Righteous Wrath—What A Relief

God is Just—And God is Fair

PREVIEW: Ask most people and they will tell you they prefer a God of love, not wrath. They like a Jesus who is “full of grace,” but they are not so sure about a Christ whose grace is perfectly balanced with “truth.” They have, at least in their minds, as Dorothy Sayers notes, “efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” You see, most people are very uncomfortable with a Deity who actually punishes sin, preferring a world where “all dogs go to heaven”—as do all people. All of which would render judgment, punishment, and hell entirely irrelevant. However, though perfectly loving, resplendent with grace, unequaled in patience, and a place of safety for his children, God is also a bit dangerous because he is organically just. God is just, and like it or not, we should all be eternally grateful!

Auto Righteous Wrath—What A Relief - Ray Noah

A JOURNEY OF WORSHIP // Psalms 76:7-9

It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven, you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

Ask most people, and they will tell you they prefer a God of love, not wrath. They like a Jesus who is “full of grace,” but they are not so sure about a Christ whose grace is perfectly balanced with “truth.” You see, most people are very uncomfortable with a Deity who actually punishes sin, preferring a world where “all dogs go to heaven,” as do all people. All of which would render judgment, punishment, and hell entirely irrelevant.

Yet throughout the Bible we find in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a capacity for righteous wrath: Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire, moneychangers are given the bum’s rush right out of the temple, greedy Ananias and Sapphira drop dead in church, and at the proper time, the living and the dead will face the final judgment. Though perfectly loving, resplendent with grace, unequaled in patience, and a place of safety for his children, God is also a bit dangerous because he is organically just.

I prefer a God like that. I don’t want the syrupy, doting eternal Santa Claus who does nothing but dispense goodies to one and all—even the bad ones. I want a God who is fair and true and just…and dangerous.

However, what I prefer, what anyone prefers, matters little. Like it or not, the kind of God we get is a God of love—and of justice! Likewise, the kind of Savior we get wasn’t the sugary sweet version so many in our culture have made him to be—a sanitized, tame, Mr. Rogers version of Christ. Dorothy Sayers was right,

To do them justice, the people who crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary, he was too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have declawed the lion of Judah and made him a housecat for pale priests and pious old ladies… To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.

But the Bible is quite clear: Jesus is no pussycat—he is the Lion of Judah, and one day, as 2 Timothy 4:1 says, “Jesus Christ [will] judge the living and the dead.” And on that day, all of heaven will thunder, “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were the Holy One…Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” (Revelation 16: 5,7)

All of creation, including you and I, will be utterly amazed at the justice and fairness of God’s judgment, and we will stand in solidarity to declare in unison, “That’s exactly right—true and just are your judgments!”

Justice will finally be served by the only One who can be trusted to judge in righteousness and fairness. What a relief!

MY OFFERING OF WORSHIP: As you read scripture, the next time you come across a passage where God is meting out punishment or issuing a law that seems so incredibly harsh to our modern, sophisticated ears, just stop and by faith, thank God that he is both just and fair.

God Rules—Live With It!

God's Sovereignty Means You Can Get a Good Night’s Rest

PREVIEW:

God Rules—Live With It! -Ray Noah

If we could truly absorb the truth that God rules over all—big and small—and embrace it as a guiding principle for our everyday lives, what a difference would it make in how we approach life! We would live with less anxiety about the current global climate. We would be a great deal less upset about our current leaders or a lot less dependent on them to solve our every problem. We would be a lot less worried about whether we would have a job, good health, or a happy family when the sun comes up tomorrow. In fact, we would not lose any sleep at all about the sun coming up tomorrow or not. Why? Because God truly does rule over all, big and small!

A JOURNEY OF WORSHIP // Psalm 75:6-7

No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.

What a great reminder! It is neither the Democratic nor the Republican National Committees that get their candidates elected; it is not how well organized the parties are at the grassroots level; it is not the hundreds of millions of dollars that we now spend to “buy” elections—although those factors certainly play into the outcome. But at the end of the day, it is what God permits that determines who will rise and who will fall.

The truth is we see only a little slice of history. From our perspective, the country was desperately needing change, or we were at war, and we needed a wartime leader in the Oval Office, or the economy was in shambles and we needed an administration with financial savvy to fix us, or whatever other scenario we used to describe our current context. But God lives outside of time and above circumstances, and he is moving human history to a foreordained conclusion. Daniel 2:20-21 reminds us,

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.

If we could truly absorb that truth and embrace it as a guiding principle for our everyday lives, what difference would it make in how we approach life? I think we would live with a lot less anxiety about the current global climate. I think we would be a great deal less upset about our current leaders or a lot less dependent on them to solve our every problem. I think we would be a lot less worried about whether we would have a job, good health, or a happy family when the sun comes up tomorrow. In fact, we would not lose any sleep at all about the sun coming up tomorrow or not.

Now, I’m not claiming that we should adopt a do-nothing, careless approach to life. Of course not—that would make us unworthy servants (see Matthew 25:24-30) of a Master who expects us to do our best with what we have been given (Colossians 3:23-24). But remembering that God rules over all, big and small, that God controls all, big and small, that God uses all the events of this world, big and small, to bring about his perfect plan, and helps me to live out my life in a much more purposeful, peaceful, and productive way.

Here’s the thing: God rules—live with it!

MY OFFERING OF WORSHIP: When you pray today, bring every concern that you have, big or small, to God’s throne. After you have expressed them to God, let your ending statement be, “God, you rule over them all.”

Forever, And Right Now

He is the God of Yesterday, Today, and Forever

PREVIEW: The testimony of history is that the Lord alone is a great and gracious God. Therefore, we should always cast our lot with him, for in the long run, he always wins, and so do his people. When in doubt, put faith in the God of history rather than fear in the difficulty of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow. God is the God of forever! However, most of us, while we might appreciate the importance of history, are more focused on what is facing us today. And the question that always arises for us is if God is great and gracious for us today. And the answer to that concern is a resounding yes.

The testimony of history is that God alone is great and gracious. Therefore, we should always cast our lot with him, for in the long run, he always wins—and so will we.-Ray Noah

MY JOURNEY OF WORSHIP // Psalm 68:19,35

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens….You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God.

Honestly, it took me a while to “get” this psalm. Not only did I have to read it through a couple of times, but once I was within the psalm, I had to stop and restart several more times just to figure out what David was trying to say. I now have greater sympathy for those of you who are daily readers of this blog.

My conclusion: This is a great psalm! David is tracing the glorious history of God and his people from their mighty and miraculous deliverance from Egyptian slavery to the enthronement of God’s presence in the sanctuary in Jerusalem. And, in case you didn’t know, that history covers several hundred years—years of ups and downs. But through it all, God always cared for his people, and at the end of the day, led them inexorably toward a preordained victorious conclusion.

The testimony of history, then, is that the Lord alone is a great and gracious God. Therefore, we should always cast our lot with him, for in the long run, he always wins, and so do his people. When in doubt, put faith in the God of history rather than fear in the difficulty of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow. God is the God of forever!

Most of us, however, though we might appreciate the importance of history, are more focused on what is facing us today. And the question that always arises is if God is great and gracious for me today. And the answer to that concern is yes. That is why, after praising God for his mighty and miraculous work throughout Israel’s history, David then says, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” He is not only the God of forever, but he is also the God of right now.

You see, history is simply a series of daily experiences. String enough daily events together, and you’ve got history. God’s historical track record is comprised of revelations of his mighty and miraculous character as well as demonstrations of his great and gracious work in the daily lives of people like you and me. And since God is always true to his character, since he is always faithful to his covenant, you can trust that he will bear your needs today and lead you inexorably to a foreordained victorious conclusion, too.

So, what is the takeaway from this psalm? Simply this: How God proved himself to his people, Israel, he will prove himself to you today. He has the history to back that claim up.

He is the God of forever, and of right now!

My Offering of Worship: Are you concerned about things you are facing today or worried about what may happen tomorrow? Since God is faithful, why don’t you declare, “You are the God who never changes, the victorious One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Audacious Expectations

Delight Yourself in God … Then Watch Out!

PREVIEW: Don’t ever feel selfish for asking God to bless your family, your church, and yourself! In fact, that is a highly spiritual thing to do. How is that? If you want Divine blessing so that people will look at you and see God’s favor in your life and be attracted to the God of your salvation, then God guarantees his blessings. But if that is going to happen, then you cannot ask for selfish blessings. You cannot misspend God’s graces in foolish ways. You cannot ask for stuff that you will spend on your own humanistic desires. Rather, your motives, plans, hopes, and dreams need to be sanctified, which means that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first for him to grant you the desires of your heart:

"Delight yourself in the Lord first and foremost if you expect the Lord to grant you the desires of your heart." - Ray Noah

MY JOURNEY OF WORSHIP // Psalm 67:1-2

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

I never feel selfish for asking God to bless my family, my church, and even me! In fact, I think it is a highly spiritual thing to do. How is that? The second verse of this psalm provides the key: I want Divine blessing so that people will look at me and see God’s hand. I want them to see God’s favor in my life and be attracted to the God of my salvation.

