Grace Alameda: Interest Meeting

This past Sunday, we had an interest meeting for our church plant, Grace Alameda. It was a blessed time in which I had the chance to share my heart for Alameda and for our church. A great big thank you (!!!) is in order to everyone who came out (and to those who joined us for dinner afterwards at Harbor View for Chinese food!).  

The program.

Jeremy. Leading worship.

Toby. Praying.

Me. Talking.

Some of those who came.

Please keep us all in prayer! Plant team meetings start in October!

God's Wide-Angle Lens

The perspective of  Psalm 9 is simultaneously wide and narrow. It begins with a personal “I” responding to God with “my whole heart” (9:1). The camera comes in for a closeup on me and my response. But what I am responding to are ALL God’s wonderful deeds. With just one line, the camera bolts from one individual to take in the panorama of the universe itself.

God sees it all.

Throughout, David rapidly changes perspective, one minute speaking of his own troubles, the next of every nation on the earth. Whether God is being called on to deal with David’s personal enemies (9:3) or kingdoms and empires (9:5-6), God is seated upon his throne (9:4, 7-8). The might and power of the Most High is taken into full account as he seeks justice on the earth and in his circumstances.

But then suddenly, “the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed” (9:9), and the psalmist has reminded us again that God is concerned, not only with the judgment of kings and generals, but with the preservation of the lowest of the low. We’ve gone from the heavenly throne room to the gutter without so much as a conjunction. And while such things are so far apart in our minds, the Lord is intimately aware of the details of both.

He can confidently pray, “Be gracious to ME!” (9:13), because “the LORD has made himself known” (9:16), in judgment toward the wicked (9:15-17), but in mercy and grace toward the poor and oppressed (9:18). David humbles himself before the Lord, acknowledging his spiritual poverty, and taking comfort in God’s love toward the needy.

His prayer to God at the end to “Arise!” (9:19) is a request that God set everything right, in the entire world as well as his own personal situation. God has no problem setting his gaze upon the whole universe and your innermost thoughts all at once. His camera can catch both angles without trouble.

Am I humble enough to acknowledge this? To let God be great and over all things, but over my life as well? Failure to humble myself before him puts me in the camp of the wicked who will be judged. Humbling myself before the Lord in faith identifies me with my meek and humble Savior who came as one of the oppressed so that he could be enthroned on a cross and then in the heavens to judge the whole world. Christ is my refuge if I humble myself and recognize my spiritual poverty, my desperate need for him and his riches. And when I realize his promise to remember the needy, I can’t help but join in singing, “I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (9:2).

How Majestic

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1-2)

The first two verses of Psalm 8 make no sense next to each other. God’s majesty is proclaimed, and then it says He uses infants to “still the enemy and the avenger.” On the face of it, there is nothing majestic about the weakest of people (babies) silencing God’s enemies. Is there?

David understands his own weakness and the weakness of all humanity when taking in the wonder and power of the divine: “what is man that you are mindful of him?” (8:4). Have you ever seen something that was so wonderful—the stars, the mountains, the ocean—so beyond you that you couldn’t help but feel small? Insignificant? A pale brushstroke on the canvas of God’s creation? David sees the stars (8:3), considers the God who made them, and realizes how not God he is.

What is man…?

He goes on to explain some of what he said in verse 2. God has given dominion over all creation to mere humanity. We rule it all, sheep, oxen, birds, fish, everything. As God’s image bearers, we have the call to “rule the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:26-30). David marvels at the idea that you and I—such weak, imperfect, fallible creatures—would be entrusted by God to govern his world. God in his majesty gives lowly humanity the high calling to rule his majestic creation.

But this psalm is not simply about God entrusting the world to his image bearers. It’s ultimately about God’s truest Image Bearer.

How does God silence his enemies? By sending his Son as the weakest of the weak, the lowest of the low. Christ is born in a manger, lives the humble life of a peasant carpenter, is beaten and nailed to a cross like a criminal. And it is because of all that, Paul says in Philippians, that Jesus has been given the name that is above every name, that at his name every knee everywhere will bow before him (Phil. 2:6-11).

God uses the weakest thing imaginable—a poor man wrongly accused and publicly executed—to silence his enemies (8:2).

Today we can sing with the psalmist, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (8:1, 9), because that majestic Lord became a babe himself to deliver us from the enemies of sin, Satan, hell and death. We worship a God who is simultaneously majestic and humble, glorious and meek, powerful and weak. God Himself weakened Himself for you and for me. And it is because of that that we can sing praises to his majestic name.

Ask God to judge you

I often pray the psalms. But sometimes, a particular psalm or verse in a psalm makes me shift in my seat a bit. I don’t always feel like I can always pray all of the psalms.

Psalm 7:8 is one such verse that I just don’t think I can pray: “judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.”

When I read that I can’t help but pray, “no Lord, please DON’T judge me according to my righteousness!” I haven’t got any righteousness of my own to lay before the Father. And neither did David, the author of this psalm. So how did he avoid the thunderbolts after putting this prayer to paper?

