Ultimate Wisdom

Last week I posted a quote on some of my social media channels that simply stated: “Our opinions don’t matter if they don’t square with God’s Word on the matter.” This seemed to me to be a fairly uncontroversial statement, but one anonymous reader really took me to task for using the hashtag #objectivetruth. Apparently, he thinks there is no such thing. 

But don’t we all rely on objective, external standards all the time? For instance, a gallon of gasoline is a gallon regardless of where you buy it, or whether you feel like it’s a gallon or not. And when you go to pay for your gasoline, the price isn’t based on how the gas station attendant is feeling at that moment, but on the objective amount posted. 

Psalm 49 is somewhat unusual in that it is a “wisdom psalm.” This psalm feels a lot more like something we would read in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes than it does a prayer or song in the Psalms. 

For instance, the first four verses of this Psalm sound a lot like the opening verses of the Book of Proverbs. And verses 5-13 of the Psalm echo what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 2. 

This psalmist—like Solomon—wants us to understand how important it is to get wisdom. So we are urged to listen intently to those who have hard-won insight, to those who have “been there, done that” so that we don’t have to repeat their folly. 

What is that wisdom? It can be broken down into two profound statements:

(1) Everyone dies. 

That can be a really depressing truth IF your focus is building your own kingdom. If all there is to life is what you can earn and build before you die, only to realize that your “kingdom” ends at your last breath, that can be very depressing. 

However, this realization that everyone dies can be a very liberating truth IF your focus is on the eternal kingdom that is awaiting you in Heaven. When you realize that Jesus is preparing a place for you to experience ultimate joy and unending pleasure forever and ever, then you will live here for what’s coming next! 

(2) Our eternal destination after we die is determined before we die.

If someone told me that he had discovered the secret to immortality, and then he died and came back to this life to tell me that his theory was correct, I would be wise listen to him. 

That’s exactly what Jesus did for us!

He told us that He would die on a Cross and that He would be raised back to life. AND HE DID IT! His hard-won insight, His “been there, done that” wise words to us are this—“Believe in Me. I died to pay the penalty for the sins that will keep you out of Paradise. So place your faith in what I did, and ask my Father to forgive your sins. Then I promise you that you will spend forever and ever with Me in Paradise!” 

THIS objective truth determines everything else about our lives. 

So I’ll repeat it again—

“Our opinions don’t matter if they don’t square with God’s Word on the matter.” —Craig T. Owens

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

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. 

Awesome God, Awesome Praise

Last I week I told you how Hebrew poetry often puts the climax in the middle. In Psalm 47 that middle climax is in verse 5—God has ascended. This is one of seven “psalms of enthronement” in the Psalter. Since all of the Scripture points to Jesus, let’s look at the definition of this word ascend and see how it fits with Jesus: 

When a king is coronated—when he is heading toward his throne—we can expect the people to be happy. So the psalmist tells us that in God’s case the people are clapping and shouting (v. 1), telling God how awesome He is (v. 2), thanking Him for subduing their enemies (v. 3), and expressing their gratitude that He has established them as His people (v. 4). 

Then comes the Selah / Pause—what is happening during this pause? The King is being crowned. He has ascended to His rightful throne. So this is selah/pause is really a deep breath that’s about to explode in a crescendo of praise! 

Now there are shouts of joy (v. 5a). In our earthly understanding, it would be something like: “LONG LIVE THE KING!!” There is also a sounding of trumpets (v. 5b) which literally means a thundering of trumpets. And then there’s the singing—lots and lots of singing. In fact, the word sing appears five times in the next two verses. 

From The Infographic Bible (click the image for more)

There are so many ways to say LONG LIVE THE KING—singing, dancing, raising our hands, falling down on our knees. shouting.  

Our God is praise-worthy. He is clap-worthy! He is sing-worthy! He is dance-worthy! He is shout-worthy! He is bowing-worthy! 

Our awesome God deserves awesome praise! 

Why does it seem that we are prone to worship so quietly? Perhaps we need to take it up a notch or two (or three or four). Perhaps we haven’t gazed into His awesome beauty enough to realize just how incredible He is! 

