God’s Perspective When the Clouds Appear Dark

If you are a Christian in the United States – a true Christian, a committed Christian, a Christian who knows and believes the Bible – it’s temptingly easy to enter 2021 filled with a sense of foreboding.  The cultural, social, political, legal, and even economic clouds on the horizon can appear dark for those who name the name of Christ…and maybe they are dark.  Rod Dreher’s recent book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, is one example of such foreboding (Note: In saying this, I do not mean to unduly criticize Dreher’s work.  There is much to appreciate in the book, though I personally cannot go with him in every part).  This dark horizon brings with it other temptations – to cynicism, despair, compromise, a “bunker mentality,” viewing the world as merely “us vs. them,” etc.  Over-and-against both the reality of 2021, and the temptations that come with it, stands, praise God, the Bible.  In particular (for today), Psalm 73 stands over-and-against the apparent dark clouds of the moment.

In Psalm 73, the Psalmist begins with confession.  He confesses nearly being overwhelmed with envious desire because of the seeming ascendancy of evil; desire probably fueled by cynicism, hopelessness, and bitterness: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For twelve verses the Psalmist describes and reflects on the arrogant wickedness of evil people and their apparently trouble-free life.  They are those who have no pangs until death; those whose bodies are fat and sleek (i.e. well-fed and without need); those who are not in trouble as others areand are not stricken like the rest of mankind.  The Psalmist hears when such persons scoff and speak with malice.  He’s listening as they loftily…threaten oppression.  The tragedy is all the worse when the apparent prosperity of the wicked – their seeming power and success – dupes some the Psalmist otherwise thought to be God’s people.  He mourns when his [God’s] people turn back to them [the wicked] and find no fault in them [the wicked]The Psalmist is left wondering why he even bothers to live consistent with God’s character and commands (vs. 13-15).  Is it really worth it?  Such is the Psalmist’s belabored view on life…that is, until verses 16-17.

In verses 16-17, the Psalmist’s viewpoint radically changes.  In verses 16-17, light dawns, the clouds clear, and he once again sees clearly.  What causes this change?  It’s quite simple really… “But when I thought how to understand this [the prosperity of the wicked], it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their [the wicked people’s] end.”  When the Psalmist came into the sanctuary of God – when he went to the place of worship and Word – true reality became clear.  In a moment he clearly understood that evil would not triumph; that God would judge; that justice would reign; that the Lord would have his victory.  In a moment, the Psalmist comes to a place of confession; even to a realization of how skewed his thinking and feeling had become: “When my soul was embittered [at the wicked and their “success”], when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” In a moment, he moves from bitterness to satisfying, peace-bringing, confidence-grounding worship (vs. 23-27).  The end for the Psalmist is his desire to stay in the sanctuary: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge...  Why?  Because rather than angst and complain about the wicked, the Psalmist wants to live a life of praise: “…that I may tell of all your works.” 

Now, here’s the parallel to Christians in 2021.  It would be easy, at least in America, to begin thinking, feeling, and conversing amongst ourselves like the Psalmist in his belabored and embittered outlook.  Psalm 73:4-12 seems to be a fair description of the world we perceive at the outset of this year and, perhaps, of the world as it actually is (especially if we live in certain portions of this country).  But, if we go where the Psalmist says he went in his thinking and meditation, we’ll find ourselves embittered, pricked in heart, brutish and ignorant, like a beast before God.  What is the solution?  As it was for the Psalmist, so for us it is quite simple: “…I went into the sanctuary of God.”  It was this move into the sanctuary that brought the Psalmist clarity and peace, thereby loosening his tongue again for praise rather than complaining.  This begs the question, “Where is the sanctuary of God?”  Well, I presume that for this writer, when he thought of God’s sanctuary he thought of the Temple (or maybe the Tabernacle).  The Temple was the place of God’s dwelling with his people.  It was where God’s people gathered together, in worship, grounded in God’s Word.  This was the Psalmist’s refuge, his sheltering place, his place of clarity and freedom.  What is the equivalent for God’s New Covenant people in 2021?  Where is the place of God’s presence?  Where is it that God’s people gather together in worship grounded in God’s Word?  The answer seems clear.  It’s the church…the true church…rightly-ordered and oriented churches for whom Scripture is precious, comforting, authoritative, and determinative.  By this I mean primarily local churches of multiple believers, but I certainly would not exclude here the “mini-church” of a family gathered around God’s Word in their home.  Jesus said, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  God dwells with his people gathered together as Jesus’ church.  Jesus’ church is the place of Christian togetherness, in worship, grounded in God’s Word.

