#P5: Until I came into the Sanctuary…

Pastor's Five P5 logoI was reading in Psalm 73 this morning and it seemed to me that it could have been written last week. Many in the world ask, “Why do we need God?” In their minds they have everything they need. The bank accounts are sufficient. Their health is fine. Their kids are not in jail. They have Social Security to look forward to. Everything…well almost everything is fine. [The psalmist says that all goes well for them and their body is fat and their eyes bulge with fatness and they say what they want against God with great boldness and public spectacle with no apparent consequence. vv.1-9]

The people of God were not doing so well by these measurements. They were thin and not fat. They visited the doctors and waited on treatment options for cancer and seemed to live in suffering. Their rights were oppressed and their prayers seemed unanswered. They even asked the question of the pastor, “Why do we suffer while the wicked prosper and the only difference is our present proclamation as the people of God?” [The psalmist summarized the complaint stating, ‘It was for nothing that I/we kept our hearts pure and acted with innocence consistently.” vv.10-14]

This is not a new issue or a feigned concern. It is real, it is historical, and it is present in the heart of so many…even in mine from time to time (I say with a small degree of shame).

Then…perspective:

“When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.” Psalm 73:16-17, NASB. (bold added for emphasis).

The fact is, if we evaluate life and faith in the context of this life alone, we are bound to conclude as the world and as the people who struggled with “why.” If we place this life in context of the grand narrative though…we have answers and peace.

It is in the sanctuary that the grandeur of God is center stage. God’s glory is manifested in overwhelming ways. It is in the sanctuary that we find shelter beneath His wings. It is in the sanctuary that we are reminded that He is our firm foundation. It is in the sanctuary that His Sovereign edicts and final judgment trumpet loudly. It is here…we see God for all that He is and we are comforted. We are comforted because with the glory of God as the backdrop, the fatness of the wicked seems temporal. Our struggles seem fleeting. Our faith is affirmed. We are reminded, in the sanctuary, that we have done well is submitting to Holy God and it is here that our choice makes the most sense.

We see this, not with arrogance of heart, but with infinite gladness and now our faithful service is the only possible and reasonable course of action…because in the sanctuary of God…it all makes sense.

Shalom, CA

#P5: Yours Alone

Pastor's Five P5 logo“My mouth shall tell of your righteousness and of Your salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them. I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God; I will make mention of You righteousness, Yours alone.” Psalm 71:15-16, NASB.

When we speak of our victories, the times we accomplished anything, there is a part of us that desires “credit” for overcoming. We studied hard. We were faithful. We did the tough things. We made sacrifices. We persevered.

All of these things may be true, but HOW did we do them? Where did the strength to persevere come from? How did the resistance not increase to the stage of being unbearable to us? How did we not fall down just an inch earlier in the race of life?

If we understand God truly…it is because He worked in us to win, to succeed, to persevere. The part within us that seeks to accept some credit for our success is the idolatrous part of our heart that wars against righteousness and commits armed robbery against our Holy God!

I am not saying that our strength should never be mentioned. Certainly David could have spoken of his strength as he faced the giant. Surely Peter could have spoken of his courage to step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus. No one else did! But that strength and courage was the result of belief in what God had revealed about His power. If you think for a nanosecond that Peter’s faith made him defy physics and walk atop the wave, you’re sadly mistaken. It was God’s power!

King David here reminds us that while he has accomplished much, God alone is the source. Further, David speaks of an intentionality to push all praise to God. This is right since God alone is worthy of praise but it is also helpful in keeping David out of the driver’s seat.

In short, we could say that we should discipline ourselves to see all of life as a stewardship of God’s grace. God gives us victory or defeat for our God and according to His pleasure…because He is God. When we choose to recognize this, we place praise and honor in its rightful place. When we declare righteousness, we follow it up with “Yours alone.”

Shalom, CA

A man tried to murder me…

A man tried to murder me.

The man was black.

The two facts above are not related.

