Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Taking Every Thought Captive

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 
Psalms 73:1-3
     These are dark days we live in without a doubt. There is trouble within the church and without, a general acceptance of sin and a general ignorance of the Word of God. There is even a distaste for the Scripture, a belief that it is not relevant or that we have to, in some new way, make relevant ancient and unshakable principals that have existed long before pop culture was born and will stand long after its demise. This modern era boasts a short-sightedness and a hedonism that sometimes seems unprecedented until history is examined and it is found that such conditions often occurred in ancient empires before they fell. It sometimes seems that we humans, while preoccupied with obtaining wealth and privilege, do not actually handle the realization of it well. I wonder...

     These things are no surprise to the student of the Holy Writ. Jesus Himself taught that there would be wars, natural disasters, and conflict leading up to the last days, saying also that, "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:10-12).

     Paul warns Timothy that there will be "...times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)  He also talks of people surrounding themselves with teachers that say what they like to hear.

     It is not news to the humble student of God's Word that it often does not say what we like to hear! However, in it and through it all, we see the goodness, purity, and holiness of our great and mighty God, and so we love it even when it makes us uncomfortably aware of our own folly and failures. We love it because His love is greater.
     All this darkness, all the relentless and insidious attempts to chip away and diminish the Truth and to besmirch the character of my God can sometimes feel overwhelming. I have found that, in times of personal passionate resistance to the wrongs I see about me, my steps do almost slip. I feel envy that the arrogant and those who malign the Word of God seem to prosper and thrive. Turning my thoughts away from contemplation of my God, I find my feet quickly wander to a slippery slope of concern for the Church that quickly becomes worry, doubt, insecurity... any number of incorrect mental attitudes.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. 
Psalms 73:8-14

     How easily do I slip into this same mode of thinking that David writes of, this utterly ridiculous mode of self-pity!  And yet I do... I have a great passion for the Word and love for the Author of it, and I hold His truths to be absolute. Yet at times, I find that my focus shifts from Him onto the problems, the toils, the corruption, or innumerable other distractions. At times the storm seems to me greater than my God.
     But it is not.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 
Psalms 73:16-18
     Like David, sometimes I need to go into the sanctuary of God. For me, this is not a literal, physical place but an attitude of prayer and meditation on the goodness of my Lord -- a posture of humility, reflection, and prayer, if you will. Sometimes I need to refocus on the One who is greater than all His adversaries, mightier than any attack against His character, and powerful enough to still the most raging storm with nothing more than a word.  
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. 
Psalms 73:21-28
     It is so good to know that the strength I need is not found in my own faltering flesh, but that God is my strength and my portion. I have no need of  transient pleasures even though I may enjoy them, nor should I rely on prosperity that earthly or spiritual storms can easily sweep away. I have God; I have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a promise; I have an ever-growing love and appreciation for Jesus Christ my Lord. I need nothing more. When I can remember that, when I in my darkest and most gloomy ruminations can call back to mind the praise of my King, the greatness of my God, the unfathomable riches of His mercy and grace, and the bare and simple fact that no matter how wide and far the shadow may spread, the Light of Truth will dispel it in His time. In His time. 
     Refocusing and returning my steps back to the firm and ancient path, I find joy inexpressible. It is both sublimely simple and distressingly difficult for me to take every thought captive to obey Christ, to walk that fine line of "knowing them by their fruits," and "do not judge so that you will not be judged." However, when I do, when my whole heart, soul, and mind are fixated on honest and heartfelt worship of my King, I find something wonderful: The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Deep Waters

But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
 Psalms 69:29-30
     I so love the Word of God! I cannot express to you how often the perfect words come into my daily reading, either my personal time or the time that I have with my children... sometimes both! Sometimes I will read a rebuke that will make me squirm; a stern warning that I have been indulging some act of pride or another sin and I need to let it go. These times are not fun, I admit, but they are absolutely wonderful for I know that the Lord disciplines those He loves. At other times, I will find encouragement when I am feeling defeated, reminders to wait on the Lord when I am stamping with impatience, or a rush of excitement when yet another small section of God's magnificence and eon-spanning masterpiece becomes clearer to me.

   As anyone who has been reading my somewhat sporadic documentation of my faith journey will know, I have had a great deal of pain. As a matter of fact, it was the beginning of Psalm 69 that first drew me in to read it repeatedly throughout yesterday and again this morning. David cries out in these verses, "Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me." It so closely echoed the cry of my own heart. It has not only been physical pain that has plagued me lately, but emotional pain of discord within my church body, dear friends moving one at a time for years now, and distance from our extended family. Pain, both physical and emotional, has been a constant in my life for many years now, and lately I have felt that water creeping up to my neck and a growing panic that I may be consumed by it. I nearly cried when I read David's opening verse because it was exactly how I was feeling.

     However, God did not leave David there and He does not leave me there, floundering in rising water and dread. He reminds me of His past faithfulness. If I am to drown in any water, it will be the the Living Water as I die to myself and am made alive to God in Christ. The waters of trial and trouble may rise to my very chin, but they will not overpower me, as I am reminded in Isaiah: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you..." (Isaiah 43:2).  There is no situation, no pain, no difficulty too big for my God to handle. He will allow me to walk through dark valleys and deep waters because it is good for me to learn to trust Him in them as well as in the high and sunny places of ease. I am so thankful for that.

      Yesterday and today, God used the words of this Psalm to remind me that, when I am afflicted and in pain, I am not alone. Though I may not feel His presence, He is there. He reminds me that, despite the pain or the trouble or the difficult situation I find myself in, I am still to praise Him. It is not in my situations that I find joy, you see, it is in Him. He is my joy; He is my strength. And so, when the waters are turbulent and threatening, I have a choice. I can fixate on the troubled waters and the uneasiness of my heart, or I can turn my mind and focus to the things above. My joy, after all, is not found on this earth but in God alone. He is my joy. He is my strength. Even when all the world seems to be caving in around me, I can still sing for my God has overcome the world. Today, despite my weariness and my pain, I will praise His name with a song and I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.

 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 
Psalms 34:1-8