Our God Our Help In Ages Past a song by Issac Watts & William Croft

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

This hymn is by Issac Watts.  Watts wrote between 600 and 750 hymns in his life and many more poems.  He also wrote, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", "Joy To The World", and "Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove".

It is interesting that John Wesley changed Watt's lyrics from "Our God, our God in ages past", to "O God, our God in ages past".  It is also interesting that this song has nine verses.  Literate prose has a rich tradition in hymn writing.

This song was Winston Churchill's favorite hymn.  He requested it, when he had a church service, when meeting with Roosevelt, at sea, in 1941; and it was sung at his funeral.

William Croft wrote the music for Watts words to this song.  While this song is Croft's most enduring, his "Funeral Sentences", which are songs from the Common Book of Prayer, which contains verses from various Bible passages, was called a "glorious work of near genius", by music historian Matthias Range.  George Frideric Handel was an admirer of Croft, and the Funeral Sentences was performed at Handel's funeral in 1759, and every State funeral in England since, including Princess Dianna's in 1997 and Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher 2012.

Issac Watts (1674-1748) was in the Non-Conformist movement, in England, that said "no" to state sponsored Anglicanism, which gave birth to the Puritans who came to America.  Many of the middle-aged denominations had their beginnings during this time, including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists.

His dad was imprisoned twice for his non-conformist views.  He studied Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.  He wrote many of his hymns in his twenties and began preaching at age 24.  A condensed biography and a listing of all his hymns is here.

He was born with a gift for making rhymes, which his parents did not understand at first and thought irreverent.  But, as a young man, when he complained about the poor quality of the hymns in church, his father challenged him to write better ones, and Issac did.  He wrote most of his hymns between the ages of twenty and twenty-two.

After the Protestant Reformation began, the Lutherans and Moravians began to develop their own hymns.  The Calvinist Christians carried the idea that the Bible already contained a hymnal, so they attempted to put the Psalms to music, and published them first in 1562.  Their hymn book went through 78 editions.  This was the basic Hymnal that Christians had when Issac was Watts born in 1674.

The timeline of his life, is that he finished school, in 1694 and wrote the bulk of his hymns over the next two years.  In 1696, at the age of 22, be began working as a tutor and chaplain.  He did this for three years.  Then he became an assistant minister at Mark Lane Independent (i.e. Congregational) Chapel in London, and full pastor in 1702.  Note that the Congregational Church had its beginnings in the non-conformist, informational, movement.

He was a pastor until 1712 (age 38), when his health failed.  He then slowed down and wrote for the rest of his life, and he died in 1748.

Words From Bonhoeffer on Fellowship from Life Together

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"--and I am the worst of them all.-1 Timothy 1:15

I heard someone paraphrase a quote from Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that was a nugget of gold, for me:
"We can only enter into authentic fellowship with other believers, when we see ourselves as the greatest sinner in the room."

Here's more from Life Together:

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

“God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction. God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image. I can never know beforehand how God's image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God's free and sovereign creation. To me the sight may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every man in the likeness of His Son, the Crucified. After all, even that image certainly looked strange and ungodly to me before I grasped it.”

“The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that He had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ. But He bore them as a mother carries her child, as a shepherd enfolds the lost lamb that has been found. God took men upon Himself and they weighted Him to the ground, but God remained with them and they with God. In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them. It was the law of Christ that was fulfilled in the Cross. And Christians must share in this law.”

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has
to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

“[...]we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness.”

“It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth.”

“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear.

We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.

So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people.

They forget that listening can be a greater service…Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.”

“It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated”

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).”

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”

“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”

“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.” _____________________________
I chose and copied these quotes from the Good Reads website.  My tattered copy, that my brother got from Don Williams, in 1987, looks like the one above.

Rooted and Grounded in Love

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
-Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV)

Are you rooted and grounded in love? In his love. In Jesus love. In God's love through Jesus. Is Jesus living in your heart? Not just the idea of Jesus, but the person of Jesus Christ. Is he permanently living in you, so that you can live the life, his life?

If you are not rooted and grounded in love, then the Christian life will not work, because salvation only works inside out.  Christ in you, in your heart, in your inner being, on the throne of your life.

And the process is life long and not to be set aside.  It is ongoing.  Being rooted and grounded in love is another key to life.  I don't have to worry about a to z, because I have God's love in Christ and have the love power of the Holy Spirit operating in my life through my inner being.  I have concerns, I have plans in pencil with a big eraser, I have a lot of questions, and I have prayers.  But worries and fears, not so much.

Having his love rooting and grounding me, co-missions me to be on his mission.  He is at the wheel, in the driver's seat of my life.  He calls the shots.  My time is his and my keys are his keys, he lets me have as a steward.

