Keys to Thriving

Psalm 1

1Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.

2But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law.

3They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

4But this is not true of the wicked. They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.

5They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly.

6For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:1-6, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In the very first Psalm, the author paints a picture contrasting the life of those who follow the Lord with those who don’t.

The person who follows the Lord is depicted as a healthy tree that is firmly planted and has plenty of water. As a result, the tree thrives, producing fruit without fail, in every season, just as it is supposed to.

But those who don’t follow the Lord, termed “the wicked”, don’t thrive. Instead of producing fruit, they are like worthless dried leaves that wither in the wind.

What is it that determines whether someone is going to thrive or not?

According to the author, what allows some to thrive is that they “delight in doing everything the Lord wants.” The author expounds by saying, “day and night they think about his law.”

The person who thrives, spiritually speaking, does so because he commits himself to following God’s pattern for righteous living as outlined in God’s law.

You may be saying, “I thought Jesus died so that we would not have to follow the Law”, to which I would agree.

However, the fact that Jesus died does not mean we can do whatever we want. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, “The Decisive Issue in Following Christ”, when we come to Jesus to save us, we are not just saying a prayer that will allow us to escape some future punishment (hell). We are making a decision to make Jesus king in our lives, voluntarily submitting ourselves to His rules and His rule.

Jesus died so that the Law no longer condemns us and no longer punishes us. But God still outlines for us throughout the scriptures the way to righteous living. Those who want to prosper will follow the Lord’s guidelines for living. Those guidelines are not found by listening to the media, academia, celebrities or corporate America. God alone provides the way to a rich and abundant spiritual life.

Do you want to thrive? Do you want to be like a tree that is firmly planted, bearing fruit and flourishing?

According to Psalm 1, this happens only by knowing what God wants and actively and intentionally pursuing His ways.

Reflection

What kind of tree are you, spiritually speaking? Are you thriving? Why or why not?

The author says that those who prosper do so because they do everything God wants and they constantly think about God’s laws (God’s guidelines for righteous living). What evidence would you present to demonstrate that you know God’s ways and that you actively pursue them?

What factors might cause a tree that is thriving to begin to die and produce worthless dry leaves?

What are the things in your life and environment that make it harder for you to thrive spiritually and produce regular and consistent spiritual fruit?

 

The Origin of the “Scapegoat”

Leviticus 16

3“When Aaron enters the sanctuary area, he must follow these instructions fully. He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. 4Then he must wash his entire body and put on his linen tunic and the undergarments worn next to his body. He must tie the linen sash around his waist and put the linen turban on his head. These are his sacred garments. 5The people of Israel must then bring him two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering.

6“Aaron will present the bull as a sin offering, to make atonement for himself and his family. 7Then he must bring the two male goats and present them to the LORD at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 8He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be sacrificed to the LORD and which one will be the scapegoat. 9The goat chosen to be sacrificed to the LORD will be presented by Aaron as a sin offering. 10The goat chosen to be the scapegoat will be presented to the LORD alive. When it is sent away into the wilderness, it will make atonement for the people.

11“Then Aaron will present the young bull as a sin offering for himself and his family. After he has slaughtered this bull for the sin offering, 12he will fill an incense burner with burning coals from the altar that stands before the LORD. Then, after filling both his hands with fragrant incense, he will carry the burner and incense behind the inner curtain. 13There in the LORD’s presence, he will put the incense on the burning coals so that a cloud of incense will rise over the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. If he follows these instructions, he will not die. 14Then he must dip his finger into the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover and then seven times against the front of the Ark.

15“Then Aaron must slaughter the goat as a sin offering for the people and bring its blood behind the inner curtain. There he will sprinkle the blood on the atonement cover and against the front of the Ark, just as he did with the bull’s blood. 16In this way, he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place, and he will do the same for the entire Tabernacle, because of the defiling sin and rebellion of the Israelites. 17No one else is allowed inside the Tabernacle while Aaron goes in to make atonement for the Most Holy Place. No one may enter until he comes out again after making atonement for himself, his family, and all the Israelites.

18“Then Aaron will go out to make atonement for the altar that stands before the LORD by smearing some of the blood from the bull and the goat on each of the altar’s horns. 19Then he must dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it seven times over the altar. In this way, he will cleanse it from Israel’s defilement and return it to its former holiness.

20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and the altar, he must bring the living goat forward. 21He is to lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the sins and rebellion of the Israelites. In this way, he will lay the people’s sins on the head of the goat; then he will send it out into the wilderness, led by a man chosen for this task. 22After the man sets it free in the wilderness, the goat will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land. (Leviticus 16:3-22, NLT)

Psalm 103

10He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve.

