Where is Their God?

The sadness Asaph (or more specifically one of that musical family) expressed as a witness of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in Psalm 79 offers a poignant reminder of the fragility of the circumstances in life we often take for granted. He recounted the hurt of watching the army of Nebuchadnezzar marching through Judah, defiling the temple, and destroying Jerusalem (Psa. 79:1). With horror he recalled the extent of death that left throughout the city—bodies left to rot in numbers so great the streets practically ran with blood (Psa. 79:2-3). The emotional distress created by such a humiliating circumstance left Asaph and those like him embarrassed as an object of ridicule by all their neighbors (Psa. 79:4). Left to ponder the lessons to be learned, Asaph correctly recognized that they were experiencing the consequences of their own actions and pled for relief from their pain (Psa. 79:5-7). Recognition finally had set in, and thus the petition for forgiveness in accordance with the Lord’s mercy and the plea for deliverance pointed to the Lord’s character and reputation rather than their own (Psa. 79:8-9). Then, in the midst of this request, in which he seeks an opportunity for Judah to return and be able to demonstrate their faithfulness once again (Psa. 79:10-13), he says something quite striking: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Psa. 79:10). A consequence of their failure was quite telling. The Babylonians used it to declare that Yahweh was nowhere to be found. This is important, because the fact is that the evidence of this existed before Jerusalem’s destruction in the unfaithfulness of the people.

The lessons available throughout this psalm are numerous, but the essential point provides a challenge that Christians living in comfort easily forget. The trends in American culture for many years have pushed God and Christianity out of the realm of influence and into a place of relative cultural obscurity. Rather than provoking only political complaints and prayers for a change in circumstances, this should cause us to pause and consider what led to such a situation. For many years people relied on a generic Christian culture to carry their faith and support their morality instead of shining their own lights in a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). With the culture turning both completely secular and largely immoral, rather than blaming others it is appropriate to consider our own failure to show others our God through righteous living, refusal to compromise, and bold evangelism. Thankfully, it is not too late to reverse this trend. Christians may not have a majority vote in what happens in Washington, D.C., but they have the power to determine whether people see God in their own lives. This, my friends, is what we must embrace, and we should give it our all, even if it is only, like Asaph, looking to the future and better days ahead.

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Higher Aspirations

My oldest daughter recently graduated from high school. Reaching that milestone required overcoming a number of health challenges along the way, but we persevered and never lost faith that she would not only achieve this but much more. And that confidence has only increased over the years. Her mother and I set goals for her and expected excellence, and she did the work necessary to make that happen. While my own grade point average was high, the courses listed on my high school transcript were not necessarily the most academically challenging (something preaching school, college, and graduate school later corrected). And I insisted that my children have a more extensive education than I—something their mother has made possible through years of hard work. In this, I doubt that I am that different from many other fathers. However, even parents who push their children academically in school often fail to point their children to high aspirations spiritually. Instead, they accept a level of participation, education, and effort that they would never accept in general education. And yet, if anything, the opposite should be true. The words of Asaph in Psalm 78 reflect this principle well.

Parents should take seriously the responsibility to take what they have learned by hard experience and pass on to the next generation (Psa. 78:1-3). Truly, failing to do so spiritually is a disservice to our children, amounting to spiritual abuse. They need to know what God has done for us and for them, and they need to appreciate their parents commitment to Him (Psa. 78:4). In an allusion to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the psalmist emphasizes the importance of teaching our children spiritually (Psa. 78:5-6)—not just facts and information, but faith and hope and love (Psa. 78:7).   The last thing we should want is for our children to repeat our mistakes, accept our ignorance, or reject their God (Psa. 78:8), but the history of Israel shows just how easily this can happen despite their parents’ personal faithfulness  (Psa. 78:9-64). Therefore, individual faithfulness is not enough to guide your children. You must do what it takes to instill in them a faith that they themselves claim as their own. The challenges the children of Israel faced were of their own making, and each generation was accountable to God for its own decisions. But the responsibility for each was the same—following God’s guidance faithfully (Psa. 78:65-72).

