Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 11

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‘Teth’

“Do good to (me)…” begins the psalmist in this ninth segment of Psalm 119. Those four words in themselves are enough fodder for a lifetime of thought: God. Good. To. Me. But there’s more. In and around and throughout the references to goodness, there are also references to evil (in the form of affliction, reputation-smearing, and callous hearts). This is interesting and worth exploring. How do good and evil correlate?

Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD. / Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. / Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. / You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. / Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. / Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. / It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. / The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

The psalmist has an idea that is nine-tenths formed. He is beginning to observe a principle and he wants to run it by God in the form of this prayer-song. We might call it ‘The Suffering Principle’. He sees that there is suffering in this world; there is evil in many forms and he has personally experienced it in the form of callous, reputation-smearing affliction-causing individuals. We know there are many other forms of evil too: illness, injustice, natural and social disasters, death. The list goes on. But there is also goodness; God’s goodness—of being and of doing—as well as a learned goodness the psalmist desires to be part of his own character. Somehow God’s Word is involved in this contest between the two opposing influences, resulting in some majestic phenomenon greater than all the silver and gold in the world.

The psalmist’s principle is this: (my) SUFFERING + (God’s) GOODNESS/POWER = GLORY.

Let that principle sink in for a minute. The psalmist is saying that when we experience evil in this life God is able (that’s the ‘power’ part) to use some divine alchemy to apply His goodness (powers of magnitude greater than any evil in existence) to bring about a process of transforming, mind-blowing, magnificence (what we’ll call ‘glory’).

The one-tenth part of the principle that the psalmist was just a millennium too early to know yet, is Jesus. Not one-tenth, really, but ten tenths, because He is the living Word, He is goodness incarnate, He is humankind’s glorious solution to the trouble we have experienced from the moment we arrived on the scene.

But how does Jesus bring goodness into our lives? Does He arrive like a superhero dressed for action pitting His power of goodness against the powers of evil? No and yes. No, He doesn’t eradicate present evil and suffering by imposing His goodwill upon unwilling earth and its inhabitants. But, yes, He does overcome evil by submitting Himself to the destructive powers of death itself, and, after paying the ransom evil holds over this earth, rises triumphant. He then invites each of us to be the throne on which He rules. In this way, Jesus offers goodness in the form of Himself to each of us. Good comes to us not externally but internally through Christ indwelling any and all who accept Him. Listen to how He explains it to an outcast woman who happened upon Him alone at a well late one day.

“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’” (John 4:7-10).

Jesus initiates the conversation by drawing her to see that the good she can give is but a drop in the bucket of the eternal Good He can give her through His Spirit. As she begins to grasp this offer by degrees, her own suffering as a social outcast becomes the platform through which she invites others to experience the goodness of God too. We do not hear each of their stories, but as a community we hear them rejoicing, “…this man really is the Savior of the world(!)” (John 4:42).

The glory the Spirit of the living Christ living in our lives is beyond our greatest expectations. Jesus, the man of sorrows who took our suffering upon Himself to the point of death, does not stand at a distance offering glib condolences to our sorrows. He, the precious Word of God, actually enters into us, girding us up from within, filling us with His own goodness so that our suffering is used for good—has a purpose that transcends the transience of this earth. The result is and will be the greatest glory: the glory of God transforming lives, the glory of good completely obliterating evil, the glory of God and His people someday entirely outside of the influence of suffering.

So let’s come to Jesus for the drink He offers us. Take a long deep draught of it and be refreshed. It is good.

(Photo Credit: By Themenzentriert – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11362535)

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 9

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Part 9: ‘Zayin’

“Endurance,” explains Glaswegian minister William Barclay, “is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” Perhaps this thought is what lies at the foundation of the psalmist’s next stanza of Psalm 119. ‘Zayin’—or seventh Hebrew letter—is the ‘z’-sounding letter that is also a word meaning weapon or sword and food/nourishment. The psalmist seems to have used this letter to explore suffering as a theme for these eight zayin-headed verses. It’s a stanza of the paradoxical, though. In the face of suffering, of enduring mockery, of indignation against the apparent mastery of evil over good we hear of hope, of comfort and even of a song.

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. / My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. / The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. / I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. / Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. / Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. / In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. / This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (verses 49-56).

Suffering becoming glory. It’s an enigma, a puzzle, and a conundrum. It goes against our intuition. We want to avoid pain and heartbreak, not endure through it to reach some distant joy. Yet there it is, both the sword and nourishment contained in Zayin, are laid out for us to help us triumph over our common dilemma. How can the psalmist—not to mention we—access this great paradoxical prescription so that he and we can weather the deepest difficulties of life with the confidence that God will preserve us?

The key is Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand” (sections of Isaiah 53).

Jesus stepped into the deepest crevasse of suffering known to humankind—the chaos of bearing God’s just wrath against humanity’s rebellion. We want a just God. Here He is, and here Jesus is made to die an exponential death for your rebellion and mine, times the billions who have and ever will live on this planet. But Jesus is God in flesh and so the sword, though it caused untold suffering for Him, could not extinguish His being.

