All In

All In

1 A Psalm of David. Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

2 Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise for my help!

Psalm 35:1,2

I’ve never been much of a gambler, at last not the gaming kind. However, on the golf course I was always a risk taker. If the shot was difficult, or seemingly impossible I’d go for it, just like Arnold Palmer wrote in his book, “Go for Broke”. Of course I usually missed the shot. I was only 12 years old. On the course I was a gambler, but not so much in card games.

However, there was one time when my neighborhood friends and I were playing high-stakes poker. This was nickel ante poker, not that penny ante stuff most kids play. These were the kind of stakes where a kid could lose his whole life savings. I was about ten years old and I was in the game of my life. Things were not looking very good though. All the chips were down, so to speak.

If I lost one more hand, I’d not only be out of the game, I’d be out of my life savings, which wasn’t much but it was a lot to me. But if I won that last hand things would be different. You see I was all in. That’s right. I bet everything I had left on that last hand. The stakes were high as everyone around the table went all in too. Whoever won that hand was walking away with a bundle. There must have been at least $20 in that pot when the last boy called.

There are two things in life we can count on. One, Jesus said that because the world hated Him it will hate those who believe in Him also; they will be persecuted for His sake (John 15: 20). And two, if you’re a ten-year old with a great hand in poker who goes all in, you will be persecuted whether you win or lose.

In this life, anyone who follows Christ can count on suffering persecution in some form. In Psalm 35, David speaks in the prophetic voice of Jesus as suffers at the hands of His persecutors before the cross. Verse 7 speaks of Jesus’ innocence before His persecutors…

“7 For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.” (Psalm 35:7)

The suffering of Jesus was unjust, but He trusted His Father to vindicate Him…

24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me! (Psalm 35:24)

We can count on the LORD to vindicate us as well. Our suffering is only for a time, and then He promises to restore us. St. Peter speaks of the coming persecution of believers, but reminds them that God hears their cries and will answer…

8 Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.

9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

Suffering can by just or unjust. When we sin, we suffer for it. Are you in the middle of suffering? Look around and ask if your suffering is just or unjust. Jesus suffered unjustly. He did nothing wrong. Is your suffering just? If you know it’s not, the Father is calling you to repent. Our sins cause us to suffer. But if your suffering seems unjust, know your Heavenly Father sees it all. You too can pray the words of Psalm 35 crying out for deliverance. He will one day restore, establish, and strengthen you.

As for me, I don’t think I deserved deliverance from the ridicule I was taking for thinking I could pull out a last hand victory by causing all my friends to go all in and risk losing big. Gambling is a game of chance, and the chances tell us we will lose, most likely sooner than later.

I had a great hand, 3 Jacks and 2 Tens – a Full House. Not much beats a Full House so I bet it all. All the chips were down. I was all in, and so was everyone else. They knew I wasn’t that good at poker. They thought I was bluffing – but I wasn’t. I had the cards…but Frank had better ones.

My loss taught me a great lesson that day…gambling doesn’t pay off in the long run. My youthful prayer for deliverance that day went something like, “Lord, please don’t let me lose all my money in this game, my mother’s going to be really mad at me.” There’s only one sure bet in life that is worth going “all in” – faith in Jesus Christ.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://bssb.be/politics-2/geopolitics/all-in-on-ukraine/

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears… 18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:4,18

In 1971, the Bee Gees asked a million-dollar question. Actually, it was a multi-million-dollar question considering the song brought them their first Grammy Award. The question was “How can you mend a broken heart?” The lyrics are the nostalgia of a man who longs for the ‘good-old’ days when he was young and carefree.

The song goes on to ask several questions that seemingly have no answers. “How can you stop the rain from falling?” “How can you stop the sun from shining?” “What makes the world go around?” While those are very philosophical questions indeed, they’re questions that stem from a faithless heart. To know God is to know the answers to all those questions, and so much more.

Psalm 34 speaks in the exact opposite voice of the melancholia of the song writer. To know God in Jesus Christ is to know that when heartaches come there is one who is so near He binds up your broken heart and heals your wounds (Psalm 147:3). To know God in Jesus Christ is to know that when you’re are afraid, He will deliver you from all your fears.

2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.

