March 7, 2008 § Leave a Comment
This psalm is a typical, almost formulaic, prayer for help. These sorts of prayers are a common theme in many of the psalms, and they all follow a sort of pattern. There is praise involved; it could also be called flattery. God is praised for being wonderful, and powerful, and helpful, and everything one would want Him to be, and then the request for help is put in.
At the risk of sounding rude, I could phrase it something like this:
“God, you’re amazing. You do all these things for me and for others, and everyone fears You. I fear you and obey Your commandments. Every one already adores You or will adore You. You’ve done a tremendous amount of stuff for me already. So, since You can do all these and are so amazing, why don’t you help me? I’m in trouble and it would be a piffling thing for You to help me. You wouldn’t need to move a muscle. You’d just will Your help into existence, and poof, my enemies will be put to shame.”
When you consider the whole thing from a distance, it looks cheap, doesn’t it? You’re resorting to outright flattery with an ulterior motive. It’s pretty distasteful, and it doesn’t befit us as Christians to engage in that sort of behavior.
Yet, it’s so easy to do, isn’t it? It’s so easy to fall into that mindset and let our fallen human natures take over our interaction with God. It’s so easy to think God needs our flattery, that He needs to be deceived and manipulated the way we deceive and manipulate other people in order to move Him to act on our behalf.
He can see right through that. You already knew that, didn’t you?
Don’t think I’m blaming the write of this psalm and pinning the blame on him. Not at all. We are all guilty of this. I’ve done it plenty of times, too. But it’s important to step back and realize that it’s wrong. It cheapens our relationship with God. It saddens Him to see that we’re not truthful with Him.
A simpler, more natural prayer for help would have gone something like this:
“Lord, I come before you to ask for your help. [Tell Him what's going on in a sentence or two.] I know you already know all of this, and you know how lonely and helpless I feel. You’re the only one I can turn to. Even though I don’t deserve it, as I don’t deserve any of the gifts you’ve given me, including that of eternal life through Jesus Christ, please come to my aid. I will wait for Your powerful Hand to protect me and carry me through this. Thank you for this and for all that you do for me. Amen.”
February 10, 2008 § 1 Comment
This morning, I discovered a speech given by Barack Obama a couple of years ago. It’s entitled “Call to Renewal“, and was given here in Washington, DC, back on 6/28/06. In the video, Sen. Obama talks about religion and politics, and how to find common ground in a multi-religion society in order to address issues based on sound moral and ethical principles.
If you’ve doubted that a progressive like Obama can appeal to Christian voters, and that he is a Christian man, then I highly encourage you to watch the video, because you will be amazed.
I support Sen. Obama for president, and I encourage you to see the entire video (40 minutes). Find the time, you will not regret it. I wrote about my thoughts on Obama and this video in more detail on my personal site, should you be interested.
February 9, 2008 § 6 Comments
The Israelites have returned to their lands after a period of captivity, and they are asking for God’s help in this psalm. They feel that they are still not right with Him, and are begging for His forgiveness. What makes this psalm interesting is the supposed dialog between God and the people of Israel.
God replies in verses 8 through 13. Verse 8 says:
“I am listening. What is God’s message? Yahweh’s message is peace for His people, for His faithful, if only they renounce their folly.”
It sort of leaves you wondering what these people’s “folly” is, doesn’t? Remember what Solomon wrote once? “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” he said. I imagine this “folly” of theirs must be the opposite of wisdom. They must give it up and move toward the opposite side of the spectrum, toward wisdom. To do that, they must begin to fear God. Verse 9 confirms this. The pieces are starting to fall into place, aren’t they?
“His saving help is near for those who fear Him, His glory will dwell in our land.”
God is waiting for these people to start fearing Him, and He will right then offer His help, which is described quite beautifully in verses 10 through 13. You might think this “fear” that keeps getting mentioned here is some sort of unnatural fright that God inspires in believers. Not at all. This psalm is a great example of true repentance, because it shows its two important stages, which show whether it (the repentance) is genuine or not.
Stage 1 is asking for forgiveness and for help. That’s done in verses 4 through 7. Forgiveness is implied here, and that’s the way it is. God is ready to forgive us as soon as we ask for it. His love is boundless. But our repentance isn’t complete unless Stage 2 occurs, and that’s where “fear” comes into play. What the Bible means by “fear” is that we should be concerned about God when we are next faced with a choice to sin. We should be afraid of causing Him pain and suffering. Because He suffers every time we sin, and He suffers even more after He’s forgiven us and we commit the same sin, again and again.