I wrote an article recently reflecting on my journey toward understanding as it relates to the racial tension that is far too prevalent in the news in these days. Truthfully, in recent months, events in Ferguson, MO and NYC have brought to light significant pain and perceived (a term I use out of deference to the disagreement that exists between different parties) injustice on the part of the African American community. The reaction to this injustice has precipitated some horrible injustice toward police officers as symbols of the establishment…the man…the government, etc. In both cases, INJUSTICE is UNJUST. It is wrong. It should be abhorred! It is hated by God Himself.

A dear friend (who happens to be an African-American) recently pointed out to me that there is much work the African-American Community must do within itself; however, that does not answer the situation which brings to light this wound of injustice.

Frankly, as a white man, I am attempting to tread carefully since there is much that I do not understand about the feelings and emotions experienced by my African-American brothers. I suspect though that due to the sensitivity about race, we might be defaulting to a “race issue” when the real issue is something else. I think it important to get to the root issue, since putting a band-aid on a scraped knee won’t cure a headache…so if we have a headache, we ought to treat that.

All of this is somewhat personal to me since I have some experience in a related situation.

In November 1995, as a Deputy Sheriff, I attempted to serve an arrest warrant. The suspect I attempted to serve the warrant on tried to kill me. He fought me for my gun and as he wrestled it from my holster, he was shot by a back-up officer…to save my life. The warrant was for petty theft, a misdemeanor. Certainly no reason for a man to die. He was someone’s son. He was someone’s brother. He was someone’s boyfriend. His death is tragic on several levels.

What was unknown at the time was that the suspect was committing a felony at the time of my attempted warrant service. He was driving a stolen automobile. From his perspective, this arrest would have been a “third strike” and resulted in life imprisonment. All I knew at the time was he was resisting arrest and I had a warrant that I was required to serve.

After a lengthy ordeal, a month of modified duty, counseling for the trauma, and a grand jury investigation, the Grand Jury returned a “No Bill” verdict. Just under 3 years later, I was served with process having been named in a Civil Rights lawsuit alleging wrongful death and a civil rights violation. I went through depositions and stress for months only to have that case dismissed for lack of evidence of any civil rights violation.

A man tried to murder me.

The man was black.

The two facts above are not related.

A black man died at the hands of a white cop as the black man was attempting to murder another white cop. He was unarmed until he went for my gun. The man died, not because he was black but because he resisted arrest and tried to kill me.

I was attacked by a man resisting arrest. I had to be there. I had no choice. A judge had ordered me as a peace officer in the State to use all reasonable and necessary force to bring this man to appear before the court and answer for his charges. I was white and was being attacked by a black man…a fact that still remains irrelevant. To the suspect (I suppose), I was just a cop. If I had been black, he would have still tried to kill me. If I had been Asian, Native American, Hispanic…none of this mattered. I was a cop and he was determined not to be arrested. I just happened to be white.

As I have reflected on the events of recent days in our nation, I have wondered if anyone truly believes that either of these suspects who died were targeted because they were black…or if they were simply believed to be breaking the law requiring the officer to act? If a white man had been in Ferguson, MO in the same situation, I imagine he would be dead today. It would still be a tragic loss to his family and still be a traumatic experience for the officer, but it would not be a national spectacle. Even if the officer had been African American…we likely would have heard little of the death more than a day or two beyond its occurrence.

If it had been a white man selling cigarettes on a sidewalk in NYC, I imagine he would have been arrested and if he resisted, then he would have been taken down in the same way. It still would have been a chokehold and still would have involved multiple officers and he still would have died and that still would have been tragic.

Now, all of that being said…this is only my perspective. Perhaps there is more to another man’s perspective, an African-American man’s perspective that presses in on his heart to default to race as the motivator. I cannot say. Frankly I cannot really say that race wasn’t the reason the suspect tried to kill me. All I know is I am white, he was black, he tried to kill me, and I do not believe these facts are related.

#P5: Trials and Glory

Pastor's Five P5 logo“For you have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out in a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12, NASB.

