My mouth is filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all day long. Psalm 71:8 NASB
I saw this verse, and the question popped into my mind: “What is my mouth full of?” Maybe it’s because I’m dieting, but I thought of a mouthful of food.
How does that “mouth full” taste to the people around me? How does that “mouth full” taste to me?
Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15 NASB (emphasis mine)
What comes out of our mouths? Is it fruit that will delight our God and satisfy another’s soul? Or is our fruit rotten and withered by pessimism and unbelief, moldy and putrid because of bitterness and anger?
James drives this point home in writing about the power of our words:
8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. James 3:8-12 NASB
We all slip up and say things we know we ought not to say. All of us can think of a time where we said words we wish we could take back. We may never be perfect in our choice of words, but we must still aim for perfection.
This prayer of David is one of my favorite in the Psalms, and it reminds me to be careful about the “mouth-fulls” I allow:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NASB
Welcome back to this Sunday Psalm series looking at Psalm 23, considering the various ways David reminds us that “God is the One we need.”
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3 NASB) True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. (Psalm 23:3 MSG)
God is the One who restores.
The Hebrew here is a word for turning something back or away, but not necessarily a return to a starting point. A lot of languages are like word pictures where a particular word can have multiple meanings based on the context it’s used in, and this is no different. This word can mean “to come back, to carry something back, to deliver something or fetch something, to recall, recover, refresh, relieve, rescue, retrieve.”
I get the picture that the Shepherd finds this lost sheep going off the path, headed astray, and He picks it up to bring it back to the flock. He’s not bringing it back to the same place; the flock is on the move. But He brings it back so that the lost sheep can follow along with the rest, on the paths that the Shepherd is taking.
Isaiah said of us that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Isa 53:5
Sheep aren’t to be trusted with directions.
God is the One who gets in the mess with us.
The good news is that God doesn’t leave us in the muck where we often find ourselves. David writes “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.” (Psalm 40:2 MSG)
The Shepherd doesn’t abandon the sheep, doesn’t say “He got in this mess, he can get himself out.”
“How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG)
“But the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Isa 53:6
God is the One who guides.
David continues the thought here. The Shepherd doesn’t merely get the sheep out of the mess they’re in. The Shepherd is taking the flock somewhere. He has a destination in mind, and there are specific paths that lead to that goal. The Shepherd is not telling the sheep that “all roads will get you where I want you to be.” He only chooses the right way. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
Similar to the very first point from two weeks ago, the first way that “God is the One,” this reminds me that God is not shrugging off sin with a “boys will be boys” and a shake of his head. He calls our going astray an act of rebellion and open hostility. He isn’t willing to accept and call good whatever path we choose. And why is that?
God is the One who is worthy.
He guides us for His name’s sake. It’s not simply because He cares for the sheep, but He cares about His reputation.
“I will not share My glory with another.” Isa 45:8
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NASB
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Php 2:9-11 NASB
He protects His reputation. He makes sure everyone knows He is all He claims to be. It’s about Him, not us. His love and care is not because of something we’ve done to deserve it. It’s because of who He is. He stoops down to shepherd us, not because sheep are special, but because He is humble. “Your gentleness has made me great.” Psalm 18:35
God is the One who is true. The Message puts “for His name’s sake” as “True to Your word…”
His promises and His mercies come to us because He is faithful. He will not go back on His word. We don’t earn blessings like a paycheck, by doing good deeds and cashing in at the Bank of Heaven. We don’t go to God with a list of what He owes us since we’ve done so much for Him. But we do get to go to Him based on His faithful and true nature. Like the child who reminds the father, “you promised,” the responsibility and the commitment are on His end. God our Shepherd is reliable even if we are not.
God is the One who gets into the mess with me, lifts me out, and points me on the way to truth, which is why He is worthy of praise.
There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whomJesusloved. – John 13:23 NASB
If you ever want to learn how to make things fair in life, have more than one child.
It seems no matter how hard we try, one of our four children is always wondering why he or she has it worse than everybody else, and why some sibling gets it so easy.
“My chores are the worst!”
“She got to play the XBox for a long time!”
“He got to go to his friend’s house, why can’t I?”
“IT’S NOT FAIR!”
I don’t feel too bad. If Jesus’ own disciples bickered and accused Him of playing favorites, then I figure this is a normal fact of life.