That is the message of Easter. “He is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus’ body broken like crisp bread, and His blood draining from His wounds like spilled wine, become for us the nourishment after the suffering. Trusting in the work of Jesus to solve our troublesome dilemma is what the Spirit of God infused into the psalmist’s pen so many years ago.

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, helped two of His distraught and discouraged followers see that all of Scripture is about this amazing plan of rescue God devised for humanity. “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

There it is again: suffering then glory. Jesus, in His larger than life way, takes the greatest suffering so that we may be infused with His life and become able to bear our portion of this earth’s trouble. But the suffering is only a bothersome interlude—it has no lasting grip on us just as it had no ultimate hold on Christ. The hope of glory to come that God has promised was on the tip of the psalmist’s pen and is ours for the asking too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, sensing the end of his life was at hand, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).

Suffering’s grip is weak compared to the comfort of the Father’s hand. Let’s step into that great loving hand today, and as the lyrics of a current song say, “Just be held.”

(Photo Credit: By James Emery from Douglasville, United States – Bread and Wine (Cracker and Juice)_2048, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35135837)

WHO IS JESUS? #10

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Glorious One, and Glorifier.

It’s easy to give a caustic answer to an insulting comment. That moment when the cold response we have been formulating in our mind escapes our lips and makes its attack is rarely satisfying and usually regrettable. It seldom creates the reaction we had hoped for either. Yet we seem unable to give a reply that is both full of truth and of hope, that stands its ground and yet offers a lifeline to the insulter.

“Who do you think you are?” Jesus’ accusers had hissed. While it may have been a rhetorical question with which the First Century Jewish cultural leaders had attacked Jesus, He chooses to respond. He frames His answer as if the emphasis of the question had been on the words you and think—“Who do you think you are?”

“If I glorify myself,” Jesus replies, “my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me…Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:54-56). In other words, Jesus was saying, ’Let’s not quibble with who I think I am. God the Father thinks I am a gloriously splendid expression of Himself.’

The Pharisees must have blinked in astonishment. Before them stood a man without wealth or prestige by earthly standards, whose clothing was simplicity itself, whose followers were the unremarkables and even castoffs of society: fishermen, tax collectors, lepers and worse. And He speaks of glory?

This claim of Jesus has twofold interest for us who have at our disposal the fully completed Scriptures. The Pharisees had the Old Testament, which in fact spoke exhaustively about the Messiah, God-with-us, setting aside His glory to come in the flesh to humanity; but their hearts had been hardened and their minds were closed to that truth. We have the added support of the New Testament commentary that reveals even more about the Son of God. Yet, soft hearts and open minds are still as much the necessary equipment to understanding Jesus’ claims now as they were then.

Firstly, Jesus is claiming to be “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He lays claim to that glory as a characteristic of His union with God the Father. He is the Glorious One whose brilliance and energy is the source of the sun and stars and light itself. The glory of Jesus is a term that helps us capture a hint of the sum total of His being—the fusion of His complete goodness and power. This is no small claim. It is also no small thing for His listeners to grasp that concept—they and we are creatures of habit that have gotten used to relying solely on our five senses. “Seeing,” we suppose, “is believing.”

The greatest mystery is that Jesus doesn’t stop there. He is not only the Glorious One; He is also the Glorifier. Jesus offers His followers a reflected glory through association with Him: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:9). As we take stock of our lives—balancing all the hopes and disappointments, successes and failures like spinning plates on batons—we wonder what that glory means. Scripture tells us that when we face suffering for what is right, we “are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (I Peter 4:14). Christ’s glorious strength of character becomes accessible to us to face difficulties with grace.

We are also provided with that inner glory and grace of Christ for the express purpose of loving others, especially the unlovely. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” instructs Jesus, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44).

We will not always be here in these troublesome bodies amid challenging relationships plagued by the difficulties of life. As C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory describes, “..all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”

Join with me today in giving honour to the One who is both Glorious and Glorifier, for He is worthy. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

(Photo Credit: Bob Embleton [[File:Summit of Black Hill – geograph.org.uk – 685273.jpg|Summit of Black Hill – geograph.org.uk – 685273]])

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers #16

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Prayer of Confession (A Paraphrase of Psalm 130)

I’m calling to You, LORD, from a place lower than I’ve been before. I’ve fallen into a pit I’ve dug myself; I’ve sinned. I’m asking for mercy, Father, because I don’t deserve even to be heard by You.

Yet, You are a forgiving Father. Everyone who stands in Your presence is only there because You keep no record of our sins. I am completely in awe and fear of Your power and kindness and faithfulness to fully forgive. I realize my ultimate survival depends upon it.

So You have my full loyalty, LORD. I trust You and Your promises implicitly. The depth of my being waits for You to help me yet again, to lift me out of the quagmire of my sin, to enable me to sense Your presence with me once again, to live in victory.

I’m waiting for this dark night to become a distant memory, for Your glory to burst into my existence like the dawn of a new day. You promise You will do this for me if my heart is humble and contrite before You.

I want to share with others my firm conviction that hope placed in You is a secure thing: “for with the LORD is unfailing love, and with Him is full redemption.”

Jesus, Your act of redemption means everything to me—to all who are becoming Your children—because You have dealt thoroughly and completely with our sins. We are eternally indebted to You. Thank you.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #8

A Prayer Anticipating Worship (Paraphrasing Psalm 122)

There is something big happening, LORD, and we’re so happy to be part of it. You’ve called us to be a body of worshipers of You, the One true and sovereign God. Our corporate feet stand on the doorstep of Your house, yearning to praise You the way You designed us to, longing to see You in all Your glory.

We’re a tribe, LORD; we’re a people, a family held together by Your grace, mercy, love, and redemption. It’s fitting that we should also be drawn together by worship of You, O complete One.

We joyfully long for the new Jerusalem, the spiritual home You are creating for Your family, LORD. Those who love You will finally and eternally be reunited with You and with each other. Those who have trusted in You will be secure. Peace will rule within its domain because of You, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

Brothers and sisters in Your family will finally be at home with the Father of our souls—that is peace and prosperity. We worship You.

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 9

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 9

Matthew 5:10

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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E.M. Bounds once said, “God’s highest aim in dealing with His people is in developing Christian character…begetting in us those rich virtues which belong to our Lord Jesus Christ…not so much work that he wants in us…not greatness. It is the presence in us of patience, meekness, submission to the divine will, prayerfulness. And trouble in some form tends to do this very thing, for this is the end and aim of trouble.”

O that irritation we call trouble. And O when that trouble is in the form of persecution. We in the West know little of it, really, but our brothers and sisters around the world know plenty. The persecuted church is in agony right now.

In India, Hindu extremists target Christians with false accusations, beatings, rapes and murders. Manini is recovering from a brutal attack and sharing her testimony with new believers.

In Laos, Hmong believers are being forced out of their villages and face discrimination in jobs and education. Chan spent thirteen years in prison for his involvement in a house church.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram terrorists are burning church buildings and killing Christians by the hundreds. Monica is awaiting surgery to repair injuries from a machete attack.

In Colombia, FARC guerillas are increasing violence against Christians. Children Marcela, Jeffrey and Lyda were left orphaned when their parents were killed for running a Christian school for local children.

And in Eritrea raids on churches result in arrests, beatings and incarcerations. More than two thousand of our brothers and sisters are imprisoned, many in shipping containers.

These, declares Jesus, are blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Theirs is eternal reward and comfort. Theirs is heavenly glory. The apostle Paul, who knew something of persecution, expands on the experience by saying, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Cor. 4:17,18).

Seeing persecution through eyes fixed on the unseen brings perspective into view. Prayer is the implement most suited to this task. When forces of evil target the body of believers, only the prayer of faith can see blessing. Perhaps this is that to which Jesus refers when he concludes His ‘Lord’s Prayer’ with the petition “deliver us from the evil one”. Satan is at the nucleus of any attempt to destroy the body of Christ. While physical persecution is a tool, the evil one really wants to destroy souls. Praying for deliverance must not be superficial. We must pray not only for physical relief but also for spiritual strength. The persecuted need prayer to maintain courage, faithfulness, forgiveness and inner peace.

Until God calls us to experience persecution, we have a task. We must lift up in prayer our brothers and sisters of the persecuted church. Sharing in the trouble will allow us to share in the blessing.

(For more information on praying for the persecuted church, visit The Voice of the Martyrs at http://www.persecution.net/)

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON: Part 9 Conclusion

John 14:8-26  Part 9: Conclusion

 

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The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

PROSPECTUS: A document that advertises an enterprise in order to attract or inform members.

 

This series on the PROSPECTUS FOR PRAYING PERSONS comes to a completion. Today’s wind-up is not so much an ending as a beginning, not so much a conclusion as a commissioning.  Jesus makes the seven promises not only to ‘attract or inform’ us; He wants to TRANSFORM us. He is calling us to place these promises as central to our hopes and dreams, to place them above every plan and intent of our day. Remember what He offers?

 

LIMITLESS POWER, INDWELLING COUNSEL, SPIRITUAL VISION, ETERNAL LIFE, HOLY COMMUNITY, APOCALYPTIC LOVE, and INTIMATE MENTORING.

 

Let’s rise up and take what He promises. Let’s enter into the adventure of daily drawing from the promissory notes God places within our reach. Jesus was vitally concerned to communicate these promises—His final instructions prior to His earthly death must be significant.

 

Jesus closes His discourse with a prayer of intercession for us (see John chapter 17).  He uses words like ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘glory’.  He wants very badly to see us actively participate in this great plan of His; He can see something we don’t yet fully see, and it’s good. Very good.

 

So let’s encourage one another to embrace a life that strives after these promises.  He wants to give, so let’s be receivers of the benefits. The prospects are excellent.

 

(Challenge: Find the gospel of John and read through chapters 14-17 every day for a week or more. What does God highlight for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.)