Monday, February 27, 2017

Ps 119.58

I entreated your favor with my whole heart; be merciful to me according to your word. Ps 119.58

Oh, I love mercy. The mercy of God will be my song forever. Were it not for his tender mercy, he would not have looked down on me, seen my pathetic and helpless state, and reached out to save me. He heard my plaintive wails and came looking for me, a lost waif in need of salvation. He found me in the poverty of my world and the filth of my sin, and moved by the depths of his steadfast love, he rescued me. He cleaned me up, which has taken years and still isn’t finished, and is preparing me to reign with him in eternity. How quickly he responds when I “entreat his favor,” especially “wth my whole heart!” No wonder, then, that from my youngest days as a Christian I loved Lam 3.22: Through the Lord’s kindness we are not consumed, because his mercies never fail.

Little known fact: The Hebrew for mercy is related to the word for womb.
Think about that.
The place where life incubates until it’s ready for birth.
Mercy is a womb for spiritual life.
What a beautiful picture of how God waits patiently for us to come to repentance, when we can finally be born again. Only then can we begin to walk and talk and live and breathe as children of the King.

How far short I fall of my own expectations, let alone the righteous requirements of a perfect God. Yet this failure has never, from the day I first met him, stood between us. God has graciously forgiven and restored me time after time. Sometimes I think, What if this is the last time? What if I’ve gone too far?
But so far, no.
The longer I walk with him, the more certain I become that the river of his mercy will never run dry.
Never.
Never.
NEVER.

Mercy is that thing in God that looks at someone’s misery and does what it can to help. Because God is good and kind by nature, creating peace and joy with his presence, he does not resist the movement of his heart to take away burdens and supply all that is needed to heal and bless.
Then why, you ask, is there so much suffering still in the world?

The short answer is this: Suffering remains despite God’s mercy because he sends his people to do good in his name, and we don’t always go.
The long answer: Because the way God helps is by coming near. He himself is our comfort. His own dear presence soothes our wounds and satisfies our longings.
The problem is, our God is a consuming fire. He will not burn up a bush, but evil will be devoured in the blazing wrath of his holy righteousness.
So God does not come near sinful humans.

Didn’t the Lord refuse to accompany rebellious Israel from Mt Sinai, until Moses interceded?
Didn’t Isaiah tell Israel that their sin had separated them from their God?
Didn’t Micah warn them that God would hide his face because of the evil they had done?

God came near Sodom and Gomorrah and blew them so far off the planet that no archaeological trace can be found. The remains of his holy collision with their sin-infested culture looked like fire and brimstone raining down from heaven. Believe me, sin in us will be devoured as surely as a twig in a furnace.

But even in our sin God’s heart of mercy still beats for us. Jesus pleaded for mercy on the cross, for his crucifiers, for us all.
When we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Mercy triumphs over judgment, because God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
Indeed, in wrath he remembers mercy, and oh how glad I am that this is so.

To quote an old bard,
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It drops as a gentle rain from heaven.
Earthly power shows most like God’s when mercy seasons justice.
In the course of justice, none of us would see salvation: we do pray for mercy; and that same prayer teaches us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

Oh I love mercy.
Sweetly, the more I walk with my Father, the more merciful I become.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ps 119.57

The Lord is my portion; I have said that I would keep Your words. Ps 119.57

To claim the Lord as your portion is to renounce every other resource and to trust that God will provide for his own. It is to seek him first and to settle for nothing else. It is to live in his presence and find your deepest joy in being his.

One Old Testament group in particular demonstrated this dependence on the Lord in ancient Israel.

The last wonder God worked in Egypt was to take the firstborn of all the living—humans and animals. Egypt’s firstborn died. God reserved Israel’s firstborn for himself, and eventually exchanged them for the entire tribe of Levi (Nu 3.12).
When the people finally arrived in the Promised Land, Joshua assigned territory to all the tribes except the Levites. Instead of territory, whatever was offered to the Lord belonged to them.

Who were the Levites? Descendants of Jacob’s third son, Levi, whose name means attached. God gave the sons who became patriarchs, knowing this child’s offspring would one day be attached to him and his service in a unique way.

How did the Levites get to be his special ministers?
Moses and Aaron were from the family line of Levi. They were chosen by God to mediate between himself and the people, Moses as prophet/judge and Aaron as high priest. The Levites—their clan—were the ones who came to Moses at the foot of Mt Sinai, when Israel crafted a golden calf to worship. Moses descended the mountain and called to himself any who were still on the Lord’s side. The tribe of Levi came, and he sent them out to kill the idolators. Three thousand died that day—instead of the entire nation that would have perished had Moses not intercepted God’s judgment. Because they rallied to the Lord, God accepted the Levites in exchange for the firstborn, and granted them to minister before him on behalf of the people.

In ancient societies, priests like the Levites were the first specialists—they did not have to produce their own food but lived off the gifts of the people. Thus they became a kind of aristocracy, as we see in the days of Jesus when the religious rulers were wealthy priests and scribes— the Levites.

Religiously, the priests were set apart by ceremonial consecration. They alone had access into the Holy Place, where no other Israelites could go. Only the high priest, from the family line of Aaron, was granted more personal access to the Lord in the Holy of Holies.

But in David’s day, there was no temple; the ark of the covenant was supposed to dwell in the Tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness at Sinai. Unfortunately, in the last days of the judges, Eli allowed the army to take the ark of the covenant out of the Tabernacle and bring it to the battlefield. The army was defeated by the Philistines and the ark was captured. It was eventually returned to the Israelites but not brought back to the Tabernacle. Not until David had established Jerusalem as his capital, did the ark move, not back to the Tabernacle but to a tent he built for it near his palace.

This created a unique opportunity for David. He preserved the Tabernacle as the national center of religious activity but kept the ark in its own tent as the center of his personal worship. He established singers but did not conduct sacrifices. He himself went in and sat before the ark—God’s own presence, whereas only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. It’s hard to imagine that he had the courage to do such a thing, but such was his love for God that he found a way to be with him.

 I think that’s why God called David a man after his own heart. He chased the God he loved. He did not let proscriptions stand in the way of a personal relationship with God. He found comfort and strength and wisdom in God’s presence, and refused to rule God’s people without them. God honored this. God did not forbid his confiscating the ark for his personal worship, nor even rebuke it.

David insisted that God was his portion. He did not want land or riches or any other blessings, only the presence of God. He did whatever was necessary to get to God, and to keep God with him.

But this pursuit was not a private thing only. David publicly declared that he would keep God’s word. This has a double meaning, both to do what it says, and to guard or preserve it. David did both. When he sinned, he sought forgiveness. And when others violated commands, he punished them.

How desperate are you to be with God? Are you willing to find a way to make it happen?
I’m telling you that this will not come easily to you. You may have to defy tradition. You’ll never be able to design your own worship in the context of formal religion. You have to find a place of your own, close to your heart’s home, where you can sing praises and pray. Personal time alone with God is the only way to realize the portion of grace and love and power that God has for you. No church setting is going to give that to you or equip you to administer it.

But the effort involved in crafting your own (personal) worship space is worth it.
God will meet you there.
He will instruct you and guide you.
He will teach you his ways through his Word and his Spirit.
He will be present with you as never before.

Your flesh and you heart may fail.
But may God be the strength of your heart and your portion forever.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ps 119.56

This has become mine, because I kept your precepts. Ps 119.56

What had become David’s? Grammatically he refers to the name of the Lord.
In so saying, David claimed to share the character of God. Not his nature or essence, just his character.
This is a logical necessity because to keep God’s precepts is to incorporate his words and ways into the fabric of our being. Because God’s word does whatever he sends it to do, it transforms everything it encounters into what God intends it to be. In the case of people, that means a godly character.

David’s claim is significant.
The Old Testament portrays the Messiah as an heir of David whose kingdom would be modeled on David’s—freedom from enemies, grace to live peacefully and prosperously, unity among the tribes, devotion to the true God, and so forth. So the Messiah would inherit David’s character, which, as David here states, is God’s own.

David did not know about the cross, despite his many prophecies fulfilled in it. He had no concept that the resurrected Christ would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. All David had, which we Christians also have, is the presence of God through his Word and the anointing he had received. Yet these were enough.

David was able to acknowledge his integrity before God. He did his best with a sincere heart. He did not deny his sin—far from it. The most beautiful psalms of confession (32 and 51) were penned by David. He did not claim to be better than he was. He acknowledged the grace and power of God for all the good that he was able to achieve. “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” He dreaded the loss of God’s Spirit and he caused all Israel to worship the one true God.

David may have been king but in many ways, he remained the little boy who knew a shepherd’s heart. You can tell this by the way he fought for his people and risked himself for their good.
He did it when he defeated Goliath.
He did it when he “killed his tens of thousands” of Israel’s enemies.
He did it when he welcomed the other tribes to join with Judah in one nation.
He did it when he liberated Jerusalem and turned Zion into his capital.
He did it when he brought the Ark of the Covenant home.
He did it when he trusted God for mercy rather than punish the people for their sins at the threshing floor.

There was a moment when David almost lost his kingdom. His spoiled and godless son Absalom turned many hearts away from their anointed ruler. But even in his near-defeat, fleeing the city for his life, David remembered that the true king of Israel was not he but God. As hard as it was for David to do so, he left the Ark of the Covenant behind. It belonged in the capital. God would not be dethroned on David’s watch.

Of all the magnificent words David wrote and spoke, for me, the most poignant might be his instructions to Zadok the priest just before he ascended the Mount of Olives (not coincidentally, where Gethsemane is) on his way out of Jerusalem.
“Carry the ark of God back into the city.” How it must have crushed him to be parted from the place of God’s presence.
“If I find favor in the eyes of Yahweh—” The trouble among David’s sons was due to his sin with Bathsheba (2Sa 12.11). It’s not surprising that he viewed this situation as from a lack of divine favor. 
“—he will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’— ” For one as sensitive as David, whose whole delight was in the Lord, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be to anticipate that God might say this to him.
“—here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” He not only resigned himself to what might come, he presented himself to God. Once again, as had always been David’s way, he trusted in the name of the Lord and relied on his God. Whatever happened, it would come through the hands of a good God. David would receive it as such.

Such is the character that the Messiah, generations and centuries later, received from King David.
As a man, Jesus looked at David’s heart for God, his obedience in leadership of the nation, and learned what it meant to be a king.
Doesn’t that give you chills? That our heavenly King first learned what it means to sacrifice his own needs and desires for the sake of his people, through an ordinary boy who grew up to be king?

Can you imagine what was in his heart when he asked the self-righteous rulers of the Jews in his day, “What about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
Immediately, “David’s.”
Of course they knew. Everybody knew. The Messiah would reestablish the kingdom created by David.
“Then let me ask you this,” Jesus shot back at their pride-infested response. “How is it that by the Spirit David called him ‘Lord’? How is he his son?”
These men feigned leadership by occupying positions of authority. Jesus earned the name that is above every name. How? Like David before him, the right to rule came from willingly sacrificing his position and privilege when the good of his people was at stake.

Think about this.
Maybe Jesus left the Passover meal and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane precisely because that is the path David followed when the nation rebelled against its anointed king.
Maybe Jesus took comfort from David’s example.
Maybe it helped him shore up his confidence that just as David returned in triumph, so he too would return victorious over the final enemy of God’s people.
Maybe he wrestled in the garden to make King David’s choice his own.
Surely his prayer, “Not as I will but as you will” sounds a lot like David’s, “Let him do to me as seems good to him.”

Please God, form this kind of character in me as well.

Ps 119.55

I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and I keep your law. Ps 119.55

Remembering God’s name is not like remembering the name of your third grade teacher.
Frankly, while people’s names are eminently forgettable, the Name of the Lord is not.

Biblically, one’s name refers not so much to an identifier as to one’s character. Of course, we’d all like to think we are known by character, but it’s not always so. He’s a [surname] through and through, or You’d never know he’s a [surname].

The Lord’s name is like that. It tells us right off what he is like. I say this because of the way he revealed himself to Moses before they set off from Sinai for the promised land.

We have no way of knowing how God introduced himself—perhaps as God Most High (Ge 14.18-22)—when he first called Abraham (Gen 12.1-3). But that call is the foundation of God’s relationship to every single person in the line of Abraham. The promise of nationhood, in terms of both land and people, is repeated to every patriarch and the substance of their exodus and the giving of law at Sinai. Even David continued to live under the promise—fulfilled in his day but ever the principal element in Israel’s relationship to God Most High.

Whenever God again approached him, he revealed new dimensions of his character.
Things like, I am your shield and very great reward.
I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur.
I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.
Thus God established who he was, that is, he identified himself by “name,” to this original patriarch, creating a relationship of revelation leading to faith. This faith-righteousness of Abraham—established before Isaac was conceived (very important timing, read it in Gen 15.6)—made it possible for God to address any and all of Abraham’s descendants on the basis of faith-righteousness, which culminates, as Paul says, in Christians (Gal 3.6-14). But I digress.

From that point on, God referred to himself as the God of Abraham when addressing Abraham’s descendants, starting with Isaac. That means, “What I have been to Abraham, I’m still that to you. You have the same potential relationship with me as he had. You will inherit the land. You will have many descendants through whom the world will be saved.” But each time he also added something more. To Isaac, “Do not fear, I am with you” (Ge 26.24).

Thus he introduced himself to Jacob at Bethel, “I am the Lord God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” Meaning, You have what they had. Then he added, “I will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land (given to Abraham and Isaac), for I will not leave you until I have done all that I have spoken to you” (Ge 28.15).
Twenty years go by and God reminds Jacob, “Remember me? I’m the God you talked to at Bethel. It’s time to go back to your land because that’s part of who we are”(Ge 31.13). He confirmed this “come back” both by wrestling through the night (he did not name himself at that time, curiously enough Ge 32.29) and by restating the promise after changing the name on the document (read: covenant) from Jacob to Israel. (No kidding. Ge 35.9-13.)

Not until Jacob is a very old man does God again approach him. Once more his reason for speaking has to do with their relationship—who he and Jacob are together. As the last times they spoke God told him to dwell in the land, it’s reasonable for Jacob to need reassurance that it was okay to leave the land. Taking his family away might seem like disobedience. So God answered the question, but without revealing more of his character, just more of his plan. “I am the God of your father, do not fear to go out of the land because Egypt’s where I’ll make your descendants into a great nation” (Ge 46.2-3).

For 400 years, God did not speak (biblically) to any of them. Not until he showed up in a burning bush on the slopes of Mt. Sinai in Midian. And how did he introduce himself to this fugitive son of Israel?
“I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3.4).

Can you see by now what that sounded like to Moses? Alone in the wilderness, tending sheep instead of people, serving his father-in-law instead of the God of his fathers. And who should appear but “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v.6).

The story reads as though all this were a little overwhelming to Moses. Being raised in Pharaoh’s household, he was cut off from his own people. He grew up without the benefit of daily identification with others in the same relationship to their God. Even if he didn’t feel isolated during his upbringing, he was certainly cut off from them now.

So God came looking for him. Over the next year or so, God did some pretty amazing things—ten wonders in Egypt, culminating in the nation crossing the sea on dry ground, followed by miraculous provisions of food and water in the wilderness, and the giving of the law on this same mountain. Where once only a bush had been set aflame, now the whole mountain trembled and blazed. No one could even touch it without dying, yet Moses went up into it and spent weeks, coming down with his face also aglow.

At the end of that time, Moses asked God to go with them to the land of their fathers. God’s response was to grant that wish, because Moses had found favor in his sight. God straight-up did it for Moses, whom he “knew by name” (Ex 33.17).
Instantly, Moses asked to see God’s glory, “Show me more of who you are.”
God’s reply? “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you.”
God’s words as he passed by Moses hidden in a cleft of mountain rock has become the Judeo-Christian name of God—“The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,  keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

You may think I have strayed far from my point, but this is exactly my point.
David remembered the name of the Lord at night and it made him keep the law.
I just spent an hour or two “remembering the name of the Lord” here and it led me to Mt. Sinai where the law was given. The law and the Name are linked, because relating to God is 100% dependent on who HE IS, the terms of relationship laid down by God for those he had chosen as his own.

As a Christian, I have experienced the fulfillment of that law in terms of Christ as the perfect Lamb who atoned for the sin of all mankind, thereby setting the old covenant aside. I’ve also experienced the righteousness imparted to me (unlike that of Abraham, which only accounts it) by faith.
I continue to keep “the Law,” now put into my mind and written on my heart by the transforming work of the Spirit. God will do this for all who enter relationship with him through Christ.

The name of the Lord, we’re told, is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe (Pr 18.10).
Watching through the night, in danger of his life, no wonder David remembered it.

I encourage you, when fears abound, to remember the name of the Lord.
Run to it and be saved.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ps 119.54

Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. Ps 119.54 

Or as the Hebrew has it,   זְמִרֹות הָֽיוּ־לִי חֻקֶּיךָ בְּבֵית מְגוּרָֽי׃
(Don’t forget, the sentence starts on the right.)

You know what that means, right?
Keep the worship music on at home, every day of your life!
Only one caveat is included. Your statutes means the lyrics are to be Scriptural.

David is well known for his songs, biblically credited with writing more than half the Psalms, and the most-likely author of more. He had a lyrical heart, a poet’s view of the world, that saw and expressed truth in beautiful words. His works are not philosophical only, or even primarily. Rather, he poured out his emotions in verse and prose. In many ways, his psalms are his journal, a record of how his soul worked out what it means to live with God in this world.

One of the most appealing aspects of Psalms is how well they capture the reality of living through all kinds of moments. Countless times I’ve run up against the exact expression of my own feelings in them. Mind you, I didn’t always appreciate that.

I was only a teen when I came to Christ, but I had a lot of heart-sickness even then. (Don’t we all?!) From a dysfunctional family, I never learned to name what I was feeling. Therefore I wasn’t very good at identifying what was happening inside. You can imagine that reading the emotional turmoil recorded in Psalms was a challenge. Believing they were lessons, not songs, I found the author a little out of control.
One minute he’s exalting God, the next he’s terrified for his life.
A moment of rapture in creation is followed by a prayer to dash his enemies children against the stones.
God is his refuge and rock, who keeps him waiting endlessly.
He thirsts like a deer running for its life or he drinks from streams of rejoicing in the household of God.
Frankly, such capricious emotionalism terrified me.

I look back now and all I see is David’s transparency.

I don’t suppose they called it that in his day, though.
Do you remember the story when David brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem? With many reasons to celebrate, he danced all the way home.
The ark itself was coming home.
It would be placed in a tent near his palace.
A big crowd of people accompanied the parade of priests carrying it.
But it was the nearness of the Lord with them on the road that released his feet and his heart in joyful movement. David abandoned himself to joy in God’s presence, completely indifferent to how that made him look. I doubt he was even aware that others watched; he wouldn’t have cared anyway.

His wife—daughter of the late King Saul—saw them coming, the queen too dignified to be out in public. She was horrified at the king’s scandalous exhibitionism. Cavorting half-naked in the streets with commoners, ogled at by every girl out there! Surely the king ought to behave better than that.
[A word of warning to all who can relate to Michal’s perspective on worship. God so disapproved of it that she never bore children. Take care lest that happen to you spiritually.]

I too am learning to worship like David. My nature is not as expressive, but my soul is as deep. I’m so captivated by God’s nearness when I worship that I easily forget propriety in the freedom of loving and being loved by so glorious a Person. Someone who loves me like he does and knows me from the inside out and is devoted to my good. How can I help but run and fling myself in his arms, twirling around the room (or street in David’s case) with him?

This abandonment is the goal of worship. To lose ourselves in the presence of our Father the King. Eyes and ears and heart focused only on the beauty of his holiness. Held captive to his joy. Eager for his words. You do know that he rejoices over us with singing, don’t you? ( Zep 3.17)
The exuberant joy of finding and being found by this One shouldn’t have to fit into formalized expressions dictated by time constraints or public opinion. Shame on any of us who get in the way of another’s experience of God in worship by demanding that the accessories of song choice and instrumentation and performance match our own preferences.

David told his wife that he’d have gone even further before God, with all humility. And so he did, once he got the ark home. Because song-filled praise was so integral to David’s relationship with God, he recruited singers and instrumentalists among the Levites and established music as part of their daily service in the sanctuary.
Did you realize that worship as God required it through Moses did not involve music? It was David who added this element. To this day, we can thank this man’s unbounded expression of loving delight for centuries of glorious Christian music.

I write today validating his claim that maidservants would hold him in honor. The most broken times of my life were healed through worship. Because of David’s example, the legacy of his journaling in song, and his commitment to help others exalt and experience the Lord personally in the midst of corporate ceremonies, I too have learned to abandon myself in the presence of the Lord.

Ps 119.53

Indignation has taken hold of me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. Ps 119.53 

Indignation is a tame translation of David’s word for how wickedness makes him feel. It more properly describes white hot, burning rage. You can see why he says it “has taken hold of him.” That kind of anger is so powerful it can be scary. 

Anger is a tricky thing in the Bible. Be angry, Paul instructs, but don’t sin. Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God requires. While Christians should be slow to get angry, God seems always to be carrying out wrathful judgments against all and sundry.

So what is the right way to handle anger? Bad temper, of course, is evidence of poor self-control. Rein it in. Such behavior is not only immature but selfish and hurtful and inexcusable.

There is a kind of anger, though, that is not only good, it is necessary. It’s the anger described here by David, a righteous response to what the wicked do. These things ought not to be, and while they are antithetical to the milder aspects of love, such as kindness and grace, love must take action to end them. This is where wrath takes over.
When we see wrongs being done, and determine to do something about them, we need the force of outrage to carry it through.

That’s what David is saying here. Isn’t that how he reacted to the story Nathan told him, in which a rich man took a poor man’s only lamb? King David’s anger burned hotly. As the Lord lives, he decreed, the man who has done this shall surely die!

Once before David’s temper almost got the better of him. While running from Saul those many years, David and his mighty men kept the Israelites in the south of Judah safe. He asked for help one day and was turned down. His anger flared in an instant and off he went to kill every male in Nabal’s household. But for the wise and gracious intervention of Abigail, he might have sinned in his anger.

Both perpetrators were rich men. The difference between the two stories lies in the victim. In the former case, the king’s anger was roused at injustice toward a poor man. In the latter, David’s men were insulted.
Both provoked his wrath, but only one response was righteous, because only one was a violation of law.

Surprisingly, this goes to the nature of sin. To steal is to transgress a commandment, but disdain and self-centeredness manifest iniquity. And while people are capable of keeping themselves from transgression, they can do nothing about their inherent iniquity. For this we need a Savior.

Jesus’s death at Calvary was the penalty for our transgression. His resurrection did away with our iniquity.
In Christ we are able to exercise righteous and godly anger against sin without sinning. For those of us who as preChristians struggled with rage and other expressions of anger, this is good news indeed. Anger itself isn’t wrong. We just need to be careful what we do with this strong emotion.

The next time you find yourself getting angry, take a second to ask what’s really causing it.
If you’re responding to wickedness that violates God’s law, then turn your anger into a force to set things right.
If you’re just put out by inconvenience or annoyance, I suggest counting to ten.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ps 119.52

I remembered your judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself. Ps 119.52 

I don’t remember the world feeling quite so broken when I was a child.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew a lot of hardship as one of nine children who experienced the shame and tyranny of farm life. We rarely owned anything that wasn’t a hand-me-down. Thank God for the generosity of his churches, or there would have been no Christmas or Thanksgiving some years.

But despite the wretchedness of poverty, there was a measure of comfort in learning how the world worked. We knew the rules. We could count on getting in trouble if we broke them. We knew what was right and what was wrong, or at least, we found it out the hard way. What comforted me, in a bizarre sense, was knowing that there were consequences to disobedience. If things went wrong, someone had to pay for it. And someone had to make it right again.

Which brings us full circle, in a way, to today’s verse. If the brokenness of my childhood world required comfort, how much more does the present world? The atrocities and catastrophes we hear about from morning through night around the globe have created an overwhelmingly stressful psychological climate. The world is not safe, and moment by moment news programs report its unpredictability, its menace.

Where can we turn now as we did as children? Who will pay for the harm that is done? Who will make things right again?

Isn’t that the cry of our hearts when we wake in the night? Isn’t the chaos of our world—global or personal—what keeps us awake in the first place?

As Isaiah put it over 2700 years ago, we all like sheep have gone astray, and God has laid on [his servant the Messiah] the iniquity of us all. Think of it. All the wrong that had ever been done, or that ever would be done, had to be atoned for. Someone had to pay the price. That someone was the Christ.

Paying is one thing, you say, but what about making it right? This too is the work of God. It is mine to avenge. I will repay, he told Moses.

It’s hard to believe that with no telecommunication media to inform him of global events, David still saw the need to rely on God’s judgments of old—his righteous decrees, his precepts and statutes—in order to find comfort for his soul at the heartache and evil in the world around him. Yet he did.
When he hid his family in Moab and went on the run from Saul.
When he bid goodbye to his kindred soul, Jonathan.
When his baby boy died because of his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah.
When his son raped his daughter. And her brother killed him for it.
When friends and counselors betrayed him. When his misdeeds brought God’s wrath on the nation. When he abandoned the Ark of the Covenant to flee before Absalom’s rebellion.
The list goes on and on.

David turned with every step toward the ancient way, recorded in God’s word. He had no other hope. He knew himself to be fallible. He knew people to be treacherous. He knew not to count on anything in this world except this alone: You, oh Lord, have been our refuge. Your name is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.

That’s how David ruled his kingdom. And because he did, he was promised an eternal heritage. One of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. The Son of David finally came. Laid down his life to pay for the world’s wrong. And took it up again to restore all things. Now he reigns in righteousness through endless days.

Don’t be deceived by the state of the world. God’s judgments from of old do not change. What he has promised he will fulfill. Jesus is already Lord. He is already the King of Kings. All authority in heaven and on earth has already been given to him. He has already been exalted to the highest place and received the Name that is above every name. Every knee has not yet bowed, perhaps, but they will.

What comfort to us who long for his appearing. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Come.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ps 119.51

The proud have me in great derision, yet I do not turn aside from your law. Ps 119.51 

Only one thing comes to mind when I read this verse. Christ on the cross. Ignoring the crowd. Thirsty. Denying the anesthetic-laced wine.
According to Luke, “the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’”
Jesus resisted the taunt. He could have called down legions of angels to stop the madness. Instead he remained on the cross. So the Lamb of God became the Savior of the world.

Look at the power this kind of self-control can bring us. The magnitude of the torture, the brutality of the passion of Christ from the mock trials to the beatings to the death trudge to Calvary, not to mention six hours of agony suspended by nails in his hands and feet and thorns piercing his skull, all designed by rulers of darkness and allowed by the sovereign Creator to prove the depth of the God-man’s surrender. He suffered until every drop of desire to save himself had been extracted in the crucible of unjust condemnation and execution.

And Jesus did not fail the test. He remained faithful to the law that required a lamb without blemish.
He made sure the last prophecies about his death were fulfilled despite his pain.
He cared for his mom when he was the one dying.
He comforted a repentant thief who had just finished mocking him.
He asked forgiveness for his executioners.
He gave his creature-saturated spirit back into his Father’s keeping.
Not one word did he speak in recrimination or self-justification. No unkindness. No despair. No rebuke.

Pride takes many forms but none so dreadful as this, that man would slay his Maker.
As heaven erupted at his birth with glad tidings of great joy, so heaven now gasped at the insolence.

Yet Jesus came for exactly this purpose. This was the plan from before the Godhead began to create.
Men in their arrogance thought to stop this one who made them uncomfortable with his unstoppable authority in their little sphere of power. But they only did what God had determined ahead of time take place.

Take a lesson from this. Why do the nations rage? the psalmist asked. God sits enthroned in heaven.
The worst things that happen to us at the hands of prideful others often result in the greatest victories.
Sure they’re painful. The whole world shifts on its axis when our lives are rocked by tragedy and misfortune. But God has seen it all coming and has planned it for good. He knows what he is doing, and it involves a bright hope, a pleasant future in his presence forever.

Don’t be deceived by the mockers and their taunts. They have no idea what they are doing, nor any sight of the unseen hand that is working everything for the good of those who love God.

So when dark times hit and you don’t know how you’re going to make it through another day, another hour,  hold fast to what is right. Keep doing the right thing. Don’t be discouraged when trials linger and peace is far off. It won’t make the pain any easier to bear, but it will make you stronger and richer in spirit, and that will be everything when you see his face. The strength of your spirit determines your ability to abide in his presence.

Jesus earned the right at Calvary to instruct us on how to suffer at the hands of the proud. When these things begin to happen, look up, he said, and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Ps 119.50

This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has given me life. Ps 119.50 

The obstetrician in the midst of my labor and delivery told me not to worry about the pain because I would have the baby out soon enough. Being a man who’d never given birth, that might explain the stupid comment. But seriously, it isn’t very often that words bring comfort in the midst of pain. More often than not, pain receptors trump hearing, and we don’t really catch—or care—what people are saying through our agony.

Maybe that’s how Job felt when his “comforters” starting passing along their explanation for what was wrong with him. You know the old philosophy: If you were good with God, he’d protect you. The fact that things are going wrong means you did something to set God off. Job knew full well that he had done nothing to offend the Almighty. Unfortunately, he had no better explanation for what was happening.

Life on planet earth can be really hard. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. Sickness, financial hardships, broken relationships, disappointments of all sorts pervade our daily life. If we aren’t the one in trouble, someone we know and love is suffering. And we can be sure that a season of joy or ease will not last.

The Bible’s word for this is affliction. Its meaning is rooted in busy-ness and preoccupation. This surprises me. The root is also translated in terms of—get these—being bowed down, humiliated, brought low, and weakened. Sounds like an average day, where many of us come from. Affliction wears us down and leaves us hurting. We can’t do anything to make it stop. Bearing up under it takes more courage than we can muster. We’ve been told that God is the Father of all Comfort, but it’s hard to see his heart through our tears.

Would you like to know what the word comfort is rooted in? Another surprise—to be sorry or have compassion on the one hand, and repent or be avenged on the other. This Biblical picture of comfort goes beyond easing our difficulty. While God is merciful to us and often takes away the source of our discomfort, the point of affliction after all, according to Jeremiah, is to bring us to God. God will avenge any and all who do harm to his people. This is a sure promise. But when we are the authors of our own trouble, either because of foolishness (ignoring God) or rebellion (refusing God), then the only way out is through repentance.

But there’s another sense in which we find comfort in God, which is David’s point. He claimed that the promise in which he hoped comforted him when he was afflicted. It actually gave life to him. Do you know that feeling, when you feel so vibrant with goodness that you have to tell someone, express it somehow?

You can tell when someone is walking in the light of God’s grace in this way. They don’t actually glow, but almost. They radiate a kind of peace and joy and hopefulness with every word, every look, every move. That kind of person attracts our attention. We want to be near them, to get to know them and spend time with them.
This is the difference that God’s Word makes. It comforts the worst affliction and turns it into a source of life. We know that we do not suffer aimlessly. In Paul’s famous words, these light and momentary afflictions are working for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.

That life of Jesus, the abundant life found only as we abide in him and his word abides in us, when we let it reign in our souls, will transform us into people who truly shine with irrepressible joy.

I love Paul’s prayer,  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ps 119.49

Remember the word to your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope. Ps 119.49

Have you ever had to remind someone of a promise they made to you?
How did you feel?
Excited because the time had come and you could now receive the promise?
Annoyed because they forgot?
Desperate because you were really counting on it and it wasn't forthcoming?

I’ve felt all these things. And it makes me ask why we even make promises.
I’ve promised to keep secrets. I’ve promised to be there. I’ve promised to do things.
There are other kinds of promises, too. Commitments and responsibilities, duties and obligations, as a friend, employee, sister, daughter, citizen, neighbor, teacher.
When my children were younger, I was very careful not to promise anything I was not sure I could deliver. In this way I hoped to train them to trust me and others.
When I married my husband, I promised to be his faithful wife, and want him to count on that all the days of his life.
We make promises so that others will know our heart—what we intend—and count on it over time. That's certainly why God made promises.

There are many promises in God’s word for us to turn to when we need encouragement and comfort.
Many of them penned by David himself, in the Psalms, as he declared who God was, what God was like, the things God did. So I wonder what David had in mind when he wrote this prayer.
His Scriptures were not as extensive as ours.
Nevertheless, the Pentateuch and the earliest histories of Israel included God’s faithful promises to own his people, to protect and provide for them, to be their God, to bless and establish and glorify them.
As one who would one day be king, these promises would have meant a lot to David.

But more than that, David referred to a specific word from God. I say this because in other places he refers to God’s word collectively or his promises in general. But this prayer is about something in particular in which David hoped, perhaps his own anointing as a boy.
Do you realize how long David lived anointed yet Saul remained king? Not only that, as faithful as David was to him, Saul hated David maniacally. He tried to kill him in his own tent. He hunted David through vast stretches of wilderness, slaughtering even priests for helping him.

Surprisingly, David did not covet the kingship or chafe under decades of delay. Rather, what kept David going was the Lord’s promise, given in the anointing, of where this path would end. We never hear David doubt it, or second guess God's intention
.
Time after time throughout those years, David saw God prove faithful to his word. He granted David victories so that he slew Israel’s enemies. He raised up loyal mighty men who believed and worked along with him for the final liberation and union of Israel.
He would not lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed, even when “providence” put him in his path. He would not speak a word against King Saul as long as Saul was king. And he sincerely mourned, "how the mighty have fallen," when news of Saul's death finally came.

But you can’t help but wonder if sometimes in the dark of night, shivering in a cave or pretending to be a madman among his enemies, David didn’t whisper this prayer.
Remember your word to me….

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ps 119.48

My hands also I will lift up to your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Ps 119.48 

Lifting up one’s hands can communicate a variety of responses.
We can be waving—either in friendly welcome or get away or hold on or come here.
We can be offering something.
We can be surrendering.
We can be asking to be picked up.
We can be reaching for something.

I think that last is what David meant here. He reached for God’s commandments, because he loved them.
This is a picture in my mind of a little baby stuck in a high chair and wanting the food that is just out of reach. Being too young to move or to speak, he has no choice but to indicate his desire through the instinctive gesture of reaching.
When someone finally hands it to him, he holds it and stares at it, sometimes tastes it. The perfect word picture for meditation.

By now in these posts, we know that David loved God’s word. How did he express that love? By contemplating it. During the night watches. Alone on his bed. Watching the sheep. Hiding from Saul. He could not get enough of what God had said and what God had done throughout his nation’s history.

He seems to have been infatuated by God even when he was still a boy.
He took one look at the giant who taunted the armies of Israel and remembered what God does to those who threaten his people.
No one defies the armies of the living God and lives to tell of it. So he declared the fate in store for Goliath.
Not to mention the message God would send to the Philistines, when a little shepherd boy slew their mighty champion without even a sword in his hand.

Now, how did David get that idea?
He had seen it in God’s word, and he knew his God.
Surely he’d read what God did to Egypt.
Perhaps he’d read Deborah’s story, in which a woman drove a tent peg through the head of the enemy commander while he slept.
Perhaps he read Gideon’s story, in which 300 Israelites routed 135,000 invaders.
Perhaps he read Samson’s story, in which one man slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
Wasn’t Goliath a Philistine? Well then. What’s the difference?

What David loved about God’s word may have been the way it made his imagination soar. Clearly the man had some poetic talent. He had a beautiful way of expressing his thoughts and emotions.
But nothing rises so well, so poignantly, as David’s praises of the God he loved.

It may be hard for us to believe that he got all his ideas about who God is and how he works from the statutes and commandments recorded in his copy of the Law.
Our difficulty comes from the fact that we spend more time reading books and listening to podcasts about the Christian life. Deep down we know these are just written by people. But Scripture is God-breathed and can be trusted as absolute truth.
People, please, read the Bible. Go to it with the expectation that you’re going to discover something about your Creator, your Savior, the Sovereign of all being.
Expect him to reveal something of himself to you there, and don’t stop meditating until you find it.
Perhaps then you, like David, will reach out your hands to the Word of God, because you love it, too.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ps 119.47

And I will delight myself in your commandments, which I love. Ps 119.47

Love the commandments? Not so much.
Delight myself in them? Even less.
Until I began to see them as God telling us what relationship with him means.

What if the commandments are not impossible rules but the description of attitudes and behaviors specifically designed to bring us into favor with the Creator of the universe.
That would change everything.

When God gave the Ten Commandments (and the whole law) to his people, he made it clear that we must begin with a right relationship with him. So, he says, make no mistake. I’m the only God. Don’t let yourself be taken in by anything that claims to have power over the earth or your life. There is no other God but me. Own none.

