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Friday, March 1, 2024

Benefits (Benefit #4)

Here's that list of benefits from Psalm 103 again:

  1. forgiveness for iniquity
  2. healing for diseases
  3. redemption from "the pit"
  4. being crowned with "steadfast love and mercy"
  5. being satisfied with "good" - specifically good health

God crowns you with steadfast love and mercy

Crowns are round, and that's why translations use the word "crowns" here. But it doesn't seem to me to be about a royal crown. The Hebrew word means "to encircle" – it seems to me that this is more of a protective measure than the coronation we might think of. In Psalm 5:12 it says "For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield." That word "cover" is the same word translated "crown" here, in Psalm 103:4.

"Steadfast love" means loyalty, devotion, and the unchangeable nature of God. In Deuteronomy 31:8 (and also a few verses before in 31:6) Moses said this about the nature of God: "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." In the passage in Hebrews 13 that quotes Moses, the author wraps it up this way: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8) God loves you, and He isn't going to change His mind!

And finally, "mercies" means a deep well of loving compassion. In verses 13-14 of this same chapter, the Psalmist expands on this a little bit more: "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." God isn't looking for a reason to condemn us. He knows that we are fragile creatures, able to be wiped out by nothing more than a change of temperature or an invisible gas that we breathe. When one of my children is in pain or fearful or in some kind of danger, I am immediately there for them, in their corner, because I know them and I know when they have a need. That's the way God is for us.

All of that meaning packed into seven words! God protectively encircles us with His devotion, His loyalty, His never-leave-you, His love, His mercy, His compassion. It's like being in the safest place you've ever been, with the kindest, strongest, and most protective person you've ever met. It's that, but more. Wow!


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Benefits (Benefit #3)

Here's that list of benefits from Psalm 103 again:

  1. forgiveness for iniquity
  2. healing for diseases
  3. redemption from "the pit"
  4. being crowned with "steadfast love and mercy"
  5. being satisfied with "good" - specifically good health

God redeems your life from the pit

Redemption is a word with a very small meaning outside of Theological circles these days. You can "redeem" a coupon for thirty cents off a can of peas. You can "redeem" the box tops off your cereal boxes to satisfy whatever promotion the cereal company is running. When I was a kid you could "redeem" glass soda pop bottles and get a few cents back. Or, if you say or do something stupid, you can do something better and so you "redeem yourself" in the eyes of whoever saw you do the stupid thing.

None of these things are exactly the Bible meaning of the word "redeem". In the Bible, to "redeem" someone (because in this verse God is redeeming us!) means to pay the price to get them out of a captive situation. Paying a ransom, Almost like "posting bail" for a prisoner to secure their release from prison, except that once redeemed you don't have to go back to prison. It's more akin to paying off your mortgage, and then you are free from that payment forever! In Bible terms, "redeemed" is a permanent state!

So what is "the pit"? Well, literally... it's, you know, a pit. A hole in the ground. Maybe extend that to something like a dungeon. But this is a very specific "pit" – this pit is the place where people go when they die. It's parallel language to Psalm 49:15 that talks about redemption from "Sheol" which is a Hebrew word for "the underworld". But this doesn't really signify Heaven or Hell as the Christian faith understands them; this is a much more primitive imagery. Many translations render this word as "destruction" which is probably an accurate portrayal of what the Psalmist meant.

Let's put those things together... there are things in the world that want to kill you and me. Even outside of whatever hostile spiritual forces there may be, there are creatures who, if they saw you, would absolutely try to kill you. Then there are things that could accidentally kill you... a car swerves into your lane, something falls on you out of a window, you catch a terminal disease. These things want to destroy you, and the danger exists because sin has been brought into this world. There is a price to pay for sin; that price is destruction. But God constantly pays the ransom cost that it takes to redeem us from the destruction that results from our sin! Your life doesn't have to lead to a place of oblivion. God redeems you!

Friday, February 23, 2024

Benefits (Benefit #2)

Here's that list of benefits from Psalm 103 again:

  1. forgiveness for iniquity
  2. healing for diseases
  3. redemption from "the pit"
  4. being crowned with "steadfast love and mercy"
  5. being satisfied with "good" - specifically good health

God heals all your diseases

Benefit #2 is "who heals all your diseases". I grew up in churches that believe that God can supernaturally heal someone by laying on of hands, prayer, maybe anointing with oil - there are a number of Scriptural mechanisms by which humans express their faith that God will heal someone. But I know that there are a lot of churches that believe instead that God does NOT supernaturally heal people anymore. Those things the Apostles did in the Bible? Those things, members of these church bodies might say, left the world when those Apostles died. I am not here to criticize those people; I'm just acknowledging that the things I was taught in church are not the same things everyone is taught.

But the benefit laid out here is pretty straightforward. I looked up the Hebrew words, and there's not really any ambiguity. "heals" means healing - sometimes it is even translated as "physician". This "diseases" is not common in the Old Testament, but every time it occurs it's talking about a disease in someone's body, usually one that kills them (don't look it up if you are squeamish!) And how about that word in the middle: "all". So God is the physician, you have some kind of illness or illnesses in your body, maybe even terminal ones, and the benefit is that the physician God will heal ALL of your sicknesses!

So here's the big question: Michael, as you were growing up in your church and people were laying hands and praying and anointing with oil people with sicknesses, are ALL of them healed? And my answer has to be: some of them walked away from the prayer time and didn't seem changed at all. Others walked away super excited because they could tell that they were healed! I don't actually know why that is - I have some theories and ideas, and I've heard preachers talk about it. But the benefit is that God heals ALL of your diseases. That's what the Bible says, so I have to believe that it is available!

There is a warning in verse 2 of this chapter: "forget not all his benefits". In my previous blog entry I described how at the end of the year in a lot of businesses, you sign up for benefits. The ones you are offered and refuse, you can't turn around three months later and access - if you didn't sign up at the right time, you don't get them. Also, if you forget you have a benefit - say, you go to the pharmacy but don't give them your insurance card - the benefit does not work for you. You get to pay the price for forgetting that benefit. I suspect this is something like that. You have to know that healing is available and trust God to supply it. I'm by no means an expert on this, and there are instances when things happen and you wonder why someone stayed sick when to all appearances they were believing God for His healing. All I do know is that the benefit is there, and if I get sick, I want to do everything I can to access it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Benefits (Benefit #1)

I've got a printed out copy of Psalm 103 that I recently posted on the white board next to where I work. The reason is because it talks about "benefits". A month or two ago, if you work for a company like I work for, you probably got to hear the "benefits" talk. This is the talk about how to sign up for insurance, 401(k), whatever stuff your employer makes available to you. In order to take advantage of that stuff, typically you have to take steps to sign up. Psalm 103:2 says "..forget not all his [God's!] benefits." I was like, wait, God has benefits? This I need to look at! Seems like I might want to sign up!

Here's God's list of benefits from that chapter (no 401(k) plan here, sorry!)

  1. forgiveness for iniquity
  2. healing for diseases
  3. redemption from "the pit"
  4. being crowned with "steadfast love and mercy"
  5. being satisfied with "good" - specifically good health

God forgives all your iniquity

So, "forgiveness" seems pretty self-explanatory, but I'm not sure everyone knows what "iniquity" is. You may think, as I did and I'm sure most people do, that "iniquity" is just a longer word that means "sin", but it's not, not exactly. "Sin" is when you mess up and do something wrong -  you were presented with a situation and you made the wrong choice. "Iniquity", however, is the thing inside of you that caused you to make that choice. The Bible talks about the "flesh" meaning that before we gave our hearts to Jesus, we were messed up and couldn't get to God, and sometimes we still act like that. Think of the sin as the action itself, and the iniquity is the thing that clicked inside and caused the action to be taken. Notice it doesn't say "iniquities" like there are multiple things–it's one "iniquity" that causes the whole problem.

Let's go back to "forgiveness" now. Let's say my wife didn't know it was my special cookie sitting on the counter, and she wanted a cookie so in all innocence she ate it. I found out and got mad, but then I realized it was a mistake and I said, "I forgive you."

That's NOT what this forgiveness is.

This "forgiveness" is more along the lines of pardon for a crime. In fact, in a lot of verses the same word is translated into some variation of the word "pardon". So let's put that together. God doesn't just say "I forgive you" when we sin. God's first benefit is that He has granted us a full pardon for the actual sinful nature which we were born with and to which we sometimes still succumb. He has pardoned all of it! Keep the dental plan, I'll take that benefit, please!


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Spiritual Worship

Stepping back a bit from my previous post about Romans 12, I think it's interesting to get some context from the whole chapter.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1–2 (ESV)

What I see here is that Paul is going to give us some instructions on how to live a life fully committed to God, not only in spiritual things but also in the physical realm (so, not just thinking nice thoughts, but actually taking action). He prepares us for a mental paradigm shift, then he goes on in the next few verses to explain that in the body of Christ (meaning, all who has put our faith in Him, not the head and torso and arms and legs and hands and feet he had when he walked on the Earth) has lots of members with different functions to perform, different jobs to hold, and all of them are important.

Then we get to that passage I mentioned last time starting in verse 9. There are 13 verses from there to the end of the chapter, and I noticed something interesting. Out of the 13 verses, I only see two verses that are about doing something solitary. "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord." (verse 11) "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (verse 12). The rest of the verses are all about how we treat other people! We love them (9-10), we take care of their needs (13), we bless them, even the mean ones (14), we empathize with them (15), we are friendly even to the ones that are different from us personally (16, 18), and we choose to treat them well even if they treat us badly (17, 19-21). All that stuff in verses 6-8 - prophecy, teaching, exhorting (persuading people), giving lots of money, leadership, all of the things we tend to think are cool important things that we want to do - all of that stuff winds up being secondary to just being able to treat people like Christ treated them.

To come back full circle - this chapter started off telling us how to worship God with our whole selves, even our bodies. We each have gifts and callings, but in the end, it is doing physical acts of service for others that somehow turns around and becomes a spiritual act of worship to God!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

How to Be a Christian

I've been thinking lately about Romans 12:9-21. I actually took a picture with my phone of the passage, and I keep looking at it and thinking about it. Basically, it's a description of how to really live out your faith as a Christian. Every day I take a look at it and take stock of how I'm doing, sort of like a checklist before launching a rocket ship. Here are things I've been thinking about in some of the verses:

Verse 9 "Let love be genuine." If you know about Greek words for "love" - this word is "agape" which means the kind of love that comes directly from God. It doesn't say that we should force ourselves to love - it says we should let the genuine love flow from God through us. I think in the Christian life sometimes we think we have to make something happen, when in reality if we sort of let go of the reins, God will make it happen (see 1 Thessalonians 3:12). Let God's love happen in you!

Verse 10 "Love one another with brotherly affection." This is not "agape" love. This is human affection. Basically this verse is talking about loving other believers in Jesus like family, like brothers and sisters. People don't always get along with their brothers and sisters very well, but in a loving family, they'll stand up for each other when the chips are down. I'm so glad I go to a church where people do care about each other! At your church, when the service is over, do people immediately leave and go to lunch? Not at my church. At my church, people are still there chatting and enjoying each other's company well after the service is concluded. Some of my favorite people are there - I want to talk to all of them! No church is perfect, but I think that's what this Scripture is saying.

Verse 11 "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord" We have a vibrant volunteer culture at our church. I'm not sure how visible it is to members who aren't involved, but I'm on two different teams - worship arts and children's ministry - and in both of those contexts people are fired up about what we're doing for the Lord. I don't hear people talking like they are doing it because they feel obligated or because they want to be special (and that can be a real problem on worship teams!) - people genuinely see that God is doing something and we just want to be part of it.

Verse 15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." This past year my wife went through a serious health problem (maybe I'll talk about it in a future post), and it was really hard, but as soon as our brothers and sisters in Christ found out about it, they went out of their way to help us out. They prayed for us, brought us food when we were going through a rough patch, and when my wife wasn't able to come to church with me because of her treatments, everyone asked how she was doing. Do you know what effect it had on me? It made me want to be that person for someone else one day. I guess that's that whole "iron sharpens iron" thing, huh?

Verse 21: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Do you notice what that does not say? It doesn't say "Be careful because evil can totally beat you up, so try to run away if you can!" It completely puts you and me in the driver's seat. If evil happens to us, it's because we let it overcome us. Instead we need to overcome it! It wants to beat us, but it can't unless we let it! That doesn't mean that evil won't come - ref: my wife's health problems last year. But when evil comes and tries to overcome you, the correct response is to apply good to the situation and overcome it instead!

How's THAT for a lot to chew on?


Monday, February 5, 2024

Getting Going

Blogging is hard. Writing is hard. It's not hard to do once, but it's hard to do often, consistently, and meaningfully. It's not hard to have a thought, and it's not even hard to have a thought that might interest someone, but it's hard to find time to sit down and write a blog post. And that's just by default.

Add to that the fact that over the past couple of years, it's also become a little more difficult to find the courage to blog. Especially about something that can be divisive, like thoughts about what the Bible says about God. Political extremists have co-opted the word "hate" to mean "when someone's opinions differ from mine," and it can be awfully tough to not say anything that someone disagrees with. Even when a guy isn't trying to be political, he can wind up on someone's "you hate me" list. I don't want to be on that list in anybody's book!

But you know what? I think from time to time God might be speaking to me about things that could be useful to others. Worst case, I read my Bible and do a little research and come up with something that is interesting, at least to me. So over the past couple of years the blog posts have been pretty light, but it's time to get back on the horse and start blogging again. There's a time when the going gets tough, and when that happens, you know what has to happen. Time to get tough! Time to get going!

Keep your eyes peeled this year. I have a lot of cool stuff to talk about!