This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

How Blessed - Part 3 (Free From Sin)

"How blessed is/are ... !" God reserves special blessing for Israel. God blesses those who enjoy the closeness of His  presence. A third revealed avenue to blessing is in being free from sin. God blesses those who turn from a lifestyle of sin as well as from specific known sins.

"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!" (Psalm 1:1). This verse gives three characteristics of a blessed man; each one involves deliberate disassociation from ungodly people. First, he does not walk with the wicked - those who are guilty of crimes against man or God, those who are hostile to God. The blessed man's feet do not travel the same paths with such people; he does not desire to walk in the same direction. Second, the blessed man does not stand with sinners - those who have been condemned and judged as offenders. He does not take his position with such people or accompany them. Third, he does not sit with scoffers - those who deliberately disfigure their faces as they speak from hearts of ridicule.

Throughout life, the blessed man will have to come in contact with these people from time to time, but he is not habitually with them. He does not order his life so that he is known for regular association and companionship with them. Instead, he wants to associate with God and His Word (v. 2). This is not a casual acquaintance, like those other relationships could be; rather, it is as constant as possible. Day and night the blessed man seeks the Word because he delights in it. Those other associations might be inevitable in the course of life, but this one is deliberate, based on a conscious choice to avoid associations of defilement and evil, and to embrace associations of righteousness and godliness.

"How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!" (Psalm 32:1). David wrote this psalm from experience, knowing in a powerful way what is was like to have his sin forgiven. Prior to that forgiveness, David was not blessed. Rather, he experienced his body wasting away, constant groaning, God's hand heavy on him, and his strength drained away as from an illness. Once his sin was forgiven, that oppressive situation changed; David defines that change and restoration as blessing.

This verse is very personal. David is talking about specific sin and specific forgiveness, indicating that the blessing is renewed each time such confession and forgiveness takes place. Forgiveness refers to something being lifted and carried off; there is blessing in having such a heavy burden removed. David also says his sin is covered - hidden, clothed, or concealed so that the nastiness is no longer seen. There is blessing in not having a constant visible reminder of that stain. David's emphasis regarding blessing is on having the negative and oppressive removed. He doesn't specifically describe blessing from a positive standpoint, although in the final verse he speaks of gladness, rejoicing, and shouting for joy.

"How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!" (Psalm 32:2). Instead of continuing to refer to a specific personal incident, the next verse in the same psalm describes an overall principle. This more general statement gives two descriptions of a blessed man. First, he is one to whom God does not impute iniquity. There would not be blessing in knowing there is something unpaid and heavy that is hanging over one unresolved. It would be a blessing, however, to have the ledger cleared and balanced, not caught in a position where God has something to hold on one's account. Second, the blessed man is someone in whose spirit there is no deceit. In a broad sense, deceit is overlooking or taking something casually, probably deliberately trying to hide it. In the context of sin, it is someone who carries un-confessed sin, particularly with the attitude that it isn't a big deal or for the purpose of trying to make himself look good. Blessing comes to those who don't try to deceive, but who acknowledge and deal with sin.

"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O LORD, and whom You teach out of Your law" (Psalm 94:12). There are wicked people who face God's judgment without ever falling under His favor; there are others who experience correction because an interested God chooses to intervene in their lives. This psalm contrasts those two groups, and identifies the second group as blessed. God first of all chastens these blessed people. He disciplines, instructs, admonishes, and corrects. This chastening, while not necessarily harsh, is deliberate; the goal is to correct what is wrong so the recipient will change and do what is right. A loving parent does this because he wants his child to turn out well, not facing harsh consequences for wrong choices; he desires long-term good and benefit for his child. When God does this for His children, they are blessed. A loving and benevolent God is trying to keep them on the right path and prevent the heavy repercussions of following the wrong path.

God's second action is to teach these blessed people from His law. This training requires some effort by the students to learn. Again, this is a personal intervention by God to help these people know the right way to walk, a way that will lead to blessing, and not to destruction or burden. God's instruction about the right way is found in the Bible. Those who diligently study and follow the Bible will know the right way to live so their lives can be blessed.

