Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ps 119.19

I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide your commandments from me. Ps 119.19

Every Christian has that moment when “this world is not my home” hits us in the face.
So much wickedness and sin.
So many broken hearts and despairing souls.
Genocide and sex trade and drug cartels.
We long for the time when Jesus will reign in righteousness, and there will be no more sickness or tears or death.

But you don’t have to be a Christian to know that things here aren’t as they were meant to be.
Crime, abandonment, suicide, malice, greed, sexism, racism, and all the rest are so hurtful—so evil—that the human psyche rebels against the proposition that this world is all there is.
Some philosophize evil out of the picture.
Some do good in order to make this world a better place.
Some isolate themselves because the wrongs and injustices are too hard to bear.
But in the quiet of the night when we can’t sleep, our hearts cry out for a better world, a safer planet, a truer life.

I think this is how David must have felt.
Surely this man knew divine favor.
His insights into God’s character and ways laid the foundation for the kingship of Jesus.
But despite all his personal communion with God and royal privilege in this world, David was not blind to the truth that life was more than what happens here.
He expressed this best by calling himself a sojourner in the earth, literally one living temporarily away from his homeland.

And why not? He came from a long line of sojourners.
From Abraham to Jacob to the nation enslaved in Egypt, the history of David’s people was a sojourner’s tale.
Even in his own family, Elimelech sojourned in Moab where his son married Ruth, who later became David’s great grandmother.
The record of the faithful men and women of God (Heb 11) concludes with, God had provided something better for us.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that David linked being a sojourner here with wanting to live according to the commandments. Not only is it impossible to live the way God requires without the Indwelling Spirit, those commandments are a blueprint for the righteous kingdom or our God and King. 

Out of my restless dissatisfaction with the longings this world evokes, I echo David’s plea that God would “uncover” his commandments for me.
It is  in keeping them that we will make this world more bearable as we wait for our forever home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ps 119.18

Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things in your law. Ps 119.18 

You know the way people get you to cover your eyes and walk you into the room blind, then tell you to open your eyes, and “Surprise!”? 
Wouldn’t it be nice to capture that moment and look at it whenever we want, freeze the scene and study its many details. Behold something wonderful that happened to us.

That’s what God has done for us in his Word. He preserved every delightful “Surprise!” revelation. We can go back to it again and again.

There’s a problem, though. For many of us, the Scriptures are hard to understand.
The language is difficult enough, despite a wide variety of translations, and the kind of things being said don’t make a lot of sense for our everyday lives.
The times and places and cultures written about are entirely different from our own.
Oh, maybe sometimes we relate to a story or an emotion, but for the most part, the Bible doesn’t read like any other book. It’s supposed to apply to us but we don’t know how.

This difficulty is compounded in our day by the widespread assumption that the Bible is merely ancient religious writing that science and discovery have demonstrated to be more mythical than reliable.

So while we want to believe God can speak to us, more often than not, we find nothing wonderful in his Word.

Strangely, I don’t think this is a postmodern problem. I think it was around in David’s day, too. The laws of God, the way he expected his people to live, made no more sense in David’s world than they do in ours.

That’s why David prayed this prayer.
He knew that God could blind spiritual eyes that refuse to see revelation, deafen ears that reject his voice, harden hearts that resist his will.
It happened to Pharaoh.
It happened to the generation in the wilderness.
It happened to Saul.

Oh yes, David knew first hand that it’s not easy to see God’s impossible law as wonderful.
He did his part by meditating on what God had said and worshiping the God of his fathers.
But unless God had “opened” David’s spiritual eyes, none of it would ever be “wonderful” to him.

How much more is this true of me and you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ps 119.17

GIMEL
Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Ps 119.17

Enter the next stanza. It starts with the letter, gimel.

The first word is gamal, translated here “deal bountifully with,” or “do good to” or “give benefits to.”
Would it surprise you to know that it actually means—and is usually translated—to wean.

It puts a whole new complexion on what David is asking of the Lord, doesn’t it?

Some commentators suggest that David compiled this psalm by looking over his “journals” and pulling together his thoughts about God’s word, grouping them by initial letter, and perhaps tweaking them a little with some poetic license. We see the inspiration of the Spirit in choosing this word for this prayer.

