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
(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.
One type of recurring post I would like to include on this blog is reflections on Scripture… something short and sweet.
A little morning snack, if you will.
This was the subject of my meditation this morning, and I thought I’d share what came to mind:
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (Colossians 2:6, 7 NASB)
I see three tenses here, and questions arise in my mind.
Looking back, I was taught the Gospel. As a result, I received Christ by grace through faith. When that happened, I was rooted in Him. Have I wavered from that teaching? Have I left my first love? Is my foundation still sure? Am I still committed to the relationship like I was at the beginning?
Looking at the here and now, am I still being built up in Him? Am I being ever more securely established in my faith, or am I letting distractions get in the way? Also, am I grateful for what God has given and what God is doing? Am I compelled to respond to Him in praise and worship?
Looking forward, am I following after Him? A good friend of mine often taught that our present closeness to Jesus doesn’t matter so much as the direction we’re walking. The most spiritual person could be moving away or getting left behind if he or she is not continuing after Christ. The most vile sinner might be doing well by drawing near, even though that may not be obvious to the rest of us. No matter where I am in relation to Jesus, whether intimately close or coldly distant, is the path I am walking on leading me toward Him or away from Him?
Also, credit where credit is due, you can find more about those Bible cakes here.
I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.
But first, I want some caffeine and some water.
So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.
So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.
“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.
Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.
Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”
Lukewarm is sickening.
So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?
I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.
I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”
Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.
If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”
Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:
That question is, “Whose?”
Whose demands are to be met?
Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?
I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”
This is what Jesus Christ wishes.
I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.
He says plainly what He desires.
I WISH YOU WERE HOT.
Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.
The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”
God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.
But let’s be clear here.
That is not hot.
There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”
My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?
I watched her the next time, and found the problem.
“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”
Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.
Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”
What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.
There’s a problem with that.
It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.
(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)
When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.
We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.
We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”
Are we past-tense or present-tense?
If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.
If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.
If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?
If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.
You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?
“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”
That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.
Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.
Far beyond any concept of “enough.”
He doesn’t aim for that.
Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.
On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.
It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.
Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:
“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”
What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?
Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?
Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?
My coffee has been heating up while I type this.
I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.