You Are Only Human.

484708362_58d9d5317d_nWe have all heard it. Some of us have even said it: “We are only human.” Typically, what we mean by that is “cut me some slack, I’m not perfect.” I must confess that I used to be a perfectionist but gave it up because I found it too depressing. I needed to cut myself some slack. Now I am only a perfectionist while working on home renovations. The weather has to be perfect and I have to be perfectly in the mood otherwise renovations are put off for another day!

There are none of us perfect. None of us were perfect students in school. Those of us who are parents know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect prime ministers. Sometimes we need to cut each other some slack. But do we maintain this attitude toward people like the leaders of ISIS and Boko Harum who are also not perfect? After all, they along with Hitler and Stalin are only human. Do we cut some slack to the people involved in things like human trafficking? Or is there not a place for higher expectations, for saying enough is enough?

The Psalmist writes “they are only human” but it means something quite different to what we normally mean:

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalms 9:19-20 NRSV)

In Psalm 9 there are some people who could say “I am only human, cut me some slack.” They are less than perfect. In fact they are oppressive, they are murderous. They are destructive and wreak havoc in the lives around them:

9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death.
(Psalms 9:9-13 NRSV emphasis mine)

The theme of rescue from evil men runs through Psalm 9 and also Psalm 10 which many scholars believe were once one Psalm. We may not be as bad as the oppressors spoken of in these Psalms, we may never bring another person to “the gates of death.” But we may, like them, wreak havoc in the lives of those around us. This Psalm has something to say to us also. Let us look especially to verses 19 and 20:

“Do not let mortals prevail”

This prayer of the Psalmist is very much like a prayer that our Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Not the oppressors’ empire come, but God’s kingdom. Not the oppressors’ will be done, do not let them prevail, but the Lord’s will. How often do we pray “Thy kingdom come” then strive to build our own empires and to have our wills prevail. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal, do not let my way prevail, may Your kingdom and Your purposes prevail in my life.

“Let the nations be judged before you”

We do not like to hear about judgement. But we do like justice. Justice does not happen without judgement. God’s sense of justice is impeccable:

4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment. . .
8 He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
(Psalms 9:4,8 NRSV)

God’s judgement is right and good. In fact it should not escape our notice that this Psalm calling for God to act in judgement is actually a Psalm of praise:

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalms 9:1-2 NRSV)

That God will bring judgement to evil men is something that should inspire praise. Oh Lord I am mere mortal, while I depend on Your grace, may I be aware of those things you would judge in my life.

“Put them, in fear, Oh Lord.”

A better translation of fear is ‘terror’. Things would be better for the oppressed of the world if the oppressors of the world were terrified by the thought of the judgement that is looming over them. People do not have an appetite for hellfire and brimstone sermons any more. Yet we still need them for people think they can get away with murder. Many people need to be very afraid. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal. May I never think I can get away with murder, but may Your Holy Spirit convict and unsettle my heart.

“Let the nations know that they are only human.”

Now that we know the context we can see that “Let the nations know they are only human” is no “cut them some slack Lord” kind of prayer. Rather this is ”let them know they are only human and that therefore they need to seek You in repentance.” Since we are only human we should be turning to God. We should be turning to God for ethics, our sense of right and wrong. We cannot come up with that on our own. After all we are only human. We should be turning to God for salvation, for redemption from our sin. That is something we can not attain on our own. We are only human. God brings His perfect justice and grace together through Jesus at the cross. Since we are only human we ought to turn to God in repentance, going our own way will not get us very far. Oh Lord, I’m only human. So I turn to You and turn my life over to You.