Actually, if David prayed this prayer with his own righteousness in view, then God did indeed answer his prayer. After David slept with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed to cover it up, God told him there would be consequences. The fact that “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (7:11) became clear to David when his newborn son with Bathsheba died and later when another of his sons tried to overthrow his rule. David’s violence descended upon his own skull (7:16).

But David’s Son, Christ Jesus, could pray that prayer based on his own works. In his life, Christ was perfectly upright, perfectly obedient. He alone could unreservedly pray that God was his shield (7:10).

In the gospel, I am IN Christ, and so I can pray WITH Christ, “O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge” (7:1). On my own, I have every expectation that God has whet his sword against me. In Christ, God’s justice will never be directed against me. I am innocent of all charges because I am clothed in Christ’s innocence. And that glorious fact makes me worship the Lord with David: “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High” (7:17).

Troubled bones

The writer of Psalm 6 is suffering. His life is in turmoil, and he cries out to God: “my bones are troubled” (6:2).

Troubled bones.

When our bones are troubled, we can take solace in the knowledge that all these psalms of suffering were fulfilled in Jesus. He can empathize with all the struggles and challenges we face in life. And through his redemptive work, he gives meaning to everything we face.

To the degree that the writer of this psalm suffered, Jesus endured worse. Jesus wept, he suffered pain, lost all his friends, was surrounded by enemies to his dying breath. Jesus’s life was one great “how long?” (6:3), that in the end was met only with silence.

The psalmist desired to be delivered from Sheol, the grave, but this same desire could not be satisfied for Jesus. His prayer, “let this cup pass from me,” was left unanswered.

And while the psalmist could say, “All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled” (6:10), he could not say it absolutely. If these enemies turned to God in repentance, their shame would become their glory—God is merciful and steadfast in his love.

But Christ, and Christ alone could say, without qualification, that his enemies would be put to shame, for he is THE way, truth and life. Those who remain his enemies have nothing but great trouble to look forward to.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus could pray, “The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer” (6:9). And it’s for that reason that we can say the same prayer in his name. The Father accepts our prayers because he accepts Christ, our righteous Savior.

Whatever I pray for, I can have confidence that I am heard on account of Christ (John 14:13-14). No one and nothing can change that. It is an eternal reality sealed in Jesus’s work for us.

A lust for justice and the death of Jesus

I like to divide the world into black and white. Person A is a good person, someone who likes me, has done nice things for me, with whom I generally agree, someone I enjoy being around. Person B, on the other hand, has sinned against me, bothers me, has different interests than me, a different background. In my sin, I want to categorize everyone I know in Person A and B columns, and then make sure all my neighbors are Person As and avoid Person Bs as much as possible.

So, when I come to Psalm 5, my sinful temptation is to pray of the Person Bs in the world, “Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels” (5:10). When I’m in a really bad place, I can put faces and names to those I wish God would judge. I want me and all the Person As in my world to “take refuge in” the Lord and “rejoice” (5:11), but want no Person Bs invited to my holy party.

My soul is black, as black as soot. My heart and God’s heart are worlds apart on this point. Because while I am content to cheer God on as he pours out his wrath against the wicked, our gracious Lord is NOT content to stop there. Had he my heart, you and I and all humanity would have been swept away in judgment long ago.

My soul.

But it struck me as I read this that when I cheer on God’s wrath, I am cheering on the suffering and death of Christ. I want a front row seat to witness the cosmic squashing of my enemies (or just those I am not terribly fond of), but God would rather BE squashed than squash. He would rather take the full brunt of his justice on our behalf than let his rebellious creatures “bear their guilt.”

When I perversely desire a person be struck down by the justice of the Lord, I am really desiring the Lord Jesus be brutally killed; he took all God’s justice for us. The more severe divine justice is, the more awful Christ’s suffering for us.

Our God is gracious and merciful, as he says in Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” God’s heart is vastly different than mine. Perhaps someday He will teach me to delight in what He does. But so often, I’d rather cling to my perverse sense of justice than rejoice in His mercy. Thank God I’m not God.

Quiet Confidence

Psalm 4 is characterized by a quiet confidence that is ours in the gospel. That confidence helps us to come to God on account of Christ, and it helps strengthen us in the midst of trials brought on by other people.

He begins by asking God to hear him, and then remembering that He has. It’s because of God’s past faithfulness that he comes back asking for help in his current circumstance. What we know to be true of God necessarily directs how we interact with him. If we know he is faithful, we will trust him in prayer. If we don’t know this, why bother going to him in the first place?

In verses 2-5, he suddenly turns to his fellow men. He begins with (perhaps apologetical) questions to the ungodly in 4:2, then affirms God’s grace to him when he prays (4:3). Verse 4 is one verse whose advice we don’t often hear: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” Have you been silent lately? I’m a much bigger fan of my own voice than I am of silence. I don’t think this is a weird, trance-like, meditational silence. I think this is a silence that comes from confident faith in God’s grace for us in Christ (cf. 4:1, 3).

