Archive for August, 2012


There are many books I believe are essential in a pastor’s library beyond a sturdy, leather-bound Bible.  There are the classic works such as The Pilgrim’s Progress, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and Paradise Lost.  Along with these, a good Hebrew and Greek lexicon or two will help immensely in sermon preparation.  I would also recommend sermons from great preachers throughout the history of the church.  I now must recommend another book that will be an incalculable benefit to any pastor (and layperson), and it is Desiring God:  Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper.

The current book under review is the revised edition.  It is in fact a 25TH anniversary printing of the book.  A book with so many years under its belt that continues to have the impact and energy to stir the heart is a rarity.

Piper approaches his material from a thematic angle, seizing upon the various aspects of the Christian life to support his main thesis of Christian hedonism.  Important areas such as worship, prayer, marriage, and missions are addressed to build Piper’s proposal that Christians must pursue their pleasure in God.  Such a premise may sound odd to many Christians who believe they do seek their joy in God as an important component of their daily life.  However, Piper does not present this pursuit of joy as a component, but the very foundation upon which the Christian life is built.

The chapters include:

1.     The Happiness of God:  Foundation of Christian Hedonism

2.     Conversion:  The Creation of Christian Hedonism

3.     Worship:  The Feast of Christian Hedonism

4.     Love:  The Labor of Christian Hedonism

5.     Scripture:  Kindling for Christian Hedonism

6.     Prayer:  The Power of Christian Hedonism

7.     Money:  The Currency of Christian Hedonism

8.     Marriage:  A Matrix for Christian Hedonism

9.     Missions:  The Battle Cry for Christian Hedonism

10.     Suffering:  The Sacrifice of Christian Hedonism

These chapters are supplemented with a few supplementary chapters as well as a study guide for personal devotions or group studies.  Also in the supplementary material, Piper takes the time to answer why he wrote the book and why he chose the title “Christian hedonist.”  For those that have read previous editions of the Desiring God, there are a few new portions to consider.  The section on suffering is a new addition.  In the preface, Piper states that his reason for adding the chapter, “partly biblical, partly global, and partly autobiographical.”

There are elements of exegesis in the book that Piper develops to show that he is not throwing an obscure theory against the wall and hoping it sticks.  He is a competent exegete, but Piper’s true strength lies in his usage of historical works.  He introduces the reader to an assorted gallery of classic Christian authors, philosophers, and pastors.  Anyone familiar with church history will know many of the names, yet Piper sheds new light on their personal theologies and writings.  The writings of powerful figures such as Jonathan Edwards and C. S. Lewis are used with great efficiency.  Piper also shows a familiarity with the early church fathers, a familiarity that is often lacking with modern Christian writers.

The most compelling characteristic of the book is its embrace of the true Christian life.  Piper does not expound upon deep truths as an ideologue addressing a crowd of sycophants.  Nor does he take an exclusively pastoral approach that reeks of “preachiness” and judgment.  Piper exhibits himself in his full humanity.  This only makes Desiring God more approachable as a reader and certainly made me more open to thinking upon Piper’s presentation.

I highly recommend this book.  It will be a great resource for anyone with any level involvement in ministry.  This revised edition includes a study guide for personal use or in small groups.  It is a wonderful resource for a Bible teacher.  Its utility extends beyond classroom usage.  Desiring God will make a great personal devotion study as well.  Piper’s pastoral spirit comes through nicely, and while the subject matter is profound, the work never comes across as pretentious.

Piper has built his many years of ministry upon the foundations he establishes in Desiring God.  It is a carefully executed and wonderfully written piece of literature.  Having read dozens of missional and personal theologies through the years, I believe Desiring God will be in service by the church for many years to come.  In fact, when it celebrates its next twenty-five year anniversary, I quite expect it to have reached “classic Christian literature” status though I believe it is certainly deserving of the title today.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review through their Blogging for Books program.

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Trials are a part of life to which every one of us can relate.  Trials run the gamut of small, everyday problems to huge and life-altering.  Trials are not respecters of persons either, showing no favoritism to rich or poor, men or women, young or old.  It is with that reality in mind that I read Ron Carpenter, Jr.’s The Necessity of an Enemy.  Since I face trials every day, or “enemies” as Carpenter is going to designate them, I looked forward to reading the book for some fresh perspective on how I can approach my trials with an eye towards the positive outcome they can produce.  Carpenter (or more likely the book’s marketing team) makes this promise in the synopsis when he states, “Human nature tells us to flee our enemies, but Ron Carpenter will challenge you to embrace them.”

