A Divine Distraction, Today

I have a friend who told me a story from his childhood of how his father would help him pass away the boredom of the endless miles that my friend suffered on long, cross-state roadtrips.  Before departure, while in the drive-way, Big John would take a crayon and draw a small circle on the inside of the windshield, right in front of where my buddy would be sitting for hours.  (This was way back in the days when children would ride in the front seat of the car.)

“’Son, on this trip, every time a bug hits the window in that circle, I’ll give you a quarter.” 

I imagine my friend surviving the endless highways of those trips with a singular, quarter-sized focus, with laser-sharp attention to the circle his Dad had drawn, just waiting for any old bug to hit the windshield in that pay-day circle on the dashboard!  Big John distracted his boy from the uncomfortable present with a promise of a quarter-flushed future.

Whether it’s counting mileposts, looking at roadmaps, “collecting” various state license plates seen on the highway, counting cows, or simply playing the games found in a child’s travel book of games sold at every interstate gas-station and truck stop, such distractions seem to shorten the hours and the miles, and make a long trip a bit more tolerable for both kids and parents.  Sometimes parents really are geniuses!

I think God uses distraction, too, to get His kids through the tough times.  I’m not thinking of boredom here, but the dark times of life; the anxious, troubled, unknowing, fearful hours and days of not knowing what’s ahead, and the suspicion that it’s going to be bad.  But the distraction that our Father uses isn’t like the mere tricks and games that our folks may have used in our travels.  God’s distraction is simply His own overwhelming, calming, tenderhearted presence, with us, on the journey of life.  It’s the blessed distraction of our attention being drawn away from danger, hurt, pain, fear, etc., and instead drawn toward a deeper awareness of His presence with us as we face those evils.

It’s His presence with Paul in a hateful, hostile city that encouraged the apostle to stay and build a church.

It’s His presence with inmate Peter that lifted the fisherman’s eyes off of his chains (which now lay at his feet), and to the now-opened jail doors.

It’s His presence with the prisoner John on the island of Patmos that made the old disciple fall flat on his face in worship, and prepared him to write one of the most astounding, mind-blowing books of the Bible—while living in a prison colony.

Whatever trouble, suffering, fear, or hopelessness you are facing—ask God to distract you with something bigger, Someone bigger and better, who will stay close to you through the whole mess, whatever that mess may be.  Ask Him to let you know, personally, that He’s there, that He’s already shown up, and He won’t leave you. I don’t hope that you forget your troubles—that has never really helped anyone.  But I do hope that you and I can face suffering with a deepening assurance of the presence of a loving Shepherd-God who became a man and lived among us, and promises still to walk alongside us.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me… 

Father, today I am coming undone because of ______________________________.  Before I can take another step in this journey, I must know that You are here, close, and with me for my good and blessing.  I ask not for understanding, or the removal of the burden, but only that You would show Yourself more clearly to be with me, right by my side through it all.  Do it however You wish, but today, please do it, God! Amen.

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:14

O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

We associate mornings with the start of our day, when we awaken and begin our activities, but in the book of Genesis we are given a clue in the first chapter of the different manner in which Moses understood what a day was.  Six times he writes, “…and so there was evening and there was morning, one day.” It appears that to Moses, and subsequently to the nation of Israel, the day ended, and the next day began, at sunset!  This concept of a day being comprised of a time of darkness followed by light (precisely opposite the way we think define a day) is consistently found in the Old Testament, particularly in the prophetic writings, where the Day of the Lord describes a time of national darkness (war, suffering, discipline of God, etc.) followed by a time of light (blessing, Messianic rule, reception of promises, etc.)  In verse 14 Moses asked that the Lord would Himself bring satisfaction (a sense of fullness and lack of want or need) in the morning—after the darkness of night has passed.   And he asks that this satisfaction would be of a sort that lasted forever, for “all our days.”

After the darkness of the sufferings that you face in this earthly life; those of your own doing, those resulting from the mistreatment by others, and those experienced simply by your residency in a fallen, sin-ravaged creation—your hope of deliverance and joy is only found in God.  Satisfaction, joy, and lasting gladness are gifts from God.  Beginning at the cross of His Son, and continuing into the very fabric of our daily experiences—physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the Lord remains our source of satisfaction and joy.  Remember, Moses was “saved” when he wrote these words, and yet he prayed for these blessings.  As you read this, you very well may be a Christian, having trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of your sins, and yet you (like Moses, and certainly like me!) have great, frequent need for joy and gladness in your life. For we still see our world shrouded in a dreadful darkness, and we often suffer through many seemingly endless nightmares, and still, despite the certainty of our hope in Christ, still we have need of daily deliverance.   Though saved, we need to be saved.  Today, let your soul look to the Lord in the same way your eyes look to the east for each day’s sunrise—for more surely than the sun rises daily, the Lord loves and restores the spirits of His children.  Just ask.

Father, I often find myself in circumstances, of my own making and inflicted on me by others, where I feel I am alone, and in the dark.  Please, let the light of Your Son shine into our darkness today, and every day, for all our days.  We trust in You and You alone.  Amen 

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

 

Psalm 90:13

Do return, O LORD; how long will it be?  And be sorry for Your servants. 

Underlying this anxious plea for the return of God, and for His compassion for His servants, there is a profound experience that I have often felt, but been hesitant to identify because it seemed to challenge some of the wonderful truths that I learned about God in my earliest lessons of the Christian faith.  The experience is a sense of abandonment by God, impatience for Him to care enough to return (…how long?), and a desire that He would feel a certain way about me (…be sorry…).  I don’t just want God to return and rescue me; I want Him to want to rescue me, because he sees my experience and feels something about it.  The Hebrew word for return here is the same one often translated repent—even when it speaks of God.  The implications of the very idea of God repenting of anything usually rates at least a page in any good theology—why would God ever change His mind about anything?  And yet, Moses here asks God to do so.  There are, as I wrote, plenty of theologians who are more than willing to let God off the hook here, and explain to us why Moses wasn’t really asking God to change, it just seemed that way.  I’m not so sure.

I can’t solve the problem in today’s reading, or in a thousand days’ readings, because I am (in this sense, anyway) a Moses; I wonder where God is, why He is taking so long to help me, and if He is in anyway moved by my particular problems and feelings.  According to the Bible, He is with me, is not late in showing up in my life, and cares about me.  You are a Moses, too, if you’ve ever felt that way, had those questions, and yet still cried out to this LORD who seemed distant, late, and unconcerned.  I hope you’re a Moses in this regard, not because I think you’re going to do great things for God, or because I don’t want to feel alone, but because I want for both me and you to keep crying out to God when He seems far away, seems in no great hurry to be here, and even appears to be detached from our feelings.  For when we cry to God for his presence and compassion we are actually demonstrating faith in Him–a confidence not only that He hears us, but cares about our experiences, too.

Father, please give me the assurance of your presence and compassion that I so desperately need today.  Please, don’t delay!  By the end of this day, please let me look back on it and see that You are not only “with” me, but are also deeply and perfectly concerned for everything that I am going through, and all that I am feeling.  I trust You with all of that, Father!  Amen.

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Verse 12 introduces the only solution to the desperate plight of human beings that Moses has described so vividly in the preceding verses.  Under the glaring wrath of a holy and offended God, and suffering the physical effect of death as a consequence of the presence of sin in our lives—what are we to do?  How are we to find any hope of life and deliverance given our utter inability to achieve a righteousness of our own that will assuage the anger of an offended God?  The remaining verses of this Psalm point us to the ultimate, personal answer to the plight of humanity—and that answer is the mercy of God shown to people.

Given what has been said of the sinfulness of man, and the shortness of his days, we need outside help.  We require an act of mercy from God if we are to be rescued from ourselves.  We must be taught, by God, to properly assess and manage our days.  To number something means to consider it in association with other things, and assign it a value or significance.  For example, if I number the books in my library, I am assigning each one of the individual books a number, a place, recognition of its existence and significance in relation to the others.  This is not the way most people naturally live their lives, or think of the passing of one day after another.  We tend to dismiss the days of the past because they are fixed, and cannot be profited from. We neglect the present because we have not planned for it, and it is gone so fast, and we daydream of the future, because we think we can prepare for its every possibility in such a manner that we will not be caught off-guard or “miss out” on any opportunities that it may bring.  Our usual ways of viewing time itself can be quite frustrating–and unfruitful:  No one knows the future, for it has not happened yet—so there is nothing that can be learned from it.  Few of us value and treasure the present, because we are too worried about the future, and almost none of us learn from the one source of information that is unchanging, and provides endless test-cases to evaluate the effects of habits, goals, and choices—the past.  This is why we desperately need the Lord to teach us to know, evaluate, assign specific meaning to, our days.  We truly do not even know how to think rightly without Him choosing to teach us!

Father, please teach us how to think about our lives, so that we may decide how to best live them before You.  Deliver us today from the superficiality that marks our lives, the preferred simplicity that rejects learning from the past and presumes to know the future.  Instead, teach us to judge our days correctly, according to how You would have us evaluate and learn from them.  

