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A Fresh Perspective

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Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26

Psalm 73 has to be one of my favorites because it points to the fact that as a child of God, it is normal to question, to wonder, and yes, to doubt. The writer of this Psalm, Asaph, struggled greatly over the fact that while he was doing his best to serve God, the wicked were seemingly enjoying a continuous state of prosperity. This caused him no small amount of doubt, dismay, and confusion, as I’m sure it does with you and I today when it appears as though the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.

To better understand his perspective, it’s important to know a little bit about Asaph. He was was from the priestly tribe of the Levites, and was one of the three men that David had put in charge of the singing part of their worship. In today’s religious circles he would be called a worship leader or a song leader. [1]

Despite his position and his loving relationship with the Lord, it did not prevent him from feeling as though he was getting the short end of the stick. While he was doing his best for the Lord, it appeared to Asaph that the wicked were living better than he was. In other words, if the wicked were prospering while at the same time living life on their own terms, why should he continue to walk the straight and narrow if the wicked were also being rewarded?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you been the person at work who is known for always taking the high road, for example, only to see someone of questionable conduct or character get the promotion? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? It’s enough to make you question what in the world is going on here, or at least say along with Asaph ” Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain“. [2]

Just like Asaph, when we feel unfairly taken advantage of or somehow slighted, questions and doubts begin to formulate in our minds. Our flesh, being what it is, causes us to be envious of the wicked who appear to be rewarded for their deeds, leaving us to wonder about the injustice of it all. Asaph himself said that he was envious of the boastful when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. [3]

The reality is that we live in a fallen world, a world of hurt, pain, and injustice. A world where what is fair and just has been supplanted with undeserved accolades being heaped upon the enemies of those who desire to do good and to follow God. In essence, the world seems to have done a 180 when it comes to what it considers right and wrong, just and unjust. Evil, it would seem, is rewarded while Godliness is reviled in our world today.

All of this of course was spoken about in the Scriptures, so no one should be surprised that it is occurring now. The truth is, none of this is new. It’s been happening for as long as man has inhabited this earth. Even Jesus said that the rain fell upon the just and the unjust. [4]

Still, believers are no strangers to doubts and struggles. After all, we have very real emotions, emotions that can get the best of us at times. It’s important then to remember that we are not robots, programmed to act and feel according to a preset narrative. 

Who doesn’t have ups and downs in their walk with the Lord? Like many of you, I can attest to the fact that sometimes our faith is strong and sometimes it is weak. There are times when we look at the world and it has no attraction for us. Other times it seems that we can’t stop looking and admiring the things of the world. Our humanity dictates that there will be times of strength and times of weakness.

Asaph allowed the seeming prosperity of the wicked to nearly shipwreck his faith. He describes how that in trying to make sense of it all that it became too painful for him. [5] We’re like that too, aren’t we? We can become so fixated on what others have or are doing that it consumes our every thought, causing us to lose sight of the big picture. Focusing on the perceived wrongdoings of others blinds us to the reality that God is the only one qualified to make righteous judgements.

It wasn’t until Asaph went into the sanctuary that God gave him understanding in the matters that were so troubling to him.  It was then that he saw that the end of the wicked was certain destruction. Yes, the wicked certainly do prosper in this life, we see it every day, but what really matters concerning them is the same thing that matters to the righteous: where will eternity be spent?

You might say that when Asaph went to church, he received a fresh perspective on things!

Once God enlightened Asaph regarding the end of the wicked, his heart was grieved and his mind was vexed at how foolish he had been not to trust that the Lord had all of this under control. It wasn’t until after he had entered the sanctuary and enquired of God that he was able to speak the words at the top of this post.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Well, I think there are many things we can take away from this Psalm, but I want to highlight just three of them:

  1. While it is perfectly normal for us to question the injustice of wicked people prospering while the righteous suffer lack, such things are not for us to judge. God alone is righteous, therefore it is He who determines the fate of us all. This, of course, requires much faith on our part, as well as the strength to focus on our own particular calling.
  2. Sometimes the simple truth is that we need to take things to God in prayer. All of our mental wrangling over things that are beyond our ability to comprehend are best given to God. We can lay awake at night, tormented by a thousand “why’s”, only to have the sun rise upon them the next morning with nothing having been resolved. As Asaph learned, God has a different and higher perspective than we are capable of, and we can save ourselves much anguish by simply letting go of things that are outside of our own lane.
  3. Because it is a normal thing to question and doubt at times, we should use the lesson of Asaph to encourage other Christians when they too have struggles and doubts. This is far better than for us to haphazardly judge them, especially as we see so many struggling today.

