Friday, May 26, 2017

Ps 119.145

I cry out with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes. Ps 119.145 

I remember the first time I came across the words, “Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call. Answer me.”
Raised Roman Catholic, I attended parochial school for eight years. We went to Mass on Sundays and holy days. I learned rote prayers for different sacraments, and knew the liturgy by heart.

But we didn’t use the Bible and I certainly never read Psalms. To me as a child, God was far too remote and disinterested for personal contact. Religious forms like Mass and the sacraments, not to mention the unusual furnishings and atmosphere of the place, kept Holy God away from little sinner girls like me.

I think that’s why this Scripture caught my attention. Here was someone who talked to God and expected an answer. That I identified it as a prayer says something, it was so unlike any I’d learned. We only said what God wants to hear so that he doesn’t get mad. A lot like Dad who doesn’t want to be bothered by noisy kids.

I had learned the proper way to address God when I was still very young. Every prayer started and ended by blessing myself in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, while making the sign of the cross from head to navel and shoulder to shoulder across my chest. Left to right, right hand only. 
I’m telling you, I remember the details. It’s important to God that we do it right.
To actually pray, simply repeat memorized words. According to the priests—the only ones in the know—this obligated God to answer.
No, that’s not quite right. I didn’t expect God to answer. The pre-scripted prayers were the only words he would accept from someone like me. Prayer didn’t specifically ask anything of God. That was all covered in the Our Father.

Remember, I was young, and my ignorance was due as much to my child mind as to wrong doctrine. I was being taught that God was real, but no one told me what God was like. So I pieced him together from how I had to act in his house.

I questioned the praying man’s audacity. How dared he demand that God listen and answer? No one talked like that in our church. Strangely, now, I look back on that question and feel as Samuel must have, when God called his name in the night. He too was being raised in the Lord’s house. He too had no idea that God talked to people, especially little people like him.

Yet God had a call on Samuel’s life that required them to talk together. Oh, my goodness, that’s true for me! It’s true for every Christian. It’s true for every person who ever lived. And while I appreciate so much of my Catholic upbringing, I understand why I had to leave it behind when God called me to himself.

As long as I remained under the limitations imposed by respect for the church rather than God, I’d never see him any other way.
As long as I let priests and nuns mediate for me, using their words and their actions to deal with him on my behalf, true, I’d never face the stark righteousness and holy wrath of Almighty God.
But neither would I taste the sweetness of his comfort or his patient care, or draw near in peace to the Lover of my soul who created me for himself and loves me with an everlasting love.

Being baptized as a baby, while it made me secure in the knowledge that I belonged to him, took away my responsibility to own my own sin nature. So long as I watched my step around him, God wouldn’t kick me out of his family.

All the years of going to confession, instead of teaching me the mercy and grace in God’s heart that overflowed at Calvary, simply reminded me that I was a wicked sinner who could sidestep punishment by reiterating phrases he liked to hear, especially if I got his Mother involved. Mother with a capital M.

Instead of being my first taste of forgiveness that leads to life, the Eucharist seemed like consummating a marriage. It’s called First Communion, for goodness sake! In some mysterious way, with the white dress and veil and proceeding down the aisle, they married me off to an Ancient Ogre. At the wedding feast, we ate the flesh and blood of his son, who paradoxically was both bride price and groom. Looking back it feels a lot creepier than it did then.

When it came time to confirm my faith, I still knew as little of what it meant to love God as I ever did. I took a patron saint whose job was to put in a good word for me with the Divine. I think. That’s when my guardian angel handed my dossier--along with the transcript of my sins--over to her, and washed his hands of me once and for all.

Honestly, that was it. I was on my own.
I could help myself by continuing to do the things I’d been taught.
Go to confession. And do the penance.
Take communion. To miss Mass was to draw the “Go directly to Hell card.”
Repeat the prayers. That’s why we memorize them.

They made this easy with a few talismans.
One, a scapular to remind me of my religion. Like I’d ever forget, given the training in those formative years!
Another, a set of rosary beads.

Jesus’s mother was my best advocate if I ever got into trouble, especially as a girl. (Did they think all girls were inclined to illegitimate teenage pregnancies? No, wait, Mary never sinned.)
It would be prudent to keep on Mother Mary’s good side. She liked a lot of attention. Ten times more prayers address Jesus’s mother than his Father in the rosary. This made sense to me. I was afraid of my dad too. And it's just easier to get what I need from mom than from dad.

After more than four decades of devotion to God, the most glaring failure of that early grounding in Christianity is that personal contact with Scripture found no place in it.
I love that my Father God spoke to me as a child and called me into loving, living relationship. I love that I’ve tasted firsthand the goodness of his nature. I love that my Savior breathes through me. I love that by his Spirit I can see and hear the hearts of others who need him as much as I do, and I can help them find him.

But none of that came out of the religion of my childhood, despite the massive foundation laid down in me.

No, my love affair with God began when I met him outside his house. I no longer practice religion but I still belong to him. I gladly call him my God and my Friend.
My continuance in the faith rests on a deep and abiding attachment to the Word of God, whom I’ve come to know so well through the written Scriptures.
Without them, I’d still be making up sins to tell the priest, and kneeling at the altar to say a few Hail Marys.
I’d still be sticking out my tongue to receive a wafer too sacred for my hands to hold.
I’d still be sitting in the pew trying not to giggle at the silly man chanting up front.

I’d still be lost in my own Father’s house.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ps 119.144

The righteousness of your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding, and I shall live. Ps 119.144 

And here we are back at righteousness. See what I mean about this being a theme?
We’ve already seen that God’s righteousness is defined as the rightness of all that he does. Every act (thoughts, words, and deeds) he commits is the wisest and best act that could be committed. The implication is that any act that does not conform to this standard is unrighteous. It is the definition of sin, to act other than according to the perfect will of God.
David again calls it everlasting.
That it endures is one of the great hopes of the Gospel. But what does everlasting righteousness mean? 
To find out, let’s look at some of the places where righteousness comes up in Scripture.

The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. Isaiah 32.17
The end goal of all that God does in history is to establish peace. When we actually practice doing what’s right, the result is peace, not just in our situations but in our souls too. What does that peace look and feel like? Not a lot of agitation and drama and worry and anxiety. The exact opposite, in fact. It isn’t a temporary denial of stress, either. It will last. This verse is a road map for getting out of depression and anxiety. It’s simple message echoes God’s words to Cain—do what’s right.

Who raised up one from the east? Who in righteousness called him to His feet?
Isaiah 41.2
Isaiah prophesied about the return of the captives from Babylon. But Israel was appalled that God would even send his people away. They lived confident that their status as God’s chosen people protected them from disasters like invading armies. Judah saw Assyria invade and conquer the northern kingdom, but because Hezekiah and Isaiah sought the Lord, their southern kingdom was spared. They assumed they’d be just as safe when Babylon was on the rise.
But God spoke a very unsettling word to them through the prophet Habakkuk, “Look among the nations and watch—Be utterly astounded! … For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans to possess dwelling places not their own.” Essentially, God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to come take them away. They were going into captivity because of their history of disobedience. But long before Habakkuk questioned God, Isaiah prophesied the righteousness of God’s calling of Cyrus to return them to the land at the end of the appointed exile.

Rain down, you heavens, from above, And let the skies pour down righteousness; Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, And let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it. Isaiah 45:8
The righteousness of heaven is the standard of God that we cannot meet apart from Christ, and the measure of perfection we attain through the Indwelling Spirit. Together they bring forth a righteousness in the earth, a salvation that God has created, from justification to sanctification to glorification.

My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, And My arms will judge the peoples; The coastlands will wait upon me, and on my arm they will trust. … But my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will not be abolished. Isaiah 51:5-6 
At this point in the history of the world, God had already set in motion the pieces that would come together to produce the world culture elements necessary to antagonize the Jewish leaders, execute Christ, and spread the Gospel to the known world. And God saw all that preparation as his salvation going forth from him, and his righteousness being near to his people. Like the Word of the Lord that remains forever, his salvation and righteousness will never be destroyed.

Seventy weeks are determined … to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Dan 9:24
In keeping with the messages God sent through Isaiah concerning the salvation he was working through the Jews for the whole world, God gave visions to Daniel that laid down the path of history. He showed the conflict and succession of empires. He gave glimpses into the spiritual realm. He even pictured how it would all end. More than any other passage perhaps, this verse demonstrates the eternality of God’s righteousness. His plan is so certain to take place that he declares it before it happens.

Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. Psa 132:9, 16
The high priest was given garments to wear only when he went into the presence of God. This reminds us of the parable in which a guest came to the wedding feast wearing the wrong clothes. Bad move. He was thrown out into the darkness where people weep and gnash their teeth. For the priests, each article they wore had been carefully designed and crafted to reflect special meaning between God and the people. The people shouted for joy to see their priest adorned to go in to God on their behalf. How much more joy will the saints share when we see Jesus, clothed in righteousness and salvation, going into the presence of God on our behalf!

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles. Isa 42:6
Jesus was born to be the light to the Gentiles. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. He was lifted up from the earth and draws all men to himself. Now each one of us who bears his name has been called in righteousness to carry the light of Christ to the world. We shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the Word of Life. But we go nowhere alone when the Lord himself holds our other hand.

