The Patient Beggar

The Patient Beggar

“Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.  Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security… I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.”

Psalm 37:1-3, 25

Unfortunately, I’ve never been accused of being a patient man. When I want something, I want it now. I’m not proud of that, but at least I recognize it. And, since I’ve learned to recognize that about myself, I have learned to ask God for patience. The things I’m most impatient about seem to be the things I ask God for the most. I want to be patient, I really do, but I often resemble more of a beggar in the way I treat God in my prayers. I guess you could call me a ‘patient beggar’. After all, patience is a virtue, or so the old saying goes. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then I think there may be a lot of people in my ‘Patient Beggars Club’ – maybe you?

If you’re in my club, then Psalm 37 is for you today. It’s a beautifully worded treatise on patience. King David is writing from the vantage point of his older years. He understands that sooner or later, sin will catch up with the wicked. He learned from experience, it certainly caught up with him. The psalm is written to give hope to the downtrodden. David tells the righteous who trust in God to be patient while they see the wicked prosper all around them.

Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:7)

It’s hard to be patient when you see people prospering whom you know don’t deserve it, isn’t it? It’s hard because all we see is the here and now. Our sense of fairness and justice is bound up by the time of this world. What need to remember is God doesn’t measure time. Time exists for this world. In God’s economy there is no time, only eternity. A thousand years in our world are like one day to God (Psalm 90:4). Of course, that’s a metaphor, but it’s given to help us understand that we can’t bind God with our time table.

When God says the wicked will get what’s coming to them, He means it. So, when we see the wicked inherit what seems like wealth and fame, let’s remember that in the scope of eternity, it will all vanish like the wind. The important thing for the child of God to remember is that he or she is not forgotten. God knows your every need and will bless you accordingly. As David said in verse 25, have you ever seen the righteous go begging for bread? I haven’t.

It may seem like the righteous are begging, but are we begging for what we truly need? The bread represents what we truly need. Jesus taught us to pray for our true needs: “Give us this day our daily bread”. Instead, we often beg for what we want, because we haven’t really settled the difference between our wants and our needs. So often we think we’re being patient because we’ve waited on God to “bless” us with something we’ve always thought we needed. But, what we really are is a ‘patient beggar’. We keep asking God for the same thing, but in reality the reason we don’t get it is because God knows we don’t need it, or we’re not ready for it.

Rather than be ‘patient beggars’, we need to become ‘patient trusters’ (I know that’s not a real word, but it’s fun to say). If we can’t trust God to know the difference between our wants and our needs, then who can we trust? We can trust God for everything. St. Paul reminds us that if God is for us, nothing can come against us (Romans 8:31). The question isn’t, “Is God for us?”. The question is, “Are we for God?”. If we are, we will show it by trusting Him for everything.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

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What Ever Became of Sin?

What Ever Became of Sin?

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. 

2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated… 9 For with thee is the fountain of life, in thy light do we see light.

 Psalm 36:1, 2, 9

Words are a fascinating thing. They have an intrinsic meaning yet over time it seems the meaning can change. Societies change the meaning of words all the time as people begin to use them in ways they were not intended. The changes aren’t necessarily made on purpose and they don’t happen over night. Yet, they do change. I think one of the most dangerous yet consistent contributing factors to such change in words is a lack of education. When we fail to speak about things as they should be we are limiting the knowledge of those things for the next generation. I fear that is the answer to Dr. Karl Menninger’s question from the title to his classic book, What Ever Became of Sin?

Transgression is a fancy word for ‘sin’. The Psalmist speaks from his own experience. He knows he has sinned (transgressed) against God. You need only to read Psalm 51 to hear David’s broken and contrite heart as he confesses his sin to God. But how did David know his sin? He was raised by God-fearing parents who no doubt taught him the meaning of the word. He knew that his choices to satisfy his own desires rather than obey God’s law were sin. Sin is always a matter of our choices. While theologically there are sins of ignorance we commit as flawed humans, those are not the kind of sins David speaks about in the opening verses of Psalm 36. The sin that separates us from God and scars our conscience, the kind that speaks wickedly deep into our hearts is the sin we willfully choose.

Today, I believe we are in danger of completely losing the meaning of sin. Things understood as sin for millennia are now being tolerated in a measure that is even raising them to the status of normal behavior. Dr. Menninger knew and taught that there is no mental health without moral health. The present culture of death we see around us is crying out for someone to speak moral truth into their lives – but where are the preachers? Where is the message that sin kills and destroys from the inside out?

David knew in his heart that God could see his sin yet he couldn’t get to healing by himself. Without truth preached to him, he wasted away from within…

“When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

It took the Prophet Nathan confronting the King, after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, to bring David to repentance. When confronted with the truth of God’s word, David knew he must confess if he ever wished to be whole again, to have the joy of the Lord restored to his soul. I’m so glad Nathan wasn’t afraid to preach on sin.

What troubles you today? What aches deep within your heart? Perhaps it has been buried so deep you don’t even know it’s there anymore. Yet, you can’t explain the emptiness you feel inside. You can’t seem to understand why life is not fulfilling. I hope that doesn’t describe you, but if it does, allow me to be Nathan to you today. May the words of my mouth be for your edification, that you may not languish in sin, but know the joy repentance…

“Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)

“For with thee is the fountain of life, in thy light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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