Roots hold a tree up.  Being well rooted, means that the roots go down and grab the ground like fingers.  The best roots, for stability, are long, or are wrapped around rocks, underground.

Being grounded means being founded, as in "foundation-ed".  In ancient times, they would build a house on rock, if at all possible, so that it would stay standing in a storm.  The worst thing you can build on is sand, because it shifts, and your house will crack and fall apart.

Jesus said that the one who obeys his words is the one with the rock-like foundation under his life (Matt. 7:24).  Paradoxically, we can only obey Jesus if our lives are surrendered to him as Lord or King of our whole lives, letting him live through us, as the Spirit of God transforms us into being like Jesus.

The desire to be rooted and grounded in love is something that was inspired by God, and given to Paul, as a prayer, for the church.  When Paul starts with, "for this reason", we have to ask, "what reason?"  And the answer is given, if you go back and read from chapter two, verse thirteen, that says, "but now in Christ Jesus, you who were one far off have been made near by the blood of Christ."  

Paul goes on the write about God's purpose, in Christ and for the church of Christ.  Paul is praying for something that is God's will.  This is not something we are not certain about, but it is God's desire that we are asking for, when we pray with Paul, to be rooted and grounded in love.

Paul wrote here that he prayed this with bowed knees.  We can pray standing, sitting, with hands up, or hands folded.  To bow your knees is a sign of humility from you and that the person you are in front of is powerful and to be feared and respected in the greatest way, and that shows with our posture.

Praying to God, on our knees is a good thing.  It humbles our pride that wants to lift itself.  Try it, your spirit will like it, and it is good for you to humble yourself.  We need to bring our bodies into proper submission to God.  Something to consider.

This whole prayer is very rich and worthy of our time to meditate on and savor each group of words, as a prayer, for the dedication of the church.  The people of God are meant to be a beacon to the world and to the powers in the invisible realm, of God's eternal purpose in Christ.

The life of Christ only works or operates in us through his love.  We are receivers of love and givers of love.  Jesus remarked that the onlooking world will be witnessed to by our love for each other.

It is notable that a short time later, when John wrote the book of Revelation and had a word for the church at Ephesus, the rebuke part of the word was, "you have left your first love".  The antidote for this, is to repent and return to doing the things you did at first.

We get sophisticated, when God calls us to be pure and simple and wise.  We can be brilliant, through God, but not complicated or convoluted.  The way of Christ is the way of love in action.  It starts with repentance and simply receiving Christ's love and then letting Christ love through you.

The painting above is by Sara Joseph, posted here.

Sing A New Song

Sing a new song of praise to him.

He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.

Sing a new song to the Lord!

Sing a new song to the Lord.

I will sing a new song to you, O God!
-Psalm 33:3a, 40:3, 96:1a, 98:1a, 144:9a (NLT)

I've had this song on my mind:
Sing to the Lord with all of your heart,
Sing to Him a new song. Sing to Him a new song.
Sing to the Lord with all of your heart.
Sing to Him a new song.
Sing to Him a new song.
Lift your voice, let your praises ring.
Let every tongue glorify our King.
Let's become the generation Who will passionately praise Him,
Trusting in the greatness of our God.
Sing to the Lord with all of your heart,
Sing to Him a new song,
Sing to Him a new song.
Have you sung a new song?  We tend to sing old songs, the songs we know and are familiar with.  But, then there is a new song.  Think about new and newness.  God renews us.  God gives us fresh new bread.

God refreshes us and we sing new songs.  When we are renewed or refreshed, we sing new songs.  In heaven, nothing is old or decayed or tired.  Everything is fresh and new

On earth, things get worn out; even our minds.  But, God sends renewal and refreshing.  God also sends revival and awakening.  Revival is when the dead come back to life and awakening is when sleepers awake.  I believe we need another great awakening in America and that God is sending it.

I was reading about the Second Great Awakening and the Cane Ridge Revival, yesterday.  Then, I remembered Charles Finney's testimony:
“As I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me. I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more; yet I had no fear of death. 
How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir for I was the leader of the choir came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you? I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain? I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live. 
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in, I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laughter. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart." (Finney, Memoirs, pp. 21-2)
You will find Finney's testimony quoted in many books about the baptism of the Holy Spirit or revival.  I read stories just like Finney's in Joy Unspeakable, by Martyn Llyod-Jones, which is a super good book by a brilliant, conservative preacher.  If you have trouble relating to Finney's testimony, this book by Jones might be great for you.

Finney is said to be the father of "modern revivalism", but some of the things that are done today, in revivalistic churches or meetings are not exactly the way Finney did it.  This article, by Jim Stewart, is an answer to some of the questions/critiques about Finney's ministry.

When you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, by Jesus, there is power in your life, to witness and you become new and sing new songs.  My long quote of Finney is here for those who have never read this kind of testimony or have not had this kind of experience from God in their life.

