PSALM 106: WHOLENESS, Part 6

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Finished (v.9-48)

Unfinished masterpieces betray us; equally as common as their famous, complete counterparts – or perhaps more so — we hide or ignore them because they reveal something about us that we feel uncomfortable admitting.

Political upheaval, rescinded commissions, and deaths of artists have interrupted many a magnificent dream. The completion of Charles Dickens’ final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was suspended by his untimely death; Barcelona’s unfinished basilica, the Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882, stands magnificently and morosely incomplete, with an ever-lengthening completion date; unfinished symphonies by numerous composers such as Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert and Tchaikovsky leave us feeling wistful of their envisioned state. It is natural to feel this sense of regret for the unfinished. Something inside of us yearns to see ventures completed.

As we glance through the remainder of Psalm 106 we see an unfinished novel. We stand before a partially constructed edifice. We hear an incomplete symphony. It is a story of God’s interaction with a people whose purpose was to be a blessing and a light to all nations, but who foolishly rebelled at every turn. Still, God was faithful to remember His covenant; He has always been intent on completing His great plan for humankind.

“Save us, O LORD our God,” we hear the psalmist cry, “and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise” (vs.47). The psalmist is describing his people’s unfinished plight – they’ve become captives of the nations they were intended to bless, and their lips have become silent that were intended to praise God. We hear the disquiet. We feel the angst. Most of these people never knew what it meant to be complete. They never knew the finished work of God in their lives. They never felt whole.

Rebellion does that to us. It tells us any number of little white lies in order to cause us to veer off the path of wholeness. At first we don’t notice it, but gradually, as time passes, we have moments of clarity in which we realize our fragmented lives are lacking. We feel a deep emptiness. We ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?”

“No!” is God’s resounding answer. This is not all there is. There is more, so much more that He has designed us to be, and He is completely prepared to finish His masterpiece. He wants us to know what it is like to feel whole and complete – a finished work of art.

The effort of the whole trinity of God has gone into making it happen. The Father has focused His will on the recovery of our rebellion-prone species; the Son has suffered a death to pay the moral debt of our waywardness and risen to life to open the door for our own resurrection. And here is the capstone: the Holy Spirit lives within those who accept the Father and Son’s finishing work.

God’s Holy Spirit is putting the finishing touches on those of us who long to be whole. He promises it.

“He who began a good work in you,” He pledges, “will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). We will one day be complete. We will be joyfully, heartwarmingly whole. God’s great handiwork will glory in Him as it finally fully reflects its Maker.

So don’t despair. The sense of being an unfinished dream exists as a reminder to give ourselves fully to our Great Artist, Author and Composer. He longs to bring us to completion for eternity, and He will be faithful to do it. That’s a promise.

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PSALM 106: WHOLENESS, Part 5

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Powerful Password (v.8)

During WWII, passwords were key. Operation Chariot’s raid on the St. Nazaire docks of German-occupied France included the challenge “War Weapons Week”, to which the correct response was, “Welmouth”. Not only was the password carefully concealed from enemy intelligence, but also if it were discovered, the difficulty of the German tongue in pronouncing the first consonants would have alerted the allies to the security breach.

In the psalmist’s recital of his people’s weaknesses in remaining faithful to God, he refers to their forefathers. Those fathers rebelled. They were not great role models for the generations that would follow. Now, in verse eight, the psalmist brings into the narration of his people’s history a fascinating contrast:

“Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.”(Psalm 106:8)

The psalmist has made a grammatical error. He has introduced a pronoun (He) without naming the person first. He has broken proper syntactical rules. Why?

Perhaps the psalmist is providing us with a password of sorts. Who, he asks, saves a rebellious people when they are behaving at their worst? Who is able to act with almighty power? Who has a name so distinguished, that for that name’s sake He acts in certain ways?

The answer, of course, is God, but is there something we ought to discover about His name that is a key to the wholeness we long for as human creatures?

Another passage of scripture adds a little light to our question. It’s found in the letter to the Ephesians.

“…I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:12-19, parts)

The name, the password that unlocks access to God’s mercy and power in our lives, is ‘Father’. Say it again, out loud this time.

Father.

For that name’s sake, God is in the process of building Himself a family. Don’t worry. It’s not like an earthly family. It is built on the wide and long and high and deep love of His only-begotten Son, Christ – perfect, overflowing, never-failing and never-ending love.

For that name’s sake, God is filling people’s lives with a wholeness only the fullness of God could accomplish. It takes the powerful love of a divine Father to do that. Are we ready to use the password?

Father, we use that precious name with awe and wonder. That You would direct Your mighty energies on our behalf to make us Your children takes our breath away. You love us with a love that breaks our hard hearts and makes them new and soft and open to You. As we access Your presence by using Your name, Father, bring us further along on this journey of wholeness You provide. We are, 

                                                                                      Your Children.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; “Hospitalsnycklar” by Dahlstromska garden)

PSALM 106: WHOLENESS, Part 4

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Humility Remembers, Pride Forgets (v. 6,7)

“We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.”

Fast-forward three millennia:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Those are not the words of someone who has failed to remember. They are the recollections of Michael Jordan, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. What Jordan is admitting, is that he has unique limitations that have required him to invest many extra hours of practice in order for his body to accurately remember how to perform tasks well. This self-awareness, or humility, is what allows him to remember.

When the psalmist admits that he, his people and his ancestors have failed to remember God’s goodness, he is admitting that they have missed the mark, ‘done wrong’, even sinned. That’s a heavy weight of moral liability to discover. The psalmist observes that ignoring God, omitting to consider Him in the busy-ness of life, giving no thought to the reality of His sovereignty puts people in a morally bankrupt position. He is saying that it’s not just the things we do that we are responsible for, but also what we don’t do or don’t think.

‘…gave no thought…did not remember’.

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? With little imagination we can see the psalmist describing our generation as much as his own. We too quite regularly fail to give thought to God’s presence in our self-absorbed, opportunistic approach to life’s challenges. We’re too busy thinking of other things.

We remember others’ offenses against us. We remember disappointments life has dealt us. We remember every trick we’ve learned to ensure we can satisfy our cravings and desires. But we often fail to remember the depth and breadth, scope and sequence of God’s active involvement in our lives.

Regarding our recollections of God, someone once observed that ‘humility remembers; pride forgets’. It is pride that draws our attention away from God’s steady, faithful involvement in our lives as we slip into self-reliance and self-gratification. In contrast, humility admits we have weaknesses and needs that only God can heal into wholeness. It is humility that compels us to resolve to remember God’s resources. His miracles, His kindnesses, His attributes and character traits not only tell of His strength, but also imbue strength upon those who rehearse them. As we determine to put Him foremost in our minds, to soak in the knowledge and experience of Him, to be permeated by thoughts of Him, we become whole and complete people.

His foremost commandment is for our good: To love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind is to bring remembrance of Him into every aspect of our lives and through this find fulfillment.

Father, forgive my failures to remember You as I ought. Love of self keeps finding ways to usurp the rightful place You deserve in my heart, soul, strength and mind. Your miracles and many kindnesses are all around, within and without, if I have eyes to see them. Help me determine to remember You. Help me practice moment by moment to acknowledge Your sovereign and good presence in my life, no matter the circumstances.

Photo Credit: “Chain basketball hoop” by Flickr.com user “The Jamoker” – http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamoker/179322157/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

PSALM 106: WHOLENESS, Part 3

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Remember Me (vs. 4,5)

“Remember me, LORD, when you show favour to your people, come to may aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.”

‘Me too,’ the psalmist petitions. ‘Let me be a part of the great gift of wholeness You offer those You call Your people.’ Let’s not be fooled: he’s not talking about financial aid or prosperity; he’s not eliciting party favours or a wealthy man’s inheritance. It’s not money he wants. The psalmist’s ‘me too’ prayer is the plea of a humble heart that knows its brokenness can only be healed and made whole by God.

To be remembered by God is the greatest, fullest, most satisfying existence a person could ever know. The criminal who hung crucified next to Jesus repeats the same message as the psalmist when he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The thief knows both his and Jesus’ earthly lives are in their final hours, yet he does not speak as if he or they will cease to exist. He has a worldview that includes life beyond the grave – and he acknowledges Jesus as the One who will rule in undisputed sovereignty there. Notice how Jesus does not discount that worldview. He does not claim to be only a good man; he claims divinity and sovereignty and for that He hangs nailed between criminals, by those who want to end His existence. But this criminal believes something incredible. He believes Jesus is the Ever-existing One, and in that knowledge he takes hope.

In the world of men, the thief is without hope, but in the kingdom of Christ everything gets turned upside-down. In that world the humble and repentant are loved and remembered and welcomed. In that world they are mended and re-created and made whole. In that world, favour means knowing and being known fully by God, and loving every eternal minute of it.

We learn something scandalous about this dying brigand: we learn that he believes that Jesus, the sinless one, can forgive the worst of sinners; we learn that Jesus rules an eternal kingdom and remembers those who will humble themselves like children. We learn that paradise is being with Jesus in His eternal kingdom where we don’t get what our deeds deserve but what our hearts desire. We learn the spiritual aspect of what the psalmist tries to communicate in his prayer asking to be remembered.

Today is not unlike the day the psalmist prayed. We, too, can breathe those two words and find ourselves on the road to wholeness. The kingdom of God is not only a then-and-there hope – it’s here and now. It’s for psalmists and sophists, dying thieves and living amateurs. It’s for you and me if we will humble ourselves before our Maker and say, “Remember me.”

O God who knows me better than I know myself, remember me. Bring to Your vast mind Your promise of compassion for those who humble themselves before Your great mercy. Remember my needy soul, my weak and foolish frailty, my helpless condition. Remember that I need Your love not only every moment of this life, but also in the life to come. Remember me, and I will be whole.

PSALM 106: WHOLENESS

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Part 2: The Principle of the Whole (vs.2,3)

“Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare his praise? Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.”

