Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 17

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‘Samekh’

Kim Peek could read two pages of an open book at one time by splitting his vision. Using his unique savant skill, Peek was able to memorize more than 9,000 books while he had an IQ rated at only 87. It seems that the prenatal development of his corpus callosum—the tissue normally connecting the two hemispheres of a brain—had somehow been arrested, leaving him with a condition known as ‘split-brain’. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy, and is used to reduce epileptic seizures. It seems to accomplish its purpose, but it comes with the strange side effect of dis-integrated actions. In one instance, a split-brain individual was documented as finding himself pulling down one pant leg with his left hand while pulling up the other pant leg with his right because of dueling desires to undress and dress. There are difficulties with being double-minded.

In ‘Samekh’, the fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, the Psalmist tackles the dilemma of double-minded thinking. He is appealing to God with deep intensity a prayer borne out of experience. He has felt the sting of opponents whose double-minded treachery has traumatized him. Perhaps he has even felt the influence of succumbing to their faithless double-dealing deceptions. The old King James version begins by translating his words as, “I hate vain thoughts…” Actions begin with thoughts, and none of us are immune to surrendering our minds to moments of low and ignoble imaginings in the hidden arena of our thoughts. Hatred against this most base indication of human degradation is appropriate. There is something in each of us—the vestige of a memory—that knows we were created for true and noble thoughts; we cringe when we recognize how far and how easily we can slip from the single-minded, undivided loyalty to our Creator and His calling.

With this caveat in mind, we read a newer version/translation of the stanza to say, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Why does the psalmist contrast double-mindedness with loving/hoping in God’s word? It sounds like he’s comparing apples to obelisks. We might need to begin by exploring and defining double-minded thinking.

Double-mindedness is a mindset of dualism that separates life into disconnected categories. Relationships, work, leisure, goals, desires, character and behaviour all stand apart from one another, and may be manipulated to achieve whatever an individual desires. There is no regard for any integrated whole to the sum of the parts of that individual’s life. If one were to investigate this kind of life more thoroughly, one would find inconsistencies and illogical, indefensible reasoning, a foundation crumbling from within. Double-minded thinking causes people to reject truths that annoy them and imprecate “Ignorant!” to deflect reality from piercing their souls.

Whereas, loving God’s revealed truths—His principles for living, His solution for our rebellion and His goals for our future—is the epitome of single-minded wholehearted thinking. It provides an integrity for our lives. It gives cohesion and logical coherence to everything we think, say and do. Only God can provide true single-mindedness. He does it by directing us to “Fix (your) eyes on Jesus,” to “Set your minds on things above…with Christ,” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves…(but to) do what it says(!)”

This is why Jesus is quoted so many times as prefacing His remarks with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” It is because He intends us to pay close attention to His words, to mull over them, to discuss them with other people and wrestle with the concepts until we can incorporate them fully into our lives. His words make us people of integrity and are the only remedy for double-mindedness.

“I will give them singleness of heart and action” promises God to the body of people He considers His children. What a promise! Let’s reach out and embrace Jesus, accept the gift, and embody the trueness He longs to impart deep into our being.

 

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 15

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‘Mem’

Comparison provides context. In Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver observes “a royal personage inspiring awe among the tiny Lilliputians because he was taller than his brethren by the breadth of a human fingernail.” In this case, the character Gulliver—of gigantic proportions compared to his miniature captors—sees from his perspective the diminutive physical differences that constitute ‘royalty’ by Lilliputian standards as nothing compared to his own human size.

In the same way, the writer of Psalm 119 uses comparison in this thirteenth stanza labeled ‘Mem’. He uses it to help him register the impact of knowing the boundless, enduring existence of God (especially as extolled in the previous stanza, ‘Lamedh’) in contrast to ignorance of God.

‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. / Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. / I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. / I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. / I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. / I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. / How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! / I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:97-104).

Did you hear the comparisons: ‘wiser than’, ‘more insight than’, ‘more understanding than’ and ‘sweeter than’? Let’s look a little closer. God’s message to humanity—His word recorded as Scripture and the person of Jesus communicated throughout those Scriptures—is of vastly greater significance than the difference between Gulliver and his Lilliputian governors. The psalmist observes that God’s Word and presence gives him a wisdom advantage not only over his enemies, but also over the wisest of his teachers and leaders. The gospel message of God’s love for humanity has transformed him from the inside out. God’s presence has moved his choices toward an unimagined wholesomeness and given him a greater appetite for virtue than for the sweetest things this world can offer. How is it this change has happened?

An even more ancient writer than the psalmist put it this way. “I kept thinking, ‘Experience will tell. The longer you live, the wiser you become.’ But I see I was wrong—it’s God’s Spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty One, that makes wise human insight possible’ (Job 32:7,8).

God’s Spirit, the breath of the Almighty One, in us? Impossible as it seems, that is the psalmist’s prayer and the gospel message in a nutshell. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That is the outcome of Christ’s work: His dying to ransom us from our perishing, His resurrection to lay the foundation for our eternal life, His ascension to the heavenly throne of glory, and His indwelling in us to enable us to experience the glory of true humanness as God intended it.

In some ways the psalmist’s comparison only lifts the edge of the page to a whole new story for us. There is really no comparison between the best of what the world can scrape together and the life Jesus offers. It’s not a new, improved and better life. It’s a whole new way of living. So cast off the feeble ties with which this Lilliputian world is trying to hold you down. Rise to a life filled to the fullness of God Himself. Know the One who is Wisdom Himself.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #23

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Prayer of Repentance and Return to Loyalty to God (Paraphrase of Psalm 137)

Hard as it is to bear, LORD, it is a good thing when we finally realize the bondage to sin we’re in. Only when we compare it to the freedom of life in Christ can we see the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Like finding ourselves captive to terrorists and required to entertain our tormentors with songs of joy, is the realization of the trouble sin has brought us.

As we begin to see there is no true joy in godless living, we are struck by waves of homesickness for your kingdom, LORD; we long for the joy of Your presence, Father. We’re in a foreign land and the songs we thought we could sing stick to the roof of our mouths.

May I never forget to bring You into every nuance of my day, Father. My highest joys come from living in close communion with You. Protect me from falling back into the clutches of sin.

Help me burn those bridges, LORD. Make haste to destroy the influence of evil, the source of so much sorrow in the lives of the proud and the wounded. You are our only hope.

(Photo Credit:Cell 18 of old city jail in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; By Tomas Castelazo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6634393

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 27

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Saving Self.

Everyone loves a hero, don’t they? Heroes make us feel like there is hope for our species. Deep inside, we want to believe we are heroes just waiting for the opportunity to reveal our true selves—like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent—bursting from our commonplace garb, revealing our altruistic selves. But altruism, says psychology, is nothing more than one of three evolutionary survivals: survival of the fittest (meaning ‘oneself’), survival of the genes (meaning ‘one’s children or close relatives’), or survival of the species (meaning ‘humanity in general’). This cynical view strips humanity of its soul making us nothing more than animals at best and machines at worst. So we struggle, wondering whether there really are any heroes, whether there is any hope for our species.

The gospel writer, Matthew, brings us to Chapter 27, the second-to-last chapter in his biography of Jesus Christ. In the first 26 chapters he has recorded Jesus healing the sick, restoring the socially outcast, reviving the dead to life. Jesus has drawn from His limitless resources as Son of the All-Powerful One to bring healing and hope to those in His daily walk who, by faith, are willing to be healed. But an antagonism to Christ has been slowly revealing itself. There was the edict of Herod, upon hearing of the Bethlehemic birth of one “born king of the Jews”, to kill all infant boys in Bethlehem; there was Satan’s devilish oppression of Jesus during His forty-day fast in the desert; there were the religious leaders who attempted to put obstacles into Jesus’ path wherever He journeyed and who plotted his murder; and there was Judas Iscariot’s greed-inspired betrayal of his Lord bringing about Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

And as Jesus, naked, torn and bruised by the Roman soldiers’ merciless beatings and floggings, hung suspended on his cross, the cruelties took voice; the oppression culminated in the hated-filled accusations flung at him by other cross-hanging prisoners, by passersby and by the religious icons of His day.

“(S)ave yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

What was the crux of these angry and hateful charges? The general mob and the ruling social religionists were expressing a twisted ideology of heroism. Real heroes, they claimed, save themselves first. Real heroes always submit to the three evolutionary survivals, all of which are based on self-centred considerations. And real heroes conform to our ideas of what supernatural power should look like. In other words, if you really are God in human flesh, Jesus, you’d better behave they way we expect, or else leave our lives, our neighbourhood and our planet up to us.

What they never expected was that this Son of God was the embodiment of altruism itself. He was following God’s agenda, not mankind’s. He was saving us at the expense of His own life, taking on the full weight of God’s just wrath against a rebellious species. He was and is the Hero we all need more desperately than we often know.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus was suffering from a psychosis of self-injurious behaviour. There was something in the horrific death that would benefit Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was that joy? It was the joy of enabling people like you and me to be back in right relationship with God; it was the joy of giving us a real choice of heaven over hell; it was the joy of filling eternity with eternal-living humans who finally realize their true potential as worshipers of the living God and as accomplishers of tasks more satisfying than our old cursed world could ever supply.

So let’s come to the cross of Jesus today. Let’s see Him as He truly is, the hero of our souls and rescuer of our lost humanity. Let’s invite His Spirit into our lives today; and let’s live out a continuation of His mission of loving God and loving others well. That’s what Jesus’ heroism is all about.

(Photo credit; By yorkshireman – http://pixabay.com/de/kreuz-gespeichert-strand-ring-631002/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762052)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 25

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The Seen and the Unseen.

Our world is full of mysteries, of things we can’t see, of things we don’t know or can’t fully understand. We don’t generally like unknowns, though, so we tend to do what we can to fill in the blanks, to have the information we need to make our decisions, to live our lives.

This is the basic premise of our western philosophy of human reason: we are faced with a world of external and internal mysteries—from forensics to finance, from meteorology to astronomy to astrophysics, from psychology to sociology—and we use our human capacity for reason to solve these mysteries more or less successfully. We do it by using the known to help us explore the unknown; we employ the seen to envision the unseen.

We ought not be surprised to discover, then, that God’s plan for the world from the moment of its conception would include both the seen and the unseen. He Himself is Spirit, invisible to eyes like ours, eyes designed to capture only objects within the physical realm. Yet, His plan involved expressing Himself in human form for roughly thirty-three years—a tiny blip on the map of human history—using that moment of His visible presence to explain the millennia before and after it when His presence has been invisible to human eyes. He expects us to use our God-given aptitude for reason to fill in the blanks so that our lives are congruent with reality—the reality that He still exists, He still inhabits our world even though He is unseen by us just now.

In Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel we are given a glimpse of how the seen and the unseen are going to cohabit in our world until the time God brings a conclusion to this era.

In this chapter, Jesus tells a parable. He describes a scene, a social panorama of in-group and out-group members, of people today we would call ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘have-not’ individuals are described as wounded and needy people. They are those who are hungry and thirsty, strangers, disenfranchised, impoverished, sick and unfairly imprisoned. The ‘have’ individuals are us, you and me.

Jesus explains that in each of our lives we will rub shoulders with people who, in comparison to us, will be ‘have-nots’. They will have fewer resources than us, fewer social or emotional supports and less financial freedom. They will have suffered under more unjust systems, or they have been more carelessly treated by society as a whole than we have been. How we treat the ‘have-nots’ of our world matters, because Jesus says He sympathizes and identifies with them.

“Whatever you (do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine,” explains Jesus, “you (do) for me.” In fact, caring for others’ needs is both descriptive and prescriptive of accessing a full and eternal relationship with our Creator. Listen:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This doesn’t negate the need for us to accept Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on behalf of us—that was the purpose of his 33-year sojourn on earth. But having become ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes as followers of Jesus, we must show proof of our faith extending into every part of our lives. We must live out our redeemed lives, giving of ourselves to our unseen Master by serving His precious ‘brothers’, the needy in our world.

We can’t excuse ourselves from reaching out to our needy neighbours, the hurting and hungry world of people around us. We can’t expect amnesty from responsibility stating that Jesus is ‘unseen’ in our generation. Jesus tells us to open our eyes. Loving Him and serving Him by loving and serving the needy go hand in hand. There’s no excuse for being short-sighted, is there?

(Photo Credit: By Nevit Dilmen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3894055)

 

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 22

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Dressing Down

The banquet had ground to a halt. The man who had been singled out was ashen-faced and speechless. The host, father of the groom and a very important man, had singled him out causing the room to fall to a hush.

“Friend,” the host had asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?”

Every eye turned upon the man who stood facing the gracious but stolid host. A defiant flush burned up the man’s neck and across his face replacing the grey pallor. He opened his mouth to retort but not a sound came out.

Looking out at the crowd of guests he could see he was out of place. Everyone wore splendid clothes of silk and satin, Egyptian cotton and Argentan lace, tulle and taffeta and tweed. Every outfit had been provided by the host in the receiving room, wedding favours of the most exclusive and unequaled kind. But this man had not come in through the grand arch-covered gates. He had slipped in through an open side door, drawn by the flickering lantern-light highlighting a table-full of magnificent wedding gifts. But he had been caught—his gig was up. In a word, the party crasher was dressed down, parceled up and sent packing.

Matthew records Jesus telling this parable to a large group of people who had yet again surrounded Him, longing to hear words of wisdom that would give hope for their weary down-trodden lives. As always, the dictatorial religious leaders were hanging about keeping surveillance on the scene. They wanted only to catch Jesus saying something to justify their arrest of Him.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son,” Jesus had begun the story. The parable had allowed Him to communicate to his listeners truths about God’s design for humanity. The religious leaders understood. Jesus had revealed them as the sort who would be escorted not into but out of God’s kingdom banquet. “For many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus had ended His parable. Words like these would eventually bring about His execution, but not today. God had other tasks for Him to complete first.