It makes me wonder what was going on in David’s life when this particular petition passed his lips.
Was he still in the sheep fields longing to go to war with his big brothers,  and KING Saul?
Was he hiding in the caves from his homicidal sovereign?
Was he feigning madness among the Philistines?

Knowing the history of David’s life, it’s not hard to imagine that he often felt no more wise than a suckling babe when it came to running a kingdom.
Anointed king virtually in hiding as a boy—while a monarch still sat on the throne.
Dead shot giant-slayer too small to wear royal armor.
Music therapist to the demented king he would one day succeed.
Fugitive and warrior and hope of the nation, who would not take the reins of the kingdom for 40 years.

My own life can be just as confusing. I know God asks me to step up and do the thing he created me to do. But yikes I’m not ready for it. Like David who was born a warrior and a poet, sometimes the parts of me aren’t well-matched yet.

So I’m inclined to cling to the safety of the familiar when God calls me to crazy-hard things.
At times like that, I feel as vulnerable as a child ready to be weaned.

Nevertheless, the end game is to live and keep God’s word, obediently, faithfully.
Or as Paul puts it, having done everything, to stand.

CS Lewis wrote (from a demon’s perspective), “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Paul echoed David in the context of spiritual warfare.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ps 119.16

I will delight myself in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Ps 119.16

I confess that Leviticus has little appeal.
I’m bored when I read it.
I can’t relate to its demands.
I surely have no animals to sacrifice, and bleach suffices for all my mildew needs.

I can honestly say that the idea of delighting in that kind of stuff baffles me. Besides feeling irrelevant, the tone is a little too commanding for 21st century attitudes toward God and religion and government.

But buried in this verse is a secret to peace and joy and life everlasting.

What if delighting myself in the rules God has laid down, declaring them aloud and making them known to others and finding goodness and life and pleasure in them—what if that is the way to make his Word memorable to us?
What if mining those difficult and abstract passages teaches us something about our God that makes him precious to us?

As much as I have looked into the Word of God, I’ve discovered treasures of who he is and how he works. As I see him interacting with individuals, I remember how he will do that--and be that--for me.

And that’s not something I will quickly forget.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ps 119.15

I will meditate on your precepts, and contemplate your ways. Ps 119.15

Did you ever just sit down to think about something?
In this day and age, like Rodin’s statue of The Thinker, we’d have to be made of bronze to justify such idleness.

From earliest school days, we’re taught not to day dream. Imagination is minimized while practicality is cultivated.

And yet, this verse exalts meditation and contemplation. Here’s why. Because God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Nevertheless, as the rain comes down and produces food, so his word does what he sent it to do.

Why does God speak? So that we can know him. Do you realize that the phrase “shall know that I am the Lord” appears almost 100 times in the Bible? I have to think that makes it a primary motivation for all that God has said.

But God’s Word is not always easy to understand. Much of what’s in the Bible is based on ancient customs and beliefs of a world completely foreign to modern believers. So if David felt the need to meditate and contemplate, having lived a mere 400-500 years after Moses wrote, how much more must we who live 2000-3500 years after the original writers.

I invite you to take time out of your schedule this week to meditate on God’s words.
Pick a passage and read through it. Out loud. Do it again.
Let a word or phrase rise to the surface of your mind as you read it silently again.
Then once more read it aloud and let a picture come to your mind about that word or phrase.
Ask the Lord what he is telling you about himself and his ways with this word/phrase and picture.
Expect him to answer.

There’s no right or wrong with this. It’s a conversation, and just as you don’t want your friend to ask you a question and then not wait for the answer, be careful not to do this to the Lord. Give him time.

Believe me when I say it is a joy to spend time communing with the Almighty. Christ bought you that privilege with his blood. Come boldly before the throne, but not rudely or hastily. Be confident that you are welcome but not presumptuous of your own importance.

Your heavenly Father is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Your Savior and Lord is the Word of God made flesh. The Anointing you have received will teach you all things.

Oh my goodness, take the time to hear him!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ps 119.14

I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as in all riches. Ps 119.14

David declares that a life lived in light of the evidence for God makes him as glad as all riches—including fame and freedom and finances and friends. He had all that, but it was living according to God’s existence as expressed in nature and society that gladdened his heart.

The testimonies of God are the evidence all around us of who he is and what he does. This is not just his written word but every aspect of life on earth, the existence of the cosmos, the meaning of reality and all manner of philosophy.
Plenty of Bible verses tell us how all creation points to the Creator.
In addition, we have nature itself.

Consider the vastness of galaxies, the intricacy of spider webs, the functionality of eyes, the complexity of genetic coding and the simplicity of gravity.
From the fractured light in a rainbow to the sparkling of sunlit snowflakes, from crickets that freeze through the winter to viruses that lie dormant for centuries.
Everything testifies not only to the intentionality of creation but to the character of its Maker.

But is that enough to make us love God or his ways?
Probably not, or wouldn’t everyone love him?
What’s more, nature itself groans as it waits for the coming age.
Death and disease and predation and disasters all point to the need for salvation from forces bigger and more powerful and destructive than us humans. It’s hard to rejoice in tornadoes and tsunamis, in meteors and maelstroms, in wildfires and mudslides and earthquakes and volcanos and hurricanes. But if Ro 1.20 tells us anything, it is that these violent forces of nature point to the existence of an all-powerful God in the same way that the rest of creation points to his beauty and intelligence and complexity.

I love that David contemplated God at this level. he often meditated on such things, and for this alone I recommend we return to that ancient practice.
What perspective we might gain from linking all the testimonies of God—creation, revelation, people, society. We like David would treasure them above all the riches of the world.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ps 119.13

With my lips I have declared all the judgments of your mouth. Ps 119.13

That just sounds like a prophet. A serious, Old Testament prophet.
Weren’t they always ranting about impending doom brought on by the nation’s disobedience?

Yet if there’s one picture I don’t have of David, that’s it.

John the Baptizer was that kind of prophet and Jesus called him the greatest man born.
He went on to say that the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than John.
If nothing else, that should tell us something about Old Testament prophecy.

The problem was the old covenant, under which God’s people were obligated to live righteously but had not the ability to do so. God repeatedly called them to himself—through the prophets, hence the harangue—and warned them of their sin, yet they continued to fall short. He provided reconciliation by making atonement through blood sacrifices. Year after year he blotted out their sin, only to have to do it again next year.

The archetype of God’s prophet is Moses himself.
Just think about how hard it must have been to stand between God and Israel.
The people were no sooner liberated from slavery by unprecedented wonders that decimated Egypt, than they were grumbling to go back for a drink of water.
He had not even brought the law down from Sinai before they were worshiping an idol at its foot.
Before they ever set foot in the promised land, they were terrified by reports of how well things grew—especially its inhabitants.

But before we criticize them, we need to look in the mirror.
Aren’t we just as guilty of whining and idolatry and fear? It’s in our fallen nature to see only our immediate needs, to think that this world is all there is. The fact that God planned redemption before he began creation tells us that he knew this.
The human spirit died that day in the middle of Eden. Every human being is born separated from God, enslaved by death.
We’d rather go back to our “Egypt” than quench our thirst in the fountain of living water.
We’d rather make an idol of our gold than wait for God’s Word to effect change in our souls.
We’d rather die in the wilderness than face down enemies who usurped our God-given inheritance.

And that’s exactly what will happen to anyone who does not turn to Christ for salvation. We are the ambassadors of heaven sent with good news that it doesn’t have to end that way.

There’s a lot to be said for saying things out loud, but what judgment will you declare?
That sin is still in charge or that all authority has been given to Jesus?
That God waits to punish wrongdoing or that our debt has been paid?
That God’s anger burns white hot or that mercy triumphs over judgment?

The cross stands as the once for all symbol of God’s almighty power on my behalf.
There is nothing I need that it does not secure.
Every promise is “Yes!” and “Amen!” in Christ.
Has he not blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ?
Having given us his son, won’t he graciously give us all things along with him?

By all means, warn others of the wrath that is coming on the ungodly, but be quick to declare that God demonstrated his love while we were still sinners.
Christ died for us to bring us to God.
Grace is enough.
Let all who are thirsty come and drink.