So then, here’s the promise of Psalm 73: As Jesus’ people come to his sanctuary, his church, for worship, we will not fail to find’s God’s perspective on the dark clouds, the brooding horizon, of 2021.  That perspective will be for us freedom and relief.  It will be our vindication and joy.  It will be the catalyst that turns us from life-sucking complaint to life-giving praise.  In 2021, let us come into the sanctuary of the living God!

Endurance When It’s Hot

Yesterday I had the chance to preach from God’s Word regarding weariness and endurance.  Today I read this in Jeremiah 16:5-8 (NASB), and I’m reminded once again about enduring in the Lord’s strength:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.  Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD.  For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.’”

We hear in verse 8 (the bolded portion) the language and imagery of Psalm 1 (not to mention Ezekiel 47:1-12 or Revelation 22:1-2).  It’s been a hot year, this 2020, but God’s waters run deep, and clear, and cool.  No one need fear whose tap root lies in Christ.

A Word for the Moment from Bavinck

This passage from Herman Bavinck’s, The Wonderful Works of God (Westminster Seminary Press, pgs. 6-7), is worth reading and reflecting on…and maybe especially so in 2020.  I particularly like paragraph three:

“The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart.  Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place.  They seek Him down below, and He is up above.  They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven.  They seek Him afar, and He is nearby.  They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15).  But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27).  They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him.  They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him.  They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man.  He longs for truth and is false by nature.  He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another.  He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment.  He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature.  He is born a son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land.  He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).  He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

Science cannot explain this contradiction in man.  It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness.  It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall.  But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed.  Man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God.”

Governor Inslee, Your Hypocrisy Stuns

Yesterday I listened to a National Public Radio (NPR) episode of the podcast “On Point” titled “Lessons Of The Pacific Northwest Wildfire.”  As you might expect, this particular episode addressed fires burning in the states of Oregon and Washington.  During the latter portion of the show, the host, Meghna Chakrabarti, spoke with Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.  I found the Governor’s commentary disturbing at best, and disturbing is too light a word.  I was disturbed not primarily by the way in which he used his remarks to criticize President Trump and promote Joe Biden (not too surprising in an election year, though to be fair, I’ll assume the Governor spoke from true conviction and not mere political expediency), but with the Governor’s confident and (I’ll argue below) hypocritical assertion of the authority of science.  The Governor charged President Trump with an anti-scientific view of climate change that led him to be dismissive of Washington’s fire-induced tragedy.  He, Governor Inslee, described his feelings of “rage” and accused the President of a “callous indifference to science.”

Now, my purpose in this post is not to address climate science, nor is it to defend the comments or positions of the President.  Rather, my purpose is to make clear the deep hypocrisy, the stunning hypocrisy, that fundamentally undermines what the Governor said and where he presumes to stand morally.  The Governor referred repeatedly to science as if it is his grounding moral reality, an authority against which no one can argue.  And yet, I assert that in truth Governor Inslee actually does not “believe” in science.  Why?  Because he is an avid supporter of abortion.  He bragged about his position on abortion during the recent Democratic presidential primary process.  Apparently, the Governor does not see, or does not care to see, that you cannot hold to a pro-abortion position and yet claim the authority of science.  It’s profoundly hypocritical to do so…plain and simple.  True science will tell you that the so-called fetus growing inside a mother is a living, developing human being.  True science will tell you that such a child, long before birth, can feel pain, can respond to influences outside the womb (like sound for instance), and even has a special affinity for his or her mother’s voice.  In the face of “science,” Governor Inslee stubbornly maintains the twisted faith of a pro-abortion position.  It is this science-denying dark faith that made the Governor’s charge against President Trump so shockingly hypocritical (even if his charge against the President is warranted).

