Gates of Zion

Psalms 87:2
“The Lord loves the gates of Zion, More than all the dwellings of Jacob.”

Jerusalem is without question a beautiful place. It sits atop mount Moriah and is surrounded by the mountains of Judah. Standing on the Temple Mount you can look out in every direction and see the beautiful hill country of Judea and imagine scenes straight out of the Biblical narrative. That being said, I think there may be another reason why God loves the gates of Zion. It may have a whole lot more to do with what He has and will accomplish there than with the terrain. The history of Jerusalem is the history of the grace of God.

It was a man from ancient Jerusalem who met Abraham after his battle with Chederloamar. This man, known as Melchizedek, is one of the great characters of Scripture and serves as a perfect type of Christ. He was both a priest of the Most High God and the king of Salem. It is from his ministry that we can understand the high priestly ministry of Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, and ever lives to intercede on our behalf.

It was Jerusalem where God instructed Abraham to take his only son and offer him as a sacrifice to God. It is in this scene that we have the most vivid illustration of God’s means of saving man. We see that no human sacrifice, no matter how great, can appease the wrath of God. It is only through substitution that we can be saved. In the narrative, God provides a ram and promises a lamb. Years later, John the Baptist explains that Christ is the lamb once promised by God, to take away the sins of the world.

It was in Jerusalem where Solomon built a permanent house for the Ark of God, and as a place for the people to gather in worship. His father, David, had purchased the hilltop from Ornan, the Jebusite, and stockpiled materials for his son to ultimately build the Temple. It was on this same location that Zerrubuabel would rebuild the Temple. Herod would spend countless funds to refurbish it, making it one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

It was in Jerusalem, at the temple where Jesus stunned the religious leaders with His wisdom and understanding of the Word of God. It was there where He turned the tables over and drove out the money changers. It was in this city of Jerusalem where he was condemned, beaten and carried off to be crucified. It was just beyond the gates of Zion, where the Son of God bore the weight of human sin, so we could be pardoned, forgiven and set free.

It was in Jerusalem where the apostle’s waited for the promises regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was in an undisclosed upper room somewhere in the city, that they waited and prayed, until God opened the windows of heaven and poured His Spirit upon them. As a result, it was in the city of Jerusalem where the church began; the church that would spread the gospel around the world, and forever change human history.

It is in Jerusalem, where Jesus will one day return to set up his throne, and complete the Bible’s promises regarding the Kingdom of God. One day, all things will be made right and righteousness will cover the earth, as the waters covers the sea. Those who have trusted Christ will not only be saved from the wrath of God, but will have the pleasure of reigning and ruling alongside Him, as He establishes His Kingdom.

Certainly, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion, More than all the dwellings of Jacob.”

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Kings 11- Armed And Dangerous
2 Kings 12- Giving
Psalm 88- Where Do You Turn?

Mercy And Truth

Psalm 85:10
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.”

One of my favorite movie lines of all times is at the end of “The Princess Bride.” As the narrator comments upon the kiss of Wesley and Buttercup, he states, “Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” That statement, while nothing more than a poetic expression in the film, would certainly be true of the statement the Psalmist makes here.

When the righteousness and mercy of God met together, it was an expression of both the passion and the purity of the love of God. Righteousness speaks of the nature of God that is without sin, and perfectly holy, as well as His demand for justice. Scripture makes clear, because of the majesty of His holiness, sin cannot survive in His presence. Like tissue being consumed in a raging flame, so the sinner can have no place in the audience of a holy God. The purity of His eyes cannot behold evil, and the angelic host ever live to circle His throne, and herald his righteousness.

Coupled with his righteousness, is His desire to pardon. The love of God for humanity produces within Him a burning desire to pardon sin, giving us access into His heavenly domain. How can these two seemingly contradictory characteristics ever be satisfied? The Psalmist declares that it happened when righteousness and mercy kissed. This beautiful statement found its complete fulfillment in the cross. The holiness of God was satisfied when the blood of Christ was shed. Isaiah wrote, “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,  for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

The righteousness of Christ satisfies the holiness and justice of God. Because He bore our iniquities, God is able to pardon our sins, satisfying His passion for mercy. Paul declared, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Corinthians 5:21). The passionate love of God for you stirred Him to send His own Son, to make a way for you to live forever. Without trying to sound too strange, allow me to ask, “Have you experienced the kiss of heaven?” Have you allowed mercy and righteousness to meet together, by receiving Christ as your Lord and Savior. Today is that day!

