Tag Archives: restoration

How to recover when you’ve squandered your potential – Characters: Samson, Part 5

9 Nov
Photo by Fernando Dearfer on Unsplash

Samson is an illustration of a man with unbelievable potential for good, yet who allows himself to be degraded by his lusts and revenge.  There is such a lack of desire in his life to follow God, to keep his Nazarite vow, which could have and should have guided him to lead Israel back to God.  Instead Samson’s story is not that of a godly leader, but of a flawed individual who has some amazing individual victories, and a lot more individual failures.

Like Samson, any of us can squander our potential.  We can make choices that ruin what God wants to do in us and through us.  In this third installment of our Characters series, we learned that God wanted Samson to be a godly leader. Samson had been set aside, given the gift of the Spirit of God who empowered him with legendary strength, but Samson used this gift for selfish passions.  This reminds us that we are not robots.  God gives us good gifts, but we have the choice to use those gifts for good or bad.  Consider how different Samson’s story could have been if he had used his gifts for good!

When we think about gifts, we must remember that we are made in God’s image, loved by God, and he is everything we need in life.  We can live out of the deep satisfaction that only God can give us, thus transforming our hearts to follow the ways of Jesus.  Samson, however, was constantly enthralled by anger, revenge and lust, rather than being enthralled by God. He didn’t give credence or credit to God for the gifts he’d been given, and he did not choose to use them for God’s glory.

Yet in the midst of squandering his potential, God is still a redeeming God. It was messy and far from perfect, but God used Samson to free Israel from the Philistines.  It wouldn’t last, though.  If you continue reading Judges, you’ll see how bad it gets.  Samson’s leadership did nothing to bring the people closer to God.  Sure, they had temporary relief from the Philistines for 20 years.  But the deeper issue of who they were went unchanged. The story of Israel as told in Judges goes from bad to worse after Samson.

In what ways has God gifted you? We are all made in His image. We all, whether following God’s ways or not, have attributes of God within us.  How can we use our gifts for Him?  You have time, gifts, talents. Are you using them in ways that benefit the Kingdom of God? Are you intentional in your thoughts and actions?  It will likely take sacrifice for that to happen, for you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of what a kingdom mindset looks like. Then work to follow that. It might go against the cultural flow and assumptions of how to live life. It might go against your family’s wishes for you.  But you will have the peace and joy of knowing that you will be in line with God’s ideas.  

So we should be people who practice confession, repentance, if we are not line with the lifestyle of God’s Kingdom.  We should seek to be humble and teachable, even when you are on the heights. 

Think of the example of President Jimmy Carter who has taught Sunday school for decades, and who has spent years serving with Habitat for Humanity, even now into his 90s. 

Think of the example of Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl winning coach, and who has committed to All Pro Dads and other ministry.

Even on the heights it is possible to be humble. Even when we have gifts that give us laud and attention, we can use them for God’s glory. What gifts has God given you? How will you use them for his Kingdom?

How one family’s drama was healed – Characters: Joseph, Part 5

1 Nov

In this Characters installment, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel. His is a story of extremes. Joseph lost his mother in childhood, but was his father’s favorite. His father loved him, but his brothers hated him. He had dreams from God about how he would rule over his brothers, but they sold him into slavery. Purchased as a slave by an Egyptian official, Potiphar, God was with Joseph, and he rose in favor with Potiphar, but was treated horribly by Potiphar’s wife. So Potiphar has Joseph jailed, but there rises in favor with the warden. When he interprets the king’s dream, through God’s empowerment, the king releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command of all Egypt. Finally, it seems Joseph’s fortunes are settling into a good extreme. Then his brothers show up in Egypt, but now they don’t know Joseph is the governor. Shocked, emotional, Joseph throws them in prison, but eventually shows them a courageous act of mercy, giving them the grain they had come to purchase because the land was in a severe famine.

What happens next?