I hope that you will take a few minutes today and read the 73rd Psalm in its entirety. In it you will find the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries. I don’t know about you, but from time to time I need to see things from a fresh perspective.

Have a blessed day,

Ron

[1] 1st Chronicles 15: 17 [2] Psalm 73:13 [3] Psalm 73:3 [4] Matthew 5:45 [5] Psalm 73:16

When Religion Takes Priority Over Ministry

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Unless you live in a bubble, a cave, or in a penthouse surrounded by opulence, you cannot help but see the misery of suffering humanity all around.  On the TV, on the sidewalks of your city, standing in line at a food bank, dialing the crisis hotline, misery and suffering are things this world has an abundance of.

But what if you don’t live in a bubble, a cave, or a penthouse and yet see nothing of the sufferings of humanity that are all around you? What then?

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “there is none so blind, as he who will not see”. The meaning of this is that there are people who willingly choose not to see by closing their minds and their hearts to their surroundings. [1]

Such are those in our day who are ‘religious’ in name only. They have the title but not the heart. They want the appearance of godliness but not the costs associated with it. To maintain appearances within the community they open their checkbooks, but never their hearts.

Jesus had a name for religious people like this. He called them hypocrites. Not a very flattering term, is it? And while it is easy to look at them with disdain, in all honesty, most of us would have to plead “guilty” to some degree of hypocrisy as well. Pretending to be something we’re not comes rather easily for us, does it not?

Jesus had an encounter one day with just such a person while teaching in the synagogue. Follow along with me as we find Him confronting the high priest on a certain Sabbath day.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?
“So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.   Luke 13:10-17

This story perfectly illustrates how religion separated from a relationship with Christ can become more important than ministry. The religious leader was concerned only with the letter of the Law, rather than the spirit of the Law. His strict interpretation was that no one should lift a finger to perform any type of work on the Sabbath Day, and in his view what Jesus did in healing the woman was work. Thus he was condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

Isn’t it amazing how ‘hard’ and uncaring religion can be? When it’s more important to follow your creed than it is to follow your heart, something is terribly wrong. When rigidly enforcing “the rules” takes precedence over serving others, we are out of step with our Savior.

For eighteen long years this woman had not been able to stand upright. Have you seen someone like this? I have seen several people in this condition, where their body was permanently affixed in a jackknife position. Some are so bad that their life has been condemned to staring at the floor because they can no longer look up. It is truly a horrible affliction. [2]

This is the situation that Jesus was confronted with that day in the synagogue, and I doubt He hesitated even for a moment to reach out to this woman. While everyone else came that day to hear the Law taught, Jesus had a divine appointment with someone in need of much more than words!

Did you notice how the high priest told Jesus that there were six other days in which to work? I guess he would have preferred that Jesus tell the woman to “come back tomorrow’ than for Him to heal her right then.

That’s another difference between religion and ministry. Religion doesn’t feel the pain of its adherents, rather it is more concerned that everyone fall in line and follow the established protocol. Real ministry feels the infirmities and sufferings of people, and does not wait around for prior approval to meet the need.

I love how Jesus turned the tables on the religious ruler by telling him if he had an animal that was thirsty, he would untie it and lead it to water on the Sabbath Day. By all accounts that too was ‘work’, so we see that the real issue here was not that Jesus was breaking the Law, but that this man’s religion was more important to him than ministering to the needy. In other words, this man had a ‘heart condition’ that would not permit him to offer comfort to the needy at the expense of his doctrine.

As Christians, this is not what we are to be. Knowing that Jesus came not for those who were whole, but for those that needed a physician, it stands to reason that such a mindset should be ours as well. [3]

As we gaze upon humanity with open hearts and minds, it is plain for all to see that people are imprisoned by sin, sickness, addictions of every sort, and are in distress and great need.

Our world is quickly losing its capacity to exhibit mercy and compassion, and is becoming insensitive to the plight of others. Additionally, we seem to have an insatiable appetite for gore, violence, and immorality. Such is the cost of a society that has rejected God.

May it not be said of us that we looked, but did not see. Rather, may it be said of us that we looked upon suffering humanity with the same eyes and heart that Jesus did.

After all, that is why we are here. Isn’t it?

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] This saying has been traced back to 1546, and has its origins in Jeremiah 5:21

[2] The affliction this woman had is known medically as Camptocormia, and is typically associated with another disease

[3] Scripture reference Mark 2:17