3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:2-4)

When David was running for his life from King Saul, he found himself in the middle of the Philistines, Israel’s mighty enemy. When he was brought to the Philistine King, Achish (Abimilech), David pretended to be insane in a desperate attempt to save himself (1 Samuel 21:14). And guess what? God saved him – and He’ll save you too.

Life really beat us up sometimes, doesn’t it? One day you’re on top of the world. You know, those “younger days” the songwriter talked about. Days when you never saw tomorrow, and no one ever said a word about the sorrow of tomorrow. If you’re experiencing those kind of days right now I have good news for you. No matter what trouble you face or whatever heartaches you’re filled with, our God rescues those who trust in Him.

If you put your trust in Jesus Christ, He won’t promise you no sorrow, that wouldn’t be living. But He promises to save you when life seems to crush your spirit. So, before you ask that last question of the song’s chorus… “How can a loser ever win?” Know this. You’re not a loser when you’re in Christ. His promises are ever true…

“22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

 Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_Can_You_Mend_a_Broken_Heart

Do Your Best and Let God Do the Rest

Do Your Best and Let God Do the Rest

3 Sing to him a new song, play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts. 4 For the word of the LORD is upright; and all his work is done in faithfulness.…

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,

on those who hope in his steadfast love,

Psalm 33:3-4,18

It was the night before Christmas Eve 1977. I was all set to sing in the Choir for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. And then it happened. The director, Mr. Kiger, took ill. There was no way he would be able to lead the choir for the biggest, most important service of the year. Mr. Kiger was my dear friend. He knew how much I loved to sing. He had given me the solo at the beginning of the Magnificat (Mary’s Song). That was a great honor. But what he gave me next, scared me to death. Death was a theme I was suddenly all to familiar with.

The death of God’s servant is the theme of Psalm 32, as well as the theme of penitence for sin. However, having worked through the death pangs the Psalmist had felt, he ended in thoughts of praise and rejoicing; themes which flow over into Psalm 33.

The heart of Psalm 33 is the idea that when our hope is in God and his promises, we have a song in our hearts. Music has been a part of Christian worship throughout the ages, from a capella Byzantine chant to the melodious harmonies of Cathedral Choir Anthems. Even in the Old Testament the people of God sang their praises. The Book of Psalms is the historic song book of God’s people.

Psalm 33 is prophetic when it speaks of a “new song”. God’s people had many songs. Since the days of the Exodus they had sung songs of deliverance. Many songs were written to accompany the worship of the Temple. But, as the Psalms reveal the Spirit of Messiah there comes a new song. It’s the song of the redeemed. No longer will God’s people sing in dirges of despair hoping for deliverance from the bondage of sin. All who put there hope in Jesus Christ as Savior, are redeemed.

The new song of the redeemed is “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, He Reigns!” We can know, as the Psalmist says that, “…the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in His steadfast love” (Psalm 33:18). When Christ reigns in our hearts, we can have no fear. His love is a strong foundation that no one and nothing can ever shatter.

The choir at St. Matthew’s wasn’t a big choir, but the acoustics of the church were such that with the choir positioned in the back balcony the sounds wafted over the congregation as if from heavenly realms. Well, they usually wafted over the congregation in elegant splendor…but not Christmas Eve of ’77. That night the Choir had no director – but me. Mr. Kiger asked me to step in for him. I was terrified. I loved to sing but I couldn’t even read music. How was I going to direct? And I only had one night to practice. How was I going to be able to make sure the cut offs and entrances were right in rhythm?

Well, the music wasn’t beautiful that Christmas Eve. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But, it was a joyful noise unto the Lord. We all gathered to worship, and worship we did. The Psalms admonish God’s people to make a joyful noise (Psalm 100:1), so we did. I learned a great deal that night. I learned that rhythm is essential to the making of good music. But, I also learned that if we put our trust in God, He will see us through.

We got through the service that night. It wasn’t great. In fact, it probably still stands as the worst music ever in the history of St. Matthew’s. But somehow, I know that God smiled down on us. He taught us that He could make our hearts glad even when we didn’t see how He could. Have you ever had to lean on God to do something totally outside of your skill set? If not, just wait. You will. And when you do, remember, God’s eye is upon you. Put your hope in Him. Do your best and let God do the rest.

 Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://quotesgram.com/quotes-from-joyful-noise/

 

Father, Forgive Me…

Father, Forgive Me…

5 I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. [Selah]

Psalm 32:5

Have you performed any penance lately? Think for a moment of the most humbling experience of your life. Without a doubt mine was my first confession in the Catholic Church. For those who don’t know my story I converted to Catholicism as a teenager, before finding my call to ministry in the Church of the Nazarene as an adult. Before I could officially join the church I had to confess my sins to God in the presence of the priest who was receiving me into the church. As I knelt down to confess, my knees trembled. My heart began to race… “Father, forgive me for I have…”

For those who are not familiar with Catholic theology, Confession is recognized as a Sacrament reconciling the sinner to God. Not that confession isn’t made to God right from the heart of the penitent. It is. Forgiveness comes from God alone, even for the Catholic. However, the Church eventually developed the practice of private confession both as a means of grace and a help to the penitent. After all, St. James does admonish us to confess to one another.

 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16 ESV).

The practice of private confessions does have scriptural roots. In St. John’s gospel, chapter 20, the resurrected Jesus breathes upon his disciples in the Upper Room and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. He then commissions them with power to offer His forgiveness, or to withhold it.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23 ESV)

Much of sacramental confession was lost over the years of the Protestant Reformation. Many Reformers were skeptical of the power the ‘Church’ held and was seemingly wielding over people. Certainly abuses had crept in over the centuries. Today, praying certain Psalms can be a beautiful form of confession. I even know a Pastor in a Charismatic, Evangelical church in Houston who put in a confessional booth. He said the lines are quite long. It seems many see a need for a person to person unburdening of themselves.

Yesterday Psalm 31 reminded us of the shame we feel in the guilt of our sin. Today, Psalm 32 offers us a penitential spirit. Confession is definitely good for the soul, and good for the heart and mind as well. We must confess our sins to God to obtain God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. However, being penitent is about more than just about obtaining forgiveness, it’s about saying – “I’m sorry”.

Sorrow is the main condition for any repentance. Without it our confession is hollow. Psalm 32 shows us the heart of the penitent, and the anguish of our souls when we carry the burden of our guilt without confessing…

“3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. [Selah]” (Psalm 32:3,4)

After finishing with my list of sins, the priest gave me a penance to carry out, not to obtain forgiveness; God’s grace is free. Rather, the penance was for me to show God my sorrow. I can’t put into words how hard it was for me to open up and speak of my sins to another human being. It was ultimately humiliating. But when I was through, I walked out of that confessional on a cloud. My burden had been lifted and my friend, and pastor had spoken God’s assurance of forgiveness over me.

I wish I could say that to you that I was so humiliated in confessing that I never sinned again – but I can’t. But the experience was healing as St. James said. I still think about the words of counsel I received in that confession, words meant to help me resist temptation.

What about you? Done any penance lately? Have you told the Lord how sorry you are for your sins? Even though most Protestant churches don’t have a ritual of confession, they all have Pastors. Your pastor can be your confessor. In years of pastoral ministry many people have sat in my office to confess and unburden their souls. I’d like to believe they too left on a cloud knowing another human being cared enough to listen and speak God’s assurance of forgiveness to them.

 Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://houseofthetransfiguration.com/thoughts-on-confession/

 

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Shame! Shame! Shame!

In thee, O LORD, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!

2 Incline thy ear to me, rescue me speedily! Be thou a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!

Psalm 31:1,2

As a boy, I often heard my father say, “Son, there’s no shame in being poor.” I’m not sure why he felt the need to tell me that so often. I never really felt poor growing up. I guess by American middle class standards we were at the low end of the spectrum, but I never felt any shame for not having what others had. When we feel shame it’s because we sense we don’t measure up to the standard around us. Though I didn’t feel shame for being ‘poor’ as a boy like my dad warned me not to, there came a time I did feel shame as an adult. Until then, shame was just a funny word that made me think of Gomer Pyle, the laughable US Marine of TV sitcom fame and his inimitable phrase, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