11For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:10-12, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote here about the different sacrifices and offerings that are described in great detail in the early chapters of Leviticus. Knowing the purpose of these sacrifices is helpful for understanding the means by which the Israelites maintained fellowship with a holy God.

Leviticus 16 gives details on what is probably the most important day of the year for an Israelite – the day of atonement. On this day, the high priest offered up sacrifices to make atonement for the entire nation.

The details surrounding the events of this day were very precise, beginning with the high priest cleansing himself and wearing the proper attire for the sacrifice.

The first thing required of the high priest was to present two randomly selected goats to the Lord outside of the entrance to the tabernacle.

The high priest then offered a bull as a sin offering to make atonement for himself and his family. Remember that the sin offering was made to atone for any unintentional sins that one may have committed.

After making the sin offering for himself and his family, the high priest was to take fragrant incense behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies and place the incense on the burning coals in order to create a fragrant cloud of incense within the Holy of Holies. This was the only day of the year the high priest was allowed to enter this sacred part of the tabernacle and he alone was allowed to enter.

In addition to the incense, the high priest was to take some of the blood of the bull that was sacrificed and sprinkle it on the atonement cover (the Ark of the Covenant).

Next, the high priest was to take one of the goats and offer it up as a sin offering for the entire nation of Israel. He then took some of the blood from that sacrifice and just as he did with the bull’s blood, he entered into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled this goat’s blood on the Ark, making atonement for the entire nation.

After doing all of this, the high priest would then bring the living goat forward. He would place both of his hands on the living goat’s head and confess the sins and the rebellion of the nation. This is the origin of the term scapegoat, as the sins of the nation were symbolically transferred to this living goat.

This living goat was then led out into the wilderness by a person appointed for this specific task. The picture of leading the goat into the wilderness was symbolic of the sins of the nation being cast away and permanently removed from the presence of the community.

The psalmist, in Psalm 103:12, states it this way:

He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west.

So two things are at work in these events. First, the goat that was sacrificed demonstrated that the punishment for sin is death. This goat was sacrificed in the place of the community. The blood, which is symbolic of life, was shed in the place of the people.

Secondly, the scapegoat was used to “take the blame” for the community so that the people in the community could be cleansed and restored to their previous version of holiness, thereby maintaining a right standing before God.

The goat being led into the wilderness was meant to be a picture for the Israelites demonstrating what God does with our sin once it is atoned for. He removes it from our presence and He casts it into the wilderness, as far as the east is from the west.

Today, we use the term “scapegoat” as a way to blame another person or group for something they didn’t do, in order to avoid consequences or retribution for our offense. But the term originally was used to demonstrate how God takes the sins of the community that have been atoned for by an innocent surrogate animal and He removes those sins from the community and permanently casts them away.

Reflection

What is your experience with either a person or group that was labeled as a “scapegoat”? What were the circumstances? When have you been a scapegoat for others?

God has removed our sins “as far as the east is from the west”. Since east and west never meet, this means our sins are removed an “infinite” distance from us. What effect does knowing that our sins are “infinitely” removed from us have on you? How does it impact your view of God and His capacity to forgive?

The entire sacrificial system was meant to provide a word-picture for the people to see the magnitude of God’s holiness, the depth and seriousness of the people’s sin, and the means by which God would demonstrate both His justice and His mercy. In what ways do you see these word-pictures being carried out in the sacrifice Jesus made? What parallels do you see between the sacrifices made in the Old Testament and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross?

 

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

A Psalm for the Those Who Aspire to Lead

Psalm 101

1I will sing of your love and justice. I will praise you, LORD, with songs.

2I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to my aid? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.

3I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all crooked dealings; I will have nothing to do with them.

4I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil.

5I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride.

6I will keep a protective eye on the godly, so they may dwell with me in safety. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me.

7I will not allow deceivers to serve me, and liars will not be allowed to enter my presence.

8My daily task will be to ferret out criminals and free the city of the LORD from their grip.

(Psalm 101: 1-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Billy Graham lived to be 100 years old and he was never a part of any kind of moral scandal. His son, Franklin Graham, explained here that Billy Graham lived by a principle that has come to be known by many as “The Billy Graham Rule” which, simply put, was a principle of never being alone with a woman other than his wife.

So Billy would never take a car ride alone with another woman or meet another woman for lunch, even if it was business or ministry related. He always met in a public place and required one of his assistants to be there with him.

