Who Will Rescue Us?

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:21-24)

In this world, on this side of eternity, life is difficult and draining. Every failure creates conflicting feelings that are hollow and heavy. Daily, we are:

  • shamed by sins
  • ensnared by passions
  • enslaved by fears
  • burdened by cares
  • entangled by vanities
  • surrounded by errors
  • worn out by labors
  • oppressed by temptations
  • weakened by pleasures
  • tortured by want**

In light of all that we are facing, who will rescue us? Where can find deliverance? Where do we look to find the essential help we desperately need?

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Salvation isn’t a gift that begins the moment we die. That would be gift enough, but there is more. Salvation is also help for the problems we face today. In Jesus we can rely on God’s strength. There are many situations and circumstances beyond our control that threaten to overwhelm us. We are drowning, sinking fast beneath the waters, and we need help.

We cannot WILL IT or WISH IT all away. The strongest among us do not have enough strength. We cannot sustain a lifelong push against  the impurities of the world and in our own hearts.

We can only trust Jesus.

The one who saves us, today and every day into eternity.

 

-MM

**This list is adapted from “The imitation of Christ,” by Tomas A Kempis (chapter 48).

 


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Meet The Controllers

They fear the unknown and hate the unknowable.
They answer questions without questioning answers.

Greet you with a plastic face,
Face their life with an iron fist,
Fractured heart with empty joy.

Predictable is comfortable is predictable.
Cage the dragons, vanish the chaos!
Make life safe like a roller coaster.

Lock it down!
Label it right!
Get it figured out tonight!

The controllers know, but never show:
All their efforts end in pain, and
Misery knows no other company.

Instead of letting go and
In place of looking in,
Indulge they do, in vanity-insanity:

“I can’t control it all, so let’s pretend.”

No Other Gods

Some thoughts for your personal reflection:

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

1. In your own words, write a definition of worship.

2. Read Exodus 6:6–8.
What promises did God make to the Israelites? How did God help Israel?

3. Read Exodus 20:2-3.
In your opinion, why did God talk about Egypt before giving Israel the 10 commandments?

For you personally, in your own life, how has God worked powerfully for your benefit? How does thinking about God’s faithfulness impact the quality of our worship?

4. In your opinion, what are some common “gods” that people worship today? Why do you think people choose not to worship God?

5. For you personally: On whom do you rely? To where does your time, energy, and money go? Who are you trying to impress? Who or what is the center of your life?

6. Read Psalm 81:1-16. What does this Psalm teach us about how we ought to worship?

Surviving the Sting of Rejection [updated]

No one likes rejection. It’s sting is so painful because it’s personal.

Get a black eye from an injustice and it’s because the world isn’t fair….rage against the world!
Get knocked down from a rejection and it’s because I’m not good enough….you can try to rage against the world, but you always end up attacking yourself.

How do you respond when you experience rejection? These waters aren’t fun to swim in, but the reflection is worth the effort. Here’s how I typically respond to rejection. Fair warning, this isn’t a delightful list:

Retreat—I engage my friends, but withdraw from my enemies (or “non-friends”). When I’m rejected, I retreat. I won’t even argue when I’m rejected because I feel like disagreement is a gift for my friends. (I’m so opinionated, I’ve got plenty to give! HA.). Isolation feels like the best way to minimize the painful and poisonous effects of rejection. And while this may be a common response, it’s counter productive. We are deceiving ourselves if we think life is better spent alone. For me, maturity refuses to retreat and I choose to engage.

Rage—I rage at the (apparent) injustice of not being accepted. In the universe named “Matt,” there’s no logical reason why I wouldn’t be chosen. I mean, I’d choose me, so everyone else should do the same? For me, maturity rejects ego and chooses humility.

Devalued—I create a list of all the reasons I must not be good enough to be accepted. For me, maturity shifts the focus, to seeking approval from God rather than others.

Comparison—I begin to think, “If only I was different, like someone else who was accepted, then I could have avoided the rejection.” The feelings and thoughts left in the wake of rejection are paradoxical. On one hand, nothing about me needs to be changed, on the other hand, if I was different, the rejection wouldn’t have happened. For me, maturity means learning how God is changing me rather than becoming a duplicate copy of someone else.

Flee to the familiar—This response isn’t negative. Rejection in one area of my life pushes me to the comfort of other relationships, ones that are trusted and true. This response is different from retreating because it’s a reminder of the good relationships that already exist in my life. We are called to carry one another’s burdens, and it’s ok to let the trusted carry our burdens.

Demonize—I can attack the rejector, listing out their countless flaws and innumerable foolishnesses. Some of  are real, but many are imagined. Truth is that nothing clouds judgment and creates bias like rejection. For me, maturity means withholding judgement; and when this is not possible, it means withholding ACTION based on on that judgement.

Self-Praise—When I’m rejected, I’ll counteract the “not good enough” feelings (devalued, above) with all of my achievements and success—some of which are real, but many are imagined. Nothing inflates the ego like a rejection. For me, maturity means submission to God according to Romans 12:3, seeking a sober self assessment.

Re-define—Near the end of my response to rejection, I work to burry it. I re-write history by reinterpreting the rejection as ignorance. I haven’t been rejected, just misunderstood. I land on thinking, “They weren’t worth the effort of explaining myself anyhow.” For me, maturity means avoiding the pity party, and trying to understand what happened by making up stuff that isn’t true.

What an Ugly List!

Maybe you are thinking, “That’s more nasty than the scorpion at the top of this post.” Yea, I agree.

There are tons of unhealthy ways to respond to rejection. Many people try to pretend it didn’t hurt (this is one response I don’t have). Without the self-insight that comes from reflection, our rationalizations will run rampant and the self-deceptions will quickly become self-destructive.

We can’t eliminate rejection—we live in an imperfect world.
However, we can mitigate the damage done to our souls and relationships.

Let’s take our rejection to the foot of the cross. Surrendering, confessing, resting in his perfect love–a love that is utterly rejectionless.

 

 

 

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If you felt like this post would help someone, share it. Better yet, put it into your own words and encourage someone.

 

Bible Study: Psalm 23

One of our small groups recently used the Psalms Bible study (download here for free) and decided to also study Psalm 23. I wrote the following to help guide their personal reflection and group discussion.

 

Psalm 23

The twenty-third Psalm is a classic! The imagery is simple, yet powerful and profound. It is easy to read for the first time, yet the psalm’s depth allows for a lifetime of reading and reflection without ever running dry. This psalm is a well the soul can return to time after time, secure in the promise of renewal.

Begin with prayer, thanking God for his goodness and blessings. Confess your sins and ask him to make your heart pure. Beg for wisdom and cultivated an open heart so that he might draw you closer to him.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Table — In the original usage, this referred to a leather mat spread on the ground upon which food was placed.

Rod and Staff— “Palestinian shepherd normally carried two implements, a club (or rod) to fend off wild beasts and a crook (or staff) to guide and control the sheep.” (Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 207).)

Anoint—Literally, “make fat” with oil. The imagery of excess is paralleled with the cup that is overflowing. In the Bible, an anointing was special, signifying that the person (or object) was chosen and set aside for a purpose.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

After reading this Psalm, what was personally encouraging, inspiring, or uplifting? What new insight, lesson, or teaching did you learn? Did this psalm raise any questions or confusion for you? If so, what are they?

According to this psalm, what specifically does it mean for the Lord to be a Shepherd? What actions and promises does the shepherd make?

In our world, who or what can take the place of the Lord as our Shepherd? What are some common things people follow and trust?

Expressing a deep sense of contentment, the Psalmist says, “I lack nothing” (NIV). In your opinion, how did he win the battle against greed and envy? Why is contentment so difficult for people to attain?

What does it mean, the a the Shepherd acts “for his name’s sake?”

The Shepherd leads the psalmist to “green pastures” and “darkest valleys.” How can it be both? In your opinion, why isn’t it only green pastures and quiet waters?

Share a definition of fear. What are some common things many people fear? In your opinion, why is fear so powerful? According to this psalm, what is the antidote to fear?

How does verse 6 describe the life and after-life for those under the care of the shepherd?

In your own life, what do you need most from the Shepherd?

  • To be content
  • To be led
  • To be refreshed
  • To be free from fear
  • Something else?

Summarize, in your own words, the significance of this psalm in a single sentence.

Respond to the following summary, what changes would you make?
“No matter what is happening in our lives, we can find contentment and comfort from the presence and promises of the Shepherd.”

Three Warnings From Jesus

Jesus taught the crowd: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

A little yeast, when worked through the entire dough, radically transforms the bread.

The yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Some of the things they said weren’t true, they lacked a consistency believers ought to have. Presumably they had a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

In this short and simple teaching from Jesus, there are several warnings:

Hypocrisy is contagious. It is a lesson easily learned, because short cuts require less work. The hypocrite thinks, “I can just pretend to be good without actually needing to be good.” Hypocrisy is persistent because one hypocrite rarely exposes another, because they fear the same exposure. This is a network of relationships that says, “Let’s All Lie Together.” Hypocrisy is contagious and we must guard against it.

Sin is powerful (so is foolishness). Like yeast, it only takes a little to radically change the dynamic of the whole. You don’t need to lie ninety nine percent of the time for it to damage your life, 1 or 2 percent will lead to epic destruction in your relationships. For the Pharisees, their yeast was hypocrisy. However, I’m certain there are many “kinds” of yeast. What is one of your struggles, if it’s not hypocrisy? Gossip? Indulgence? Laziness? Pride?

Consider one more warning: the Pharisees were leaders in their communities. You may not be a formal leader in the church, but what are you passing on to others? Even the best parents pass along bad habits to their kids. Spiritually speaking, what is the “yeast” in your life that others need to look out for? Jesus was clearly teaching the crowd, “Don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees.” Jesus is also calling us to keep careful watch over our influence.

Three Warnings:

Watch out for the negative influences, specifically hypocrisy.
Identify your personal “yeast,” if it’s not hypocrisy.
Be careful of what you are passing along.

How do you remember what’s important?

This post isn’t about time management!

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Practically speaking, what could it look like to stand firm and hold fast to the things God has taught you?

My nature is to be impulsive–this has ups and downs. One downside is repeated mistakes. I knew I’ll never stop being impulsive so I needed to make sure my impulses went in the right direction. Therefore, I needed to learn to how to reflect, the art of recognize mistakes and recording my learnings. I have my dad to thank for developing this habit!

When I was just getting started in my spiritual journey, I developed the practice of summarizing the things I learned into a single sentence. I’ve been collecting these summaries for 20 years (along with some of my favorite scriptures), and I read them 2 or 3 times a week. Some of these lessons were painful to learn and I don’t want to re-learn them!

So, I’ll ask again: what could it look like for you to stand firm and hold fast?

 

 

==== UPDATE ====

In response to Jeff’s request below:

early morning devotions — this is edited slightly, because some stuff would take too long to explain …

Three roadblocks to hearing God Speak, a reflection from Psalm 19

Relationships suffer when there is a breakdown in communication. If you feel far from God, when was the last time you heard him speak? Maybe you need to push through one of the following roadblocks that keep a person from hearing God speak:

Roadblock #1: Lack of attention to God’s Work

The Psalmist begins with a grand picture: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) We are often too preoccupied to look up. We may spend all of our time looking ahead to the next thing and we’re too busy to look up. Sometimes we spend our time looking downward at our own concerns and we’re too selfish to look up. There is so much more to life than our personal pursuits or problems! God is working everywhere, speaking to us always, we only need to stop and pay attention.

Roadblock #2: Lack of time in God’s Word

God’s Word is like an instruction manual, telling us everything we need to be successful in life—how to live according to God’s design. The Bible is also like a love letter, moving us toward a deeper understanding and relationship of God. The Psalmist reveals the benefits of God’s word: it brings rest, spiritual growth, joy, and vision. Have you ever wanted to see things more clearly? The answer is God’s Word. It’s no wonder that the writer says the Bible is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. We can’t hear everything God has to say to us if we don’t spend time in God’s word.

Roadblock #3: Lack of submission to God’s Will

The Psalmist begins powerfully and ends personally: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

We may be moved to speechless awe when we contemplate the breathless beauty of creation, but if we are not submitted to God, it matters not. We may know the Bible inside and out, but if we are not submitted to God, we are missing the point. The heavens reveal knowledge so that we might change our thoughts so that they are pleasing to God. We are not called to serve others or ourselves, but to be fully submitted to God.

Join us at New Life Church this Week.

This weekend I am preaching on Psalm 19, “How to hear God speak.” Due to Pastor Ron’s memorial, we are canceling services on Saturday night (this week only). Join us at 9am or 11am on Sunday morning. Go to www.newlifepismo.com for more information.

Living Well In the Wake of Loss

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about loss and grief. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Psalms. What follows are some of the salient points from my personal journey as I attempt to live well in the wake of loss:

Express it.
When one of his friends died, Jesus wept. As I see it, I think he cried because he saw the pain others were experiencing. I don’t think Jesus was personally feeling the loss because he was about to heal Lazarus of his death problem. Wether I’m right or not, it’s clear that Jesus expressed himself.

Additionally, the Psalms stand tall as a powerful testament of unflinching expression of grief and loss and confusion and fear. God loves us in our limitations and meets us in the place of despair.

We don’t need to burry it. This may delay things for a while, but it’ll only come back up. The longer we let it linger, the larger it becomes.

Reflect on it.
Animals lack freedom beyond their instincts. We act based on our instincts too, but we can develop self awareness. Animals don’t have this option.

We can choose to think and feel about our thoughts and feelings. We can’t change everything about ourselves or about our situations, but we can choose the most important things. We choose what we love and hate and what drives us and the direction we are headed. You may really love your cat, but he can’t do these things (but dogs probably can).

If you get a splinter lodged into one of your fingers, you don’t wallow in pain and say, “something hurts somewhere!” That’s silly. You grab the finger, identify the splinter’s precise location, pull it out, and make a note to avoid doing whatever it was that led to getting injured (Sometimes I skip that last step just to keep my life more exciting).

Pain in the heart is so much more difficult to find!

Begin by asking, “Why is the loss such a big deal?” I’m NOT saying the pain SHOULD NOT be a big deal, only that we need to go beneath the surface and learn the WHY. What are all the reasons why the pain is so painful?

Uncovering the layers of the WHY will be difficult. The human heart may have four chambers, but it has infinite rooms filled with conflicting ideas, emotions, and motivations.

The next question may feel like throwing salt into the wound, but we are not of those who shirk back! In the long run, the bliss of ignorance is much more harmful than the bite of understanding. So, without further preamble, here it is, I tried to prepare you: “What’s unhealthy about your grief?”

Ultimately, all loss carries an element of selfishness. Somewhere in the kernel of grief is at least a hint of entitlement.

  • We compare: “Anyone in my situation would feel like this.”
  • We contradict: “No one really understands, I have it worse than anyone.”
  • We compromise: “I deserve to feel this way.”

Entitlement undermines what we believe about God.

  • If we really believe God is in control, then his timing is right. Some elements of grief argue against God’s timing.
  • If we really believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, then we would rejoice when the saints go marching home. Some elements of grief don’t trust God’s promises.

Most of us understand this aspect of grief. The only way we’ll truly move through the grief is to give ourselves permission to be entitled. Temporary permission.

The truly difficult part, the task that requires a LION’S SHARE of courage, is to move this understanding from the abstract to the concrete. The general feeling of loss to the intensely personal and specific reason why. We need to move from, “everyone would hurt in this situation” to “I am hurting because ….”

This sets us up for God’d next work.

Trust more.

Every loss—wether they are unjust or not—creates for us an opportunity to trust God more. This doesn’t mean we should take a stoic approach, seeking to live a life with as few connections as possible. We need to love others deeply, but we need to remember that one of God’s names is Jealous. He wants our hearts un-dividedly devoted to him. He is constantly working to draw us into greater dependence on him.

Pursue more comfort from God than anything else.

Healthy diversions can clear our minds and grant perspective. I hear this is why some people go hiking. For me, I find a slightly less comfortable position on the couch. Diversion creates space for some comfort.

Friends are important! Great Friends can bring Great Comfort. Biblical fellowship bears one another’s burdens, and we ought to be better at caring for one another.

However, these are lesser comforts. We worship the God of comfort. He has provided the Holy Spirit—the Comforter—because his power is the only remedy for our broken.

Receive Joy.

When we are caught up in the throes of grief, it’s irrational to think we can find joy in Christ. Nevertheless, it is there. God’s promises are independent of our predicaments. There is always a reason for hope, we need to posture our hearts before God to receive it.

We don’t need to manufacture it, it won’t last. The World’s evil is greater than our ability to ignore it. We don’t need to pretend we are happy. Others will see right through it, and all it does is create more relational distance from them.

Instead, we must look to Christ for the peace that transcends understanding.

Remember that experiences equip you for future impact.

When the time is right, you’ll be able to pass on the comfort you’ve received. God comforts us, and out of the overflow of his work, we will comfort others. God won’t waste a hurt. The good work he does in you will soon become a good work he does through you. The idea of passing it on doesn’t matter very much in the middle of the storm, but it is a true promise from God that can serve as a lighthouse in the dark.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
(Psalm 116:7)