Pastor Jim
Old Testament:
2 Kings 9- Introspective
2 Kings 10- Part Way
Psalm 86- Unite My Heart

Who’s The Real Enemy

Psalms 83:1
“Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!”

Prayer takes on many different forms. Sometimes it is appropriate to offer praise for the many blessings we receive from God, other times it is important to intercede for the needs of others; and we must never forget to take time to petition God for the issues that affect our personal lives. Here in Psalm 83, we find another essential element of an effective prayer life, as the Psalmist pleads with God to deal with those who have gathered themselves against God. He describes those who have consulted together with the goal of removing the influence of God and His people. In response, he pleads with God to intercede by defeating these enemies. It seems that his prayers are motivated by a desire to free the people of God from oppression, as well as a desire to see the enemies of God saved. He declares;

Psalms 83:16 “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O Lord.”

Psalms 83:18 “That they may know that You, whose name alone is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.

It seems we are in an age where the enemies of God are at an all time high. We are surrounded by those who want to silence the Gospel, or at least rewrite it. If we publicly declare the message of Christ, we may receive an onslaught of ridicule, or be marked as  bigots, and accused of inciting hate. Now is the time for believers to increase the kind of prayer recorded in the 83rd Psalm. It is important to keep in mind, the real enemy of the Christian is not the outspoken atheist or the unrepentant coworker. Our real enemy is the devil, who seeks to hold men and women captive in their sin. We are not praying for God to destroy those who oppose Him, but to reveal Himself to them for their own sake.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Psalm 84- Heart’s Cry
2 Kings 7- 4 Leprous Men
2 Kings 8- Quick Fix

Perspective

Psalm 81:4
“For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob.”

After choosing His people, God established laws to govern their behavior. There were moral laws and social laws, as well as ceremonial laws. All of which, when followed, would serve to benefit the individual, as well as the nation.

The Psalmist draws our attention to a particular set of laws that had to do with worship. “Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day.” Psalm 81:1-3

Instead of laws that forbid religious assembly in public places, their laws required it. They were commanded to worship, and to worship loudly. Why? Why does God require His people to worship? We know it has something to do with God. He is, after all, worthy of praise. Just being God, and being exalted above the heavens, demands our highest praise. But I believe, it has at least as much to do with us. There are great benefits derived from taking time for private and corporate worship. Perhaps the greatest benefit is what it does to our perspective.

Too often, we see God in light of our problems. When we come face to face with a trial, perhaps an illness or a financial burden, we often become overwhelmed by the sheer fact that it is bigger than we can handle. We focus our attention on the problem, and it seems to grow larger and larger. Before we know it, we are consumed with worry, doubt, and anxiety. We can’t sleep, become irritable, and lose our appetite. It is even possible to begin to pray about the problem, only to find that after praying, we are more anxious than when we began. The solution is worship. When we take our eyes off of the problem and place them fully upon the Lord, our perspective changes. We no longer see our trials as something so much bigger than ourselves, but we see God as so much bigger than our trials. A healthy dose of the power, majesty, love, mercy, and provision of God, is the antidote to worry.

In Acts 4, the Church was threatened. If they continued to speak publicly about Christ, they would be beaten, imprisoned or killed. These were not idle threats. They had seen the rage of the religious leaders meted out on Christ only months before. Instead of allowing this trial to sink their faith, they turned their eyes upward and prayed, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, . . ” Acts 4:24

Having been reminded of the power of God that casts a shadow over the weakness of human powers, they were able to rise from prayer with a new-found confidence. We read, “. . .they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31

No matter what you are facing, God commands you to worship. As you take your eyes off of your weakness, and the problem you are facing, and place them upon the God of Glory, your perspective will change. Faith will grow and His peace will flood your heart and mind. Let’s be faithful today to raise our voices in praise.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
2 Kings 5- Church Life

Memories

Psalm 79:8
“Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low.”

Memory is a funny thing. There are certain things that no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to remember, and other things I can never forget. Names are particularly hard for me. It is not that I don’t care, or don’t want to remember; I just have a mental block. I have tried all the tricks: concentrating when the person introduces themselves, repeating the name back to them, using it in the conversation, and even relating their name to something else. Still, if some time has passed, and I encounter them again, the file that holds their name has been corrupted, and my memory refuses to access it.

It is not a memory problem, because there are many things that I have a hard time forgetting. Those are usually my failures. I can be haunted by the ways I have let others down, or been a disappointment. I am particularly plagued, at times, by past sins. It is during those times that I am encouraged by the way God’s memory works. While He is omniscient, He chooses to forget our sins and refuses to forget our accomplishments.