In the Gospel of John, the writer (John… shocking, I know) uses the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” five times to refer to himself.
Maybe it was humility; he didn’t want to write his name in the account, like “me me me, look at me.” But it kind of comes across to my ears as a proud statement. “I’m the favorite. I’m the one He loves. Neenur neenur neenur, you’re just plain ol’ Peter.”
But maybe this phrase is neither humble nor proud.
Maybe it’s a statement of a wonderful and incredible fact.
John understood. He really got it. John’s the one who later writes all about love in the church (read 1st John). He’s the one who emphasizes over and over again that Christ’s followers are “beloved of God” – and he even uses “beloved” as the collective title for his readers.
Beloved means dear to the heart, favored, favorite one. To call myself beloved of God speaks of confidence about His love, security and certainty that “He likes me… He really, really likes me.”
That’s not arrogant, either.
It is arrogant when we add “more than you” either consciously or unconsciously. It is arrogant if we presume to add “but not you” when we think of some group we don’t like. It’s foolish for us to think God should limit His love to suit our desires.
But we can confidently say that we are beloved of God, dear to His heart, favored and special to Him.
It pains my heart when my wife apologizes or worries needlessly whenever I seem frustrated or upset by anything. It hurts when my children say they are afraid to admit a bad decision for fear that “Daddy might get upset.” That tells me that I have not fully communicated to them the unchanging and unconditional love in my heart. They don’t understand that each of them is my absolute favorite. Each of them holds captive the full measure of my love. So, in my imperfection, I must work to communicate that more clearly.
God, on the other hand, has communicated His love. He has told you that you are His beloved, you are His treasure, you are the one He loves. When He plays favorites, we all win.
(Note: I’ve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the “Monday Morning Snack,” which will contain thoughts from whatever Scripture I happen to be reading. These were going to be random and occasional, but now I aim to post them each Monday.)
My Bible app gives me a verse of the day, and it sparked a thought this morning:
but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1Pet 4:16 NASB
This made me consider what it might mean to “suffer as a Christian.”
The Bible tells us often that if we’re true to the faith, the rest of the world isn’t going to like us. No one really likes having their sin pointed out, or being told they’re not good enough based on their own merit, or hearing that they are born in sin and naturally at enmity with God until they come to saving faith in Christ Jesus as their Redeemer.
It’s not a popular message. God obviously didn’t read How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplebefore coming up with this plan of salvation.
The problem is, in my experience, believers are often too quick to assume that anyopposition is based on the offense of the Gospel. If someone doesn’t like me as a Christian, of course I’d rather believe that they’re upset because of the counter-cultural message of my faith. But maybe they’re just mad because I’m inconsiderate or lazy at work.
A good example is Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A fame. Whether you agree with him or not, the statements he made (which sparked the whole controversy over same-sex marriage) were a simple declaration of what he believes based on the Bible. He wasn’t spewing blatant hate or disgust. He was merely professing his faith, and I submit he did it in a respectful way. The withering criticism came because of what the Bible says and how the majority of Christians in the West interpret Scripture on the subject of homosexuality.
If only all the Christian responses to that controversy were as calm, respectful, and precise.
Peter writes in this passage that “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (vv. 13-14). But he also makes the point that there are other reasons why one might suffer: “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (v.15).
Certainly I hope none of those are true of any of us! But the meaning is clear: it is possible that we suffer not because of Christ or the Gospel or our faith, but because of our individual flaws.
I have to ask myself:
Are people upset by what Jesus taught and what the Bible says, or how I am saying it?
Are people irritated by my sincere acts of faith in Christ, or by my hypocrisy in other areas of life?
Is the message the source of the offense, or is the messenger?
(Note: I’ve created some new categories for posts. One of these is the “Sunday Psalm,” which will contain either songs I’ve written or snippets from the book of Psalms in the Bible. This is the first such post.)
Since I’m starting a new feature that closely involves Psalms, I figure it would be appropriate to begin with the most well-known psalm of the 150 we have in the Bible:
A while back, I looked through this psalm and considered the words David chose. I found that all of it tied into one key point: God is the One I need.
(Unfortunately, I later lost the files and the notes for that study. So now I get to recreate it.)
I’ll take it one verse per post, because these time-tested verses contain something of lasting value, worthy of careful consideration.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (NASB)
God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. (MSG)
God is the One.
David starts with “the Lord.” Not “Lords” or “Gods” or “the Cosmos” or “my true inner spiritual self” or any such thing.
In ancient Israel, monotheism was one of the key religious points that separated the Jews from the nations around them. Starting with Moses, the message was “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Other commandments clarified that the Lord was to also be their only God. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
David sets his focus clearly right from the beginning. No other god, no other name, no spiritually vague concept will suffice. David’s eyes are on the Lord.
God is the One who cares for me.
David chooses his own childhood experience and sees how God exemplifies that role. The shepherd loves and cares for the sheep. But the shepherd is not merely a friendly or fawning pet owner with their favorite animal. Shepherds take on several roles-as we’ll see in future verses.
Most importantly, I think of modern, socially-acceptable spirituality, which leads us to a Buddy Christ that loves us too much to discipline us, a Santa-God that gives us whatever we want if we are good boys and girls, an Oprah Spirit that stands back and encourages us to do whatever we think is best for us. Too often, the god we like to hear about is the one that is on our level.
The shepherd is not on the sheep’s level. He’s not their buddy all the time. He’s not out to let them “discover themselves.”
The shepherd can’t treat the sheep that way. Sheep need correction and firm guidance. They go through circumstances they don’t like because it’s healthy for them. They aren’t left to their own devices. They need a watchful eye.
God assumes the responsibility to provide all that for us. He steps up and says, “Let Me take care of you. This is My job.”
And let’s be honest. Look around. On our own, we can’t even do it right anyway.
God is the One who meets our needs.
The older meaning of “want” is used in most familiar versions. It doesn’t mean there will never be a time that I feel a desire for something I do not possess. It doesn’t mean that I will always have anything I wish. Again, God is not Santa. He’s not the ATM.
It means that I will have my needs met. Real needs, not just “really wants.”
“I really want that video game, God… Your Word says I shall not want, so… I need 60 bucks. Hook me up?”
The Message captures the meaning well. David is saying, “If I have God, I don’t need anything else. I’m good.”
Consider Paul’s comments in Philippians 4:11-13.
I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (MSG)
This is where Paul speaks about God the Provider – “My God shall supply all your needs” (Php. 4:19 NASB).
Did Paul endure hardship and tough times? Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that there were moments where he had some wants, maybe even some valid needs.
But his experience was that in every situation, God came through, whether the answer was “yes” or “no.”
God is the One who genuinely cares for us and meets our genuine needs.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That’s the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s kind of a big deal around here.
The trouble is, sometimes we forget the value and the importance of those core principles and ideas that allowed this nation to prosper for the last 200 years. And sometimes we forget that we don’t have these rights because a piece of paper in Washington D.C. says so. These rights are written down on that piece of paper because our nation is founded on the idea that people inherently deserve and possess these rights.
These memory lapses seem to come around every four years or so, like Leap Year’s Day. Strange, isn’t it?
Some atheists decided that they had a message for the two main political parties during all this buildup to the elections. These atheists want to make their case that religion doesn’t belong in politics and that the political parties should pursue ideas, not ideologies. You may agree or disagree, and you can be vocal about it. You have that right. It’s written down on that piece of paper.
The atheists used their money and resources to create billboards, and then sought advertising agencies willing to put up the images near the national conventions of both parties. There was no such agency in Florida. For whatever reason, none of them wanted to carry a controversial message about religion. They have that right. It’s also written down.
An agency in North Carolina was willing to put up the atheist organization’s message.
So these billboards were spotted in the last two weeks:
You might strongly disagree with the messages. (I do.) We have that right.
However, the billboards are now being pulled down, as a response to a reported flood of “vitriol, threats, and hate speech against our staff, volunteers, and Adams Outdoor Advertising,” according to Amanda Knief, managing director of American Atheists, quoted in a Fox News article.
And that’s where our rights cross the line.
When my free exercise of religion or speech threatens the safety of another person, then maybe I’ve missed the point of both my religion and my freedom.
I’ve said before, as a religious person, it’s reasonable to support everyone else’s right to express their religious views, even if–or especially if–those views differ from my own. As soon as we permit the government or the public to decide what is an acceptable religious view and what is not, then we are giving up the principle behind those rights written down in Washington.