Carpenter divides The Necessity of an Enemy into eight parts.  The first six sections center upon Carpenter’s philosophy intermingled with personal illustrations from the author’s life.  Most of the personal illustrations center upon one event, but I will deal that later in this review.  There is a nice flow to the book as Carpenter seeks to develop his overall theme of facing the trials of life.

  • Part 1 – The Necessity
  • Part 2 – The Plan
  • Part 3 – The Target
  • Part 4 – The Enemy Within
  • Part 5 – Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Part 6 – Prowling Your Neighborhood
  • Part 7 – How to Fight to Win
  • Part 8 – The Spoils of Victory

While the theme development of the book has a nice fluidity, it is hampered at times by too quick a pace.  The brevity in which he deals with some important topics detracts from the weighty subject matter Carpenter is attempting to tackle.  Too much of the book reads like a media sound bite that tastes great if swallowed alone, but begins to sour when read in the context of the whole book.  Obnoxiously at times, these bites are quarantined off from paragraphs and emphasized with bold lettering.

THE GOOD:

There were some reasonably good portions to this book.  One in particular is Part 5:  Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Carpenter discusses the various tactics the Enemy will use to tear down a Christian.  Carpenter’s shotgun-style writing simplifies the problems we all face without creating a logjam of ideas.  This section is poignant as it points out common deficiencies we all share and offers relevant Scripture passages with an eye towards improvement.

It should also be noted that Carpenter is a competent communicator.  I did find his language too brash at times, but there is clarity in his message too often missing from Christian literature.  This simple language makes the book more accessible to laypersons.  Selected passages may also be beneficial for adaption as devotional thoughts for small groups or other meetings.

THE BAD:

I am unsure where Carpenter attended college or his grounding in the Greek language, so keep that in mind as I make the following statements.  First, no one is ever going to accuse me of being a New Testament Greek scholar.  Second, Carpenter makes a statement early in the book (page 32) that struck me deaf and dumb for about five minutes.  He comments on the definition of glory in Scripture stating, “In New Testament terminology, glory actually means “likeness” and “to resemble.”

Actually, it means neither of those things.  According to reputable lexicons, the term means “opinion” or “judgment.”  Either Carpenter altered the meaning of glory to strengthen his argument or he is ignorant to the true meaning of glory as it is used in the New Testament.  Regardless of Carpenter’s reason, it is a serious breach of trust between author and reader.  If you are attempting to write a book for Christians and do not deal faithfully with the Word of God, how can one trust the entirety of the work?  Simply put, you cannot trust it.

I know nothing of Carpenter’s personal ministry apart from the information he writes in the book.  So, my source is firsthand from the author’s own pen.  From admissions in the book, coupled with the careless handling of God’s Word, I have a difficult time putting any level of trust in the material.  Incidents include, but are not limited to stealing air conditioning units from a rented property and allowing a practicing drunkard church membership.

By these accounts, Carpenter fails in two key areas as a credible pastoral source—handling of the Word and leadership.  Carpenter is so focused on the necessity of an enemy that he forgets the necessity of trust between author and reader.  These offenses colored my opinion toward the negative, more so than all the other problems with the book.

THE UGLY:

As mentioned in the introduction, Carpenter uses one particular event in his life and ministry as the glue that binds the whole book together.  Unfortunately, it is not very strong glue.  The worst offense The Necessity of an Enemy is committed blatantly by the author in every section of the book.  Ron Carpenter takes what had the potential to be an extremely helpful devotional book and turns it into a personal apologetic for a blunder in his own ministry.  I did not bother to research this scandal via the internet, so I do not know any of the details save those shared by Carpenter in the book.  Carpenter does claim this event prompted him to pen his book, so it is not a pointless inclusion.  Though peripherally relevant, it does feel at times that Carpenter is being heavy-handed with his recollections.

According to Carpenter, the incident never reaches the courtroom and is settled before trial by a convention of lawyers and other involved parties.  Carpenter has been defending his innocence throughout the book and the reader is led to believe there will be some closure as the climax approaches.  Sadly, the closure never comes and the reader is left once more questioning the integrity of the author.  While I know there is a distinct difference between a legal court and the court of public opinion, I came away from Carpenter’s recollections with my own opinions and they do not favor the author.

Apart from a few shining spots, I was disappointed with the book as a whole.  Carpenter starts with a great premise and promises much more than he delivers.  Even though Carpenter’s personal “trial” is a key motivator for the book, it dominates too much of the landscape, overshadowing the few good points Carpenter manages to make.  I am also wary of recommending this book to anyone based upon the blatant errors of character and biblical interpretation.

The Necessity of an Enemy is available here from Waterbrook Multnomah and here from Amazon.

FTC Disclaimer:  I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review through their Blogging for Books program.  Opinions expressed in this review are mine and do not reflect the opinion(s) of Waterbrook Multnomah.

I was recently seated in the foyer of a local business waiting for my wife.  I take it upon myself to attempt to do something constructive while I am waiting such as playing Angry Birds or resisting the urge to play Angry Birds.  On this particular day, playing won out over resisting, so I found myself seated in an inconspicuous corner of the foyer, out of the way and unnoticed by those around me.

Safely out of the way and ignored, I was free to mind my own business and play my game.  My ninja-like abilities to hide must be greater than I ever imagined because two workers soon began having a conversation near me.  I was startled at first, thinking one of them was talking to me.  It turns out the two employees were oblivious to my presence or worse yet, apathetic.

Once the usual pleasantries were out of the way, the workers began to discuss their jobs.  I have to stress at this point that I was not ease-dropping on these individuals.  I was merely sitting in close proximity to them as they had their conversation.  In truth, I was conflicted as to whether staying put or awkwardly slipping away was the right course of action.  I tried to tune them out.  It worked for the most part, but I did come away with a few impressions.

  • Both seemed to dislike their jobs
  • Both seemed to dislike their co-workers
  • Both seemed to question their supervisor’s motives and parentage

They spoke of much more, yet I was able to block it out and focus on my game.  To protect the innocent and the business in question, I will not disclose names.  The point of this post is not to bash the business or the workers.  I also feel the need to point out that I did not listen to this conversation in context, nor did I try to piece together a psycho-analysis for these two employees.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard two disgruntled workers venting to one another.  Okay, I feel now that I have put in the right amount of disclaimers, on to the rest of the post!

My wife soon arrived and I forgot about the conversation as I spent time with my family.  It was not until we were traveling home that the day’s events came back to me.  It came back to me because my wife and I were having an “adult” conversation with one another in our mini-van (adult conversation is anything that does not involve a Disney or Nickelodeon character).  As we are having this discussion, my son chimes in with his four year old expert opinion on the matter.  Even though I had personally strapped him into a car seat and was well aware he and his sister were directly behind us in the van, I had forgotten they were there as I talked with my wife.

My initial thought was to review the conversation.  Did I say something bad?  Were we talking about a topic that was going to take me hours to explain at home?  My wife and I are so careful to shield our children from the wrong influences, and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes we may err too far to the side of caution.  But, we know that once that innocence and wonder of childhood is lost, there is not going back.  Did I just ruin years of protecting him with a thoughtless word?

Neither my wife nor I have a coarse tongue.  Though my childhood was steeped in profanities from adults and children alike, it is not a habit that fit in with my commitment to Christ, so after great growing pains in the grace of my Lord, I left it behind.  However, when it comes to the tongue, vulgarity is not the only issue.

Does my tone or humor offend and become a hindrance to the Gospel.  Am I overly critical of my wife, my children, or my congregation?  My humor tends to lean toward sarcasm and satire, but is it creating a barrier between me and those around me?

Former pastors and teachers have told me for years to guard my tongue.  I have even preached from my own pulpit on the benefit of guarding the tongue and the dangers of a loose tongue.  James is right on target when he says, “But the tongue no man can tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8).  The Apostle Peter was also concerned about the tongue, urging believers, “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10).

As I thought about my words and searched the Bible for answers, I came across Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).  The term corrupt means something that is putrid and of no use.  It carries with it the imagery of rotting fish or fruit.  For anyone that has had the displeasure of being assaulted with such odors, the meaning is clear.

So be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Do not let your speech be reminiscent of rotting fish.  You never know when a portly shepherd with ninja-like abilities is hiding in a corner!

I lost faith in the human race many moons ago.  It was not a strong faith, but more akin to the faith of that “Christian” whom can only bring himself or herself to church on Easter and Christmas.  As such, I have stopped asking some questions about popular culture.  I no longer care when and where trends begin.  I have no desire to know who or what a “Snooki” is and even less desire to tweet or blog about it (or him or her).

It is not that I have no interest in American culture, particularly the culture in which I live.  The exact opposite is true.  I love culture and the nuances of customs from one age to another (I cite this previous post as an example).  However, I do not believe we can call the current trends “culture” per se.  The collective secular populace suffers from ADHD in regards to culture to such a degree that Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” quip is a gross over-estimation.  According to James, life is a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).  If that is true of life, what unit of measure can we apply to these modern day memes that disappear more rapidly than a wisp of smoke?

One of the newer memes is YOLO or “you only live once.”  Comedian Jack Black refers to it as, “Carpe Diem for stupid people.”  While I find Mr. Black’s comment funny, I think it is categorically wrong.  Carpe Diem (Lat. “Seize the Day”) gives the impression of productive ambition.  It has long been the motto of optimists that desire to live each moment to the fullest.

On the other hand, YOLO appears to be the maxim of recklessness and poor decision-making.  The equivalent to a redneck, “Hey ya’ll watch this” moment in which you have no idea what is about to happen, but you are sure it is going to end with a trip to the emergency room or county jail.  YOLO turns a mirror upon the current state of American “culture” and it is not a pretty reflection.

The only draw back is you have to empty the lint filter after every trip.

YOLO shows how quickly the youth of our age (and granted even adults who refuse to embrace maturity and personal responsibility) will latch onto a philosophical idea without investing one iota of thought to its application.  I fully expect such reckless behavior from the secular world (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  I stand in slack-jawed awe though when those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior adopt such drivel as a personal mantra.

The defense against me is plain, “It is just a harmless motto.  There is no reason to get so worked up about it.”  To hold such a position is to claim words are not important.  And, I just happen to disagree with that premise.  Words are important.  If words were not important, I would be out of a job as would a countless number of others who rely upon either the spoken word or written word for their livelihood.

While I do believe words are important, it is a matter of degree. Words lose their power when they are the tools of vitriolic media personalities with a side of delusional.

If words are not important, you have no reason to be upset the next time someone calls you a disrespectful name.  If words are not important, the next “I love you” spoken by your significant other is meaningless.  If words mean nothing, why have you read this far into a pointless rant?  But, the name-calling did hurt, that “I love you” melted your heart, and you are still reading because you believe what I believe—words are important!

Behind all words is an underlying philosophy.  At times, the philosophy is camouflaged by an emotional energy that blinds us to its true intent.  Other times, it is veiled under a superfluity of fanciful words and stylistic phrases that take our breath away, all the while shielding the idealistic under-pinning that gives it support.  YOLO is more the former, relying upon the emotional experience to cover up its poisonous intent.

I find YOLO offensive on two counts.  First, it is a blatant contradiction to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus opening statement to Nicodemus has already created a titanic sized hole in the good ship YOLO.  If Jesus is correct (and I’m confident He is), then you can live twice!  Second, YOLO is the outcome of society’s disregard for personal accountability.  The argument is that existence itself and the perceived singleness of this existence is the only rationale one needs to set aside conscience and good behavior.

With such logic, we can justify even the most heinous of crimes.  If YOLO is our only absolute, nothing is out of bounds.  For some YOLO is a means of justifying destructive behavior that is harmful to self and others.  I suspect for the majority of people it is a process of dealing with the guilt that often comes with doing something wrong.  By saying YOLO, they are slipping into the cultural stream of complacency and the false “everyone else is doing it” mentality.

I cannot say with any certainty that as much thought went into YOLO as I have put into its deconstruction today.  However, that is the key issue with personal philosophy, especially among the general populace.  Personal philosophy has a way of digging its way to the surface without any coaxing.  We may be oblivious to our world view, having given little thought to it, yet to our thoughtful observers, it is a beam in our eye (Luke 6:42).

So how do we move away from such a destructive philosophy?  The key issue is source material.  What are we using as the basis for our beliefs?  If one thinks man is the measure of all things, this humanistic thinking will be the framework for all areas of life.  If Scripture is the guidebook of life it will mold the believer into an image that is an embodiment of its principles and practice—e.g. Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).  So, while you may shout YOLO from the roof tops, which is your human right.  I pray and hope it is not true of you.  Whereas it is true YOLO outside of Jesus Christ, I can assure you on the testimony of God’s Word, You Can Die Twice (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

Psalm 33 is a bit odd because it is one of four psalms that do not have a title (Psalm 1, 2, 10, and 33).  Some people even believe it is a continuation of Psalm 32.  While both share the theme of praise, their contents vary in the direction of praise.  Psalm 32 praises God because He forgives sin; Psalm 33 praises God because He is Sovereign.  The call to rejoice in the Lord is one that is unique in Scripture.  It is a call that is only given to believers, in both the Old and New Testaments (Psa. 33:1, 97:12; Joe. 2:23; Hab. 3:18; Phil. 3:1, 4:4).

Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. (Psa. 97:12)

Rejoice in the Lord alway:  and again I say, Rejoice. (Phil. 4:4)

Since we are given this special charge as believers, it is imperative that we understand praise and how it fits into our Christian life.  It is an aspect of our priesthood as believers (Rev. 1:6).  Vance Havner said, “Every Christian is a priest, not offering a sacrifice for sins – since that has been done once and for all – but offering his person, praise, and possessions.”

Righteous’ Call to Praise God (33:1-3)

Call of Comeliness (33:1) – The world has a different standard of beauty than that which is described in Scripture.  The world promotes immorality and lust and slaps the label of beauty upon it.  The psalmist says that beauty is praise unto God from His people.  It is a picturesque scene when the people of God turn to their Lord and magnify Him for His goodness and greatness.  Praise offered from the tongues of those who do not know the Great God does not compare to the majesty of righteous joy.  Spurgeon said, “No jewels are more ornamental to a holy face than sacred praise.  Praise is not suitable from unpardoned professional singers; it is like a gold jewel in a pig’s snout.”

Call of Completeness (33:2) – There is much to be said about a believer that gives his or her all to God.  Giving only one part of your life to God will leave you with an incomplete understanding of God’s graces to us as believers and an imperfect appreciation.  The focus of verse two is not the diversity of the instruments, but the completeness of the praise.  All the notes are to be given to the praise of God.  Every fiber of our being is to cry out with a “joy unspeakable” (1 Pet. 1:8).  Matthew Henry says, “What we win by prayer we may wear with comfort, and must wear with praise.”

Call of Creativity (33:3) – If verse two is a call to give every area of our life over to God as praise, verse three is a call to use every blessing in our life to praise.  I believe there are two features of creativity in praise that need to be addressed.

1.  Freshness of Spirit – You are a new creature in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  You do not offer praises to God with the old spirit of the flesh.  You are the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in you if you are a child of God (1 Cor. 3:16).  It is not the old man praising, it is the new man!

“Put off oldness!  You know the new song.  A new person, a New Testament, a new song.  A new song does not belong to the old; it belongs to those renewed through grace.  This is the kingdom of heaven.” (Augustine 353-429)

2.  Freshness of Style – Do you have a regular routine for prayer and Bible reading?  Do you have a regular “method” prayers you offer up to God?  Routines are not bad per se, but when we become more attached to the routine than the communion with God it is time for a new routine.  By way of personal illustration, from time to time, I will change the way we pray on Wednesday nights.  There has been nothing wrong with the ways we were praying previously, yet it sharpens our attention or refocuses our minds when the regular schedule is interrupted.

Now that we know WHAT we are called to do in regards to praise, the question must be asked—WHY should we do it?

Righteous’ Cause to Praise God (33:4-12)

Worthy Because of His Personality (vv. 4-5) – All that God does is good.  The universe was created in the perfection of God’s person and when He looked upon it He saw that “it was good” (Gen. 1:31).  All creation was perfect before the Fall of Man in Genesis 3.  The anomalies and discrepancies we see with our human eyes in creation are not the product of a faulty God, but a sinful man.  I quote Spurgeon once again who said, “Earth might have been as full of terror as of grace, but instead it teems and overflows with kindness.”  God’s work is an outgrowth of His word.  God is truth.  God’s word is truth.  God’s work is truth.  There are no lies in God’s words and there is no evil in His works.  Truth abounds in all that God says and does.

Worthy Because of His Power (vv. 6-9) – The atheists and agnostics rage today as if God is dead.  Sadly, many professors live their lives from day to day as if God is dead too.  They forget the power of God that makes Him worthy of praise.  I often pray to the Lord and merely kneel in awe of His power.  Psalm 32 praises God for the work He does for sinful man.  Psalm 33 calls for the believer to rejoice simply because God is.  It is in this facet of praise I believe many people are lacking, including true believers at times.  What I mean is this—if God had never sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for our sins, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God did not demonstrate to us daily His loving kindness and long-suffering, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God had offered no plan of redemption to sinful mankind, He would still be worthy of praise.  But I thank God Almighty that I praise God for who He is and for what He has done!

Each description that is given of God in these verses are displays of His great power.  Truly, God’s power transcends our human understanding, but the psalmist offers us these pictures as a means of envisioning God’s omnipotence.  Our God did not mold or shape the worlds into being – Scripture declares “. . . He spoke, and it was done” (Psa. 33:9).

Worthy Because of His Providence (vv. 10-12) – Providence is the unseen hand of God.  It is not the miraculous intervention we witnessed upon Mt. Carmel as Elijah faced the false prophets.  It is the subtle and the workings of God in the lives of His people (e.g. Esther).  Two elements are important to note here:

1.  The Unfaithful – Verse 10 declares that God’s plans will succeed regardless of anyone else’s plan.  This psalm was written at a time when Israel was surrounded by enemies that longed for their destruction.  Much like today, Israel was small in comparison to the great super-powers of the ancient world; however, God’s hand was upon them.  For the Christian, this verse speaks of God’s sovereignty and His absolute control over the affairs of men.

Isaiah 46:10-11 — Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Psalm 135:6 — Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.

Many are bothered by such statements in Scripture because as sinful, prideful creatures the thought that someone else is more powerful and in control of their lives.  As a Christian, I take comfort in the fact that my Father is in complete control and there is nothing mysterious to His all-knowing mind and nothing outside His ever-watching eye

2.  The Faithful –The same word translated “heathen” in 33:10 is the same word used of nation in 33:12.   This means there is not a variation of content, but a variation of substance.  A nation that follows God will be blessed.  A nation that does follow God will be brought down.

Righteous’ Comfort to Praise God (33:13-19)

Comfort in God’s Awareness (33:13-14)—The picture of God given here is of Him seated high and exalted above all the earth looking down upon the affairs of men.  It reinforces the idea of God’s omniscience, His all-knowing nature, but it also serves as a reminder in the affairs of men.  There are no secret places in the world that can be hid from the eyes of God.  There are no secret places in the mind and heart of man that can be kept from Him.

Comfort in God’s Alertness (33:15-17) – We are well aware of the atheist movement in our world today.  USA Today released a report this week (July 29, 2012) that stated 1 in 5 people now declare themselves atheist, agnostic, or some other form of “none” in regards to belief in God.  We expect people such as this to live their lives as if God is not watching from Heaven; however, there is a silent movement that is thriving among those who claim to know the God of Heaven.  These groups of practical atheists, as I like to call them, give lip service to the Almighty; yet live their lives as if He does not exist.

God sees the lives of men and these verse only reiterate what has been stated throughout this entire psalm—God is in control.  The emphasis here though is that even though God is fully aware of all that goes on in the world, He is also interested in all that is happening in the world.

Comfort in God’s Affection (33:18-19) – The closing verses of this psalm are some of the most comforting you will find in Scripture.  It has declared to us that God is worthy of praise because He is Sovereign.  He deserves our devotion because He is Almighty God who created the entire universe.  It is with this in mind that he psalmist then draws our attention to God’s loving-kindness toward us; his intimate relationship with His children.

I know that I’m quoting Spurgeon a great deal, but he puts this thought so well that I will close with it:

“The Lord’s hand goes with His eye.  He sovereignly preserves those He graciously oberserves.  Rescues and restorations hedge about the lives of the saints.  Death cannot touch them until the King signs the warrant and gives his leave, but even then, his touch is not so mortal as immortal.  He does not so much kill us as kill our mortality.”

A shift in person that takes place in verse 20 highlights the intimacy of God with His children.  From the beginning of the psalm, the writer has been sharing his thoughts as an outside observer, watching God’s dealings with mankind.  However, it is here that he shifts to the first person.  He is not an observer in the workings of God, the psalmist is a partaker in God’s goodness.

When it comes to rejoicing, are you an observer or a partaker?  Do you watch as others give God the glory He deserves?  If you are a child of God this morning, you have an obligation to honor your Heavenly Father.  I do hope that if you are a child of God that you have more than an obligation, but a strong desire to give glory to your Savior.