We learn in Genesis 43 that back in Canaan, Joseph’s brothers and father and family have eaten all the grain Joseph sent back with them. The famine has not let up, and they need more food. That means another trip to Egypt. But Joseph has thrown his family into turmoil because he said that if they come back to Egypt they must bring their youngest brother who had remained behind on their first trip.  You know who that other brother was?  His full brother Benjamin.  You can imagine that Joseph would really want to see Benjamin, the only brother with whom he shared both mother and father.  Their father, Jacob, however, loves Benjamin deeply, as he was Jacob’s only remaining connection to their mother, his wife Rachel whom he loved more than his other wives.  Jacob, for this reason, had not allowed Benjamin to go on the first trip to Egypt to get food.  Now Joseph has forced his hand, so Jacob concedes and sends Benjamin.  That brings us to Genesis 43:15. 

There we learn that once his brothers arrive in Egypt Joseph now invites them to his house. When Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, once again he is overwhelmed with emotion and has to leave the room.  When he finally composes himself, they have dinner together, but remember that his brothers still have no idea who Joseph is. They think he is just an eccentric governor of Egypt, who also holds their fate in his hands, because he is the one who can approve their purchase of more food.  Still toying with them, as he did on their first trip, Joseph seats them in order of age, which they think is an astounding coincidence.  He also gives Benjamin five times as much food as the others!  I bet Joseph had a hard time keeping from laughing as he watched them talking about this.

Joseph’s trickery continues through all of chapter 44, where he contrives to make it seem like they were trying to steal from him, and they are more distraught than ever.  Some scholars believe that in playing all these games with them, Joseph is shepherding his brothers to repentance.  Maybe.  It’s hard to know.  He plays quite an extensive ruse on them.  The games reach a high point at the end of chapter 44 when Joseph, having set them up as thieves, declares that their punishment is that Benjamin must stay behind, while the rest return to Canaan.  His brother Judah makes an impassioned plea for himself to stay behind in prison rather than Benjamin.  Perhaps that humility and sacrifice in Judah was the turning point for Joseph.

Turn to Genesis 45:1-8, and read Joseph’s amazing response.

Joseph can’t handle the ruse anymore.  He explodes in emotion and reveals himself as Joseph, the brother they sold into slavery 20 years before.  His brothers are terrified and shocked.

But as Joseph keeps talking, he describes the events of the last 20 years in a surprising way. He could be bitter, angry, and vengeful. Instead he says that God sent him into Egypt ahead of them, to save their family.  Joseph looks at all the years of pain and suffering and sees God’s faithfulness. 

Even in deep family drama, there is hope and redemption and forgiveness possible.  Even through the worst circumstances, even through our bad choices, God can and does use us when we make ourselves available to be used, like Joseph, to see our pain through God’s eyes.

Genesis 45 concludes in a beautiful fashion.  Look at verses 12-15.  The brothers are all reconciled, and what’s more, Joseph and the King Pharaoh invite Joseph’s whole extended family to move to Egypt and survive the famine.  And that is what happens.  Their father Jacob, now called Israel, moves his whole family to Egypt. 

Fast forward with me to Genesis 50:15.  The years have gone by and Joseph’s father Jacob has recently passed away. Joseph and his brothers keep Jacob’s wishes that they return his body to Canaan.  After doing so, they return to their homes in Egypt.  With Jacob dead, though, Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph will now finally take revenge on them for what they had done to him all those years before.  Look at Joseph’s response in verse 20.

Amazing.  He continues to see God at work.  All these years later, the wounds of the past are healed.  Sometimes it takes time, repeated affirmation, especially when the wounds are deep.  Forgiving 70×7 as Jesus taught in Matthew 18 can mean that we have to forgive an offense multiple times because the hurt just keeps coming back.

There were many ups and downs in Joseph’s life.  Trials, temptations, jail-time. But when he was close to God, though the circumstances didn’t necessarily change, he clearly saw God at work. 

