self made man


(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for today: Psalm 18:31-50

Wow,  some pretty impressive feats are noted in the second half of this Psalm.

I know that we are talking about King David, but even he cannot “stand on the heights” with his “deer feet (1).” He could not actually “bend a bow of bronze (2) .” Even this mighty warrior did not have untwistable ankles (3), nor was capable of transforming his enemies into “dust” or “mud (4).” No, all these things are impossible for any man to accomplish.

Then again, it was also “impossible” for any man to do some of the other things that David really did. It was impossible for the unknown youngest son of a shepherd to be anointed as king of Israel. It was impossible for that same youngster to fell the mighty Goliath. I was impossible for him to survive so many years as a fugitive while maintaining his integrity.

But notice that even while David is describing in detail some of his accomplishments, he is directing us to the only reason any of these victories were ever won: Almighty God. It is God who arms and keeps and causes and trains and sustains and provides and delivers and subdues and saves. David, like all great men, knew that he was like a turtle on a fence post: however he got there, he didn’t do it by himself.

Horace Greeley was a prominent figure in America around the time of the Civil War. He was a prominent journalist (editor of the NY Tribune) and a prominent political figure (losing the 1872 Presidential election to Ulysses S. Grant). Given all his time in the world of media and politics, he certainly knew his share of self-important blowhards. A story is told of his encounter with one such individual. This man made the mistake of telling Greeley “I am a self made man.” To which Greeley replied “Well sir, that relieves God of a grave responsibility.”

The truth is, there is no such thing as a self-made man. While each of us certainly has a large part to play in our own lives, not one of us can say that anything good we have or have done was ultimately due to our own goodness or genius or whatever. The Apostle Paul asked the Corinthians “What do you have that you did not receive (5) ?” Great question, with an even better answer: nothing. All of our talents and skills, our birth and our background, the people who have taught and influenced us, the ability to work and laugh and play, and even life itself are all on loan from God.

And right here, David echoes these same sentiments, all to point us not to himself, but to the only One who can do the impossible. After all- that is the message of the Gospel: (6).  God has done the impossible through His Son, Jesus Christ. So in the end, there are only two categories, clay that acknowledges its Potter, and clay that smugly pats itself on the back, forgetting that both the hand and the back belong to the actual Potter.

(1) Psalm 18:33
(2) Psalm 18:34
(3) Psalm 18:36
(4) Psalm 18:42
(5) 1 Corinthians 4:7
(6) Luke 1:37

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in or out?


(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for today: Psalm 18:1-30

mark this: Proverbs 18:10
“The Name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

I still remember the feelings clearly. Anticipation. Nervousness. Excitement. Fear.
I remember all the questions that would race through my mind. Can anyone see me? Is there a better spot? Can I make it there? Did they really count all the way to 100?

And then the moment of truth arrived. You’ve been spotted. You were almost there, but your cover was blown. There was no chance of hiding again. Here was your one chance run like heck or just stand there paralyzed. The only question that mattered at that point was did you have it in you to outrun the seeker? Your heart was beating like crazy. You were tired and out of breathe. Your nerves were shot from adrenaline. Let’s play again!

There is a reason that hide & seek is a perennial favorite since the dawn of time. It never gets old, we just do. As a child I think the kids in our neighborhood played hide & seek every night we could over the summer. And central to Hide & Go seek is the concept of a “home base”, the place where you try with all your might to get there, and once you’re there- you are safe. Our home base was always the lamppost right in front of my house. That poor thing had to be replaced because of all us kids dashing into it and clinging for dear life.

As we look to today’s passage, the first half of Psalm 18, I want you to keep that idea of home base in mind. We have here a song written by a man who knew what it meant to be hunted and chased. At the time when David was a fugitive, always running from the relentless Saul. Though he was innocent in the matter, he spent the better part of a decade hiding as public enemy number one. Notice the language he uses in here.

David looks to God as his:
– strength v. 1
– rock v. 2
– fortress v. 2
– deliverer v. 2
– refuge v. 2
– shield v. 2
– salvation v. 2
– stronghold v. 2
– support v. 18

In verses 4-19, David vividly describes how Mighty God rescued him.
The key in this Psalm is found in verse three, David “calls to the LORD…. and he is saved…”
That truth has huge implications in the rest of the Bible as well.
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed that which the prophet Joel had written: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (1).”
The apostle Paul later echoed that same sentiment in his letter to the Romans (2).
So, what does it mean to call upon the name of the LORD?

We humans like to make things complicated, but the Bible keeps it simple. Calling upon the name of the LORD means we trust in God as our fortress and we enter into His protection.

That is salvation- when we stop trusting in ourselves or our good deeds or our religion or our pedigree or our church or whatever, and instead accept and received and remain and cling to the shelter that Jesus Christ provides. He is the fortress, the rock, the strong tower. We run to Him and are saved.

But remember, any place of protection only works if you bring yourself into it. It did people no good to camp outside Noah’s Ark. They were either in or out. In the Old Testament, if you were fleeing to a City of refuge- you had to go inside. Putting down roots in a nearby suburb would not cut it. You were either in or out. The same is true of this passage- you are only safe if you get in that strong tower, into that fortress, behind that shield, inside that fortress. Anything less is disaster.

Jesus Christ is the only “home base.” That’s why today’s psalm is much more than mere poetry or even David’s own story, it is the very Gospel message. The question then becomes- is this your story as well? Are you in or out?

