Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

A Praise Progression

Man playing a guitarGenesis 8

Those of you who play an instrument or who are into music theory already know what a “chord progression” is.  But for those of us who can only play the radio a quick definition might be in order.  A chord progression is “a series of musical chords, or chord changes that ‘aims for a definite goal’ of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.” (source: Wikipedia)

Okay… if you aren’t musically inclined, that probably meant absolutely nothing to you!  So why bring it up?

Because I see in Scripture a “praise progression” that also “aims for a definite goal” and establishes a “tonality” in life… that is… if we follow the progression all the way through to praise!

The progression is:  Waiting, Being Heard, Hoping, Being Rescued, Praising.

The most obvious praise progression is Psalm 40:1-3 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

The progression goes like this:  I waited; God heard me; I hoped (this is the patient part); I was rescued (He brought me up.); I sang a song of praise.

I have read a lot of books on prayer that say you should praise God for being who He is, not for what He has done for you.  That sounds great in theory… but how can you not praise Him for all He has done for you?  He PUT that song in your mouth… you cannot help but sing it!  The natural result of the progression is that “many see and fear and trust in the Lord.”  Harsh chords of pain and waiting and patience are resolved in the end and the sound is so sweet!  It is enticing!

What does this have to do with Genesis 8?  This is first “praise progression” of the Bible!

Noah was caught in a waiting period. – “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” -Genesis 7:24

God remembered Noah. – “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..” (8:1)

God sends hope.  – “The dove came to him toward the evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.” (8:11)

God rescues Noah. – “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.'” (8:15-16)

Noah praises God. – “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” (8:20)

Maybe you are struggling to praise the Lord today.  Your life is cooped up in a smelly old ark.  You may feel bitter or angry at your circumstances.  Praise is more difficult at different stages within the progression.  How difficult it is to praise Him with your heart in discord!  But remember this:  The chord WILL be resolved… whether in this life or the next.  Right now, your praise will just take a different form depending on where you are in the progression.

So pray:

Lord, I’m waiting.

or Lord, remember me.

or Lord, I sense you are sending me hope.  (I see the olive branch!)

And if you have found your chord resolved… if God has rescued you… Sing the Song of the Redeemed!  And if for nothing else… praise Him for Calvary… praise Him for the cross… praise Him for the hope of resurrection!

John McArthur once referred to Jesus as “the harmonizer of all discords.”  What an apt description for the lover of music theory… and for this rest of us…  who know a good song when we hear it!

Blessings!

Can Anybody Hear Me?

pg-38-nigeria-getty

Psalm 77

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.

As the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls continues on… I’m hearing less about it.  I’m sickened that my heart isn’t near as grieved as it was the first I heard about their plight.  I think we reach a point that we intentionally try to lesson our pain by detaching ourselves emotionally.  But how can we pray passionately and at the same time try to keep our emotions in check?  We can’t.  All of us need to learn what it means to “weep with those who weep.”  It isn’t a comfortable place to be… but it is our calling.

The picture to the left of the blog began my heart journey.  My wife, Janine, pointed out to me the mother in the right center of the picture, the one holding the sign that reads:  “CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?”  It breaks my heart every time I see it.  How can I look away from it?

Would I want you to turn away from it if it were my little girl?  I cannot imagine not knowing where my child is tonight… to wonder if they were being beaten or raped or sold like a piece of property.  Further I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to turn to in such a situation.  Their government is powerless to do anything.  They were forced to appeal to the world in order to get help.  Their picture betrays their desperation.

Psalm 77 echoes their cries.  I imagine they would empathize with “my soul refuses to be comforted.”  I usually include a devotional thought with my blogs… something to think about and to apply to your life.  But can I today just ask if you will pray with me?  Pray with fervency and with emotion!

It isn’t making the news much, but the majority of the school girls were Christian believers.  I don’t say that to say they require more prayer than a member of another faith.  I would pray for anyone suffering in such a way.  But it really hits home when tragedy strikes family.  And it rips my heart to know that many of these are my sisters in Christ.

Will you with me let your voice rise to God?  Will you cry out to God with me?   I have the faith of the Psalmist that even in the day of trouble… God sees us… and hears us.

Let’s pray for God to intervene in this situation.  Thank you.

 

A Wineskin in the Smoke

Psalm 119: 81-88wineskin

Came across an interesting verse in my daily Scripture readings yesterday.  Psalm 119:83 – “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,  I do not forget Your statutes.”  Not sure why I have never seen this verse before.  It is probably because it is buried among 176 similar sounding verses within the longest chapter in the Bible.

What did this expression mean and why did I feel like it describes me right now?  The surrounding context is a Psalmist that is facing hardship.  His soul is languishing for deliverance (v.81) and He asks God:  “When will you comfort me?” (v.82)  He then says he feels like a wineskin in the smoke.  Now in the culture of the day, wine was stored in animal skins.  These skins if stored indoors with a fire present would become dry, then blackened and eventually would crack and become useless.  Good word picture, huh?

In the midst of feeling as used up and worthless as a discarded beverage container, he adds:  “I do not forget Your statutes.”   God’s word alone is the balm he needs for his wounds.  He might feel forsaken by man, but the Word says God has not forsaken him… and he is banking his life on it.

Sometimes, a word of Scripture can help when nothing else will do.  N. T. Wright remarks:

“Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day—in other words, large quantities at a time—while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop… (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on its own.  But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming:  not just in the sense that the more you do it the more likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”  (After You Believe, p. 262.)

Barely holding it together?  Too weary, you think, to turn to the Bible?  His Word is a lamp (v.105) and it can provide you the light of hope you need… even in the midst of the smoke.

Clinging to God

small-hand-in-large-handPsalm 63: 6-11

“On my bed I remember you;  I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.  My soul clings to you;  your right hand upholds me.” (63: 6-8, emphasis mine)

Have you noticed how everything seems worse at night?  You might have bobbed above an ocean of despair all day long, only to drown in it when you head hits the pillow that night.  David had a lot to think about when he laid down to sleep.  Absalom… his own son… was also his enemy.  He was seeking to kill him.  That should be enough to keep anyone up all night.   But it doesn’t require physical threat to rob us of our ZZZ’s.   Our emotional pain and our other problems as well flare up at night like a spiking fever.

And yet, I have found comfort in David’s words here.  He concludes this Psalm with faithful trust in a loving God.  You see, David took advantage of these nighttime moments to focus on God.
“I meditate on Thee in the night watch.”  The term meditate here means to “muse or ponder.”   What do we usually meditate on in the night?  We usually wear out our minds chasing down the day’s injustices, like:   “How could they have said that about me?”  “How could life be so unfair?.” and  “How will my family survive my layoff?”  Fair questions… but the lack of attainable answers (you’re in bed remember?) will leave your mind racing all night.

For David, God was all he desired and all that would satisfy Him (v.5).  That is why He gave his all to God even in the night.  When God is all that you desire, you let Him sort things out. (vv. 9-11)

Remember these thoughts from saints of yesteryear:

“I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust.”  –  J. Hudson Taylor suffering mental and physical breakdown upon hearing that 58 of his missionaries and 21 children in China were massacred.  (Pray Magazine, Mar/Apr 2008, p. 22.)

When you can’t trace His hand you can trust His heart.  –   Charles Spurgeon  (Quoted by Robert J. Morgan in The Promise, p. 53.

I know it is hard.  I’ve had those nights… still having them.  But in the battle surrender to trust.  CLING TO GOD as though He were your only protection.  In the end… He is indeed all we need.

A Feast in the Wilderness

Psalm 63:2-5feast

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

I listened to pastor Tommy Nelson recently tell about one of his favorite baptism.  He was baptizing a man who came up out of the water sputtering and spitting out water.  When he asked him what happened the man responded:  “I wanted to all of me to be baptized, so I thought I should make sure you got my tongue as well.”

In the portion of Psalm 63 today, David gets his whole body in the act.  He wants his eyes to see God.  He wants his lips to praise God.  He wants his hands to lift in prayer.  He wants his teeth to sink into God and find his soul satisfied.

Think about the last GREAT meal you have had.  One that lives in my memory was from a church member in Cloverdale, CA.  Gloria Owen prepared for us one evening: Blue Cheese Ravioli’s, Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese on a bed of Romaine Lettuce and Blue Cheese Dressing.  Chicken breast stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers… with Scallops.  Chocolate Souffle with a truffle inside topped with Homemade Carmel Sauce.  (I can only say with Grandpa Jones of yesteryear:  Yum!  Yum!)

What is the mark of a good meal?  Satisfaction!  David says in 63:5 – “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness.”  The NIV translates that last part… “with the richest of foods.”  That is a health conscious translation to say the least.  Marrow and fatness… the good stuff… that is what communion with God is like.

The question, though, is not whether or not God will satisfy our souls.  The question is how engaged we are in pursuing him.  Do we, like David, get our whole body into the act.  Do we seek him in our place of worship? (v. 2)  Do we praise him throughout the day with our lips, even when we are in the desert?  (v. 3)

A. W. TozerA. W. Tozer once wrote:

“I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain.”

When your soul is dry and you are in a weary land.  It is then that we learn to desire God all the more (v. 1).  And when we seek God will all our hearts… it is there that God provides a feast.  Remember the words of Jesus:  “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Throw yourself into a little worship today!  Let that Ipod blare some Chris Tomlin!  Sing at the top of your lungs to some old hymns!  Ashamedly worship in prayer and with tears and joy… alone or in the sanctuary.  Want Him with all of your being.  Pursue Him with all that you are!  There is a feast waiting… enjoy your God!

Desperate for God

desertPsalm 63:1

A psalm of David, When he was in the desert of Judah.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

It is 2 a.m. and you are awakened by your cellphone, dancing and playing its merry little tune on your nightstand.  Sleepy eyed you reach over.  It is not like you were sleeping well anyway.

Answering it you hear the frantic plea of a dear friend:  “Get up and get out immediately!  Your son is on the way and he’s bringing his gang banger friends with him.  He’s going to kill you!  That kid of yours has murder in his eyes!”

His words startle you awake.  You jump up and grab your car keys.  You tear out of your drive way in your Lexus with just the clothes on your back.  2 hours later you pull into a freeway rest stop… and attempt to collect yourself.  At a lonely picnic table, you ask yourself:  “How did it all come to this?”

You knew your son was capable… he had already murdered his half-brother.  He killed him to avenge the rape of his sister.  It was such a difficult and twisted time.  You haven’t spoken to that blood thirsty kid since.  But your silence has done nothing but fuel your son’s animosity.  Now he is after your head!

“How did things come to this?”  you utter again holding your head in your hands… and then… you remember… it was you.  It was you that started this whole drama in your family… when you had that affair 2 years ago.  You began a slide in morality that is now an avalanche of sorrow.  Where do you go from here?  Where can you turn for help and relief?

(this intro is based on an introduction from A. T. Stewart in his sermon, “Finding God in Your Devastation” on sermoncentral.com)

What I just shared with you is not an episode of “Without a Trace” or “Law and Order,”  but is a day in the life of King David which is the background of Psalm 63.   This Psalm has a title:  A Psalm of David when he was in the Desert of Judah.

The son in question is Absalom, who had killed his half-brother, and then wooed the hearts of the nation of Israel before taking David’s throne in a coup.  Now he was seeking David’s head on a platter.  This is why David in the wilderness.

It is from this desert setting that David cries out:

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water.

This reminds me of a hiking trip I took with the men of our church at Lake Sonoma.  It was the first overnight journey I had ever under taken and I wasn’t prepared for how hungry and thirsty I would be.  I was so thirsty.  I never had to rely so much on a water bottle before.  And I couldn’t even imagine hiking like that in the summer heat without streams to keep my bottle filled.  The amount of water you would have to carry for such a journey without the possibility of refilling would have been far too heavy a burden.

Well David didn’t get to choose his hike.  He was forced out into the wilderness.  A stream for him would have been a life saving find.

So he says:  In a dry and weary land where there is no water, I thirst for….  GOD(?)  One would think that David would say… well, water!  But during a time of trial, the thing we think we need the most… a healing, a check in the mail, a restored relationship… often takes a back seat… to a swelling need within our hearts… for God Himself.

David longs for God just as his flesh longs for water.

Often we wonder why we don’t find more satisfaction in our religious activities.  Howard Hendricks once wrote:  “Much of our religious activity today is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life!”

We aren’t satisfied because often we are terrified of the desert.  And the desert is where we feel our need for God the most.

When things come our way that we don’t understand we have more than a curiosity about God.  We have more than a desire to go to church to see our friends.  Bible reading becomes more than just a duty… it becomes a life line.

WE WANT GOD!   Nothing else will quench our thirst.

Hear the words of C. S. Lewis:   “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Mere Christianity)

Are you in the desert?  Through your own doing or the perhaps the sin of another?  Seek God as you would seek water!  He alone can sustain you there.

[more on Psalm 63 in blogs to follow]