In summary, the blessed man avoids the lifestyle and associations with sin. He confesses known sin and yields to God's correction. He deliberately studies the Bible so he can avoid sin.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

How Blessed - Part 2 (God's Presence)

"How blessed is/are ... !" While God's blessing is always undeserved, there are certain aspects that God reveals as specifically opening the windows of blessing. One of those associations is that blessing is found in God's presence. There is blessing associated with fellowship with and closeness to God.

"How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple" (Psalm 65:4). Referring to God's courts, His house, and His holy temple, this verse seems to be focused on the place of worship. There is a blessing in being in that place of nearness to God. There is a satisfaction with its goodness. The blessing seems to be linked to the closeness of fellowship, as these people are near to God. They are dwelling with Him in His house. What a blessed position! What other position or location could be so beneficial and salutary? While the specific emphasis of this verse is on frequenting the place of worship, a level of blessing would certainly be found in closeness to God in other contexts; nevertheless, that constant blessing of nearness to God does not belittle the special blessing that is found in the place of worship. It is interesting that these blessed people are not acting fully of their own volition or of their own initiative to put themselves in the place of blessing. Rather, God has chosen them and has brought them near. Man is naturally alienated from God, but He has selected people and set them apart. Who could ever make himself worthy of God's blessing when God is the one who chooses the people that He then blesses?

"How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You" (Psalm 84:4). The first four verses of this psalm focus on the house of God. It is lovely (v. 1). It is a place that the soul longs for and yearns for (v. 2); something inside man recognizes that there is a special and desirable quality about that place. God's house is like a home for those who have no home, a shelter for those who are frail and dependent (v. 3). God's house, that very special place, is opened freely to all those who want to dwell there. Because dwelling in God's house, a place of blessing, is also a means to blessing, the people who frequent that place have constant reason to praise God.

"How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance" (Psalm 89:15). This blessing is associated with those who know (are acquainted with) the joyful sound, which is a shout of joy. If this phrase were used in a negative or sobering sense, it would refer to a shout of war, an alarm, or a call to march. This sound or shout is somewhat spontaneous and significant, given in response to a specific situation or observation. The shout in this verse is joyful, based not in alarm but in wonder. Based on the rest of the psalm, it seems this shout of joy comes from those who know God well.

The psalm talks much of the revelation of God and His character. He is so amazing that even the heavens praise Him (v. 5), the sea obeys Him (v. 9), and the mountains shout for joy (v. 12). The psalm talks of God's greatness through the covenant made to David, by the fear given by the council of the holy ones, and by His conquest of Rahab (Egypt) and other enemies. The psalm speaks of God's lovingkindness, His faithfulness, His wonders, His incomparable nature, His unmatched might, His deserved fear, His unparalleled awesomeness, His unique might, His sovereign rule, His unstoppable judgment, His creative work, His strength, His righteousness, His justice, and His truth.

The psalmist's intent is to declare these attributes, many of which are also declared by history and by nature. When people hear these declarations and embrace this knowledge, they are compelled to shout with joy. Those who know God well have great reason for rejoicing. They are blessed, and they walk in the light of God's countenance. Their constant journey through life is filled with the illuminating presence of God. This closeness to God, both in knowing His character and in walking in His presence, is a source of blessing.

"For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence" (Psalm 21:6). This psalm is actually a personal testimony of David as king. He recounts the blessings God has given to him. God gave David strength and salvation. God granted David the desires of his heart and the requests of his lips. God gave him good things. God made him king. God preserved his life. God gave him glory, splendor, and majesty. God's blessing to David had an eternal aspect.

This is a special and unique blessing given especially to David, based on the covenant God had made with him. It is interesting to note, however, the concept that David links to his statement of abundant blessing; he associates the blessing with joyfulness and gladness in the presence of God. While this could be just one more thing in the long list of blessings, it is the one statement David makes when he most fully summarizes God's blessing on him. All of those previously mentioned blessings could be interpreted as evidences and results of the close relationship David enjoyed with God. God blessed David because he was a man after His heart. The very heart of David was in fellowship with the heart of God.