Across the Scriptures, righteousness speaks to the way God worked out his plan of salvation. He knew before he started what he would do, and every move on his part drove history toward the cross. There he accomplished his purpose in Christ. He daily extends the offer of eternal life to all who by faith will receive.

Ps 119.143

Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet your commandments are my delights. Ps 119.143 

This is about the kingdom. We can expect tribulation and trouble but when it comes we have to land on what God has commanded. He calls us to love—a crazy strategy in a world at war. He does not require evil to happen, but he knows it will. He has sent us into battle and we will be hurt. He faithfully turns all our wounds into means of strengthening our endurance and capacity for love.

But that’s hardly the point. While we’d prefer to think of ourselves as his children with the privileges of safety and comfort, we’re also his servants, actually his slaves. Our Father God is sovereign over all things. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, including you and me. Not only that, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. He earned the Name above every name when he subjected himself to the will of God at Calvary. Every knee must bow to Jesus, including yours and mine. The Sovereign God rules creation through the God-man.

One day Jesus intends to turn the kingdom over to his father, after the last of his enemies is under his feet.
But it is not this day.  We’re still in the process of routing the enemy.
So we go to war. Foolish if we don’t admit it or prepare for it.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to think like warriors. Lead us not into temptation, because we’re going to follow our Commander. His commandments are our delights. We’ll go where he goes and do what he says.

So go before us, King Jesus, and scout the territory.
What lies ahead on the path of our obedience? We don’t know but we won’t let that stop us.
We press on, trusting the one who leads. Though we walk through flooding rivers we won’t drown, or through fire we won’t burn. For Jesus our King is with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

We will fear no evil but, please God, deliver us from it.
We are—or ought to be—always walking into enemy territory, that realm that sometimes has earthly geography, where evil has sway.

This is why we go there in Jesus’s name. We’re on a mission to rescue captives, release prisoners, declare freedom and victory. You don’t think the enemy’s going to let that happen without a fight, do you? No, they’ll turn their energies toward ridding the field of the agents of King Jesus.

That explains persecution, anyway.
Saul persecuted early Jewish Christians because they could not be warned off. People believed what they said and made Jesus their Lord. It sounded like blasphemy to say the Messiah had come and died, even if they claimed he rose again.
Until he met the ascended Jesus on the road into Damascus.
Ironically, the enemies of the kingdom now persecuted him. It didn’t matter. He took one look at the world in need of a Savior, trapped by their fear of death and the darkness of their depravity, and dressed himself for war in what has famously become known as the Armor of God.

Down through the ages, the enemies of the light have tried to silence the Gospel of the Kingdom. It never works. The blood of the martyrs, as the saying goes, is the seed of the church. To their dismay, the more the enemies destroy believers, the stronger the church becomes. That’s because there is a power that goes before us and drives out the enemy. Already defeated, they yet do not yield ground until the light of the Gospel shines their eyes out.

Christians must carry that torch into every dark corner they find. Places filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Where people are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. Where there are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful. Where they invent ways of doing evil, disobey their parents, have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Such people need the light of truth and grace, and those enemies need to be put down.

I love the imagery that trouble and anguish overtake us in this fight. Even among Christians, some people see themselves as victims of a cosmic injustice that fails to cater to their happiness. They can’t see past what they want but don’t have, and feel they have the right to complain about their misery. Worse than the foolish Israelites in the desert who preferred the leeks and onions of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of depending on the Most High God. “Trouble and anguish” don’t overtake them so much as it grows up around them.

But for those who fight the good fight of faith, that trouble and anguish overtake us simply shows they’re pursuing from behind. We run where we need to go, we don’t sit under a broom tree and sleep. We’re on the move, pressing on toward conquest. The kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing and forceful people lay hold of it. This is not a dainty little exercise in diplomacy. We’ve been sent to make disciples in every nation. Not even the gates of Hell will stand against the onslaught of the Gospel.

Let me be clear. We do ourselves a grave disservice if we don’t accept at the outset that we will probably end up dead. As Paul said, we’re hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. We will always be given over to death for Jesus’ sake.

For the past 2000 years, believers have died for their faith. Jesus told us that to follow him meant taking up a cross. Every day. He ended up naked and bruised, bleeding and dying.
The enemy intends nothing but harm and we will be broken. Count on it.
He appears to have missed the point that brokenness is the path to our victory and his defeat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ps 119.142

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is truth. Ps 119.142 

When Scripture says something twice at once, pay attention. So let’s talk about righteousness. The word comes up 315 times in Scripture. It’s often paired (58x), mostly with justice (38x) or salvation (17x) but less often with peace (10x) and with love (5x).

Righteousness is not generally a popular subject, especially in the mouth of Christians. We bow to society’s aversion and keep silent under a misguided concern to give no offense. And yet… I’m going out on a limb here, but I think we’re wrong in this. I say so because, according to Jesus, he specifically sent the Spirit to convict the world through Christians.

The Holy Spirit in them, said Jesus, convicts the world in three separate but related ways. The first is sin. People are convicted not based on bad behavior—Jesus already paid the penalty for all sin for all time—but because they don’t believe in Jesus. That makes unbelief the greatest sin, our most fundamental flaw. God loved the world in such a way that he made it possible for us to gain eternal life. Since that life is in the Son, those who believe in him have life and those who do not, don’t have life.

Second, he convicts concerning righteousness. This isn’t about sin either. It’s about transformation, about becoming someone who conforms in every way to God’s own perfect being. While faith in Jesus saves us and opens the way to eternal life, it’s the fact that Jesus has gone to the Father and is no longer visible that makes eternal life possible. His life in exchange for ours. His righteousness making everything right within us.

Simply put, if Jesus had not gone back to the Father, the Spirit could not dwell within a person, which is how he transforms us. Jesus in heaven prepares a place for us there. The Spirit here prepares us for a place in heaven. How does he do it? Externally he will transform these lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Yes, in moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed. Internally, we all with unveiled faces are being transformed into the image of the Lord. From glory to glory, as the saying goes. What this looks like in everyday life is enough to convict the world concerning righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. A third conviction arises as a consequence of this transformation, and it involves judgment. We all fall short. Not a problem for those who believe in Jesus. The Spirit gives us what we lack—the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That righteousness corrects behavior by changing our thoughts and attitudes. Both the inward and outward change is evidence that the devil has been stripped of authority and it given to Christ. 

Judgment is coming, only people are without excuse. I’m not talking here about the evidence of God’s divine nature and eternal power seen in creation. That only proves that God is real. This evidence clarifies the  distinction between good and evil—the fruit of that forbidden tree in Eden—and makes each person accountable for their own choices. Before Christ’s work on the cross, everyone was bound by sin. Now, the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death. We’re no longer slaves to sin. To choose wickedness is straight-up rebellion when the King has commanded righteousness and made it available to all.

Don’t miss the significance of the fact that the Holy Spirit’s convicting work is to happen through believers. The Spirit did not come to indwell the people of the world, but those who had faith in Jesus. At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on “all flesh” but not on everyone in Jerusalem or near the Upper Room. The outpouring that sounded like the whoosh of an explosion and looked like hair on fire only happened to those who already believed in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is not out there in the air willy-nilly convicting people as they go about their day. Rather, people see how Christians live and love under the rule of the Spirit and they take notice. The evidence of his presence may be extraordinary, but it isn’t that which convicts. Visiting Jews came to see what the noise was about. The joy and freedom that had erupted looked like drunkenness, but it sounded like praise spoken in the hearer’s own language.

Yet not until Peter preached the good news of Jesus’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit did the crowds repent. Hadn’t Jesus told them that they would receive power to be his witnesses? Isn’t that exactly what happened? And continued to happen every single time the Spirit was poured out on a gathering of people when they put their faith in Jesus?

Many wrong teachings have gone out about the “baptism in the Spirit” but I think the worst is this, that some have made it into an individual experience to be sought for its own sake. Even the Old Testament prophet Joel, whose words Peter quoted at the time, is misrepresented. That God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh points toward the corporate context of the release of the Spirit’s power. There are moments for every individual when we commune at a sublime level in the Spirit. John was doing it on Patmos when he received the Revelation. Paul was doing it when he was taken up into the third heaven to saw surpassing things he was not allowed to discuss.

Jesus made it clear what our priorities must be. If we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all the rest is ours as well. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we’ll be filled. Every time we gather in his Name, he is there. May he show himself present by pouring out his Spirit on us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ps 119.141

I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. Ps 119.141 

When did David first hear the precepts of God? I imagine him copying Moses’s words onto a scroll as Samuel dictated them. The Holy Spirit, already on David from the time of his anointing, taught him to love the commands and to live this way before God. I love the heart of this brave little David, for that’s when I think he wrote this verse. Maybe it was his first journal entry after he got his copy of the Law. 

But it didn’t have to be when he was young. David often lived under the shadow of being small and despised.
Despised by his father as too little in age to be called in from the sheep fields when the prophet came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons.
Despised by his older brothers as too little in experience to even be at the battlefield when he brought provisions from their father for the soldiers.
Despised by the king as too little in training to fight a warrior like the Philistine champion who defied the armies of the Living God.
Despised by Goliath as too little in stature to challenge him with a sling shot and five smooth stones.
Despised by Saul as too little in anointing to be acclaimed for his valiant exploits, even though he killed ten times as many enemies.
Despised by Michal as too little in dignity to sit on her father’s throne, even though God had taken the kingdom away from Saul and given it to David.
Despised even by himself as too little in worth to receive God’s promise of an eternal dynasty when he wanted to build a house for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Not long after God made that promise to him, David sinned with Bathsheba. He had to know it was wrong, given his love for God’s law. Trying to cover it up didn’t work, and killing Uriah only added to his guilt. The prophet Nathan pronounced the Lord’s judgment—adversity would arise from within his own house.

David admitted his great sin and acknowledged his bloodguilt. [Which is exactly why God would not let him build the temple, btw.] He deserved to die, but God chose to spare him and took the child’s life instead, “because by this deed he had given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” Despite God’s righteous judgment, David spent a week fasting and praying that God would extend mercy to the child. God did not relent.

When the child did not recover, David cleaned himself up and moved on. He and Bathsheba had another son, Solomon, who would one day succeed David. This is the child through whom God would keep his promise to build a dynasty for David. This child whose birth was the essence of God’s mercy to a sinful man. God did not forsake his promise because David sinned. I image David felt little in his own eyes when God named Solomon his successor.

While Solomon grew, God’s judgment of adversity arising within David’s home was executed. His son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. When David did not punish him, Absalom, Tamar’s brother and David’s second son, killed Amnon to avenge Tamar.

Absalom had little respect for David. He set about turning the hearts of the people away from the king and toward himself by settling cases apart from the court. He further subverted some of the priests and David’s counselors to his side. His insurrection culminated in declaring himself king right under David’s nose.

David packed up and fled the city, taking refuge in Mahanaim. But he never seemed to blame Absalom or anyone else for their derision or lack of loyalty. He understood his smallness before God, that God ordained this as consequence of his sin. He would not raise his hand against his despisers, for he knew how much he deserved their scorn.

Nevertheless, David had the invaluable help of Joab, who commanded the armies of Israel. Joab had one goal, and that was to protect David’s kingdom. As soon as he got the chance, he found Absalom and put him to death without mercy.
That God allowed this trouble because of David’s sin—remember Joab is the one who put Uriah on the front line at David’s request—didn’t make it right for Absalom to usurp the throne God had promised to David.

David was devastated by the death of Absalom. He wept long and loud.
Joab was furious at this because David was in danger of losing the kingdom Joab had worked so hard to return to him.
Which is ironic in its own way, since in just a few years he would side with Adonijah when he prematurely made himself David’s successor. To be fair, Adonijah truly was the first in line to inherit the throne, and David was at death’s door.

In the case of Adonijah, however, David did not hesitate to speak up.
Here we see the beauty of David’s love for God’s Word. 
He stood fast in the precepts God had ordained to be true whether it made David happy or not.
He did not resist Absalom because he saw his rebellion as the outworking of his due penalty decreed by God.
But neither did he let Adonijah take the throne, since God had clearly stated that Solomon would be king.

That’s what it means to not forget God’s precepts.
Whether we are successful in the world’s terms or not.
Whether we’re living through glorious days or suffering the heartache of loss from our own folly and sin.
Whether we have it in us to submit to  God or collapse under the weight of God’s rebuke.
Small or big, loved or scorned, we must fight to hold on to God’s Word.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ps 119.140

Your word is very pure; therefore your servant loves it. Ps 119.140 

God’s word has been put to the test, leaving no impurities or falseness. That’s why it attracts me and awakens so much devotion and such genuine pleasant affection in me.

Scripture testifies to its own purity in many places.
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
The word of the Lord is proven. He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in him.
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

I wonder what David had in mind when he thought of the purity of God’s Word. Remember, Scriptures he had access to consisted only of the writings of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, eight books at most.

To the people of Israel long before David, God had proved his Word throughout their history. Joshua led the  people into the land, conquered its kings north and south, and distributed territory to each of the tribes. He established their religion as directed by Moses and set up a memorial as witness. When it came time for him to die, he addressed the people in a farewell address, charging them to remember to serve the Lord.

“You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you,” he told them. “All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed.”

The Lord had warned them to destroy the inhabitants of the land or they would end up snared by their idols. The cycle of oppression and judge-deliverer that followed Joshua and preceded the monarchy testifies to God meaning what he said.

God was faithful to his word to Samuel. Raised in the tabernacle, the boy learned at an early age to discern the voice of Yahweh. The first time the Lord spoke to him, it was a prophecy against the house of Eli for all their wickedness as priests. His obedience to repeat it to Eli led to further prophecies. The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

By the time Samuel was old, the nation wanted a king. He led them in the coronation of not one but two kings according to God’s directions. David received his first copy of the Law from Samuel, and under the teaching of the prophet he learned the character of his God, the laws, the accounts of the wilderness wanderings, the conquest of the land. By the time he took the throne, he knew that God had indeed done what he said he would do. He was king over a nation whose enemies had been destroyed just as God had promised.

David also had the evidence of his own encounters with God. He learned to inquire of the Lord when he first fled from Saul and came to the priests at Nob where Ahimelech the priest sought God on his behalf.
Later when Saul slaughtered these priests, one of Ahimelech’s sons escaped t to David with the ephod from the tabernacle. From that day, David began to inquire of the Lord for himself. This is not something Saul or anyone had done besides the high priest.

David’s first inquiry concerned the Philistines robbing the threshing floors at Keilah. When his men balked, he inquired again, and got the Lord’s promise to deliver the Philistines into his hand. The next time he inquired of the Lord, the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and retreated. God said go.
After the death of Saul, David inquired whether he should go up to Judah, and to which city.
Once he had become king of Israel, the Philistines attacked, so David inquired of the Lord, who gave him permission and a battle strategy.

One of the most striking examples, however, happened when the nation had endured a famine for three years.
David knew about famines from his reading of the days of the patriarchs. Abraham went down to Egypt during the first. The Lord told Isaac to stay in Gerar during the second. Jacob brought his sons down to Joseph in Egypt during the third. The only other famine recorded in the Scriptures David had, was in the time of his great-grandmother Ruth. It was a famine that sent Elimelech and his family to Moab.

So when year after year the famine continued, David knew something was wrong. So he inquired of the Lord. “It’s because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house,” the Lord answered. “Because he killed the Gibeonites.”

The Gibeonites were a Hivite tribe north of Jerusalem when Joshua showed up and destroyed Jericho and Ai. Smart fellows won a peace treaty from the Israelites even though the Lord had told them not to make alliances with anyone living in the land. They may have been tricked into it, but God expected them to honor it. This Joshua did by making the Gibeonites caretakers for the tabernacle. Their role continued into David’s day. Saul had killed many of them for being Gentile. But God hated this violation of the treaty and sent a famine to get David’s attention in order to avenge Saul’s wrong.

You wouldn’t expect it but this story, the last recorded incident in which David publicly inquired of the Lord, is connected with the first time he did so. When Saul slaughtered the priests of Nob for helping David, the tabernacle moved to Gibeon where it remained until Solomon built the temple and brought its furnishings in.

Perhaps the reason Saul executed the Gibeonites had to do with this. Saul had lost the kingdom to David because he did not honor God. His jealousy caused him to chase David, in the course of which he set in motion a process that began with killing the priests at Nob, and ended with the tabernacle moving to Gibeon. When he saw the heathen of Gibeon serving, he killed them as a way to demonstrate his zeal. But logic but about right for Saul.

In all this, David saw the purity of God’s words, never failing and never changing. He found no need for loopholes or equivocations. He loved that God would keep his promises—for justice, faithfulness, compassion, and so much more.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ps 119.139

My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten your words. Ps 119.139 

The one time we see Jesus letting zeal consume him, he makes a whip out of cords, drives animals out of the temple, and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. Just telling it agitates us. 

John connects Jesus cleansing the temple with Scripture that makes zeal (jealous anger) a response to enemies. The religious leaders hated what Jesus was doing, both his miracles and his teachings, because it laid bare their own impotent piety. So they sought to trap him and plotted to get rid of him, even if it meant killing him. I love this scene because we see God-in-the-flesh taking action against his enemies, which is rare in the New Testament.

Much closer to the picture most of us have of God in the Old Testament, full of wrath and judgment. He seems hard to satisfy, raging against both his enemies and his people. We have to search for tenderness or warmth in his fiery nature. The slightest infraction can bring down harsh punishment.
Adam and Eve took one bite of the forbidden fruit and lost Eden.
Cain offered the wrong sacrifice and ended up banished. Well, he did murder his brother.
God destroyed the whole world by flood, sparing only eight people who turned out not to be so righteous.
Builders at Babel were scattered for trying to get to God.
God decimated Egypt for resisting his will to free his people.
The whole generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness for being afraid of giants. Minus two.
Moses couldn’t enter the promised land because he lost his temper one day.
Saul lost the kingship because he didn’t wait for Samuel.
David’s son died because he sinned with Bathsheba. He did kill her husband, too.

These and so many other examples—equally misunderstood—create our idea of God as one whose temper we must fear, or risk vengeance. [I say misunderstood because what we call temper is actually holiness, and well we should fear its ruthless impulse to consume everything that offends. No one would ever be safe were it not for the mercy that triumphs over judgment in the heart of God.]

But that’s what makes Jesus so fascinating. He steps on the stage of Biblical history through the Incarnation.
God clothed himself with flesh and lived among his people. Jesus just isn’t what we would expect. How could the perfect, righteous, holy God walk among sinners and not spit nails?
I think that’s why Jesus was reluctant to interact with Gentiles. At least the holiness imparted by the covenant protected the Jews. It’s noteworthy that the two Gentile exceptions were people whose faith amazed Jesus—precursors to the gospel truth that we are saved by faith apart from the law.

Although infinitely kind, at times strong emotions affected Jesus, despite movies that portray him as insipid and weak. He was angry at the leaders who didn’t want him to heal a man’s withered hand or a demon-crippled woman because it was the Sabbath. He called them hypocrites and vipers. It’s hard to imagine a smile on his face when he talked like that.

What about the time he raised Lazarus from the dead in a very public showdown with the real enemy—death?
He groaned inwardly at the weeping of Mary and her fellow mourners. He groaned again when the Jews faulted him for not being there to heal Lazarus. That word groan comes from the way horses snort with anger or indignation. Jesus wasn’t angry with the people. He loved Mary and would never fault her sorrow. Rather, his wrath was aroused by the wrongness of death and grief, and the lies they create about his Father. Oh, but he restrained the strength of his reaction. He chose instead to right this one wrong, to take back one captive snared by death.

Here is a window into the heart of God. To walk the earth as a God-man, the Second Person of the Trinity willingly laid aside his power and privileges. 
Outside Jerusalem in the little village of Bethany, the God-heart that hates sin and the death it brings was stirred. Not one of Jesus’s miracles—not healing or multiplying bread or calming storms or driving out demons, not even resurrections—nothing demonstrates the sheer majesty of Jesus’s divinity the way his self control did in this scene. So angry at what should never be, he could then and there have broken the power of all death over all people for all time. I think his groaning tells us he even wanted to.

Death makes wretches of people, and this makes God angry. Death may be the due penalty for sin, but it was never God’s intention that we should suffer at its hands. Death, from its first appearance in Eden, evokes nothing but the wrath of God. This anger that we see so much of in the Old Testament is not toward sinners but toward the slavery that sin brings. God hates sin for this reason. He mandated death as the penalty for sin as the necessary means to the Atonement. Other than that, death has no value to God. Every funeral Jesus went to, he raised the dead to life.

Can you imagine the hurt Jesus felt at being faulted his not healing Lazarus?
Foolish people, they had no idea God has in mind a far greater life than the best we hope to experience here.
Shame on us if we only want earthly health, as those critics did, when God has worked out an eternity in his presence where he himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. No more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. No more pain, because everything from this life—good as it might be—will have passed away.

Oh God, may your zeal consume me when your enemies forget your words.

Ps 119.138

Your testimonies, which you have commanded, Are righteous and very faithful. Ps 119.138

God has ordained his testimonies, the things that give evidence of who he is and what he’s like. They are right because he is the one who made them, and they remain true forever because he’s not going to change.

That might be my favorite thing to do, take a verse and put it in my own words that convey what I understand it to say. It’s not the only interpretation, or even the only way I’ll ever understand it, but today, that’s what it’s saying to me. I think that’s what’s behind the idea of paraphrased versions of the Bible.

When I was a kid, Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible was popular, not to be confused with the more recent New Living Translation. Nowadays, Eugene Peterson’s The Message enjoys popularity.  Good News for Modern Man and The Good News Bible are closer to paraphrases than translations. Paraphrases are not translations, which are produced by analysis of language in original manuscripts. But because paraphrases use modern forms of speech, they eliminate some of the difficulty we have in understanding the Bible because of its archaic and often obscure content.

So while paraphrases have this benefit, they’re also a danger. They contain only one interpretation of what God is saying. This is very different from setting forth, as best as language allows, what God actually says in another language. Paraphrasers tell us what they think the Scripture means while translators simply tell us what it says. To reduce God’s written Word to a personal expression can do real harm, especially when we interpret it through our own values and norms.

You can see the danger in this. Imagine your boss sends you a note saying, “There’s a bomb in the office.” You tell your co-workers, “The boss wants us out of the office.” That’s a valid paraphrase because your boss probably does want his workers safely out of the office. But it isn’t even close to what was said, and that’s where the danger comes in. People respond to what you said as if it were the whole message. One is a workaholic and stays. Another goes on vacation. Nobody calls the bomb squad.

Just pay attention to how you read when it comes to the Bible. While the ancient cultures in which it was written will likely be foreign to us, we have to trust that God has preserved his truth for us. The Anointing we received, the Indwelling Holy Spirit, is a faithful teacher of all things written in the enduring Word of God. The Spirit and the Word are both of the same mind. They can and often do bring forth the same truth, even if through different means.

Each of us must let the Spirit instruct us concerning the testimonies of God. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that you can read the same verse or passage on different days and see something new. It’s not that what you understood last time is no longer true, but there is fresh insight that you didn’t get, maybe because what you understood previously was more immediately relevant to your situation than this new insight.

This is like eating food in a different way from what you are used to . I grew up eating oatmeal for breakfast. One day someone gave me an oatmeal cookie. We grew tomatoes in our kitchen garden. One day someone gave us tomato jam. I’ve even seen hot pepper jelly! My dad drank beer—vile stuff. I was stunned by how delicious a pot roast cooked in it could be. I just read a recipe that adds canned mixed greens to devils food cake mix! Who even thought that up?

The Word of God is like that. It calls itself “living and active.” It has the supernatural potential to speak to any situation, because it is the word of God. This tells me that it’s more about the One who speaks than the language being spoken. It comes alive in the believer’s spirit. It was never meant to be simply a source of interesting reading material.

God’s purpose in creation and redemption, which he accomplished in Christ, was to make himself known to a people who would enter into a relationship of love with him. One thing people require is a communication, and for that, God gave us the written Word. He did it long ago, and despite how often and variously it is translated, it remains.

No, God spoke so that we’d have a record of his dealings with us, what Scripture calls his testimonies. Everything he did to create the world and establish its precepts recorded in early Genesis tells us about him. The history of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the prophets after the exiles return can give us insight to how he accomplishes his purposes. The prophets spoke the very words of God, and we can read them centuries later. This is a gift to all who want to know him. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ps 119.137

Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are your judgments. Ps 119.137

Jeremiah lived in a time when the nation was in bad shape. Not only had they forsaken the worship of Yahweh, they further presumed on their election as God’s chosen people to protect them from the coming wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. They were wrong.

Jeremiah prophesied that a ruler would come as a branch of righteousness out of David. He would reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. His name would be called Yahweh Tsidkenu, the Lord Our Righteousness.

You don’t get far in the Bible before righteousness becomes an issue. It matters to God that we conform to his standard, not just in our outward behavior but also in our inward thoughts and attitudes. And while people might think we behave uprightly, the One who sees the heart knows our guilt. Jesus clearly taught that even absolute observance of the law is not enough to qualify us for the kingdom of God.

That’s because God himself is the measure of what’s right. This is David’s exclamation. God is righteous. Every judgment he makes is right, simply by virtue of being the one who makes them. If he does it or says it or thinks it, then it’s the right thing to do or say or think. 

Considering how long the religious leaders had worked to make law-based righteousness measurable, they refused to accept Jesus’s teaching that their behavior wasn’t good enough. Since the return from exile, the scribes and Pharisees took law-keeping seriously, their number one duty to God. 

For centuries they had entire schools devoted to determining God’s intentions behind every law given to Moses. One mandate, for example, states that they must not boil a goat kid in its mother’s milk. From this have come an array of dietary laws concerning the separation of dairy from other kinds of food. This also explains their hyper vigilance of Jesus’s behavior on the Sabbath, their utter rejection of non-Jews, their obsession with ceremonial cleansing, and the like. This may seem silly or excessive to us, but they were determined not to make mistakes that inadvertently offended God.

They weren’t necessarily wrong, except that they neglected the weightier matters of the Law—justice, mercy, and faith—for mere technicalities. But this kind of righteousness could never make them acceptable to God, which is exactly what Paul taught the Gentiles. A righteousness from God was revealed in the gospel that set aside the Law. For if righteousness comes through the law, he said, then Christ died in vain.

But Christ did not die in vain. He dragged his flesh-laden spirit all the way to Calvary and exchanged his perfect life for our sin. “Here you go, Dad,” he said on the cross. “Take my spirit.” Then he died.
Ever after, for all who offer their sin and receive his life, the exchange is made.

That’s what it means to be saved by grace through faith.
We believe that the life Jesus lived satisfied God’s requirements for perfect righteousness.
Because we know that it is impossible for us to become righteous as he was—since we all fall short of complete conformity to the divine will, we cast ourselves imperfect but desperate on the mercy of God.
We have the Father’s promise of grace. He will save everyone who comes to him through faith in Jesus.
It is entirely a condescension on God’s part that we do not deserve, and yet if we will take him at his word and ask for his promised gift, we will receive his living Spirit—and that’s only a deposit on the inheritance to come.

I’m not sure we talk enough about the imputation of righteousness. It’s the pivotal point on which the entire Gospel turns. But because the big words sound theologically important, we leave the topic with seminarians and live as if it’s true but irrelevant.
I’m here to say that to be considered righteous in God’s eyes is no small thing.
The word righteousness is used 315 times in the NKJV, and righteous another 262 times. Is this a topic we should   treat with disinterest?

Many blessings of favor come with no longer being enemies of God, such as access with boldness to the throne room of heaven and legitimate authority to use the all-powerful name of Jesus.

But the most important blessing has to do with the transformation of our nature.
When God first announced the new covenant he planned to make with his people, he proposed to write his law not on stone tablets but on human hearts. And in case of hearts made of stone, he would take out the heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.  This radical transformation is based on liberation from the chains that bound us to our sin nature, broken by faith in the mercy of God.

The righteousness imputed to us is not merely accounted to us, like money put on a debit card. The righteousness that is by faith fills up whatever we lack that leads us to act against God’s will. As Christians we do not need to fret about proper behavior, although uprightness is the mark of Christ’s presence. But we are free to act according to our redeemed heart, and this will never fall into the category of sin that it would have before coming to Christ.

We are free to express creativity and beauty and life and love and goodness. There’s no law against the fruit of the Spirit, and there’s no judgment for failure.

All his righteous judgments were executed on Jesus, for our failures and for our rebellions. He who knew no sin became sin in our place, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be fille

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ps 119.136

Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep your law. Ps 119.136

No one brings this verse more to life than Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king of Persia who become governor of Judea. In many ways, he is the unsung father of the Pharisees.
Nehemiah had an inherent concern for Jerusalem, probably because he lived in exile at the time God began to return the Jewish captives to their homeland. He rose to a position of trust in the king’s household but never lost his heart for his homeland.

Just as the Jews went into exile in stages, the nobility going first with such notables as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, so they returned in stages. Ezra went first, with priests and Levites, to rebuild the temple by order of Cyrus of Persia, conqueror of the Babylonian empire and heir of the silver kingdom.

Ezra had been in Jerusalem more than ten years, embroiled in the local politics of neighboring nations resistant to Judah being established, when a handful of Jews came to the capital at Susa as emissaries . One of them, Nehemiah’s own brother, reported to Nehemiah that the remnant who had gone back to Judea were in great trouble and disgrace, since the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates had been burned with fire.

Thus began Nehemiah’s career as advocate and governor of the promised land. From his sadness before the king to his religious regulations, the book in the Old Testament that bears his name resounds with his passion for the righteousness of the Laws of God. He rallied the people to rebuild the walls, working under military guard if necessary. He set up the government and made sure that while they remained loyal to the empire they were faithful to God’s Law.

If there’s one thing the people learned at the cost of exile, it was to take God seriously when he promised to punish disobedience. Moses himself had warned the people before ever they set foot in the Holy Land that all the curses—famine, pestilence, war, even exile—would come upon them if they did not keep God’s commands. This is exactly what had happened, and now they knew it.

But it was mostly thanks to the efforts of men like Ezra and Nehemiah that the nation learned this lesson. Ezra, priest and student of the Law, was primarily responsible for rebuilding the temple and bringing back religious practices of Judaism. He negotiated the politics of establishing and keeping the work going at this remote distance from the capital. Letters went back and forth to resolve the opposition. The work went forward in fits and starts. Ultimately, it took the Lord’s urgings through the last of the minor prophets like Haggai and Zechariah and Malachi to get it done.

God was already raising up Nehemiah for the next phase of the Restoration.
Nehemiah’s heart is evident even from his first recorded prayer. He understood the greatness of the nation’s sin in rebelling against God, and the righteous judgment that sent them out. He also knew something of the divine nature that loves mercy and is faithful to his own Word. Thus Nehemiah confessed their sin on behalf of all the children of Israel, and pleaded for God to relent.

While in exile the people had mourned for their homeland. They copied and rewrote some of their history, including the Law and the recorded words of the prophets. To all these Nehemiah had access. Remember that the kings of Babylon approved of Daniel and his God, whom Nebuchadnezzar named the Most High God. The people knew exile was to last 70 years, for the Lord had said so to Jeremiah, tying it to the number of Sabbath years they had neglected.

Ezra returned to the land as a priest. Nehemiah, although sent to govern, was more interested in preserving Judaism. They made a good pair. While Ezra was a prominent religious figure, like Zechariah the prophet, Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the king. Trained in the court of the Persian emperor, Nehemiah was equipped with diplomatic favor and power.

So he came to Jerusalem with discretion. He told no one why he was there until he had gone out in secret—at night—to inspect the situation. He organized and motivated the work of rebuilding the walls, the first step toward future independence. He let no distraction or opposition hinder their progress.

But his greatest contribution to the history of the nation lies in his unflagging commitment to make the people keep the Law. After establishing religious rites in concert with Ezra, he called for public confession and a renewal of the covenant. Then he turned his eyes on flagrant violations of the Law.

He began by enforcing the mandates to preserve separateness from the peoples of other nations, a problem that no one seemed to notice since they had been in exile. He excluded foreigners from coming in to the assembly of God. While he was away, the high priest had installed an Ammonite dignitary in the house of God, giving him rooms as a residence in the temple. Nehemiah threw him and all his belongings out. In the Gospels, the chief priests and rulers were serious segregationists, especially where Gentiles are concerned.

He re-instituted the tithes as portion for the Levites and singers, who had been forced to return to the fields to make a living. He brought them back to Jerusalem and made sure they were provided for by the people. In the Gospels, the chief priests and rulers were wealthy off the largess of the people.

Next he tackled the Sabbath offenders, from farmers and vintners to nobles who condoned work on the Sabbath, to those who carried on business and set up markets and let foreign traders in. In the Gospels, the chief priests and rulers were more than a little preoccupied with what Jesus did on the Sabbath.

Finally, and perhaps most fiercely, he literally attacked those who had taken foreign wives and raised their children with no knowledge of God or the Hebrew language. He made them divorce these women and send them and their children away.

It’s a sad truth that what Nehemiah intended to preserve the people in their devotion to God, turned out to be the very thing that kept them from seeing God when he came to them.

Ps 119.135

Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. Ps 119.135 

You’ve probably heard the traditional benediction—

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Beautiful. But what does it mean?

John saw that countenance one day when he was worshiping alone on the island of Patmos when the ascended Jesus snuck up from behind. John heard him and whirled around to see who spoke. In John’s own words, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes like a flame of fire. His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters. He had in his right hand seven stars, out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”
John fell like a dead man at those fine brass feet. No kidding.

Which begs the question, would we really want that face looking at us? What kind of blessing are we talking about? Besides, this is Jesus, fully God but friend of sinners. I can’t even imagine the face of his Father in all its majesty and power and glory and righteousness and wrath … holiness.

Well did Isaiah cringe at his glimpse of the Lord high and lifted up in his heavenly dwelling.
The angels in his presence, fiery seraphim, hid their faces! They could only repeat, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
And Jesus stood before John on Patmos with seven of them in his hand? Terrifying.

Think of Gabriel’s shock when Zechariah, the father-to-be of John the baptizer, challenged his message.
“Listen,” said the angel. “I’m Gabriel, and I stand in the presence of God. I was sent to give you this good news.” I think what he means is, You really think I’d make this up?

The presence of God caused men to fall on their faces.
Abram when God Almighty covenanted to multiply him exceedingly.
Again, when God promised Sarah a son at the age of 90.
Moses, every time the people rebelled.
Balaam when his donkey stopped before the Lord’s drawn sword.
Joshua when the Commander of the army of the Lord showed up.
Even Jesus fell on His face to pray in Gethsemane.

Strangely, the fear we feel in the presence of God evaporates as soon as his manifestation subsides.
This truth is dramatically represented in the stories of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after leaving Eden. Time after time, God’s dramatic presence caught their attention. They acknowledged his holiness and worshiped in fear. But as days drew on and supplies fell short, they complained.
No water.
Water but no food.
No water again.
Water and food but no meat.
Can’t take the land from giants.
Rebels executed by miraculous judgment.
They were still grumbling when Jesus called himself the bread that came down from heaven.

We shouldn’t be too hasty to criticize them when we treat God the same way.
God does wonderful things for us, even if others wouldn’t define them as miracles. But it doesn’t take long for the sameness of everyday life to crowd out the memory. Our spirits go flat without the continued renewing that comes from being in his presence.

This is the issue behind every generation’s quest for the manifest presence of God. It’s true that God is everywhere and we need only turn to him to find him. But our flesh is so weak at times that the cares of this world easily overwhelm us. Knowing God is real, present even, is not enough. If we aren’t actively engaged with him—and he with us—the life in us will fade. This was true even for the disciples who had Jesus with them.

I think of Jesus bringing his disciples to Gethsemane to pray with him as he wrestled with his final act of surrender to the will of his Father. They could not fight that battle for him, nor talk him through the hardest decision a man ever made. His spirit needed God’s presence but the company of friends would have helped his flesh stay there. Yet those very friends were so overwhelmed with their own grief at his coming death that their flesh succumbed to its natural protective response to stress. They slept.

Being devoted to Jesus is more than praying and reading the Bible and serving others. Of course that’s part of it, foundational even. But it’s possible to prophesy, cast out demons, and do miracles in his Name, and never know him.
No, devotion means attending to his person. Taking care of his wants.
Does he need us? No. Does he want us to open our hearts, our souls to his intrusive, transforming touch?
Absolutely. He wants to invade every fiber of who we are. He wants to put his mark on our thoughts, our memories, our passions, the very core of our being.
We can regulate our own behavior, and we should. We should live—and speak—in such a way that everyone knows we follow the Eternal King. But unless we actually carry the aroma of Christ, we’re nothing more than resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

That aroma is transferred to us when, and only when, we live in the manifest presence of Jesus. This isn’t about emotional worship or public displays. It’s about dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. Taking ourselves every so often into an intentional abandonment of our comfort zone. Inviting the Spirit to rattle our complacency and our competence with his power and majesty.

If he doesn’t show up, we’ll fall flat on our faces.

But then, we’d do that anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ps 119.134

Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep your precepts. Ps 119.134 

Here’s an interesting word. Often translated to redeem, its meaning is rooted in the verb to cut loose, to sever. Thus it has been rendered to deliver, to ransom or to set free.
Sounds a lot like what Christ’s death on the cross did for the rest of us.

For me, redemption and ransom are linked in the sense that a price had to be paid. For those of us in Christ, that price was the blood of Jesus, paid by God at Calvary.

I always assumed he redeemed us from the devil, because he’s the bad guy in the story, out to destroy all God’s creation. He somehow got hold of people, I guess after God sent them out of Eden. He refused to give them back until God coughed up a ransom. Like holding hostages in exchange for the royal son. Good movie plot. Bad theology.

The more I studied Scripture, the more uneasy I became with the idea that God had to pay the devil off to get us back. For starters, think of the implications for God’s sovereignty.
God cannot be thwarted and he bows to no one. He has the absolute right to rule his creation. No outside standards or considerations limit the exercise of his will.
To think the devil has him over a barrel, so to speak, and won’t give him the people he wants, well, how sovereign is that?

Yet Scripture does speak of Christ’s atonement as redemption, and his blood as the ransom.
He purchased the church of God with his own blood.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all.
He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us.
With his own blood he obtained eternal redemption.
We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.
He has redeemed us to God by his blood.

So we have to ask, to whom did he pay the ransom? For this, too, the Scriptures have an answer.
He redeemed those who were under the law from the curse of the law, from every lawless deed, from aimless conduct received by tradition.
Turns out, the Law is the bad guy, the law of sin and death, ancient oppressors that hold the whole world captive.

But I ask you, where did the law come from, if not God?
Didn’t he create this world and establish its precepts, that obedience leads to life and sin leads to death?
Was it not Yahweh himself who met Moses on Mount Sinai and sent him down with stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God?

Are you following this logic? We’ve landed on the idea that God established the ransom, then paid himsellf.
We know God bought us with the precious blood of his own Spotless Lamb, his incarnate Son.
Do we realize he’s the one who demanded that price in the first place?

Before we ask why he would do such a thing, let me assure you that I’m not making this up.

Go to Genesis to read the ransom note, written in God’s hand. “When you eat of it you will surely die.” Out of Eden they went. And they died. Adam lived 930 years but he did die.

Go to Exodus to see the angel of death pass over God’s Chosen. God bought his people with the blood of lambs in exchange for the firstborn of their oppressors.
Go to the Law to read the righteous judgment. Life is in the blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Only the blood of a perfect lamb may be sprinkled on the seat of judgment.

Go to the Prophets to hear about the Servant of the Lord. It was the Lord’s will to crush him. He was pierced for our law-breaking. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
Go to the Gospels to watch the Lamb of God perfectly align every thought, word and deed with the Father. I lay down my life of my own accord. This is my blood of the new covenant. 

Go to the Epistles to follow the argument. He appeared in order to take away sins. God is both just and the Justifier. The law was put in place to lead us to Christ. It is by grace we have been saved through faith. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.

Go to Revelation to see the Lamb, looking as though it had been slain, standing in the midst of the elders. Hear the joy as heaven roars. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! You purchased men for God with Your blood! You did this!”
No wonder they fall on their faces.

There’s one caveat to this victory, however. Christ’s blood paid the ransom for all humanity, but everyone doesn’t automatically enter God’s presence.
Animal blood covered sin but it had no power to transform a sinner into a holy person who can stand in the midst of blazing Holiness. That requires a new nature. The answer was the God-man, a unique being whose deity dipped in man-blood both satisfied the just penalty and imparts righteousness to all in whom his Spirit dwells.

God has locked everyone up in a prison of unbelief so that he might have the pleasure of extending mercy to us all.
Everyone has sinned.
Everyone falls short of the glory of God.
And God makes a promise to everyone.
If you call on the Name of the Lord, I will save you.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Ps 119.133

Order my steps by your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. Ps 119.133 

Dear God, Establish every step I take so that it conforms to your will. Make sure I go where you want. And don’t let anything that isn’t from you control me. Amen.

That’s a nice prayer, but how likely is it? On this road called life, can I expect the Lord to tell me where to put my feet, both spiritually and naturally? How much does he really care about my journey? Does the path I take matter to him, or is it only the destination that counts? Will he be there to make sure my feet land where they should along the way?

I’m going to say here at the outset that all these answers are yes. To God, the Alpha and the Omega who knows the end from the beginning, the ONLY thing that matters is the journey. Over the millennia, some have turned the Christian life into religion. They call it sanctification and tie it up with Pharisee-like regulations about how and when and what order and so much more, by which they hope to guarantee safe arrival at journey’s end. But I’m fairly sure that isn’t what David had in mind.

I’d like to think David knew of God before Samuel anointed him, but Scripture doesn’t say, and anyway, it makes no difference, for God knew David, as he told Samuel from the beginning.
When the Lord had torn the kingdom of Israel away from its first king, he sent Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem, saying, “I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” When David came before the prophet, the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”

You see, the Lord had in mind “a man after his own heart.” We love that phrase, but do we know what it means? Scripture pairs it with someone “who will do all my will.” Which is to say, all that God wishes and has determined shall be done—the precepts and commands that give God pleasure.

Where did the Lord find such a man? He made him.
His process came in three stages, if you pay attention to Scripture.
Phase One took place toward the end of the days when judges ruled in Israel. God sent a son to barren parents by special creation. Their firstborn, Samson, was conceived to begin God’s plan to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Phase Two happened under the penultimate judge, Eli the priest. God withheld conception from Hannah, beloved but barren wife of Elkanah, until she promised to dedicate her firstborn to the Lord. Born to be a king-maker, Samuel would need the ability to recognize God’s voice. For this he must be raised in the literal presence of the Lord. His parents weaned him and sent him to grow and minister at the Tabernacle. When he was old, the people asked for a king, and Samuel obeyed God’s oral command to anoint Saul. I can’t help but see this as a trial run.

The time soon came for the real king, the king who would rule as God’s regent. God only needed one, on whose kingship he would found the Messianic reign of the eternal kingdom. Phase Three began before we meet David, but he is still a boy. We know nothing of his conception, and clearly he was not a firstborn.

You have to think that God cared a good deal about the day-to-day steps of David’s life. Every one of his days was written down before any of them came to be, and well David knew it.

We read the Bible from the vantage of hindsight and with the benefits of well-told stories focused on the highlights. But the accounts of Bible characters like Samson, Samuel, Saul, David richly reflect the hand of God in the details, from who they would marry—Jacob loved Rachel but it was Leah who bore six of the patriarchs—to what to name their children—Isaiah’s poor kid was called Swift-Is-Booty-Speedy-Is-Prey. Yikes!

It would be hard to make an argument that any decision is not important to God because he can—and does—use such details to reveal himself and his plans. Therefore we can be confident that he will guide our choices if we ask. We who are in Christ are “led by the Spirit,” shown the path to follow where our Savior walks. We don’t have to know the implications—we rarely do. We only need to choose to intentionally live for him.
To live like this requires us to continuously ask what he wants in any given situation, hat he’s doing and how we can serve him.

This is the kind of walk I enjoy with the Lord these days. Well, perhaps enjoying is a bit strong. Some days enduring says it better.
The Lord tells me what to do and until I comply, I don’t get to hear what comes next.
This is fun in one sense because it’s highly interactive and I’m learning to discern his instructions.
The next step often emerges from the results of what I just did.
I’m getting better at detecting the next step, so that obedience is more a matter of my will and less of uncertainty. I may not be all that eager to do what I’m told, but at least I know what it is. Also, it isn’t usually a difficult thing I’m being asked to do, just out of my comfort zone.

Not really a strange way to pray or conduct our lives. I’m not talking about asking God if we should shop for groceries today or tomorrow. If we’re concerned about grocery shopping, chances are it’s because the cupboards are bare. Go shopping.

On the other hand, “If you’re going to the store anyway,” our heavenly Father has been known to call after us, “would you mind sharing a word of encouragement with the stock boy in Aisle 3? And I’d like to bless the mom with three kids in the snack aisle while you’re at it.”

“But, Lord, I was going to go tomorrow on the way home from the gym.”

“Oh that’s fine. The butcher’s son is leaving for college and you can offer to pray.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ps 119.132

Look upon me and be merciful to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name. Ps 119.132 

The deepest human longing is to be seen and accepted, to belong.
We want to be loved, but to be loved for who we are.
We know we don’t meet every standard for what everyone likes, but is who we are valuable to someone?

This deep desire originates, surprisingly enough, in the Imago Dei, the divine image in us. God himself wants to be seen and accepted. He makes this abundantly clear in Scripture through the many times he acts so that “you will know that I am the Lord.”

The structure of David’s prayer makes an interesting point.
At one end, he draws the Lord’s focus to himself but immediately senses the eyes of the Lord on his shortcomings and quickly asks for mercy. Knowing God is used to his less-than-righteous state, he counts on it and comes to rest on his love for the name of God. What began with David ends with the Lord.

This is a beautiful picture of what happens when we spend time with God.
We can’t help starting with ourselves. It’s the nature of personhood to acknowledge personal contact. This is not selfish or wrong, merely a function of relationship. And since relationship is the proper goal of all communion with the Lord, we enter God’s presence saying, “Look at me.”

Little children do this to their parents all the time. Mom picks them up from school or a friend’s house or day care, they come running. “Look at me! See what I did? Here, it’s for you.”
We don’t fault their simple joy in being reunited with Mom.
Far more alarming if they didn’t express excitement. Imagine a preschooler groveling when Dad shows up. “Oh Dad, you’re so wonderful. I’m so bad. You deserve all praise. I am worthless.”
Something’s seriously wrong in that home, no?
Curiously, the greeting that draws attention to “me” reflects the opening of the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father in heaven.

Besides, David doesn’t stick very long on me, does he? Stepping into the presence of God makes us aware of our sin. Think of Peter the day he and Jesus met on his boat.

Luke makes it sound like coincidence when Jesus met these two sets of fishermen brothers who would become his closest disciples and beloved friends. Teaching the crowds by the sea of Galilee, Jesus climbs into an empty boat and asks the owner, Simon (Peter) to move away from shore—better acoustics apparently.

Jesus finishes his sermon and suggests they lower the nets for a catch, which is just silly to the professionals, who know that fish don’t get caught at this time of day. Furthermore, they’ve been fishing all night without catching anything because the fish aren’t on this side of the sea. Nevertheless, to humor the itinerant preacher, Simon did it.
Surprise, surprise, drawn to the Voice above the water that had created them, so many fish came into the net that they needed their partner boat to help.

Funny story aside, Simon found himself in the presence of an extraordinary and holy man.
“Depart from me,” he begged, “for I am a sinful man.” Holy is your name.

That’s how it is for every child of God when we get a glimpse of our holy God. We can’t always explain it, and it happens faster than we can think it, but in an instant, we know we need mercy. Forgive us our debts.

And just like Jesus in this story, our sinfulness doesn’t drive God from us. Neither does he send us away. Instead he uses the opportunity to convince us that we need not be afraid of him.

Linger in the moment when holy fear meets tender love.
Created as God’s image bearers, the way to his holy presence is barred by cherubim and a flashing, flaming sword of fire. We dare not approach him, dare not at all.
There are no conditions by which we could hope to get around anything.
Face to face with El Shaddai, there’s no need to work up a sense of humility, much less an appearance of acceptability. Angels who dwell in his presence are terrified, with nothing to say except, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Are we, sinful rebels of inferior creation, going to stick our faces in the air and demand recognition? I think not.
A child may run to Daddy, but stop short at the sight of all Daddy is and does in the presence of thousands upon thousands, ten thousands upon ten thousands of his servants.
There’s something about going to where God is, rather than demanding that he come to us, that puts things in proper perspective.

It won’t take a moment before we ask—beg—for mercy.

And our Father, though deserving all honor and praise, gives us his full attention. We find ourselves in his majestic presence, and I pray you do often and extensively, but God doesn’t care if we’re impressed with his greatness. Impressing others is more our thing than his because while we may need approval, he has no insecurities.
He turns to us with no fear of the universe slipping out of control.
Not an angel—or demon—would dare do anything without his permission.
Every precept and ordinance of his counsel will stand regardless of who he addresses, or what else he’s doing.

He not only lavishes mercy but extends grace toward us who love his name. Do you know why? Because nothing matters more to him than the glory of his name. When we enter his presence and ask for mercy, we sends a message to his heavenly audience that we know him as he is and want him for our God.

He, too, finds joy in belonging.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ps 119.131

I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for your commandments. Ps 119.131

I remember hot summer days on the  farm. The sun baked the garden into dry  crumbling clods of dirt.
Flies buzzed in the air but not a breath of wind rustled the leaves.
The dog sat beside the driveway and panted, tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Dad told us to give the dog some water, and he listlessly stuck his snout in the bowl and lapped it up.

Myself, I tend to pant like that when after exercising. I hate the feeling that I can’t get air in my lungs.
A good visual for what David is saying here. Whether we are overheated from the sun or exhausted from exercise, we need to rest and be refreshed.

Ministry is a lot like that.
I’m exhausted and drained. I can barely bring myself before God, and if I do, it feels like, I can’t think. I need you, Lord. I can’t pray. Lord Jesus. I can’t …
My mouth opens but no words come out. Instead my soul pants, as a deer pants for water. My soul longs for God. For the living God. When can I go and meet with my God? Will he find me in this desert wilderness?

I find myself curling into a ball beneath the juniper tree with Elijah.
The fire of Mount Carmel is exciting but the powers-that-be don’t thank me for my faith.
They threaten my life, just when I have no reserves even to speak truth to my own soul, so I flee.
I need food and water to refill and refresh, but the flight leaves me breathless with running the race.
I need time with God, not doing ministry but just being in his presence.
I want to sit at his feet, hands on his knees, and look into his eyes, but I’m too ashamed of my weakness to lift my face.
Pant. Pant. Pant.

There’s another kind of hunger for God, a thirst for his nearness based on appetite. It’s at the root of every longing in the human soul, but apart from a work of God, it typically manifests as so many addictions, cravings for anything that will satisfy our flesh.

David, whose heart was turned toward God, craved God’s commandments because for him, the commandments satisfied every deep longing. Hearing them, reading them, speaking them, somehow called into being the very thing his soul craved. Lacking the Indwelling Spirit, he opened his mouth and panted. For the living God.

It brings to mind the baby bird when its mother approaches the nest. Neck goes back, beak opens and closes, like breathing. He knows momma will drop food in his mouth.

Scripture is full of this imagery. It begins with an invitation—Taste and see that the Lord is good.
The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness. They didn’t know what it was but it tasted sweet, like wafers with honey. They needed food to sustain their bodies during the long sojourn out of Egypt. More than that, they needed spiritual nourishment. God tested them, because man doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Exactly the picture of the mother bird who carries food in her mouth and puts it into her baby’s beak.

When David first fled from Saul, he went to the priests who gave him the bread of God’s presence—from the tabernacle. Ever after when his soul needed satisfying, he sought the law, the written Word of God. He had no idea that his journals and the accounts of his own life would become the spiritual bread that has fed the souls of God’s chosen people ever since.

We who are in Christ are blessed even beyond the written Word. We have Jesus, Word of God incarnate.

He called himself the Bread from heaven, but not like manna in the desert that only fed their flesh until they died.
He called himself the Bread of life, and promised that anyone who comes to him will never hunger, and any who believe in him will never thirst.
He went further, telling his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, or we’d have no life within us. When he celebrated his last Passover meal, he took bread and broke it before passing it around, saying, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” When supper was over, he took the cup and passed it around, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.”

Years later Peter encouraged believers to live by the Spirit as newborn babes who desire the pure milk of the Word, if indeed they had tasted that the Lord is gracious.
Paul criticized the Corinthian church for their reluctance to grow, having fed them with milk and not with solid food.
The writer to the Hebrews similarly criticized his slow-to-learn readers who should have been teachers but still needed teaching. Everyone who partakes only of milk, he explained, is unskilled in the word of righteousness whereas solid food belongs to those who have used the Word enough to be able to discern both good and evil.

What about you? Are you desperate for God? Hungry for his soul-satisfying Word?
Take comfort from Jesus, who blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The blessing he promised? To be filled. To be satisfied. To no longer experience hunger or thirst. Of any sort. What we really hunger for—the root of every craving and desire—is to be made right with God. To be reconciled. To be able to draw near and find solace in his presence. This Jesus promised.

So come, you who are thirsty. Come buy and eat, you who have no money. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. He will satisfy you with the richest of fare. You’ll eat from the abundance of his household, and drink from the streams of rejoicing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ps 119.130

The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Ps 119.130 

If I’m not mistaken, that’s exactly how things got rolling “in the beginning.”

First there was this…well, a blob, right? God made the heavens and the earth but it was formless and empty.
Biblically, “the heavens” include where birds fly and clouds gather, where stars and galaxies hang out, and where spiritual beings reside. But in the beginning, I don’t know that it was all that organized.

Ponder this moment with me. God began…
Think of it. He started something. Apparently, there was a moment when he started … everything.

Okay. Let’s get started, he says to his triune self.
Where should we start?
Let’s make something.
From what?
Why from … Oh, I see what you mean.
We’ll have to start with our own being. That’s all there is.
That means everything we make will contain a bit of us. Nice.

Don’t really know how he did it, but next thing you know there’s this matter called the heavens and the earth, with no form and nothing on or in it. Darkness covered it, but not the darkness that is an absence of light. This darkness is the mystery of God that hides reality from all but himself. It encompassed what he was creating.

We know only a little of what that blob of matter was like. It was deep, which tells us it had boundaries—dimensions of time and space. Water covered its surface, which tells it could support natural life. That’s it. We don’t know anything else, or at least, anything else is only supposition.

The Spirit of God, the dynamic that is love within the Godhead, hovered over this blob. I imagine sparkles flashing within the divine being as God’s excitement looks first in one direction then another, anticipating possibilities and considering how to make them. Personally, I love those moments when I get an idea and let my mind wander as I imagine what and how to make it so. This is creativity. I hope we’ve all experienced it, because we’re all made in the image of the Divine Creator.

So the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the deep.
Until that moment when he made up his mind where to go with it. He set to work but in an interesting way. Some read into the first verses of the Bible, a process in which God made the supernatural Heaven first and populated it with angels before he started keeping track of the days it took to create the earth and everything in it.

God’s ultimate purpose in Creation was to share himself with someone who could relate at his level of being without actually being him. If being known was the goal, he must do it through a knowable creation, or as we say, the invisible must be made visible. In effect, spiritual reality would have to be perceivable by natural creatures. This still isn’t about physical sight, however, but a question of spiritual revelation.

I’m pretty sure that’s what had the Spirit hovering. 
And then he spoke. First words uttered in all existence, maybe even pre-existence. He … spoke … words.
This is different from conversation within the Godhead that needs no words.
By this divine act, he took what was within the Trinity—the knowing—and sent it forth. It existed outside of him. We all know the famous first words, right? Let there be light.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this light is natural light. It isn’t. The sun and moon and stars were not created until the fourth day.

Rather, this is the light of revelation, and it gives understanding to the simple.
The Old Testament points at this mystery.
In your light we see light. Even the darkness will not be dark to you. Darkness is as light to you.
Isaiah talked about this kind of light when he foretold the coming of the Messiah. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. And Simeon confirmed it when he saw baby Jesus in the temple. My eyes have seen your salvation, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

But it’s John who nails the ultimate source of revelation, and even calls it light. In Him was life, John tells us of Jesus, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

He’s talking about the Word that became flesh. The Word first spoken at creation. The Word now incarnate.
The single best revelation of God is Jesus, because Jesus is God, only he wears human form. Filled with the fullness of deity, Jesus is the exact representation of the divine being. He radiates the entire glory of God.

God did it. That thing he brooded over when Creation was still a blob has become knowable reality. God continues to build the creature—one convert at a time—that can know him at his own level, the biblical term for which is the Bride of Christ.

Everything we know in all of creation simply tells us of the Creator, revealing that which can be known of him.
But he is not the creation. He designed it so that each person should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him. When they do, he adds them to the Bride.

But as I understand it, this all started with the entrance of his word that brought light. Seems simple enough.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ps 119.129

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. Ps 119.129

Let’s just take a moment and let the Scriptures speak of the wonders of who God is and what he does. Read these verses.

"Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? — Ex 15:11

I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember your wonders of old. — Ps  77:11

You are the God who does wonders; you have declared your strength among the peoples. — Ps 77:14

Marvelous things He did in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. — Ps 78:12

Will you work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise you? —  Ps 88:10

Shall your wonders be known in the dark? And your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? — Ps 88:12

And the heavens will praise your wonders, O Lord; your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints. — Ps 89:5

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. — Isa 9:6

O Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you, I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things; your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth. — Isa 25:1

Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden." — Isa 29:14

Read them again. Aloud.

Does the sound of God’s Word fill you with a sense of the greatness on display in the world around us. Sometimes that greatness is seen in the natural world, sometimes in the behavior of people. Always in the work of his hands.

We can get so busy sometimes that we have no time to stop and wonder. What God has done will always point us to who he is, and this is important for our relationship with him. I find it striking when I stop to consider what the  Scriptures imply in the text or flat out leave unaddressed.

Think about any Bible character, for example, and consider how and where they slept. What did Moses think about first thing when he woke up? What went through Jacob’s mind as his family crossed ahead of him and left him alone to wrestle with God until morning? How did Gideon feel when the Midianites fled before his silly war strategy?

Or picture Elijah on top of Mount Carmel watching the priests of Baal trying to get a fire started on their altar. What was the view like from the heights of Gilboa just before Saul fell on his sword? Was Bathsheba the only thing of beauty in sight from the parapet of David’s palace?

The world God mad is beautiful. It can take our breath away. But more beautiful still is the Word of God. It contains all the wisdom and truth humanity will ever need as long as this earth exists. We can never exhaust its depths. The more we look into the Bible from the perspective that it is truth, the more we will discover not just details of how things work but insights into how God works.

I love to find such treasures. Consider that Jesus was a teenager who chose to submit to his parents. Or Joseph was a young man who chose to do his best for his slave master even though heartbroken by his brothers’ selling him. Or Jonathan who chose to support and protect David as the next king even though it meant he would not be king himself.

God sets things in motion when he has a purpose in mind that will serve his ultimate ends. We catch glimpses of this in the symbolic effect of many Old Testament stories. A classic example is the way Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac but God provided a ram instead. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah foreshadows the day of judgment. Noah’s ark is a type of salvation leading to sanctification as the chosen ones are consecrated and set apart.

Yes the testimonies of the Lord are wonderful. They fill me with wonder every time I need to be refilled.
This is one reason, I think, why God gave us the Sabbath. Just as he rested from work when it was done, so we can take a mini-vacation once every seven days. This is a picture of the kind of joy and peace and pleasure God grants us in our relationship with him. They are part of the gift of eternal life Jesus purchased for us with his blood.

Take a break this week and spend some time with the wonders of what God has done in this world to help us get to know him as he is.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ps 119.128

Therefore all your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. Ps 119.128 

God’s Word is uncompromising, the absolute truth that doesn’t change regardless how much we dislike it or chaff under its authority. By definition, the fact that God gave it makes it right.

In our “age of reason,” things need to make sense before we submit to them, and that includes the precepts of God. If he cannot convince us why we should do what he says, we feel free to disregard him. 
This is on a par with the toddler who repeatedly asks “Why?” even though the answer makes no difference.
Or the teen-ager who wants to argue about the wisdom of the prohibition not because he wants to understand it, but because he wants to find a way around it.

There are plenty of people in the Bible who didn’t want to do what God said.
I think of the generation fresh out of Egypt after the magnificent Passover and crossing of the Red Sea. Unbelievably, they’d rather go back into slavery than suffer the temporary discomfort en route to the promised land. They ended up dead in the wilderness.
I think of the generation with Joshua once they reached the land. He defeated the resident kings and distributed territory among the tribes. Sadly, they’d rather live with the pagans in the land than drive them out. They ended up oppressed time after time.

But mostly I think of Judah in the days of Jeremiah when God’s people saw themselves as just another nation among the nations. They forgot that God had made them a people and given them the land and established their nation. They wanted to make their own choices about how they lived, and resented God’s presumption that he should tell them anything.

Enter Jeremiah who, at God’s command, told the rulers that Yahweh was about to keep his word through Moses. They had not honored his law, so he was going to bring its curses upon them. He was about to send them out of the land. The king of Babylon was coming. He would destroy the royal city, and the only sensible course of action open to them was to get under the yoke and go.

Of course they didn’t want to hear that. They were the Chosen People. God would never let that happen to them.
They tore up Jeremiah’s scrolls.
They threw him in a well.
They put him in prison.
They would have killed him if they could find him.
How often do we do the same thing to those who would warn us of our danger in disobeying God? We think we’re at the center of all things, and we resent anyone who tells us otherwise.

But here’s the thing. Their little story was only a small part of the purposes of God in the world. He was about to embark on another phase in preparation for the drama of the Christ.
First of all, the good king/bad king cycle had gone on long enough. Assyria was on the wane and Babylon was rising. So while young Josiah was a godly king who made necessary reforms, from God’s point of view, it was too little too late. The land needed a rest from their faithlessness.
Second, God’s focus in world history now shifted from forming the nation of Israel to establishing the dominion of man.
Third, these two changes came together. Israel would return from captivity finally convinced that “Yahweh is God, Yahweh alone.” Their exile would teach them to remain faithful to his law no matter what. This was all that God required of them to set the stage for the Incarnation. At the same time, the Gentile nations would develop through successive empires in such a way to facilitate the spread of the Gospel throughout the earth. It’s still happening today because of the way Rome governed the world.

Did Jeremiah understand all that? I doubt it. What he did know was that God had called him to be a prophet, and the people didn’t want to hear it. He had this argument with God more than once.
First he was too young, but God said no you’re not. I called you before you were born and set you apart for this. You can do it.
Then he was upset that people were mean to him. God said too bad. You set your face like flint and don’t worry about how they treat you. They will turn to you, but you won’t turn to them. By which he meant, you don’t need them to like you. You need me to send you.
Then Jeremiah tried keeping his mouth shut. Every time he told them what God said, the rulers mistreated him. So, he thought to himself, I won’t do it anymore. Well, the word of the Lord became a fire within him. He couldn’t hold it in.

The poor guy couldn’t win. Either he was abused by people or inflamed by God.
He finally gave in and went to preach, despite his own reluctance and their poor response.
It was better, he decided, to have God’s favor than man’s approval, a lesson we can all learn from him.

Jeremiah discovered that the Word of the Lord is always right.
How people received it was on them. His job was simply to deliver it.
He had asked his “Whys” and he had tried to reason his way out of obedience.
In the end, he found peace in doing as God instructed. Obedience was never the easy path but it was always the right one.

To the nay-sayers’ surprise, Nebuchadnezzar did come. The first time he took the best of the people back with him, including the one king wise enough to follow Jeremiah’s advice to go willingly. Both successors defied the king of Babylon and brought destruction on the temple and Jerusalem.

To Jeremiah’s surprise, perhaps, Nebuchadnezzar left him free to choose to come to Babylon or not.

This is the beauty of accepting the Word of the Lord as right and true. We remain free when all around are led captive to oppressors.

It makes sense to me.