What about you? Do you feel any shame for who you are, or what you’ve done in this life? It’s important for us to note that Jesus, in His humanity, never wanted to feel the pain of shame. In verse 1 we hear Him asking the Father to deliver Him from ever feeling shame. Psalm 31 is best understood when we hear it as Jesus’ final prayer from the cross. In fact, the words of verse 5 are the last words of Jesus on the cross, as St. Luke records them…

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46 ESV)

Sometimes we feel shame because we compare ourselves to others and mistakenly perceive them as right or better than us. That sort of shame is unhealthy as it causes us to see ourselves as less than the beautiful child of God we are. However, shame does have a proper role to play in our lives. When we know we’ve sinned, we should feel shame, and it’s that shame that helps turn us toward the One who knew no sin and shame.

When you read Psalm 31, make it your prayer, even as David prophetically prayed in the Spirit of Christ. It is a prayer for deliverance from your enemies (verse 8), and it’s a prayer of lament for your sufferings (verses 9-13). But as you pray through the Psalm, be sure and hear a prayer of assurance also

3 Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress; for thy name’s sake lead me and guide me,” (Psalm 31:3)

Our only hope in this world is that in our relationship with Jesus Christ, God hears us. To be in Christ is to have a strong tower to run into in times of trouble. The 16th Century Reformer, Martin Luther, in the midst of suffering and persecution found strength in Jesus as his strong tower. He penned these words in his great hymn of faith, ‘A Mighty Fortress’

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.

Jesus is not only our pattern for holy living, He is also our pattern for enduring suffering. If you’re a Christian, you can be certain of suffering at some point in life. St. Paul taught Timothy assurance of such suffering when he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet, the goal of our suffering in Christ should be as Jesus prayed in verse 1, “let me never be put to shame” (Psalm 31:1)

While shame can be a false guilt if it’s from thinking we’re less than what God created us to be, it can also be the result of knowing we’ve sinned, or done wrong; the latter of the two is good. It means we have a conscience and feel the conviction of God’s Spirit for our sin or wrong doing. When we feel that kind of shame we have a refuge we can seek that never fails, a mighty fortress we can run to, a God who loves us and doesn’t condemn us. Our Father is always willing to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all guilt and shame.

As a child and a teenager, I believed in Jesus because of what my parents taught me. But, as an adult there came a day I realized my shame for my sins. I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t see what I’d seen previously. I saw a guilty man who could no longer lean on the confession of what his parents had taught him. I was guilty of sin…many sins. Shame was no longer a funny phrase to me. It was in that shame that I saw the One who hung on a cross for me. I saw how Jesus endured such public shame and humiliation as none other had, and I realized He did it all for me…and for you too, if you’ll receive Him.

 Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: https://memegenerator.net/instance/69480653

Dancing for Joy?

Dancing for Joy?

10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be thou my helper!”

11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

12 that my soul may praise thee and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

Psalm 30:10-12

When was the last time you danced for joy? Maybe a long time ago, if ever? I hope not. When I was young, I was fascinated with the dance moves of actors like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’ Conner. They looked so graceful as they moved about the dance floor in perfect sync with their partners. The Psalms speak of dancing as a kind of release of inner emotions of joy. I can just imagine David being so overwhelmed by the goodness of God he just broke out into dancing.

In High School I was what you might call a ‘Social Introvert’. I wasn’t shy about meeting people or talking to strangers, but I was too shy to ask a girl to dance. The thought of possibly being rejected was more than my fragile self-esteem could handle, so I didn’t ask. In fact, I didn’t even go. I can only remember going to three dances in my growing years. The first was in the fifth-grade. That scared me so much I didn’t try again till my Freshman year of High School. I’m not really sure why I even went then. It must have been peer pressure.

The third time was the Jr./Sr. Prom. Since I had a girl friend at the time I felt sort of obligated. I know what your thinking. “How did this shy kid afraid of rejection get a girl friend?” She asked me out. “Whew!” That was a real relief. But even then, those dances were not something that flowed from my inner being. They weren’t expressions of joy.

However, after High School I began to loosen up a bit. I even joined the community theater. And would you believe it? One of the roles I was cast was as a dance instructor. I thought I was really something then. Talk about an ego booster – but it was short lived.