Do you think shouting praises to the King of kings is too undignified? Did you know that when the King of kings returns, He is going to shout and there is also going to be a thundering trumpet? For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16)! 

Here are 4 important lessons from this Psalm of Enthronement—

  1. God is the King of all kings, enthroned on the Throne above all thrones. He is worthy of your “undignified” praise and acclamation. 
  2. God should always get your best praise. In verse 7 the phrase sing praises with understanding really means to sing with insight and skill. 
  3. God deserves a holy vocabulary. We see the word awesome in verse 2. Every time this word is used in the Scripture, it’s speaking of God. So why would we use a word like this for something a hamburger!?!
  4. All nations and kings and peoples and tribes will bow before God at the end. They will bow in either acclamation for their King, or in abject terror of the All-Righteous Judge. Let’s remain missional so more people in the end are crowning Him as their All-Merciful King. 

I hope you can join me this next Sunday as we continue our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms. 

The Nearness Of God

I think too often we’re in too big of a hurry when we read the Bible. 

Think with me for a moment how much longer it takes to sing the lyrics of a heart-stirring song than it does to just say the words. The psalms were written as songs, and although the melodies that accompanied them have been lost to the pages of history, we would still do well to move more slowly and deliberately and passionately through these inspired songs. 

Let’s slowly consider Psalm 46 from four different perspectives…

First, as a pause from the noise. Selah can be used three different ways: (1) a pause to reflect; (2) a deep breath to crescendo into something bigger; or (3) a contrast between two very different things. There are three selahs in this psalm, and all of them call us to a pause from something noisy. To pause from…

    • natural upheavals—the earth gives way, the mountains fall, the waters roar, the mountains quake
    • political upheavals—nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall 
    • religious upheavals—God has to serve the judgment of desolation, as He breaks the bow, shatters the spear, burns the shield

Selah/Pause from these upheavals and reflect—God is our refuge … the Lord Almighty is with us.

Second, notice the contrasts. The songwriter takes us to man’s mountains that fall and quake, but reminds us that THE mountain of God is our sure fortress. In the imagery of water, we see man’s attempts at refreshing that are roaring and foaming, but we also see God’s river that brings life and makes people glad. And look at how man’s use of power results in an uproar, but God makes wars to cease. 

Selah/Pause and reflect—aren’t God’s ways better than man’s ways? 

Third, notice the nearness of God. Twice the songwriter reminds us “The Lord Almighty is with us.” And then we hear God Himself speak to our anxiety-prone hearts, “Be still and know that I am God.” Those words “be still” can also mean “let go.” Let go of earthly things, negative voices, fears, trying to control events. If your hands are full of that, how can you grab onto God?! 

Selah/Pause and reflect—God is calling me to go—and stay—near to Him! 

Fourth, see how God’s peace and protection surrounds AND permeates me. In our Western literature, we are used to the climax—or the payoff—being at the end of the story. The story builds and then comes to a conclusion where the hero prevails. But in Hebrew poetry, the climax—or the payoff—is typically in the middle. So when we read Psalm 46, it’s tempting to say, “Hallelujah! Verse 11 says God is my fortress. That’s the climax, the payoff!” But really the payoff—the most important part—is the middle. In this psalm, that is verse 6. Everything else builds to this and radiates out from this. 

Read this psalm for yourself by reading the verses in this order: 6, 5, 7, 4, 8, 3, 9, 2, 10, 1, 11.

Selah/Pause and reflect—God is not only IN me, He also surrounds me. I’m invited to come close to Him because He is already in me. Nations rage, but His voice in my heart silences the upheaval. He is with me. He is the Most High Sovereign God that controls the outcome of all nations. Earth quakes and kingdoms rumble, but I will have no fear; I will be still and know He is God. He is my refuge, my strength, my help, my fortress! 

Don’t rush the reading of the Psalms. Slowly “sing” these inspired lyrics and listen to how the Holy Spirit will whisper to your heart. 

I’ll be continuing our series on the Selahs in the Psalms this Sunday, and I would love to have you join me. 

