Psalm 49 – Do Not Trust in Your Wealth, Fame, or Immortality

Psalm 49:5-12
Why should I fear in days of adversity,
When the iniquity of my foes surrounds me,
6 Even those who trust in their wealth
And boast in the abundance of their riches?
7 No man can by any means redeem his brother
Or give to God a ransom for him–
8 For the redemption of his soul is costly,
And he should cease trying forever–
9 That he should live on eternally,
That he should not undergo decay.
10 For he sees that even wise men die;
The stupid and the senseless alike perish
And leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inner thought is that their houses are forever
And their dwelling places to all generations;
They have called their lands after their own names.
12 But man in his pomp will not endure;
He is like the beasts that perish.

I am not a rich man, and I have no plans of becoming one, so it would seem that this is an easy psalm to write about.  After all, writing or preaching about somebody else’s weaknesses is much easier than writing about my own.  And yet, I know that deep within my heart is a longing for significance–not the noble kind in which I find all of my validation in Christ, but the fleshly kind in which others speak of me in tones alternating between sheer delight and reverence.  Vain much?  Oh, that’s not even the half of it.

Few will ever be rich, and yet everyone has his shot at stardom these days.  We live in the age of YouTube, American Idol (is that still on?), Twitter, niche blogs, and reality television shows about families built around their 10-year-old sons’ go-kart racing careers (Kart Life, go look it up).  If you are not micro-famous, you must not be trying.  One of the defining characteristics of this generation of emerging adults is narcissism.  After all, they (we?) have been told their whole lives that they are unique and that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to–how could they be anything but narcissistic?

Thoughts of eternity, of a land far away on the other side of the grave, seem to be rare in our present time.  There is always so much going on, so fast and so often, that rarely do people take the time to slow down and be alone with their thoughts.  And yet the longing for eternity’s cousin, immortality, has never been stronger.  The quest for the Fountain of Youth never ends.  Whether it’s the song “Forever Young,” the store Forever21, or the Hollywood plastic surgery industry, our culture is obsessed with living forever and looking good doing it.  I read a headline just today asking the question if the first person who will live to 1,000 is already alive now.

Wealth, fame, and immortality.  Not much has changed in a few thousand years.  And still, despite our best efforts, people come and go; they grow old, wear out, and die.  And God’s Word endures, adding all the more sting to its rebuke of our pride: “Man in his pomp will not endure.” Hoard all of the wealth that you can; someone else will take it when you die.  Make a name for yourself; you will be forgotten.  Even name streets, communities, schools, and regions after yourself; they will forget who you were, and someone will probably change the names. “Their inner thought is that their houses are forever.” Men come and go; God endures.

Money can buy a lot, of stuff but Jesus’ question still stands unanswered 2,000 years later, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” As the psalmist writes, “the redemption of his soul is costly.”  Costly beyond measure.  As v.7 says, we cannot save ourselves and we cannot save one another.  Redemption is beyond us; we do not have the currency to exchange for the ransom of eternity.  But Jesus does.  He is the one “who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim 2:6).”

Let us not entrust ourselves to the idols of wealth, fame, or manmade immortality.  Our wealth cannot buy us what we really need.  Our fame, at the most, will be momentary.  And our pursuit of immortality will end when we die.  But let us entrust ourselves to the One who is able to save us from death.

But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
For He will receive me.
– Psalm 49:15

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The Unchained Gospel

In doing some study I came across 2 Timothy 2:8-9.  I’m an NASB guy these days, but this just reads so much better in the old NIV:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

I have never before noticed v.8 as a unique, self-contained summary of the Gospel before.  What is the Gospel?  Jesus is the long-awaited, much-prophesied Messiah-Deliverer of Scripture; risen (resurrected) from the dead (crucified); and the Son of David, the ultimate heir of the promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 that the line and throne of David would be established forever.  Remember this Jesus.

This is the Jesus for whom Paul endures chains.  Imperial soldiers can confine Paul, the Message of the Cross cannot be contained.  In a related verse, Ephesians 6:20, Paul fleshes this out, that he is an “ambassador in chains,” but while his body may be restrained, the power of the Gospel proceeding from his mouth may never be.  He calls on the Ephesian readers to pray for him, that while his body is restrained his faith might produce boldness in his mouth to continue to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.

The world may hate it; they may attack its messengers; but they cannot contain its power.  The Gospel remains forever unchained.  May we as its messengers be faithful to declare it.

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The Battle Hymn

I came across the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” this morning.  While it isn’t a perfect song, the lyrics to the fourth stanza particularly stood out to me:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

How beautiful is that?  While the original author wrongfully imported this end-time event into the present day, the power of the words(in their appropriate context) have me really longing for that day today.  When He comes, the trumpet will sound the final advance–there will be no retreat.  Be swift, my soul; be jubilant, my feet!

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Great Verse: 2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

-2 Corinthians 4:7

(Despite Jars of Clay’s best efforts a few months ago to sour this verse for Christians, the power of these words cannot be veiled.)

Just a few observations and reflections on this verse…

1. We are seemingly unfit carriers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We are dust.  Priceless treasures are supposed to be placed in spotlessly transparent, airtight, bulletproof, fireproof containers watched over by high-tech surveillance and armed guards.  I struggle with sin every day; I lose my nerve in spiritual situations sometimes; far too rarely do people take me for a clone of the spotless Lamb of God.  Doesn’t it seem like there should be a less consequential task for earthen vessels like me?

2. But we have this treasure.  God chose to store it in us.  That treasure is God’s Light (4:6), which is the knowledge of God’s glory which we have seen in Jesus Christ.  I have seen God’s glory, because by faith I have seen the glory of Jesus in the Scriptures.  And so now I am a witness–God chose for it to be like that.  He chose to show me Himself in Jesus, and so now I’m marked–I know Him.  He has placed this priceless treasure, this pure Light, inside of me; and now this man of former darkness is a Light Bearer to the world.

3. The deposit of this treasure in me ultimately means that God has taken me for the use of His own purposes.  The Light will shine, the Power will be seen, and the people that know me may only be left in wonder that such radiance can proceed from something so earthly…

4. …And, in fact, it seems that this was God’s intent all along: That ordinary, flawed, and broken people like you and I should serve as tangible, undeniable displays of Power and Light that go so far beyond our innate capabilities that the only suitable explanation is the activity of God.  The only suitable explanation being God, the only suitable object for thanksgiving and adoration is Him as well.

May we so gladly boast about our weaknesses that the Power of God may be trumpeted through us all the more and all the glory that proceeds may go to Him alone.

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Great Verse – Hebrews 10:35

“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” – Hebrews 10:35

Taken as a simple out-of-context, inspirational quote (like Philippians 4:13 often is), this verse would still mean a lot to people from all walks of life.  But the “confidence” of Hebrews 10:35 does not go hand-in-hand with contemporary notions of self-image or self-esteem–it has nothing to do with being comfortable in our own skin–because this confidence has nothing to do with us.  This is the confidence of Hebrews 10:18-19 that God has considered the offering of Jesus Christ as acceptable so that our sins are forgiven and the pathway to God (through Christ) is open.  We may now enter the holy place through the veil (the body of Jesus) as we are covered by the blood of the sacrifice (the blood of Jesus), and so we can “draw near” (v.22) and “hold fast” (v.23) and not “shrink away” (v.39).  We may live confidently–with all our confidence firmly set on Him–because God has promised with an oath (6:17); it is impossible for God to lie (6:18); Jesus our immortal High Priest continues His ministry forever (7:24); He continually intercedes for us (7:25); and He has offered the once-for-all sacrifice to God, now being seated at the right hand of the Father (10:12).  All of our confidence rests in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (13:8).  He is sufficient, He is steadfast, and so we can be sure.

How about this: Let’s not throw away our confidence today, whatever may come.

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