City Of God

With “LONG LIVE THE KING!” still reverberating in our ears from Psalm 47, the sons of Korah ask us to zoom out a little farther to see how things begin to change now that the King has assumed His rightful place on the throne.

So Psalm 48 opens with the same praise with which Psalm 47 closed—Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise! The Hebrew word for great means massiveness! God is great beyond comprehension. He is larger than any problem. He is unique. He is uncontainable, unlimited, utterly beyond description. His glory is so bright that no sun is needed (see Revelation 21:23).

His glorious light reveals God’s beauty all around us. As C.S. Lewis noted, “I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen. Not because I can see it, but because by way of it I can see everything else.” Indeed, the psalmist reminds us that the city of our God has become “beautiful in its loftiness”(v. 2).

Look at how majestic our King is, and how majestic He makes His city, with phrases like the city of our Godthe city of the Great King, and the city of the Lord Almighty. 

God makes His city secure forever. 

Selah—pause and consider that. 

About 1200 years after this psalm was written, Augustine would write his book called The City of God in which he contrasted the City of God with the City of Man. He noted how the Romans had gods they trusted in, but the Romans had to “rescue” their gods from the invading barbarians. Rome ultimately fell to those invading barbarians, but, Augustine said, the City of God can never fall because it isn’t a tangible place. The City of God resides inside God’s people. 

So notice that after the Selah the word “city” doesn’t appear anymore. Instead, we read about:

    • God’s temple (v. 9; the Hebrew word is heykal) means the palace of God the King
    • the villages of Judah (v. 11) is translated daughters in the KJV, but it actually means “the beloved apple of My eye” 
    • her towers (v. 12) are something that has grown up because it’s been nourished, not something built up by brick and mortar
    • her citadels (v. 13) are the highest and strongest places, which recalls God’s massiveness that we read in verse 1 

Here’s the question for all of us to ask—Is my heart a City of God or a City of Man? 

God does not dwell in palaces made by men.

God dwells where He is enthroned! 

When people look at the “city” of my life, can they tell God is on the throne? The telling characteristics of a City of God are a city where…

  • … thoughts continually turn to my King and His unfailing love (v. 9)
  • … praise, rejoicing, and gladness are constantly rising to God (vv. 10, 11)
  • … the King is able to freely walk around His kingdom—anywhere He likes (v. 12)
  • … others can walk around and see what a God-enthroned life looks like (vv. 12, 13)

I’ll ask it again—Can people clearly see that God is the unrivaled King of your heart? 

Join me next Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Psalms. 

What Christians Often Miss About Zeal

On what we now refer to as Palm Sunday, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with the crowd shouting, “Hosanna” because they thought Jesus was going to set things right. In this, they were disappointed. Jesus knew that His time for reigning in Jerusalem hadn’t come yet, and Christ’s passionate journey meant He would not cut any corners!

Before Jesus left Jerusalem that Sunday evening, Mark noted that “He looked around at everything.” He didn’t respond right away to what He saw. This is very important to note because we shouldn’t think that His response on Monday was something spontaneous. No, it was planned out in specific detail.  

On Monday morning, Jesus prepared to make the 2-mile trip from Bethany to Jerusalem. The Gospels note quite frequently the amount of time Jesus spent in prayer, including beginning His day in conversation with His Father (see Mark 1:35). On this morning, He must have talked with His Father about everything He had seen in Jerusalem the day before. 

 En route to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a fig tree that gives every appearance of life and vitality. It looks like it’s ready to serve people, but upon closer inspection, Jesus discovers that there is no fruit on it. He curses the tree for its deceptive outward appearance. This is definite foreshadowing for what’s about to happen! 

Jesus enters the temple and begins to drive out merchants, and moneychangers, and dove sellers. He roars at them, “God says this is to be a place of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; and Luke 19:45-48). 

The phrases house of prayer and den of robbers are direct quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah, respectively (Isaiah 56:3-7; Jeremiah 7:1-11), but what do they mean? 

The temple had specific courts available—

  1. The Court of the Gentiles was open to all people, foreigners included.
  2. The Women’s Court was open to all Jews and, their “uncontaminated” wives.
  3. The Court of Israel was limited to male Jews who were clean and purified.
  4. The fourth court was the Holy Place limited to priests robed in their priestly vestments. 

This buying and selling was undoubtedly happening in the Court of the Gentiles. As the Passover was approaching, people from all over the world were here—some purchasing animals to use as sacrifices, and some exchanging their foreign money for Israelite money for the temple tax. 

There was a lot of hustle and bustle, but very little worship. This is what angered Jesus. The activity in the temple was like the fig tree He cursed—it looked like it was fruitful, but that was merely outward deception. 

Were the merchants exploiting people? Perhaps. But they were certainly occupying the only space where non-Jews could worship. They were certainly becoming a distraction to any true worship activities. They were clearly becoming the main attraction. 

