Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ps 119.31

I cling to your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! Ps 119.31

Here’s that “cling to” word again. It has the figurative meaning of catching by pursuit.
What does it mean to catch God’s testimonies by pursuing them?

But think about it. When God created the world, he established the order of nature. Everything in this natural realm works the way it does because God ordained it. In great wisdom he crafted everything from black holes in the cosmos to the infinitesimal gluon strings that hold quarks together. It’s just that nobody knew that way back when it first came into being.

Millenia of missteps in learning how the creation works have brought us to modern concepts of science. We can smile at the foolishness of thinking our planet is the center of the solar system, that the earth is flat, that little people already exist in the man before being “planted” in the soil of the woman. From spontaneous generation to women having one more rib than men, our understanding of creation hasn’t always been spot on. What’s more, we can expect that at least some of what we “know” now may one day seem foolish to those yet to come.

Nevertheless, we know a lot more about this world because men and women have pursued the testimonies of God in the works he has made.
More importantly, what we discover in nature tells us about its Creator. What can be known about God is evident in what has been made, both his divine nature and his eternal power.Therefore, Paul tells us, all of us are without excuse.
This is why David asks the Lord to keep him from shame. When we build our lives on a misunderstanding of who God is and what he requires of us, we cannot hope to stand before him at the Day of his Appearing.

The testimonies of God, I’m happy to add, are more than just what the heavens declare and what the earth is full of. His testimonies include Israel ancient and modern, and the written Word, and the historic Church of the redeemed. The more we search these things for the evidence of God. the more likely we will find the truth we need to live by.

And in that we will never be put to shame before the throne of God.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ps 119.30

I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed your judgments before me. Ps 119.30 

The faithful way. A sweet phrase that includes both practicing the tenets of faith and continuing to do so without fail. 

I love that we can choose to walk by faith.
God does not force us to believe in him, although he makes it clear that apart from faith it’s impossible to please him.
The Bible is filled with little pictures of what it looks like to follow the faithful way, but perhaps the most challenging to me right now is Peter.

He saw Jesus doing the spectacular. No, it was worse than that.
What he saw was terrifying.
The disciples in the boat on the wind-tossed sea were not even sure that the spectral presence was Jesus.
A voice carried to them over the water, “Take courage. I AM. Fear not.”
Peter hardly believed it. Was Jesus really walking on the waves?
“If it’s you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water.”
I can’t think why Peter thought that would be definitive. Was Jesus in the habit of urging them to do ridiculous—not to say dangerous—things?

It’s a crazy test of faith, in a long line of such tests.
Abraham left his hometown to possess a land he had never seen.
Gideon put the fleece on the ground. Twice.
Jonathan trusted the Philistine’s invitation to their camp as a portent of divine victory.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went into the fiery furnace, as Daniel before them lounged with lions.

But Peter’s test stands out, not because of the danger but because that’s the kind of faith Jesus inspired. Peter wouldn't hesitate to obey if Jesus issued the order. As though Jesus’s word would empower the act. And so it did.
He literally got down out of the boat, into the stormy Sea of Galilee—how high were the waves, how strong the wind, how loud the crashing? The last storm they weathered made them fear for their lives—and walked across the water.

What I love about Peter’s faith is not his courage, but that it made him want to be with Jesus and do what Jesus did. No matter how impossible.
Maybe Peter’s heart was bigger than his ability, but oh my goodness, how often that describes me on the faithful way!
I want so much to follow Jesus, to be where he is and to do what he does, don’t you?
But when’s the last time we healed the sick or raised the dead or drove out demons or drank poison or gotten bitten by cobras? Or walked on water? 

Our great hope is that if we will look deeply into God’s Word, his commands become stepping stones along the faithful way that leads to Jesus.

Ps 119.29

Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me your law graciously. Ps 119.29

I don’t suppose anyone wants to admit to telling lies, and I doubt that’s what David is doing here. Blatant lies are the language of the devil, the father of lies, who was a liar from the beginning.
If you are a deliberate liar, one who puts forth falsehoods and rejects the truth, then stop. This doesn’t please God, who is Truth itself. As David said, God “desires truth in the inmost being.”

For most of us, however, the “way of lying” is more subtle.
It can range from believing lies that make us more comfortable, to being duped by defrauders.
We are bombarded by media images that can be crafted to show anything.
Deceit and misrepresented truth often surround us in ways we don’t recognize, because we do not know the truth.
This is done to us, and by us.
We, too, create false impressions. We don’t feel secure in who we are or what we’ve done and so we project a less than transparent image. We are afraid of what might happen if our true selves were known.

Here David lays all that down when he asks God to remove the way of lying, of dealing falsely, of deception. He doesn’t quibble about whether he is the one responsible for creating the lies or the one who finds himself caught in them. The simple truth is that where lies are, God is not, and David wants no part of being away from God.

How does he expect God to remove him from this false world? By graciously granting his law.

David had no way of knowing the promise of the new covenant, that God intended to write his law in our minds and put it in our hearts. He only knew that the Law, the Torah, was a defense against falseness. It is the way of truth, and without that, he could not hope to draw near to God.
David asked this of God, and he knew it was a favor.

God has spoken and men are responsible to listen.
But that isn’t enough, is it, to turn our hearts away from self-protection and self-determination?
Unless the Lord graciously grants his law, we cannot attain it.

Does it surprise you that David longed for the gospel?
This longing is the truest part of David’s heart, that which was “after God’s own heart.”
David admitted he was incapable of loving God, of obeying God, on his own.
Yet that was exactly what he wanted to do.
Unless God acted in grace, bending in kindness to an inferior, he would continue to live in a reality that was not meant by God as true.