It’s not my job just to make a case for my own faith and for my own freedom. It’s my job to make the case that everyone else should have the same freedom as me to express their point of view without fear of violent retribution from government or from their fellow citizens.
This all makes sense from the civic political perspective. I can’t go around threatening the free speech or free religion of others without expecting the same treatment. I can’t push for government to make laws that limit free speech or free religion (or lack of religion) for others without expecting that some day the same government might limit my freedoms.
It’s also sensible from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right? I’m not sure what my fellow believers are asking for “them” to do unto us, if we’re engaging in threats and vitriol just because some atheists don’t believe what we believe.
Newsflash: That’s kind of the point of atheism.
Of course, this is North Carolina, where religion and politics have clashed quite often in the past few months. North Carolina recently voted on an amendment to their state constitution prohibiting gay marriage, or defining marriage as one man and one woman, or however you want to put that.
North Carolina was also in the spotlight thanks to Pastor Charles Worley of “electric fence” fame, who suggested maybe we could lock “all the gays” behind an electric fence and let them die off. (To be fair, he did suggest dropping food and supplies into the fenced area so they could not starve to death… so, I mean, there’s the Christian compassion we were all hoping for, I guess.)
To be fair, everyone can say what they want about other religions, about atheism, about Democrats, about Republicans, about anyone who is “not like me.” As much as I may disagree with their speech, I defend the right of Americans to say what we want. We can shout down voices of ignorance and hate.
Threats of violence are not the way to do it.
To my fellow believers who have raged against those billboards: You want to do something useful with your anger?
“Your values aren’t our values. We know about your plans to open doors in our city, and we want you to know you’re not welcome here.”
Maybe… but I’m not talking about Chick-Fil-A and Boston (or Chicago… or probably a list of cities that will want to jump on this bandwagon to show how progressive and tolerant they are…)
I’m talking about Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the unremarkable but apparently controversial mosque being built there.
Based on the estimate in the July 19th news story in the link, the worshipers might have already had their grand opening. I sure hope so. I hope they’re having the best Ramadan ever.
And I hope their opponents are choking on bile as they see it happening.
There’s a thing called the First Amendment in the Constitution. It goes something like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In this case, no one’s worried about Congress. The Federal government is (to my knowledge) not involved at all. But what the folks in Tennessee seem to be forgetting is that the amendment that lets us freely step into our churches on Sunday wherever we’d like is the same amendment that permits Muslims to build a place for worship wherever they’d like.
Intolerance and fear are clearly a part of the issue. One resident talked about the Buddhist place of worship in town and how no one seems to pay those guys any mind.
“Well, with 9/11 and the whole terrorism thing, people are just a bit nervous about having a mosque in town.”
That’s a paraphrase, but you can read the sentiment in the article for yourself.
To that I’d say,
“With the vandalism and arson on private property, and the open hostility, maybe the Muslims are a bit more frightened of you than you are of them.”
I’d say that, but I’m afraid that (were they ever to read my pointless rant in this corner of the Web) the perpetrators of this fear-mongering would feel proud at the thought. “Look at how we stood up to those Muslims! We sure let them know they’re not wanted here.”
Yeah, good job. Way to go against one of the key reasons America was founded. Way to stand up against one of the freedoms men and women have fought and died to protect for the last 226 years. Take that, religious expression!
Regrettably, our freedom of speech (see First Amendment quote above) doesn’t create any hindrance or safeguard concerning spewing ignorance. Anyone can say pretty much whatever they want.
I approve that. I applaud that. I don’t want the government telling us what is approved speech and what is not. And I know the vast majority of Americans feel the same.
But that allows for voices of thinly-veiled hatred to speak terribly insensitive and frightening thoughts.
Horrible thoughts like the North Carolina preacher a few months back with his “I got an idea… we build an electric fence, and we take all the gays an’ put ’em behind it.”
Horrible thoughts like the mindless venom pouring out of the mouths of Westboro Baptist Church members. I won’t even quote their signs. You’ve seen them on the news, or you can google them and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Horrible thoughts like that of one of the leading opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque. “I know we weren’t going to win the legal battle… I just wanted to show ’em they’re not welcome here. And I plan to keep up the fight.”
