Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ps 119.118

You reject all those who stray from your statutes, for their deceit is falsehood. Ps 119.118 

Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, Paul tells us of depraved mankind, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Yeah. That’s what Paul had to say about those who stray from God’s statutes. (Ro 1.28-32)

We don’t like to think that God can or will make things worse for people, but Scripture’s pretty clear that he does.

Whereas the devil blinds the minds of unbelievers so they can’t see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ, when people repeatedly turn away from what they know to be true of God, God himself steps in.
They deceive themselves to a point, and then God begins to harden them as well.

We see this most clearly in the case of Pharaoh, who refused to let God’s people go. Five times we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart in response to God’s demand. Then we read over Moses’s next five visits to the palace that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It didn’t end well for him, what with one thing and another.

God did the same thing to the nation of Israel. After so many years wooing them to himself from the time he brought them out of Egypt and gave them their own land and all during the divided monarchy, God put a stop to their rebellion by bringing Assyria against the northern kingdom.
At the same time he sent a message through Isaiah saying that he would close their eyes and deafen their ears and harden their understanding so that they could not grasp what he was doing among them.
Seven hundred years later, they were blind to Jesus Emmanuel, stone deaf to his message of life in him, and as hard-hearted as Pharaoh ever was.

Discouraging, to put it mildly. Downright alarming, if you lean toward refusing God.
Does it really mean that when we oppose God, even if we once walked in his favor, there’s no coming back?

Whether or not we can lose our salvation is a topic for another day, but Scripture is clear that those who repent can always come back to welcome arms.
Think of the prodigal son in the pigsty.
Think of Saul persecuting Christians in Damascus.
Think of Jonah in the belly of the whale.
Think of Israel in exile.
Think of Manasseh, king of Judah, cowering in a foreign jail.

Manasseh was the son of the great king Hezekiah who had stood in faith against the Assyrians. The Angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 of them in one night, leaving Hezekiah to reign in peace all his days.
He turned to reforming Judah and died leaving the nation free from idolatry, for the most part. His son Manasseh took the throne at the age of 12, but brought back all the idolatrous practices. His wickedness was the worst of all kings yet, and the Lord promised to use Assyria to cleanse Jerusalem the way one “wipes a dish and turns it upside down.”

God did it. Manasseh went off to Babylon with a ring in his nose. There he found God, so to speak, in “his affliction, and implored the Lord, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him. God received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” and it changed everything for him.
He made reforms on the scale of his father Hezekiah, reigning for a total of 55 years.

There is no depth of wickedness from which someone cannot sincerely repent. That being so, why doesn’t everyone find peace with God?

Two men who knew Jesus illustrate what goes wrong.
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus by informing the religious council where he was to be found. Jesus knew what he was up to, and Judas knew he knew it, for Jesus sent him from the Passover meal saying, “What you do, do quickly.” Recognizing the evil in what he had done when the guards arrested Jesus, Judas tried to clear his conscience by returning the fee. When they refused to take the money back, he went out and hanged himself. That, as they say, was the end of that.

Peter likewise betrayed Jesus, in his case by denying three times that he even knew him. A rooster crowed, and across the courtyard Jesus met his eyes. Peter wept bitterly, but did nothing while Jesus was tried, executed and buried. When he heard the tomb was empty, he raced to see for himself. No Jesus, so he hung his head and went home.

The disciples returned to Galilee, and the brothers went back to fishing. That’s where Jesus found Peter one morning after a poor night’s catch, calling from the breakfast campfire on shore, “Try the other side of the boat.” The magnificent haul of fish was more than enough evidence who had spoken.
Peter did not wait for the boats to come in but swam to shore. Still too ashamed and broken to speak to Jesus, he waited for the Savior to initiate reconciliation.

This is instructive for us when we want to come back to Jesus after we fail him. We must come near with our whole heart as Peter did. Despair and self-harm do not cleanse our conscience, as Judas shows, and can even put us beyond the reach of mercy.
But we mustn’t presume to enter God’s holy presence as if there had not been a breach in our relationship with him.
Jesus is more interested in reconciling us than we could possibly be, but forgiveness is an act of grace on his part and we add insult to injury when we despise its cost by whitewashing or denying our guilt.

We can always come to him, no matter how wicked we have been, no matter how wrongfully we “did not see fit to acknowledge God.”
The depth of our sin will NEVER exceed his boundless mercy toward a heart that sorrows with godly remorse.
The cleansing waters of grace await any soul that will repent and return to the Lord who waits to restore us.

As Isaiah said, the Lord waits to be gracious to us, and exalts himself to show mercy to us. For the Lord is a God of justice, being both just and the one who justifies. Blessed are all those who wait for him.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ps 119.117

Strengthen me, and I shall be safe, and I shall observe your statutes continually. Ps 119.117 

One thing’s sure as we make our way through this world, we can’t do it alone. When we try, we find ourselves face to face with our own shortcomings.
We stand even less of a chance of making it through eternity on our own merits. We don’t even know what it takes to prepare for eternity. The earliest and most primitive cultures demonstrate a belief in the afterlife, contingent on how we live here and now. Is that right? Who even knows?

What strikes a strange note, though, is David’s goal. If God would strengthen and uphold him he would be safe to focus on living for God. If not, he seems to imply, his energy and attention must be spent on his own survival and safety. If we’ve discovered one thing about this all-too-human king, he truly loved God’s Word. To do it continually would have been a genuine delight for him.

This seems to be the same heart that inhabited Christ. Unlike David, whose sins are recorded in Scripture, Jesus never once missed God’s mark. The law was external to David, and while he intended to do what it said, and delighted in doing so, it was internal to Jesus, part of the very makeup of his being.

While Jesus chose to live in complete submission to the limitations of the human condition, and was as human as we are in body, soul, and spirit, that’s not all he was. He alone was another Adam, a new kind of being created with a nature that contained within himself the seed of all believers, just as Adam contained the seed of all human beings.
In his humanity Jesus was the son of David.
In his deity he was the son of God.
In history, he was the son of man.

Where do we get the idea that God’s law is hard to keep or in anyway undesirable?
Surely this is a lie from the pit.
I say this because even when there was only one command, and it was accompanied by generous permission to enjoy everything else, along came the serpent, and sat down beside her. He started in creating questions and doubts about what the command really meant, and why God had given it—as if God wanted to deny them something good. But that wasn’t God’s intent for the law, and only someone with his own agenda would spin it that way.

In fact, through the law, God gave detailed instructions for how to get the most out of this life. To keep it is simple prudence. But Satan wanted to be God. His desire to rule would never sit well under a higher authority. I’m sure it galled him that these little creatures just accepted divine authority without challenging it. Whether he wanted to see what humans were made of or if he wanted to corrupt them doesn’t matter.

So while Christ may have shared David’s heart regarding the law, rarely do we hear anyone—including most Christians—professing the desire to continually observe God’s commands. More often we find people, ourselves included, finding loopholes so that we don’t have to do them. 
It’s Old Testament, Christ set us free from the law, it doesn’t apply anymore, we live in a different culture, it’s old fashioned and no longer relevant.

Think about tithing, a very practical area where we see people resist God’s law. Objections vary.
God doesn’t need our money.
In the New Testament we’re told to give only what makes us cheerful to give.
Ten percent is legalistic.
Not to mention practical reasons based on needing all the income we have to pay for living expenses.

Another example is the Sabbath, keeping the Lord’s day holy.
Objections are often couched in practical terms.
That’s the only day we have to do chores.
We have to work.
Kids sports hold games that day and team membership requires us to attend.
God doesn’t care which day of the week it is.
And even if we want to take a day off, we don’t want to spend it doing church things.

But this kind of objecting to God’s good instructions for holy living pervades so much of our Christianity. It’s almost as though we simply don’t want to be told what’s best for us.
We especially make excuses for why we aren’t as devoted to God as we know we should be.
When’s the last time you met someone who claimed to spend too much time in the Bible or in prayer or fellowship or worship or evangelism or service or giving?
More likely, the person (even the one in the mirror) is busy rationalizing why we don’t do it enough.

I can’t imagine David talking like that. He was a man who knew the value of God’s instructions and wanted more of them. Knowing he could not hope to care from himself in this world or prepare adequately for the next without observing God’s statutes, he pleaded for divine help, not tone better at keeping to God’s way, but for God himself to keep him strong and safe. Then he would be able to do his part of obedience.

But what if we chose to do it anyway?
I wonder what it would do to our hearts—and our lifestyles—if we were to choose God’s way even if no one else does it. I suspect that the more we yield to the divine way, the more precious it becomes to us and the more we regret missing it. That seems to be true of David, and of Jesus.

Why not try it for yourself and see?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ps 119.116

Sustain me according to your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope. Ps 119.116 

As I write this, I received news that someone I love let slip the mortal ties of life, his body wasted by pancreatic cancer. From diagnosis to passing took less than two months. Numbing news, until the pain of loss set in.
It gives “sustained according to God’s Word” a whole new relevance.

The Word became flesh. Jesus of Nazareth. The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. He upholds all things by the word of his power. With one word he can snuff out anything. A human life. A city. A job. A nation. A star. A universe.

Jesus Christ, it seems to me, ought to be feared.

He holds all authority in heaven and on earth. He called the universe into being with one word. So too he will cause it to be no more.
Why don’t we fear the One whose name is above every name, who sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, whose kingdom will never end, whose judgments none shall escape?

We do not fear him, to our detriment as well as to our shame, because we are far more interested in making much of ourselves. This is foolish beyond imagining. Do we think that his grace and mercy are stronger than his righteousness and wrath?

Mercy and grace are at the heart of God, no question. We know the story of the cross and the sacrifice of God’s perfect Lamb. Nevertheless we arrogantly put ourselves in the center of the story, spotlighting our value to God and neglecting how much more precious was the divine son. That one life incarnate, Scripture tells us, is worth more than all human lives combined.

When Jesus pleaded for his executioners on the basis of their ignorance, he anticipated how the Righteous Judge of All the Earth—Abraham’s term—would deal with such evil. Didn’t Jesus warn them it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for the generation that rejected him? His Father hates injustice, how much more so when carried out against his Holy Son?
Jesus sensed even then, hours before he passed from the mortal and into immortality, the mounting wrath against sin. It was aimed at Christ as our substitute but it would have taken everyone in the vicinity with it.

This is sometimes why we don’t fear Jesus. We see him as a mediator, a conciliator between us and the wrathful Father. But we need to look more closely at what Scripture actually says about this role. He by no means persuaded the Father not to be angry against the offenses of all mankind. Rather, he placed himself between the Father and us, and asked to be counted one of us. The Father released his wrath against humanity, and Jesus absorbed it all. He was able to do so only because he was himself God.

Think of it. The God-man is powerful and  strong enough to resist the wrath of God Almighty. Truly he is greatly to be feared. This is the one who, having become obedient to death, has been exalted to the highest place. Every knee will bow before him, not just because he’ll be wearing lovely royal robes. Rather, the sword of judgment will be in his hand, fire in his eyes, blood dripping  from his garments. This is our Lord, and he’s coming again to judge the living and the dead. Be afraid, or be found in Christ.

The fierceness of God’s being is well established in the Old Testament.
Job and his friends spoke many things about God, most of them false ideas that fell far short of the truth. God showed up to set the record straight—in a whirlwind storm. Job couldn’t respond except to put his hand over his mouth.
Elijah, too, experienced God this way. He ran for his life to the mountain of God where Moses had received the law. Once again the Lord was on the mountain—storm and wind and lightning and earthquake and crashing boulders. Knowing the Lord had hidden Moses in the cleft of a rock, Elijah waited until the noise died down before he stepped out of the cave.
Both the tabernacle and temple were designed to convey the image of God as holy and unapproachable. None but the consecrated high priest could enter the Most Holy Place where God dwelt above the mercy seat, and then only once each year. God did not allow sinners in his presence.

What makes us think, just because we live on this side of the cross, that God’s nature changed when Christ died? God continues as opposed to sin as ever. His anger burns as hot and his opposition to sinful men continues to mount. Those who are in Christ are protected from his fiery holiness by the righteousness of Christ, but it rages just the same.

That’s why Paul said that since we know what it is to fear God, we seek to persuade men. God will repay everyone for the deeds done in the body. We know that wrath is coming, as Jude tells us, to execute judgment on all the ungodly sinners who have spoken and acted against Him.

But being in Christ ought to make us more sensitive to the awesome power of God. When we draw near in humility, we can count on that might working for our good. We can never presume on his grace and mercy. Trusting his goodness makes us more reverent, because the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.
Those who hope in his unfailing love, without discounting the wrath that would be ours, will never be ashamed.

Ps 119.115

Depart from me, you evildoers, for I will keep the commandments of my God! Ps 119.115 

The bottom line seems to be, that if we want to live righteously, we sort of need to keep our distance from people who do evil. It’s a lifestyle choice to surround ourselves with people who aim to live according to the Spirit. We have to keep reminding ourselves of our priorities, which looks like being in the world without being of it. This anomalous living—not conforming to the pattern of this world—has characterized the people of God since he first created them.

God brought his people out of Egypt and into the promised land that he had long determined to take away from its inhabitants to give to his people. Unfortunately, it took a long time to learn the lesson of keeping themselves separate, of living holy lives in a corrupt world.

Centuries before, God had called Abraham to this land and promised to make a nation out of him. Childlessness aside, Abraham wanted to know for certain about the land. God made a covenant and confirmed it. He further let on that while Abraham would die of old age, his descendants would go into slavery for 400 years but the Lord would definitely bring them back to Canaan as he promised.

When the time came, the Lord sent Moses to deliver them out of Egypt and to bring the law down from the top of Mount Sinai. When they’d built the tabernacle to house the Ark of his Presence, the people set out for Canaan.  The Lord assured them he’d drive out the inhabitants of the land ahead of them, because their practices were evil in his eyes.
He warned Israel specifically to destroy all those who dwelled in Canaan, and not to follow their detestable example, lest it lead them to disobey his laws.

In time Joshua brought the people across the Jordan and into the land, and soon destroyed the kings of all the peoples living there. He divided the territory among the tribes of Israel and sent them home, with specific instructions to finish driving out the inhabitants of the land. He died before they finished, and the book of Judges lists their failure to comply.

It wasn’t long before Israel, sure enough, adopted the practices of the people they didn’t drive out. They fell under oppression. It took them years to figure out they needed the Lord’s help. God raised up a deliverer who freed them. Before long, thanks to the fact that they still hadn’t rid the land of these enemies, they found themselves under someone else’s oppression, and the cycle began again.

This continued until the days of Samson and Eli and Samuel, the last of the judges before Saul was anointed king. The reason the people wanted a king in the first place was to go out for them against their oppressors. The latest in the long line of enemies within the land, the Philistines were already there in Abraham’s day and had remained ever since.

So by the time David came to the throne, he saw from their history that the nation’s failure to obey God’s instruction to rid the land of its residents was precisely the source of their distress.

Paul made the same point when he quoted the Greek poet, “Bad company corrupts good character.”

And we don’t need Scripture to teach us what we see in our own experience. The people we hang around with end up shaping us. The only question is whether we make wise choices about the quality of our associates.

How seriously do you want to keep the commandments of your God? Does it matter to you to do what’s right in his eyes? He has made it clear what it takes to live in relationship with him. Under the Old Covenant, obedience to the Law was the only acceptable way to come before God, and when someone failed to do so, animal blood atoned for their sin. Under the New Covenant, God began not with obedience to a code of law but with the atoning work of Christ. Anyone who believes in him has only to obey his command, to love.

Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love our neighbors—contain all the law. But whether they are two or six hundred plus, keeping the God’s commandments of God is going to require us to keep our distance from evildoers.

This won’t happen on its own, either. I’m not talking about the fact that we all fall short of the  glory of God. Jesus, who is our role model in this walk with the Lord, never shied away from people whom the world called sinners, and neither should we. This turning away from evildoers is something else.

In the same way that Jesus could dwell among sinners and remain sinless, so can we. His secret was absolute obedience to the will of God, not just the letter of the commandments but the spirit of the law as well. Our only hope of success is to let his Spirit, the Spirit of God, dwell in us.

We cannot love the way God does unless he loves through us with his own love. That’s who the Spirit is, and we have every reason to hope in his wisdom and goodness and faithfulness and kindness for our success. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ps 119.114

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. Ps 119.114 

At least twenty times in the Old Testament God is described as a shield. Perhaps not the most frequent description, but often enough to draw our attention. It conforms to the biblical theme of God’s people at war, under the Lord’s protection.

The first time this imagery comes up, it’s in the mouth of God.
He began his relationship with his people through Abraham, saying of himself, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Think what he was promising.
The end goal, the ultimate goodness that God could ever extend, was His own self. He would protect Abraham and his descendants along the road of divine purpose until they arrived at its completion. And he would be there waiting at journey’s end. Judaism still thrives in the world today, and will until the end of time, because of this faithful word to the Man of Faith.

He extended the promise to his chosen people when he brought them out of slavery and gave them their own land, naming himself, “the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty.”
No longer would they merely need protection, but as they advanced along that divine-purpose road, they would take the offensive, begin to play an active role in bringing about God’s purpose in the world. To further call himself the sword of their majesty invokes the image of the Messianic king who is the living Word of God, both the Word made flesh and the Sword of the Spirit.

No wonder David loved this imagery. He had known the Lord’s protection many a time.
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the one who lifts up my head.
The Lord is my shield and the horn of my salvation.
The Lord is my strength and my shield.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield.
He is our help and our shield.
My shield and the one in whom I take refuge.
The shield of our salvation whose gentleness made us great.
With favor you surround [the righteous] as with a shield.
His truth shall be our shield and buckler.
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly and put their trust in him.

David was a warrior. Clearly he understood the value of a shield.
Ironically, from the first time he set foot on the battlefield, David trusted not in the royal armor (he was too small to wear it!) but in the divine presence as his shield. He came out against Goliath “in the Name of the Lord of Hosts.” I don’t think he ever went out under any other banner for the rest of his days. The one time he tried to, the Philistines didn’t trust him to accompany them because he had so consistently demonstrated his passion to protect Israel, even though he had been hiding among the Philistines for years.

But David didn’t know God only as a shield, nor even primarily so.
He came onto the stage as a baby warrior with remarkable faith, which he never lost. He served so mightily under Saul that he stirred up evil hatred against God’s anointed in the spiritual realm. God used that antipathy to teach David a greater truth about himself. David ran for his life, and kept on running for decades, as he learned to trust in God as his hiding place.

We know this for ourselves, if we’ve walked by faith to any extent. God does not want us primarily to be his weapons in the war that advances the kingdom of his Son. We are created for himself, as he told Abraham, created to inherit God as our reward. We learn that relationship when we hide in him, take refuge in him, trust in him. He becomes our glory and the lifter of our head, our strength, our sun, our salvation.

When we embark on our life with God, start out needing protection but soon find we need a shield as we do battle against the kingdom of darkness.
Just as David hid under the name of the Lord as his shield against Goliath, we must also take a first step of faith and trust God as we advance against any enemy that taunts the armies of the living God, the church and every member.

It’s no coincidence that Paul calls faith the shield of God’s armor.
He specifically tells us that it protects us from fiery darts of the enemy.
To call the enemy’s lies “fiery darts” connects them to divine truth. This is important, for it’s as old as Eden.
You remember that Satan turned God’s command into a fiery dart that killed them.
The weapon he threw it with has two prongs. One suggests there’s wiggle room in what the command means. (Isn’t that what centuries of rabbinical expertise did to the commands God gave to Moses?)  The other prong causes doubt about God’s intent in giving the command. 

Satan’s tactics haven’t changed, Paul says, and we need faith to protect us still.
We don’t have to itemize or disambiguate the command. Neither do we have to doubt God’s intent in giving us the command. To love and be loved is the same as receiving God as our reward, because God is love. Jesus said exactly this to the guy who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. He told him to love his neighbor.
Define neighbor, suggests the enemy.
Be the neighbor, says Jesus.
Hide in God and under God. Live in love.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ps 119.113

I hate (my) divided-mind, but I love your law. Ps 119.113

In our country it isn’t politically correct nowadays to insist on absolutes. Unfortunately, this has created a mindset that has no confidence in the reliability of anything. I call it the No-Truth World View, a philosophy of the age that promotes individuality and personal belief as the standard of reality. Like cyanide in sugar, it is death to the soul couched in humanistic values and practices.

I’m not just talking about religion. Not all religions are right or true or good. Religious freedom is mistakenly interpreted as validating all religions, when it merely guarantees the right to practice one’s beliefs without persecution. The fact that our country allows people to worship Satan or hate whole cultures does not mean we should. Human sacrifices, bodily mutilation, child molesting—they’re just plain wrong and everybody knows it, whether a religious code allows it or not.

Sadly, government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has proven to be a recipe for national disaster. We’re so far in debt to feed the lusts of special interest groups and government committees that we’ll never be solvent again. It’s not just the money, either. Our values are so compromised and divided, we don’t even know what patriotism is anymore. We’ve gotten to the point where we dare not stand up for anything lest we be pilloried as a hater and un-American.

Science, which we’d like to claim is objective and incontrovertible, turns out to be one of the worst offenders. Theories change at the breakneck speed of new research findings. The effect is a niggling doubt that we can’t trust what we knew to be true yesterday, let alone last century. This isn’t a new consequence of scientific investigation—the world isn’t flat, the earth isn’t the center of the solar system, species do change in response to environmental pressures. But because we rely on “facts” to make decisions about everything from child-rearing to healthy eating to weather-based leisure to safety and medical care, we end up second guessing our choices, always afraid we made the wrong one. No wonder our society is plagued by disorders like anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

The daily news doesn’t help. It’s actually a conveyor of all that’s unstable. It’s great that we can see so much of world affairs as they happen, but there’s a price to pay, not in knowing bad news but in the variety of perspectives afforded by so many sources. Most of us don’t have enough understanding to analyze the information we’re presented, so we rely on commentators to tell us its significance. But when they conflict with or contradict each other, where can we turn? We end up confused or frightened, but subliminally aware that we ignore the news at our peril.

Let me add one more contributor to this No-Truth World View. High-speed communication technology has made the world much, much smaller, bringing everyone and everything right up to our back door. Whether its pesticides or terrorists, world hunger or disease or climate change, we feel menaced on every side when even distance and time are distorted in this vague but destabilizing way. Worse than all that, maybe, is the constant access between people. We are never alone, and while we need relationships, our souls also need solitude and silence. Without these, our sense of self suffers, costing us identity and value, and our ability to relate in the presence of real people is compromised.

This is by no means everything that destroys our trust in the goodness of absolutes. But it does make me wonder what in the world did David had to hate about the uncertainty of his day.
Still, his hatred of the division within his own thoughts goes to the point that every uncertainty fades in the light of the unchanging rock-solid foundation of God’s Word.
It never changes.

Wait a minute, though. That statement is biblical, but the No-Truth World View has penetrated even here.
We’re confused about all sorts of issues related to the trustworthiness of the Bible, from which books belong  to proper phrasing of beloved texts. Don’t even mention whether any of it is historical or provable or relevant.
You know what I’m talking about.
The arguments against Scripture as the inerrant word of God range from a purported lack of evidence for some of its stories, to arguments against the reliability of the texts, to questioning the motives of the canon councils and translators.

“Which version of the Bible is that?” we’ll ask when Scripture doesn’t sound the same as we’ve read.
But even that’s misleading. ESV and KJV and HCSB and NASB, they aren’t really versions but translations.
And while we may prefer one rendering over another, it’s really important that we understand there is no right one.
God does not speak English, King James or New Century or otherwise. He doesn’t speak Hebrew or Greek either.
Or any other modern or ancient language, living or dead.

God speaks Truth, and this language transcends all others.
The Scriptures are God-breathed into human language, and we understand it with our spirits, not with our minds.

To say that there is no absolute truth is to say that God never spoke, when what people who say such things really mean is, they’ve never heard his voice.

The Word of the Lord endures forever, we’re told.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
In an uncertain-feeling world, of this you can be absolutely sure.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ps 119.112

I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the very end. Ps 119.112 

I read a verse like this and I think, how naïve!
There’s no way anyone can hope to keep God’s statutes forever, to the very end.
To the very end of what? Certainly not eternity, or even my life. I can’t make it through five minutes of solid trying without a wayward thought crossing my mind or an errant word passing my lips.
Worse, the harder I try, the more likely I am to fail. Not a little disheartening.

How thankful I am that the obedience Christ cares about is not to the letter of the law!
He said some harsh things in his day that discourage me from thinking I can keep the law.
If you criticize, it’s the same as murder.
If you lust, it’s the same as adultery.
Divorce? More of the same.
Love your enemies not just your friends and neighbors.
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you’re not getting into heaven.
Hardest of all—no one comes to the Father except through him.

For Jesus, the obedience that counts is to the command of love, and that is start to finish a matter of the heart.

I love that David isn’t really saying that he plans to perform God’s statutes perfectly all the time.
Rather, he’s only claiming to have turned his heart in that direction.
The word used here for “inclined” literally means to “stretch out toward.” It’s a reaching word. A beautiful picture of what Christ requires of us. We reach toward the two greatest commandments that hold the entire law, knowing they’re beyond us.

But this is exactly where the sweetness of Christ comes in. He didn’t leave us as orphans.
He never really meant us to do this love thing on our own. We couldn’t, even if we wanted to.
In the kindness that flows from his Father’s heart, he sent a Comforter to be with us, his own dear Spirit of life and truth. The Spirit won’t just live with us, as Jesus did with the disciples. He will be in us.
He’ll be the spark that leaps between the tip of our reaching fingertips to the tablets that contain the stone-hard uncompromising statutes of God.

Whatever is lacking in our faith, the Spirit supplies not just once but over end over as often as we’ll yield. His intent is to transform us into torchbearers of God’s love, which he does by increasing our knowledge of the Son of God. As we become mature, we attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, the emblem and archetype of divine love.

But we don’t start out there, of course. We begin simply by inclining our hearts toward him. Apart from a work of God, we can’t even do that, according to Jesus. He said straight up that no one can come to him unless the Father draws them.

What does inclining our hearts look like? A thirst for righteousness.
Inner righteousness—wanting to have a clean conscience.
External righteousness—wanting to do what is good.

Jesus promised that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. He doesn’t say we have to fill ourselves but that we will be filled. This is a promise of the Holy Spirit indwelling us with all the cleanliness and goodness we have room for.

Can you imagine being as pure in your heart and mind as God himself? Does that appeal to you?
To think and say and do only what is right and pleasing and good?
Oh how precious that sounds.

There’s an age-old battle for my mind and heart. It leaves me feeling my failure constantly, falling on the grace of God to forgive my selfish, sin-filled responses.
But what if I could look at a situation and see what’s really going on? Or know for a fact what a person is truly about?
I would be kind and good and patient toward them. I would be faithful when they betray me. I would love when they hurt me. I would be glad and gentle and oh so …
Yes, I would be filled with the fruit of the Spirit, wouldn’t I?

The promise of Jesus is that I will have the best that the Father gives—his own Holy Spirit.

And as surely as “love never fails,” we can count on Him being with us to the end.