This is the heart of the gospel. Jesus is the way, the truth. There is no falseness in him, which makes him utterly trustworthy.

What an act of grace that grants his Spirit to all who believe. The God of hope fills us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Surely that hope doesn’t disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

And that’s how God graciously gives us his law and removes the way of lying from us.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ps 119.28

My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to your word. Ps 119.28

Have you ever been so hurt that you felt you would melt under the weight of it?

After dating someone for three years, I had built my dreams of the future around him. Then it ended.
For days, I was so broken I could not speak without tears. I barely held myself together  enough to move through the day. Some moments, it was all I could do to breathe.
I had known a lot of sadness and disappointment in my childhood, but nothing prepared me for how bad that breakup hit me. I did not know I could hurt so much.

And that kind of loss, while devastating to me, is nothing compared to some of the tragedies that people face. Natural disasters and acts of terrorism and war, unless they take someone close to us, seem surreal. All that wreckage is hard to fathom unless we see it first hand.
Some people lose a loved one—a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend—to disease or accident or even homicide.
Some people suffer unspeakable wrongs of abuse and torture, for no reason beyond savagery and cruelty.

Such horrors are so great we can only rage at the evil of it.

More often, though, it is less atrocious evils that bow us down. Endless fears of financial insecurity. Years of a wayward child repeatedly getting into physical and even legal trouble. Constant bitterness between family members, divorce, brokenness, and emotional ill health. Shattered dreams and wasted lives.

When the burden goes on with no end in sight, despair becomes our greatest weight, dissolving whatever hope and faith we possess.

Rightly does David turn to the Lord.
Rightly does he rely on the Word of God for strength.
Because when all is said and done, God is love.
He has compassion on the hurting.
He rescues the lost sheep.
He shows mercy to the miserable.
He avenges the wronged.

God’s Word—his own declaration of who he is and what he does—shines like light in the darkness of this wicked world.
He is not a God who is far off, watching from a distance, demanding that we ask for help.
He is as near as our very breath.
Every moment of every day, no matter the pain and struggle we go through, he is there for us.

He does not always take it away, but I promise you this—in his name:
The presence of God changes everything.
He turns our mourning into dancing, our tears into laughter, our heaviness into praise. In him there is no darkness.

How do I know this? He has said so in his Word. And he has shown himself faithful to all he has said.

Dear friend, Are you going through a heavy trial? Go to God through his Word. Read the Bible. The Spirit himself will meet you there. He will comfort you and sustain you and bring you through your pain.

In Crowder’s famous words, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ps 119.27

Make me understand the way of your precepts; so shall I meditate on your wonderful works. Ps 119.27 

I believe that God’s Word tells us how to live joyfully and satisfyingly in this world. Therefore I love to explore the principles behind his commands. There are health benefits behind some of his prohibitions. A quiet word does turn aside wrath. These things are really for our good, and the older I get the more I trust that obedience is the best path.
I spent all last Fall looking at the Ten Commandments from the perspective of what they teach us about the character of God, and what they reveal about his heart for us. An amazingly insightful perspective.

I also love to contemplate his work. To watch intricate systems in nature, the way species benefit each other, or how natural life on the planet renews itself through cycles and seasons amazes me. The ash of forest fires returns nutrients to the soil so that rebirth of plant life can flourish. Birds eat seeds and poop them somewhere else to grow, complete with their own fertilizer. Lemmings jump off the cliff when their population is too high.

My greatest joy, I think, comes from discovering new truths in God’s own Word. Even little things like the linguistic roots of words. Did you know that “male” in Hebrew has to do with peeing against a wall? That’s adorable. Or that the firstborn literally “opens the womb.” Profound.

I get why this would please God, too, as though he woos us and we lean into him. These are all ways that God has moved to make himself known. To reach out to us so that perhaps we will turn to him and find him, although he is not far from any one of us.
Being an author who expresses myself with words, I find it so gratifying when someone not only reads what I’ve written, but wants to discuss it with me. It tells me that what I have said makes a difference. I feel known.

David didn’t limit his infatuation to God’s written word.
He extended it to all God’s “wonderful works.”
Perhaps he meant the song of a bird
or the majesty of a mountain
or the beauty of a woman
or the smell of a flower
or the speed of a horse.
Perhaps he thought of the seasons
and the rain
and the harvest,
the grapes
and the wine
and the bread.

One thing is sure, whatever God said and whatever God did, David considered it worthy of attention.

I love that God has given us both so that we can know him better.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ps 119.26

I have declared my ways, and you answered me; teach me your statutes. Ps 119.26 

Here’s the picture.
David stands up and says out loud in front of everyone, “I’m going to walk with the Lord God of Israel.”
God’s head whips around and his eyes fall on David.
“Is that so?” asks the Highly Exalted One.
“Yes,” answers David, “but I’ll need you to use your statutes to keep me on the path.”

This is not much different from when Moses asked God on Mt. Sinai, “If I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight” (Ex 33.13a). Sounds a little circular at first, but Moses wanted to keep finding favor and he knew how easy it is to go wrong without clear step-by-step leading from God.

It also reminds me of the prophet’s reminder to King Asa, that “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose heart is completely his” (2Ch 16.9). God will keep my desire strong when he is the object of my devotion. He’s actually searching the earth looking for people whose hearts he can strengthen!

Or the proverb, “A man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps” (Pr 16.9).

David had determined to follow Yahweh. He was not ashamed of this commitment and made no excuse or apology for doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He would trust God to keep his promises.

It would be wrong to think that David declared he would never make a mistake. In the first place, that would be impossible, and in the second, we know he didn’t do it. But David did choose to trust in the Lord—16 times in Psalms alone.
Neither did David claim to have the ability or the wisdom to please God of himself.
But he did have the heart and the humility, and that was all God required.
Not perfection just commitment.

When David was still a boy, God already saw him as a man after his own heart (1Sa 13.14), and this is why.
He got this two-sided heart-walk right.
He made it his intention to walk with God, and he acknowledged his need for God to teach him how to do it.
While we may never become king of the nation like David did, we are destined to reign with Christ.
God even recorded the picture of teaching his people to walk, taking them by the hand (Ho 11.30).

This is sweet to me, having taught my own children to walk. Leaning over them, letting them hold my fingers as they step, slowly, first one foot, then the other. Not going anywhere in particular but moving forward just the same.
When they fell down I did not fault them, or scold them for hurting themselves. I made sure that dangerous corners were covered and stairs blocked off. If they toppled, I set them on their feet again, little realizing in the excitement of their achievement that they had learned to carry themselves away from me.

God does the same with us.
He teaches us (by the written Word and by his indwelling Spirit) to live rightly, knowing that we might well use the benefits in ways that will take us away from him.

If we, like David, don’t want to wander from the God we love, we need to rely on him to show us where to put our next step.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ps 119.25

My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. Ps 119.25

When the Bible starts talking about dust, my mind goes right to Genesis.
God created Adam out of the dust of the earth.
Adam disobeyed God and became dust again; his body would one day return to it.
Then the Lord God cursed the serpent and left him to eat dust.
In the eternal kingdom of the Christ, dust is still the serpent’s food (Is 65.25).

But what did David mean that his soul clings to dust?

David was one of the relatively few Old Testament characters who experienced the Spirit of God first hand. He knew what it was like to sense the Spirit’s pleasure, and displeasure. I think that’s what made him such a profound worshiper.
He would also have known how it felt when his soul, preferring the inclinations of his flesh over his spirit, repelled the Spirit.

We as Christians especially can understand this dynamic of displeasing the Spirit of the Lord.
Ungodly desires and attitudes, no matter how understandable, create a barrier between ours and the Holy Spirit.
There are times when our flesh wants something contrary to God’s will, like revenge, self-indulgence, flattery.
When our soul clings to such things, we bind ourselves to death.

And David says we need the Lord to revive us. According to his Word. His faithful promise to give life to all who trust him.
So Moses had stated in his final address to the nation.
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.” (Dt 30.19-20a)

Better still for us who are in Christ, the Word of God is far more than a moral code.
It is Jesus, God in the flesh, Emmanuel, the Incarnation.
And as surely as he walked the earth 2000 years ago, he inhabits his people today by his Spirit.
He is there to quicken our death-grasping flesh with his life-giving truth at every turn.
How glorious that he revives our sin-shaped souls every moment of every day, constantly remaking us into beautiful temples for his divine presence.

All this he has promised in his faithful Word.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ps 119.24

Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors. Ps 119.24

I love that David thought of God’s testimonies not only as something to be enjoyed but as something to learn from and be guided by.

I wonder in what contexts he turned to the evidence of nature, his nation’s history, f the written record of God’s dealings. He had his own experiences with God, the words God sent to him, either through a prophet or in his own worship.

He had these “testimonies” no more than we do. If anything, he had them less. The Bible contains a whole lot more history than the Pentateuch, more prophecy, more revelation.

But it’s up to us how we view the evidence God has made available, a choice rooted in who we think God is and what our relationship is to him.
David had been anointed king when he was just a boy.
Did he give up on that when he found out there was already a king?
Did he give up on that when the king chased him all over the wilderness?
Did he give up on that when the king died yet most of the nation did not inaugurate him?
No. NO. NO.

David would not lift his hand against God’s anointed, but waited for God himself not only to remove Saul but to install David on the throne. He genuinely wept for Saul when he heard of his death at the hands of the Philistines.

How did he manage to wait like that?

I think his ability to trust God must have come from what God had revealed in the past.
He could see from nature that things take time to develop.
He could see from Israel’s history that God kept his promises faithfully.
And he could see from the character of God’s dealings with him, preserving him and preparing him under Saul’s reign, that he was indeed being fitted to be king.

Oh God, give me eyes to see your testimonies for what they are. Give me a heart that rejoices in them. And give me humility to learn from them. Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ps 119.23

Princes also sit and speak against me, but your servant meditates on your statutes. Ps119.23 

Are you going to worry about what others say about you, even if they are important and influential people?
Or are you going to train your heart according to God’s way of thinking?

The choice is yours.

I’ve discovered that, sadly, not everyone is going to like me. I may hate this but I can’t change it. The effort that goes into winning others' approval is sheer frustration, because what one wants offends another. I end up being a chameleon and losing myself altogether.

Or I can fix my mind on something better: figuring out what matters to God.

Jesus faced the same dilemma as he embarked on his public ministry.
Many people followed him, attracted by his novel teachings and the signs and wonders he performed.
Some, who had known him before, didn’t understand.
Others, who felt threatened by his message and his popularity, opposed him.
Some called him names like “glutton” and “drunkard’ and “bastard.”
Others accused him of being in league with Beelzebub himself.

How did Jesus handle it?
He spoke the truth. And he did what was right in his Father’s eyes.
Sometimes that meant confronting his critics and pointing out the foolishness of their logic, or their blatant hypocrisy.

Rather than defend himself, he focused on the testimonies that really counted, not just to others, but to himself.
The works he did demonstrated his character.
The one in whose name he acted legitimated all he did.
He understood that the problem with others' perceptions of him lay in them, not in him. Their own faulty sight  made it impossible for them to see him for who he was.  Nothing he said or did would have changed that.
So he didn't try.

We, too, should be as confident and unshakable in the identity and role God has ordained for us.
To be a servant of God is an amazing privilege.
Jesus went further, and called us not only friends, but family.

What can anyone say against us that would diminish us in his eyes?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ps 119.22

Remove from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept Your testimonies. Ps 119.22

Literally, roll them away from me.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “roll away” in the Bible, I think of resurrection.
First Jesus commanded the mourners at Lazarus’s tomb, “Roll away the stone!”
They obeyed and out came the man alive.
And then Christ’s own resurrection, with one significant difference.
In the case of Lazarus, the stone was rolled away so that the man could come out.
In the case of Jesus, the stone was rolled away so that the disciples could go in.

So when a verse begins with “Roll away,” I start looking for gravestones.
Those things that tell the tale of the death of our soul.
The first one I see is reproach, a hateful word that means shame or scorn, in the sense of being exposed.
The second is contempt, another horrible word that means disrespect, but with a strong sense of denigrating or despising someone’s significance.
These two crushing weights have hit me time and again, and yes they have kept me holed up away from life.
I’m never prepared to be stopped in my tracks by shame or scorn or disdain or insignificance.
I want to be valued despite my inadequacies, not mocked or despised for them.
I feel safe with those who lovingly cover over my failures rather than expose them to others.

David turned not to equally flawed fellow men but to the one perfect Person with no defect or darkness, and asked him to roll away the grave stones of reproach and contempt.
His basis for that plea? A rock solid confidence in having kept God’s commands.

Wow. I used to go to Confession every week. Even when I tried to be good, I still failed. When I found that Paul faced the same dilemma (Ro 7), I realized there’s a big difference between being flawed and being disobedient.
David feared the reproach and contempt of God than of men. What people thought was nothing compared to God’s approval.
What’s more, David counted on the system of sacrifice God had laid down sufficiently make up for his shortcomings.
When he sinned he brought guilt offerings.
He made thank offerings and fellowship offerings and all the rest.
These are the commands that David kept.
He did not avoid God when he sinned, but ran straight back to the only One who mattered.   

How often I need to go back to the cross, the new and living way opened for us to come to God.
Do I trust that it is sufficient to make up for my sin? If so, then I won’t shy away from returning to it.
Do I fear the reproach and contempt of God more than of people? If so, then I’ll make things right with him before I talk to anyone else.

David knew, and this is another thing that allowed him to count on his obedience, that God’s commands always boil down to love. Loving like Jesus loved. Giving until it hurts and then some, until it kills every selfish thought and act.
Realistically, I can’t do that any better than David could or did.

But I can return again and again to the fountain of mercy flowing down Calvary’s hill.
I can wash my sin-drenched soul in the blood of the Lamb.
I can lift up my head in grace and beauty because the gravestones of shame and humiliation have been rolled away by the nail-pierced hands of my King.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ps 119.21

You rebuke the proud; cursed are those who stray from your commandments. Ps 119.21

This kind of talk hits us hard. Our knee-jerk response is to reject it out of hand.
Who wants God to rebuke and curse us?
In the first place, we don’t necessarily see pride as something worthy of rebuke. If we’ve achieved something, it’s only right that we enjoy all the fame and acclamation that goes with it.
In the second, cursing someone just because they failed to keep a command seems a little extreme.

This is indeed a harsh statement, but its very starkness makes it compelling. Makes us look deeper.

On what basis does God rebuke? The dictionary defines rebuke as expressing sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions. So God’s rebuke is not just a response to a bad attitude, but to the behavior arising from it, in this case straying from his commands.

The kind of pride that earns God’s rebuke is an insolent and arrogant presumption that inflates our own importance and resists God because of it. It asks, How dare God tell us what to do or require anything of us?

But if the path of God’s commands is the way of life, then surely to stray from them is to walk straight into death’s grasp.
It’s what happened in Eden, right?
God told Adam not to eat from a certain tree, because when he did, he’d die—the inevitable consequence of separating from God.
The serpent told the couple that they would not die, elaborating on the presumption that there was more to the story than God had let on. They believed the serpent, strayed from the command, and died.

The problem for them, and for us as well, is that death is not instantly apparent when we break a command.
So people ever since have been breaking God’s commands and dying, but continuing to believe that they have not really died when, truth be told, they’re already dead.
They abide under the curse of separation from God.

God’s rebuke is not meant to kill us or send us away from him. We’re already there.
The point of the rebuke is to warn us that in our pride we are in danger of being cut off forever.
I say this because of how God acted in the garden when they disobeyed.
He came looking for them.
He knew instantly that they had disobeyed.
He reorganized a bunch of details like where they’d live and how’d they’d relate and their future struggles.

But he did not rebuke them.
Pride had come and gone.
In the wreckage of the exchange of their glory for guilt and fear and shame, they tried to hide themselves from him.
But God in mercy covered them in a way they couldn’t.
In kindness he sent them away to prevent an eternal separation.
And in love he promised to make the whole mess right again.

Ps 119.20

My soul breaks with longing for your judgments at all times. Ps 119.20 

What breaks our soul with longing? What matters so much to us that its crushing weight leaves us gasping?
For David, it was a desperate desire to see God’s reign.
Do we really want God’s reign in our lives and in this world?
What it would look like if he did?

The stereotype of the Judeo-Christian God is of a temperamental divine despot, who overreacts with violence to even the slightest breach of his commands.
I confess I thought of him that way for most of my childhood and as a result, I had no desire to draw near to him.
I would certainly never say that I was crushed with longing for his judgments. All the time?

As a child, and especially as one of nine siblings, I was big on fairness for myself. I did not recognize injustice in the world nor did I realize I was just as guilty of wanting a bigger piece of the pie as anybody else. I did not want to suffer consequences for my wrong behavior or failure. I wanted special treatment. Don’t we all?

Added to this, once I became a little more biblically literate, I saw what God’s judgments really meant.
He is a God who cares for the poor and downtrodden. In fact, mistreating them is one of the things that most often provoked his rants.

But God’s “judgments” go deeper than diatribes. Knowing the centuries of injustice ahead for his people even before they entered promised land, the Lord spoke a promise: Vengeance is mine; I will repay.
Paul extended this word not only to Israel but to all the saints, “Don’t take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath.”

Is that not a beautiful judgment? Can any victim ever despair when an omnipotent Sovereign says, Leave this to me?

Understand the greatness of this promise.
God has personally declared that no matter what happens, no matter the hurt or the heartache or the wrong or the evil, he himself will make it right.
I’ve been through some pretty unfair things in my life and really, there’s no good reason for most bad things that happen.
Why do children die?
Why do tyrants massacre?
Why are women raped?
Why anything that isn’t good and loving and peaceable?
I don’t know. I can’t even explain how, let alone why.

But one thing I do know, and it gives me hope.
This world is not the end. The powers and authorities in place, from governments to family, are not going to last forever.
Whether we see vindication in this life or in the next, I count on God’s unfailing judgment that he will avenge, he will repay. He will make it right. The consuming fire of his holiness will destroy this corrupt world and all who oppose his righteous ways.
On that great and terrible day when Jesus returns to unite all things under himself, we who are in Christ will live in a new world where there is no injustice, no death or mourning or tears.

SI am still a little terrified of that day but I am also crushed with longing for God’s judgments.
And yes, I feel that tension all the time.

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

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.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ps 119.12

Blessed are you, O LORD! Teach me your statutes. Ps 119.12

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Sounds like just another form of Praise the Lord! or Thank the Lord!
From childhood I thought we told God how wonderful he is in order to make him happy and keep on his good side.

Then one day I read in John Piper’s Desiring God (Read it. It’ll rock your world) that God is already happy.
What?! Yes, from 1Ti 1.11 in which Paul refers to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
Piper based his entire premise of Christian Hedonism on the idea that God is actually happy. God not only needs nothing from us, his goodness overflows out of the boundless joy within himself.

I was stunned. The God I grew up with was not happy. He wore a perpetual frown, waiting for me to screw up and sin. My guardian angel had been sent to spy on me and report back when I did. God is happy? I don’t think so.

But if it’s true, it changes everything.

When people say, “You’re so blessed,” they mean everything is going well for me. That divine favor has made good things happen and I’m enjoying a great season or moment in life. I’ve gotten my way and I’m entitled to be glad.

But who is in a position to bestow such favor on the Lord himself? Can’t he just make things go his way? And if that’s how he gets his way, then is he really glad?
Being happy, we learn as we get older, isn’t about getting our way.
It’s about loving and being loved. It’s about a heart that can hold the love of others and extend its own love freely.

Surprisingly, a quick look at how the word “blessed” is used in Scripture shows its primary sense has to do with bending and breaking. It therefore connotes kneeling out of reverence and petition in an attitude of devotion and dependence.
David wrote the majority of the psalms. He understood what it meant to worship God. So when he exclaimed, “Blessed are you, Lord,” picture him kneeling before a happy God who loved him and was worthy of all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. 
I’m not sure there’s a better picture of true worship (Rev 5.13).

I invite you to spend some time on your knees today. Literally.
See what it’s like to bow before a happy God.
Bring your love.
Bring your hurts.
Bring your needs.
Don’t worry about how you look or feel.
Let his majesty and his glory fall on your being, wash your soul, renew your mind.
Rest there. Be silent. Be still.

I promise you will find a sweetness and joy that nothing on earth can provide.
Your spirit will want to remain in that place forever. Oh what will it take to never leave?

Pretty soon you’ll start to hear the echo of all God’s greatest friends—
Teach me your ways.
Teach me your statutes.

Ps 119.11

Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You. Ps 119.11

How often I take this simple secret for granted.

I never want to sin against God. And here Scripture tells me how not to—by hiding his word in my heart.

All sin is ultimately against God. This is why the Lord told King Saul that to obey is better than sacrifice. While we have means for reconciling to God, through sacrifice—in Saul’s day in the tabernacle, in ours through the cross—still it is better not to have to make amends. Obedience preserves the relationship with God, whereas sacrifice is required to restore it.

David felt this contrast when convicted of his adultery with Bathsheba, and having killed Uriah to cover it up. He quickly admitted, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 

How many times do we do something that causes a rift between ourselves and someone we love. Whether we meant to or not, the damage is the same. It’s horrible until we make it right.
So it is with God. We can always count on his mercy but wouldn’t it be better to have stayed with him, not to have wandered away?

That’s the hope offered by today’s verse.
The more we know and treasure God’s words the less we will sin against him.
Do you know why? Because God’s word is not ink on paper. It is not ancient sayings. It is not rules to live by.
No, the Word of God is a person. He lives within us.
The Word of God is Jesus.
And the more I treasure who he is and what he has done for me, the less I will miss the mark or fall short of the glory of God.

If ever there was a secret to life, this is it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ps 119.10

With my whole heart I have sought you;
Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Ps 119.10

Can I say that, too? Have I sought the Lord with my whole heart? I think so.
I mean, I know there are times when I get sidetracked, but nothing keeps coming back day in and day out like my thoughts toward God.
I love to talk to him and about him.
I love reading his words and sharing them with others.
I love being around his people and getting involved in things that are based on his love and tend to magnify who he is.
So yes, I can say with confidence that there is no part of me that isn’t devoted to him.
I agree with Augustine that, “He loves You too little who loves anything along with You that he loves not for Your sake.”

So I find it interesting that I don’t immediately associate my heart’s affection for God with keeping his commandments. But I think I know why. God himself restores my soul. I do not wander from his commandments because he leads me in paths of righteousness—and I follow his lead. It has become second nature to me to do what pleases him, not because of a command but because I love him. Like cooking my husband’s favorite meal, or buying my daughter’s favorite color, what amounts to obedience is only love working itself out.

Perhaps this is why Jesus could say that if we love him, we’ll keep his commandments. He’s not telling us to do them to prove we love him, but that, because we love him, all our actions and choices accord with what he requires.
Jesus has the right to command obedience to his will, and according to Paul, one day every knee will bow before it.
How blessed we are now to submit to his lordship out of joyful and loving adoration rather than terror and dread.

Still, in moments of temptation, loving him doesn't always keep me from disobeying.
I need more than religious affection to stay true to his will.
Like David, I know that faithfulness takes God's help more than my willpower.
How does he keep me from wandering?
He answers my heart’s daily cry, “Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning, for in you do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to you.” (Ps 143.8)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ps 119.9

Beth. Now on to the second stanza.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word. Ps 119.9

The thing about being young is that we believe anything is possible.
From a young age David knew he was destined to be king. Improbable, perhaps, as he practiced slinging rocks while tending sheep. But why not? He had his own copy of the ancient stories of his people, documented by the great deliverer Moses himself.
Didn’t young, second-born Jacob, rascal and renegade, return to inherit the land and the promise of Yahweh?
Didn’t young Joseph dream of being leader of his brothers? And didn’t God make it come true despite a rocky beginning?
So David allowed his young-man dreams to flourish in the sheep fields. He thought of things like how the Lord was his shepherd, and the people were the sheep of God’s pasture, and the pillar of Yahweh’s fire led the tribes like a flock through the wilderness.

I can imagine that David wanted to be worthy of this great call to kingship.
But how did one become a king, a good and faithful king? If Samuel taught David anything, it was the story of the leader-judges of Israel who were not faithful. How time after time, although they knew Yahweh and his righteous ways, the people had chosen to follow other gods. This had never gone well for these wayward sheep, and the Lord needed repeatedly to step in and rescue them. Was there no way to avoid that trap?
David, being as simple and straightforward as youngsters are, saw only one way—Pay attention to what God has said. Learn it. Obey it. Watch your step. Filter decisions according to what you know about God. Keep your way according to His word.

Surely God’s plan for your life are no less glorious than his plan for David. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.
You may not reach fame or posterity in this world, but are you not destined to reign with Christ?
Are you not seated with Christ at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven?
And doesn’t your heart long to be worthy?

Thank God we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
Now be encouraged and comforted as God’s word urges you to “live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1Th 2.12).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ps 119.8

I will keep Your statutes. Oh, do not forsake me utterly! Ps 119.8

I can’t help but wonder, hearing David’s plea, if he thought about his predecessor, King Saul.
When David was just a boy, the old prophet Samuel came looking for a “son of Jesse” whom the Lord would anoint king. Samuel examined every son until at last they sent for the little shepherd boy.

“This one,” said Yahweh, God of Israel. “Anoint him!”

The affair could not have been stranger. In the first place, Israel already had a king.
In the second, Jesse had seven other sons, each more eligible than this “least son”—youngest, smallest, so insignificant he had not even been invited to eat with the prophet guest.
Third, he was still a child.
Nevertheless David received the anointing and, Scripture tells us, on that day the Spirit of God, leaving Saul, came upon David.

Did you catch that? The Spirit of God forsook Saul utterly.
What did that look like? Madness. Mania. Insane hatred of the Lord’s anointed. Making death threats and carrying them out. Mounting campaigns to hunt him down. Threatening all who helped David, even to the point of wiping out an entire city of priests. Sheer lunacy that could only occasionally be tamed by the music of David’s (anointed) hands.

So when David pleaded that the Lord not forsake him, the memory of his demented sovereign reminded him of what that looked like.

Or perhaps he thought of his sin with Bathsheba. As soon as Nathan the prophet confronted him, David’s first response was an agonized, “I have sinned against the Lord.
Afraid lest the Lord forsake him.

Or when he numbered the fighting men in Israel, contrary to a strict prohibition. God sent the prophet Gad to give him a choice of consequence. All David asked was that the Lord himself deal with him.
Afraid lest the Lord forsake him.

The Bible tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart.
I used to wonder how that was possible when David clearly sinned—more than once, and in some serious ways. But David’s secret was that he knew and relied on the mercy of God.  He wanted to live according to God’s statutes. He intended to. But wanting isn't always enough, is it?
In the process of living and getting through the days and years and battles and personalities and issues that attended his forty years of kingship, sometimes David dropped the ball. He messed up. He needed mercy.