I have come to believe that we love formulas. If ____, then _____. If we suffer, then God hates us. If we are at ease, then God loves us. If we struggle, then God is not for us, If we prosper, then God is gracious to us.

Could it be that God is gracious to us at all times and that even the trials are purposeful?

I ask the question rhetorically because I believe the answer is a resounding YES and the Psalmist, here, says as much.

He attributes the trials of the people with the direct action of God. It is God who acted and the people were oppressed by other nations. It was God who spoke and the enemies rode over the heads of the people. It was God who initiated and the people were refined in the furnace of the silversmith. Were the people uncomfortable? Without question! Does this make God “bad” or “unloving/harsh/uncaring?” Certainly NO and a thousand times: NO!

Listen to the “prosperity gospel” and you’ll hear just the opposite. Trials are a “lack of faith” in that system or a challenge to be overcome. Here, they are the GRACIOUS actions of the One who is full of Grace. God cannot and does not act without grace. He is always gracious.

Trials serve several purposes in the Scripture. Sometimes they chastise us to turn our hearts from idolatrous pursuits. Sometimes, the simply refine us to purify our faith. Sometimes they are for God to reveal His glory in our faithful trust of Him through the trials!

The end result? God’s provision during the trials train our hearts to trust Him always. God’s provision following the trials look that much brighter and more glorious, resulting in exuberant praise of the One who controls both trials and deliverance.

Shalom, CA.

#P5: Speak Truth Wisely

Pastor's Five P5 logo“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.” Proverbs 26:4-5, NASB

This is, perhaps, one of my favorite proverbs. Before I offer my reflection, it is important to remind us of two things: First, this is the Word of God. It is inspired in every detail, sufficient for our lives and perfect in what it says. Secondly, accepting it (and everything else in the world) at face value is difficult and the difficult increases as the Word teaches things that are further and further from our cultural acceptance.

For example, 60 years ago, declaring that homosexuality was an abomination before God…sin in every respect and instance and absolutely wrong no matter the context was a more easily accepted truth. Where homosexuality occurred, it was still considered taboo and generally was hidden from sight. Today, homosexuality is a protected behavior in America and is becoming in many cases, a protected activity with “hate crimes” treatment for those who speak against it. The “coming out” is celebrated in our culture. Accepting biblical truth (which was the same 60 years ago as it is today) is more difficult today because it is increasingly outside of the mainstream.

Now, back to the verses. Our culture celebrates freedom of thought and values “tolerance” over truth as though tolerance were the ultimate ideal and indicator of enlightenment. So, no matter how “foolish” a statement sounds, the culturally appropriate response in no response or affirmation of the foolishness…at least as a valid personal opinion. The Word of God teaches differently. It says AUTHORITATIVELY that to accept foolishness without rebuttal or to affirm foolishness as valid on some level makes you a fool. You share in the foolishness because you did not speak up.

Furthermore, v.5 tells us to ANSWER the fool with truth lest he continue in his foolish mindset and be righteous in his own eyes. The first step to recovery is to admit there is a problem. Allowing someone to persist in their foolishness masks the problem and consigns them to destructive living.

Is this easy? Not really (depending on what you mean by easy) but it is loving. In fact, one of the most UNLOVING things you can do is watch a fool continue in his foolishness without speaking up…or worse still…telling him it is okay to believe (affirming him) in whatever he wants. Ultimately, whether we choose to accept it or not, God’s standard is still the only standard we will be measured by and it is the only one that give us abundant life.

Shalom, CA

#P5: Only God

Pastor's Five P5 logoIn the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments, God set out the expectations of His Covenant with His People. Topping the list: “You shall have no other gods before my face.”

It is one thing to declare that we worship God alone. It may be a different matter altogether in the way we demonstrate that. The psalmist gives us a great example of what it is to worship God alone.

“…This I know, that God is for me…In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:9b, 11, NASB.

“For God is my stronghold. My God in His lovingkindness will meet me; God will let me look triumphantly on my foes. Do not slay them, or my people will forget; scatter them by Your power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield.” Psalm 59:9b-11, NASB.