What fight? Once the mosque is built, as is permitted by local, state, and federal government, and by our fundamental freedoms inAmerica, what fight is there?
I have several friends and coworkers who are gay. Some have made the point that they have come out in public because they don’t want to give anyone the impression that they will sit quietly while people malign or threaten them. They’re all sensible, thoughtful people who would love to leave that part of their lives off the radar. It’s such a minor thing to them, and it’s so not anyone else’s business. But oftentimes the terrible treatment they receive from others necessitates a harsh response, so they stand up and are counted. They stand up and say, “This mistreatment will not stand,” because they know there’s probably someone else sitting in quiet fear, too afraid to speak out in their own defense.
To my fellow Christians, I’ll say, how long are we going to sit in peace and quiet, shaking our heads, muttering a little tsk-tsk in shame, looking at stories like Murfreesboro or Westboro or the electric fence guy? I’ve often heard people ask, “Where are all the moderate Muslims to denounce what the radicals are doing?”
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Maybe we think it goes without saying. “Everybody knows” that Westboro Baptist Church is a bunch of nutjobs that have nothing to do with Christianity. “Everybody knows” that what that NC preacher is saying is horrific and wrong. “Everybody knows” that the First Amendment protects the rights of these Muslims in Tennessee.
Apparently everybody doesn’t know.
It’s time we stand up and be counted. Make sure that those who would wrap themselves in the American flag while clutching a Bible to their chest properly understand the significance of both of those symbols.
Make sure we speak out to those who would spread hate and fear in the name of Christ, and let them clearly understand:
“Your values aren’t our values. We want you to know you’re not welcome here.”
I had an interesting discussion on Facebook yesterday.
A page about “defending marriage” posted a link to a story saying the UN was working to legalize prostitution. The comment on the link being shared was:
“We need to take back control in the world…”
I assumed the “we” is Christians, given the audience of the page. This made me wonder.
When did we have control?
Were we supposed to have control?
How did religion having control go for the world?
What did Jesus suggest (err… command) that we do in the world?
Did He not know that one day we might have a chance at establishing a Christian nation? Did the possibility slip His mind?
Does He come across as someone who is not very careful with words?
So maybe He said what He meant and vice versa.
Religions holding political power have a history of working out poorly. That’s part of why the first colonists came to America.
There was every opportunity for the Founding Fathers to make America out to be an absolute Christian nation, but they chose not to.
There was every opportunity for Jesus to command His followers to establish a kingdom, but He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He could very well have explained theocracy and suggested it as a plan, but we don’t have any indication of that. Governance clearly wasn’t on his personal agenda.
The Bible – particularly the New Testament – portrays the world as fallen, corrupt, and under the spiritual authority of the Devil. For example, Jesus was tempted by the Devil, who offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would simply bow down and worship the Devil. Jesus didn’t dispute whether Satan had such power to make such an offer. Likewise, Paul wrote about the spiritual darkness in the world, saying it did not belong to God but to our adversary.
We’re living in occupied territory. We’re living behind enemy lines.
Jesus never told us to set up a nation here. We’re not establishing a base or negotiating a treaty. To be clear, our “enemy” is not those people who disagree. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood… or at least that’s what the Bible tells us. Fighting flesh and blood means collateral damage.
Maybe some of us forgot that.
I expressed my concerns about what the post implied. I was told something like, “Our representative government isn’t representing all of us, its people. We have to fight in the political arena to ensure that the representative government actually represents us.”
That sword cuts both ways. That argument can be made by either side.
It basically boils down to “majority rules,” since there are two groups with opposed goals that both seek representation. Majority rules is a system that hasn’t always done well for us either. In the Sixties, the local, vocal majority would have voted to keep segregation going in some parts. That doesn’t make it acceptable or right.
Likewise, from the biblical perspective, we were never told to follow the majority. In fact, Jesus said that’s the road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:14).
We were meant to be the minority. We were meant to be different.
But we look just like everyone else.
The divorce rate in the church matches that of the world. Western Christianity looks just as self-centered and greedy as the culture it is supposedly working to save. Instead of going and making disciples, we’re going and making new recruits for our political parties. And our young people are leaving the church in droves.
Yeah, maybe we need to take back control…
We need to take back control of ourselves.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.