Ever felt fractured? Ever sensed there is more to life than the segmented, crazy nine-to-five or 24/7 jumble that often defines our lives? Accepting the goodness and love of God mentioned in verse one was the first facet of our coming into the wholeness God wants for you and me. Part two of this process comes from our embracing something a Russian writer (Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You) called ‘The Principle of the Whole”.

He observed we tend to live our lives from one of three views, three broad categories from which we believe the meaning of life can be drawn. We embrace the me view, the us view, or the Him view.

The me view sees life through the lens of the individual; it says I need to look out for my own personal happiness, because no one else can, wants to, or will. Tolstoy calls this the ‘animal’ view of life.

The us view sees life through the lens of societies of individuals (the family, tribe, nation or government); it says I will find fulfillment only if I look out for both myself and my group. Tolstoy calls this the ‘pagan’ view of life.

We get the sense now of what he’s driving at. He’s presenting the weakest view first, rising to the second stronger, more viable view. But it will be the third one that really answers the need we have within us to live lives of wholeness.

The Him view sees life in terms of “the eternal undying source of life – God”. This is the principle of the whole. Verses two and three of Psalm 106 echo this principle. They speak of the wonderful, creative acts of God in forming and sustaining our existence, and our only right response in worship of Him. The principle of the whole says that we do what is right — we act justly — when we make Him the centre of our existence. Only then will we find the peace and fulfillment that wholeness offers.

The me and us views of life have their foundation in injustice – they fail to give God due credit for His mighty works and preeminent position. The result of these worldviews will be hollow, joyless lives void of the blessing that comes through praise of our Maker. The call to praise God is not some medieval arbitrary demand by a power-hungry sovereign; it is the place in which we find our souls right with all that is good and loving and true.

Father God – eternal undying source of life – I see clues of You all around, within and without, and I praise you now. You are indeed the source of wholeness. As I praise You I sense that wholeness filling my mind and soul, spirit and heart – even body. And yet, knowing all this, there are times when I slip back into the group ‘us’ mentality of the meaning of life, or worse yet, the selfish ‘me’ view. I know the confusion and fracture these forays produce. Please draw me by Your vast love and goodness, up and ever higher, into the source of life, the wholeness of You, great Giver of Life. You alone are worthy of praise. Bless the LORD, O my soul.

PSALM 106: WHOLENESS

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Part 1: Goodness and Love (Psalm 106:1)

“Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Two attributes of God are relevant to every aspect of our lives: that He is good, and that He is loving. His goodness is bent on making the form and function of His creatures whole, while His love impels Him to give of Himself to benefit those creatures.

God’s goodness means that He is poised, positioned and disposed to bring wholeness toward every person here on planet earth. He made us not only for His own good pleasure (neither masochistic nor neglectful), but also for our pleasure; He wants our lives to bring joy to both ourselves and Himself – not egocentric, self-gratifying amusement, but deep, wholesome forever-enduring pleasure. He will do everything divinely possible to bring us out of this present dominion of self-destruction into the kingdom of renewal and re-creation. God’s goodness empowers people who are willing to become new from the inside out. Our awareness and appreciation of God’s goodness will lead us to praise Him in worship of His being, and to thank Him for the transforming experiences we face in this life. This mindset, where people praise and thank God for His goodness, is a mindset of spiritual health, wellness and wholeness. All else is cheap and disappointing imitation.

God’s forever-enduring love intentionally leads us toward something called the ‘kingdom of heaven’. His love guides us to the gate between here and there, between the tangible and the intangible, the seen and the unseen. His love carries us across the lintel, over the doorstep and into an eternal, limitless expanse where love is the rule of order – not selfish, grasping love, but life-giving, spirit-growing love. We begin to be touched by this love when we allow His Spirit to help us grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that (we) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18,19).

There is a catch. In order to be recipients of God’s goodness and love we must humble ourselves before Him – the most difficult endeavor our free-willing selves will ever undertake. We are told we must kneel before the Father, accept strength from His Spirit, and have faith in Jesus the Son. That is a tall order. Those actions describe submission to One by whom we are willing to be mastered, and then praise and thank Him for every event He allows in our lives.

We all know how some events feel like anything but expressions of God’s goodness and love. That is where faith comes in. Like submitting ourselves to a trying therapy we know will bring us eventual healing, we must trust God’s goodness and love. This is the only way to wholeness. In the quietness of our inner soul, we must rest in the firm belief that God is equal to the task of ultimately proving His faithfulness to be both loving and good.

O good and ever-loving Father; help me see that your goodness to me is not about ease or selfish gain, but about full and complete wholeness as You designed me to be. I accept Your goodness, regardless of how it feels to me today. Satisfy my craving for Your love, so wide and long and high and deep it is beyond comprehending. That You, Jesus my Redeemer, should pay my moral debt, I am eternally thankful. And that this love goes on into eternity’s future leaves me breathless and wondering. To be so loved is beyond my greatest hope and wildest dream. Thank You.