Revival can also be called a move of God.  Moves of God are when people get saved, outside and inside the church.  People's lives change for the better.  The result of moves of God, revivals, or awakenings are that people want to return to a pure and simple walk with God, and we rediscover things that are right there in the scripture, that our eyes stopped seeing.

And that's the new song.  It might be new for the first time or made new.  When I am in the new, I am thanking God in my present space and time.  I am not in bondage to the past nor the future.  Someone serving time in prison can sing a new song, because it is connected to God in eternity and reflects hope for today and faith for tomorrow.

When we proclaim that we are singing a new song, we are exclaiming the fact that God is making me new.  He is renewing me.  He is giving me new life and new hope.  That's the new song.  It permeates our whole heart and results in worship of Jesus.

We entered the new year in the Jewish calender, a couple weeks ago.  A new season.  Can you feel it?  The past is history, the future is ahead, and the new is here, if you have God, or rather, if God has you.

The art above is by Chris 


Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
-Gal. 6:2-5 (NLT)

I did too much this weekend and I am starting this week tired.  The same thing happened last week.  This got me thinking about boundaries.  This passage in Galatians six, is the first one I turn to for wisdom on boundaries.

What are boundaries?  They are limits, personal limits.  God designed humans with boundaries.  Getting tired, needing rest as well as needing food and water to live, are examples.

A mentor in my life once observed and commented that I had a sort of 'superman' thing going on, where I forgot my humanity, and would get stressed out, tired, depressed, or grouchy; just because I was tired.  I did not know that we can and should stay home and rest, when we have reached our limit.  Instead, I kept and sometimes still do keep going, with bad consequences.  I don't enjoy myself and I am not really a joy to be with, when my tank is on empty.

I am still learning this.  When there is an event and some people are absent, it often is because they are tired or have limits on how many activities they can attend.  Introverts, who make up 16-50% of the population, depending on the study you look at, have to be really careful about how many activities or events that they can be involved in per day or per week.

The scripture passage above can be condensed down to, "bear one another's burdens, but each one shall bear their own load".  Loving people, encouraging them, giving to them, and praying for and with them; is different than taking responsibility for them  The former is godly and Christlike, while the latter is destructive and is what is called enabling.

For example, you can help someone find a job, give them some money or clothes for work, and you can encourage them and support them when they go through the search process.  You can even give someone a job.  All that is good.  The not-good is to do someone's work for them or to pay them for not working.

Personal boundaries are when you know your limits with people and with your self.  I was at a brother's house, talking in the kitchen, and we shared a 2 liter bottle of Coke.  It tasted so good and I was not used to having sugary soft drinks.  My friend said, "we'll pay for this tomorrow", and he was probably right.

We were in a gathering that had been enjoying fellowship time together over food, and some of us discovered that we had food allergies.  Because after an enjoyable dinner together, some would go to bed sick.  I have become one of these people.

I had dinner a few years ago, with some older people, and I shared about this issue with food sensitivities, and they said that it is common and unfortunate that, in their experience, as we age, our digestive systems are less tolerant.

What does this have to do with boundaries?  I believe that more people than we imagine, perhaps even the majority, but for sure a sizable portion, have food sensitivities.  Much of our fellowship or interpersonal times involve food.  For me, and we who are sensitive, or need to watch out in a big way, because of issues like diabetes and heart disease, boundaries play a role in the fellowship of food.

We have to learn boundaries with food, because we need to eat to live.  Here is something to think about:  Do you live to eat or eat to live?  We also are free to ignore boundaries with food, and as my friend said, we might pay the price.

Some people are happy, but somewhat sick, living with heart disease or diabetes, or mental illness; while, on the other hand, there are 'healthy people' who are unhappy.  

I am the steward of our my life.  I am accountable for it.  While, at the same time, I am joined to others, meaning loving in action, supporting others; while not taking responsibility for them.

To quote Kenny Rogers, "you have to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them."  That's boundaries.  If you were raised in a chaotic home, your boundaries might have been violated or confused.  As an adult, we need to learn boundaries, to have a joyous life, with ourselves and with others.

Love others, not being conceited.  Be a careful steward of the life allotted to you, running your own race, not getting distracted by other's lives.  Take personal responsibility.