God is at work for redemption of what is broken.  Even when we are wounded and feeling lots of deep emotion about pain that people have caused us, we can pursue healing and reconciliation. That’s what God specializes in.  Maybe it seems like God isn’t there.  It can often feel that way.  Keep pursuing him. 

What is broken in your life that you need to take a step toward healing?

How to respond to family drama – Characters: Joseph, Part 4

31 Oct

How do you respond to family drama? Roll your eyes? Frustration? Anger? Weeping? It is particularly difficult when it is the kind of family drama that has hurt you. When your family has betrayed you, the pain can go so deep. Have you ever experienced that? What should you do? How should you respond?

In this series of posts on another character from the history of ancient Israel, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph. If you’re reading this post first, I encourage you to go back to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to see how intense the drama actually was. Or you can read the story starting in Genesis 37. Joseph had one difficult hurdle after another, but finally, as God has been faithful all along, Joseph is now the second in command of all Egypt. While Joseph’s life has gone, literally, from the pit to the palace, the family drama that started off all the pain (and led to the pit) was never resolved. At the end of Genesis 41, we learned that while Joseph was now enjoying a new family of his own, and while his family drama was decades in the past, he still thought about it. It still hurt. And it was about to walk through his door.

Genesis 42 changes the scene from Joseph’s palace to Joseph’s father and brothers in Canaan who are dealing with the famine that came on the land. They run out of food and agree to go to Egypt where they hear plenty of food is for sale.    

They travel to Egypt where Joseph, as governor of Egypt, is the one responsible for selling grain to people.  He recognizes his brothers right away, but they don’t recognize him!  Of course not, right?  Who would ever expect that the 17 year old brother they sold into slavery all those years earlier is now the governor of the nation of Egypt?  Scholars believe at least 20 years had passed, so his appearance would have changed.  Also Joseph would be wearing Egyptian clothing, and verse 23 tells us he was speaking through an interpreter.  They had no idea this regal man speaking a foreign language was their brother. 

So Joseph toys with them, accusing them of being spies, throwing them in prison for three days.  Then as he overhears them arguing amongst themselves, blaming each other for this calamity because of what they did to him all those years earlier, Joseph can’t handle it emotionally.

Look at Genesis 42:24.  He weeps.  There is clearly lots of feeling going on inside Joseph at this surprising turn of events.  The whole situation is odd.  It is dramatic, for sure.  But why did Joseph toy with them?  For fun?  Well it clearly wasn’t fun, for them or him.  Why didn’t Joseph immediately reveal who he was and make things right? 

Perhaps he was shocked to see them.  If you look at Genesis 42:6-7, it seems that he is totally surprised.  This is unexpected.  You know how awkward you feel when a blast from the past enters your life?  Could be a high school flame.  Could be a person with whom you had a falling out many years before.  Someone you haven’t talked to in a long time.  And now you finally meet.  It is super uncomfortable, right?  Often you just want to get away, get out of there, and you might start physically shaking with nervousness, and all these strange unusual emotions come over you.  You don’t act rationally.

I think Joseph was dealing with at least some of that!  He reacts, and what comes out might be a bit of anger or revenge.  Yet there is mercy too.  In Genesis 42:25, for example, he loads them up with grain.  He could have said, “No way,” to their request for food.  He could have revealed himself, told Pharaoh what these guys did to him 20 years before, and Pharaoh could have easily disposed of them.  What Joseph does, though, in the middle of his emotion, is respond to family drama with an act of mercy. Mercy is when you have the power to punish but do not.  

We do not really know the motivation of his heart as to why he puts them through all that is to come.  Was he vengeful and ungracious? Or was he being wise and careful, having been hurt so bad by these guys previously? Whatever the motivation, what is clear is that Joseph gives them mercy. 

If you have been hurt, like Joseph was, by a close friend or family, what courageous act of mercy can you offer? It is scary, risky, and yet might be precisely what is needed to begin the healing process. It is wise to be cautious when you have been hurt. But in the caution, is there some act of mercy, even if it is small, that might start to decrease the drama?