That’s what “fear” means. It means having enough respect for God to think about Him when we are faced with choosing to sin and fulfilling our trite, flesh-driven desires. Do we have enough respect for Him? Do we fear Him enough? Do we realize that we’re hurting our all-powerful Creator, who gave us life and who could take it away in an instant? Do we realize we’re hurting the One being that is always ready to help and bless us, no matter what, if only we’d turn to Him?
That’s the question this psalm poses. It’s a powerful question, and one that we all need to ask ourselves.
November 30, 2007 § 2 Comments
I was struck by the clear message of tolerance espoused in Romans 14 when I read it a few days ago. I can’t quote the entire chapter here, although all of it is relevant, but I do encourage you to read it from your Bibles. Again, I would recommend the New Jerusalem Bible, for its cogent translation.
The basis for the argument of tolerance here is simple: it’s all about free will. Should anyone say Christians are forced by God or their church to do anything, please point them to this chapter. Should your church force you to do anything, point it to this chapter.
Truly, this chapter sets the record straight when it comes to one’s relationship to God. There need be no intercessor. We can have a direct relationship to God, and what we do because of faith in Him, we do for Him. We are only responsible to Him for our beliefs. It is so important to realize this, because it takes the onus off the church or church members to “set someone straight” when it comes to their religious beliefs. Yes, people ought to be told what’s right, and it’s our duty as Christians to inform them, but everyone should and must make their own decisions when it comes to their own beliefs.
No one should ascribe blindly to a set of beliefs, just because… Again, it comes back to free will. If God gave us such an important privilege, should we waste it by saying we believe such and such a thing because our family or our church believes it? No, far from it! We should diligently search the scriptures to arrive at our own conclusion on the matter. Why? Because we are each personally responsible to God for what we do and what we believe. It is up to us to study for that divine “exam” — should we fail it, we all know where we’ll go.
Does this scare you a bit? Well, it should. Free will is a huge responsibility, with tremendous repercussions. When God chose to create us in His image and bestow upon us free will, He took a fantastic risk. He knew what would happen. He did it anyway, risking the destiny of one third of His angels and of the entire human race, because He wanted us to be able to choose for ourselves whom we should serve. He took that risk knowing full well that His Son, Jesus Christ, would have to pay with His life for our sins. The price is more than we can ever imagine, but He did it so we could have free will.
Knowing all of this, can you treat your own free will lightly? Can you treat the Bible and its laws and principles lightly? I think not. It would be a grievous sin if you should do that.
But do you know where you should tread lightly? In your relationships with others, particularly those who share some of your Christian beliefs. Romans chapter 14 says just that. Why? Because of free will. We need to worry about our actions, our deeds, our beliefs and our faith, and let others do the same. This chapter is a cautionary note to those of us who would act like busy old ladies, gabbing away all day about what we should or shouldn’t do instead of tending to our own spiritual needs.
The following points are made in this chapter:
- Do not argue about religion with new believers (verse 1)
- Do not argue about clean or unclean foods (verses 2, 3, 6, 14-17, 20, 21, 23)
- Do not argue about which day of the week to worship God (verses 5, 6)
- Do not judge one another (verses 3, 4, 10-13, 17)
- God alone decides who is right and who is wrong in their beliefs (verses 4, 9, 10, 11, 12)
- Let us each be fully convinced of what we believe (verses 5, 22)
- What you do, do to honor the Lord (verse 6)
- We all belong to God (verses 7-9)
- We will each be judged by God (verses 4, 10-12)
- Do not discourage or place obstacles in the path of your fellow believers (verses 13, 15, 20, 21)
- You commit sin when you do something that conflicts with your own faith and beliefs (verses 14, 15, 23)
- Do not put yourself above your brothers in faith (verse 10)
- Serve God by showing His saving justice, peace and joy to others, not by showing them how to eat and drink (verses 17, 18)
- Seek peace between Christians and ways in which you can support one another (verse 19)
- Worry about your own behavior, and let not your words condemn you (verse 22)
Given this list, tell me, do you think it gives you free rein to eat, drink, be merry and worship God on whatever day of the week you please? I think only a very superficial person, or one with ulterior motives, would think that after reading through Romans 14. After all, verse 21 says the following: “It is best to abstain from eating any meat, or drinking any wine, or from any other activity which might cause a brother to fall away, or to be scandalized, or to weaken.” Again, it is your own responsibility to find out what these foods, drinks and activities are for you, and to stay away from them of your own accord.