I found the photo above here.
For further study on this topic:

Boundaries, by Cloud & Townsend
When I Say No I Feel Guilty, by Smith
The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, by Hart

Sky Links, 10-16-14

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
-Gal. 5:22-3 (NLT)

We need, I need, to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.  I have been thinking about Jesus words about moving in the opposite spirit, all the way to being the slave of all.  So Graham's word's go right along with these thoughts I have been having.  Are you read to, "take another thought?":
"It's not our responsibility to ever move in judgment. When someone behaves unrighteously towards us our question is, “Lord, how much goodness and kindness does this person need in order for them to receive a touch from you?” And when the Lord tells you, then that is what you give them. It's called moving in the opposite spirit."- Cultivating  The Fruit Of The Spirit With Graham Cooke:

Graham: "We have grown up, learning how to process life through the negativity of the world around us.  That means that we've learned largely to react against people rather than respond for them.  We've grown up in a culture and a language that is adversarial, more bent upon defending ourselves against people, rather than becoming a blessing to them.
The kingdom of heaven allows us to move in the opposite spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is the most powerful way of developing great relationships with people and also becoming Christlike at the same time.  So, it doesn't really matter if a relational issue is adversarial, oppositional, or just difficult, or there are things going on causing misunderstanding, and so on.  None of those things matter.  
What matters is how we actually come a across to people within the nature of God.  That's what this message is really about.  The fact that God has put a fruit of the Spirit next to every negative circumstance of life.  So, that we can say, there is no negative situation that does not contain a fruit of the Spirit attached to it..."
God has allocated the ability to grow in his nature in every challenging relational situation in our lives.  We are neither victims or judgers.  We don't react as victims nor as judgers, but we respond in the fruit of the Spirit that God grants to us.  Graham's full talk on the Fruit of the Spirit, given in Spokane (7/13) is here.

The Age 30 Transition and The Myth of Adolescence 

Dave Black was in California this summer and preached in San Jacinto.  His sermon was on Jesus and the Age 30 Transition:

Jesus and The Age 30 Transition from 412 Church on Vimeo.

Dave's message was so good.  I completely agree with his thoughts about the myth of adolescence.  I don't know if you realize that adolescence is a modern invention from the world.  Teenagers need to be learning responsibility and be disciples of Jesus, with all that youthful energy, growing into becoming kingdom adults.

God is not a Republican

Did you know that God is not a Republican?  Sounds silly, but what I mean is that the Republican party and its operatives are corrupt and ungodly or not Christlike, just like the Democrats.  To put it another way, the salvation or renewal of American did not come through an authentic Christian president.  I was pretty disappointed that Bush (44) was not successful in many ways.  One reason why he wasn't is that many of those who worked for and with him were not godly, but were corrupt.

Republican Christians and Democratic Christians both point their fingers at the other party, blaming them for our country's demise.  Some say that Bush 44 failed because he was not conservative enough, like Reagan.  But our country has been going downhill, no matter which party holds the white house or congress.  We do need godly leadership, yes.  But America will only be saved by God.  We, the people, need God.  We all need a new great awakening that will purify a whole generation that will be called to work in (smaller) government and bring our country back to it's roots and calling.

Take a look at David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.

Christian Economics

Ron McKenzie has written a very good series on money & Christians, here.  I first read his article unrighteous wealth.  Some of the advice or counsel from Dave Ramsey and Robert Kiyosaki is faulty, because, for example, they espouse the idea of gaining wealth through rental property, which is sometimes unrighteous wealth.  This may come as a shock to you.  Read the posts by Ron, if you don't get this, and you will understand.

I chose that stained-glass window photo, because it looked to me, like Jesus' encounter with Zaccheus (Luke 19).  Note how Zach's life changed after he met Jesus.  That is a picture of the transforming work of Jesus in our lives!  I commend Ron McKenzie's series of posts on Christian Economics to you.  Ron's posts on world affairs, the church, and life in Christchurch, New Zealand have been very interesting to me as well. 

While Jesus Slept

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
-Mark 4:35-41

Have you ever thought about this story?  I mean, how Jesus slept while a fierce storm ravaged the disciple's boat he was in with them, but he peacefully slept, until they woke him.

It is nice that Jesus saved the day, by rebuking the wind and waves, but I don't think that is the point of the story.  The point is having faith.  What is faith?  It is trusting Jesus.

Jesus had said, "let's cross over to the other side of the lake", and they grabbed a boat, and began the journey.  The next thing that happens, is that a dangerous storm hit them, while Jesus fell asleep.  The disciples freaked out.

The lesson is faith or trust.  We often want God's guidance.  Oftentimes he does not give it, because he wants us to take responsibility for living our lives through him, through what we already know and his life in our lives.  

However, there are times when God does guide us, when God does make clear what he wants us to do.  This story is one of those times.  Jesus clearly said, "let's cross to the other side".

The disciples had a clear word from the Lord to stand on in faith and exercise faith from.  In the face of the storm, denial or stoicism is not what was called for, but the exercise of faith.  

In this test, they started to take matters into their own hands, including shouting a rebuke in Jesus' face.  Here is a picture of unbelieving believers, who end up rebuking God and telling him what to do, in their panic, fueled by fear.

