July 29, 2009

Him who Rides through the Deserts

“The LORD.” “The Almighty.” “God Most High.” “Jehovah Jireh.” “The Maker of heaven and earth.” All these are names, or titles, given to God in the Scriptures. But did you know that another biblical name for God is “Him who rides through the deserts”? That is what David calls the Lord in Psalm 68.4: “Him who rides through the deserts”. Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Why would God be out in the deserts? Why would He spend His time, as it were, criss-crossing the most empty, uninhabited places on earth? Wouldn’t it sound more correct to call God ‘Him who rides through the cities and towns’? Perhaps. After all, He does ride through the cities and towns, blessing people left and right. But in Psalm 68, the focus is different. In Psalm 68, God is “Him who rides through the deserts.” But why? Why would God be out in the middle of nowhere? What did David have in mind when called God “Him who rides through the deserts”?

Well, surely David was thinking back to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt … and how the LORD rode through the desert with them – sheltering them, providing for them, and fighting for them. Surely David had that ancient Sinai wilderness experience in mind when He called God “Him who rides through the deserts.” But he did not only have the book of Exodus in mind. For (writing several centuries after the exodus) David calls God “Him who rides (present tense) through the deserts.” In other words, David’s point is not simply that, at one time in history, God rode through the desert … but that, to this day, He “rides” through the desert. But how so? How does God ride through the desert today?

David actually tells us what he means in the verses that follow Psalm 68.4. What does it mean that God “rides through the deserts”? Well, He is “a father to the fatherless” and “a judge for the widows” (v.5). He “makes a home for the lonely” and “leads out the prisoners into prosperity” (v.6). In other words, just as God once rode through the Sinai desert, He continues, today, riding through the deserts of fatherlessness, widowhood, loneliness, and imprisonment. We see that perfectly in the life of Jesus, do we not? In the way He cared for children. In the way He healed the sick. In the way He befriended the outcasts. In the way He cared for His (presumably) widowed mother. Jesus rode through the deserts!

All of us (who believe) celebrate this Jesus don’t we? The Jesus who loves the outcast; who befriends the sinner; who “rides through the deserts”. But are we like Him? Are you like Him? When you are riding through the desert of the inner city; when you hear about a deserted child; when you see the elderly in need; when you encounter an obviously lonely person; when you come in contact with the mentally perplexed … do you find yourself loving him or her for Jesus’ sake? Or do you speed through these deserts as quickly as possible, never to return?

And if the answer is the latter, have you forgotten where Jesus met you? It was in the desert wasn’t it? Okay, maybe you weren’t a widow, or an orphan, a prisoner, or a loner. But far more alienating than any of those sociological deserts is the desert of sin. When Jesus met you, you were separated from God. You were going to require far more time, attention, and slow-going effort than any orphan ever could. Indeed, Jesus is still ‘raising’ you today! He made a lifelong commitment to you … sins, alienation, and all! He rode through the desert to meet you, died to redeem you, and lives forever to intercede for you, train you, and grow you.

So be sure that you don’t shy away from, every now and again, riding back through the deserts with Him. And make sure you drive slow enough to notice – and stop to give gospel help to – the thirsty people all around you.

July 20, 2009

Pray without Ceasing ... for V.B.S.

That is God’s command to us in 1 Thessalonians 5.17. It does not mean that we lock ourselves away in a closet all day and never do anything but pray. But it means that, as we go about our daily routine, we ought to be lifting up the day’s events, the people we meet, and the tasks that lie ahead to God. Over the next week, I want to ask you to add our Vacation Bible School to the list of things you are praying for through the day. I also want to ask you to tear off this leaflet and use it as a prayer guide for VBS during your daily quiet time … and for some of you … as you commit time to come and pray while VBS is happening. So, pray for …

Our Teachers and Assistants
Jessica, Mark, Tammy, Gary, Tobey, and Allen
▪That their lessons would be well-prepared, accurate, winsome.
▪That the manner in which they teach would convey to the children that God is great and greatly to be praised.
▪That they would love the children deeply, and so be an attractive testimony.

Our Other Volunteers
Regina, Kurt, Karen, Daniel, Carolyn, Carolyn, Charles, Bryan, Jenny, Midge, Scott, Glenn, and Carole Jean
▪That their games, snacks, administration, songs, prayers, and other duties would be done with all their hearts … and be well-prepared.
▪That they would love the children deeply, and so be an attractive testimony.
▪That they would, especially, have opportunities to interact with and show the love of Christ to the parents.

The Children
▪That God would bring them … lots of them!
▪That God would make their hearts ready to learn, teachable, and softened toward His gospel.
▪That God would give us a group of children who can, by-and-large, attend the whole week long and get the full picture we’re trying to paint.

Parent’s Night
Friday, 8:15-8:45pm
▪For pastor Kurt as he prepares a brief gospel message for the moms and dads.
▪That many parents would come.
▪That the parent’s hearts would be softened toward the message.

Remember, If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 Jn 5.14)!

July 13, 2009

"There are People up There!"

Last Monday at 10:41pm, the International Space Station (perhaps some of you saw it) hurtled like a comet with its tail cut off, across the black backdrop of the Cincinnati sky. It’s a rare occasion when Earth's largest and most impressive man-made satellite’s orbit passes exactly over our city and is visible to the naked eye … so Tobey and I stayed up to watch it (actually, I woke her up at about 10:35 to go outside and see a ‘surprise’!). And here is what struck me as we stood in our yard, gazing at what looked like a speeding fireball criss-crossing the night:

‘That thing is over 200 miles away from the earth, moving that fast … and there are people up there! People on a satellite nearly as far away as Cleveland … and we can actually see it! It must be absolutely huge to be visible at that distance.’

