Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Praising God isn't always easy … but it's always the right thing to do!"

Day #81:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - March 19th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 33 - 35 …

How was your day today?  Or if you are reading this in the morning, how do you think your day is going to be?  Do you see any problem with those questions?  They are both focused on YOU!  We easily become preoccupied with what is going on in our lives, whether good or bad, and determine whether it was a good day based on criteria that we ourselves have established.  Even our own criteria may change from day to day.  So what makes a day "good"?  What makes a day "bad"?  I have asked people through the years, "On a scale of '1-10' … '1' being a really bad day and '10' being a really great day … where would you rate your life on an average?"

Many people are surprised when I tell them that from a merely human perspective, as I live on this earth, I would say I live my life at about a "7" … They expect a pastor to live life closer to a "10."  But I remind them that God understands the reality of living life in this world and He doesn't sugar-coat life.  My life, and yours, is affected by what is going on around us - or at least it should be.  While some people live in a "bubble" of their own making, eventually the bubble bursts and reality strikes.  Life holds some difficult times … some hard things.  Jesus told His disciples it would be so.  He told them not to be afraid, not to get discouraged, not to lose heart, etc.  Why?  Because as we live life in this world every one of us will be tempted to do exactly that!

That's why the Psalms are such an important reminder that praising God is not dependent on the circumstances around us, but rather, on the very character and promises of God toward those who trust in Him.  Psalm 33 begins with a statement of truth:  "Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him" (33:1).  And the writer goes on to tell us why:  "For the Word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does" (33:4).  His "proof" of that is in creation itself.  God spoke creation into being and "He watches all who live on earth - He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do" (33:14-15).

While that thought scares those who do not know the grace and compassion and mercy of God, those who hope in Him rest in His unfailing love.  For us, John 3:16 is more than words held up on a piece of cardboard at a sporting event!!  "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!"  We KNOW who God is, and we KNOW He is with us.  That's why David could praise God even in the midst of his struggles in Psalm 34.  "I will extol the LORD at ALL times; His praise will always be on my lips.  My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice!" (34:1-2).

David knew that God heard His prayers and he declares that "the LORD is close to the brokenhearted" (34:18).  "A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all" (34:19).  Those who declare that this isn't so are living inside their bubble!  When some talk about God promising only good things to His children, I ask a simple question:  "If that is the Gospel, does it work everywhere?"  The Gospel should be the same for all who believe, no matter what their circumstances, no matter what their lot in life may be.  If the Gospel gives hope in the United States of America, it must also give hope to those who believe and who live in the poorest countries in the world.  It must give hope to those who are facing persecution, and even death, for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.

And it is important to state that the "gospel," the "good news," is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament … and as it is today.  The good news is that God offers His love and forgiveness to all who come to Him.  But the reality is, NO ONE comes UNLESS God moves them to do so!!  Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him … and I will raise Him up at the last day" (John 6:44).  By the work of His Spirit within those whom God chooses, God transforms the heart and mind and opens blind eyes to see His hand at work.  THAT's how those who know God can and do give Him praise … no matter what!!

Praise is not reserved for good times, but for a good God!  God is worthy of praise, not only when He gives us times of health, prosperity and peace, but also when He allows trials and suffering and even death to enter into our sphere of life.  David understood that perhaps better than anyone who lived before the coming of Christ.  In Psalm 35 he prayed that God would deal with his enemies.  They wanted to disgrace David and put him to shame, but God was his refuge.  He trusted in Him.

When they had problems, David tried to do good to them (35:13-14) … even though when David had troubles they attacked him.  Still, David says, "I will give You thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise YOU!" (35:18).  David trusted that in the end, God would keep His promises and make things right.  So he prayed that when God delivered him, that those who saw it would say, "The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant" (35:27).  As for David, he declares, "My tongue will speak of Your righteousness and of Your praises all day long" (35:28).

Even before God delivered him, David praised the LORD, his God!  We who believe in Jesus Christ are called to do the same.  "Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt His name together!" (34:3).  Giving testimonies of God's goodness should be a regular part of our lives.  People notice you and me and watch to see how we will respond to various circumstances in our lives … especially how we will handle the tough times.  It is in those moments when I need to confess my weakness and the Lord's strength.  I need to point people to my God and to my Savior Jesus Christ.

Peter writes, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15).  This is why I tell people that I live around a "7" on a scale of 1 - 10.  I may dip below that when I take my eyes off of Jesus, but then He lifts me up.  And I may rise above that when my eyes behold the goodness of the Lord more clearly some days.  But the truth is, He is ALWAYS with me and He holds me in His hand … no matter what.  I have an eternity of "10's" coming!  Until then, I'll keep on praising the Lord and encouraging others to do the same.  It's not always easy, but it's always the right thing to do!

"Abba, Father, in You I rest in the midst of life's storms.  Your love never fails and Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.  I long to see Your glory and to live without being hindered by the world and my own flesh.  But until that day, fill me with Your Spirit and move my heart to sing Your praise, so that others may hear and be glad as they, too, rejoice in YOU!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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