When remember the powerful reality of the cross of Christ for us, we can pray as in 4:7: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” I am not always convinced of this. I like material things and riches and the finer things of life. I am not always sure that God himself brings more joy than when material blessings abound. But he does. And if he doesn’t for us right now, we need to desperately be seeking Him if we do so, joy will come.

Jesus is better.

Most nights I pray 4:8 for Jonas: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” This closes the psalm on the same note of quiet confidence. God is the only one who can give such confidence; we are safe in our beds at night only because God desires it. We submit ourselves then to a loving, passionate God who pursues us. And we can commit ourselves to him as we sleep—and in everything else—knowing that in Christ he will care for us.

Praying the Psalms

One of my favorite theologians (pictured below) calls the Psalms the “prayerbook of the Bible,” and rightfully so. The psalmists are speaking to God as they write these inspired songs, and they teach us a great deal about how we ought to speak to Him, especially in the midst of trials.

Bonhoeffer. So cool. AND he loves Jesus!

Psalm 3 is written in very personal terms. In the first two verses, David tells God his situation (his son is trying to kill him; bummer). When we face trials, we can go to God and tell him what we are facing. This is called a lament. God is big enough to hear us when we lament our trials before him.

Next (3:3-5) the psalmist reminds himself of the truth of who God is for him. This is the assurance part, the gospel part. The Lord is his shield, his glory, the lifter of his head. When we experience trials, we can go to God. We can do that because of the miracle of his forgiveness through Christ and his work for us! And God WILL hear us.

In verse 6, he expresses an active faith: “I will not be afraid.” Our response to God’s grace to us in the gospel is one of faith and obedience.

It’s only now (3:7-8), after all that, that he asks God for something. We often start our prayers with requests, but it’s only after really talking with God and remembering the gospel that the psalmist feels ready to make his request know to the Lord.

He closes his prayer with praise. He is confident that God will hear him, and he glories in the gospel: “salvation belongs to the Lord!”

Tim Keller's Top 10 Evangelism Tips

I read these on Tim Chester’s blog today and thought it was too good to keep to myself:

  1. Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
  2. Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
  3. Listen to your friends’ problems – maybe offer to pray for them
  4. Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
  5. Give them a book to read
  6. Share your story
  7. Answer objections and questions
  8. Invite them to a church event
  9. Offer to read the Bible with them
  10. Take them to an explore course

The kicker comes in his explanation. These are arranged from 1-10 as a progression. We too often start with numbers 8-10, but we need to start with 1-4 with most people. In fact, he says, we may need to loop through 1-4 multiple times before getting to the later steps. Not only is it more humble of us to begin with 1-4, but it is more loving.

By being real with our friends (#1), we show we trust them enough to be open with them. By listening to their thoughts about faith (#2) and to any problems they may be facing (#3), we show we value them and are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Showing love for our friends may even open opportunities to serve them by praying for them. #4 comes back full circle to being real and honest with our friends in an unforced way.

If we believe that our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), then we should feel the freedom to share our lives with our neighbors, and to love them enough to take the time to listen and get to know them. It isn’t our life anyway, but Jesus’s (Gal. 2:20). We’re just sharing with others that which doesn’t belong to us.

Jesus Wins

In Psalm 2, the nations are raging and the peoples are plotting. There is dirty work afoot, the work of human beings trying to wriggle themselves free of the loving, gracious rule of God and of “his Anointed,” the Messiah.

As sinful humans we plot, connive, and scheme to get rid of the Lord. God laughs (2:4) at our foolish plans (like I would when I was younger and my little brother used to try to wrestle me to the ground despite the 6 years and many pounds I had on him), not because he’s cruel (like I was to my brother), but because his plans trump any and all manmade ones.

His plan is to set his King in Zion (2:6), the city of God, the place of salvation for his people. And to that Anointed King, God says, “You are my son” (2:7). God gives all authority to this Anointed-Son-King (cf. Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15) to judge those who would rise against God. And in a cosmic game of rock-paper-scissors, iron rod (Jesus) beats clay pot (us) every time.

Jesus wins.

As a Christian, I have already declared that I belong to the Anointed One, the Christ. Will I act like it? Will I walk after him today, or will I put my clay pot up against his crowbar? He can dash me to pieces in an instant; he will humble me and remind me of my creatureliness if I make him. Will I humble myself or be humbled? I can stand against Christ or I can rest in him. Will I lose myself and gain Christ?

The psalm ends with a promise to us when we stop resisting King Jesus: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (2:12). Refuge in Jesus Christ means finding peace, hope, joy, life. When we take refuge in him, we recognize his authority in our lives and seek to order everything we do according to his will. We learn what it is to delight in his law.

And part of “serving the Lord with fear” and delighting in his law is telling other people, other nations that they can find refuge in Christ. That is the mission King Jesus has sent us on. Will we plot in vain against his mission or submit ourselves and our whole lives to it?