I’m telling you there is no comfort in a God who does not reign. There is no hope in a frustrated deity. There is no help for anyone in a theology that makes the LORD the subject of mankind. Let us rejoice that the universe does not revolve around us and our lives and our decisions. Let us be glad that the time and space continuum does not abide in our feeble hands. Rejoice that the LORD sits on his throne and he does whatever he pleases. Be glad that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right.

What brings hope to the hopeless and comfort to the broken and help to the hurting? The response of the church, the message of God’s people ought to echo the words of the psalmist. Take hope, find comfort, be helped, rejoice and be glad – for the LORD reigns.

Are You Kidding Me?

My dad called me Saturday morning just as I was flipping some pancakes for the kids. He told me he needed me to come over and get some stuff off of the back patio before it rained. He had cleaned out some stuff from the attic and found a box of my old Star Wars toys.

We just recently let our children watch Episode IV A New Hope. That was the first Star Wars movie ever released in theaters. Some time ago we found my Star Wars figures over at my folk’s house and the kids have played with them non-stop since. Now my Dad adds to the frenzy by cleaning up some old dry-rotted Star Wars toys and setting them out on his back patio for me to give the kids.

So Jenn takes the youngest two kids, Calvin and Ellerie, and heads over to my parent’s house to pick up the Star Wars toys while I take Coleman and Emmie over to the local grocery store to pass out gospel tracts and fliers about our church. When we all got back home, we revealed this assortment to the children…

Needless to say, me and the kids had a great time playing with this stuff on Saturday afternoon.

Now, here is where things get a little sour for me. Later that evening, Jenn takes a trip to Wal-Mart to get some groceries for us and stumbles upon the motherload of Star Wars paraphernalia. Well, come to find out, the new Clone Wars movie is coming out on August 15th so they hit the stores with all the big promos and it just so happens that the new and improved Millennium Falcon came out on July 26th – the same day my Dad just happens upon the 1979 version of the fastest hunk-a-junk in the galaxy. Apparently some poor soul who works at Hasbro broke the old mold for the Millennium Falcon toy and so Hasbro decided to do a do-over with a new and improved version. Notice the picture below of what I played with when I was a child:

And now, from a galaxy far, far away but in stores as of Saturday – the new and improved model – where was this thing when I was 6 years old??? Four seats in the cockpit! Are you kidding me?

The LORD Reigns

Psalm 93:1

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Think of the implication of the first three words of this passage: “the LORD reigns.” This is the cry of the church – Our God reigns. It is the solid rock foundation that we stand upon. Why do we neglect this teaching? Why would we avoid it? Why would we spend one second more on self-improvement pep-talks in the pulpit than on the granite rock, absolute truth of the sovereignty of God. Think of it“The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).” What happens to fear in light of this? What happens to our faith in light of this? What happens to our obedience in light of this? What happens to luck and chance? Fear dissipates. Faith finds strength. Obedience finds motivation. And luck and chance find the trash can. What we need to realize is that the greatest reality in all the universe is that the LORD reigns. There is no reality apart from that reality. The moment that phrase ceases to be true is the moment that you and I and reality cease to exist.

Clark Pinnock, a proponent of open theism has said “Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential—yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom … The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate.” Let me be very clear about where I stand theologically regarding comments like this…this is a straightforward denial of a truth that is central to the Bible; the doctrine of God’s Providence. If the mystery of human freedom remains hidden to God, then He does not reign; human choice reigns – so delete Psalm 93:1. If God is open to the future in a way that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate, then God is not God. And if that is the case then what AW Pink wrote in 1918 still holds true in our day, that “the conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of a maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe inspiring reverence.”

God, as He is revealed in Psalm 93, exists in stark contrast to the god of the open theist. The LORD, as he is revealed here in Psalm 93, is not helpless. He is not just some effeminate being for us to disregard. He is not a creation of over-emotional sentimentality. And he is not to be pitied. This text says that he reigns – The LORD reigns!

The Psalmist’s explanation of what it means to be sovereign

Ravi Zacharias tells of an exam he took one time and I believe he said the entire exam was just one question, “God is perfect. Explain.” He said the only more difficult question he could think of was “Define God and give two examples.” Here is how he answered – “He is the only being existent in this world, the reason for whose existence is in Himself. Every other existing entity finds a reason for their existence outside of themselves. In that sense He alone is perfect. His very existence is uncaused, He just exists.”

Ps. 99:4

You have established equity;
You have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.

In v. 4 of the 99th Psalm, a sovereignty Psalm, the Psalmist gives us an inspired explanation of what it means for the LORD to be sovereign. Who rules over the meaning of right and wrong? Who is it that determines what is just and fair? Where do the concepts of equity and righteousness come from? Whoever it is that determines what right is, it is that one who rules. Whoever it is that determines what justice is, it is that one who reigns.

Think about the courtrooms of our day. Whoever it is that sits on the bench of a courtroom is the one who has the authority to interpret the law and so has final say about justice. The judge in the courtroom is the one who determines what is right and what is wrong. But that illustration breaks down quickly because our judges are accountable to some kind of external standard. Even the highest court in our land has a built in accountability and even external checks and balances. But there is one who is accountable to no one. There is one who is not subject to anyone or anything. It is this one who defines what is right and what is wrong.