Did he give up? Did he abandon his pursuit of righteousness? He did not. He turned to the One alone who could hold on to him, and cried out, “Do not forsake me utterly!”

How much more can we who are in Christ rely on the love God has for us?
Should we not also, when we fall into temptation or just get caught up in the wrong stuff, “trust in the name of the Lord and rely on [our] God”? (Is 50.10)

Sweet, sweet Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ps 119.7

I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I learn your righteous judgments. Ps 119.7

As a young believer I struggled with Ps 34.1, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” It was like Paul telling me to “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.”
It wasn’t that I couldn’t stay focused, although that kind of concentration is impossible.
No, my difficulty lay in the fact that I didn’t always feel like praising or thanking or rejoicing. I could not speak words before God that were not in my heart. Wouldn’t he know they were lies?

One of the things that keeps me from wanting to offer praise to God, if I’m honest, is when I feel bad about myself. If I have not lived up to what God requires, the enemy is right there to accuse me. Of course he is. He hates praises for the Lord against whom he rebelled.

Even so, it is a delight to praise from a heart-place of joy and wellbeing, what the Bible calls “uprightness of heart.”

Where does that right heart come from? Ironically, from knowing the righteous judgments of God. Instead of condemning us as they did under the old covenant, In Christ they liberate our hearts.
Simply put, this is the promises of the new covenant. The Spirit writes his law in our hearts and puts it in our minds, turning the law into our own hearts' desire.

In this way, God's judgments become what we define as “right.” We’re glad that he carries out verdicts against ungodliness and wickedness, that he avenges wrongs and does not compromise his perfect standard.
Sure it’s no fun when we are the transgressors, because we deserve the consequence of our disobedience. Nevertheless, a God who holds to justice is a refuge in this corrupt world.
This makes him a strong tower.
The hope of the gospel is that the righteous run to him and are saved.
Made righteous by the blood of Calvary, his praise is continually in my mouth. Is it in yours?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ps 119.6

Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments. Ps 119.6

Does this sound right to you? Does looking into the commandments make you ashamed?
Christians hear the word “commandments” and immediately think of the Decalogue. We hold up the Ten Commandments as God’s holy law, confident that we’re doing okay with the “big ones.” We don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, etc. But that etc is exactly where we go wrong.

Having just finished a three-month study of the Ten Commandments, let me tell you, looking into his commandments can be terrifying. I for one am not “doing okay.” I dishonor the Lord on a regular basis, especially in light of Jesus’s statement that even our thoughts count against us. Lord, forgive my attitudes and desires that fall short of your purity and truth.

So yes, looking at just ten of his commandments—let alone the bulk of the Old Covenant—elicits shame. If I look at the “new commandment” Jesus gave, my shame grows worse. I do NOT love as Jesus loved.

But what causes my shame? What is its “ultimate essence”?
In Eden, the man and woman were unashamed—until they disobeyed the one (and only) commandment. Then their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. Guilt and (biblical) shame go hand in hand, and together they give birth to a dread of God. Did they not hide from him when he called to them?

My shame has the same root. I am guilty. I have violated his commandments and my soul knows it.
I believe that’s why the world doesn’t want to hear God’s commands, because we know we have failed to keep them.

But do I hear a whisper of hope? Is there a way to escape my shame?

The closer I look at the commandments of God, those non-negotiable “rules” expressed in his eternal Word, the more I see them as being about how things are designed by him to work. They are not intended to accuse. They are intended to instruct.

So I will imitate Jeremiah in his deepest gloom (Lam 3.21). I will call to mind not my sorrow or shame, but who my God is. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies are new every morning.

I will remember in my guilt that as he did with Adam, he will do with me.
He will come for me despite my sin.
He will call me by name.

He will not abandon me in my shame.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ps 119.5

Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

Read it again.
Oh (hands to face) that my ways (derek) were established to keep (shamar) your statutes (khoke)! (NKJV)

Here is a heartfelt plea if ever there was one! It resonates in every fiber of my being.
If only I were wired to live the way the Lord wants me to, the way he requires of me.
I know that he means it for my good. I know that to do so honors him. But oh, I just can’t do it. If only…

At the outset of this psalm, David recognized on the one hand that the Lord mandated his ways be kept, and on the other, that he himself was not able to do it. Nevertheless, he wanted to.

How often have we as believers found ourselves in that same dilemma?
It sounds a lot like Paul in Ro 7. “The good that I want to do, I don’t. The evil that I hate? That, I do.”

I say with Paul, who will rescue me from this? Thanks be to God for our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Not only did Jesus pay the penalty that fulfilled and set aside the old covenant, the new covenant in his blood works in an entirely different way.
No longer is the law, God’s eternal terms of relationship, beyond me. He has written it on my heart and put it in my mind, so that it is governs (khoke) my new creation in Christ.
Amazing! The Spirit of God himself dwells within me. No wonder he satisfies the divine statutes. He both wills and acts according to the great purpose of God.

What a gift!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ps 119.4

You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently

This little verse gives three interesting insights.

First, God has “commanded.” The word is tsavah, used first in Gen 2.16 when he commanded the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s first word for the good of man was issued as a commandment. But we have to understand the nature of this kind of speech. It was a warning as much as a prohibition, inherently a decision.
What a moment in creative history! In so speaking to Adam, warning him of a potential danger, the Lord gave him a choice.
This is interesting because we often look at God’s commandments as limiting, when they really elevate humanity above the rest of creation. This is confirmed in other translations that say he "ordained" his precepts to be kept. But then using the same form, Gen 2.16 would say that he "ordained" that death would come.

This is interesting for a second reason.  In speaking this first command, God ordained that death should come into his creation—when you eat you will die. Surely the Lord could have not put the tree there at all if death were not part of his overall plan. But because of the role death plays in redemption, God incorporated it into creation.

Third, the word for “keep,” shamar, is also found right there in Gen 2.15, where it is used not of the prohibition but of the garden. Adam was charged with tending the garden, watching over it, caring for it—shamar. This attitude and practice is what God has commanded about his law in today’s verse. We must treat his precepts (piqqud) as something that needs care and attention. This is our task in this world, to watch over and care for the instructions he has laid down for our good and the good of his creation.

My conclusion is this: the Lord's ways will be kept, although the choice to disregard them brings the most severe consequence.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ps 119.3

They also do no iniquity; They walk in His ways. Ps 119.3

Who are they? The ones who seek God with their whole heart.
What don’t they do? They practice no moral evil.
Then, what do they do?  They live and act as God has required. Could it be that wholehearted devotion to Jesus, expressed through obedience to his words, keeps us from sin? Now that is good news!

How sweet that this verse does not mean that those who seek God wholeheartedly never make mistakes. We do, of course. But such mistakes don’t come from malice or intentional harm.
In fact, it is walking according to the instructions he has already made known is the very thing that rids our actions of moral evil or wickedness.
So long as we are doing our best to be faithful to what we know of God’s ways (and we are always under obligation to press deeper into learning them so that we do not unintentionally offend him), we are protected from blame when we do err.

This is a great comfort to us, especially if we are of the ilk that wants to be perfect. I hate messing up. I want to do what is right and acceptable. It kills me when I miss the mark. But being the good Father he is, God knows that I’m not always as capable as I’d like to be. Like a child learning to take my first steps, I can count on my heavenly Father to help and support me, not punish me for not being good at it.

As we chase this theme of blessed happiness in God Himself, how encouraging it is to know that he has made sure and good the path that leads straight to him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ps 119.2

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with the whole heart. Ps 119.2

Verse one spells out the theme of the entire psalm: to find true happiness we must live devoted to the ways of God. The second verse takes us closer.

God’s testimonies, his edar, are the things he has set up to witness as evidence in his interactions with his people. Throughout the Bible, this word is always plural, and refers exclusively to his “laws.” It is, essentially, a synonym for the whole Word of God.
To keep (natsar) his testimonies is to guard the covenants he has, to watch over them, which in the end means to obey them.

This idea is expressed in parallel (that’s how this poetry thing works) in the second part of the verse—to seek God himself with our whole heart.
Keeping his covenants is the same as seeking him with our whole heart. That’s how we keep his testimonies and live as witnesses to his reality and presence.

Think about it. The greatest commandment of the Old Covenant is to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. The New Covenant in Christ requires that we put 100% faith in him alone. The transition from Old to New is summed up in living within the covenant through wholehearted faith, day by day living as if what he says is true.

We do not simply turn God’s law into a list of does and don’ts. Neither do we substitute a list of spiritual disciplines for Judaic statutes. Neither suffices to make us acceptable to the Divine Majesty.

Rather, we chase God Himself (not even the Bible as a secondary account of him) with every fiber of our being, expecting to encounter him and fully intending to do whatever he tells us. In this way, we not only end up making sure that we live the way he declares right, we find what we seek, or better, we find who we seek.

And this, says our besotted poet, is blessed happiness to us.

Psalm 119.1

Today I start a six-month study of Ps 119, one verse each day.
As a young believer I never understood this psalm. How could anyone carry on like that about God’s law? Every verse seemed to say the same thing.
Since then I’ve learned the Bible, and grown to love even the Law for what God reveals to us about himself in it. Now I view this psalm as a gem with 176 facets. Each verse reflects another nuance of God’s Word as a treasure to be reveled in, a precious gift lavished on us.

Here is a poem with 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza is eight lines long and each line begins with the same letter.
This does not translate well into English.
Also, almost every verse contains a parallel. The second half of the line illustrates or amplifies the first half.
Furthermore, the psalm’s many repeated words may or may not be translated from the same original Hebrew word. For example, David used several English words for “Bible”—precepts, statutes, commandments, etc.
When Samuel anointed David as king, he provided the young shepherd with his own copy of the Law of Moses (Genesis--Deuteronomy), following God’s mandate in Dt 17.18-20.
That precious volume is the subject of Ps 119, although for us the Word of God has expanded to include all of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
Now without further ado… 

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of Yahweh! Ps 119.1

Blessed (esher, from a root that means to go straight forward, i.e., to prosper, to be happy) begins this long poem, and that’s no coincidence. The highest and truest pursuit of every human heart is joy. Everyone wants it, and we do nothing that we do not believe will somehow make us happier in the long run.
David promptly tells us who finds this blessed happiness: those who journey undefiled (tamiym, from a root that means to be consumed or finished), completely devoted to and living according to the Law (torah, from a root that means to teach), divine instruction for daily living.

And the end of this journey? It is equally significant that David used the personal name of the Lord (YHWH) here at the outset of his poem. He intends to show over the course of the next 175 verses that the search for happiness begins and ends at the throne of heaven, not only as the Sovereign’s subject but as His friend, sharing the same heart. 

I want more of David’s heart, of God’s own heart. Do you?