Monday, July 24, 2023
A Heep of Humility.
Growing up in my household, Uriah Heep was a prominent figure. More than once he was referenced in terms of my own upbringing. Uriah Heep is a fictional character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Heep plays a minor role in the storyline but is so well written that he stands out and is easily remembered—particularly for his insincere flattery. An oft-repeated line for Dickens is when Uriah Heep expounds upon his humility—“I’m a very ‘umble person,” “I am the ‘umblest person going”! Of course, the joke is Heep’s bragging on his humility: he is very proud of being humble!
Uriah Heep’s false humility was referenced in my household as a mocking corrective to my own incredible lack of humility. Like most people, I was (am!) very protective of myself, overly conscious of any slight and paranoid that my faults will show. Consequentially, again, like most people, pride rises up in very unsightly ways, frequently dominating, if not my outward actions, then certainly my inward attitude and thoughts. There is great reason why the sin of pride has consistently been identified in the church age as the cause of much, much harm and wickedness.
When we look critically at the presence of this sin in our lives and honestly face the pervasive presence of a proud self-image, we walk a hazardous road. The dangers of pride are self-evident. Rarely, if ever, are we as truly good or truly special as we think we are. Crossing from pride to arrogance, and haughtiness is quickly done. But excessive pride is not wrong simply when it is annoying—pride is opposed in Scripture simply because it so often misplaces us in relation to God. The proud forget that they are the creature, and so easily assume the role of the Creator. On the other hand, the alternative is not false humility, nor a degrading of oneself that denies our created grandeur. For, our Lord did make us “but a little lower than the angels” and “crowned us glory and honor” (Psalm 8). So, the corrective of pride is not false, deferential, self-effacing. The corrective to pride is… reality!
The Bible urges us to see ourselves as the Lord Himself made us, as our Savior redeemed us, and as the Spirit is transforming us. Yes, He created/redeemed/sanctified us to be glorious in His sight—and so we are! There is every reason in the world for the Christian to be proud of what God has done, to be in awe of what the Lord has made us into. However, every single ounce of that pride is located in heaven, in our God! Yes, we are marvelous, but we are marvelous “in His eyes” because of Him. All that is good comes directly from Him, and we can claim none of it.
And it is that self-image, that perspective of who I truly am, that the Scripture expresses. I am all that God says that I am, and not a lick less. To depreciate myself is to falsely condemn what God has done. But, to be proud in myself is foolishness and forgets that I am but a redeemed creature and not in any way the Redeemer-Creator.
In our culture, it is hard to maintain this perspective. It is easy to think too highly of oneself, as if it is deserved. It is also too easy to ground our self-identity in anything other than in God. And, it is too easy to be overwhelmed with our sin and brokenness that we ignore the Savior’s voice. But, listen! He speaks to us as we truly are—sinners, loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ.
Please read Psalm 131 in preparation for worship this week.
1. The sermon title this week is “Leaning into the Lord’s Confidence.” How is the greatness of our God expressed in this psalm?
2. There are a number of reasons to think/feel negatively or critically about yourself. What are some bad reasons? What are some good reasons? What “reasons” does the psalmist have for encouraging a humble approach?
3. What does the psalmist mean when saying that his “heart is not lifted up/eyes are not raised too high” (verse 1)? How would we phrase something similar today?
4. What is “a weaned child with its mother” like? Why is this image a powerful one for someone who has not lifted heart/eyes too high?
5. How does verse 3 connect? It almost looks like a non-sequitur, but I don’t think it is—if flows naturally from verses 1 & 2. How so?
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
In a slight change of pace, today we are going to actually do a PLOG. That's right. Prayer blog. So, take a look at the Scripture for this week and follow some of the prayer prompts between now and Sunday.
1. Reflect on Psalm 23:1-3 while you pray.
2. What does it mean for the LORD to be YOUR shepherd?
3. How have you seen the LORD lead you recently?
4. What does the path of righteousness in your life look like?
1. Reflect on Psalm 23:4 while you pray.
2. What does it look like in the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Have you been there?
3. Can you say at this point that you fear no evil?
4. What does David mean about the rod and staff bringing comfort?
1. Reflect on Psalm 23:5 while you pray.
2. What do you think it means to have God set a table for you? Then, have it be in the presence of your enemies?
3. When is the last time your cup overflowed?
1. Reflect on Psalm 23:6 while you pray.
2. What do you think the connection is between Goodness and Mercy might be?
3. What do you think about when you imagine what being with God forever will be like?
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Who hasn’t heard the encouragement to “grow up to be a good boy/girl”? My guess is that most parents either say that directly, or imply it over and over again in their parenting. After all, the alternative is pretty silly—“I hope you grow up to be evil and wicked.” You certainly do not have to be a follower of Christ to have a desire for “goodness.” We are all pretty much raised to pursue goodness, and it certainly appears to be a desire built into us as humans by God Himself.
But, what do we mean by “good”? What, after all, does it mean to be a good boy/girl? What does
“goodness” look like?
On one level, this calls to mind the old adage, “I know it when I see it.” We all have some innate sense of what goodness looks like. When we see something wicked or evil, we have a visceral reaction. When we see something good or beautiful, we just know it. We don’t define “good” or explain it because it is self-evident.
But what if it isn’t self-evident? What if there is more to “goodness” than what we can just assume? After all, sometimes the Bible makes it clear that we are to be “good,” and at other points that only God Himself is good. Sometimes “goodness” in humanity is applauded. Sometimes “goodness” is beyond our grasp. Perhaps we need help in understanding what “goodness” means.