Like Zacharias says, the LORD is the only being in all the universe whose very existence finds meaning in himself. My existence and your existence, despite what our culture may think, find meaning outside of us. It is not so with the LORD. Your existence was caused by something outside of you. His existence was uncaused. The very meaning of His name points to this fact – He says to Moses tell them I am sent you. “I am”, Yahweh, the LORD exists because he is. You and I exist because of something else – our beginnings were caused. He has no beginning because he is. This is part of what it means to be sovereign.

Not only is he the one who puts justice and righteousness or equity in place, he establishes these things and he executes these things. Isn’t there great peace in understanding that you don’t have to know what to tell God to do in any given situation? He knows what to do. Not only is he the source of justice and righteousness, but he performs it. This is what it means to be sovereign.

If you have one without the other, then you are not sovereign. If you know what the right thing to do is, but you cannot do it, then you are not sovereign. If you have the power to do the right thing, but something outside of you has to dictate to you what the right thing to do is, then you are not sovereign. Only the one who determines what is just and then performs accordingly is sovereign. We never meet those qualifications. Could it be that this is why God places authorities in our lives from the time we are born – because he wants us to understand that right and wrong are not determined by something inside of us as individuals. Our conscience comes from a knowledge of things outside of us. That is where the word conscience (“with knowledge”) comes from; con, meaning ‘with’ and science, meaning ‘knowledge’. Right and wrong are defined apart from us. The realities of sin and righteousness exist as objective realities. Ultimately it is the Creator who has given us those distinctions. There is never a situation where the LORD has not determined what is just and there is never a situation where he is powerless to do what is just. He always determines what is just and he always does what is just. That is what it means to be sovereign.

Podcasting your church’s sermons

I have been trying for a few months now to figure out how to do the podcasting thing. Well last night I finally got it to work.  And it is very simple.  If you need help getting your church up and running with a podcast, let me know. I’d love to help you out and keep you from going through the same struggles I did.

The Call to Worship and the Church’s Responsibility

Psalm 96

Worship in song is enjoying great popularity in our day. Even the aspiring artists on the show American Idol are seemingly getting in on the deal. Apparently this past season they sang the worship chorus, “Shout to the LORD”. Now, were they worshiping when they sang this song? I have no idea if the young people on that show were worshiping the LORD or not when they sang, but I do know that just because they were singing “Shout to the LORD” does not mean they were worshiping the LORD.

Let’s be clear that singing songs is a great way to worship – but it is not all that there is to worship. We do not stop worshiping the moment we finish singing during a worship service.  Just because you are singing, does not mean you are worshiping. And if you are worshiping – this does not necessarily mean that you are singing. Can you sing a song to the LORD without worshiping him? Yes you can. Can you worship the LORD without singing a song to him? Yes you can. The word that is translated worship in the Bible is really a couple of different words that can mean to bow down or fall down prostrate.  It can also mean to come along side and serve or give an offering. So there is more to worship than just singing a song.

So American Idol is just pop-culture – what about the church?  I am fully convinced that there will be many in churches across the world this weekend, even at my own church, who will stand with those around them to sing to the LORD yet they will not be worshiping the LORD.

There is an abundance of good quality Christian music being produced in our day and this makes for a dangerous situation. We could very easily deceive ourselves and others in the church into thinking that we are answering the Psalmist’s call in Psalm 96 to worship the LORD, but in fact we are just singing a song.

This is why the Psalmist doesn’t just say sing a new song to the LORD and leave it at that. He gives us several reasons why we should worship the LORD. He says the LORD is worthy, the LORD is glorious, the LORD is sovereign, the LORD is Creator, and the LORD is the righteous Judge over all the earth – so sing a new song to the LORD. Worship the LORD. Ascribe glory to the LORD! This is the task of the church, of God’s people. We must not fail at this point. We don’t just say to the world, “Join us in singing to the LORD.” We tell them about the one to whom we are singing. If we do not make it clear why we sing to the LORD, why we worship Him, why we glorify Him, then who is to say if the nations are just singing songs or if they are truly bowing down, falling down before Him in worship.

Let’s remember this as we worship the LORD this week.

God’s Sovereignty Displayed in Prayer

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the Lord, and he answered them.

Psalm 99:6

Is the Psalmist saying that the LORD, whom he just declared as sovereign in v. 1 of Psalm 99…is he really saying that the LORD was subject to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel?  I say – NO. He goes to these three faithful men to display the sovereignty of God in prayer. What does the psalmist say these men did? They called upon his name – they called upon the LORD. Well how does that display the sovereignty of God?

Here is how J.I. Packer answered that question in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In the opening words of the first chapter he says,  “I do not intend to spend any time at all proving to you the general truth that God is sovereign in His world. There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you believe this already. How do I know that? Because I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already, and all the good that you hope for in the future. This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands…In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of his God.”

Do you understand that if God is not sovereign then you are wasting your time when you pray? If he is not sovereign then do not waste one more solitary second of your time praying to him. But … if (since) he is sovereign…call upon his name! If he is sovereign, pray to the Lord; call out to the Lord. It is only because he is sovereign that he is able to answer. If he is not sovereign, then he can provide no certain answer at all. Yet we know that he is sovereign and any and all of his answers are certain. Let us pray, remembering that the Psalmist says that God’s sovereignty is displayed in prayer.