Now if that is going to happen, then I cannot ask for selfish blessings. I cannot misspend God’s graces in foolish ways. I cannot ask for stuff that I will spend on my own humanistic desires. My motives, plans, hopes, and dreams need to be sanctified, which means that I need to delight myself in the Lord first if I am to expect that he will grant me the desires of my heart:

Take delight in the Lord, and he’ll give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

That really puts the onus on me to clean up my desires, doesn’t it? But if I can live with the purest of intentions—if I can live with a kingdom mindset—then I can expect God’s extraordinary grace, his undeserved blessing, and the favor of his face to shine down upon me every day of my life. I love how Ken Sande puts it:

“When you draw on God’s grace to put off your self-centered attitudes and act on His principles, you put His glory on display. Your life points to His vast wisdom, compassion, and transforming power, and as you look for God’s glory, the impact reaches far beyond yourself because you give everyone around you a reason to respect and praise God. Glorifying God is not about letting others see how great you are. It’s about letting them see how great the Lord is.”

Now, that’s the way I want to live. I want to be living proof to this lost world of a loving God. So, I am going to pray this prayer today: “God, bless me a lot! May I know your grace in new ways. Let the bright glory of your favor cause my life to shine so much that others will see me and be attracted to you!”

And I am audacious enough to expect that God will do that for me!

Incidentally, there was another Old Testament character who dared to pray that way: Jabez. Here is his short story from 1 Chronicles 4:9-10:

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

He dared to ask God for the moon, so to speak, and guess what? He got it. I love the profound simplicity of the last line of that story: “And God granted his request.”

Ask God for the moon…and the earth, too! Perhaps God will grant your request, and you’ll be the next Jabez story—unless I beat you to it!

MY OFFERING OF WORSHIP: “Delight yourself in the Lord,” the Psalmist declared, “and he will grant you the desires of your heart.” So, here is the $64,000 question: Are your desires aligned with what pleases and honors God? If not, I think you know what to do.

Refiner’s Fire

Fit and Pleasing to God

PREVIEW: Fiery trials aren’t much fun, to say the least. But scripture often presents God as the great silversmith and you as the precious but unrefined silver. And when you are in the Refiner’s fire, be assured that you will never be left in the fire too long, but neither will you be taken out too soon. Rather, you will always be under the watchful eye of the One who fully understands the refining process. And when, as a result of the fire, your life reflects the image of Christ, you will be ready, purified like pure silver, fit and pleasing to God. So, if you are in a fiery trial, hang in there; you’re going to really shine when it is all said and done.

"Remember, if you are in a fiery trial, when as a result of the heat your life reflects the image of Christ, you will be refined like pure silver, fit and pleasing to God."-Ray Noah

A Journey of Worship // Psalm 66:10-12

For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.

What is the difficulty that you are going through at this moment in your life? My prayer is that God will use this trial to develop deeper character in you.

I realize that trials aren’t much fun. But I also know that God uses problems and pain in our lives to do some of his best work. James 1:2-4 says, “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”

The psalmist saw the difficult situations God allowed Israel to endure in that light. I hope that you, too, will see your trying situation, above all else, as the work of the Great Refiner to bring about his pure character in you.

I came across this story of how a silversmith describing the process of purifying silver. I hope it gives you a whole new perspective:

The silversmith said, “To refine the silver, I sit with my eyes steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured. I never take my eye off the silver in the furnace. I don’t want to take it out too early because if I take it out too early, it won’t be purified. But I don’t want to leave it in the fire too long, because if I do, it will be injured. When the silver is in the fire, I focus. I don’t let anything distract me. I let nothing take my focus off the silver. I watch the silver carefully, waiting for the right moment to take it out.”

The silversmith was asked, “How do you know when it is the right moment?”

And he said, “I know the silver is pure when I can see my face reflected in it.”

The Old Testament prophet Malachi describes God as a refiner and purifier of silver: “He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God.” (Mal 3:2-5)

What a profound picture of God, the great silversmith, and you, the silver. You are never left in the refiner’s fire too long or taken out too soon but are always under the watchful eye of the one who fully understands the refining process. And when, as a result of the fire, your life reflects the image of Christ, you will be ready, purified like pure silver, fit and pleasing to God.

Hang in there; you’re going to really shine when this is all said and done.

My Offering of Worship: If you are going through a fiery trial, change your prayers from “God, why me?” to “God, what now?”

Complain, Complain, Complain

Let God Turn Your Whining into Worshiping

PREVIEW: Most of the time, God’s Word instructs us not to complain. Yet, there is a form of complaint that is not only acceptable but also quite therapeutic. David did it in this psalm; David does it a lot in the psalms: He gripes to God. The whining and griping we voice, for the most part, grates on the people who must listen to us. It does us no good—even if they give in to what we want, they have been pushed down the path to a negative opinion of us. But when we pour out our complaint to God, good things happen in us and for us, not the least of which is that our whining will turn to worshiping.

