Friday, June 15, 2007

Creator-Provider (Psalm 121)

Psalm 121 is a must read for anyone doubting God’s provisions and faithfulness. I stumbled across this Psalm the other day while searching for a prayer. I was having a bad day and needed encouragement. I’ve found it helpful in times of distress to pray the Psalms. They say what I’m trying but so much more beautifully and poetically. While reading this Psalm I discovered a connection between acknowledging God as maker of heaven and earth and God as provider.

This Psalm (written post-exile) would have been recited/sang by weary travelers making their way to the holy city of Jerusalem to worship. Verse 1 reads,

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;

Common threats to any person traveling through mountainous regions to Jerusalem would be bands of thieves and robbers (along with adverse conditions such as extreme heat, and wild animals). The mountains/hills mentioned in verse 1 would be a cesspool for such trouble. They provided easy cover for thieves wanting to pull a quick ambush. Robbers and thieves could easily hide in the hills and sabotage unsuspecting travelers. Help was needed for anyone traversing through the mountains. Help was sought and asked for,

Where does my help come from?

The Psalmist doesn’t beat around the bush in answering his own question. He boldly declares,

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

The Psalmist acknowledges God as Creator. Knowing God’s identity as Creator of the universe leads the Psalmist to pronounce trust in God’s character. God’s character is revealed through the use of the Hebrew word samar (keep). Samar (pronounced shaw-mar) in Hebrew means to watch, to guard, to hedge around, to protect, to preserve, used to describe God’s watch and care over Israel. This verb is used six times in reference to God’s actions in this Psalm. Here is how samar is used in Psalm 121:

§ V3 – God keeps us and doesn’t slumber

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

§ V4 – God keeps Israel and doesn’t slumber or sleep

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

§ V5 – The Lord is our keeper, our shade

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

§ V7 – The Lord keeps (protects) our soul from evil

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.

§ V8 – The Lord keeps (guards) us

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

This verb, describing God’s actions towards the Psalmist who has just confessed Him as Creator, gives us a taste of God’s character. Our actions reveal our character. God protects because God is a protector. God provides for us because God is a provider. This is more than just a revelation of God’s actions, but a revelation of who God is. The Psalmist points to God’s provisions for Israel (the nation) and individuals. Verse eight’s use of “your” is singular and points to the fact that God cares for individuals. If we believe God to be creator of our universe how can we not trust in His provisions? I challenge you to commit this Psalm to memory. It’s short and easy to memorize.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thoughts on discipleship revisited

Disciple (in the secular sense) = Pupil, student, learner

Disciple (according to Luke/Acts) = One who has put their faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

Studying Luke and Acts has challenged the way I see discipleship. Luke is clear (there are some exceptions) in that when he uses the word disciple/disciples he is talking about believers, Christians, saints (used by Paul), brothers/sisters (used by Paul and other New Testament writers) who have put their faith in Christ as Lord (Acts 3:16-19). Becoming a disciple is not taking Christianity to a new level. It’s not like in Karate where you move from a white belt to a yellow belt. Discipleship is Christianity. Discipleship is a process all Christians undertake when they believe in Jesus.

What does a disciple of Christ look like? If you look through pages of the Bible you get a good picture of what a disciple looks like. They are normal people who have put their faith in Jesus. Some of Jesus’ disciples were roughneck fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, demon possessed, adulterers, lepers, sick, lame, blind, and many others. There seems to be nothing special about these people. God doesn’t show favoritism. They each had their own problems: some were doubters, some denied knowing Jesus, and others deserted Jesus. But, they continued to follow Him. They had plenty of reasons to give up, but they didn’t.

As a result of their perseverance, they received the promised Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. What difference did it make in their lives? Well, Peter stood up to opposition and proclaimed boldly the Good News about Jesus Christ. Tradition says Peter was crucified and killed because of his beliefs. Do you want to be like that?

Where are we today with discipleship? Are Wesleyan/Armenian Christians (who reject the idea of eternal security) becoming lax in the process of discipleship? I won’t make it if we do because I need the help of others and the church to fully mature in this discipleship process. I can’t walk alone. No one can walk alone. We weren’t made to walk alone. We need our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to uphold (sometimes carry) us. We need our fellow Christians to be in our face about our walk with God. We need them to be asking us the tough questions:

- What known sins have you committed this week?
- What temptations have you faced?
- Were you delivered?
- What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
*Thank you John Wesley for these questions

We need help. Why? It goes back to the Fall in Genesis 3. Since then, we humans have all been born into sin. Sin separates us from God and each other. We’re born with sinful natures that make it easy for us to choose evil and do wrong to God and others. It comes natural to want to run away from God. That’s not what God wants from us. He wants a relationship with us. He wants discipleship. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19,

“Go and make disciples of all nations.”

The main verb here is “make disciples”. Luke paints a pretty clear picture of what a disciple is, one who has counted the cost in regards to following Jesus (Luke 14), denied themselves, taken up their cross, and following Jesus on a day to day basis (Luke 9:23). Such obedience causes one not only to learn from Christ, but also to become so attached to Him (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) he/she actually becomes like Him to others. That’s powerful! That my friend is what it means to be a disciple, Christian, believer, saint, brother/sister of Christ.