If these “rules” sound extreme, it’s because they are. But they are effective as well. Billy knew that if he had a failure, and Lord knows that there are many godly men who have, it wouldn’t just be a stain on his own reputation, but it would affect the image of Jesus himself.

This Psalm reflects the spirit of a leader who is deeply committed to living a life of integrity and lifting up the name of the Lord.

The psalmist begins with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving before making a number of character-based commitments. Among them are:

    • a commitment to living a blameless life
    • a commitment to integrity
    • a refusal to look at anything vile and vulgar
    • a hatred for and rejection of all crooked dealings
    • a rejection of perverse ideas – avoiding evil at all costs
    • an intolerance for people who slander others
    • keeping a protective eye on the godly
    • only allowing those who are above reproach the opportunity to serve them
    • not allowing deceivers to be personal servants
    • avoiding those who are liars altogether
    • pursuing the daily task of ferreting out criminals
    • performing the daily task of seeking to free the city of the Lord (Jerusalem) from the grip of criminals

We live in a culture where temptations abound. The opportunity to slip up morally is more prevalent now than ever.

In addition, due to technological advances, scrutiny from those who might seek to capitalize on our mis-steps is also higher than ever.

In other words, there are more temptations than ever and more watchful eyes than ever. Therefore, the chances that our secret sins will eventually come to light are also greater than ever.

Leaders who want to live with integrity would do well to have a plan and to be intentional about placing safeguards within their lives to protect them from making the kinds of catastrophic mistakes that have drastic and long-term effects.

This Psalm is a great example of intentionality to a life of integrity, purpose and honor.

Reflection

What are some examples of Christians you know or know of who have experienced a moral failure?

What personal steps have you taken to live with integrity and honor? What kinds of principles or guidelines have you put in place in order to reduce the risk of a moral failure?

What are some situations or circumstances where you would be most likely to compromise?

Which of the items in the above list would be most challenging to you?

 

Photo by Hiroshi Kimura on Unsplash

A Psalm With a Timely Warning!

Psalm 95

1Come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us give a joyous shout to the rock of our salvation!

2Let us come before him with thanksgiving. Let us sing him psalms of praise.

3For the LORD is a great God, the great King above all gods.

4He owns the depths of the earth, and even the mightiest mountains are his.

5The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.

6Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker,

7for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the sheep under his care. Oh, that you would listen to his voice today!

8The LORD says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness.

9For there your ancestors tried my patience; they courted my wrath though they had seen my many miracles.

10For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’

11So in my anger I made a vow: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
(Psalm 95:1-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

If you read through the Psalms regularly, you no doubt have certain psalms that become your favorites. Psalm 95 is one of my favorites because it praises God for who He is and what He’s done.

Here is a simple list of items to recognize about God from this psalm:

    • He is the ROCK of our salvation
    • He is a GREAT God
    • He is the KING above all gods
    • He owns the depths of the earth
    • He owns the mightiest mountains
    • The sea belongs to Him because He created it
    • He also created the land
    • The Lord made US as well
    • The Lord is OUR God
    • He watches over us, His sheep

Though there are plenty of reasons to praise God, this psalm also comes with a command and a caution.

The command is to “listen to His voice today!”

The caution is that we not harden our hearts as the Israelites did at Meribah.

The reference here is to a situation that occurred in Exodus 17. The Israelites had been miraculously delivered from the Egyptians but found themselves wandering in the desert and doubting God’s motives and ability to provide. In the previous chapter they had complained about having a lack of food so God miraculously provided quail and manna for them to eat.

In Exodus 17, they found themselves thirsty with no visible source of water. Again, they complained to Moses and to God despite all of the miracles God had already performed to demonstrate His ability and desire to provide for His people.

In this psalm, the Lord gives the caution that we should heed as well. Despite the Lord’s miracles that we’ve seen in our own lives, we are all susceptible to a hardening of our hearts. This hardening will often come in times of distress or struggle, when things are not going the way we want. In those times, it’s easy to question whether God is there or whether He cares!

These words are especially timely, given all that’s happened this last year. It’s a reminder that God is still great. He’s still the king of all gods. He’s still the rock of our salvation. And He’s still the creator of all that we see, including US!

Therefore, God deserves our praise, even if our own personal circumstances aren’t what we would hope or desire.

Reflection

What are some times in your life where you’ve been tempted to harden your heart and question God or even doubt His existence? What were the circumstances?

What are some practical things you can do to avoid a hardening of your heart?

Besides the list from this psalm, what are some of God’s other attributes and actions that make Him worthy of our praise?