Lovers do get angry at their beloved, sometimes, when they don't understand what they are doing or not doing.  Calling out for help in the storm, when he said that he would take care of you is ok.  

What is awesome about Jesus is that he does wake up and he does take care of them.  Although he rebukes their unbelief, he does it in love, and I believe the story ends with the disciples learning something.

In our lives, when we face storms, we can be encouraged that Jesus is with us, even if he is sleeping.  And if he is sleeping, it does not mean he does not care, but he is teaching us to rest in God, no matter what happens to us.  We need to experience rest in God, not just unconsciousness, when we sleep.

I found the painting above here.

The Power in Blessing God - Psalm 134

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
You who serve at night in the house of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary, and praise the Lord.

May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.
-Psalm 134 (NLT)

Photo: Pixabay
Psalm 134 is the last of the songs of ascent or pilgrim songs of Psalms 120 to 134.  I have called them songs of the steps.  This last one is a priestly benediction.

"Oh praise the Lord", the song begins.  If you know God, it is natural to praise God.  To be in God's presence is to praise, worship, and fear him in holy awe.  Yet, being in the world, and living in the already and the not yet of God's kingdom, we need the priestly call to worship.

It is important to note that worship is to be God centered.  Worship and songs of praise are for one person.  We sing to Jesus, we sing to Father, and we sometimes sing to the Holy Spirit.

Worship and songs of praise are not for us to feel better or for us to get in the mood to hear the message or to create an atmosphere for ministry.  We don't worship to get God to come and touch us.

Worship is to God alone and for God alone.  We may be touched while worshiping and worship and praise probably will change the atmosphere, wherever you are; but that's not why we bless and praise the Lord.

Most people think of church or worship services as occurring during day time.  But, this song makes reference to nighttime worship services.  The psalmist calls out to all the people as literally 'servants of Yahweh, who are standing in Yahweh's house by night.'

Do you enjoy worship at night?  I do.  Have you ever worshiped in dim light or by candle light?  That is the festive idea of the song.

We are all serving the Lord in blessing him.  Standing is a picture of serving.  Servers stand and walk around.  To serve God, you must stand up.  Serving God in worship has a posture of giving to or blessing God.

We have it backwards if we go to and enter into worship to receive.  Imagine a relationship where you just want to take and not give.  That's all that a baby knows (1 Cor. 3:1, 13:11).

The house of the Lord is now the people of God.  You are the temple of the spirit (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19).  The journey or pilgrimage described in the songs of ascent (or the steps) is a journey towards God.

In this last step, we discover or revel in the joy of blessing God in celebration together.  We are the house of the Lord, together.  If you are alone, you can still worship as well.

What if the highest call is celebration, preferably together?  What if the highest level of or key to spiritual maturity is blessing God, worshiping him and thanking him?  This is the opposite of what the world does (Rom. 1:21).

By making worship or praise, being thankful to and blessing God a daily priority or way of life, we grow spiritually and have our minds continually renewed (Rom. 12:1).  This last step caps everything off as a key to life.

If we do not worship God, every day, which is being thankful and blessing him, all the progress in the previous 14 steps will unravel, go stale, or lose their place in our life.  We will become like the person who looks in the mirror, then forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-4).

Every day needs to have a time of celebration, thanking God for what he has done today.  This is the opposite spirit of the way of the world, that does not thank God, and falls into bondage (Rom. 1:21).
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary, and praise the Lord.
The lifting of hands occurs many times in the Psalms.  We lift our hands to bless God.  It is a physical gesture of blessing

Many churchgoing Christians do not lift their hands, when worshiping or praising God.  I think that we get shy or just have not been instructed.  We use our bodies to bless God and that is what lifting the hands is about.

Whether you open your hands at waist level, with your elbows bent; or if you lift up your hands over your head, you are doing so as an act of blessing the Lord, and it is completely Biblical.

When we worship, when we bless the Lord, we enter into the blessing of God, we are blessed.  The psalmist writes, 'May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.'  We bless the Lord, for who the Lord is, and the Lord blesses us back.  God lives in the, 'give and it shall be given', principle.

Worship, praise, thanksgiving, and blessing open a door in our lives to and from God, that we want open.  This is Leslie Allen's final thoughts on Psalm 134:
Zion (Jerusalem NLT) is a doorway that opens out into the power behind the world.  Blessing extends in a remarkable circle.  Dynamic potential is given to those who give Yahweh sincere acknowledgement of his power.  Essentially it is unsought and comes as a gracious byproduct of worship.  In keeping with this attribute of power the divine object of blessing becomes an active object.  He generously shares with his devoted followers from his own resources of omnipotence so that abundant life may be theirs.(1)

In summary, Psalm 134 teaches us that the last step, in the steps of ascent, is a life of celebrating God, of blessing him.  When we bless God, he blesses us back and God creatively releases more blessing into our lives.

To review the 15 steps we have now covered:
  1. We learn to call upon God and that God saves us and answers prayers.
  2. We learn that God is our guardian, watching over us.
  3. We learn to be worshipers, desiring God.
  4. We choose to humble ourselves as servants as we ask for mercy.
  5. We cultivate seeing God's workings in our lives, then sharing the stories.
  6. We learn to live a life of trusting the Lord, that brings security.
  7. We discover that there is more or we have lost something and ask God for it and learn to release the grief of our hope differed, through tears and we persevere in our walk towards God, with weeping as we walk, and experience astonishing joy from God. 
  8. We learn to trust God to build everything, and we labor under God in building, learning to enjoy finding rest, and becoming aware of the gift of and responsibility  of raising children for God.
  9. We learn that the result of a life of revering God and walking with him is fruitfulness, which means children: your own or spiritual, or metaphorical; and having grandchildren is the end result of a blessed life.
  10. We learn that suffering is part of the faith walk towards God.  God uses suffering to grow us up into Christ-likeness.  This may surprise us after we have done so well, 'going wide', in learning to walk with God, cultivating a rich relationship with him, and learning to enjoy the blessings.  After learning to 'go wide' with God, having an enlarged 'God life', we begin to learn to 'go deep'.
  11. We are surprised to learn, after we have been walking with God for some time, that God has more redemptive work that he wants to do in us.  We discover deep places where we want God.  God in turn redeems us in those deep places with his unfailing, steadfast, covenant love; and we are made more like Christ.
  12. We learn to humble our selves, and stop all the crying and chatter. We can say that we are not proud, to God, and that we don't have it all figured out, but have a lifestyle of trusting him in our lives, that dethrones pride. We patiently embrace the silence of waiting, and encouraging others in a life of hope in God.
  13. We learn to be more concerned or preoccupied with God and God's habitation in us, than with our selves, in all our lives.  We get a revelation that, "my house is Gods house", and we want to dwell in God in our whole lives and God's presence in our whole lives brings a blessing to others and God blesses us generationally.
  14. We learn that harmony or unity among God's people comes from learned maturity.  The mature people must come under the headship of Christ in their lives and when they function together.  This results in unity or harmony or getting along, which results in the anointing from God, which is an increased presence of the Holy Spirit among us together.  And God refreshes those who function in this oneness, all the way to eternal life.
  15. We learn to live a life of celebrating God, of blessing him.  When we bless God, and he blesses us back and creatively releases more blessing into our lives.
The artwork above, From Whom All Blessings Flow, is by Stacey-Robin H. Johnson
1. Allen, Leslie C., Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 101-150, p.218

The Tragedy of Hubris

Joab, Abishai, and Asahel--the three sons of Zeruiah--were among David's forces that day. Asahel could run like a gazelle.
-2 Samuel 2:18 (NLT)

Joab means, "the LORD is father", or "Jehovah-fathered".  The man in this verse was David's sister's son & captain of his host, noted here.

Abishai means, "my father is Jesse", or "father of a gift (i.e. Probably generous), noted here.

Asahel means, "God has made", or "thanksgiving... thanking God for what he has made",noted here, and here.

Zeruiah means, "Balsam of Yah" Balsam is a spice, perfume,cosmetic and medicine.  It is also an ingredient in the incense burned in the Tabernacle.  Scholars are not in full agreement, some taking the position that Zeruiah means "Cleft", as in a crack that occurs from pressure.
Hubris: excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.
Asahel is noted as being fast on his feet.  We find out that Asahel's speed was a snare.  Asahel got overconfident and was killed by the better warrior, Abner.  Abner actually gave him the chance to back off, but he went right into Abner's spear and was killed.
...Asahel could run like a gazelle,  and he began chasing Abner. He pursued him relentlessly, not stopping for anything. When Abner looked back and saw him coming, he called out, “Is that you, Asahel?”
“Yes, it is,” he replied.
 “Go fight someone else!” Abner warned. “Take on one of the younger men, and strip him of his weapons.”  But Asahel kept right on chasing Abner.
Again Abner shouted to him, “Get away from here! I don’t want to kill you. How could I ever face your brother Joab again?”
But Asahel refused to turn back, so Abner thrust the butt end of his spear through Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He stumbled to the ground and died there...  -2 Samuel 2:18b-23a
We, like Asahel, can be endowed with special gifts, but we have to know how far they can take us, then stop.  He had speed, but not the warrior skills to take Abner, hand to hand, by himself.  "Pride goes before the fall", applies to good guys and bad guys.  Perhaps if Asahel used his speed to be the scout for his men, chasing Abner, he would have lived.

Joab avenged Asahel's death, by murdering Abner (2 Sa. 3:27), which David did not appreciate (2 Sam. 3:31-9).  Later, Joab, who was David's top general, helped David have Uriah killed (2 Sam. 11:14-25).  He also killed Absalom, against David's wishes, when that rebellion occurred (2 Sam 18:1-33).  Joab also murdered his cousin, David's nephew Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8-13), whom David promoted over Joab, after the rebellion of Absalom (2 Sam. 19:13).  Joab was finally given a death sentence by David (1 Kings 2:29-34) , who cited his past betrayals and for for siding against Solomon, with David's eldest son, Adonijah (1 Kings 1:1-27).

Abishai was the oldest of the three brothers mentioned here.  He was the only one brave enough to accompany David to sneak in on Saul as he slept (1 Sam. 26:5-12).  Abishai was one of the mightiest warriors of David's mighty men, and he personally slew 300 men by himself one time (2 Sam. 23:18-19).  He also took part in the slaying of a Philistine giant (2 Sam. 21:15-17).  But, and unfortunately, Abishai played a role in the murder of Joab (2 Sam. 3:30) and David pronounced a curse on Joab's whole family (2 Sam. 3:29).  Abishai receives the curse, since he was complacent in the murder.

These three brothers were mighty warriors, counted among David's might men, that probably numbered between 30 and 37 guys (2 Sam. 23:8-39).  Things went wrong for these three, when Asahel got ahead of his assignment.  It was like Asahel got too big for his britches.  This is hubris.

He authentically served David, and by extension, God; before this incident.  But, perhaps the victories he had been involved in, gave birth to pride in himself.  The more victories you are involved in, the more you must learn to discipline yourself to be humble.

Asahel was born into a special family and became part of a move of God, through his uncle.  It seems to me that the anointing to be king and to be a Philistine killing machine, overflowed and touched a number of men who came to serve David and serve Yahweh, who anointed David.

Besides the wars with the pagan peoples, there were also civil wars in Israel where many were killed.  Asahel ended up a casualty, and the record of his death documents that he died because of his own foolishness.  Lack of wisdom, would be true of him also, but the word I was looking for was presumption (Psalm 19:13).

With just seeing here that Asahel has a gift for speed, what can we say?  We can say, "be careful!". We have a, "need for speed", culture.  We have a spirit of 'hurry' in our world, at least in the places I frequent.  It used to be rare to see someone run a red light, but now I see it all the time.

God is not in a hurry.  There is something good about getting up and going for it, but we also can get ahead of God.  Patience is a virtue, but speediness is not.  There is no, 'peddle to the metal' Bible verse, but there are many verses about continued perseverance.

But, what about our God given gifts?  What is the difference between Asahel and Eric Liddle, the man who's life was put on the big screen in 'Chariots of Fire'?  Eric was in a missionary family, and there were expectations that he would himself serve God that way, but instead, he put off missionary service to became an Olympic runner.

When people said to Eric, "what are you doing?", he told them that he felt the pleasure of God when he ran.  Eric Liddle brought glory to God through is natural gift that was also his passion.

But, Asahel got in trouble and was killed.  Why?  He did not steward his gift properly and got into a presumptuous situation where he was blinded by his ambition.  Asahel should have known this word of wisdom:
"Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall"
-Prov. 16:18
We can move ahead of God and be destroyed.  Bravery and arrogance are not the same.  We have to go after the targets God gives us.  God gives grace to the humble and opposes pride (Prov. 3:34).

This last point might seem tangential, but I looked for a verse about getting too far ahead, and found 2 John 1:9, where John warns about getting ahead of the teachings of Christ and falling into deception.  F.F. Bruce notes that it literally says, "whoever taketh the lead and abideth not in the teaching of Christ".

We can get ahead of Christ, spiritually, and add things that are not in his teachings, nor in the apostolic witness, and ruin our selves and lead others away from Christ.   Bruce notes that the junk that John is warning about is Docetism, which is the belief that Jesus was a phantom, that he was pure spirit, and did not have a physical body that really died on the cross.  Docetism is a heretical belief within Gnosticism.

When we 'take the lead' and get ahead of God, we can get into trouble.  Leadership, yes; but 'taking the lead and not abiding in the teaching of Christ', no.

The Great Reversal

The nations of the world will help the LORD's people to return, and those who come to live in their land will serve them. Those who captured Israel will themselves be captured, and Israel will rule over its enemies.
-Isaiah 14:2 (NLT)

God wants the nations or peoples to help his people get back or return to their place of inheritance or their land of promise.  And God wants his people to take spheres of authority or influence.  God also wants his people to be over those who they were under, and who previously were even their enemies.

My understanding is that this text was not fulfilled in ancient Israel, before Christ.  The people did return, but not with the perks or blessings mentioned here.  So, this remains as an unfulfilled prophecy.

I understand that interpretations of Old Testament prophecies are debated today.  There is a spectrum of opinion.  I believe that prophetic texts can apply to Christians, because Christians are God's people, now being in God's Son.

I believe that in this verse, we have God's desire for his people, Jew and Gentile.  God is a God of restoration, inheritance, and destiny.  God's design for his people has always been for them to take possession and rule over land and peoples or nations.

God has wanted this for his glory.  God uses people who carry his blessing, to release the blessing for the saving of the world.  God has always wanted the world to see him and get saved.  God wants to do this today through his people.

The astonishing word of God here says that God will use unredeemed, unsaved peoples to bring his people into their rightful places, which are described as lands and rulerships.  I would call these positions of authority or influence for the glory of God.

What this verse says is that you will rule over those who have ruled over you, or you will capture those who previously captured you.  If we interpret this verse under the kingdom of God and through the lens of the love of God, we see that God's desire is for us to bless those who have hurt us, with the love of God in the good news of God's saving grace and power in Jesus Christ.

Think about every sphere where God's people have been captured.  In all these spheres (lands and nations or peoples) that have hurt God's people, who carry God's blessing for God's cause in the world, God's plan is for those hurtful (oppressive) peoples to help or promote God's people to be the bosses or rulers of those spheres.

God wants his people at the top of every sphere of influence in the world, to release the blessing of Christ, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.  The idea that the whole world is going to hell and we just need to build the church until the end and invite others to join us and get saved and discipled inside the church completely misses the message of God in Christ.

The good news is that God so loved the world, which means all the world and all the nations, groups, and spheres of the world (John 3).  The other part is that God wants us to take that good news to all the places of the world (Matt. 28).  That's the message and the mission.

We Christians need to shift from church focus or kingdom focus.  We have Christ if we are authentic Christians and the kingdom is the message that Christ speaks.  The kingdom happens everywhere.  The kingdom of God clashes with the kingdom of Satan throughout the kingdoms (plural) of this world.  These are the battlefields, where God's people and God's angels fight the dark forces (Eph. 6:12).

When the devil tempted Jesus with giving him rulership of all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8-9), we need to understand that the devil's authority is stolen authority that God's people, in Christ, can take back.  All demonic bondage is stolen territory, whether it is in one person or in a whole sphere of influence, like in higher education, the media, or in politics.

God's plan is for people who have not been serving him and have had the authority, to elevate or make the way for God's people to rule them.  Most people are not completely hardened against God's love or grace.  They are just waiting to see Christ's love and grace in his people that is irresistible.

The Upside Down Life

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
So Jesus called them together and said,“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different.
Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
-Mark 9:33-37, 10:42-45 (NLT)

I had a dream that I was driving my car and I came to a place where something happened, and my car became upside down.  It was stuck there.  I was ok and it wasn't an accident.  It seemed to happen on purpose.  I tried to call someone from my car, then I was in a man's room, apartment or office; with big windows and I looked down at my car, and called my parents.

This was not a good dream, but it was not a bad dream.  It was a peculiar dream.  I prayed about it.  I told my wife and my best friend about it.  I knew that God only gives us bad news in a dream if we need it, so from him, it is really good news to wake us up to something.  About a day and a half went by, and I received a possible interpretation.  Maybe, the dream was about living the upside down life?

Jesus' message was the kingdom of God.  Things in the kingdom are the opposite of the world, and I want to be following the kingdom's values and not the world's.  So, if you want to go up, you must go down.  If you want lots of stuff, you have to give away lots of stuff.  And if you want to be a leader, even for good reasons, being that God has given you gifts and wisdom to minister to others; the path is servanthood and even being the slave to all.

I could have chosen many verses to illustrate the idea of the upside down life, like "the first will be last and the last will be first", "blessed are the poor in spirit", "love your enemies and do good to those who spitefully use you", "give and it shall be given", "take up your cross and die", "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains", "humble yourself", "give to anyone who asks of you", "turn the other cheek", "forgive seventy times seven", "give your gifts in private", and "don't worry".  But I chose these words of Jesus about servanthood.

And look at what Jesus says about serving children, welcoming them in his name.  He says that he will bless you in a special way for welcoming them, because you are welcoming him.  Yes, he loves the children.  Children represent those who cannot give you fame or fortune.

As I ponder the two stories I quoted above, from Mark, I am encouraged that the life of servanthood that he calls me to was somewhat bewildering to the first disciples and it feels that way to me sometimes.  Like the first disciples, I want to follow him and I believe in him with all my heart, but I also need to be reminded that Jesus whole style or way of life, including leadership and service is backwards or upside down from the world.

Whitewash The Tombs