Repeatedly in his comments Governor Inslee referenced the tragic death of a one-year old boy killed as his parents tried to flee from a fire near Colville, WA.  While he’s certainly right to grieve the death of this little boy, why can’t Governor Inslee understand the same tragedy at work in the deaths of 17,080 children aborted in the state of Washington in 2016 alone (the last year for which the Washington State Department of Health includes statistics)?

Governor Inslee, you are a science-denier, and your denial of science is one factor contributing to the death of thousands in your state every year.  I pray you will change.  I pray you will repent.  I pray your eyes will be opened.  Consider the rage you feel pertinent to President Trump’s denial of climate science.  Let your feelings of rage cause you to wonder over the rage a holy God must feel at your denial of “created in his image” science.

Parents, Know Well Your School

(This post has now gone through a few iterations as I’ve found it necessary to moderate my words in order to try and communicate clearly and carefully.  Hopefully I come close.)

In what follows, it’s important that you know I am not anti public school education.  In fact, I am personally a long-standing beneficiary of public schools, having attended six of them ranging from elementary to graduate level.  I am also a parent whose children – all but one – have spent time, most of their time in fact, in public schools.  We’ve appreciated many fantastic teachers and administrators, and I’m thankful for what my children have learned in these schools.  I have family who serve in public education and two of the best men I know are, or were, public school teachers.  That said, while not dismally apocalyptic in outlook, I am increasingly less sanguine about the prospects of public schools.  I am increasingly convinced of the need for parents to be closely attentive to, and careful of, what their children hear in school.  Such attentiveness has always been needful, it’s just ever more so at the present time.

Why raise this point now?  Well, perhaps because in recent days I’ve been faced again with the deeply concerning milieu (the common atmosphere, the air that exists) in public schools, specifically public schools in the area of California where I live.  Let me give two examples of what I mean by a “concerning milieu,” starting with the use (or reference to) preferred gender pronouns in official school communication.  This development suggests to me that the local school system has adopted a particular worldview, namely the present-day transgender worldview.  The transgender worldview asserts that gender is not something fixed and God-given, but accidental and changeable according to personal desire.  In other words, I cannot tell my three elementary-age girls that they are young ladies because God created them such and gave them the bodies to match.  No, in fact, as the argument goes, they are free to choose whatever gender they desire, and to do so in rebellion against biology, reason, and all that is true; indeed, in rebellion against God himself.  As a father, it’s become apparent to me that this new transgender orthodoxy will increasingly define the milieu of my children’s schools, beginning with the elementary grades.  I have to ask myself, “Is this environment one in which I want my impressionable kindergartner to experience her first six years of education?”  Is committing her to such an atmosphere faithfully discharging my duty and privilege to raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Second, and closely related to the transgender worldview, is the profound influence of “mindfulness” in my area’s public schools.  “Mindfulness” is a topic that seems prevalent in my kids’ classrooms, including through teacher-led practices and material officially endorsed by administration.  By way of example, I recently reviewed a school-provided link to a video entitled, “Mindfulness Movement: Qi Gong.”  Here’s the problem: “Mindfulness” is not neutral.  “Qi Gong” is not a neutral term. “Mindfulness” is the Western appropriation of religious thought that streams from the sources of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism.  The term “mindfulness” may seem denuded of religious connotation, but it’s not.  You cannot pursue “mindfulness” (of the sort I’m referring to here) without entering into religious philosophy that, at its root, is demonic and fundamentally opposed to the living God.