I don’t know if David grew up dancing at festivals or not. I’m thinking he probably did since dancing was a part of the Jewish culture of celebration. Several times in the Psalms we see dancing as an expression of inner joy, like in Psalm 30:11. Scripture even says God will cause his children to dance. Jeremiah the Prophet spoke of time when God would give such inner joy and peace that God’s children would break out in dance…

“The young women will dance for joy, and the men–old and young–will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.” (Jeremiah 31:13 NLT)

In Psalm 30 we not only hear the voice of David praising God for his deliverance from a life on the run at the hands of King Saul (Psalm 30:1), we also hear the voice of Jesus praising His Father for delivering him from death (Psalm 30:3). Furthermore, throughout the Psalm we can sing our own prayer of thanks for the LORD’s salvation.

I was so thankful for being cast as a leading character in that community theater play all those years ago, I almost broke out in dancing. How ironic that a boy who never really danced was cast as a dance instructor. I thought to myself, “Well, this is my chance to really act. I can make it look like I know what I’m doing without really having to dance”.

But then it happened. Not only would I have to learn to actually dance and teach others, my dance partner in the play was the lady doing the choreography for the production. There was no fooling her. I had to move back and forth and turn and twirl as if I was Fred Astaire and she was Ginger Rogers. Well, at least that was the plan. But in life as well as in the theater, things don’t always go as planned.

One evening during rehearsal there was this one move I just couldn’t get. I tried over and over. I had to actually catch the lady in mid-air, suspend her on the side of my right hip as her left arm went round my shoulder, and my right arm went round her waist to hold her up. Then, at the same moment take her left hand as we turned and swirled around in a circle with her leaping off my hip and onto the floor on the other side of where she began. Those were some real ballet moves. It all sounded so graceful. The only problem was I wasn’t strong enough to hold her on my hip.

We always practiced the motions without my actually having to hold her up in rehearsals. Then came dress rehearsal and the great disaster. Not only could I not hold her on hip long enough to complete the twirl, I dropped her on the floor and as she fell she tore ligaments in her arm that was wrapped around my shoulder. Not only was I embarrassed beyond words, we had to re-write the script and cut a few scenes of dances.

I still love the thought of dancing for joy. Even all these years later and knowing I’m not good at at. I still love the thought of a heart so overjoyed it breaks out in dancing. How are your dance moves? Are they filled with joy? If you’re filled with sadness right now, listen to words of the Psalmist as he praises the LORD in verse 11. God wants to turn your sorrow into dancing, and take it from me, if nobody is watching – go for it! Our God is the one audience who will always give you a standing ovation no matter how bad you dance.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://www.geocities.jp/artanisjp/510Letsf.htm

The Voice in the Thunder

The Voice in the Thunder

2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy array. 3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters.

4 The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Psalm 29:2-4

I don’t remember being afraid of thunderstorms as a boy. In fact, I actually liked them. I can remember thinking what an awesome display they were of God’s power. Now, as an adult I have to confess to a secret desire to be a storm watcher, but I’m quite sure my wife would not be happy if I were out chasing tornados and measuring hail stones while the family sat at home worrying about my safety.

Sadly, we do have someone in our house who is afraid of storms, our little dog Gibby. Not all dogs are afraid of storms but many are. Veterinarians believe dogs can feel storms approaching by changes in the barometric pressure, and that there are painful frequencies in the atmosphere during storms that only they can hear.

In Psalm 29 we read that David was not afraid of storms. In fact, I think he was a storm-watcher. Can’t you see him looking out at the thunderclouds, seeing the glory of the Creator in them. He hears the voice of the LORD in the thunder and sees Him reigning over the flood waters. St. Paul tells us that nature reveals the creator God to those who have eyes to see (Romans 1:20). Seeing the power of God displayed though nature brought a feeling of strength and peace to David. He knew the LORD was in control.

What are the things that shake your faith? The Word of God teaches us nothing should shake our faith in the LORD. As the Prophet Isaiah said…

“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10 ESV

When the storms come, someone in the family always picks up little Gibby and soothes his fears. Know the faithful love of God is always with you no matter how the storms of life may rage. He is there to pick you up and soothe you. Next time the winds blow and the rains fall, look for Him in the thunder clouds of your life.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://www.sibyllogy.com/thunderclouds/