These two statements from the Psalms give us insight into two critical truths for our lives. David trusted in God. This was not only belief, it was actionable belief. IOW…it was true belief. He did not worship on Sunday declaring “How Great is our God,” and then cry out on Monday that he had no idea how to pay the power bill. His actions were a confession of worship. David did not look about for a rescuer. He rested in the One who had rescued him from his mother’s womb.

I think the last verse I shared drives that home for me. My paraphrase: “God will give me victory over my adversaries. Do not kill them or the people will soon forget your powerful deliverance. Cause my enemy’s defeat and scatter them but allow them to live (so they can try again one day if they choose). We do not fear or lack trust in God, for You are our shield.”

David desired that God would deliver but he equally desired that he and the people would never lose their dependence on the Deliverer, that is God. God save us, but do not destroy our enemies, just be our shield whom we NEED, lest we become complacent. Keep us on our TOES by allowing the enemy to persist.

STOP THE PRESSES! Could God not destroy the devil and all of His minions today with a blast from His nostril? Certainly! If He did though…would there be anything that drove us to God? Only if we are good to the core of our being…which we are not. We’d soon forget the benevolent act of our Father and chart our own course away from God…but God, who is rich in mercy and who is all-knowing, is ultimately able to shield us from all of the schemes of the enemy…if we trust only in Him!

In this way, we gain insight into a purpose for evil. It reminds us of our impotence against its sway and drives us back to the cross and the God who chose the cross to save us. God is our ever-present help in time of need.

Worship only God. Not a statement of philosophy but a recipe for how we live out our faith and faithful worship every day.

Shalom, CA

#P5: Offering

Pastor's Five P5 logo“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me in the day of trouble’ I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Psalm 50:14-15, NASB.

I would encourage the reading of Psalm 50 several times over. Why? It answers the question that many ask in their hearts and it is the wedge issue that the enemy uses to derail disciples from abundant life. How so?

In this psalm we are reminded that God has no needs. He does not need sacrifices. He does not have a self-image issue whereby He needs worshippers. He is not hungry or thirsty and He does not fret over the condition of the world. In these verses, He addresses an underlying idea that people were doing God “a solid” by bringing sacrifices to Him. [This resonates in my spirit because I saw this attitude prevailing as I explored the altars in India to the Hindu gods. Some brought milk to the gods. Some brought food. All did these things to somehow evoke gladness and kindness from the god so that their prayers would be answered.

In this psalm, God states that if he was hungry, He’d get something Himself from the earth which is already His (50:11-13). Yet, He commends and even commanded the offering of sacrifices at the Temple. Does God not know that these things were costly to the ones giving the sacrifice? Of course He knows!

Vv.14-15 set the sacrifices in context. Give God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. He has no need but we NEED to express our thankfulness to God. In doing so, we acknowledge our dependence on Him. This faithful acknowledgment is necessary for our right relationship to God. Any other posture apart from dependence is offensive to Holy God. He alone is God. He has no needs because He alone meets needs.

In v.15 He states such. Call upon Me…I will rescue you…you will honor Me. We do not honor Him to curry favor so that He will rescue us. Not even close!

When we worship through bringing offerings to God we are making a statement. We are thankful for God’s provision. We honor the God who gives life and sustains us. He is WORTHY culminating in our response of WORTH-SHIP “worship.”

So, what if a friend gave your child 100 jelly beans and your child said thank you but would not share? You’d say that the child was “stingy” or “self-absorbed” or “selfish.” You would know that the child was not thankful at all for the gracious gift she received.

Is not the same principle as easy to understand…when we the children of God do not share back to God a generous portion of what He provided to us? He is God! He did not need to give us anything. We could not have it apart from His gift. And yet…we wimper and cry when handing Him a few jelly beans…or we argue that we cannot spare any jelly beans because we have bills! Do any of those surprise God? Absolutely not!!!

So today…be thankful. Give away what God has poured out on you. Give it away because God loaned it to you so that you would be a conduit and not merely a container of His gracious gifts.

Shalom, CA.