There are two important lessons in this outburst that Jesus gives to all His disciples:

  1. As our Christlikeness increases, our intolerance of religious showmanship should increase. 
  2. As our Christlikeness increases, our intolerance of unrighteousness should increase—both a greater hate for sin and a greater love for sinners! 

“Let the zeal of the house of the Lord ever eat you up. For example: do you see a brother running [toward sin]? Stop him, warn him, be grieved for him, if the zeal of God’s house has now eaten you up. Do you see others running and wanting to drink themselves drunk? Stop whom you can, hold whom you can, frighten whom you can; win in gentleness whom you can: do not in any way sit still and do nothing.” —Augustine 

Christ’s passionate journey was out of love for us. Which means He hates anything that keeps us from His Father. 

If you know God’s love, be zealous about those things that keep others from coming in to know God’s love for themselves. Not angry at people, but angry at practices and “religious shows” that hinder people from knowing God’s love like you know God’s love. 

8 Prayers From “Dangerous Prayers”

Dangerous Prayers give a brief biography of 50 culture-shifting people, and the world-changing prayers they prayed. Check out my full book review by clicking here, and then enjoy just a few of the prayers from this excellent book. 

“Listen to my supplication, Master, so that my soul doesn’t stagger under Your instruction, so that I don’t stumble in testifying to Your mercies, by which You tore me away from all my ruinous pathways. Thus You’ll grow sweet to me beyond all that led me wrong, in my willingness to follow it. Thus I’ll love You most mightily, and grasp Your hand with all the strength of my inmost being. Thus You’ll tear me away from every trial, clear to the end.” —Augustine 

“Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now that I may answer before Thee and before the world. Lord, whatever this day may bring, may Thy name be praised. Amen.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while awaiting execution in a Nazi concentration camp 

“Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we may say: ‘I will go unto the king and if I perish, I perish.’” —W.E.B. DuBois 

“Because we have need continually to crave many things at Your hands, we humbly beg You, O heavenly Father, to grant us Your Holy Spirit to direct our petitions, that they may proceed from such a fervent mind as may be agreeable to Your holy will.” —John Knox 

“O keep us, we beseech Thee, Lord, for without Thy keeping we cannot keep ourselves.” —Charles Spurgeon 

“Oh Jesus, You who suffer, grant that today and every day I may be able to see You in the person of Your sick ones and that, by offering them my care, I may serve You. Grant that, even if You are hidden under the unattractive disguise of anger, of crime, or of madness, I may recognize You and say, ‘Jesus, You who suffer, how sweet it is to serve You.’” —Mother Teresa 

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble invitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.” —George Washington 

“God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love, and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst.” —George Whitefield 

Dangerous Prayers (book review)

Prayer changes things. That makes prayer dangerous and the pray-ers themselves a danger to anything that opposes the kingdom of God. Dangerous Prayers is a collection of powerful prayers and a brief biography of those who prayed them. 

Growing up, a constant refrain rang in my ears from my parents whenever I faced a problem: “Have you prayed about it?” I’m not sure why we make prayer our last resort instead of our first response, but it often seems that some of the most heartfelt, passionate prayers are offered up in the darkest of times. 

Dangerous Prayers offers a short biography of some world-changing people who changed the world in large part because of their desperate dependence on God’s help, as seen in the frequent and bold prayers they prayed. Many of these prayers were prayed in dark places—prisons, before the executioner, in the midst of war, in unimaginable poverty, or staring down the evils of slavery. These men and women repeatedly turned to God, and God repeatedly strengthened them to accomplish amazing things. Some of the answers to prayer came in their lifetimes, and some prayers were only answered long after they had died. 

Dangerous Prayers is an excellent coffee table book. By that, I mean it’s a great book to leave out in the open as a conversation-starter. Parents could read these short biographies and prayers with their children, and friends could use them as a bridge from past history to current events. But more than anything, keep Dangerous Prayers close at hand will—I sincerely hope—cause you to turn to prayer frequently and boldly. 

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer. 

Battle Ready

The Bible says that satan prowls around like a lion, looking for an opening to devour Christians. Are you battle ready? The Apostle Peter gives us all of the battle preparation that we will need to be victorious!

One of the most important things we need to do is prepare ourselves before the battle even begins. Peter lists two key components: (1) self-control and (2) alertness (1 Peter 5:8-11). 

This Greek word for self-control is only used six times in all of the New Testament. Peter uses it three times in his first epistle, and the Apostle Paul also uses the word three times. It’s amazing to see the similarity in uses between the two of them. 

Both apostles use self-control in the context of the value of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 1 Peter 4:7). In other words, Christians don’t wear armor to fight; they wear armor to pray. We have to be self-controlled enough to stick to the business of prayer. 

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight 
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright 
And satan trembles when he sees 
The weakest saint upon his knees. —William Cowper

Then both apostles use the Greek word for self-control in the context of using God’s Word as a spiritual weapon (2 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 Peter 1:10-13). Jesus used this same strategy in his battle in the desert against satan (Matthew 4:1-10)—Jesus was praying before the devil came to tempt Him, and then He defeated the devil’s temptations by quoting Scripture. 