There is blessing in daily nearness to God and in having a heart closely linked to Him. There is a special blessing found in frequenting God's house. How blessed indeed to be near to the presence of God!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

How Blessed - Part 1 (Israel)

"How blessed is/are ...!" This interjection occurs in twenty-two verses in Psalms, referring to happiness or blessedness. Another word commonly indicating blessing means "to kneel, praise, or salute." Most often used of people toward God,  inexplicably God also uses it of His actions toward people.

Among the various reasons for God's blessing, God reserves special blessing for Israel. Perhaps none of my readers fit this category, but even the study of God's blessing of Israel is insightful.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen for His inheritance" (Psalm 33:12). The verse refers primarily to Israel as a national entity. God's unique blessing of Israel has little to do with them and much to do with God. Israel is blessed because the LORD is their God.

Blessing does not come to nations because Allah is their god or Buddha or idols, but only when Jehovah is their God. There is no other nation in history for whom this is more true than for Israel; their foundation, history, development, and future hinge on this relationship. The blessing comes because of the relationship established by God when He formed that nation. Blessing increased when they actually followed God, but God's blessing was somewhat independent of their faithfulness.

The second part of the verse reveals the reason for the independent aspect of God's blessing. Israel didn't choose God; He chose them. Ultimately, no nation or individual deserves God's blessing. The blessing comes because of who God is.

"How blessed are the people who are so situated; how blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!" (144:15). David refers to Israel's potential blessed situation, describing strong young people, abundant produce, plentiful flocks, and peaceful streets. The reason for the blessing is simply because the LORD is their God. They are God's people, chosen by Him, having a relationship established by Him. God's blessing, revealed in David's descriptions, is real and meaningful. When God blesses, He really does. Not claiming such blessings as current reality or foregone expectations, David is actually praying for them to happen. Logically, then, some blessing could come because people pray for it.

"Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their shepherd also, and carry them forever" (28:9). David again prays for God's blessing on Israel, again because they are God's inheritance. While no specific blessings are mentioned, David prays for God to be their shepherd and carry them forever. It would indeed be a blessing to have God's tender and thorough care, meeting every need, helping the weak, and taking the responsibility to care for them always.

"The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace" (29:11). This psalm about God's voice repeatedly refers to David's kingdom. It also declares God to be the eternal king; as such, He does the actions of this verse, giving the blessings of strength and peace. Strength probably refers to social and political strength, indicating dominance that demands notice and respect as a nation. Peace likely refers both to quietness and contentment within the country as well as tranquility in relation to other countries. Both these blessings are stated as future fact; the LORD will do them. Israel has had a measure of these throughout their history, but there is also an aspect to which they are still waiting, especially for the peace.

"For those blessed by Him will inherit the land, but those cursed by Him will be cut off" (37:22). While certainly applicable to any of God's people, the references to inheriting the land create a strong link to Israel, who was the original audience. The verse presents a contrast between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. The difference is between the righteous and the wicked, a contrast highlighted frequently in the psalm. Basically, the righteous receive God's blessing, but the wicked are cursed by Him.

The results are a stark contrast. The blessed ones will inherit the land, seeing the fulfillment of promises and receiving the inheritance intended for them. The cursed will be cut off and destroyed; they will die without seeing the blessing. Even within Israel, this distinction was possible. Overall, the nation was under His blessing. Individually, even wicked people would experience some of the corporate effect of blessing, but would forfeit a measure of personal blessing if they did not follow Jehovah faithfully.

"The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron" (115:12). The house of Israel and Aaron (see also vs. 9-10) is the recipient of this blessing. While the blessing is apparently independent of Israel's action, Israel is called on to trust and fear the LORD. The power behind the blessing is the one true God. The psalm describes false gods - powerless, not able to speak, not able to see, not able to hear, not able to smell, not able to feel, not able to walk, not able to make noise. All who trust in such gods will not receive blessing. Unlike gods who can't perceive their followers, God does see and act. He is mindful of His children, and when He remembers them, He blesses them.

"The LORD bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life" (128:5). This psalm reveals three specific blessings for Israel: consistent prosperity of the homeland, personal longevity of life, and national peace. With the blessing emanating from Zion, where Christ will rule during the millennium, this likely refers to the blessing of the millennial reign. There remains yet future blessing for these people who are so special to God.

These verses, while focusing on Israel, reveal that God's blessing is undeserved, that true blessing comes only from the Almighty God, that it is especially reserved for the righteous, and that it can be the result of answered prayer.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Beneficial Suffering

In recent years, the "health and wealth" gospel has suggested that everything will be wonderful and prosperous for those who follow God. Historically, there has always been a segment of Christianity which has thought Christians should not suffer. Even in the ancient book of Job this idea existed: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it" (Job 4:7-8). Is it ever God's desire for His children to suffer?

Absolutely yes. First Peter 3:17 states, "For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." "Those who suffer according to the will of God" (I Peter 4:19). Sometimes God does will for His children to suffer. The suffering is in His mind and is something that He intends should happen by His resolve and determination. God desires the suffering and to an extent even takes delight in it - not in the suffering itself, but in the divinely designed results.

Just as a note, it is never God's desire that His children should suffer for doing what is wrong. His justice does require punishment for wrong-doing, but God never wants His children to do the wrong acts that bring such justice. That is, God might approve that a Christian would go to jail for killing someone, but He does not want the murder to take place. When someone suffers the just results of his evil acts, there is nothing good in that.

When a Christian suffers for doing what is right, however, that is a different story. There are times when believers are living with the intention and desire to follow God. In the midst of that righteous (not perfect) living, they end up suffering. This is the suffering that can be according to the will of God. Peter reveals why by setting up a contrast between the two kinds of suffering. His summary statement is that suffering for doing what is right is better than suffering for what is wrong.

That word better is both a positive word and a comparative word. In its positive aspect, the word refers to something being useful, serviceable, and advantageous. In its comparative sense, it means that suffering for doing good is useful and advantageous to a degree beyond what could happen in suffering for doing evil. In both cases, the result (suffering) is the same. The difference or advantage is evidenced in the benefits that come from suffering for what is right. There are no benefits in suffering for what is wrong. That kind of suffering ends up simply being sad and disappointing, empty and worthless. It accomplishes nothing good.

This is not true of suffering for doing what is good. This type of suffering has tremendous benefit. From my study of the epistle of First Peter, I suggest this theme: living in suffering in a way that makes an impact for God. Peter makes it clear that there is a way to suffer that has great benefit, and he shares those benefits throughout the book. None of these benefits happen when the suffering is due to wrong-doing, but all of them happen when the suffering is for doing what is right.

Suffering proves and confirms your precious faith. "The proof of your faith" (1:7). "For your testing" (4:12).

God will be praised, glorified, and honored. "May be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:7). "The Gentiles ... glorify God in the day of visitation" (2:12).  "You may rejoice with exultation" (4:13) "Glorify God" (4:16).

Your reputation is upheld. "Because of your good deeds, as they observe them" (2:12). "You may silence the ignorance of foolish men" (2:15). "Those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame" (3:16).

You can follow your conscience in living as God expects. "For the sake of conscience toward God" (2:19). "And keep a good conscience" (3:16).

You please God. "For this finds favor. ... This finds favor with God" (2:19-20).

You imitate and reflect Christ. "Leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (2:21). "You share the sufferings of Christ" (4:13).

You have a part in the salvation of others and opportunity to share your faith. "They may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives" (3:1). "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (3:15).

You receive God's blessing. "That you might inherit a blessing" (3:9). "You are blessed" (3:14). "You are blessed" (4:14). Christ likewise received the Father's blessing (1:11; 5:1).

You will be sanctified and refocused. "He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (4:1-2).

The Spirit of God rests on you. "The Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (4:14).

You learn to trust God. "Shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" (4:19).

You will be strengthened in God. "The God of all grace ... will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (5:10).

There are definitely advantages to suffering when that suffering is for what is right. This epistle teaches that the right kind of living in the midst of suffering makes a difference. Due to the numerous advantages, it is no wonder that God sometimes wills suffering to happen. There is much good that God wants to do in and through His children when they suffer. It is abundantly evident from the references above that God does not waste suffering. Suffering has purpose, and through God's intervention, suffering accomplishes much that is of eternal and lasting value. Suffering is never easy, but it is truly beneficial.