God’s Preference Is You

My dear friend Josh Schram relaunched our summertime series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms. “Selah” (or “Interlude” in some Bible translations) can mean either a time of reflection, a deep breath to go into something stronger, or a time to weigh the contrasts. 

Psalm 44 is a classic example of a Selah calling us to weigh the contrasts! The first 8 verses of this psalm celebrate the recollections of God’s past victories, declarations of God being our King, and crescendoing to a note of continual praise—O God, we give glory to You all day long and constantly praise Your name!

Then comes the Selah—pause. 

And after the pause, the scene turns dark. The psalmist now recounts how bad his situation is, descending to the low note of “we collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt” (v. 25). 

Josh reminded us how our preferences change over time. Consider the telephone—we’ve gone from push-button corded phones, to phones with longer cords, to cordless phones, to bulk bag phones, to smaller cell phones, to smartphones. It’s very human for our preferences to want more and better. 

But God’s preference never changes. God’s preference is YOU! 

He can never love you any more than He already does. Nor can He love you any less. 

The apostle Paul quotes Psalm 44:22—yet for Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered—when he explains that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love (see Romans 8:31-39).

In marriage vows, we usually promise to love our spouse “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health.” True love goes through it all! 

God’s love goes through it all with us. That’s why the psalmist’s last words are so hopeful: Rise up and help us; rescue us because of Your unfailing love. His unfailing love is our assurance of His presence and His ultimate rescue. Paul also reminds us “indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:17). 

Josh said, “I want you to remember one thing: Nothing!” Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Ever!  

Hillsong United has some memorable words in their song Highlands—“I will praise You on the mountain, and I will praise You when the mountain’s in my way. … You’re the heaven where my heart is, in the highlands and the heartache all the same.” 

No matter what you’re facing, God’s preference is you. He loves you, and He wants you to grow closer to Him through this trial. Praise Him for His unfailing love on the mountain and in the valley, and then wait in eager expectation for Him to come to rescue you. 

Selah

The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our new summer series. 

Selah can mean…

  • a pause from the noise to reflect;
  • a preparation for an exciting accent; or 
  • a reflective time of consideration

Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Summertime is typically a time for us to pause from our regular routine. Perhaps it’s a vacation, time with friends and family, driving around with the windows down and the music blasting, or just a quiet walk through woods or along a beach. In any case, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually doing Selah in these break-from-the-routine activities. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue our summertime look at each of the Psalms that ask us to Selah. I think you will find that this Sunday summertime pause will be both refreshing and encouraging. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

UPDATE—If you missed any of the parts of this Selah series, here are the links:

Let’s Put That In Perspective!

How long is your life? If you’re a man living in the United States on average your life is 689,412 hours. But how long is that really? 

Here’s some perspective—if you drew a timeline 50 feet long that represented all of Earth’s recorded history, your life would cover about the breadth of your hand. But that’s only recorded history—what about the eternity that existed before history started and the eternity that will continue after history ends? 

Twice in Psalm 39, David described our brief life like this: each man’s life is but a breath. 

So what do we do with our breath-long life? Fortunately for us, David gives us godly perspective in five areas. 

  1. Perspective on the weight of my words and my silence (vv. 1-3) 

David had a good start: I will keep my tongue from sin, but what happens when sinful words slip out? I would suggest we count those as a gift. Really?! Yes, because those “slips” make us aware of what’s really in our heart (see Matthew 15:19) so that we can confess them. 

David also suggests putting a muzzle on our mouths when we’re around certain people. In other words, don’t get into petty fights with people who aren’t going to receive the wisdom we may have to share with them. 

  1. Perspective on the use of my time (vv. 4-5)

Why do we procrastinate doing good things? Some of our simple cliches reflect this, like TGIF. Why wait until Friday to get happy? Why not say TGIT—thank God it’s today! Do something memorable today… do something life-altering today… do something for God today.

  1. Perspective on my possessions (v. 6) 

David reminds us that we work so hard to accumulate stuff “not knowing who will get it.” Jesus had another word for someone who only wanted to get stuff to make his life easier: fool (see Luke 12:16-21). Use stuff to serve others. 

  1. Perspective on forgiveness (vv. 7-11)

Why oh why, would we spend one minute longer than we have to with unconfessed, unforgiven sin? I blogged last week about the freedom that immediately comes when we receive forgiveness from our confessed sin. Let’s do this quickly! 

  1. Perspective on the purpose of my life (vv. 12-13)

If I only have a breath-long life, I want to make every moment count. I love what C.T. Studd wrote: “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. … Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven without having blown the trumpet loud and long for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in Hell when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle.”

Here’s my prayer for all of us—Lord, help me to know how few days I have so I can live every one for Your glory. 

Confession Is Good For You

One of the best definition of Selah is the bracketed comment used next to that word in the Amplified Bible: pause, and calmly think of that. 

Psalm 32 is only eleven verses long, yet Selah—a call to pause and ponder—is used three times. In other words, David is very interested in getting us to weigh something important. This whole psalm is a call to ponder the heavy, unbearable burden of unconfessed sins vs. the freedom and fresh start that comes immediately with confession.

And in case you think that confession is just something that someone does one time when they become a Christian, keep in mind that David is writing this song to be sung by the choir in church. That means confession is good for everyone!

The weighty CURSES of unconfessed sin

  • I feel worn out, wasting away like old, flimsy clothes (v. 3a)
  • I am groaning (v. 3b)—I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears (Psalm 6:6)
  • I feel God’s hand of displeasure heavy upon me (v. 4a AMP) 
  • My strength evaporates like water in the summer heat (v. 4b NLT) 
  • I’m led around like a dumb mule (v. 9)
  • I experience many woes (v. 10a) 

Then comes confession—I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord continually unfolding the past till all is told”—then You instantly forgave me the guilt and iniquity of my sin (v. 5 AMP).  

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

The weighty BLESSINGS after confessed sin

  • My transgressions are forgiven, which means they are lifted up and carried away (v. 1a)
  • My sins are covered; they are literally overwhelmed by God’s forgiveness (v. 1b)
  • My sin is no longer counted against me (v. 2a) because my record of forgiven sins has been cleared (v. 2b NLT; see also Psalm 103:2-3, 12) 
  • I get a fresh start, my slate’s wiped clean … Suddenly the pressure was gone—my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared (vv. 1, 5 MSG) 
  • I’m protected in God’s hiding place and surrounded by God’s songs (vv. 7, 10b)
  • God instructs me and protects me to keep me from sinning again (v. 8)

What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record (v. 2 TLB) 

The mark of a maturing Christian is the one who is constantly closing the gap between sin and confession. 

Don’t let unconfessed sin weigh you down. As soon as you feel the Holy Spirit pointing something out in your heart, confess it and experience God’s immediate release! 

I am going to share one more message in this series on the Selahs in the Psalms this Sunday (but, God willing, we will return to this next summer). Please join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

Going Into The Heavy Presence Of God

“The King of glory” is a phrase that’s only used five times in the Bible, and all five times are packed into just four verses of Psalm 24. In this psalm, David lets us know who can enter into this awesome, heavy presence of the King of Glory. 

Why do I say “heavy”? The definition of the Hebrew word for glory always refers to a heaviness. There is something majestically, awesomely heavy about going before the All-Righteous, All-Powerful, All-Holy, All-Knowing, Absolutely Perfect God. Can any mere mortal enter into this presence? 

In an earlier psalm, David said, “For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; the upright will see His face” (Psalm 11:7). But in this psalm, David asks, “Who can ascend Your holy hill? Who can come into Your presence?” (Psalm 24:3). 

He answers the question with these words: the upright, the one with clean hands and a pure heart (he expands this list even more in Psalm 15), then he calls on us to Selah—pause and weigh this as if on a scale. David is asking, “Do you really want to enter into the weighty presence of the King of Glory?” 