Peter says the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion.” Notice that important word: like. The devil has always been an imitator—trying to be like God, he was expelled from Heaven, and then he deceived Adam and Eve by telling them they could be like God too. He’s using the same strategy now. 

Augustine pointed out, “Christ is called a Lion because of His courage; the devil because of his ferocity. The Lion comes to conquer, the other to hurt.” 

So Peter encourages us to “resist him, standing firm in the faith.” You resist the devil when you… 

  • …stay submitted to God 
  • …remember the blood of the Jesus—THE Lion of Judah—that won your victory 
  • …stay self-controlled in prayer
  • …remain alert in the Scriptures

Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you battle ready by helping you to develop the self-control and alertness you need. 

Thursdays With Oswald—Don’t Argue!

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Don’t Argue!

     The reason Paul tells Timothy not to argue [1 Timothy 4:7], and the reason he tells me not to argue, and the reason he tells you not to argue, is that we argue from our own point of view. We argue not for the truth’s sake, we argue to prove we are right. God grant that we may learn to take heed lest we get switched off on arguing. … 

     “Oh, the unmitigated curse of controversy! Oh, the detestable passions that corrections and contradictions kindle up to fury in the proud heart of man! Eschew controversy, my brethren, as you would eschew the entrance to hell itself. Let them have it their way; let them talk; let them write; let them correct to you; let them traduce you; let them judge and condemn you; let them slay you. Rather let the truth of God suffer itself, than that love suffer. You have not enough of the divine nature in you to be a controversialist.” —Dr. Alexander Whyte … 

     For example… “sanctification” is not a man’s term; it is God’s: “the baptism with the Holy Ghost” is not man’s conception, it is God’s, and when a soul begins to argue on these matters, remember, worker for God, it is the Holy Spirit they are arguing with, the Word of God they are haggling about. God grant we may not hinder those who are battling their way slowly into the light. …  

     “Heal me of this lust of mine of always vindicating myself.” —Augustine … 

     If we are living rightly with God, living holy lives in secret and in public, God puts a wall of fire round about us.

From Workmen Of God

How true it is that we argue not because we’re standing up for the truth, but because we want to prove that we are right! This is a tactic of the devil which keeps us focused on less important matters.

Our only line of defense needs to be something Oswald Chambers said earlier: “the Word of God, the Word of God, the Word of God, first second and last.” If we stick to the Word, people who want to argue aren’t arguing with us, but with God. That is an argument in which we never have to participate!

12 More Quotes From “Ordering Your Private World”

Gordon MacDonald did a phenomenal job synthesizing biblical principles as he teaches us how to pay attention to our private, inner world. One of the things I enjoyed was the number of other authors and teachers he quotes throughout Ordering Your Private World. Here are a few of those quotes he shared…

“The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. … Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there. … I must get the things settled between myself and God in the secret places of my soul where no stranger intermeddles, and then I can go forth with the certainty that the battle is won.” —Oswald Chambers

“I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.” —Oscar Wilde 

“Think of no other greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart.” —John Quincy Adams, in a letter to his daughter

“A public man, though he is necessarily available at many times, must learn to hide. If he is always available, he is not worth enough when he is available.” —Elton Trueblood

“Remember a long life of steady, consistent, holy labor will produce twice as much fruit as one shortened and destroyed by spasmodic and extravagant exertions; be careful and sparing of your strength when and where exertion is unnecessary.” —Catherine Booth, in a letter to her husband William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army

“There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one’s self-importance.” —C.S. Lewis

“The man of action has the present, but the thinker controls the future.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

“No other pleasure suits every occasion, every age or every place. But the study of letters is the food of youth, the delight of old age, a delight at home and no burden abroad; it stays with us at night, and goes with us on our travels, near and far.” —Cicero

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and sun, how they move in silence…. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within—words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” —Mother Teresa

“St. Augustine says, ‘God gives where He finds empty hands.’ A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift. Perhaps these parcels are not always sins or earthly cares, but sometimes our own fussy attempts to worship Him in our way. Incidentally, what most often interrupts my own prayers is not great distractions but tiny ones—things one will have to do or avoid in the course of the next hour.” —C.S. Lewis

“Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.” —Thomas Kelly

“I know that there are certain mental and emotional and moral and spiritual attitudes that are anti-health: anger, resentments, fear, worry, desire to dominate, self-preoccupation, guilts, sexual impurity, jealousy, a lack of creative activity, inferiorities, a lack of love. These are the twelve apostles of ill health. So in prayer I’ve learned to surrender these things to Jesus Christ as they appear.” —E. Stanley Jones

You can check out my review of Gordon MacDonald’s Order Your Private World by clicking here. And you can read some quotes from Gordon by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: