Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ps 119.161

Princes persecute me without a cause, but my heart stands in awe of your word. Ps 119.161

David was truly persecuted without cause, not least of which was rooted in his anointing when God chose him over another.

Samuel poured oil on David’s head, marking him as the next king, long before Saul gave up the throne. This made things awkward for David, as you can imagine. Through no fault of his own, and despite his loyal and extraordinary service, it didn’t take Saul long to recognize—and persecute—his God-appointed successor.

Anointed while still a boy, David spent a few years being instructed by the prophet Samuel while his brothers joined Saul’s service in war against the Philistines. The most David saw of that conflict was the occasional trip to bring supplies to the quartermaster in his brothers’ honor.
While they bivouacked with the army of Israel, David pretended to slay enemies when he killed lions and bears who threatened his father’s sheep.
But like the warrior-king in training he was, one day David had occasion to face—and defeat—the enemy champion Goliath. With one shot.
Of course King Saul drafted him into the army. What a message to all their enemies if a mere shepherd boy was more than a match for giants!

David quickly prospered once Saul promoted him. Time after time he took his fierce loyalty to the God of Israel onto the battlefield, and decimated tens of thousands along the way.
Unfortunately, this popularity antagonized Saul, who knew the Lord had rejected him as king. Despite David’s skill with a harp to soothe Saul’s tormented soul, jealousy turned to murderous hate, and sent David running for his life for years.

All this purely without cause. David had done nothing to deserve being a fugitive. In fact, it was likely David’s littleness that made him such a threat. True to Paul’s New Testament teaching, David’s weakness was his strength because of the greatness of God’s grace. Who can overcome the one with whom the Lord chooses to stand?

Saul’s anti-David campaign was only the beginning of David’s persecutions. Once crowned king, David determined to make his kingdom safe from enemies—Philistia, Moab, Zobah, Hamath, Damascus, Aram, Edom, Ammon, Amalek. God granted him victory over them all.

Many of the difficulties of David’s reign involved his sons—the princes of Israel itself.
One of the worst family scandals imaginable happened in this royal house.
David’s first-born, Amnon, raped David’s daughter and his own half-sister, Tamar, virtually with David’s blessing. Amnon then rejected her, which caused the princess’s brother, Absalom, to devise a scheme of (justifiable) revenge. After he killed Amnon, Absalom fled Jerusalem. Tired of exile, he wormed his way back into the capital, only to undermine his father’s authority and mount a rebellion. David once again found himself on the run, until Joab—who as military commander did what he had to do to protect David’s throne—slew Absalom.

Later on, when David was nearly dead of old age, his eldest remaining son, Adonijah, set himself up as David’s heir. We have no record that David reproached him any more than he had Amnon or Absalom, although he ensured Solomon as the royal successor, which eventually spelled death for Adonijah.

All that was still persecution without cause, especially as we know that David was the ideal king in God’s eyes, the archetype of the Messiah. Jesus modeled his life with God on David’s. As much as being chosen by the Lord initiated opposition, it also guaranteed divine favor. God’s call is irrevocable. Not even David’s sin turned God’s heart away from the purpose he designed for David.

Which is not to say there were no consequences. It’s why David accepted his domestic strife. He was wrong in every way to take another’s wife, not to mention the schemes to kill her husband to hide his sin. David knew this. He did nothing to punish Amnon or Absalom or Shimei or Joab, because his heart stood in awe of God’s word. God had promised this outcome—both in the Law and through the prophet Nathan—and it had come true. The law judges wrongdoing and sentences the guilty to death, while making provision for substitutionary sacrifice. So while the Lord took the life of their first child instead of his, David knew that this death did not truly atone. He deserved far worse than a contentious, wicked, dishonoring household.

Although David suffered all of this as an earthly king, I’m not sure today’s verse refers to earthly princes exclusively. In fact, the word translated princes means rulers, but not sovereign. Those with authority to carry out the will of someone higher up.
One thing is sure: Behind every human act of violence and deceit and harm lies a principality, a power, a ruler of the darkness of this age, a spiritual host of wickedness in heavenly places. These guys take root in the greed and ambition and pride in the hearts of men, and use them to accomplish their evil schemes.

The only defense, which David surely knew, is the armor of God.
Because God had determined David’s destiny, God defended his reign with omnipotence.
How did David remain faithful, both in his own heart after he failed to keep commandments, and in his public behavior when he suffered causeless persecution?
He stood in awe of God’s word.

At the end of the day, having done everything we can against the darkness, God requires only that we  be found standing. We as believers do not bow to anyone or anything but Jesus. We resist all kinds of evil, and we get buffeted and battle-wounded in the process. But because God has chosen us, we like David will still be on our feet if we stand in awe—not of the enemy or our strategies and programs—but of the incarnate Word and his promise of victory.

Take God seriously.
His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword. 
His Truth is a shield and buckler.
We have enemies.
We are at war.
We are more than conquerors.
The next time you find yourself persecuted without cause, give your heart a moment to worship the God who reigns victorious.

Ps 119.160

The entirety of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever. Ps 119.160 

I imagine Pilate couldn’t get his mind around Jesus when they first brought him for trial. Jesus stood before him and made the whole affair a matter of truth. Was he not Truth Itself?
Willingly submitted to an unjust judgment.
Rendered by world rulers.
At the instigation of untold evil.

The Jews found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, a crime against the Law of Moses that called for the death penalty. Being under Roman governance at the time, the religious council could not execute apart from the procurator’s sanction. So they took Jesus to Pilate in hopes that he would carry out their scheme.

Unlike them, Pilate had full discretion to execute.
When asked the accusation brought against Jesus, their evasive answer told Pilate that Jesus was not guilty under Roman law so much as they wanted him put to death anyway.
If true, stirring up dissent and calling himself the king of the Jews was tantamount to treason against Caesar. Given the personalities in Rome at the time (Tiberius and Sejanus), this was not a charge Pilate could easily dismiss.

So he went to ask Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"

This is where the matter began, and this is where the matter would end.  
Who was Jesus?

Jesus made this personal for Pilate. It may have been his Father’s will for the Son of God to die, but the way Jesus dealt with Pilate shows that Pilate was no puppet in the Divine Hand. Jesus did not allow the man to hide behind government. Pilate’s verdict had to come from his own convictions, not someone else’s say so.

Grounded as he was in the road-building, nation-conquering, enemy-crucifying power that was Rome, Pilate found it difficult to comprehend Jesus’s explanation that his spiritual kingship had nothing to do with earthly realms.
So Jesus told him the secret of his kingdom: “Since I came into the world to bear witness to the truth, only those who are of the truth hear my voice.”
To which we all know Pilate’s philosophical--and highly irrelevant--reply, “What is truth?”

I’m sure Jesus didn't respond because that was the wrong question.
The truth is a who not a what.

Pilate still didn’t get it. Jesus was no threat to Caesar, but what to do with him?
The Jews were a stubborn people, very touchy about their religion. It could be political suicide to ignore their wishes. A sensible compromise was to pass him down the political ladder. Herod had jurisdiction over Jesus as a Galilean.

Herod had his own issues with Jesus, from believing he might be John the Baptist returned from the dead, to wanting a magic miracle show, to resenting Jesus’s snub when he called the usurper a fox.
Annoying, then, that Jesus answered him nothing. Not a word.
Why not? Herod was only Pilate’s pawn, an unlawful ruler with no real power to contribute to events that God the Father had ordained.
Petty and ineffective, Herod did no more than mock Jesus as “king” and send him back to Pilate.

Failing to rid himself of Jesus in this way, Pilate tacked in another direction.
He would use the Roman courtesy of freeing a prisoner on a holy day as a way to release Jesus.
Irony abounds.
Barabbas had been imprisoned, tried, and found guilty of murder during a rebellion—kissing cousin to treason. Yet the people, stirred up by the priests to ask for his release, yelled for Jesus to be crucified.
The same people who had hailed him as the Son of David less than a week earlier.
Three times Pilate asked, and three times the crowd insisted.

Still wavering between Jesus’s innocence and his own political predicament, Pilate had Jesus flogged.
Soldiers again arrayed him in a purple robe and placed a crown—of thorns—on his head and presented him to the merciless crowd, who remained unmoved by the sight of their bloodied, coronated king.
They continued to ask for his execution. Had he not called himself the Son of God?