What Romans 14 seeks to do is to free us from bickering with each other, and to spur us to search the Bible for ourselves and find out where we stand with God. Seriously. Do it now, for tomorrow you may die. No joke. None of us knows how much longer we’ll live.
What Romans 14 also does NOT do is to give churches free rein to enforce certain days of the week, as the Catholic church has tried to do for entire centuries, and as certain Protestant churches or foolish Christians have also tried to do since the 1800s. During the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, the church persecuted those whom it considered had strayed from the church’s beliefs. And in the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a strong movement toward establishing Sunday laws here in America and in other countries, when there is no Biblical support for Sunday as God’s Holy Day whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the weight of the evidence is clearly in favor of Saturday, also known as the Sabbath. Besides, Romans 14 clearly condemns any sort of movement that would force people to worship on a certain day. We are each responsible for our own beliefs, and will answer to God for them. Again, it is our responsibility to search the scriptures and to find out which day of the week to consider Holy.
I know there is a LOT of advice in this chapter, and I don’t want you to read this post and be confused. Therefore, let me repeat that the general message of the chapter can be summed up by the following verses found in it:
“For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself; while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.”
“Let us each stop passing judgment, therefore, on one another and decide instead that none of us will place obstacles in any brother’s way, or anything that can bring him down.”
“Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice… Every action which does not spring from faith is sin.”
I tell you, this chapter is shockingly candid about what we should do as Christians. It left me speechless when I read it, and although I’d read it and even transcribed it by hand before, the message didn’t sink in. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty as charged. I’ve been judging others left and right, and I shouldn’t have done it. I’ve been an obstacle to others in the past. I should have been more tolerant. I will do my best to be more tolerant in the future.
We really need to become more accepting of one another as Christians. As long as we believe in the Bible and pray to the same God, we should try to live together peacefully, in harmony, and help one another grow in our faith. In the end, we are each responsible only for our own actions to God. And if we stick close to Him, I’m sure He will reveal His truth to us and guide us lovingly on the path to salvation and heaven. Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said Christianity has wonderful principles, but we as Christians don’t live up to them. What a wonderful world this would be if we did!
November 14, 2007 § 4 Comments
There is a passage in Romans chapter 7 that had a huge impact on me during a recent reading. I have to share it, because I think it represents perfectly every Christian’s struggle to stay close to God and obey His Law. The words resonated deeply with me, even though I read that passage plenty of times before. Perhaps I was only now ready to truly understand its message.
I’m going to quote from the New Jerusalem Bible, whose translation of this passage is superb. Here is what the apostle Paul writes in verses 14 through 25 of that chapter:
“We are well aware that the Law is spiritual: but I am a creature of flesh and blood sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.
While I am acting as I do not want to, I still acknowledge the Law as good, so it is not myself acting, but the sin which lives in me.
And really, I know of nothing good living in me — in my natural self, that is — for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want — that is what I do. But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me.
So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law, but I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the Law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? God — thanks be to Him — through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So it is that I myself with my mind obey the Law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin.”
Wow! If I had tried to put my own struggle into words, it wouldn’t have been half as good or half as honest as this. Aren’t Paul’s words so true? It seems the more we want to do good, the worse we fare — our lives are then constantly assaulted by either internal weaknesses or external factors that exploit our weaknesses, and we end up doing worse, never coming close to the heavenly standard. Then again, we have some days when we feel really close to God, and things go just great.
One thing I’ve learned, is to not trust my feelings. They come and go, they’re up and down, and if you rely on them, you can end up happy one day and depressed the next, depending on how things go. The important thing is to keep your faith, and make a fresh effort every day to stay close to God. Whether you succeed or not is not for you to judge, but for God. I think that if we keep trying to do what’s right in our walk with God, and have faith that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice sufficed to forgive our sins, God will supply our poor record with the grace we will need to be counted as saved.
We must keep trying, persist, and struggle against that human nature of ours, and we will succeed with God at our side!
September 28, 2007 § Leave a Comment
I’m pretty adamant about being allowed to worship God the way I see fit, and I think most people are that way. Religion is one of those areas of our lives where we prefer to have as little interference as possible. We all want to find our own path to God, and that’s the way it should be. We all come from different cultures and backgrounds, and we all perceive God in different ways. We relate to His presence individually, although we tend to worship collectively.
Having said that, I think of God as a rational being. As the creator and master of the Universe, author of the Ten Commandments, and of the laws of nature that govern our very being, He is logical, rational, compassionate and loving. In His every address to us through the Bible, we see Him as articulate, all-knowing, powerful, and as someone we can trust with our lives.
Because that’s what I think of God, I have a very hard time considering certain worship practices acceptable. The modern way of speaking in tongues, is, in my opinion, a fallacy. I don’t think God would endorse wild blabbering that makes no sense to anyone, not even to the person engaging in it. The Bible says the apostles spoke in tongues, but they spoke articulately, and in languages that the various people who gathered to listen could understand. No one can understand the gibberish that comes out of certain congregations nowadays. It is not the proper way to worship God.
Another foolish practice is that of tempting God by handling snakes or other dangerous animals in church. I just cannot see how that could be considered an act of faith. We are not Paul, and even he did not seek such practices. When he got bit by a snake, it was accidental, and God protected him. He did not go out to find the animal and brandish him around like some kind of totem, blabbering on about faith like some believers do nowadays.
Let me briefly cover some others. Faith healing (the way it’s done in certain pentecostal churches) is nothing but fakery. It has nothing to do with God, and has more to do with the devil. Why? Because I can spot charlatans on sight. Chanting certain verses or dancing until some sort of religious epiphany is experienced is also not Biblical nor Christian. This sort of thing has its roots in Far East, New Age religions.
Some churches carry this even further by engaging in sessions of hysterical laughter that go on until people either pee or defecate on themselves. They argue that it’s Biblical, but I think it’s nothing but sheer idiocy. I’m sorry if this offends some people, but you’d have to be truly retarded to think you’ve just found God after you relieve yourself in your pants, rolling on the floor in hysterical, uncontrollable laughter.
The problem with these wrong ways is that they rely too much (or entirely) on feelings in one’s quest for God. But that’s diametrically opposed to the way God wants us to find Him. Read the Bible. It’s not about feelings. It’s about hard laws, decisions, thought, work and time. God gave us the privilege of free choice so we could think about our choices, then decide on the path to follow. He did not give it to us so we could fritter it away on idiotic worship practices that have nothing to do with Him. If you don’t agree with me (yet), think about it. Put that brain of yours to good use, and do some research in the Bible.
Some of these wrong ways were documented in a documentary made in 1967, called “The Holy Ghost People“. It’s available in its entirety on the Internet Archive, and can be downloaded and viewed freely. You can also view an edited version containing the highlights, courtesy of Ransom of the mental_floss magazine. I invite you to view either version, and draw your own conclusions. You know where I stand by now…
September 16, 2007 § Leave a Comment
This is a prayer said at the Feast of Shelters. The author recalls God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, His request that the people worship no strange gods, and his promise of abundant blessings if only they remain His children. Of course, as one almost expects when people are involved, they do not heed God’s request, and thus do not partake in His blessing, only to incur more subjugation, after which they cry out to God for help and wonder why their prayers fall on deaf ears.
I’m not sure whether the author of the psalm refers to the present or the past when he talks about the nation of Israel. I’m leaning toward the present — well, present for the author, not for us. Either way, this psalm, in particular verses 6-16, can be seen as a response from God to prayers like those in psalms 78, 79 and 80. Is it any wonder that the peoples’ prayers go unanswered when their behavior — and that of the nation as a whole — does not change? How can one expect favor from God when they show that they hate him through their behavior, as verse 15 says: “Those who hate Yahweh would woo His favour.”
It’s easy for us, in the here and now, to sit in judgment of those people, but we would do well to remember that the phrase “strange gods” doesn’t refer just to some silly carved figurines that people might have in their homes. It also refers to other things that take our focus away from God, such as money, jobs, possessions, lusts, etc. We’ve got plenty of those these days, including the silly carved figurines… It’s incredibly hard to pull away from those “strange gods” and focus on the One True God. But without pulling away, we get nowhere. By continually engaging in behaviors or actions that condemn us in the eyes of God, we continue to seal our doom, as verse 15 also says.
If only we would pull away, God says: “I would feed you on pure wheat, would give you your fill of honey from the rock.” Abundance beyond our dreams would await us in the form of blessings from God. A well-known New Testament verse says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these shall be added onto you,” referring to the worldly things we so desperately desire at the expense of our eternal life. If only we would!
August 10, 2007 § 1 Comment
This psalm reminds me of Psalm 74. We hear the same cries for justice, for revenge, for restoration, and again, I can’t help thinking they did something to deserve it.
Oh, I have nothing against prayers for forgiveness — but this psalm isn’t one of them. In all 13 verses and hundreds of words, there are only four words that resemble such a prayer. You’ll find them in verse 9: “wipe away our sins”. I don’t consider that a prayer. When you look at the tone, it’s more of a request. As a matter of fact, I find the tone of this entire psalm brash and unrepentant.
Instead of falling on his knees and begging God for grace and redemption, the author of the psalm blames Him for allowing pagans to invade Israel and Jerusalem. He complains that people have been killed, and that the nation of Israel has become the laughing stock of its neighbors. There is no remorse in this psalm — there is only reproach toward God. The author requests that Israel receive its deliverance for the sake of God’s name; he invokes this as a right, since they considered themselves God’s people. Truly, they had been chosen, but it was never a birthright. It needed to be deserved, and the privilege of God’s favor remained with them only when merited. Otherwise, this psalm wouldn’t have been written.
How quickly people forget that God owes us nothing! We owe Him everything, but most of us of us do nothing for Him.
Even more repulsive is the request for vengeance on not only the nations that invaded them, but on their neighbors, for daring to laugh at their misery. Add to that the hollow-sounding declarations of verses 8 and 13, where the author asks God not to count against them “the guilt of former generations”, then promises to thank Him “for ever”, and to recite His praises “from age to age”, and you’ve got one pitiful psalm.
What about the guilt of that generation, the one that sparked God’s anger in the first place? There’s no mention of that in the psalm! I need do nothing to refute the claim made in verse 13. History itself proves it false.
I wonder, how hard is it for people to learn (Jew and Christian alike) not to make false promises to God? Do they think they’re fooling Him? Or are they fooling themselves?
I’m pretty sure this prayer fell on deaf ears, but then that should come as no surprise to the attentive reader.
March 24, 2007 § Leave a Comment
I have a deep mistrust of TV evangelists. So many of them are all flash and no substance. I can see through their masks to the shallowness of their faith and morals. It comes as no surprise to me to learn that my intuition is correct on this. ABC News has a great article on how money donated to TV evangelists gets used. I recommend you read it. What’s more, I think you ought to bookmark the website of MinistryWatch (a not-for-profit organization which examines how religious charities use the money given to them) and do a bit of research on the people who receive your hard-earned money.
Don’t think that only TV evangelists misuse funds. Some churches are every bit as guilty of that as well — in particular the mega churches. Wherever there’s plenty of money floating around, people will misuse it, and it matters not that they profess to be Christians or other religious folk. That’s why it behooves you to know exactly how your money gets used. Hold the people where you donate money financially accountable. Ask to see financial statements. Insist on financial transparency, otherwise you will be guilty of tempting them to sin by encouraging their profligate spending through your silence.
January 27, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The author of this psalm remembers the times of God’s tremendous miracles — the times (then) of old, when God had delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, and took them through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. He wonders if God will ever act like that on behalf of Israel.
It’s obvious the nation of Israel was going through hard times when this psalm was written, and this psalm is a plea for action from God. The author is afraid that the Lord abandoned them forever, and His anger with them will not cease. It’s interesting that the psalm is open-ended. There is no final plea, simply a remembrance of the times of old: “You guided your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” It befits the psalm. It gives the impression that the author expects God to make the next step, whatever that will be.
The questions asked in this psalm apply to all of us. After we do something bad, after we sin, we feel terrible, too. We begin to wonder, was this it? Has God now abandoned us? Will He never again “show favour” to us? But the answers depend purely on us, you see. That’s because God is constant. He always loves us. His anger with us ceases. He wants to show us favor. But we must do our part. Even if we have fallen, we must continue to come to Him. We must ask confess our sins in prayer and ask forgiveness.
Then the healing process begins. As we continue to walk with Him, we feel His presence in our lives once more. We begin to discern the blessings He pours out on us. We feel His love encircling us, protecting us from danger, taking us through our days and strengthening us. We begin to know He exists again, and His wonderful Holy Spirit makes its dwelling place in our souls once more. But we must stay close to Him. The moment we stray, we fall again, and depending on the gravity of our sin, we must start from scratch again. It’s a painful process for us, and it’s even more painful for God, because He loves us and every one of our sins hurts Him, no matter how little they are. The most important thing though, is to continue in our walk with Him. If we seek Him earnestly, we will find Him. He will be there for us, always.