The Maasai tribe, found in parts of Kenya and Tanzania, greet one another by spitting.  When greeting elders, tradition demands a tribesman must spit upon his hand before offering a handshake, thus showing respect.  Men even spit on newborns and fathers spit upon their daughters at weddings.  I have attended many weddings, and while I recall many father’s sobbing as they gave their little girls away, I have never seen one spit upon his daughter.

The Toraja, meaning “People of the Uplands,” are a group that live in mountainous regions of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  By all accounts, they are fascinated with death.  Funerals in the Torajan tradition are luxuriant events that would more closely resemble the fanfare and pageantry of Mardi Gras than the average American’s vision of a burial.  Noblemen have the more elaborate ceremonies that can last for several days.  For the poor, funerals can be postponed for days, months, even years as the family collects enough money for the event.  In the meantime, the deceased is wrapped in cloth and placed under the family home.  It is believed his or her spirit remains with the family until the funeral celebration and he or she then departs for the afterlife.

Both of these events seem very odd to me.  I do not wish for anyone to spit upon me, and I most certainly did not want a doctor or nurse spitting on my children when they came into this world.  However, these are the traditions of the Maasai and Toraja tribes.  From all the accounts I read, the Torajan rites are a wonder to behold.  I can, from afar and comfortably in front of my computer, respect the traditions of these peoples from Africa and South Pacific Isles.

I think of my own family traditions which may seem odd to other people, especially those not familiar with American culture.  I remember my great grandmother making all of us eat black-eyed peas and collard greens every New Year’s Day.  A single new penny was cooked along with the black-eyed peas and good fortune was supposed to be with the lucky recipient throughout the year.  It is not a tradition that I have brought with me into my own family.  My wife and I are in the process of creating our own family traditions.  We certainly give homage to those before us and even incorporate many from our past into the lives of our children such as family devotions, personal quiet time, and even reading the Nativity on Christmas morning.  If Clemson and West Virginia play one another on a regular basis in the college football season, we will add the tradition of awkward silence in the week following the game (FYI:  It was my year to wear sackcloth after the Orange Bowl).

Traditions make us feel comfortable and connected.  We feel comfortable because we are familiar with what is happening around us.  We feel connected to those with whom we share traditions, whether they are family or friends.  I fully support both of those elements!  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  With exception of that crazed uncle your family whispers about, everyone seeks to make a connection with those around them.  Traditions give us both.

There has been a great emphasis upon “traditional values” over the past few weeks.  In truth, the cultural wars of conservatism versus liberalism have been waged in varying degrees for millennia.  The recent firestorm erupted over an American CEO’s honest response to a question concerning marriage.  I have no desire to rehash all of the clichéd accusations and assertions from the Right or the Left on the issue.  But it made me question, what are traditional values?

As I have shared, traditions vary from country to country, culture to culture, and family to family.  The ever-flowing streams of time take their toll upon all things.  Once mighty statues are worn smooth and nations rise and fall.  What is rejected by one generation is embraced by another.  And yes, even traditions come and go as the years rush forward.  With such wide variances of peoples, cultures, and traditions, the concept of absolutes appear unattainable.  Or at least absolutes are unattainable if I confine myself to these fluctuating models of people, culture, and tradition.

  • Job 23:13 – “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.”
  • Psalm 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
  • Malachi 3:6a – “For I am the LORD, I change not; . .”
  • Hebrews 13:6 – “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

I could go on for quite some time citing the many Bible verses that speak of God’s immutability.  What is immutability you ask?  A. W. Pink defines it best when he states, “It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”  In short, God is not tossed to and fro in the various streams of human culture and tradition.

As a Christian, I take hope in God’s immutability.  Positively, I know God’s promises are guaranteed because He is unchanging.  Negatively, I know that God’s warnings are true for the same reason.  The blessings and judgments of God are not based upon what is trendy or politically correct.  He is not swayed by popular opinion or boycotts.  Only He can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exod. 3:14).

Traditional values?  I don’t know how to define traditional values.  Those elements that are en vogue today may be socially unacceptable tomorrow.  I have heard the cries already, “You’re just a traditionalist.  You have to change with the times.”  In some instances, this cry is correct.  I enjoy the fact that plumbing has moved indoors and I can drive from one city to another without the need to nurse saddle sores for my effort.  However, when it comes to the Word of God, there is no room for variance on those principles that are as immutable as the God that spoke them.  So for those of you that have branded me a traditionalist or one who fights for traditional values, you’ve got me all wrong!  I don’t support traditional values.  I support biblical values!