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:11

Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? 

It’s almost a required lecture given to each new Christian, that yes; we are to fear God, but only in the right way.  We are to desire to please and obey Him, being mindful of the certainty that what a man sows he shall reap, etc., but we are not to be gripped with any real sense of fear in His presence.  I have heard countless comments, in formal presentations, sermons, published works, and in informal prayer meetings, that we must not fear God in the wrong way.  I beleive we put too much energy and effort into making sure no one is afraid of God.  We like the God of love, but the God that is due our fear…well, we don’t let Him out of the closet very often.  Of course, we’re His children now, no longer objects of wrath for our sins, but now accepted, adopted, eternally loved, saved.  But also, I assure you, many of our deepest problems would not exist if only we had feared the Lord, instead of…you can fill in the blank!

So I think we should be much more afraid of God than we are.  We should fear to fall into His discipline, should we not repent of sin.  We should fear to stand before Him in worship with hearts that are unresolved, or harboring animosity and disdain for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should, like the Corinthians that Paul wrote to, judge ourselves rightly (1 Corinthians 11:31), lest we incur that judgment of God in response to our actions and attitudes.  Can I remind you today that the fear of the Lord is not the last vestiges of an immature, archaic, unenlightened faith, but is instead the beginning of wisdom?  Perhaps if we cared more about understanding His power and less about appropriating it for our own desires and agendas, we would be a people who rightly fear the Lord, and we would be observed by an alienated, miserable, dying culture as a truly fearless people, because we truly feared the only One worthy of our fear.

Let’s pray today for the right kind of fear of our Lord.  Let’s ask Him that we would not simply fear Him as some sort of theological exercise or creedal statement, but that our lives would bear the marks of a sober, committed, obedient people who know, love, and yes, fear their God.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:10

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.

I was taught an important lesson in seminary regarding the proper study of God’s Word:

  1. What are the three essential things to understand to properly interpret the Bible?
  2. Context, context, and…context!

It’s important to consider the context (the background, basically, in a wide variety of aspects) of everything we study.  So, as we read of Moses’ seeming dour assessment of human life, particularly in consideration of its length and experience, we must remember that we are in a portion of a Psalm written by a man who would soon face the end of his own life, and this particular portion is a part of a meditation on the fleeting nature of human life, as it stands in its natural state—guilty of sin and deserving of the wrath of God upon it.  Don’t run away from this verse; encouraging verses are coming, but they are only encouraging when considered in the context of the one’s the preceded it—verses like this one.

According to Moses, the quantity of our lives has very little, nothing as a matter of fact, to do with the quality of our lives.  Even the culture around us sees the content of human life to be of infinitely greater value than its mere length.  “Just do it!”  “Go for the gusto” “You only live once”  Madison Avenue has stepped right up to the plate here, actually making the claim to be able to provide content to human life in the form of perishable goods and fleeting experiences of pleasure.  The actual word pride is formed from a root word that describes a battle, as in the storming of the wall of a city.  “Even so,” Moses would say, “at the end of your life the great battles a person wins are more costly and less profitable than he or she ever imagined, for we all die and disappear from the earth.” Like a bird, we fly away at the moment of our death.  This is the ultimate meaninglessness and futility of the life that is lived in the context of unforgiven sin and endless alienation from God, the source of all life.

Father, the years of my life are in Your hand.  They will not end earlier than You desire, nor will they continue longer than You’ve planned for them.  Thank that our lives need not end on a note of difficult labor and inevitable sorrow, but that by Your grace we can know true rest and purpose here and now—we can have eternal life by turning to You.  Today, turn my heart and my mind to You, and increase my faith and confidence that I will not simply fly away at the moment of my death, but that I will fly to You, my home.  Amen.

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:9

For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh.

I suppose this is one of those verses in the Bible that makes us cringe a little.  Sometimes it’s verses like this one that make pastors feel they need to defend God, reminding their people that He’s really not such a mean person after all, is full of love, and we’re all saved from His wrath, and Moses was perhaps having a really bad day the day he wrote this, etc.  I certainly don’t like to think of God’s people (or, me) finishing up this life under the glare of a God whose chief feelings toward me (at least according to this verse) is fury!  Do you?  And I don’t want to finish my years like a sigh; I want to live a very full, healthy, productive life, both physically and spiritually, that ends with the warm and grateful recognition of a benevolent God.  As Moses prepared to depart this life, he reflected on the heartache, disappointment and persistent failure that had robbed his people, God’s people (!), of the life of blessing and meaning that they could have had.  As he looked back across the decades and the desert miles, he saw not the villages, synagogue, farms and schools built by Israel, the new people of God, delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  He saw….graves.  That’s why there are no archaeological remains of the 40 year sojourn of the nation of Israel in the wilderness; all they left behind were makeshift graves in the shifting sands of the desert, for although they bore the name Israel—the people of God, and were a redeemed, saved people of God—they resisted following God, and seemed to distrust and disobey Him at every turn.  And so, instead of occupying cities and villages and beginning new lives as free men and free women, they wandered as punishment for their treason against their God.  And instead of that generation of former slaves building a culture of learning, achievement, and witness to the power and mercy of God—they became a nation of grave diggers, as each of them who left Egypt, save a faithful few, died off in the wilderness, day by day, year by year, barely noticed, like a sigh.

I don’t live under the fury of God today–not because He has stopped being furious at sin, but because He has stopped being furious at me.  Another has stood before that fury in my place.  I hope you, too, have been delivered from that fury.  If you haven’t, or if you are not sure, you must flee to the Man who bore the wrath of God in your place, for your sins.  You must do it this day, before your final day approaches, the day of your final breath.  And that final breath will simply be a sigh.

Lord, today, give me eyes to look to the days ahead; to acknowledged that, short of Christ’s gathering of His own, living and dead, I will certainly die one day.  Help me to appreciate the sacrifice for my sins made by the Lord Jesus, and please bring me opportunities to share the hope and forgiveness of gospel with any person who comes into my life today.  Please make it very clear to me, what I should do and say and please make me very clear in what I say!  Amen.

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:7-8

For we have been consumed by Your anger And by Your wrath we have been dismayed. You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.

Moses has explained both the time-lessness of God and the time-boundedness of man in the first six verses of this Psalm.  God is eternal, the one Cause and Precedent of all, and man is finite, prone to disease, decline, and eventually, death.  But it is not simply the difference between an eternal God and finite creatures that Moses calls our attention to; there is a state of alienation between God and man that needs to be acknowledged, and in some manner addressed, if the two are ever to be united in fellowship.  In short, something has come between God and every human being who’s every lived—and that something is sin itself.  This tragic state of affairs evokes a sense of dismay in us.  This word is used in the bible to describe sudden panic, such as King Saul experienced at the appearance of the prophet Samuel…from the grave (1 Sam. 28:21)!  The reason for this dismay is the sudden exposure of our deepest, most secret sins.  God knows everything that we have ever done, said, or thought that falls short of His perfect standard of righteousness—and He is not neutral about it all.  He does not look the other way, or say, (as we often do), “Well, who’s to judge?  No one’s perfect!”  God is the judge, and He is perfect!  Did Moses have secret sins?  Apparently so.  Do you and I have secret sins?  Of course.  In light of the blazing scrutiny of a God who is continually angry over all sin, we don’t stand a chance, it seems.

But the psalm is not over; Moses has more to say in the coming verses; about the mercy of God, and the possibility of forgiveness and divine favor given to a loving Father to His flawed and sinful children.  We’ll get there, but for today, let’s simply meditate on this holy God of ours, who knows our every impure thought and base, hurtful deed, and who is rightfully offended by our sins.  And then, let us think of the only Person able to bear the punishment of such wrath, such anger—in such a way that the righteousness judgment of God would be poured out on human sin and rebellion, and yet in a manner that offers pardon for sin, and even freedom from punishment and bondage to sin.  The death of Jesus of Nazareth was not simply a brilliant, divinely concocted scheme to give the go-ahead for God to forgive you and I, and for you and I to gain eternal life.  It was the bloody work of a Son and His Father to win back something precious that had been stolen, to find something that had been lost, to restore something that had been rendered (seemingly) forever ruined.  It was the grueling, torturous path walked by the Son through the darkness of His own grave so that you and I might walk in the marvelous light of God’s presence.

Today, look to your Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who stood in your place to face the wrath of God to receive the punishment due for your sin.  Thank God today for the simple fact of the gospel—that Jesus came to the earth to die in the place of people just like you and me, and to bear the consuming heat of the anger of God, so that we need never fear being discovered and rejected by this holy God who knows our deepest, darkest, hidden sins—and has forgiven them through the death of His Son.

Your brother,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:5-6

5 You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away. 

Moses continues his no-holds-barred consideration of the timelessness of God and the time-boundedness of man.  In today’s verses of our meditation, Moses recognizes the fact that human life is unfailingly, consistently transitory.  No life lasts longer than its allotted time.  In fact, from the grand, divine view of things, every human life can be compared to the variety of the desert grass of the Middle East that Moses observed would sprout early in the morning, watered by the precious dew of the evening, flourish for a few short hours, and then whither under the ruthless heat of the mid-day sun.  By nighttime, each blade of grass was gone.  We are not exactly like that grass—we are much more precious to the Lord than a blade of grass.  But we are like it, in that we do not last.  We can exercise five days a week, eat no red meat, but only organic food, pop vitamins like candy, religiously wear our seatbelts, and never take a second piece of pie, but we still are more like a single, thready little blade of grass than a redwood, according to these verses.  If we were seed packets, we’d be found in the Annuals section of the rack, not the Perennials.  No life-coach, plastic surgeon, or motivational speaker can change the fact that in the end of this earthly life, we are swept away as if by a flood at its fullest, raging strength.

But Moses slips in a phrase here that brings me much encouragement:  They fall asleep.  Did you see that?  I believe that Moses was the first writer of Scripture to use of the word sleep to describe physical death.  David wrote of his fear of “sleeping the sleep of death.” (Psalm 13:3)  Daniel wrote of those who “sleep in the dust” awaking to life. (Daniel 12:2)  The prophet Jeremiah wrote of the Babylonians sleeping a “perpetual sleep.” (Jeremiah 51:57)  Our Lord once approached the lifeless body of a little girl and pronounced that she was “only sleeping,” and was mocked by the professional death mourners.  When someone is dead, we don’t say, “Oh, he’s only sleeping,” because he is NOT sleeping, he is dead.  Likewise, when someone is sleeping, we don’t say, “She is dead,” because she is certainly not dead, but is only sleeping.  When we reach the end of our short, earthly lives, we are not dead forever, but will one day be brought back to life, and therefore Moses calls it sleep, for we will one Day be awakened by the voice of the King of Life.

Pray today the prayer of thanks for your eternal life—that the day of your death is in the hands of the Lord, as is the day of your resurrection from the dead.  Pray for your friends and your family members who do not know your kindhearted, forgiving Lord, that they would make peace with Him now, so that their resurrection would be to eternal life, not punishment.

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

Psalm 90:4

For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night.

“In a hundred years no one will not the difference, anyway…”  How many times have I heard that or something like it said to explain the relative insignificance of an event or condition? Paint you house with the wrong color of paint?  In a hundred years who will know the difference?  Build a deck with untreated 4X4’s?  Treated or untreated, in a thousand years, the deck will be dust anyway.   Cheat on your taxes?  In a hundred years, it’s a safe bet to say that no one will be coming after you.  But according this verse, the passage of time does not erase the events of time; time is quite irrelevant to God.  A thousand years are like yesterday…or as a watch in the night. The word like is key here—it is a signal to the reader that what follows is a metaphorical presentation given so that the reader can better understand the subject.  In other words, the thousand years is not equal to yesterday or a watch in the night, it is similar to them, in that it is just as clear and immediate in the awareness of God as if they had all occurred, at once, yesterday.  Events, circumstances, actions, and lives that existed a thousand years ago are just as fresh and clear to God as if they’d existed yesterday, or even a few hours ago in the night.  They are relevant, in the same way you are aware of (and may care about) he things that happened yesterday.  You may even live your life differently today because of something that happened yesterday.  The things that happened yesterday are also remembered.  Besides not remembering things that happened a thousand years ago, we have trouble recalling things that happened last week!  But in the same way that we do remember yesterday—what we did, where we went, who we met, etc., God even more clearly remembers everything that has ever occurred, be it one, ten, a hundred, or a thousand years ago.  And as the things that happened yesterday remain into today, so with God the unfinished business and plans begun but not finished, remain before Him.  The lawn that you left half-mowed yesterday awaits you today, the project that you left unfinished on your desk yesterday awaits you today, etc.  In the same way, the lives, generational habits and qualities, and personal and governmental movements begun a thousand years ago continue to unfold in their effects and results before the eyes of God today.  And so do the works of faith, noticed or unnoticed in their time, remain in the mind and heart of God; precious, unforgotten, and one Day to be commended and publicly recognized.

Thank the Lord today that all that you do today out of a heart of faith will not be forgotten, and will not fade with time, but will remain treasured and precious to Him.  Let us live our lives as if there were no calendars governing our days, but only the watchful, ever-remembering eye of a loving, righteous God.

Blessings!

Pastor Ken