As we hear this parable recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, we see the focus of the story is on the ‘wedding clothes’ the guests were wearing. In absence of these a man is excluded from the great heavenly wedding banquet. There is no excuse for attending the banquet without the host-provided garments. What is it about the clothes that is so important?

We are helped in understanding the allegory of the clothes by other references in Scripture:

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

“…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Philippians 3:9).

“Then each of them was given a white robe and they were told to wait a little longer” (Revelation 6:11).

Our own attempts to be ‘good enough’ for God, for entering His presence, for being part of His eternal kingdom are cast away “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Instead, a ‘robe’ of righteousness is the only garment necessary and available to allow us access into the great banquet of community with God.

These verses picture Jesus’ perfect sinlessness being accredited to those who entrust their eternal future to Him. The truth permeates Scripture; it’s the classic rags to riches story, the prince to pauper transfer of apparel, birthright and privilege we thought was only found in fairy tales. But this story is for real. Saying we are righteous in God’s eyes is not a matter of being ‘holier than thou’—only Christ is truly that; it’s a matter of realizing we are totally incapable of being good enough on our own—we need Christ’s salvation.

So today, as we dress for the day, let’s remember to accept Christ’s provision of His robe of righteousness to be our spiritual garment. There’s a banquet waiting; who wouldn’t want to be dressed and ready for the grandest celebration ever held?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Silar; [[File:The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01.JPG|thumb|The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01]])

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 17

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The Great Truth

“You are the Christ,” the Apostle Peter exclaims in Matthew chapter 16, “the Son of the living God.” This declaration stands as a pinnacle in the narrative of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus—living God, the fulfillment of the ancient promise to mend the brokenness of our lives—was everything the Christ must be to heal this aching world. The truth of it had seared through the heavy mantle of human ignorance and the disciples would now be responsible to carry this torch far and wide.

But the orientation was not over yet. Truth has a way of taking us from one peak to another, and in Matthew chapter 17 we see Jesus take Peter and two other close companions up a high mountain by themselves. They would be privy to a pre-taste of the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken only six days earlier: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus had promised His close group of friends, “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

And there on a high mountain the glory of God the Son flared for a literal moment. We’re told Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light…a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

The bombardment upon the disciples’ senses knocked them face-first to the ground, terrified. Pure truth, like piercing light, is more than we can sometimes bear in these earth-bound bodies of ours. The three disciples had seen a glimpse of Jesus as He would appear far, far into earth’s future, “coming in his kingdom”—and His glory left them gasping for breath.

There’s some wisdom for us in the recollection of that moment. Truth is more magnificent than we often give it credit for. It is not some tidy little prescription that we can package in a pillbox and dispense as needed. We cannot wrap it around our little fingers and make it do for us as we please. Truth is as searing as a laser beam; it pierces, ignites, seals and reveals whatever it is aimed toward. It is faultless in reaching its target. Truth is God’s domain.

But truth is not only apparent on mountaintops. It extends into the valleys too. And so, Jesus reached down and touched His three companions, giving them courage, lifting them up, and explaining that they needed to walk alongside him through a deep valley. Before reclaiming the glory of being the Son of God, Jesus needed to complete the task given Him as the Son of Man: He must first suffer a humiliating death at the hands of darkness-driven men and take upon Himself the penalty each human owes the God of Truth and Justice.

This truth was harder for the disciples to accept than the bright-and-shining-revelation-of-Christ truth they had just witnessed. It always is. We much prefer the glory of triumph to the prospect of dogged perseverance. As humans we seem to have a particular aversion to suffering. We will do much to avoid it. Yet Christ was tenacious in his resolve to move forward in the Father’s plan for Him to suffer. Why? Because the great truth is that He had to suffer, to die an agonizing death in order to confront the laws of the moral universe that demanded a settlement for our human rebellion—for every time we’ve said, “It’s my life!”

We’re told, “the disciples were filled with grief.” They were torn by Christ’s news that He would be betrayed, killed and on the third day raised to life. It was natural to grieve. They didn’t want Jesus to suffer and they certainly didn’t want to share in the suffering by losing their Lord and Mentor. It was truth’s deep valley. But did you notice what they had failed to hear? The suffering would lead to glorious, triumphant Life. The truth of the valley would give way to the truth of the most magnificent peak—life unending. The Christ, the Son of the living God does the impossible to give you and me a second chance for the kind of life He designed us to have.

Why?—Simply because Jesus loves us. His love is deeper than the deepest valley, fiercer than hell’s scorching inferno, brighter than sun’s piercing rays, and higher than the highest heaven. He loved us through His own death and resurrection to save us from a suffering we know nothing about, and instead give us an eternity of love.

“For I am convinced,” pondered the Apostle Paul in a letter to later Christ-followers, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is a Great Truth.

(Photo Credit: By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands – Into the sun, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34928418)