We should want the best for our children spiritually, and that means expecting excellence from our children spiritually. The goals we set for our children, then, should not center around their imitating their parents’ knowledge, activity, and involvement in Christianity; our goal, as parents, should be for them one day to surpass us in understanding, in faith, and in righteousness. It is sad how passive, docile, and passé parents can be about preparing their children spiritually. My friends, the core purpose of parenting does not revolve around preparing your children for life; it is all about preparing your children for eternity. And our parenting should reflect this.

Remember

I will admit that my memory is not what it used to be. When I was younger, I remembered vocabulary words quickly and easily, information for tests pretty well, and a lot of trivial information better than most. At one time I could have told you the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys for the first twenty years of their existence, and I could remember the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions even if I had no other exposure to the topic. It shows that the problem with memory is not necessarily ability, but often attention. Parents often act as if their children are incapable of learning basic Bible facts or memorizing Bible verses, but those same children can quote every Disney movie they have seen verbatim. While our memory may not function as well as we age, we can compensate by focusing on the right things to remember. Paul emphasized this in Philippians 4:8 when he wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). In Psalm 77 the descendants of Asaph provide yet another important aspect of memory and the importance of choice. During times of turmoil, memories can quickly turn to better times, leading to self-pity and despair. However, if instead we choose to remember these things from a spiritual perspective, focused on God, they can lead us away from despair and toward greater faith.

When the psalmist cried out to God because of how badly he hurt inside, he refused the comfort available and chose a sleepless night instead (Psa. 77:1-2). He remembered God enough to pray, but his dismay caused him to complain rather than reflect (Psa. 77:3). Most have experienced similar situations, times when we faced a problem to which no solution seemed possible, something that kept us up at night. We not only lacked the correct answer, we did not even know where to begin explaining the problem (Psa. 77:4).  During times like these, it can be easy to become impatient and demanding with God—so much that we can blame Him for our problems because He does not immediately ease our pain. We question God, but we do not really think about the answers He has provided (Psa. 77:5-9). However, while Asaph felt this way at first, he eventually gained a greater perspective. Rather than comparing his plight to past deliverances God made possible, He recognized that the important thing to remember is that God did indeed make that possible and deliver (Psa. 77:10). If we would take the time to read through the Bible and reflect on what God did for His people, then we cannot but be impressed (Psa. 77:11-12). For when we then approach God in worship and humble ourselves in greater reflection, we realize just how great He truly is (Psa. 77:13). He has shown His power, declared His strength, and exhibited His love from the beginning of time (Psa. 77:14-19). He led Israel out of Egypt (Psa. 77:20), and He sent Jesus to lead us out of our sin (Matt. 11:28-30; 26:28; Acts 2:38; 1 Jn. 1:5-10). These are the things we need to remember when we are facing trials. God is still there, and God still cares (1 Pet. 5:7). We just need to remember it.

God is Known

The broad secularization of society that has occurred over the last few generations has led to increased immorality, decreased devotion, and compromised conviction—even among those still purporting to love and adore God. In the wake of societal changes, missional churches have morphed their mission to the point they have become an unofficial arm of government bureaucracy. The emerging church movement accepted the premises of postmodernism and made cultural compromise their central doctrine. The official positions of various religious organizations on major moral issues facing society have, for the most part, displayed more interest in being accepted by society than standing up for their Savior. And what should we expect? Once you treat compromise as a guiding principle, the gutter becomes the finish line. However, while we tend to view these changes through the lens of recent history, the world—and false religion with it—actually has settled back to its norm. God’s people have always been a major minority, and they will continue to be such until the end of time. But in the meantime, Christians have a responsibility not to allow the negativity of religious antipathy to alter our faith. Instead, we should become beacons to the world, proclaiming through our faithfulness that God is real, God is great, and God is known, for this was the message of Psalm 76.