2024-01-12 Complaining, Complaining, Complaining

A Journey of Worship // Psalm 64:1

Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint.

One of my favorite stories is of the monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first ten years, the abbot called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

The monk replied, “Food bad.”

After another ten years, the monk again had an opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.”

Then, at the end of thirty years, once again, the monk was called before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he broke his silence and blurted out, “I quit.”

The angry abbot shot back, “It doesn’t surprise me one bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Great story. Like the abbot, I’m not a big fan of complaining or complainers. My unspoken response to those who complain is what a friend once said to me when I was complaining: “Build a bridge and get over it.” Once in a while, I will actually say that if I feel a jolt like that, it would be good for the griper.

Most of the time, God’s Word instructs us not to complain. Paul said to the Philippians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Yet, there is a form of complaint that is not only acceptable but also quite therapeutic. David did it in this psalm; David does it a lot in the psalms: He gripes to God. The whining and griping we voice, for the most part, grates on people who have to listen to us. It does us no good—even if they give in to what we want, they have been pushed down the path to a negative opinion of us. But when we pour out our complaint to God, things happen.

What things? First, we get out what, by and large, shouldn’t be bottled up inside. Second, voicing our upset gives us a chance to evaluate whether we should really be upset or not. Third, we put what we can’t control in the hands of the One who is in control of all things. And fourth, as we are asking God to change the circumstances we are griping about, God does something even better—he changes us.

Notice in this psalm how David starts off with whining (Psalm 64:1-7) and ends up worshiping:

[When God acts on our behalf] then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult! (Psalm 64:9-10).

That is usually what happens when you follow the psalmist’s plan for problem-solving: whining is replaced with worshiping. And anytime you end up worshiping, you are in a good place.

My Offering of Worship: Are you complaining about a matter? Stop griping and go to God. He will listen. He will act. And he will give you a better perspective. But at the end of your complaint session, make sure your whining has turned to worshiping.

Desert School

It’s Where faith in God Alone is Forged

Give It Some Thought: Every hero of our faith got wilderness school. And each would tell us that the desert was the most productive time of their lives. You see, the desert is the place where you get stripped of every false dependency while, at the same time, your faith is forged in God alone. That is never a pleasant process. Frankly, it is the toughest thing a believer is forced to endure. It requires solitude, involuntary insignificance, forced simplicity, soul-searching, patience, and desperation, to name a few—the necessary ingredients to an altogether deeper dimension with God, ingredients that are only extracted and catalyzed in the blast furnace of the desert. The desert is where the rebel soul learns the ways of God.

A Journey of Worship // Psalm 63:1

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

David wrote this psalm in the desert—not the kind of place you would first think of as the perfect setting for such an eloquent prayer like this. But if you were to study the lives of all the greats in God’s Hall of Faith, you would find that, almost without exception, each had spent a season in the desert.

The most famous desert dweller, Moses, spent forty years on the backside of the Sinai wilderness. He, however, was only one in a long line of many: Abraham was schooled in the desert, Elijah got it, too, and so did John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. God’s people, Israel, spent forty years wandering in the desert; forty years it took for God to drain 400 years of Egypt out of them.

Even Jesus, God’s own Son, spent forty days and nights fasting and praying in the dangerous and desolate Judean wilderness. Now, if the very Son of God needed wilderness school, guess what? The desert is going to be core curriculum in your school of spiritual maturity as well.

My sense is that each of these heroes of faith would tell us that, in hindsight, the desert was the most productive time of their lives. How could that be? Well, the desert is the place where you get stripped of every false dependency, while at the same time, faith in God alone is forged in the core of your being. That is never a pleasant process. Frankly, it is the toughest thing a believer is forced to endure. It requires solitude, involuntary insignificance, forced simplicity, soul-searching, patience, and desperation, just to name a few—the necessary ingredients to an altogether deeper dimension with God, ingredients that are only extracted and catalyzed in the blast furnace of the desert. Andrew Bonar, a nineteenth-century Scottish preacher, said,

In order to grow in grace, men must be much alone. It is not in society that the soul grows most vigorously. It is in the desert that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest. The backside of the desert is where men and things, the world and self, present circumstances and their influences, are all valued at what they are really worth. There it is, and there alone, that you will find a Divinely-adjusted balance in which to weigh all around you and within you.

All the greats were driven into the desert, and there they found God. It seems that in our day, we’ve done our best to avoid the desert, which has only left us devoid of deepness with God. Maybe we need to reconsider the desert; it may not be such a bad place after all. The desert is where the rebel soul learns the ways of God.

My Offering of Worship: In retrospect, where has God put you through desert school? And what were the spiritual lessons you learned there? Once you have rehearsed them, offer up a prayer of gratitude for the invaluable faith lessons that God has taught you that only came in your desert.