Can you see where, for a Jesus-follower, I have cause for concern?  I’m concerned that two disturbing factors mark the milieu of schools in my area: 1) An explicit denial of the most basic reality in God’s created order – male and female; 2) A subtle, but not so subtle, endorsement and teaching of religious thought that is directly contrary to Scripture.  I’m not surprised by this.  I’m not surprised since both of these elements mark the societal milieu of the greater Bay Area in which I live.  While not surprised, I am concerned, and I’m increasingly unsettled by the atmosphere of my community’s public schools.

As a parent I, together with my wife, am challenged to think deeply and pray faithfully over questions like: “Lord, how should we educate our children?  What do my children need in order to be equipped as faithful followers of Jesus Christ?  What education do they need to live well according to God’s plan for them in all the endeavors he calls them to pursue – in work, in perhaps raising their own family, in contributing to society and culture, etc?”  The specific answer(s) to these questions may vary greatly, even year-by-year, according to the circumstances God providentially brings to us; according to the needs and gifts of each of our children; according to the particular realities of schools, and administrators, and teachers in our area, etc.  For our family the answer is not yet a wholesale abandonment of public schools, and I hope it won’t come to that in the future.  It may even be that God will call us to lean further in; further in as partners and participants with the public school system.  There are many good people working in public education, and I want to encourage their efforts when those efforts warrant encouragement and celebration.  That said, the cause for concern is present and growing.

Christian-parent, know your school…

Home & The Everlasting God

On Friday evening I was able to return home after just over a week of being evacuated due to the CZU Lightening Complex Fire that ravaged the San Lorenzo Valley and areas nearby (Big Basin, Bonny Doon, etc).  While I am full of thanks to God for preserving my family’s house (through the work of many brave people), I cannot forget that multiple hundreds of families in my broader community have no home to which they can return.  It was in this context that I read Psalm 90 this morning and found it sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb. 4:12).  Read the entire poem (because the whole thing is so apropos) but note with special poignancy verses 1-2.  As you do, listen to those same verses sung by Seeds Family Worship.  From everlasting to everlasting oh Lord, you are God!

 

Psalm 90 (New American Standard Bible):

(1) Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

(2) Before the mountains were born

Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting

You are God.

 

(3) You turn man back into dust

And say, “Return, O children of men.”

(4) For a thousand years in Your sight

Are like yesterday when it passes by,

Or as a watch in the night.

(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.

 

(7) For we have been consumed by Your anger

And by Your wrath we have been dismayed.

(8) You have placed our iniquities before You,

Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.

(9) For all our days have declined in Your fury;

We have finished our years like a sigh.

(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.

(11) Who understands the power of Your anger

And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

(12) So teach us to number our days,

That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

 

(13) Do return, O LORD; how long will it be?

And be sorry for Your servants.

(14) O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,

That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

(15) Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,

And the years we have seen evil.

(16) Let Your work appear to Your servants

And Your majesty to their children.

(17) Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;

And confirm the work of our hands;

Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

No Navel-Gazing! Look to Christ…

I recorded this video particularly for the people of Felton Bible Church, most of whom are scattered many places under evacuation orders because of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burning in and alongside the San Lorenzo Valley.  Of note, I bungled the name of the church whose office I borrowed…it is Grace Church Monterey Bay.  If you live in the Monterey/Seaside area, I commend this group of folks to you!

Be Encouraged…

Here are words of deep joy and real encouragement this morning:

O LORD (O Yahweh), You showed favor to Your land; 

You restored the captivity of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of Your people;

You covered all their sin.

You withdrew all Your fury;

You turned away from Your burning anger.” (Psalm 85:1-3, NASB)

How and why are these words personal for you (us) if you (we) are a follower (followers) of Jesus Christ?  Well, because of what Paul reminds us of in 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (NASB) about God:

“…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”

Amen, praise the Lord!