Joseph’s interaction with his brothers is far from over. Check back in to Part 5 and we’ll learn where this leads.

The world-changing power of forgiveness – Philemon 8-25, Part 4.

29 Aug
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to forgive someone who hurt you? Did you find it difficult to do so? It can be scary to forgive, especially when the pain runs deep. Will that person respect your forgiveness? What if they hurt you again? Are they really sorry? How do you truly know? There are many questions surrounding broken relationships, questions that can make forgiveness seem murky. In our study of Philemon, Paul is addressing a situation of brokenness, and one that needed forgiveness. But this wasn’t any ordinary brokenness, and what Paul is asking is, well, a lot.

If you want to catch up on the broken situation I’m talking about, start with Part 1 of this series, and continuing reading Parts 2 and 3. Then look at verse 17 of the letter to Philemon.  Do you see where Paul says to Philemon, “If you consider me a partner”?  It is almost certain that Philemon would have considered Paul a partner.  Guess what Greek word Paul used there for “partner”? Koinonia.  Remember that from the previous series on Philemon 1-7, when we discussed verse 6? “Sharing” is the word koinonia, and it means “fellowship, sharing or participation.” Paul has come full circle, and then some!  Paul says, “Welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me, as a close friend, because that’s what Christians do!”  Further, if Philemon is to welcome Onesimus, just as he would welcome Paul, do you see how Paul is putting Onesimus on an equal level with himself!  That’s the kind of amazing equality that we all have in Christ.

Paul continues.  In verse 18 he says that if Onesimus has done Philemon any wrong, or owes Philemon anything, he should charge it to Paul.  As we said in Part 2 of this series on Philemon 8-25, it is highly likely that Onesimus did something more than just run away; in the process of running away he probably stole money and possessions from Philemon.  Paul knows this, and does not want that offense to get in the way of Philemon embracing Onesimus as a brother.  Paul wants this reunion to go well.  This could be an amazing example to many people of the power of Jesus, and how Jesus wants to reshape the world.  A master welcoming back his runaway slave who stole from him?  The normal response for Onesimus’ behavior would have massive punishment, maybe even death.  Also Philemon’s honor was at stake in the community.  Paul knows that if Philemon acts in a surprising upside-down Jesus kind of way, Philemon’s forgiveness and brotherly-welcoming of Onesimus could have significant ripple effects in Colosse. Imagine the people in the city talking as word gets out: “Did you hear that Philemon welcomed back a slave who ran away from him, and stole from him?” That would get notice! Sure some people, maybe even many people, would think Philemon is crazy, but they would still be seeing an amazing example of forgiveness and brotherhood that Jesus brings to the world. What an impact that could make in the church!  In the world!

Therefore, what we see Paul pushing for is the beginning of the eradication of slavery.  This is how Christians can clearly say that slavery is not supported by the Bible.  This is an upending of the social order and seeing God’s Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.  Paul is teaching Christians to be willing to go against the conventions of their day, in the name of Jesus.  To cross color lines sacrificially, lovingly.  To repent where they need to repent.  To forgive.  To pay for crimes they didn’t commit.  This is a distinctly Jesus way of life, isn’t it?  That kind of self-sacrifice, Paul says to Philemon, is what it takes to be the church.

Still Paul isn’t done.  In verse 19 he says he is writing this with his own hand.  Often Paul would just talk and one of his friends would write.  But he is writing this one himself.  It is very personal and important to him.  It could be that his friend wrote the rest of the letter, but at verse 19, he picks up the pen and says, “Philemon, I’m serious about my offer to you to charge Onesimus’ damages to me.  I will pay it back.”  And then he gets back to some, well, could we say, urging?  Manipulating?  Maybe.  Paul says, “by the way, Philemon, remember that you owe me you very self.”  I don’t know what that means.  Paul doesn’t say.  It could be that Paul guided Philemon to faith in Christ. We don’t know. Clearly, though, Paul is pulling out all the stops to help Philemon see things his way.

Then he lays it on a bit thicker in verses 20-21.  Read those verses. How much does Paul want Philemon to forgive Onesimus and welcome him as a brother?  So much.  He wants a benefit from Philemon, so Paul tells Philemon to refresh his heart, as he said Philemon was so good at back in verse 7.  Then he says in verse 21, “Philemon, I know you will do even more than I ask.”  Maybe Paul is trying too hard here.  What we know by all his cajoling is that this situation is extremely important to Paul.  I read this letter and think, “Did Philemon have any choice but to do what Paul is asking of him?” Then Paul finishes up the letter with some further greetings and a closing blessing of grace.

But let’s go back to that question: Did Philemon have a choice?  Sure, he did.  With Paul far away in Rome, Philemon had a choice.  Paul couldn’t make Philemon agree and receive Onesimus, no longer a slave, now a brother.  Philemon would have to overcome his personal anger, embarrassment, and hurt.  He likely felt betrayed by Onesimus.  He would also have to overcome societal pressure that said masters do not forgive slaves.  In a society of honor and shame, Onesimus had greatly shamed his master, and the common response by the master would be severe punishment.  What Paul is asking Philemon to do, then, is radical, earth-shattering, Jesus kind of forgiveness and acceptance.   Paul’s teaching that all are one in Christ, that Jesus removes the distinctions between slave and free, is right, but it presents a tall order for Philemon.  What will he do?

What did he do?  We don’t know for sure.  Ancient historians tells us that there was an Onesimus who eventually became a Christian bishop.  Maybe it was this Onesimus, and if so, that would indicate a possibility that Philemon did exactly what Paul asked him to.  We really don’t know.  Scholars also point out that because we still know the content of the Paul’s letter to Philemon, that, too, is an indication that Philemon received Onesimus as a brother. Why? Because this letter was almost certainly private, and Philemon could have crumpled it up, thrown it away, and burned it. Most likely, he didn’t, and instead allowed the letter to become public, copied and transmitted to many other churches, so they could also benefit from Paul’s teaching. Again, how did Philemon respond to the letter? We don’t know for sure.

The better question is: what will we do? And we attempt to answer that next in Part 5.

How to have restorative church discipline – Titus 1:10-16, Part 2

2 Jul

When you discover troublemakers in the church, what is a faithful way to respond to them? Confrontation is difficult, so we might be tempted to avoid the troublemakers and think the problem will work itself out on its own. It rarely does, though. Instead, as we will see in our continuing study of Titus 1:10-16, Paul teaches Titus that he (Titus) and the leaders in the churches in Crete will need to confront the troublemakers. Paul has some very specific guidelines for this action, and it might surprise you to learn that it is filled with grace.

First in verse 11, Paul says, “They must be silenced.”  This is a bold claim, and it doesn’t sound gracious, does it?  Shouldn’t there be freedom of speech in the church?  Yes…and no.  Let’s see what Paul has to say about this. 

Having heard Paul describe the rebellious circumcision group in verse 10, we can see why Titus had to be so careful about who he picks as church leaders, and why it is so important that those church leaders are strong in the faith, self-controlled and blameless.  Those church leaders are going to have to implement church discipline.  In verse 9, for example, Paul said the church leaders will refute those who oppose sound doctrine.  Now in verse 11, he is saying that the church leaders silence the people in the church who are teaching false doctrine.  This is a very picturesque word.  It is the idea of putting a muzzle on an animal.

Our dog is so loud when he barks.  If you pull into our driveway, he immediately hustles to our backdoor like a sentry, barking incessantly.  He will not stop until whoever has arrived enters the house and greets him.  I can understand why muzzles were invented.  Paul is saying that when there are rebellious, idle talkers in the church, deceiving people, they have to be muzzled.

Why?  Look at how Paul describes the consequences of their teaching in the rest of verse 11: “They are ruining whole households.” Here I suspect he is talking about the fact that the churches were house churches.  But how could it be that false teaching was breaking up families?  How many of you have families where you can’t talk about certain things without starting a shouting match?  My guess is that relates to just about every family, and Paul knew the same thing could happen in these families who were new Christians, hearing conflicting doctrines because these idle talkers were teaching things they ought not to teach.  He’ll explain the content of what they were teaching when we get to verse 14. For now Paul teaches Titus, and the leaders Titus will appoint, “Muzzle those people.”

Paul goes on to say that the idle talkers are teaching false doctrine for the sake of dishonest gain.  He doesn’t explain how they get money from their teaching, but we know from the historians that Cretans were known for their greed.  One of those ancient historians, Polybius, said this about Cretans, “So much in fact do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.”  Cretans were known for their love of money. That still doesn’t tell us how the false teachers gained wealth through their teaching. All we need to know is that it was an issue, revealing their selfish desires rather than a commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom.

In verse 12 Paul supports his claim about the character of the greedy Cretans, using a quote by one of their own, Epimenedes, describing how rough the Cretans were.  We do not need to read Paul as saying that every single person on the Island of Crete was like this.  But this tendency of Cretans being wild and unruly was prevalent enough that Paul says, in verse 13, this quote is true. He is saying, Epimenedes knew what he was talking about, it is true. Sadly, that wild rebellious spirit was present in some who were in the church.  So Paul builds on what he said in verse 11.  There he said, “Silence them,” to stop the false teaching, and now in verse 13, he adds: “Rebuke them sharply.” 

Those are strong words.  It is the idea of a public, audible statement to the person, saying to them, “You are wrong.  Here is the proof.”  When people are wrong, church leaders are to silence them, and to correct them.  Paul adds the qualifying word, “sharply,” which can be translated “to deal harshly with someone.”  When I read that I think, “Really, Paul?  Are you saying that when someone is acting sinfully or teaching false doctrine, we can be mean to them?” I doubt that’s what Paul is saying.  Here’s why:

Paul could have suggested that these people should just be put out of the church immediately.  See Paul’s heart here.  It is not a heart of shunning and just getting rid of people.  Instead his heart is for reconciliation and growth, so that the people who are not dwelling in the truth would be corrected and become healthy. 

Again, we need to refer back to verse 9 where the leaders are to encourage others by sound doctrine.  Paul wants the rebellious ones to be encouraged.  He wants the leaders to see their task of correcting as a task of encouragement.  I love that.  If we encounter those with whom we disagree, or those who we believe are rebellious, Paul has now said that those behaving badly in the church must be silenced and they must be rebuked. While those sound like harsh words, remember that he is also saying that the posture of the one doing the rebuking should have a heart and a tone of encouragement.

Rebuking is for the purpose of healing.  How do we know this?  Because he says in the next phrase, “So that they will be sound in the faith.”  What does it mean to be sound in the faith?  Sound doctrine.  What is sound doctrine?

Paul first explains what it is not.  Look at verse 14.  He wants the false teachers rebuked so that they will pay no attention to Jewish Myths or the commands of those who reject the truth.   Here again we can make the connection that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians who believed that Christians needed to follow the OT Law.  But he is saying that they need to be rebuked so that they don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore. 

Turn over to Titus 3:9 briefly and notice how Paul reiterates his teaching.  There were numerous speculative teachings within Judaism, some pertaining to the genealogies the OT Law, and Paul says that disciples of Jesus should avoid all that.  Sounding very much like he does in 1:10-16, in chapter 3, he says, “warn a person about this.”  He calls them “divisive” meaning that their teaching was dividing the church.  So warn them to stop.  If they keep going, give them a second warning.  If they keep going, he says in verse 10, “have nothing to do with him.”  Again, these are very strong words from Paul to Titus and the church in Crete.  Paul is taking decisive action against false teaching to the point of breaking fellowship with people who are unwilling to repent.  But note that he teaches a process, and it is not quick.  As we saw above, church discipline should involve grace and multiple chances to help restore people. 

How lament can bring beautiful restoration

14 Dec

Image result for restoration

Throughout this second week of Advent 2017, we’ve been talking about restoration from Psalm 85.  We’ve seen how God is at work to bring restoration and revival.  We’ve also learned our responsibility to work alongside God.  It can seem too hard sometimes when the restoration is going to require lots of sacrifice and effort.  So we lament.  We ask God to help.

And when we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens.  The psalmist describes in his final section of Psalm 85, verses 10-13. 

Verses 10-13 are some of the most amazing words in the whole Bible.  Worth printing here for sure.

Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
    and prepares the way for his steps.

These final verses point us to the future.  They are an assurance that God will restore and revive.

Look at how the psalmist portrays the renewal of the land.  He envisions the promised land that had become a waste land return once again into the promised land.  And it is God who does it.

What we read in this section continues the psalmists flow of thought started in verse 9, where he describes the God’s glory dwelling in the land.  A logical next question is, “What will happen when God is in the land?”

Normally I would look to the next verses, 10-11, to tells us what will happen when God is in the land, but they are a bit cryptic.  Poetry is beautiful, but it can also be hard to decipher.  Do you see all the figurative language there?  It is delightful poetry, but it is not clear as to what it means. Love and faithfulness are made out to be like people who meet each other.  Righteousness and peace as well, compared to lovers who kiss one another.  What is the poet trying to say?

Perhaps he means all these qualities to be flowing from God, as his presence will be in the land when his people fear him.  Maybe.  But I think the psalmist is being a bit more creative than that.  Follow me here.

I think that in the first line of verse 10, love represents God because in verse 7 he had already called for God to show the people His love.

Then I think, still in that first line of verse 10, that faithfulness represents people who fear God because in verse 8 the psalmist calls them faithful servants, and verse 11 faithfulness springs from the earth, the domain of people.

Now go to the next line, and I think the word righteousness represents God, because in verse 11 righteousness looks down from heaven.  Then peace represents people because in verse 8 he promises peace to his people.

To summarize, if my poetic interpretation is correct, verses 10-13 describe what happens when God and his people are in right relationship.  It is beautiful.  There is restoration and revival of the land.  In verse 12 this impact is beheld as the waste-land has been transformed and bears a harvest.  The psalmist sees a time in the future when the land is restored and revived.  Verse 13 once again depicts righteousness, once just looking down from heaven, now going before God, preparing a way for him.

And so in Psalm 85’s lament, we come full circle.  Restoration in the past shows the psalmist his immense need to lament for continued restoration in the present, which, if it results in obedience and faithfulness, will lead to ultimate restoration between God and his people in the future.

Yes, lament is right and proper when things are so bad there is no where else to turn, when the bottom rots out.

But lament is also right and proper when God has begun to restore us, and there is much work to do to keep the restoration going.

Lament. Call for him to help.  Follow his lead.

As you look at your life, do you see how God is at work restoring you?  Maybe you see areas that still need a lot of work, areas that feel like they are too much, too difficult?  If so, lament!

Cry out to God!  Tell him how you feel.  You can be brutally honest with him.  Ask for his revival and restoration in your life, in your family, in our church, in our community, in our country and world. Always hold before you the beautiful vision of restoration that is possible when God and people are in right relationship.

Lament to God, ask his help for full restoration and revival, with a determination to obey him and to work hard for the restoration and revival.

Who is responsible for restoration and revival? God? Us? Both?

13 Dec

Image result for restoration in progressRestoration and revival might take a lot of work.  I just did a Google image search on the phrase “the hard work of restoration”, and almost all of the pictures are about car restorations.  Some furniture.  Some homes.  There is restoration from natural disaster that can take years.  I suspect only a few of us will get involved in that kind of restoration.  Maybe most of us work on our homes, but rarely do we do full restorations.

But just about all of us work on a different kind of restoration.  Relationship restoration.

My guess is that nearly everyone, at some point in their lives, must work towards restoring a relationship that has become broken.  In this week’s posts we’ve talked about the experience of seeing a new spark of life in a relationship that seemed to have been dead. That new hope is a wonderful thing.  But it carries with it the reality of the mountain of work yet to occur.

As we continue our study of Psalms of Lament this Advent, we have started looking into the four sections of Psalm 85.  You can review the previous sections here (one), God’s blessing in the past, and here (two), a lament for restoration to continue.

In this post, we look at section three, verses 8-9, and what do we see? The promise of present blessing for God’s people is connected to their obedience.  Three times in these two verses the psalmist mentions obedience.  Isn’t that interesting? He is lamenting to God, asking for God to keep the restoration going, to bring revival, but he also knows that he and the people have a part to play.

Do you see the three times he mentions obedience?

In verse 8, he says I will listen to God.  God will be his source of wisdom and truth and knowledge.  He will learn from God how to live.  No more living based on what he thinks is right and good.  Look where that got him and the nation.  Now he places his focus on listening to God.

Second, still in verse 8, he says that God promises peace to his people, but let them not turn to folly.  They wanted the peace.  They wanted peace badly.  After living in captivity for 70 years, and finally being allowed to return to their own land, they want peace.  They don’t want enemies and fighting.  We all want peace.  Enemies and fighting wear us down, gives us stress and generally ruin life. We want peace.  God promises peace, but they must obey.  They must not turn to folly.  Folly is foolish choices.  Behaving badly.  They must follow God.

Third, in verse 9 he says salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in the land.  That’s what they want.  They want God to be with them in the Promised Land, because he is stronger than their enemies.  He can protect and save them.  But again, there is a condition.  They must fear him.  Go back a few weeks and review the sermon Emerald gave on the fear of God from Deuteronomy 6.  Fearing God was vital to the people of Israel being restored and revived.

Put these three statements about obedience together, and what conclusion do we have?  Restoration has begun, and restoration and revival will continue, as long as the people are faithful to God.  There is much work to be done. 

I get that.  I was once one who needed restoration.  When I was 17, I was a very reckless irresponsible driver, and as a result I got into a bad accident.  I unintentionally hit an Amish buggy, and a lady inside died.  If you want to read the whole story, you can do so here.  A couple Sundays ago, my parents and I, and my two youngest kids, visited the Amish family.  It was our annual visit.  For 26 years, every year around the time of the accident, we go visit them for the afternoon.

They had already forgiven me long ago.  In fact, they forgave me the day after the accident.  My fortunes were restored, but there was much work to do for the restoration to continue.  And so every year we go over to their house.  I’ll reveal to you a bit of my feelings about this.  Every year I have anxiety about going.  There is part of me that doesn’t want to go, and I contemplate saying, “My family can’t make it.”  And every year when we pull up to their house, I feel a heaviness, a bit of shame returns, and I have to steel myself, take a deep breath, and say “Let’s do this.”  It’s not overwhelming.  It’s just awkward.

The Amish family do not make it awkward.  It’s all within me.

The Amish family are wonderful actually, and they always have been.  And usually all it takes is a few minutes, after greeting and hugging and shaking hands, and the conversation starts to fly.  This time one of their sons was there too.  He has a tree-trimming business, and was doing a job over at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station. He remarked to us about how huge and impressive the cooling towers are.  Then he looked at my dad and asked, “What is nuclear power anyway?  Is it like a gas?”  And so for the next five minutes we sat there as my dad tried to explain nuclear power to an Amish man!

We were there two hours, and as we left, I thought how important is the ongoing work of restoration.  So important that it is well worth a visit once every year, even if it is for the rest of my life.

Restoration and revival are God’s work, no doubt.  But God invites us to work them out with him.  And lament calls out to God to do just that.

When we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens, and that is what the psalmist so gorgeously depicts in the final section of his poem, which we look closely at in our next post!