The second commandment reinforces this by keeping his image dissociated from all created things. Don’t even try to make a visual representation of me. You cannot imagine my being, and anything you can imagine will never come close. I know you want something visual or tangible, but believe me, that will only distract you and diminish all that I am. Besides, everything in creation manifests my nature and my power. What more do you need to know me than what I have made?

In addition, he warns of the danger in not recognizing what it means to bear his name. He does not bestow his name lightly and he will not hold guiltless any who misuse that privilege. We see more clearly in the church age what it means to bear the name of Christ with all its authority, but the seeds of the great commission lie in the third commandment.

The rest of the commandments deal with family and community and government. All of them, if a group were to live by them, would produce a safe and pleasant society.

I confess I grew up memorizing the Ten Commandments as a set of rules. And while children often chaff against rules, they ultimately need them to learn trust and grow in character.
As an adult, I see the commandments differently. They have become less rules to live by and more promises from God. Think about it. Christ kept God’s law perfectly, and his Spirit dwells in me with all the strength of God’s own will. I know I sometimes fail to trust God in matters where I still live in fear or ignorance, but God never holds it against me. Like an erring child, he sets me straight while still faithful in his love for me.

I delight myself in God’s commands because they tell me how to be near him. This is far more than figuring out what he wants and doing it so that he doesn’t get mad. It’s not even about trying to please him.
It’s simply building a relationship with someone I’ve grown to love. I want to learn more about him because I’m already attracted by what I see and hear and know of him. But mostly I want to experience him, to let him be the one to teach me about himself as we spend time together in his Word.

That’s why I can say like David that I will enjoy myself in God’s commands. That’s where the living Word is to be found, and he is all my joy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ps 119.46

I will speak of your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed. Ps 119.46

Seriously? We won’t even tell our families about Jesus.
We dare not mention in class that God created the animal kingdom, it did not evolve.
We won’t speak up at the Board of Ed about the need to teach righteousness to our children.
We won’t run for public office lest our beliefs not stand up to media scorn.

What makes us think that we’d tell kings how wonderful God is?

I suspect the number one reason we in America will not speak of what God has done, especially in Christ, is a misguided fear of how people will respond—ridicule, contempt, mockery, sneers. It’s all a kind of shame.
Yet, Jesus explicitly warned his followers that he would be ashamed before his Father of anyone who was ashamed of him.
Let that sink in.
Don’t we believe that Jesus stands before the Father as our High Priest? Didn’t he say he would in no wise cast out any who came to him? What then is this idea that he will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of him? Is it simply tit-for-tat on a cosmic scale? I sure hope not.

I think it has to do with the tenets of the Gospel.
What is there to be ashamed of in needing a Savior and finding him?
Nothing.

So when Jesus talks about our being “ashamed” of him, he’s talking about the idea that we feel the need to add anything to the good news that God sent his only Son as the Lamb that takes away our sin.

I don’t know why, but some people feel the need to dress that up.
They want to find some fault in God that “needs” people—to love him, to serve him, to glorify or praise him.

Or they present people as something worth dying for, that we have some inherent value that moved the heart of God to pay a savage price to get hold of us for himself.

Still others believe that the sacrifice of Calvary was not enough. This one ranges from acknowledging that Christ’s death only got the ball rolling, giving good-intentioned people some traction with the Deity. At the other extreme is the requirement that we  work hard either to earn divine favor or to diminish the punishment Christ bore on our behalf. Either way, we have to keep it up if we expect to get through the pearly gates.

Worse, perhaps the worst yet, are those who modify the person of Jesus in the drama. I’ve heard everything from he wasn’t really God, to he wasn’t really human, to it wasn’t him that hung on the cross but Michael the archangel, to the whole crucifixion was actually an illusion carried out by God.

It’s all blasphemy. 

Those who teach these things deny the glorious grace of God that suffered abject humiliation and pain on their behalf. He did this to demonstrate his true nature, knowing that some would never accept what he offered them. Surely only a perverse pride would claim not to require such a sacrifice. 
This pride takes many forms, but they all boil down to being ashamed.

But Jesus is not called faithful and true for nothing.
He continues to stand before the throne of heaven, unashamed to claim repentant sinners as brothers and sisters.
He daily pleads our cause before the Father, “I get what they’re going through. I know what it’s like to fight my flesh. I’ve been where they are and suffered their sorrow. It’s awful. Be merciful to them. Forgive them for my sake. I love them.”

How eager does that picture make you to stand before anyone, kings included, and testify to the love and grace of your Savior?
Be not ashamed.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ps 119.45

I walk freely in a broad place, for I search out your precepts. Ps 119.45

Here is a picture of a scavenger hunt in which one must obtain the precepts of God. They are disseminated throughout all of creation, and one is free to roam far and wide looking for them.
God has made himself known through what he has made, and for those with eyes to see, this is a very fun challenge.
But not everyone accepts it.

To me, one of the most ironic criticisms of Christianity is the claim that it is exclusive.
John tells us that all who believe in Christ will have eternal life.
Peter tells us that God is not willing for anyone to perish.
Joel tells us that whoever calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.
And doesn’t Revelation portray people from every tongue and tribe and nation surrounding the throne of God and of the Lamb?

So I have little patience for this “exclusive” nonsense. Jesus was and is and will always be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Besides, I never understood why anyone wanted to go to heaven, where God rules with absolute sovereignty, who had no use for God in the first place?

I suspect the problem really lies with Jesus’s claim to be the only way of salvation.
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
“The son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
These are just a few of Jesus’s statements that clearly make him the only way—of salvation, to the Father, into eternal life.

Others echo his claim.
John tells us more than once that, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Or as Peter put it, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Paul, who ministered almost entirely to Gentiles, called Jesus the “only foundation” and the “one Mediator between God and people.”
Angels and saints sing together, “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb.”

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these followers literally gave their lives to take this message to the nations. The history of the West is so intricately woven with the advance of the Gospel that we cannot fully understand one without the other. Indeed the history of the world reflects the purposes of God in Christ, because “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” and “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Likewise, nothing has had more influence on its culture than the Christian scriptures.

Yet we have come to an age when people are no longer sure that the Judeo-Christian God even exists, or that Jesus was actually historic.
After all, science and its associated technology have leaped forward in their ability to provide healing, discover how the natural world functions, explain the origin of the cosmos, and link the global population into one community.
None of this any longer requires a belief in deities. Therefore religion has been put on the shelf with its dusty tomes and antiquated rituals. It has been replaced by philosophies of the age applied to social problems. Thus academia and politics have revoked any inherent meaning to life, and justified purposeless existence. Morality is no longer required, except as a means to situational ethics. 

Here again is irony. The ideas of a higher plane, an afterlife, basic kindness, and human rights lives on.
Truth stands, apart from cultural trends and “well-known” facts. What was anciently true continues true. For all the “advances” of the modern age, none of them brings us any closer to the dwelling of God than the famed Tower of Babel did in its day. There is still no other way to heaven.

Sadly, no amount of redefining reality changes the basic human need for relationship. The reason why is clear. God is love, and he created us for himself.  

Ps 119.44

So shall I keep your law continually, forever and ever. Ps 119.44

I confess I don’t get lawyers. My sister is a lawyer, and she knows some serious stuff.
I swear to pass the bar she had to memorize all the laws ever written in the history of the state and country, not to mention every state she wants to practice in.
I could never be a lawyer because that stuff bores me to tears.

God’s law as documented in the Pentateuch feels no different, honestly. It applies to situations and customs that have little or no relevance to my everyday life. I can’t appreciate all that about offerings and mildew and skin diseases.
As I’ve grown in my faith, of course, I’ve discovered the heart of God hidden in the law, the terms of relationship to be his people. Still, I confess to a secret gladness that Jesus set aside the code that stood against us, nailing it to the cross. What a relief not to have to keep track of all that.

It’s not like the Laws of God would be easy to keep in any case.
Jesus did so, but then he did not have a sin nature.
The Pharisees did it. Well, outwardly, anyway. They certainly missed the heart of it.
If the law was put in place to lead us to Christ, as Paul taught, then surely the Pharisees missed something. They failed to see God when he stood in front of them.

How then can David declare that he will keep God’s law continually forever and ever?
Was it sheer determination on David’s part? Or just a good intention?
Is this a Messianic prophecy that only the Christ could fulfill?

I don’t know. But what if….

What if David had a glimpse into eternity? What if he stood at the gates of God and saw that everyone there did exactly as God required and lived in perfect relationship with the Almighty?
And what if “keeping the law continually” was the only way to get in?

Then there had better be a more effective way to keep the law, no?

We as Christians have exchanged our burden of sin for the righteousness of Christ.
But if that’s all it takes to inherit salvation, why should we bother to learn Scripture or imitate Christ?
The longer I live in light of God’s word, the more I realize that to truly be Christ-like takes more understanding than simply copying him. That’s why we study the Bible. Not only does it teach us about divine events, it also helps us see behind why Jesus acted as he did.

For example, that Jesus touched a coffin, a dead girl, a leper, or let the “bleeding” woman touch him, does not strike us the way it did his generation. That’s because under the Law, to have physical contact with these “unclean” people made Jesus unclean.
So we see him risking religious approval for the sake of administering love and help to those in need.
To act like him, then, is not about touching lepers and coffins. It’s about doing the loving thing no matter the cost in terms of reputation or spiritual danger.