This term, used of Caesar, alarmed Pilate. He was a superstitious man entangled in the web of God’s design. He found no guilt in Jesus or offense in his demeanor. His own wife had just warned him to avoid this righteous man.
We can see his official posture crumble as he asks a final question, “Where are you from?”
He didn’t mean Galilee or Judaism.

Jesus would say no more than he’d already said. Pilate knew enough to make his decision.

Into the silence came shouted accusations of Pilate’s own treason if he failed to execute Jesus.

This proved the deciding factor. Fearing more for his worldly situation than his True Sovereign, he acknowledged that Jesus was king. Theirs, not his. But he still had power over this rabble rouser.
"Shall I crucify your king?" he asked them.

“We have no king but Caesar!” Hear their glee at the capitulation they sensed coming.

More convinced than ever of Jesus’s innocence, Pilate literally washed his hands of the judgment, as though he were their puppet and the decision not his own.

So dreadful was the Jewish hatred of Jesus, magnified as it was by the kingdom of darkness on the brink of putting the God-man to death, they voluntarily took Christ’s blood on themselves and on their children.
An invocation they could not begin to understand in light of the new covenant it ushered in.

Pilate had the last word, however, when he posted the charge against Jesus on the cross.
I’m not sure he did it to provoke the Jews as much as to acknowledge that he had learned the truth at last.

Jesus was guilty of nothing save being the king eternal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ps 119.159

Consider how I love your precepts. Revive me, O Lord, according to your lovingkindness. Ps 119.159 

Prayers for revival always make me think of Lazarus returning from the grave, although it’s not common to consider the event from his point of view.
What was it like for the spirit of dead Lazarus to return to his body, to get up and walk toward the heavy stone  that sealed the entrance—well, the exit—to his “final” resting place?
At what point did consciousness return?
If he couldn’t take off the grave cloths, how could he walk?
Did he smell the rot of his own flesh?

It’s easier to relate to how Lazarus felt as he lay sick and dying on his bed. If I had a heart attack, I’d call Dr. Sun, my cardiologist friend. I’d trust him to do everything to make me well again.
Likewise no doubt Lazarus’s thoughts ran with those of his sisters, Mary and Martha.
Maybe they comforted their brother that they’d sent for Jesus. “He’ll come as soon as he can, Lazarus. Just wait. You know him. He’ll be here.”
The days and hours slipped away, until his last breath was gone. 

This is serious. Jesus did it on purpose. He didn’t just leave his dear friend hanging while he took his time finishing yard work or reorganizing his basement, getting back from vacation or tying up loose ends at the office. He straight up delayed before setting out for Bethany. The fact that the man died quickly means haste would not have helped.
Jesus waited only two days when he heard that Lazarus was sick, and yet when he arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. He must have died almost as soon as his sisters sent word, and was most likely already dead by the time the messenger arrived. Jesus deliberately waited that long. In ancient Hebrew that translates “really most sincerely dead.”

Did Lazarus have time to think about Jesus delaying, wondering why he didn’t come?
His sisters did, we know. Martha especially believed in Jesus, not just his ability to heal. And Mary had recently anointed Jesus with costly perfume in preparation for his own impending death and burial. When Jesus came, they leaned on him in their grief, knowing he would have healed Lazarus. Which, if you know the story, is likely a big part of why he didn’t come sooner. His compassion—his lovingkindness—would have revived the man from his sickbed. In which case there would’ve been no emptied tomb.

Here is a sobering truth for all of us who live in Christ. We prefer sickbed healing to graveyard resurrections, because we don’t want to pay the price for the greater prize. Most of us don’t even want to pay the price for the lesser. Pain and angst aside, there’s no other way to the glory of resurrection than through the shadow of death.

Jesus told his disciples that this affair was not about death but about the glory of God—so that the Son of God might be glorified through it.
Fine. but what about Lazarus?
It’s a lot easier to look at another’s suffering and find the glory of Jesus in it. It’s not so easy when it’s our own suffering.
Still, in order for Jesus to be revealed as the One with power to command the grave to surrender its captives, in order for Lazarus to be the captive who came out of the tomb, he had to forfeit his life.
This isn’t abstract theology about an exchanged life.
Lazarus didn’t just say a sinner’s prayer at a church service and get on with life.
He fell sick, got into bed, and never got out again.

Another thing. Someone else had to put him in the tomb. There comes a point when we can’t get ourselves to where Jesus will be glorified through us. It’s one of the last things Jesus said to Peter on the beach after he restored their relationship.
“When you were younger, Peter, you took care of yourself and did what you wanted. When you’re old, someone else will do that, taking you where you’d never go on your own.”
John understood that Jesus meant the death Peter would suffer to glorify God.

I imagine we’d all like to experience a miracle on the magnitude of coming alive out of our own tomb.
But honestly, how willing are we to put ourselves in Lazarus’s shoes or, dare I say, his grave cloths?
We want to live for the glory of God, and we mean it. We want Jesus to be exalted through our lives. We want others to know that we belong to him and live for him. We’d even die for our faith. That might be easier in some ways.

But how do we face those dark moments that come to every life—including passing finally out of this world—when Jesus doesn’t show up? Do we trust him when everything we know and believe is on the line?
I don’t mean that unhelpful prattle about the omnipresence of God. Of course he’s everywhere and we should trust him. What about when we need his manifest presence for comfort and strength and courage, and he doesn’t come? He withholds everything that would keep the frail flame of our faith from flickering out.

This is not a frivolous question. As our Sovereign King, Jesus has the right to demand we give him our most precious possessions—our health, our career, our children, our future. He did it to Lazarus. He did it to Job.

That guy did everything right and still disaster befell him. We know that behind the scenes, God was making a point about the steadfastness of a man who would not fail to honor what he knew of God. But Satan was also making a point. Time after time he sees the all-too-human trait that when things don’t go well, people blame God.

We pass or fail this test on our own. Jesus does not cheat for us with easy answers or shortcuts to triumph.
Either we agree with Job that, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him,” or we cave to Satan’s premise and curse God to his face. It’s one or the other.

The only way to pass is to hold fast to the precepts recorded in the Word of God, even if—especially when—we grapple with how they can be true in light of our trial.
Know this: God’s precepts are true because God spoke them. Whether we see this, is a fault of our vision, not of his Word, so that we say with Paul, Let God be true and every man a liar.

This kind of test, by the way, is for the sake of a heavenly audience, of us but not about us. We don’t pass it with paltry attempts to cast God in a good light. Rather we pass when, walking in the dark with no light,  we trust in the name of the Lord and rely on our God.

Think of Jesus on the cross asking why God had forsaken him, and you get an idea how hard this test is.
I’m pretty sure today’s verse crossed his mind as he hung there and believed his Father for his own empty tomb.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ps 119.158

I see treacherous ones, and am grieved, because they do not keep your word. Ps 119.158

Not many things set Jesus off, but a lack of compassion from those who represent God would do it every time.

One Sabbath day early in his public ministry, Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum. He had been teaching and doing some healing in the area. He’d even been to the synagogue before. No doubt the locals expected something interesting to happen.

On this particular day, a man was there who had a withered hand. So were a few Pharisees from the WTGJTF (the Who’s-This-Guy-Jesus Task Force).

This itinerant preacher already had a reputation for healing anybody and everybody.
You can believe they watched him closely, always on the lookout for signs of heresy.
Today they waited to see whether Jesus would heal the man’s hand. To do so would constitute “doing work” on the Sabbath, an intolerable violation of the sacred Law of Moses.
So yes, sparks might fly.

Jesus, for the moment, was more concerned about the man whose hand had shriveled and shrunk. At least he ignored the beagle eyes trained on him.

“Step forward, ” Jesus said to the man as soon as he saw him.

Self-consciously, the man obeyed. Not liking to draw attention to himself, he refused to look at the audience but simply came and stood in front of Jesus.

Jesus smiled at him, then looked at the rest of those gathered in the place. He began the lesson for the day with a not-quite rhetorical question.
“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?” he said to no one in particular. “To save life or to kill?”

Jesus fully intended to spark a discussion that would introduce values of the kingdom of God. After all, kingdom principles are consistent with the Law of Moses, and even built on them. He wanted to show how they also applied to the life and needs of everyday people around them.

Normally the room would have erupted in heated debate. The best discussions involved nuances of law.
Today, however, the men in the room kept silent.
Between those who anticipated Jesus breaking the law, and those afraid they’d be accused of going along with it, no one answered.
For them, on the task force or not, this was no more than a philosophical question.
Not one of them spared a sympathetic thought for the man whose life and welfare were impaired by his disability.

Here were religious men ready to find fault with the guest speaker over some technicality of Law. Yet they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—answer a straightforward question about the value of life, or the difference between good and evil.
Jesus got mad. Maybe they couldn’t do anything to help the guy, but couldn’t they even weigh in on whether it would be right to do so?
How dared they presume to judge his actions as lawful or not!
To a man, they lacked common decency and honest courage to speak up in simple compassion for their fellow man.

To Jesus, who spent hours every day—and sometimes half the night—letting mercy rule over exhaustion, the silence spoke volumes about the hardness of their hearts.
He looked around the room, and read the self-centered motives on each face. Outraged, he didn’t bother to mask the anger flashing in his eyes, or keep the indignation off his face.

The silence, however, surprised the man. He didn’t know what had happened but suddenly the air frizzled with suspense. Seeing displeasure wash over the preacher’s face, he chanced a quick glance over his shoulder.

Turning back, he caught the twitch of muscles around Jesus’s eyes as he narrowed his vision to the man’s face alone. Riveted, he watched the nostrils flare and heard the sharp exhale as his lips compressed and his jaw tightened.

The man raised his eyebrows in mute question. Had he done something to offend?
Instinctively he tucked his withered hand deeper in his sleeve and tried to hide it behind his back.
He was used to being repulsed for having it exposed where others might inadvertently see it.
He had learned early in life that his deformity offended others.
Maybe its ugliness? Maybe it reminded others how fragile life was.

He ducked his head, started to step back and turn away from Jesus. He had no desire to add to the tension in the room. He stopped short when he heard Jesus say, “Stretch out your hand.”

The curious mixture of anger and compassion in Jesus’s voice caught him off guard.
He hesitated, but another glance at Jesus’s eyes, and his hand almost stretched itself toward him.
And kept on stretching. It stretched not so close as to touch him, but enough to be as long—and as whole—as his good hand!
He watched his hand with open mouth and wide eyes, then lifted his face to Jesus. The great big smile lighting his face and eyes held not the least trace of anger, or even of compassion. Only joy and excitement for him.

Others in the room quickly left their seats to gather around him, eager to pat him on the back and congratulate him. It felt so strange as many of them took his withered—well, it was healed now—hand in theirs and pressed it with gladness and good heart.

How strange to feel their touch, to receive their approval, on the flesh of this limb that had always been a source of shame and discomfort to him. He had lived so long with this outward evidence of his internal brokenness that it had become the symbol of his indignity.
In a moment, with barely a word, Jesus had taken away a lifetime of self-loathing and turned him into someone others wanted to be near.
He had not known he was bound until he found his heart soaring free. Over the heads of his well-wishers, he looked to Jesus, hoping to meet those kind eyes.

But Jesus was barely paying attention to those who praised his good deed.
Instead, he watched the last of the Pharisees leave the synagogue.
It didn’t take much to imagine were they were headed. Everyone knew this town was a Herodian nest. Lickspittles that they were to that monstrous puppet king, they’d plot some deviltry against Jesus in order to gain favor for themselves.

Returning to those who clamored for his attention, the man couldn’t help but wonder, What could the religious leaders have against someone as kind and good as Jesus?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ps 119.157

Many are my persecutors and my enemies, yet I do not turn from your testimonies. Ps 119.157

When it comes to kingdom principles, this is one of the hardest—enemies are loved the same as friends.
Jesus put it clearly. “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Paul echoed Jesus’s admonition in concise and emphatic terms—Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Both Jesus and Paul experienced the reality of enemies first hand, what it felt like to bepersecuted.
From the earliest days of his public ministry, religious leaders confronted Jesus at every turn. Zeal, that’s why. Those guys took their job to preserve their religion from heretics seriously.
Later, offended by his outspoken opposition to false religion and hypocrisy, they looked for a chance to curtail his influence. They plotted to arrest and kill him, and eventually succeeded.
Whether they were disciples who turned away, or Peter who denied him, or Judas who betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus never cursed his enemies. He did good to them and prayed for them. 

Paul too had enemies for the sake of the Gospel. The Book of Acts is full of stories of those who opposed the advance of the kingdom of God—from local citizens whose business suffered when the missionaries came to town, to religious rulers and former colleagues who resented Paul’s conversion as a betrayal of Judaism. In every single city that received the Gospel, opponents rose up against him and his coworkers. More than once he was beaten or stoned, other times he had to escape for his life in some secret way.

Yet neither one of these great kingdom advocates despised their enemies. Yes, they killed Jesus, but by his own admission, no one took his life from him. He laid it down of his own accord. He had authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. So far from cursing them, he wept for Jerusalem, and begged his Father’s forgiveness for those who crucified the Lord of Glory unaware.

Likewise Paul knew from the moment he met Jesus on the road into Damascus that his life was forfeit. Nothing anyone did to him was worse than he deserved for having persecuted Christians. He willingly went wherever Christ had not been named, and even to Jerusalem where the Spirit warned him he’d be arrested. So far from cursing those who hated and opposed him, he gladly suffered all things for the sake of Christ, that others’ faith might be made strong.

What was their secret?
How did they manage to put their right to be well-treated aside and live through the worst moments of persecution and not retaliate?
Scripture tells us that Jesus did this to fulfill prophecy—as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

How do we live like that? How can we adopt kingdom principles that go against not only cultural norms but human nature as well?

Here again, the testimonies of God can come to our aid.
Certain attitudes will keep us right-minded about people and the way they treat us.
In almost all of Paul’s letters to fledgling churches, he wrote about this difficult choice to love the ones who hate and hurt us.
    •    Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.
    •    If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
    •    Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
    •    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    •    See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
    •    Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
    •    As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
    •    Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition.
    •    Speak evil of no one, be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.

Be careful not to dismiss Paul’s exhortations too quickly, as nothing more than a reminder for good behavior.
The story of Stephen, the first martyr, shows the long-range implications of godly attitudes.
Here was a man full of faith and power, who did great wonders and signs among the people.
He was also really good at talking to the lost and debating with other sects, although they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
He was arrested and eventually stoned for his testimony about the Gospel.
Stephen’s face, we are told, looked like the face of an angel.
I’m sure this description came from Paul. The young and zealous Saul of Tarsus was there to see him die and hear his final words, so close to those of the dying Christ, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”
I say this because it was Paul’s friend and colleague, Dr. Luke, who recorded the incident in the book of Acts.

Sadly, our enemies will continue to hurt and oppose us as we spread the Gospel among the lost.
We will be tempted to despise and condemn them, to turn away or retaliate.
May it help you to know from the testimony of Scripture that someone may be watching whose life will be transformed through your example.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Ps 119.156

Great are your tender mercies, O Lord. Revive me according to your judgments. Ps 119.156 

I find it interesting that the word for tender mercies is also translated womb.
This gives significant insight into the nature of God.

Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father. He spent most of his time teaching about the Father heart of God.
Surely to speak of the Most High God as one who has a womb…
Not surprising if that sends some of us sideways.
Yet one principle is just as evident in Scripture as the other.

Deity has no biology, of course. That’s a feature of the created realm and God is not created.
It follows then that God is neither male nor female.
Yet he is a father to us—in the ways that a father begets and protects and provides.
He has a “womb” as well, in the sense that every living thing arises from within his being, as a newborn is conceived and brought to parturition in utero.
Many Scriptures depict the tender care God has for his people in maternal terms.

These two sides of God first appeared when God made “man” in his own image—both male and female in the same being.
Scripture then describes God’s decision—it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone—to separate the two.
The forming of human beings was the last of God’s works of creation. He’d already made the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, so on the sixth day, he made the land bring forth every living creature, from cattle to wild beasts to creepy reptiles and amphibians. The day not quite being over, he finished up by making people in his own image.

When God announced his decision, he used the first person plural when talking to himself, which indicates a plurality of being—more than one person—makes up the Godhead. The rest of Scripture reveals the Trinity.

When God made the woman, he did not start over from scratch and make a whole new person. Instead, he took some of the material he’d already used to make the man—from Adam’s side. That means, men and women are not substantially different beings. Like the members of the Trinity, they are of the same essence but with different relations to the whole, different ways of expressing themselves, and different ways of being known.
This kind of relationship is the foundation of every society, marriage that leads to family. Multiple beings that form a coherent whole. Along with the proverbial rib, God pulled out of Adam his “feminine” side and formed it into a woman. He stood her before Adam, an individual with distinct form. She had always been there, now she stood discrete and visible.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard, David said.
As if two words uttered simultaneously produced one sound.
What was the one thing God spoke? That God is strength, and God is love.
This was David’s way of depicting two sides of the divine nature.

As for his strength, God has inestimable power. He is omnipotent.
Temple musicians were taught to ascribe strength to the Lord, for his strength reaches to the clouds.
The Lord is called our rock, fortress, strength, shield, stronghold. All words signifying power and might.
He answers from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.
The king has joy in the Lord’s strength, as he greatly rejoices in God’s salvation.
When the Lord is the strength of one’s life, there’s nothing to fear.
Not only is the Lord their strength, he’s the saving refuge of his anointed.
Even the mighty ones, the angels, give strength to the Lord on the order of his glory.
To the righteous, the Lord is their strength in the time of trouble.
The Lord covers the head of his people in the day of battle.

His voice alone has power to splinter the cedars of Lebanon, shake the wilderness, strip the forests bare.
His mighty hand brought his people out of Egypt with many signs and wonders.
With the breath of his nostrils he divided the sea.
He made the mountains tremble with his presence.
With his mighty arm he scattered his enemies.
Strong is his hand, and high is his right hand.

As for his love, God’s mercies are proclaimed from the very beginning.
Jacob contrasted the wealth of his return with the poverty of his exile, attributing them to God’s mercies.
David preferred the rod of God to the hand of men, because the Lord’s mercies are great.
According to Nehemiah, it was the Lord’s manifold mercies that did not forsake his people in the wilderness, whether by giving them light in the dark or to guide their path. Once they entered the land, his abundant mercies delivered them time after time from their oppressors and their enemies.
Daniel counted on the mercies of God to reveal the king’s dream, so that the wise men of Babylon might not be executed needlessly.
God himself declares that he loves with an everlasting love, and draws us to himself with his lovingkindness.
His tender mercies preserve the saints.
They are over all his works.
They blot out our transgressions.
With great mercies he will gather his people.
His everlasting covenant extends the sure mercies he showed David to all of us who believe in Christ.
Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions do not fail.

Some of us are inclined to meekness and some to force. Both are important in the war against the darkness.
For those who fight with might and power, we find almighty strength in the God whose kingdom we proclaim.
For those who fight with meekness and love, we find bottomless compassion at the heart of God.
These are not male or female attributes, but the character of the Holy One, who is not divided within himself.

No wonder Jesus prayed for us to be one, as he and the Father are one.
That was the plan from the beginning.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ps 119.155

Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes. Ps 119.155 

I am reminded of the story of the prodigal son, who lived a long time in wickedness far from salvation, until he realized relationship is more important than anything in this world.

Here was a young man who did not value his own place in life.
According to the culture of his day, the younger son would have no resources of his own until his father died. But then, his older brother would inherit the bulk of the estate. Whatever his motivation, he didn’t like those prospects. So he took his share before his father had even died and set off for a distant land.

He made a choice to live in this world according to the principles of this world.
It didn’t turn out well for him because, true to the way the world works, he had friends as long as he had money.
When the money was gone, so were the friends.

Finding himself destitute of worldly goods, including food, he picked himself up out of the pig filth—a detail that could only add horror for the Jews listening to the story—and headed for home. He was fully prepared to live as a mere servant on the estate he had squandered and forsaken. 

We usually focus—and I think that’s the point Jesus was making—on the heart of the father who welcomed this son back into open arms with loving celebration.
That’s not how any decent father in that culture would have behaved.
Rather, this is a picture of the way our heavenly Father embraces foolish sinners who wakes up to where they are and, realizing where they could be, come humbly home to him.

I’ve even heard some talk about the elder brother. His attitude of jealousy and frustration led him to misunderstand their father’s heart in the same way many religiously “good” people fail to understand grace. And as with them, our heavenly Father gives us the choice to share his joy in the salvation of the lost, or to remain distant and resentful of the mercy we don’t think we need.

I have never heard anyone talk about the younger brother.
Subjectively, he’s pretty much a poster child for the Gospel. Each of us can identify with him in our own sin, our utter depravity, before coming to God.
Objectively, however, he could be any young person on the edge of life as an adult.

I imagine he had dreams. He wanted to make something of his life rather than live in the shadow of his father or his brother. He wanted to matter. So he took what life had to offer—Dad’s inheritance—and went off to see what he could make of it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect to be exploited and abandoned, and then left in despair ruin.

I imagine he was generous by nature, probably learned that from his father. It made him easy pickings.
I imagine he was warm and loving. That’s why the girls took up with him, although he maybe hadn’t learned the proverbs about beware the harlot in the street, my son. Well, he never needed that warning while he lived in the protection of home.
I imagine he enjoyed the good life while it lasted, and didn’t know how to recognize when it was slipping away.
I imagine he thought those people who took his money were well-meaning friends, because he learned from his dad to think well of people.
I imagine he’d never seen people living at rock bottom the way he ended up, because even the hired workers at home had food.

That’s how it is for many of us who set out from a godly home.
Good parents protect their children from the ravages of the world. They shield them and nurture them until they can stand on their own. They give them what they can, and stand on the doorstep watching them walk away into the unknown—for the child and for the parents. In some ways, they’ll still be on the doorstep watching for them to come home.

But good parents also prepare their children to live on the edge of the kingdom. Which requires them to teach their sons and daughters the facts not only of life in this world, but of life in the spiritual realm as well.

This world is not kind to anyone. It’s little different than it was in the days of Noah when God looked at the world he had made, into which he’d banished Adam and Eve when they disobeyed. He saw that people’s wickedness was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time. This grieved him then and it grieves him still. He cleansed the earth from the filth of their wickedness but he did not change their bent toward it. That same corruption contaminates our day, and would poison all the prospects young adults have. It’s a wonder any of us survive.

Like Jacob who fled from his elder brother’s anger and hatred, some set out with little hope of returning.
Some, like Joseph, dream of greatness only to be betrayed by their families and have to fend for themselves.
Some, like Moses, are abandoned to their fate. Fortune does not smile on all the way it did on him.
Some, like Elisha, set off to follow the dream job and never come home again.
The list goes on. People like Ishmael who was replaced by a favored son, Samson who was born to die killing enemies for a thankless people, Samuel who was delivered to boarding school for religious education, Jonathan whose best friend inherited his father’s throne.
They all found out that the world doesn’t play fair.

Scripture is full of greats and not-so-greats whose stories are told in a few short verses or chapters that can hardly depict what it was like to live them.
But one great hope hangs over every life, biblical or otherwise.
God created each person alive for a purpose in his kingdom.
Yes, the enemy opposes the saints. He steals, kills, and destroys every chance he gets.
But he never really wins. His mischief always serves the will of God.

Know this—and teach it to your children—the way to salvation is through the statutes of God. Like stepping stones on the highway of holiness, they lead directly to the cross on Calvary.

It doesn’t matter if the Ten Commandments aren’t on the walls of our schools.
    Hang them on the walls of your home.
It doesn’t matter if our kiddos aren’t allowed to pray in school.
    Pray with them at home.
It doesn’t matter if they can’t talk about religion in public.
    Teach the Word of God diligently when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

The world isn’t going to teach Kingdom principles to our kids. It isn’t their job, it’s ours, and we neglect it at the cost of our sons and daughters.
What if we actually wrote God’s words on the doorposts of our house and inscribed them on our gates?
Surely our prodigal, living far from salvation, would remember.
And find his—or her—way home.