Monday, November 28, 2016

The Light That Overcomes Fear; Psalm 27

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reflecting with Gratitude; Psalm 105

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Thankful that Jesus is King (or Worship by Obeying); Psalm 95, Hebrews 3:7-4:13

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Praying for the Wicked; Psalm 109

On this International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church, we recognize that evil seeks to destroy the followers of Jesus. As we pray for other brothers and sisters in Christ, we also pray for those who persecute them. Today’s Scripture is the one of the harshest of the imprecatory psalms, those psalms where we pray that God would smite our enemies. It was written by David, who wrote all but two of the psalms of this type. The curses in this psalm are strong. Walter Bruggermann calls verses 6-19 a “psalm of hate”. Some scholars try to downplay these verses by saying that in this particular section, David is quoting what his opponents are saying about him because there is a change in subject and verb tenses. However, in verse 20, we see that even if these curses did originally come from David’s enemies, he prays for no less than that these curses would return to his enemies. On this International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church, how do we pray for the wicked? We pray by acknowledging the reality of evil. In the opening verses, David tells God what his enemies have done. Thy have borne false witness, fought against him, spoken hatred against him. In verses 4 and 5 we see why David prays curses over his enemies. David didn’t start with asking God’s judgment over his enemies. He started with love. He started with mercy. David says, “In return for my love, they are my accusers. The word “accusers” is Satan. David has loved his enemies. He has done good to them and for them. In return, they act like the devil. They do evil to him and against him. They hate him. He has prayed about it. He has prayed for them. He has remained in touch with God about this. Some of you have heard me mention before a website,—adopt-a-terrorist-for-prayer. You can get updates on terrorism around the world and even the names of specific terrorists. The website has lots of resources on how to pray. Right now they are featuring a 30 day prayer guide for members of ISIS. The guide gives a daily focus for prayer—things like softened hearts, opportunities for members to hear the gospel, for their salvation, for them to recognize the evil they are doing and repent, for them to have dreams and visions of Jesus, etc. To pray against the things that lead people to join ISIS; for example, ISIS is recruiting young adults from all over the world and all different backgrounds because they promise wealth, power, and respect—things that these young folks are not finding where they are. These are youth who have often been victims of bullying, who have been betrayed by institutions and corporations, who have not found peace and hope in their religions or in atheism. God is answering prayers, and yes, there are people leaving ISIS for Jesus every day. Too often, when wrongs are done to us, we go straight for revenge. It’s so easy for victims to be become bullies. We see this happen again and again. It’s happening in our society every day. But that is not the Jesus way. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, to do good to those who harm us. This is what David did. It is natural to desire retribution, but it is the Spirit filled, Spirit led person whose nature is to forgive enemies and pray for persecutors. However, Jesus did not promise that if we do those things our enemies will stop being evil. That is what we hope for, and it does happen, but not always. How do we resist the temptation to repay evil for evil. Evil must be confronted, but any vengeance must come from God’s hand. David does not say, “I have tried to be nice; now it’s time to play hardball.” Instead, he asks God to intervene and bring justice. It is right to be angry when we are victimized. It is necessary to express it for healing to begin, but it must be done in healthy, not harmful ways. Taking our hurt and anger to the Lord is the right way. According to Walter Bruggermann and J. Clinton McCann Jr. says that praying for God’s vengeance without taking matters into our own hands is an act of non-violence. But still the evil continues. In this prayer guide against ISIS, you will also find prayers for the power of ISIS to be halted, for perpetrators of evil to be brought to justice, for the destruction of this ideology. We must pray against evil, even as we ask God to change hearts and lives. Evil must be confronted, opposed, and hated because God hates evil. And so we come to this section of curses. In verse 6 the curse is that a wicked man would rule over the enemy. Sometimes the only way for an evil person to see what they have done, is for someone worse to become their boss or superior. Tuesday will be a day of reckoning for this country. Whoever wins, I believe that we will be getting the leader we deserve. The next President is no surprise to God. Sometimes in order to see our own rebellion against God, God will set up a prominent figure as mirror and/or as the agent of God’s punishment. The curse continues, “Let an accuser stand at his right hand.” The accuser is Satan. This prayer is not so different from Paul’s instructions in I Cor. 5:5, to turn an unrepentant sinner over to Satan and to stop associating with that person. Like David’s enemies, this is a person who has been confronted, who has been prayed for, and who has been shown grace, and yet continues in his/her evil ways. The goal is the destruction of the flesh in order that the person’s soul may be saved. Remember how Satan was allowed to destroy Job’s flesh. In Job’s case it wasn’t about Job’s need for repentance, but to reveal Job’s character, but in the cases of evil people, it is to lead them to a place of repentance. Verse 7 asks for a guilty verdict. This is the fair and right verdict, because the person is indeed guilty. Prayers for justice are right prayers. The second half, “Let his prayer become sin,” seems particularly harsh. It is that his plea for leniency in sentencing in the court will go unheard. God knows when a person will respond to mercy. This wicked person has already proven himself not to respond to mercy, so justice is needed. When I was leading Celebrate Recovery, one of our participants was an addict and alcoholic who had a son who was also an addict. The son beat his mother and put her in the hospital twice. He stole not only from her, but from others. He had come to our group a couple of times, but was not a regular like his mother. This young man had complete disregard for authority. He had no respect for his mother, no respect for law enforcement. He had been in and out of jail. He had 4 felony charges and because he had never been to prison, thought it was no big deal. He had no fear of the Lord. One night, another leader called to say that the young man had overdosed. My initial reaction was to say that I was relieved for his mom. My coworker was horrified because her first thought was that this man was condemned to eternal destruction. But this man had had many opportunities to respond to the gospel. He had been prayed over. He had been prayed with, and he refused to receive grace and mercy. He had rejected grace and mercy time and again. He was not going to change, but he was wreaking havoc and destruction with his life. His death meant that he could no longer harm or destroy others. Verse 8 is a pray for a shortened time of influence. Whatever wicked ruler is set up over us, we can pray this prayer. “Let his/her days be few. Let another take his/her office.” This verse is quoted by Peter in Acts 1 in regard to what happened to Judas. His office as apostle was given to Matthias. Verses 9-15 are particularly harsh. The death penalty—at God’s hand—is prayed over this person. This person has put others to death. He is an enemy of life. His actions lead to death. But then why should the children be made to suffer for the sins of a parent? Extreme caution must be used in invoking this prayer. It is a prayer for complete annihilation of family, posterity, legacy and even history if possible, to be wiped out. But history has shown that there are destructive lineages. In the Bible, we have the line of King Ahab for example. His great grandparents were evil rulers and each generation got successively worse. Finally judgement was pronounced, and Ahab’s son was the last of that lineage. God used Jehu to cut off the house of Ahab. When there have been generations of evil perpetuated, it is right to ask the Lord to cut off that line. Verse 16ff gives further reason for invoking these curses. The enemy was unmerciful, persecuted the poor and needy and slayed the broken hearted. He did not delight in blessing and loved cursing. In verse 21, David returns to praying for himself. He asks God’s mercy because he is poor and needy. To stand with the Lord is to stand with the poor, needy, and afflicted. He asks for salvation appealing to the character of God. In contrast to the wicked, God is the Life Giver and Life Sustainer, bringing life even out of death. God gives blessing instead of cursing. The Lord is merciful and full of loving-kindness. Prayer for the wicked always ends in praise of who God is and thankfulness that justice will be served. This is how David ends the psalm in verses 30-31. The Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done” is always appropriate. We don’t know what God will do, but we can know that whatever God does is right.