God’s command in this passage is to “listen to His voice today!” What are some ways you are able to listen to God’s voice? How do you typically hear the Lord’s voice?

 

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

 

Does the Existence of Evil Disprove God?

Psalm 75

1We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near. People everywhere tell of your mighty miracles.

2God says, “At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked.

3When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, I am the one who keeps its foundations firm.

Interlude

4“I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’ I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists!

5Don’t lift your fists in defiance at the heavens or speak with rebellious arrogance.’”

6For no one on earth—from east or west, or even from the wilderness—can raise another person up.

7It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.

8For the LORD holds a cup in his hand; it is full of foaming wine mixed with spices. He pours the wine out in judgment, and all the wicked must drink it, draining it to the dregs.

9But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done; I will sing praises to the God of Israel.

10For God says, “I will cut off the strength of the wicked, but I will increase the power of the godly.”

(Psalm 75:1-10, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The biggest, most potent argument the atheist has against the existence of God is the presence of evil.

The atheist argument against the existence of God generally goes as follows:

    • If God exists, he is all-powerful and all-loving
    • An all-loving God would WANT to eradicate evil
    • An all-powerful God would BE ABLE to eradicate evil
    • Since evil is not eradicated then God must either not be all-loving or not be all-powerful
    • Therefore, an all-loving, all-powerful God doesn’t exist

This argument is logical and if the premises are true then the conclusion, which logically follows, must also be true.

But are the premises true?

Does it follow that because evil exists, then God must not be all-loving? Because evil exists, does that mean that God must not care about it?

Or does the fact that evil exists mean that God is unable to do anything about it? Does it mean that he’s not all-powerful but is instead an impotent deity? Or worse, an imaginary deity?

The problem with the argument above is really premise number four, and it’s exactly what Asaph, the psalmist, addresses in verse 2 of his psalm when he says:

God says, “At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked.

The fact that evil exists doesn’t mean that God is unable to deal with it, nor does it mean that God doesn’t WANT to deal with it. It only means that He hasn’t dealt with it YET. And in this psalm, we learn that God DOES have a time plan for dealing fully and completely with evil.

Why would God possibly delay in dealing fully and forcefully with evil?

One reason that God is waiting to fully and finally dealing with evil is PEOPLE.

If God were to bring about justice and completely eradicate evil now, Jesus would need to return and put an end to the current world system which promotes and perpetuates the evil we see and experience. And that would mean that all people would enter into immediate judgment. That means people would no longer have a chance to respond to the message of hope and forgiveness that is offered through Christ’s sacrificial death.

Peter, in his second letter, said it this way:

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9, NLT)

There may be other unknown reasons God has for waiting to bring about ultimate justice. We simply cannot know everything about what God has planned or why He has planned it that way. One thing we know from reading the book of Job is that God is all-wise and He is infinitely more knowledgeable than we are. The idea that we could indict Him for what we think is some cosmic injustice when we really know next to nothing about God or the way the universe works is somewhat laughable. And yet, we, in our human arrogance, think we know more about fairness and justice than God does!

The presence of evil doesn’t mean God is unaware of it or unable to deal with it. It simply means that His plan for eliminating it hasn’t been fulfilled or fully enacted yet. This is exactly what the Scriptures tell us.

Furthermore, the presence of evil is an issue even for the atheist. It may seem like evil is an ironclad apologetic that disproves the existence of God but if you believe God doesn’t exist, you still have evil. Removing God doesn’t have the effect of removing evil. It only removes God as a factor in understanding evil.

How exactly are we to make sense of evil acts without the presence of God? What I mean by that is how does not believing in God make it easier to understand and cope with the existence of evil?

I don’t think evil can be explained or understood if you take God out of the picture. If God is removed, how does one explain the existence of evil? Where did it come from and how can we explain its ongoing presence?

The truth is evil seems to be on the rise in our world. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent explanation and solution to the problem of evil that doesn’t include God.

God DOES care about evil.

God WILL eradicate evil.

But He will do it in His timing, according to His ultimate plan, part of which includes, in His cosmic goodness, the patient delay of justice so that we might repent of our own evil deeds and turn to God for forgiveness and redemption!

Reflection

If you are Christian, or a believer in God, how have you previously understood and made sense of the presence of evil?

If you are an atheist, how do you explain the existence of evil? What is your solution for eradicating evil?

What are some reasons you think God might be delayed in dealing with evil and bringing about justice?

When we talk about evil, how do we even know what evil is? Whether you are a theist or an atheist, what is the standard by which you measure actions and are able to label them as evil or not?

 

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels