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    ThuThursdayAugAugust10th2017 You vs. God
    byBill Davis Tagged Dependence Psalms Worship 0 comments Add comment

    Volumes and volumes have been penned on why the Psalms are so essential to our devotional development in the Christian life. They connect in ways that other Scripture doesn’t (not in a superior way, as 2 Tim 3:16 is clear, but still in a rather unique way). The cry of the psalmist can connect to the cry of our soul when we really aren’t sure how to think about God, let alone how to express emotion to him. Sometimes we’re not even sure what those emotions are until the example of the psalmist shows us how to think about our circumstances and gain a broader perspective. Some of the darkest, most dire moments of my life have resulted in the Psalms moving from words on a page to understanding, comfort, wisdom, hope, perspective, and life.

    But thankfully we don’t have to be in the middle of dire circumstances to tap into the life and perspective of the Psalms. How do we make this connection just in our more day-in and day-out moments? I suggest it starts with an unlikely pairing: worship and grammar.

    The Psalms are many things, but they’re nothing if they aren’t a direction to worship. They are songs and poems to express the heart of a worshiper after the heart of God, and the very heart of God himself. I like a definition of worship I once heard that goes something like this: it is rightly recognizing who God is and who I am. The more I rightly see God in all his splendor, sovereignty, and glory, the more I recognize there no one or no thing like him (Ex 15:11)… certainly not me! And thus I start to rightly see who I am – both as one in desperate need of his saving, but also one gloriously and graciously saved and brought to new life!

    Okay, worship makes sense, but grammar? In particular, I think one key way to read the Psalms is to make note of the subject and the predicate (and if you need a little refresher on that, you might enjoy one of our family’s favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs here). Namely, who is doing something, and what are they doing? Now this is where the worship comes in. If worship is rightly viewing God and thereby rightly viewing myself, then I can look to the Psalms to see what does God do, and then I look in the same psalm to see what is my action or response.

    Sarah and I were recently praying for wisdom and direction, and found ourselves looking into Psalm 25. It’s a cry of David for God’s leading and deliverance. But just take a look at some of the verbs assigned to God, and compare them to the verbs assigned to you and me:

    God: lift, save from enemies, make me know, teach me, lead me, remember mercy, remember not sins, love steadfastly, be good, instruct, pardon, guide in choosing, befriend, rescues, turn to me, be gracious, consider me, forgive, guard, deliver, redeem

    Us: trust, wait, keep covenant, fear the Lord, look toward the Lord, take refuge

    Two things quickly become very obvious. First, one list is clearly longer and more active than another. God is saving, teaching, leading, forgiving, and on and on. We’re trusting, anticipating and receiving. I’m not saying that trusting is trivial or easy, but clearly he’s doing all the heavy lifting here!

    Second, it’s quite evident that I all too often try to assign myself God’s list and shirk mine. This is where my worship gets warped. I don’t view God rightly enough and thus think wrongly (more highly, more lowly) of myself. Instead of trusting and waiting, I think I’ll lift myself. I’ll be the one to save myself from my enemies, I’ll figure out my path, I’ll instruct myself, I’ll…  Sound familiar to you, too?

    Oh “turn to me and be gracious to me” Lord! Even when I get this all inside-out in my thinking, the Psalms guide me even in how to repent. Let’s stick to our verbs and grow in trusting God for his. So, walk through the Psalms and take time to write out such “You vs. God” lists of predicates like the above, and let that little bit of grammar drive a lot of worship.

    ThuThursdayJunJune22nd2017 Bringing Perspective into Focus
    byBill Davis Tagged Encouragement Faith Suffering 0 comments Add comment

    When I’m in the thick of it, and really desire help or a resolution to my circumstances, where is my focus? Almost always it’s also on “the thick of it.” That’s a very natural response. But like many aspects of the Christian life, God’s economy is paradoxically inside-out. When our problems are directly in front of us (or all around us), God often calls us to a different perspective.

    God calls us to a far-range focus. To focus on the distant horizon, if you will, essentially looking out as far as you can see and be reminded that the Lord has a perspective beyond that.

    Some years back our family made the nearly 1,200-mile drive from Lafayette to the Rocky Mountains. If you’ve ever made a similar trip then you’re familiar with the experience. While yet two or three hours away from the mountains, the horizon stops being flat and it dawns on you that you’re seeing the Rockies. Your perspective of merely looking at the road in front of you shifts to the mountains on the distant horizon.

    Psalm 121 is a classic example of this perspective shift. The first two verses pack in a powerful perspective change.

    “I lift up my eyes…”

    This encourages us to stop focusing exclusively on our present circumstances. Eyes up means eyes aren’t down. It means we can see things we can only see when our eyes change focus, perhaps even things we’ve been missing. It just might be an opportunity to stop looking in the wrong direction, and (re)start looking in the right direction.

    “…to the hills”

    Just like looking to the Rockies for those of us native to the Indiana cornfields, this is a call to look farther than we’re used to looking and navigating. Using a longer timeframe, a broader scope, or a bigger picture changes my outlook. Seeing the Rockies on the distant horizon doesn’t necessarily help me navigate the road immediately in front of me, but it does give me a fresh sense of anticipation on what is otherwise a pretty long trip.

    “…from where does my help come?”

    Ahhh, now here’s a great question. Let’s not let this be merely a rhetorical question with a quick Sunday-school answer. Let us actually stop and ponder this. Usually, I’m all too hasty and operate by default without asking this question. I don’t think I’m unique here. Personally, I usually fall into one of two camps: either help is going to come from me (“git ‘er dun”, right?), or else I silently lament that others aren’t proactively offering help that I think I need (or for which I haven’t asked).

    But this is a solid question to ask myself: where will my help come from? Is it really me, or my unspoken expectations of others? Will I stop long enough to take inventory to realize I’m a poor source for my help? It is well established that we learn and grow most through pain and trial. Stopping to see how limited I am is a key step in shifting my perspective.

    “…my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

    This is the answer worth our pondering and our worship. This identifies the whole focal point of my new perspective. I may not know how the Lord will help. It remains a mystery of when God will bring his help. But the anxiety of these lingering questions can be overcome by my focus of who will be my help. The “maker of heaven and earth” is on the job. No one can match that résumé! And as we’re reminded that he’s on the job, we refresh our hearts to worship him on the throne.

    To be sure, our Heavenly Father reminds us he “is a very present help in times of trouble” (Ps 46) and lovingly desires to “draw near” (Hebrews 10:22, James 4:8), but he also encourages us to shift our focus. This is not a call to an ignorant hope that everything works out as we wish. This isn’t a recipe to follow so that we get all we want (God is not a cosmic vending machine). This is a deeper truth that our focus is often misplaced, and especially so when things are hard. There’s much for me to learn about waiting on, trusting in, abiding with, and expecting from the Lord; but it’s an appropriate start to first respond with my gaze and focus.

    If Jesus is our example (and he is), we can learn from considering his perspective at the uttermost point of his enduring, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12). His focus was forward, and was beyond the horizon of that thing that was the greatest point of suffering for all time.

    What are you enduring these days? Allow me to encourage you to start with changing your perspective to beyond that thing which you’re enduring. Honestly ask yourself: where are your sources of help? Then consider how those, including your own strength and capabilities, stack up against the one “who made heaven and earth.” 

    ThuThursdayJulJuly10th2014 The Hand-Me-Down You Can't Outgrow
    byBill Davis Tagged Gospel Sanctification 0 comments Add comment

    I’m a baby. So is my wife. That is, Sarah and I are both the youngest of our respective families of origin. [Yes, insert your own joke about two “babies of the family” marrying one another.] This makes our children among the youngest of several cousins -- in fact, our youngest is the 25th of 25 grandchildren of my in-laws. While I could relay many pros & cons of our place in the extended family, let me highlight one practical benefit: hand-me-downs. In their earlier years, our children had a streaming inventory of used clothing from a multitude. The relief to our clothing budget was wonderful. Every parent can relate to how blindingly fast children grow out of their clothes. Every parent knows the feeling of seeing little Johnny’s high-water pants and arms gangling out of his sleeves to signal us that his clothes no longer fit … again.

    Last week I heard a middle-schooler relate his week at church camp, and as he spoke of what he learned he used the phrase, “we never grow out of the gospel.” First, I’m thrilled when a young person grabs such a solid truth and appears to exercise it well. But second, I simply appreciated the reminder that we never outgrow the gospel like our children do their clothes. We never get past the point of needing the grace and sovereign work of God – not only to save us but just as desperately to conform us into the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).

    Recently I got an email from a very good friend of mine in another part of the country. He was asking for some advice on how to think about and encourage someone who wasn’t sure if he believed in Jesus or not. Just for an illustration, I’ll include the bulk of my note to him:

    Dear Brother,

    There are so many resources for "discipleship" and living the Christian life. However, if Josh is not sure of his faith in Jesus, then I strongly suspect it might be because he's not looking at "the right Jesus". That is, the Jesus who became the substitutionary sacrifice to atone for Josh's infinite rebellion against his righteous Creator/Owner, thus sparing Josh from the appropriate and full wrath of God, provided that Josh respond with faith and repentance to confess Christ indeed as Lord.

    If we don't understand that God is our Creator/Owner, then we don't sufficiently grasp the notion of our rebellion against his perfect ways in our sin. If we don't grasp the notion of our sin against God, then we don't understand the notion of his wrath. If we don't appreciate that his wrath is justly pointed in full force at us for our sin, then we don't value the sacrifice of the Savior to take that full force on our behalf. If we don't value the sacrifice of the Savior, we don't know who He really is and how amazing is the grace he extends in redeeming us to an eternal life that begins on this earth. To see Jesus as a "take Him or leave Him" option is surely a litmus that one has failed to grasp the above - for comprehending these rightly is to recognize our desperate need and call out, as did the tax collector of Luke 18:13 who "beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’"

    And, of course, all of us who have received this gift started in the same "darkness" and were "transferred" into the kingdom, as Col. 1:13 makes clear.

    Do you, as I do, sometimes fail to grasp the real gravity of your sin as rebellion against God? Then let’s allow the gospel to remind us of God’s sovereign ownership of us. Are you, as I am, sometimes far too casual in your gratitude toward God and esteeming the sacrifice paid on your behalf? Then let’s allow the gospel to remind us of the wrath from which we’ve been rescued. Can you, as I do, at times become complacent in our growing in sanctification to become like Jesus? Then let’s look hard at the gospel to be reminded that we have been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) and refreshed in our purpose that “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5:15).

    You might say that the gospel is the most unique of hand-me-downs. Preserved in God’s Word, it’s been handed down through the centuries where ultimately we receive it through someone else. But then it stays with us, we never outgrow it, and yet we are commissioned to “hand it down” to others. So, receive it, be renewed in it, rely daily on it, keep tight hold of it … and hand it down!

    ThuThursdayAprApril17th2014 Failure and Victory
    byBill Davis Tagged Failure Grace 0 comments Add comment

    Epic Fail. For those who don’t have teenagers in the home, or else are like I am and just aren’t cool enough to be in-the-know on current lingo, here’s a tip: we no longer have a serious failure – it’s now known as an “epic fail” (and probably has been for awhile … but like I said, how would I know?). While the term is typically associated with labeled photos or funny videos of real-life mishaps and efforts gone awry, it sometimes gets associated with serious matters as well. Here’s one that involved the disciple Peter: 

    And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mark 14:27-31)

    Peter has company with me and countless others. We Christians can certainly talk big and think big, but there are far too many times when the theological rubber meets the world's road and I just fall way short. Peter was notorious as the disciple seemingly with his foot permanently in his mouth. And this was perhaps the pinnacle of such a moment, emphatically pledging his lifeblood only hours later to deny Jesus (just as emphatically!). In his denial, he goes so far as to say, essentially, "May God strike me with lighting if I'm lying about not knowing this man!”

    Of course, that's our side of things. But Jesus so beautifully foretells God's side of things in Luke's account of the above scene (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus proactively encourages Peter to "strengthen your brothers" after you (all) do fall away for a time and return. Jesus knows our forthcoming failures, but he lays hold of us anyway! He proactively strengthens us not only against failing, but also in advance for the repenting! Incredible! This is powerfully observed in the amazing transformation that Peter undergoes by receiving the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit for years thereafter. Consider these two passages contrasting Peter on either side of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection:

    And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38)

    Compare that to:

    Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

    That's the same guy in both passages! The first one—the dozing, unwatchful, weak-fleshed, temptation-target big mouth—is later in life transformed to be on the other side of the warning, encouraging us to "watch out! pray! be on your guard!" That's the voice of experience if there ever was one. I think perhaps Peter's whole life story could be summed up in those last words that "the God of all grace who has called you … will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you." May we understand that, even after we blow it big, God is active and able to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us!

    Peter’s “epic fail” was met with the redemptive grace of Christ whose shed blood justified Peter, and justifies you and me who hold our faith in the Lord Jesus. The cross itself seemed as an “epic fail” to those who stood in witness (Matt 27:39-44). But God’s plan of redemption brought victory of an unimaginable and, well, truly epic proportion. No new lingo or catchphrase will or could be invented to adequately express the unfathomable and glorious victory of Jesus over sin and death in the resurrection. Only our hearts singing out in worship and praise can. I’m looking forward to joining together this Sunday to do just that!

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary30th2014 The Long-Range View
    byBill Davis Tagged Church Vision 0 comments Add comment

    What is one of the first things your children invariably hear when traveling a distance to a grandparents’ or older relative’s house? Is it, “How was school today?” or “Do you have much homework tonight?” or “Don’t forget to take the trash out.” No, those aren’t the phrases you’d expect when they haven’t seen them for a while. We all know they’re going to hear, “Oh my, look how much you’ve grown!” In contrast, why don’t they hear that from us at home so often? Imagine if each day your children came home from school and heard from us parents, “Hi honey, how was school? Oh my, look how much you’ve grown!” (and the resulting annoyed response, “C’mon, Mom, you’ve said that every day this week!”).

    The obvious answer of course lies in the difference between the everyday view and the long-range view. Aunt Martha has the luxury of focusing on the long-range view of your little darlings as they grow, and just can’t help her excitement as she pinches their cheeks. I’m a little like Aunt Martha these days, but in a forward-looking way. I’ve had the luxury lately of spending time looking, praying, and thinking about Kossuth in a longer-range scope. In fact, thinking about Kossuth beyond 2014 is one of the reasons I’m excited about Kossuth in 2014.

    A couple weeks ago, Paul very helpfully encouraged us to consider the renewal of our commitments as members of the KSBC body. Last week, Tom stirred our anticipation of several blessings coming our way in 2014. This week, I thought it might be helpful to give some insight to even longer-range thinking you don’t hear much about yet but will in 2014.

    One of our initiatives is a multi-year strategic plan. How much is “multi-year”? Personally, I can’t help but have a sense of 10-15 years in the back of my mind. Then again, James 4:13-17 suggests perhaps our plans may change in short order. Officially we’ve focused ourselves on about a 5-year window.  We’ve been laying the groundwork to consider a plan that’s perhaps a bit different from other “strategic plans”, because our God-centered theology informs us we aren’t sufficient to bring about anything on our own steam (e.g., 2Cor 3:5, 4:7). So how do you “plan” for what you can’t “make happen?” It’s a question that’s driven us to look hard again into the scriptures that Jesus will build his church and our role in that work. As we solidify this framework in the next month or so, we look forward to a wide circle of our congregation to join us in the long-range thinking process this spring, with further planning to follow thereafter. By the end of this year our goal is to enjoy a well-defined set of priorities and principles that, Lord willing, strongly guides where we invest our energy and resources for years to come.

    Another area of longer-range impact is our adult-discipleship. In our leadership meetings we have been working through various directions for church-wide adult discipleship curriculum. Abraham has poured countless hours into researching materials and we are reviewing options for a plan that spans three years or more of materials designed to build year upon year for the health of our body. It’s easy to try to measure “church growth” in terms of headcount, dollars, buildings, and programs. Ephesians 4:12-16 offers an alternative picture of growth as the maturity and love of the church in action, and it’s exciting to ponder. As we finish this curriculum groundwork, mull over with our Connection Group teachers, and further flesh-out the details, it’s again possible we’ll finish 2014 with a foundation of a growth plan that will impact KSBC for many years to come!

    We can’t neglect the daily responsibilities. The trash needs emptied, the homework needs done, and the snow needs shoveled. But as creatures made in the image of our eternal God, we get to consider more than today – even more than this year. I’m pumped about the planning and work being done in 2014 that will serve us, Lord willing, long beyond 2014. Please pray for wisdom for the several folks who are and will be involved in current and upcoming planning efforts. Always feel free to talk to any of us elders about it anytime. Be careful, though; if we get too excited we just might pinch your cheeks. 

    ThuThursdayOctOctober17th2013 God of the Pits

    Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3, ESV)

    This verse struck me significantly during corporate worship this past Sunday—in particular, the notion of being "unsearchable." In thinking on this verse, my mind equates "unsearchable" to the notion of "unfathomable" (in fact, the NIV does translate that way). Something that's unfathomable is a thing whose depth cannot be found. 

    Our family has enjoyed in the past a BBC TV series Planet Earth (it's free at the library, by the way), a documentary with some pretty spectacular visuals of remote places I'll never see otherwise. One of those episodes shows some insane people (my assessment, anyway) free-falling into a vast gulf. It turns out, they're "skydiving" (without the sky part) into the Cave of Swallows, an enormous cavern that would easily fit entire giant sky scrapers within it. I can imagine standing at the edge (well, maybe not really at the edge but, to the point...) and kicking or dropping in a big rock and listening to the silence as it traveled the seemingly bottomless distance. I suspect I'd never hear the thud.

    But there is in fact a bottom. One technically can "fathom" it. It reminds me of other "pits" of the Psalmist that were seemingly bottomless. Like the pit of those who feel separated from God or his counsel, as described in Psalm 28:

    To you, O Lord, I call;
    my rock, be not deaf to me,
    lest, if you be silent to me,
    I become like those who go down to the pit.

    Or the pit of Psalm 40 that is the pit of destruction (self- or otherwise) that just feels like we can't get out because we're so "stuck" in the mire: 

    I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
    He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,

    Or the pit of Psalm 88 that feels like a deep grave, cut-off from God:

    For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
    I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
    like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
    like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
    You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
    Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves.

    The glorious, praiseworthy reality is that not one of those pits are "unfathomable". The rock does in fact hit a bottom, so to speak. Not so of God's greatness. In contrast, there is no pit into which God's arm cannot reach, for his unfathomable greatness always outstretches the bottom—however seemingly endless—of whatever the pit. And that is the stuff that can erupt in our worship of the unsearchable greatness of God, as we also see in Psalm 103:

    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
    who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
    who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

    Do you feel like you're in a deep, seemingly bottomless pit right now? If so, there's good news. No matter how deep the pit feels, you can be confident of this: God's great love is deeper still. Perhaps this is why Paul included "depth" in his list of intimidating things that ultimately prove unable to separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).

    Be encouraged. Pits can be scary, hopeless, and disorienting—but they're not unfathomable. Only God's greatness is unfathomable. So let's come together again this Sunday to rejoice in the unsearchable-ness of God, and his redemption of us from all pits, however deep.
    ThuThursdayJunJune13th2013 Therefore...Though
    byBill Davis Tagged Encouragement Faith 2 comments Add comment

    God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
    (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV)

    When we think of a refuge, our thoughts typically run to a safe harbor, if not a sanctuary or perhaps even a resort. However, refuge and strength combine to form quite a combination. For not only does the Psalmist remind us that we can safely seek retreat from trouble and trial, but also that our retreat to God isn't one of mere hiding—it's also where we can be renewed, restored, and strengthened. And to top all that off, he is right there ready to receive us; he's not some far-away, "someday" helper. Theologians call that "immanence." You, I, and the Psalmist can just call his help "very present."

    Then we get the hinge of the passage—the challenge of "do you really believe this?", the assignment that arises from the assertion. And it follows a little 2 word pattern:

    “Therefore… though…”

    That's a good 2-word pattern for the Christian life. "Therefore…though…" applies to a myriad of seeming paradoxes for the Christian. It applies to the trade off of faith/sight, contentment/lack, calm/storm, and on and on. My best spiritual mentor taught me a really great thing to do with this passage. Namely, take out what comes after the "though" and spend time meditating on what we might fill in the blank, be they 'small' fears or really big ones:

    Therefore we will not fear though...
       …I fail at this challenge in front of me.
       …I am rejected by someone very close to me.
       …this chronic health issue may be with me yet longer.
       …something or someone lets me down when I was counting on it/him/her.

    I find that when I put something pretty meaningful with the "though", it's a good litmus of how strong the "therefore" currently is in my life. I also find, thankfully, that it works in both directions. In other words, the times when I truly seek the refuge of the Lord and gain the strength available in his immediately available help, the bigger the "thoughs" I can face.  What "though..." do you have facing you right now? Seek both his refuge and his strength—and appreciate afresh how "very present" he is.

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