If you do, something needs to happen first. David calls his generation (and our generation) the generation of Jacob. You can read the story of Jacob’s life beginning in Genesis 27. Jacob was a pragmatic man. If he could get away with something, he did. He only looked out for his own interests. He deceived, he connived, he bribed, he calculated his odds—he did what he had to so that he could advance himself. He didn’t realize God’s weight. He saw God only through a scarcity-mindset that gave God limits. He thought there was only a limited supply, and if somebody else was getting a blessing, then that meant there was less for him to get.

Then Jacob encountered God and discovered that he couldn’t do a thing against this weighty King of Glory. When he finally submitted to God, his name was changed to Israel. Jacob—the self-sufficient man—would never be allowed to enter the doors into God’s heavy glory. But Israel—the submitted man—may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy presence. Jacob means deceitful; Israel means the man without any deceit. 

For the rest of his life, Israel walked with a limp. It was a constant reminder that he simply wasn’t the man he was before he wrestled with God.

  • Jacob could only obtain what he could finagle; Israel is the recipient of all God’s blessings. 
  • Jacob could only keep his gains for this life; Israel got God’s blessings for eternity. 
  • Jacob might be vindicated by men; Israel is definitely and completely vindicated by God. 
  • Jacob couldn’t enter the presence of the King of Glory; Israel was welcomed as a prince into God’s presence.

Here’s the challenge I would give you… Use either Psalm 15 or Psalm 24:3-4 and let the Holy Spirit wrestle with you. Is there anything that’s holding you back from going through those doors into the weighty presence of the King of glory? If there is, confess it, repent from it, and even limp away from it (if you have to) so that you don’t miss out on God’s eternal blessings. 

Join me this coming Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. 

Renewed Passion For Prayer

If I were to ask you if we should we pray for our friends in need, I think I’d probably get a universal “yes.” Even non-Christians might say we should “send good thoughts” or “best wishes” to our friends.

But if I were to ask, “How long should we pray for them?” we might get a lot of different answers. 

What about if we’re praying for a friend to get a job (and he gets it), or a friend to be healed (and she is), or a marriage to be restored (and it is)—do we stop praying then? 

Psalm 20 and 21 appear to be companion psalms: with Psalm 20 being David’s prayer of petition, and Psalm 21 being his prayer of praise. But there is also something quite interesting in each of these psalms about the placement of the word Selah. 

Remembering that Selah means some sort of pause, I find it very interesting where David tells us to pause in both of these psalms. In Psalm 20 we see the prayer request “may” either 6 or 7 times in the first five verse, but the Selah pause is right in the middle of them. Why would David start making his requests to God, tell us to pause in the middle, and then continue making his requests? 

I believe this Selah means to “pause and consider” that… 

  1. God invites us to participate with Him in fulfilling His plans. 
  2. God loves us so much that He wants to hear from us. 
  3. God is powerful enough to grant what we ask of Him. 

It’s as if in the middle of all of his petitions, David says, “Hold on a second. Do you realize what we are in the midst of doing? We are actually communing with the All-Knowing, All-Loving, All-Power Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!!”

In Psalm 21 David is offering up a prayer of praise for God’s answers to his prayers (note the similar language in Psalm 20:4 and 21:2), and once again he tells us to Selah pause right in the middle of those prayers of gratitude. 

I asked earlier, “When do we stop praying for a friend or for ourselves?” Is it when we get the job, or experience the healing, or have the breakthrough or restoration? What if the job, the healing, the restoration was just the beginning of what God wanted to do? The Selah in Psalm 21 is an accentuation: an explosion into so much more!! 

David prayed for victory in battle, but God gave him an everlasting victory; David prayed for long life, but God gave him eternal life (21:4); David prayed for blessings on his battle, but God gave him His eternal blessings (21:6).

Jesus said our Heavenly Father has gifts for us beyond our asking (Matthew 7:11), and the Apostle Paul said the same thing in Ephesians—

Now glory be to God, who by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

These two Selahs tell me: 

Don’t quit praying when times are tough. 
Don’t quit praying when you’ve prayed a long time. 
Don’t quit praying when it seems like God has answered. 
Keep on praying. Always. About everything!

 

Please join me this coming Sunday as we continue to look at the Selahs in the Psalms. You can join me in person or via Facebook Live. 

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