In this sense, keeping God’s law continually becomes a matter of trusting in the righteousness of Christ and following the Holy Spirit’s lead in bringing love and grace to everyone we meet, no exceptions, no excuses.

Only in this way will our Spirits be fit to dwell with our God forever and ever.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ps 119.43

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for I have hoped in your judgments. Ps 119.43 

When my kids were little, I made a point to bring the Bible into everyday conversation. One way I did this was to tell them when their words or ideas coincided with Scripture.
“There’s a Bible verse for that.” I would say.
One day my son turned to me and said, “Mom, do you think there’s a Bible verse for everything?”

I did, and I still do.

Once upon a time, a few decades ago, God brought to life in me a verse from Isaiah. It struck home and lodged in my psyche. It has ruled my heart and my path ever since.
“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the Word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, he wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” (Is 50.4)
To this day I have a remarkable ability to remember, understand, and apply Scripture.
This is a gift.
I have mined Scripture for more than forty years. I continue to find truth and wisdom daily. It shapes my thoughts and my language and my worldview. I offer it as counsel to my friends and they find comfort and instruction.

For this reason, I wholeheartedly echo the prayer of today’s verse. How would I live if God took his Word from me? What could I say to help anyone? How would I speak to my own soul?
It reminds me of Jesus asking his disciples if they too would leave him over the harsh doctrine of election by grace. Peter responded, “Where else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We know who you are.”

You see, the Word of Truth in David’s day was the Scriptures, such as they had. [Remember much of the history of Israel was yet to come and none of the major recorded prophets arose for hundreds of years after David. David himself wrote most of the Psalms, his son Solomon wrote much of the “wisdom literature.”]
But Jesus was Emmanuel, the Word come to earth. He made the invisible God visible. The fullness of deity dwelt bodily in him. He radiated the glory of God as nothing created ever had or could.
Eye witnesses of his majesty acknowledged Jesus as the ultimate divine revelation.
Peter testified to Jesus’s self-declaration as “the way, the truth, and the life.”
John also testified that they had seen his glory, full of grace and truth.

Although Paul did not know Jesus before the Crucifixion, he met him on the Damascus road.
The encounter made him seriously rethink his theology. He spent three years studying the entire Old Testament to discover how this backwoods Galilean could possibly be the Christ, the Anointed One of God destined to rule all things.
Does it surprise you that he found his answer in the Law, the prophets, the history, and the writings? Not me, although I’m pretty sure it surprised him.
This Jesus fulfilled the Law’s requirement for an atoning sacrifice by offering the blood of his own sinless life to God.
This Jesus lived out the historic and prophetic criteria by which the Messiah would be identified.
This Jesus incarnated holiness and truth.
This Jesus returned from the dead and stood before Paul, calling him by name.

No wonder Paul set out to change the world.

Like the other apostles, he “could not help but speak of what he had seen and heard.”
What strikes me about Paul, though, is that he never made much of his apostleship despite his credentials.
Neither did he seek to use wise and persuasive words to convince people to believe in Jesus.
He could have. He certainly had the training in rhetoric and the grasp of the Scriptures.
Instead, Paul determined, in his own words, “to know nothing except Christ, and him crucified.”
He wanted his message to be purely about Jesus—as simple and straightforward as that.
He did not want other’s faith to rest on his wisdom or understanding but on the power of God that had raised Jesus from the grave.

Like Paul and David before him, I have hoped in the judgments of God—that God being righteous is offended by our transgressions, that an infinitely holy God requires an infinitely holy life in exchange for his presence, that Christ paid with his blood to bring us to God.

I confess I cannot live without the Word of Truth because of the hope I have in Christ.

This hope never disappoints.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ps 119.42

So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me, for I trust in Your word. Ps 119.42

One of the things I’ve always admired about Jesus was the way he spoke.
Some men are known for their wit (Mark Twain) or wisdom (Solomon),
the loftiness of their ideas (Plato) or their down to earth perspective (Franklin),
their politics (Thoreau) or their plays (Shakespeare).
Their words have become household clichés.

Jesus had all that and more. He stated the Golden Rule. He called his followers the “salt of the earth.”  The left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand does. A tree is known by its fruits. The meek will inherit the earth. Building a house on sand. A pearl of great price, or pearls before swine. The prodigal son. These sayings and so many more permeate our language and culture.

But the speech of Jesus goes beyond memorable phrases and proverbs. He had ready answers to the a person’s heart.
To a teacher in Israel, “You must be born again.”
To a rich young ruler seeking eternal life, “Go sell your possessions and follow me.”
To a hypocritical synagogue ruler, “Who loves more, the greater or lesser debtor?”
To the legalistic Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?”
To fishermen, “I will make you fishers of men.”
To the sick, “Be healed.” To the dead, “Get up.” To the buried, “Come forth.”

He endlessly offered words of peace and help and instruction that made life on this earth a little better for anyone who listened. Surely he fulfilled the angelic proclamations at his birth. God showed good will toward men in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but it still surprises me that so many rulers of God’s people didn’t like him—they hounded him literally to death. He was (at a minimum) a good man who taught people to be kind.
He told them to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, so he wasn’t inciting rebellion against Rome.
He told them to do what the Pharisees said, if not what they did hypocritically, so he wasn’t challenging Judaism.
He never once violated the Law of Moses, but sent those he helped to the temple to fulfill the commands of the Law.
He extended God’s love to Gentiles and to women in need.
He made the Jewish religion accessible to everyday people who wanted to find favor with God.
Neither did he seek fame or a following, but often urged those he helped to be silent about what he’d done.
Imagine telling blind men not to talk about receiving their sight. Or demonized maniacs returned to their right minds. Or dead little girls eating lunch. Would people not notice?

No, these rulers did not oppose Jesus on the basis of his threat to their political power or the way he handled their religion, or even his popularity.
What bothered them about Jesus was the authority with which his life challenged theirs. When it came down to it, either he was from God or they were. Both ways could not be right. Living under the malediction of Isaiah, they had eyes that didn’t see, ears that didn’t hear, hearts that didn’t understand.
Jesus, being God as well as man, saw and heard and understood true life.
Thus he outwitted them time after time by arguing the spirit of the Law rather than the practice of it.
He did miracles that all their law-based righteousness could not fathom.
While he was all about making the Father known, they were concerned about the day of the week—that miracles were done on the Sabbath more than that a man born blind could see, that a paralyzed man could walk and carry his mat, that a woman bent and twisted for eighteen years could stand up straight, that a withered hand grew to match its mate.
Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth. They were content to live under Rome and dream about the kingdom of Israel.

And because of their opposition, they sought to discredit him by various reproaches, such as his “questionable” birth. The Bible tells the story of his divine incarnation, but to those who did a background check on this itinerant preacher, it sure looked like he was illegitimate.
“Scandalous!” they cried. “How dare a man of such ignoble origin defy us?”

Here again we see Jesus’s profound speech. Whenever they confronted him about this sort of thing, he turned to their Scriptures (and his)—the Law, history, psalms, or prophets—to show that who he was and what he did was consistent with their own belief system.

Of course, they wouldn’t hear it, but herein is the beauty of Christ. For all the “new” sayings he introduced to the world, he relied on the ancient words of God to answer all reproach. In this, as in so many ways, he modeled David the king.

How sweet to us as Christians that the “word” in which we trust is no other than Jesus himself, the Word made flesh. In him all reproach loses its sting.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Ps 119.41

Let your mercies come also to me, O Lord—your salvation according to your word. Ps 119.41

Let me tell you something. There is a prayer when offered sincerely to God that he will always answer, no matter who asks it, and no matter how often. That is a prayer for mercy. Mercy is always his response to a penitent heart.

Why do I say this with so much confidence?
Because this is the first thing the Lord says about himself when he makes his Name known. The biblical concept of a name represents the character of the person. When God told Moses his name, he began with “I am Yahweh, merciful and gracious.”
The Hebrew word translated compassionate or merciful is a sweet term that applies only to God in Scripture.
It conveys the sense of feeling another’s misery or pain as one’s own. It is not empathy, which is simply understanding another’s emotions. Neither is it sympathy or pity, which are responses to the person’s condition. Rather, it is compassion, sharing the angst along with the sufferer, feeling what they feel as the feel it.
Out of this understanding of how we experience our need, God acts with lovingkindness. These actions to alleviate our suffering and wretchedness are called “mercies,” but that is a different word.

Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning.
David reminds us that the Lord is abundant in mercies.
Paul tells us that God is rich in mercy, but has bound us all over to disobedience, so that he might have mercy on us all.

To know and rely on his merciful love is the one right response to the whole revelation of God—in Christ, in the Gospels, in the entire Bible.
This is exactly why Jesus commended the publican, who asked nothing of God but mercy. Surely, Jesus said, that man went home justified.
But that’s not really what the man asked for, or was it? He didn’t mention justification. The Greek word for mercy implies an action that conciliates, brings back together.

This is more than just a parable, I think. Jesus told it as such, but I suspect that he had seen it happen in real life.
Jesus spent a fair amount of time in the temple, an interesting pastime since he was God in the flesh, off the throne and moving around in his house.
The majority of what was said every day in the temple was along the lines of the Pharisee’s prayer, the gist of which is that God should show favor because the pray-er had earned it.
Then one day in a quiet corner a man bowed with his face to the ground, dejected and hopelessly aware of the chasm between himself and his God. He could do nothing to bridge it, but longed still to be made right and clean.
Can you just picture Jesus, the God-man, overhearing this little prayer?