When we say “I’m only human” we are usually trying to get off the hook. But knowing we are only human, we should be getting onto God.

photo credit: IMG_7607.JPG via photopin (license)

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Deliver Them From Evil: Prayers for Our Youth

8633837064_56b7d82cf4_nSince Sunday was “Day of Prayer for Youth Sunday” we can look to making our prayers for youth more specific than a simple “bless ‘em Lord.” The Lord’s prayer in it’s entirety is a great prayer to pray over our youth, but consider especially: “deliver us from evil.” A better translation would be “deliver us from the evil one.” What does the evil one do? We do not need to read too far in our Bibles to find out. The very first thing we find him doing is asking Eve, “did God really say . . .?”  (Genesis 3:1). He sought to deceive, to sabotage Eve’s relationship with God. And he will be whispering in the ears of our youth, “Did God really say? Is that really true?” Perhaps not as a serpent in a tree, but through media, social media, friends, enemies, and yes, in schools, colleges, and universities. This is a key reason youth have been falling away from the Christian faith as they grow into adulthood. It is not staid music, or boring sermons so much as the deceptions of the evil one.

Here are four prayers for our youth reflecting four key areas where the evil one seeks to deceive. (I thank J. Warner Wallace for pointing me in the direction of these four categories in a recent podcast):

1. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Is it really true for everyone?”

Our youth will hear things like “it is true for you, but it is not true for me.” Or put another way, “there is no absolute truth.” There is a very relativistic way of looking at things these days. Let me correct that, there is a very relativistic way of looking at religion these days. This is something we rarely do elsewhere in life. Under normal circumstances the freezing point of water is zero degrees celsius. But suppose I should say “that’s true for you, but for me it is minus fifteen degrees celsius.” Being a motorcyclist in Canada how I wish that were true! But if I were to head out in minus fourteen weather, I think you would be quick to point out that I might encounter ice. The point is that truth is real and really important. We depend upon things being true every day. But when it comes to spiritual realities people do not want to commit, and so they pretend truth is not real. That Jesus is Lord is either true for everyone whether they believe it or not, or it is not true for anyone. To quote C.S. Lewis: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Lord, may our youth know the nature of truth. 

2. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really know anything beyond what science teaches?

Here is a common thought: “Science is the only way to know anything.” But is that true? Science works by studying what is, and so that in itself limits its knowledge. I think it was John Lennox who used the analogy of a car, so I’ll use that too, though I’ll not say it as well as Dr. Lennox. Suppose you were to give my Mitsubishi Lancer to a group of scientists to study. They might eventually be able to explain how the whole thing works, and they may point out that it works without the need for engineers or factory workers. But you and I know that engineers and factory workers were essential for the very presence of this car. As you study nature you will not find God under the ground pushing up daisies. Yet the daisies would not exist without Him. What the scientists cannot tell you by studying the car itself is anything substantial about the history of the car, the manufacturer, or the people involved in the development of the car and the company. They might come to some knowledge about how that particular car was put together but for anything beyond that you need a historian who will work with other sources of truth. The scientists may make take a stab at the history by an inference that somewhere along the line there was a Mr. Mitsubishi involved in the development of the car. While inferring a founder would be correct it would still be very lacking in truth as there was no Mr. Mitsubishi, it is a Japanese word meaning “three diamonds.” The historian knows this. The scientists cannot tell the historians what to believe about everything. And neither can the scientists tell the theologians what to believe about everything. Their scope of study is too limited. Lord, may our youth enjoy both science and theology.

3. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really trust the Bible?”

All too often people say things like “the Bible has changed so much from the original it cannot be trusted, therefore you can have no assurance that anything in Christianity is correct.” There are two perspectives on this. First there is the perspective of faith. If God is going to reveal Himself we can trust that He will also ensure that the record of His revelation will be accurate and trustworthy. God was not just involved in the original inspiration of the works we know as the Bible, but the editing, collecting, and preservation. Second, there is the secular perspective provided by something called textual criticism. Any work you read from before the invention of printing press has hand written texts in libraries and collections that scholars work with to best determine what the author originally wrote. More often than not the originals themselves have been destroyed or lost, and the copies always have some inconsistencies between them. Sometimes the earliest copy we have of an ancient text was written hundreds of years later than the original. Sometimes scholars have very few texts to work with. Yet no one reads Herodotus or Aristotle and thinks “this is unreliable to the point of being useless.” The amazing thing is that with the New Testament we have thousands of texts to work with and some of them are dated quite close to the original writing. The evidence that the texts are reliable is overwhelming. Lord, may our youth have confidence in the Bible.

4. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Did Jesus even exist, never mind rise from the dead?”

Here is another common deception “you can’t prove that anything Christians say about Jesus is true.” On his existence, if you deny that, then practically everything you think you know about ancient history ought also to be denied. Some people are happy enough with that, but very very few serious historians will take that route. As for the resurrection of Jesus, if you come to the Bible with a belief already in place that miracles can never happen, that a dead man could never rise from the dead, then of course no evidence will be sufficient for you. You will be left, however, with a group of documents we collectively call the New Testament, with no real understanding of how they came to be, or how or why the writers came to write them. The existence of so many divergent theories about Jesus is evidence that scholarship is at a loss for explanation. However, if the door is open even a crack to the existence of a miracle working God, then the resurrection of Jesus becomes the simplest explanation as to why the writers of the New Testament wrote what they did. All the things written, all the things believed, and all the lives changed and laid down in service of Jesus, it all comes together and just makes sense. The evidence we have leads to the resurrection as the simplest and best explanation. Lord, may our youth know that Jesus lives . . . and loves.

photo credit: Cincinnati – Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum “Praying Hands” via photopin (license)

You Can Have Your King, But . . .

14125768392_327d6e6406_nWe like to pick our rulers. We pick the experts we listen to, and with so many “expert opinions” floating around we have no trouble finding someone willing to say what we are willing to hear. Or we might look to societal norms for direction. It is good to fit in and be like everybody else. Or we might let media shape our beliefs and the way we live. If it is normal practice for the likeable characters on the tv to do this or that then it must be okay for me to do this or that also.

We are not the first ones to set rulers over ourselves:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7 NRSV

In the days of Samuel, when judges were ruling over God’s people, they asked for a king. In asking for a king to rule over them the people are actually rejecting God’s rule and getting themselves into a great mess. Samuel tries to warn them:

He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Do you see what the king will do? He “will take . . .will take . . . will take . . . ” And it all becomes “his . . . his . . . his . . .” because it is all about “him, him, him.” The people chose him, yet they become his slaves. And notice how we can choose things and become slaves:

  • We choose to drink – and become slaves to alcoholism.
  • We choose drugs – and become addicted.
  • We choose to buy whatever we want – and become slaves to materialism.
  • We choose to buy as much as we want – and become slaves to debt.
  • We choose to love whomever we want – and destroy our marriages through adultery.
  • We choose to view whatever we want – and destroy our marriages though pornography.
  • We choose to spend our time however we want – and our family suffers from neglect.
  • We choose to hold that grudge for as long as we want – and become slaves to our own bitterness.

The things that rule over us take and take and take. And our lives become focused on those things we have chosen. Samuel notes that the people will get fed up and remember the One who gives, gives, gives:

And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:18 NRSV

There is no help in that day as the people will bear the consequences of their decisions. We normally do. Yet there is good news there, found in those last words “in that day.” For there was another day ahead, hundreds of years later when in the midst of many peoples claiming “Caesar is Lord,” a small group were shouting something different: “Jesus is Lord.” They knew something the rest did not yet know; God had never actually abdicated His throne. Instead He was working out His sovereign purposes. He came to us, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, died for the atonement of our sins, and was raised from the dead to be hailed “King of kings and Lord of lords.” The true King is putting all things right again. Despite the mess the people of of God had got themselves into through their own choices, God was still the King! They could turn to Him again.

We can make a mess of life when we choose people and things which will rule over us. No matter the kind of messes we have created for ourselves we have a wonderful invitation. Not to make Jesus Lord, for He already is that, but in humility to choose Him. And we find that He has already chosen us. He is always King. He is still willing to lead. Are we willing to follow?

photo credit: Photograph showing the King Alfred Statue, The Broaday, Winchester, Hampshire via photopin (license)