Ever since that time, I have been mulling over what lessons there might be to garner from our 3 minutes of late Monday fun. And I came up with three:

First, the human mind is amazing. I don’t know how it works … but human beings have come up with a way to launch themselves 200 miles (and more) out into space, fly at breakneck speeds (17,000 mph in this case), and not shoot off into oblivion. Wow! Does that not teach us something about “the image of God” that is stamped on the human soul? God has created man with amazing potential. And if the created beings are that intelligent and capable … what must their Creator be like?

Second, the Space Station is, to me, another hint at Intelligent Design. In other words, the Space Station (a monument to human intelligence and scientific research) is, at the same time, an illustration of the fact that the universe didn’t spring into existence by chance. The Space Station tells me that the universe must have a Creator. How so? Well, think about it. I don’t know how much time, money, experimentation, and engineering acumen went into making a satellite that can fly at 17,000 mph, house human beings for months at a time, and measure who knows what. But I know it took a significant amount of thought, testing, research, cash, and so on. You don’t just wake up one day and – poof! – a highly intricate space station is up and running! How much less so an entire planet that has housed people for thousands of years, moves a lot faster than 17,000 mph (without crashing into anything!), and is home to the most complex of scientific realities? Surely if the greatest man-made satellite ever created didn’t happen by chance … neither did the much larger and more complex Satellite around which it orbits!

Third, it occurred to me how small I really am. On the one hand, the Space Station has to be pretty enormous for us to see it at 220 miles’ distance. But on the other hand … at only 220 miles distance, space's greatest man-made satellite looks just a little bigger than a typical night star – smaller than the tail end of a firefly dancing in the summer breeze. And it occurred to me that one doesn’t have to go very far into space (relatively speaking, of course) before the Earth itself begins to look like a blip on the radar screen. Before one even leaves the Milky Way galaxy, in fact, our entire Solar System, with its gigantic Sun, is no longer plainly visible. And ours is just one of billions of galaxies in the vastness of the universe! And yet God has chosen to make Himself known here – to make man in His image here; to give His word here; to send His Son here. Not because we are all that enormous in the grand scheme of things, but because He is willing to stoop down and love us – in spite of our smallness … and our sin.

July 6, 2009

"Will You not Yourself revive us again?" (part 3)

For a third and final week we consider the text:
"Will You not Yourself revive us again?" (Psalm 85.6).

And again we say that the psalmist was desperate. God’s people had lost the joy of their salvation. Indeed, they seemed to have lost their first love. They no longer served the LORD with gladness. They had, in many ways, fallen asleep. And it is not out of the realm of possibility that some who read these lines will find themselves on exactly the same spiritual siesta. You know you aren’t what you once were … and that we, as a church, are not what we could be. And thus Psalm 85.6 should be valuable to you. It’s a simple cry that God would restore the joy, awaken the desires, and renew the zeal that we had when we first believed … and have sometimes had since.

So far, we’ve made three observations regarding the psalmist’s prayer:

1. The psalmist prayed for revival. His prayer was not that God would make the neighborhoods and the nations alive to Himself (necessary as that is) … but that God would awaken, or revive, those people who were already alive to God. “Revive us” was the prayer. ‘Revive Your own people. Restore us to what we once were … and should be.’ That was the psalmist’s prayer.

2. The psalmist prayed in faith.Will You not … revive us”, he asked. ‘Won’t You revive us?’ Almost as if to say, ‘How could You not answer this prayer?’.

3. The psalmist prayed while looking back. “Will You not Yourself revive us again.” The psalmist was not asking God to do something he had never done before. No, no! Rather, he was remembering the mighty acts of God in days gone by … and praying: ‘Lord, do it again!’

Finally, let us note carefully that …

4. The psalmist simply prayed! Does that sound over-simple … especially since each of the previous three points began with the phrase ‘the psalmist prayed …’? Maybe it is obvious. But it bears repeating again and again: The psalmist simply prayed! He did not make fresh resolves, or promises, or speeches to the rest of the people urging them to make new resolves and promises! He did not, realizing that he and his people weren’t what they once were, immediately dive into a whirlwind of activity. He didn’t, in other words, think that the solution to spiritual slumber lay in something that he himself could accomplish.

No! This would have to be God’s work. That is why the psalmist prayed: “Will You not Yourself revive us again?”. He and his countryman didn’t need more religion, or activity, or services. They needed God! And so do we! We need an outpouring of the Spirit that would refresh us as the spring rain.

What does a farmer do when he needs rain? Does he think that plowing, and planting, and so on will bring the rain? Of course not! Surely he keeps doing these necessary things, so that when the rain comes, he will be ready. But he does not convince himself that, if he would just plow a little harder, or plant even more seeds, that this would bring the May showers. Not for a moment. So what does the farmer do during a drought? Well, if he’s smart, he keeps doing the few things he knows to do … and, most of all, he prays!

And so it must be with you and I. We need the Spirit in the worst way. But we won’t get Him simply by redoubling our efforts. No! We must pray harder, not do more. If and when the Spirit comes, He will do more with our plain and simple services and hymns and witnessing efforts than a million zealous men could do without Him. So keep reading. Keep worshiping. Keep witnessing. But above all … PRAY for the outpouring of the Spirit!

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11.13).