(1) Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32
(2) Romans 10:13

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meet “the apple of God’s eye”

The Word for today:
Psalm 17

mark this: Psalm 17:8
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.

There’s a good Hebrew/Yiddish word–chutzpah–which means a display of brazen audacity. In Psalm 17, it seems that chutzpah is on parade.

How can David, a known sinner (see Psalm 51, just for starters…) call himself righteous and sinless:
You have tested me and you will find nothing (v. 3).

How can David call himself “the apple of God’s eye”? (v. 8) Why, the impertinence, the nerve, the chutzpah…

David can say all of that–because he’s looking through the eyes of God, not man. David knows that he, of himself, is a sinner:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. (Psalms 51:3)

But he also knows that, like Abraham before him, he has been declared righteous in God’s eyes through faith:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

David is righteous because God says he is. God credited the righteousness of Jesus Christ to David when he believed the LORD.

And he will credit Jesus’ righteousness to you and to me, too, if we will only take him at his word.

A remarkably comprehensive, all-purpose scripture verse confirms the simplicity of God’s faith-based salvation:
So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. (Acts 27:25)

It will be exactly as we have been told. Thus a sinner like David can claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This concept is so crucial that we should practice and reinforce it habitually. A good way to start each day is by looking straight into the mirror and seeing the apple of God’s eye looking straight back at you!

That may sound radical and/or crazy. But it’s also the Word of God. That’s how God sees things–and there’s nothing that will alter his outlook.


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if you think it’s about you, it never will be

The Word for today:
Psalms 15, 16

The last time I ran the Boston Marathon was in 2003. The schedule is a little different now, but in those days, we’d get on a bus at the Boston Commons in downtown Boston at about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Then we’d be transported to Hopkinton, where the race begins. I don’t really know why we were there so early, because the race didn’t start until noon.

That gave us about 5 hours to do…nothing.

So while I was doing nothing one April morning in Hopkinton, Massachusetts in 2003, I happened upon a man who was reading from a little Gideons’ New Testament. It is not unusual to see Bibles being read before marathons.

What initially caught my eye was the yarmulke the reader/runner was wearing.  (A yarmulke is a cap worn by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish males.) Being, at that time, just as direct as I am now, I intended to ask him if he wore the yarmulke during the race! But then I saw the little Bible in his hands.

“Whatchya reading?”

“The book of Psalms.” (Gideons’ Testaments always include Psalms and Proverbs.)

“Which psalm?”

“The 16th. I always read Psalm 16 before a marathon.”

“Well, best of luck out there today.”

“You too.”


In 2003, I was on my way to basic Bible literacy, but I certainly wasn’t conversant enough with Psalm 16 to engage him any further.

But I’ve often thought of him since then. I’ve prayed for him. I’ve wondered about him; whether he read only from the Psalms, or did he read from the rest of his Gideons’ Testament too?

And did he know who it was he was reading about? Psalm 16 is a startling unveiling of the mind of Christ as he stood in the very shadow of a cross which loomed directly ahead.

That’s about all I want to say, because I want you to enter the mind of Christ on your own. Here’s the briefest outline:

16:8–life of Christ
16:9–death of Christ
16:10–resurrection of Christ
16:11–ascension of Christ

The day you know that Psalm 16 is about Jesus, then it’s about you, too:
For I have been crucified with Christ… (Galatians 2:20).
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)

But if you think Psalm 16 is about you, it never will be.

I hope by some miracle that this article will find its way to the man in the marathon in 2003. I hope this finds you with your cap still on your head, and with Jesus in your Psalm 16.

Long may you run.


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That’s the Spirit! (part 2)

The Word for today:
Psalms 13, 14

Yesterday we saw what walking in the Spirit is not. Today we’ll take a look at what it is:

1. Walking in the Spirit is a commitment to walk like Jesus did.
As an example for us, Jesus set aside his omniscience, forcing him to depend–as we must–on the guidance of the Holy Spirit:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. (1)

To become one like us, He also set aside his omnipotence, forcing him to depend–as we must–on the power of the Holy Spirit:
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (2)

2. Walking by the Spirit means we must abandon ourselves to the supernatural.
Jesus said it is like allowing the wind to have its way in our lives:
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3)

3. Walking by the Spirit is accomplished from start to finish by faith.
For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. (4)

4. Walking by the Spirit sees right through time and circumstance.
It sees beyond what our eyes are telling us, in order to see with the eyes of God:
We walk by faith, not by sight. (5)

Jesus Christ walked by the Spirit, by faith, all the way to the cross. It certainly did not appear to natural eyes that he was “winning.” But the eyes of the Spirit saw it otherwise…


Q. How do I get going?
A. First determine what you are not going to do:

I am not going to make this about self-reformation or about self-anything.
I am not going to wait until I’m more experienced or until I’ve taken a course.

Q. Alright. Then what?
A. Make a commitment:

I commit my life to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. I’m going to do things God’s way and depend on him to figure out where all this is taking us.
I don’t know all of what this entails, but I’m going to commit now and learn more later.
I don’t know where this is taking me, but I know whom I trust:
I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him. (2 Timothy 1:12)


If the desire of your heart sounds like what you just read, then you are walking by the Spirit.  God’s cheering you on, so go ahead and take another step…

(1) Luke 4:1; (2) Luke 4:14; (3) see John 3:8; (4) Romans 1:17; (5) 2 Corinthians 5:7

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