The Bible uses the word “good” in various ways, often similar, but not always identical. To do that which is “good” often means something like “helping-the-old-lady-across-the-street.” Is that a “good” thing? Well, of course it is! When we treat one another as we should, we are acting in good ways, doing good things. These are evident and clear to us as humans. Our common humanity calls for responding to one another in ways that are morally acceptable. These actions are deemed “morally good.”
When we say, with Jesus, that only God is good (Mark 10:18), are we implying that only God can do a morally good thing? Of course not. Hundreds of times a day (hopefully) each of us acts with moral goodness toward one another. But God is indeed the only One “good” in terms of “saving good.” Here we are measuring “goodness” in terms of meriting God’s favor. Do our morally good deeds save us? Do they make God respond to us? Do they put God under obligation to treat us well? NO! All our “moral goodness” does not merit us “saving good.” Only God is good in that sense; only God is perfect in goodness.
There is one more sense in which the Bible uses the word “good.”: First, to speak of the way we should relate to one another (moral good); second, to describe the kind of life that merits salvation (God’s saving good); and, third, a kind of goodness which arises from a faith in Jesus. We are called in this Christian life to respond in ways that please our Lord, in ways that come from our faith in Christ, to honor and praise our Savior. These are deemed in the Scripture as “good.” Arising from a life of dependence upon the cross, these actions are “spiritually good”—a way of living which comes only from the new creation, only from a life given to the Lord. Do these “spiritual good things” earn us God’s pleasure? NO! This is by grace and grace alone. Rather, these are actions, deeds, thoughts, attitudes, which are produced by trust in Christ. If/when we trust in Him, our lives are transformed, and what we do from that transformed life is pleasing to our God, they are “spiritually good.”
This week in worship we will be looking at the goodness of our Lord, and the goodness we are called to by our Good God. I look forward to exploring Psalm 34 with you!
In preparation for worship this Sunday, please read Psalm 34.
1. Verse 2: “my soul makes its boast in the Lord.” What might this mean? Have you ever done this? What would this look like?
2. Verse 3: “magnify the Lord with me.” What might this mean? Has this become part of your daily life? Can you express this yearning today?
3. Verse 8: “taste and see that the Lord is good.” What does the imagery of “tasting” imply? How does one “taste” that the Lord is good?
4. Verse 15: “the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous.” The author intends this as comfort, encouragement. Why so? How is that good news for us?
5. Verse 22: “none who take refuge in Him will be condemned.” Why does the psalmist come to this conclusion at the end of his psalm? What condemnation is he seeking to avoid?
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
When I was younger I spent some time playing bass for church. Now, I must confess, I knew nothing about what I was doing but putting my fingers in the right spots to make the sound come forth. I cannot read a lick of music, I have tried. It is like a foreign language to my eyes, but my ears...they seem to work. So, interestingly enough, most church songs 20 some years ago were not hard to play in terms of the bass. Now, I am sure they are far more complicated. Nevertheless, I can remember one song in particular which seemed simple, but proved to be pretty difficult for me. We were attempting to play one of U2's songs in youth group. It was 40. (Pronounced For - E with the best Irishness you can muster).
This song was built off of the bass line. I
couldn't get it down. It came time to actually play the song at youth group;
and as you might have guessed, I butchered it. I mean it was so bad that I
still get embarrassed about it now some 20 years later and am much better at
playing now. It is all of that to say, sometimes I think that we treat our
Christian lives in a manner such as I have viewed this bass line. We feel as if
we have to play it perfectly or else it isn't worth its tune. I was so focused
on getting all of the notes right, i was not paying attention to what I was
really doing. I was playing a new song. Now, it took some time, but eventually
I got it.
Some of the words from 40 actually ring true when it comes to how I was frustrated. “How long to sing this song?” says Bono. I said the same thing. Like “Lets just get it over with”, or “How long must we endure this??”
The older I get the more I understand that it isn't how perfectly I play the line, it is that I play for the King. When I try to force my fingers to hit the right notes I can and sometimes mess up. But what if I were to submit my fingers and be guided to the notes? Using the ears that God gave me to hear the music He wanted me to play? Turning frustration into persistence and even perhaps a nice tune.
It all stems from my understanding of deliverance. I bet on some level you might identify with me in this. For many years, I assumed that when I was delivered from my sin and shame that it was gone like I had been told. It was years and wisdom that helped me understand that while the immediate and long term consequence of sin (that which I have been delivered from) is still an active force in this world. You see...It wasn't just me who was affected by it; like I was the only person playing in the band. It impacts all of the created order. So, while I stand reconciled and redeemed, I stand next to that which is not. So....what do we do with this reality?
We need to introduce a new song. That song is the Good News of the Gospel. It is a new song that for those who are delivered and need deliverance, need to sing every day. How long? How long? How long? How long to sing this song?
Every. Single. Day.
This week read Psalm 40 in its entirety.
Reflect on the following.
1. How often do you sing the new song of the Gospel to yourself?
2. Who in your life can attribute knowing the new song because you have sung it to them?
3. Do you ever have a hard time believing that you have actually been delivered from the sin and shame in your life?
4. Do you know anyone who says the same thing about themselves?
5. Make a plan to sing a new song to yourself this week and someone who you know needs to hear it.