The publican himself maybe didn’t realize it, but that was a plea for the cross. How it must have hit Jesus in the solar plexus, right to his heart. A man cried out to his Father, "Make a way! In mercy, make a way." Echoes of David’s prayer.
Jesus had come to seek and save the lost. He planned to lay down his life as a ransom for many. He intended to bring us to God.
He was himself the way. He would bear the cross and carry our shame. He would be the divine mercy.
So Jesus stood up in the temple,  maybe that same day, and cried out, “Let all who are thirsty, come.”

What if the publican had been there? Wouldn’t he have gone to Jesus to be reconciled to God?
If you, like the publican, hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus promises you will be filled. ,

After all, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ps 119.40

Behold, I long for your precepts; revive me in your righteousness. Ps 119.40 

The longer I live, the less sure I am that I know what’s best. The sweetness of youth has to be its ignorance. Which is ironic for most of us, and downright annoying to parents.
When we are young we spend most of our time learning, and the more we learn, the more independent and in control we feel. Every one of us will look back, if we haven’t already, and recognize how little we actually knew when we thought we knew it all.

This is why I love the precepts of God. He is one who has always known all things, and controls all things. Nothing exists apart from him, and therefore all things belong to him, including abstractions like truth and wisdom and goodness.
The longing for his precepts is at bottom a longing for understanding of how this world works, both physically and metaphysically.
We want to know the weather forecast in order to plan our outdoor events.
We want to know how to be a good partner or spouse or friend.
We want to know science and philosophy and mathematics and linguistics.
We want to know why we exist, what life is really about, why suffering and evil and sin.

To some extant, such knowledge helps us get along better in the world, until we reach a point where we can contribute to making the world better for ourselves and others. From conservationism to agriculture to medical research, education to political science to international business, evangelism to community outreach to orphan rescue, there is much we can do. But the need is vast and we exhaust ourselves with the labor of doing good. New generations come along and take up the task, only to weary themselves before the job is finished. This world has never been as good as we know it could be.

Sadly, no amount of human effort or earthly knowledge can fix what is fundamentally wrong with it.
The sin that entered through Eden separated this world—as well as its people—from the Creator.
The only remedy for Earth’s brokenness is the rule of divine righteousness.

The hope of God’s precepts, however, is that they tell us how all things will be when made “right” under his sovereign dominion. The entire creation will function as designed, in infinite wisdom and love.
There will be no more sickness or sadness, no more tears or trials, no more vice or violence.
Peace and prosperity will pervade.
No death, no destruction, no deceit.
No devil, no sin, no brokenness and no regrets.

If you think that sounds like the biblical description of heaven, you are right.
The catch is, there’s only one way to get in. Unless the righteousness of God gives us life as David prayed, we are doomed.
Paul tells us how that works. In exchange for our absolute devotion to himself, God imputes his own righteousness to our account. In restoring the “right” relationship with the Trinity, he opened the way to the kingdom of heaven, through which any may enter. As Peter put it, “an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Pe 1.11).
This is the equivalent of eternal life, and it is ours by faith. Simply trust that God will do it and start acting in light of it being done.

Your good deeds may not set the whole world right in your lifetime, but they will definitely point the poor and needy toward the only real Savior.

There is no better way to live, young or old.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ps 119.39

Turn away my reproach which I dread, for your judgments are good. Ps 119.39 

David had a pretty good sense of what he deserved from God. More than once he had transgressed the Mosaic Law. Not only would courts of law condemn his crimes, but he had offended God himself. Such crimes as his were punishable by death, and well David knew it.

It wasn’t always the death penalty that he dreaded, though. Numerous times he asked God to keep him from shame. His good reputation mattered because it reflected his honor as a man of God.

The one thing David dreaded most may have been the loss of God’s Spirit on his life. He wore it like a mantle, so that when others observed him, they were seeing something of God. But the Holy Spirit wrapped himself in these Old Testament characters, so that their being became indistinguishable. This is no doubt how the Scriptures were inspired, how the prophets spoke from God, how the kings ruled with divine authority, how the priests mediated in the Holy and Most Holy Places.
And to lose that Spirit was to lose yourself.

David saw this firsthand when the Spirit of God left Saul in order to come to him.
Because Saul did not rule Israel under God, but defied the word of the prophet and did what was best in his own eyes, God revoked the kingship and sent Samuel to anoint young David. Although it would be decades before David ascended to the throne, the Spirit of God came mightily upon him as soon as he was anointed. Read it in 1 Sa 16.13.

And read the next verse, too. The Spirit of God departed from Saul and was replaced by an evil spirit. Here Saul’s madness began. The hole left in his soul had to be filled, maybe, but Scripture specifically states that this evil spirit was from God.
Soon they were bringing in a little shepherd boy whose music soothed the tormented king. Was it the music? Or was it the Spirit of God ministering to his soul, without words, at a level too deep for language.
For Saul, just to be in the presence of the Spirit was enough to calm him. Perhaps the Holy Spirit caused the evil spirit to stand down for a little while, I don’t know.
This torment and this solace continued for a long time into Saul’s reign and David’s military service, even until Saul recognized that David would be his successor. David eventually fled, leaving behind his best friend and the royal family he had loved as his own. He lived as a fugitive in the wilderness because the evil spirit drove Saul to a maniacal obsession with killing David.
That’s what happens to someone whom the Spirit leaves.

So the reproach David dreaded was almost certainly the departure of the Spirit.
I love that he still pressed in, and did not let his guilt or his dread to keep him from God. For while he knew he couldn’t lay claim to grace, he knew God was merciful.
If God would review the charges against him, he would accept divine justice, because God’s judgments are always good. If God decrees it, it’s beneficial.
David, despite his sinful flesh, had a heart that had been formed by the Spirit of God in him from his youth. God would do the right thing, and it would be for David’s good.

In his own words, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ps 119.38

Establish your word to your servant, who is devoted to fearing you. Ps 119.38

Are you devoted to fearing God? To fearing anything?
Do not fear is the most often repeated command in all of Scripture. It addresses those who fear something greater than themselves.
That tells us that fear of God should trump all other fear.

Many of us grew up in a world that does not believe God even exists, let alone fears him, and certainly isn’t devoted to fearing him.       
In church we’re often told that God doesn’t want us to fear him. After all, he went to great lengths to reconcile the world to himself in Christ.
This has led to a watered down definition of biblically mandated fear of God. It has come to mean only reverence or respect. That’s not exactly right, because God is definitely someone to be afraid of. We cannot draw near to him or see his face.
Our God is a consuming fire of holiness.
He created all things and sustains them by the word of his power.
He has all dominion and authority.
He has all knowledge and wisdom.
He is his own standard of righteousness and truth. If he says it, it’s true. If he does it, it’s right. If he asks it, we must give it.
No other being exists who can supersede his will or change his mind.
When you put all that together, and believe me, I’m only scratching the surface of what it means to be God, here is Someone we should definitely fear. Tremble before him, all the earth! Mountains and oceans and deserts and people, fear the Lord.

That said, God created people uniquely to know him. He saved us that we might worship him without fear.
Jesus came to show us God as Father. He lived the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. Every day he displayed the kindness of God by healing and delivering and helping, acts of compassion and love. Over and over and over. He went further, all the way to Calvary. He so loved us that despite our sin, he willingly paid its price. Our fear of him should not be rooted in ignorance. On the contrary, knowing the pure holiness of his being makes the Gospel that much more stunning.

Fear is the only right response to something dangerous, and while God is love, that love is dangerous.
It makes him relentless.
It makes him jealous.
It makes him furious against everything that threatens his beloved.
The only time Jesus told us to be afraid was in connection with the reality of hell, when people would not respond to God’s heart.

David asked God to establish (bring into being) all he’d said regarding us who are his, because it is the keeping of his word that makes us fear him. He has promised many blessings for his favored ones, and many dreadful things for his enemies. He has promised to avenge all wrongs and to provide for those in misery. 

He is a God—the only God—who does exactly what he says.

To this God I willingly devote myself in holy fear.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ps 119.37

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in your way. Ps 119.37 

Nowadays, we could place this verse on any of our screens and it would be a Godsend.

So much of what we spend our eyes on is worthless. Actually, the Hebrew word here also conveys a sense of falseness and emptiness. It should give more, make us feel better, and it does not. Not only does it fail to satisfy, it takes something from us as well—our time, our hope, our essence somehow. I think that’s why it is sometimes translated, “evil.”

What’s more, the word for looking means seeing, used 1,313 times in the Bible. It’s that old behold word only Scripture and Shakespeare use. But this is instructive, because it points out what we already know: it’s possible to look at something and not pay attention to seeing it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it failed to register.

Therein lies our danger, and that’s what this verse is about. It’s a prayer that God will cause us not to take in the worthless evil our eyes fall upon, let alone what we gaze on intentionally. This is one of those tricky areas where we need to take responsibility but we’re in over our heads.

Sadly, some things fascinate us and we cannot look away. They can be beautiful or horrific, real or contrived, tangible or abstract. We drink in the world around us, and if that world contains the hollow or wicked, we drink it in along with everything else. It would be far better if we did not look, and to some extent, we can control where we cast our eyes. We can train them like Job (31.1) not to look wrongfully at inherently good things.
But the enemy of our souls lurks with tempting visions of the pleasure to be had in wickedness, and David, for one, recognized the need for divine help in averting our gaze.

Please heed this warning.
It’s never good to be careless with what we let into our minds, but sometimes it’s downright dangerous.
I remember as a kid being told that Looney Tunes was too violent and would lead to social violence. When my kids were little, it was video games.
Sure enough, we now have children bringing guns to school and shooting people.
While I don’t think video games are to blame, I do think the amount and type of violence displayed in the media, from the news to movies to TV to the internet, has desensitized us. And since children’s brains are less developed, leaving their souls less guarded as a result, it should not surprise us that this kind of tragedy happens more frequently.

So if you can’t pull your eyes away from that which is corrupting your soul, go to God. Ask him to help you avoid what isn’t good.
He will do this by awakening in you a thirst for his ways.
They are pure and sweet and life-giving and oh so satisfying.
A soul that is nourished on love and joy and peace and patience and faithfulness will not be tempted by the vile and corrupt.

We have Jesus’s promise that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Lay hold of this hope.
And close your eyes.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ps 119.36

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to covetousness. Ps 119.36 

This verse is about goodness. It contrasts what our hearts feel with what our eyes see.
David would rather draw near to God with a sincere and glad heart, than chase all that the world offers.
But he also knew the appeal of material things is more powerful than the spiritual wealth of a life set on God.
So he asked God to incline his heart. To cause his heart to lean toward God more than anything else.
What a sweet prayer, and so hopeful.
David understood the mercy and compassion of God, that it would help him to prefer God’s ways. It was not up to him alone to control the affections of his heart.

I can relate to David. I’ve tried to dictate my emotions.
I can take a deep breath and calm down.
I put a smile on my face no matter what’s going on inside.
I can even count to ten or walk away.
It may be possible to control how I express what I’m feeling, but changing the actual emotion is nearly impossible. That takes a deep-seated heart change that only God can bring about.

God tells us repeatedly to love, to rejoice, to fear not, to trust, to be anxious for nothing, to be at peace, to take heart, to be strong and courageous, and so much more.
He requires this whether we think it possible or not.

Does that mean we should never have negative emotions? Should I never be angry or frustrated or sad or embarrassed?
My emotions are a gauge for my relationships and I rely on them to alert me both to what’s going well and what’s not.
God himself gets angry at injustice, jealous of halfhearted devotion, grieved by wickedness.

I don’t know if we’re supposed to be able to command our emotions at will, but I do know that God has provided a new heart given in Christ. One that can love its enemies, do good to those who hurt us, bless those who curse us.
I want that kind of heart.
Better still, I have that kind of heart.

If my new spiritual heart is at all like God’s, then I can expect my affections to be like his.
I will be bothered by what bothers him.
The things that make him glad will make me glad.
The truth he knows will steady my soul.

I think this is why David asked God to incline his heart to his testimonies.
If God would touch my heart with what touches him, what moves him, what reflects and manifests and magnifies him, then surely I would never be satisfied by any earthly gain.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Ps 119.35

Make me walk in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Ps 119.35 

I’m a big fan of walking. My feet are moving and my mind is wandering. I’m doing something good for my body, but my mind is free to contemplate what I see around me and process whatever is going on in my life.
I always come back feeling better. I know this is partly because of how exercise affects us physiologically. But it’s also the effect of clearing my head and doing something healthy for myself.

We’ve talked before about running in the path of God’s commands (Ps 119.32) as the means for increasing our ability to minister life in Jesus’s name. But I hate running, and I’ll tell you why. I always run out of breath. It’s never my legs or feet that give out, just my lungs. This has been true all my life. You’d think I’d have figured it out by now.

So this verse comes as a pleasant surprise, for two reasons. First, it validates our individual method of approaching God while affirming that there’s only one way to him. Some may run and some may walk, but only one path leads to life. This reminds me of Jesus contrasting the wide and narrow way, and the few who find it. This is the “ancient path” of Jer 6.16, where the good way is, where we find rest for our souls.

The second reason has to do with the way David phrases his request. He asks God to “make him" walk.
I used to the think he was asking God to force him to follow the commandments because David knew he was prone to go astray. Now I’m not so sure.

On the path of God’s commands, David was a runner.
So when he asks God to make him walk, he’s probably asking God to slow him down.
Why? Because he actually delights in them. His own bent was to race past the deliciousness of what God requires of us.
I think that rushing is a big part of why so many of us struggle with the Old Testament. We read it and get little out of it because we’re just getting through it as fast as we can.

David encourages us to slow down and take the time to savor the goodness of the word of God. To hear his voice. To notice his heart. To consider the greatness of his majesty in contrast with the sweetness of his mercy. Oh how I want to linger in his presence and be steeped in wisdom and compassion and truth and power.

That doesn’t happen at a run, I know, so please, God, cause me to walk in the path of your commands.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ps 119.34

Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Ps 119.34 

This is pretty spot on. If I’m honest, the number one reason why I hesitate—or flat out refuse—to keep God’s law is because  I don’t understand it. Therefore I rationalize away obedience to the Mosaic code because it seems irrelevant to daily life. Like, who cares if I eat shrimp or pork?

We as Christians justify indifference to the ways of God stated in the Old Testament under the often mistaken idea that Jesus fulfilled all that. It “no longer applies to us.”
I say this is mistaken because we think that his work nullified the Law.
In one sense this is so, but in another, his life and teaching make keeping the law that much harder.
Didn’t he say things like, lusting after a woman is the same as adultery, and calling someone a fool is the same as murder?

That kind of talk sure sounds like Christ’s advent put righteousness through keeping the Law further out of our reach.

In truth that is exactly what happened.
Jesus demonstrated once and for all that it was possible for a human being to keep the Law of God. This validated the Law as good and acceptable, not unreasonable or impossible. He never thought or said or did anything that did not accord with the will of his Father. And because he did, God can require the same of us. But the Law not only told God’s people how to behave righteously, it told them what to do to make up for it when they erred. Sacrifices and offerings, death and exile, cleansing and blood.

In fact, the Pharisees were good at law-keeping, too.
They not only kept Moses’s instructions, they kept all the rabbinical instructions as well.
What’s the difference between what they did and what Jesus did? Nothing.
The difference lies in who they were and who Jesus was—and is.
The problem was not the Law. The problem was righteousness.
Likewise, the solution is not outward obedience to the letter of the Law. The solution is regeneration, a new creation of the inner man born of the Spirit of Christ.

In one significant way, Jesus differed from every other human being.
Paul describes this when he takes us all the way back to Eden and calls Jesus the Second Adam. A whole new brand of humanity, of whom Jesus is the firstborn. The difference? Born without original sin, without an inherent otherness from God, because he was himself God.

That means, when Jesus lived as a man within the limitations of being human, his humanity did not offend the Divine.
And because of that, his perfect life made him a perfect sacrifice. The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

No wonder David gave his whole heart to the Law. He understood the essence of forgiveness incorporated within the sacrificial system. Do you? Do you understand why Jesus offered himself to God? Because there isn’t enough blood in all creation, animal or human, to satisfy the infinite affront to Holiness. Only the infinitely precious blood of the God-man would suffice.

Now we who live in Christ by regeneration through the Holy Spirit are of that same family. Our birthright as children of God is a double portion. It includes the new heart that is wholly devoted to our Father in heaven. And it includes the new mind that is equipped to understand the righteousness intended in the Law.

As Paul put it, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. Our life in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God. I'm pretty sure that's the only way my whole heart is his.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ps 119.33

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Ps 119.33

We all know the value of a good teacher. We’ve sat through classes from grade school to grad school (some of us) whose subjects were so boring or difficult we could, and often did, cry. But then a “good teacher” came along and brought the same material to life.
We can also attest to that one teacher who really made a difference. The kindness, the personality, the interest, something about that person has stayed with us all our life.

One day a rich, young ruler ran after Jesus to ask a question about a subject that really mattered to him.
“Good teacher,” he called breathlessly. “About eternal life … (pant puff) … how do I get it … (pant pant)?”
Jesus stopped short and looked him in the eye. “Why are you calling me good? Only God is good, man.”

I was never sure why Jesus took exception to the title. He was always teaching the crowds. Others called him Rabbi and he didn’t mind.
The answer lies in the heart of the ruler.

By all accounts, Jesus was a great teacher. His methods and his insights were wise and effective. I can say with David that if Jesus were teaching me how to live to please God, I would stick with it all my days. I’m in the process of proving it, for more than four decades now.

No, I think Jesus was making a point about why the guy had come to him in the first place.
This early in life the young man had already achieved riches and status, yet felt something still lacked. (Not unlike our own generation of American young adults.)

And looking at Jesus, he saw someone who might have an answer.

Jesus’s response was intended to point this out. “You see goodness in me because you’re looking at God.”
The ensuing dialogue reveals that even though the man had kept the law he knew it wasn’t enough. Jesus had something he didn’t. I hope you appreciate how odd his uncertainty was, in light of the Old Testament truth that obedience to the Law brought blessing, which the man clearly had.

So Jesus went directly to the heart of the issue. “Give up your blessings for the one who gave them to you.”

I mean, that’s a good teacher.