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Hebrews 8:12

When we are plagued with a failure from the past, it is important to remember that it is not the Lord who is bringing it to mind. When that sin was committed, the blood of Christ had already made payment for it. Our Savior already paid the price, carried the punishment, and removed the sin, as far as the East is from the West; drowning it in the depths of the sea. There is someone who loves to bring up the past, his name is Satan, and one of his titles is the Accuser of the Brethren. Scripture tells us he lives to bring accusation against us for our failures. Since God refuses to listen to the accusations, he has to find another audience; that audience is usually the sinner. I don’t know how much time he spends trying to convince others of my unworthiness, but I know he expends a tremendous amount of energy on me. During those times I am so thankful that I can cry out with the Psalmist “Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, . . .”

If you are struggling with a past failure, whether it ended ten years ago or ten minutes ago, the solution is the same. Confess your sin and receive the complete and total pardon that Christ offers through His shed blood. Do not dwell on your failure, but on His mercy. Instead of playing back that event over and over in your mind, use your thoughts to recall the cross. Think back to His love for you, that was displayed as He gave His life to pardon your sin. Allow His blood and love to wash you clean and restore your strength.

Pastor Jim

Has God Forgotten?

Psalm 77:7-9
Will the Lord cast off forever?
And will He be favorable no more?
Has His mercy ceased forever?
Has His promise failed forevermore?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?
Selah”

If these questions were posed to us on a theology test, we would all answer “No, no, six times no.” We know that He promises:

Hebrews 13:5 “…For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Lamentations 3:22-23 “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning.”

 

Mark 13:31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Ephesians 2:7 “. . . that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

His presence, mercy, promises, and grace are eternal. They will never change, wear out, or fail. No matter what our condition, as turbulent as it may seem, the promises of God are sure and steadfast. He will never change. But these questions are not posed as a quiz for the Bible student, but out of the difficulties the Psalmist is facing. We are not privy to the details that caused his condition, but by his own admission, his soul refuses comfort. It is quite common in times like that, to question the promises of God. When the tides of trial swell up against us, and we begin to go downward in sorrow, it can seem as though the promises of God have failed.

The Psalmist does more than state the problem, he also provides the solution.

Psalm 77:11 “I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.”

His trials had robbed him of sleep, but rather than letting worry consume him, he began to recall the mighty works of the Lord. He seems to have called to memory the Red Sea crossing. Thinking back to those who were boxed in, surrounded by mountains, armies, and the waters, it looked as if there was no hope. The promise of a land flowing with milk and honey seemed to be impossible, and the death of a nation imminent. That is, until the Lord showed up and meted out His promise to His people. The Psalmist was not a participant in that event, but since faith comes by hearing the Word of God, his strength was revived by calling to mind the faithfulness of God.

In your trial, don’t be consumed in mind by the storm you are facing, but rather flood your mind with stories of His faithfulness, and watch Him revive your strength as you await His deliverance.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Psalm 78- What’s Your Story?
2 Kings 2- Where Is He?
2 Kings 1- Is There A God In Israel?

Greatness

Psalm 75:6-7
“For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.”

Things in the kingdom of God run very differently than they do in the kingdoms of men. This is particularly true of exaltation. The word exalted means “to raise in rank or power, to be elevated or lifted above.” What exaltation is, and how to achieve it, are different in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus declared, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” Matthew 20:25-27

The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the one who serves. That does not mean if we serve we will be exalted to a place above serving, but when we serve, we are in the highest place. Servanthood is not a means to greatness, it is greatness. Paul wrote to the Philippians that we should, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but with lowliness of mind we should esteem others higher than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). One of the driving factors behind selfish ambition is a failure to recognize that exaltation comes from the Lord. We see others push their way to the front and we think the only way to get ahead is to push and push hard.

Jacob was a man who struggled to understand that exaltation comes from the Lord. At birth, he was given promises that he would be exalted, and would inherit the promises of his father Abraham. Instead of walking in the ways of the Lord, and trusting in the promises of God, Jacob spent his life pushing to the front. It was not until he surrendered to the ways of God that he benefitted from the promises.

Instead of striving, pushing, manipulating, and worrying, why not sit quietly before the Lord, laying your needs before Him. When we learn to humble ourselves, then we will find true exaltation.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
1 Kings 21- What’s It Worth
1 Kings 22- Inquire Of God