This psalm is, in essence, a song of victory. While the timeframe is unclear, the nature of the victory is certainly reminiscent of the LORD’s striking of the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:36) during the reign of Hezekiah, sending the powerful army back home in disgrace. Judah and Jerusalem, as well as perhaps even the temple, identify the place, if these are meant literally (Psa. 76:1-2). The description of a defeated army retreating from the presence of God (Isa. 76:3-4) after God kept them from being able to wage war against His people (Psa. 76:5-6) provides astounding imagery, reminding us that no power or enemy is too great for God to defeat. And that remains true today. The nature of the enemy may take a different form, and the victory may come in a different manner, but God still wields His power. Therefore, the lessons learned from this incident and recorded by the descendants of Asaph should strengthen our faith and bolster our courage. God reigns, and God judges; therefore, God should be feared by all who oppose Him (Psa. 76:7-9), and we can rest assured that God will find a way to ensure justice will be done (Psa. 76:10). Therefore, “Make vows to the Lord your God, and pay them; Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared” (Psa. 76:11 ) rather than the governments of men who seek to do harm to God’s people (Psa. 76:12).

We do not suffer from the same threats as Israel did; therefore, we should not expect the same kind of response from God. However, when we are faithfully God’s people, we can have confidence that God knows our plight, feels for us, and will do something about it when the time is right. While we wait, our responsibility is to make sure that God is known to others by showing them that He is known to us.

God’s Timetable

In Psalm 74 the question rings out, “O God, why have You cast us off forever?” (Psa. 74:1). Psalm 75 implies God’s answer, and it is simple: “I haven’t.” No matter how bad our problems may seem, no matter how difficult the challenges we face, and no matter how bad the consequences we must accept, God is still there, ready to aid, ready to deliver, and ready to show mercy, when the time is right. Therefore, learning to be faithful and thankful while operating on God’s timetable is essential, and it should form the foundation for the message we live by, stand by, and speak.The tone of Psalm 75 points to the end of Babylonian captivity when the psalmist recognized God’s hand in the decree of Cyrus that signified the end of a seventy year exile (Psa. 75:1-3) and finally felt vindication for the warning offered to the Chaldean captors about boasting in their power (Psa. 75:4-5). The faithful knew that God would redeem them eventually, and thus their faith depended not on the powerful armies of surrounding nations but on the God who can raise up any nation He so chooses (Psa. 75:6-7). God will judge nations as well as people, and there are consequences for the oppressor (Psa. 75:8). Therefore, regardless of our political situation, country of origin, or place of power, the honor and the glory always belong to the LORD (Psa. 75:9), and He will determine who rises and falls in power (Psa. 75:10). He always has.

The life lessons available in this simple psalm of thanksgiving are many. 

  1. God deserves not only our petitions for help but also our thanks when it is provided. 
  2. We must accept God’s timetable and recognize that the desired outcome is not simply justice, and not just our relief from oppression, but also our learning from the experience. 
  3. The worldly position we may occupy in the moment is no guarantee of the future, and humility coupled with mercy should guide our interaction with others rather than power and dominance. 
  4. We must ever trust in God for protection and deliverance, especially in recognizing His providence, lest we come to place our confidence in man and men. 
  5. God will judge, the unjust will suffer the consequences of their behavior, and no country has immunity from this fact. 
  6. Our praises offered to God should recognize His sovereignty, power, and love regardless of our current situation because we know who He is, we know that He does not change, and we know that He is worthy. 
  7. We can have confidence in our faithfulness knowing that God will ultimately set everything right; therefore, it is not necessary for us to do so or to place Him on our own schedule. We accept this in faith and therefore must accept the timing in faith as well. 

When we try to figure out how everything should be in life, we must content ourselves with studying God’s Word and applying it personally and leave the rest up to God, knowing that He knows best. It is a hard lesson to accept but a most important one to learn.

Waiting for Relief

Waiting—just waiting—can prove painfully difficult, especially when the anxieties of life pressure and surround us. Many can appreciate the stress of waiting for a doctor’s call following a test. Is it cancer? My heart? Or nothing that big at all? In the midst of a struggle, after bad news has come in wave after wave, a feeling of helplessness sets in, weighing heavily on the heart and encouraging doubt, so that the acceptance of dire circumstances begins to cause hope to waver. Such weariness had taken hold when Psalm 74 was penned, beginning with the cry, “O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” (Psa. 74:1).

The nature of the circumstances described within this psalm speaks of no event during the lifetime of David and Asaph. Even the cry itself looks back in time (Psa. 74:2). But more than this, the situation speaks of “perpetual desolations” and damage to “the sanctuary” (Psa. 74:3) caused by enemies who raised their flag in Israel’s capital (Psa. 74:3-4), destroying the beauty of the temple (Psa. 74:5-7) and attempting to obliterate Israel’s memory of God altogether (Psa. 74:8). The ascribed authorship therefore must refer to the singers who followed Asaph, perhaps descended from him, and called themselves by his name, writing following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. As such, they had turned against all that God had said and no longer enjoyed His guidance and protection (Psa. 74:9). Is it then any wonder that they cried out in pain, “O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?” (Psa. 74:10). They finally realized that God had withdrawn from them, and realized just how much they needed Him (Psa. 74:11).

But here the psalm turns, growing more personal and reflective. Finally, after losing the kingdom, the psalmist realizes that God is his rightful King, and has been all along (Psa. 74:12). He proved it when He accomplished His salvation in parting the Red Sea, accomplishing in fact what other gods only claimed (Psa. 74:13-15). He proved it by His power over nature (Psa. 74:16-17). Thus, the psalmist recalls the great deliverance of the LORD and longs for a return of such feats (Psa. 74:18-19). However, rather than assume their right to His care, rather than presume their special character as His people, the psalmist appeals to the covenant the LORD made with them (Psa. 74:20), to their promise of returning their allegiance and love to Him and Him alone (Psa. 74:21), and to the cause of justice against an ungodly people (Psa. 74:22-23).

The exact circumstances of this psalm may seem remote to most people today; however, this is because we see this situation only from a physical rather than a spiritual standpoint. We identify too much with our country and not enough with our God. Therefore, we should re-read the psalm with a spiritual heart and consider the ramifications of spiritual captivity, living in a world that is openly hostile to Christ’s kingdom. When we see Satan on the march in the decisions made in government, when we see the destruction of morality in the direction of society, and when we see the cornerstones of spiritual freedom mocked, torn down, and burned one after another by a people declaring their moral, ethical, and sometimes even religious superiority, surely we can identify with the plea of the psalmist! How long must we wait until God is once more respected and acknowledged? How long must we wait to restore respect for God’s Word as truth? How long must we wait while enduring the scorn of the ungodly? How long indeed! The psalmist did not know the answer, and neither do we. But the enduring answer remains the same. We must come to our senses as a people, give ourselves wholly to our God, and let Him handle the timing while we devote ourselves to faithfulness. This was the answer for the Jews in Babylonian captivity, and it is the answer for God’s people today.

Then I Understood

Understanding the suffering of the righteous and the comfort of the wicked has perplexed people at least since the time of Job. This problem has led some to blame God, some to blame themselves, and some to blame anyone and everyone. Doctrinal confusion does not help. Those who confuse God’s sovereignty with absolute interference in everything unnecessarily create a contradiction, effectively treating even evil as God’s will. However, for most the problem is personal. They do not stop and contemplate doctrinal implications in the midst of a crisis; they simply want an explanation, just as Job did. Asaph, a chief singer appointed by David after he brought the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 16:5), had such concerns and wrote what he learned from the experience in what we know as Psalm 73.

The challenge for God’s people lies in developing an eternal perspective while living in a temporal world. This is the key to appreciating the goodness of God and maintaining personal purity, especially when the world uses temporary circumstances to try to create doubt (Psa. 73:1-2). Now more than ever, we become aware of the wealth, power, and pleasures many in the world enjoy (Psa. 73:3-5) due to the interconnectedness of society through various media. Thus, people who would otherwise be content find new reasons to envy, sometimes just through a simple post on Facebook or Twitter. However, while the material wealth of the wicked may have an appeal, we too easily forget about the character many have used to procure it (Psa. 73:6-9). Christians marvel at their worldly friends who seem to have everything they could possibly desire. It would be easy, if divorced from eternity, to fall into the trap of accepting their philosophy and worldview in justification (Psa. 73:10-11). Such a snare, dependent upon a short-term view of man’s existence, has great spiritual consequences. When people concentrate solely on the material (Psa. 73:12), they also cease to appreciate the spiritual (Psa. 73:13), including the rebuke that God offers to such self-absorption (Psa. 73:14). It is thus this realization of the true consequences of worldliness and separation from the godly that provides a needed course correction to our thinking (Psa. 73:15). However, as Asaph found, the recognition of this conflict can be difficult, even after the decision to remain faithful to God (Psa. 73:16). But his next statement powerfully points all who follow back to righteousness: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end” (Psa. 73:17). Bowing down before God, bringing eternity into view, and listening to His Word brought all the perspective and answers he needed. God will judge the wicked (Psa. 73:18) and their wealth and power has an end (Psa. 73:19-20). The world presents itself as permanent, when it is the most temporary of all. Therefore, it is essential to remind ourselves daily of the value of the soul, the value of forgiveness, and the value of eternal life.  These have lasting value with which material benefit cannot compare.

It is easy to fall under the spell of materialism and worldliness, and coming to your senses to see their folly can be a humbling experience (Psa. 73:21-22). But this can produce great growth as well, because we learn to trust the wisdom of God as the only sure Guide into eternity (Psa. 73:23-24). From this we learn true devotion and the true nature of this world (Psa. 73:25-27). And from this we gain a purpose that transcends the physical universe (Psa. 73:28). God does not condone wickedness, nor does He ignore it. He allows it today, and it tests us in the present. But the key is following God’s revealed will regardless, so that the eternal is what we follow into eternity.

Potential

The transition of power from the reign of David to Solomon, his son, had proven challenging, but through the diligence of Bathsheba and Nathan, Solomon took his place on the throne, ultimately reigning for forty years (1 Kings 1:1-53; 11:42-43). Shortly after the responsibilities of sovereignty fell upon him, Solomon sacrificed at Gibeon, and the LORD offered to grant him a request. Solomon’s choice of an understanding heart with which to rule stands as one of the great decisions in antiquity (1 Kings 3:1-15), but the psalm he wrote at this time reveals the greatest aspirations of kingly leadership, far beyond simply ruling well.In Psalm 72 the newly crowned King Solomon expressed the necessity of God’s will as the foundation for every good judgment for all mankind for all time (Psa. 72:1). Whether caring for the poor (Psa. 72:2) or ensuring the protection of others (Psa. 72:3), the right kind of ruler seeks justice for those who have no one else to help (Psa. 72:4), and he is worthy of everyone’s respect for having done so (Psa. 72:5). The ruler’s care, properly given, blesses the people (Psa. 72:6) and makes righteousness available throughout his kingdom (Psa. 72:7). Such a ruler has great authority (Psa. 72:8), earning great respect through his victories (Psa. 72:9). His fame and glory will be known and honored throughout the world (Psa. 72:10-11) because of the character of his rule (Psa. 72:12-13). He receives honor because he values the people he rules (Psa. 72:14). He is worthy of great praise (Psa. 72:15), and his people will be blessed beyond measure (Psa. 72:16). He will never be forgotten. To the contrary, his rule brings blessings so rich that he will acknowledged throughout all the world (Psa. 72:17). But this recognition goes far beyond human praise, because the glory and the honor belong to the LORD. He alone could provide such marvelous care to the people, and thus He deserves all the praise (Psa. 72:18-19).

It is fitting that Solomon ended the psalm by noting the death of his father, and so the end of the many praises he offered to God in psalm (Psa. 72:20). However, it is even more fitting when we remember that Solomon’s reign did not fit this description in character—despite his great wealth and wisdom. As noted in 1 Kings 12:9-11, Solomon had placed burdens on the poor—not eased them. Therefore, however much potential Solomon had as a king to serve the people and make righteousness reign, he failed miserably. Moreover, David’s reign was filled with war—not peace. Nevertheless, there is a King for whom all these things are true: Jesus, the Messiah. For in expressing the possibilities of the king’s son, he was in fact describing the reality of the reign of God’s own Son. For in His reign righteousness does indeed prevail, blessings are bountiful, and God is glorified. So many people sadly look for an earthly reign filled with earthly blessings. When we come to appreciate ourselves as the poor and needy in sin, we will also appreciate the depth of the wealth made possible by the reign of our King (Col. 2:3), and we will begin to understand the depth of the wisdom of God’s plan for Jesus, the King, from the very beginning.

No Limits

Airplanes have always fascinated me. Perhaps this has its roots in the model airplanes my Grandpa, a former naval aviator, built and kept around his house. It might have come from my early reading of books about the Wright Brothers. It is even possible that it grew out of watching James Stewart star as Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis or any number of war pictures I watched as a youth. Or maybe the sheer amazement of watching a large, heavy object overcome the power of gravity always stayed with me. But the account I love the most may be America’s early efforts in exploring the power of the jet engine and pushing its capabilities to the limit. In the time immediately after World War II, they produced jets capable of reaching just below the sound barrier. But even in this term we see the challenge they faced. Flying faster than the speed of sound was considered impossible by some, but all thought of it as a real barrier—a physical blockade preventing anyone from passing. However, on October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and forever changed the world of aviation. Having proven the people’s prior assumptions about the sound barrier, design changes quickly made it possible for planes to fly many times faster than the speed of sound.

Not unsurprisingly, we often create artificial barriers to our own forgiveness, spiritual growth, blessings, faithfulness, happiness, and even greatness because we do not really trust God to do what He said He will do. And the reality is: so many people have played games with what God said in His Word that they have created a barrier for the real peace only God can provide. In Psalm 71 the psalmist combines a variety of problems that we can allow to keep us from trusting God: shame, doubt, failing strength, troubles, old age. You will note that all of these refer to human weakness, but when we look at God through the lens of these weaknesses it can cause us to see God as weak. And here the psalmist provides three metaphors to counter such foolishness: “Be my strong refuge, To which I may resort continually; You have given the commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress” (Psa. 71:3). God is our refuge. God is our rock. God is our fortress. God is the one place we can go for safety when we think all hope is gone. God provides a place of safety in the midst of a world of unruliness and unrest. God can put us in a position of strength and protect us from the advancement of any and every foe.

We can place ourselves in a very foolish position sometimes because we act like we are the strong ones and God needs our help. But it is only when we realize how helpless we are in our sin and even in life, and then see how strong God is and how willing He is to help, that we are ready to trust Him with our hearts, with our lives, and with our souls. How sad that we—the creation—would have trouble handing ourselves over to the One who made us, treating the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God as if HE is the one suffering from so many limitations. However, when we stop arguing with God and start trusting God, then and only then, will we realize the depth of blessings and care He is capable of bestowing. Worldly people concerned about worldly things think of God in worldly terms, and so they limit what God could do for them. But when we see the world in spiritual terms, embrace spiritual things, and appreciate God for what He can offer us spiritually in eternity, we realize how small the world has tried to make God and how big He truly is. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And Your salvation all the day, For I do not know their limits” (Psa. 71:15).

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