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)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #31

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Prayer of Thinking on God (Paraphrase of Psalm 147)

Hearts glowing with thankfulness and awe, we think on You, God. Singing Your praises puts words to our reverence and opens the floodgates of our full-to-bursting hearts. To praise You, Father God, is not only fitting to Your majesty, it creates in us the fullest, highest, broadest and deepest pleasure we humans can experience.

You build up those who humbly bow to You; You gather to Your arms the lost and lonely. You heal hearts broken by this hurtful world, binding up our wounds and drying our tears. To think on You brings comfort.

You created the constellations of the universe by Your unequaled power and wisdom. You placed them in their vast settings and sustain them by Your ever-present might; You call them by name in Your intimate knowledge of each one, shining jewels of the macrocosm. To think on You brings wonder.

You cover the sky with clouds to water thirsty grass and trees, crops and animals. You send winds to clear the skies and allow the sun to warm our faces. Our souls are watered and fed by Your tender care for all our needs. To think on You brings satisfaction.

While You love to see Your creatures physically healthy and fit—wild herds thundering across varied terrain, ultra-marathoners achieving their conquests, what really brings You pleasure is available to the weakest and simplest of us: You delight in those who fear and respect You, who put their trust in Your unfailing love, and live with that in mind. So each of us may fulfill the purpose for which You made us. None may say, “I never had the chance to think on You and praise You, God!”

You strengthen the boundaries between good and evil—though our culture tries to blur them. You bless us when we turn our eyes to You, though opponents beleaguer us. You grant peace as we die to selfishness, satisfaction as we give up God-empty pursuits, and joy as we obey Your call to holy living. To think on You brings breathtaking thankfulness. Nothing is more important than praising You, LORD!

(Photo Credit: By USAID Africa Bureau (Elephant herd  Uploaded by Elitre) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #21

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Prayer of Plain and Simple Praise (A Paraphrase of Psalm 135)

There is only One in this universe who deserves our adoration—You, LORD. Your name ought to be featured on every flag, inscribed on every banner, stamped on every endeavor we undertake here on planet earth. You deserve to be praised by each of us who are Your servants, Your children, Your people freed from the terrible bondage of sin.

For You are good. Every intention of Your heart, every word of Your mouth and every action You take is wholly good and will bring complete and ultimate good to those who love You, LORD. We praise You.

You are great. You are the only uncreated Being—existing without beginning or end, unparalleled in Your position of supremacy. All creatures will one day bow before You. We praise You.

You are powerful. You are able to accomplish anything You intend; Everything You created on earth, in sky and sea is for Your pleasure. What better reason for us to exist, and what is more fitting than to say we praise You?

You are personally involved in each of our lives. Nations rise and fall according to Your ultimate plan to bless humanity through Your Son, Jesus Christ. We praise You.

You are loving and compassionate. Your mercy and grace are released into the lives of those who welcome Your presence. One day Your justice will finally wash over this earth and bring all things wrong to right. We praise You.

Until then, You patiently watch as people create their own gods outs of whatever they value most—anything they think will satisfy their pursuit of pleasure. Those gods are no more truly alive than the people who hope in them. They are nothing more than hollow, empty shells about to topple, taking their subjects down with them.

But You, LORD, stand firm and dependable, supporting, strengthening, and giving solid hope to those who bow only to You. There is nothing truer than for us to say, plain and simply, “We praise You!”

 

(Photo Credit: Sunset over the Vercors mountains, seen from Grenoble. By © Guillaume Piolle /, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4994157)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #5

World Prayer (A paraphrase of Psalm 117)

(Hey world! Let’s stop all the spinning and think about what really matters in these lives we’ve been given. Let’s shake off the blinders that hide from us the core truth of our existence, the reality that God…loves…us!

How much? He loves us with a vast, all-knowing, never-ending limitless love that is aimed at our eternal good. Take a long, slow draught of that news. There is no love on earth that comes anywhere near approaching this God-love. It is feather-light, sea-deep and mountain-solid.

Is it fickle, like human love? Not one bit. The faithfulness of the LORD endures forever—not only forever in a time-based sense, but eternal in depth and scope and height of majestic wonder.)

Your inexhaustible love and faithfulness, O God, is our greatest comfort and we thank You. That You will never leave us is beyond our wildest dreams and we praise You. You’ve inscribed it on our hearts, tattooed it on our souls, and imprinted it on our minds. We exalt You and sing Your praises. Give us an eternity in which to do it!

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #4

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Goodness Prayer (A Paraphrase of Psalm 116)

God, You are so good. Imprisoned by trouble I would never have escaped, I discovered You coming to my rescue; You heard my cry and came in answer to it in a way that perfectly balanced grace—Your free gift, and righteousness—what justice required, and compassion—love for the unlovely. That is so good.

What it takes from me is an admission of my own need, my own lack of goodness. I must reject the pride that is my inborn habit, coming to You in faith—simple-hearted, open-faced and unadorned trust in You. My soul finds rest, time and time again, when I admit that You are good for me.

You deliver me from the dark influence of evil so that I may walk with You; this is Paradise found in the truest sense. And my role? You ask me to trust You, to believe in what I cannot see, to admit that You are completely good and all-powerful, and that I am anything but that. That is the covenant You call salvation and offer me—a cup of wine deep and fragrant and sparkling.

This imagery, of course, reminds me of You, Jesus, body broken for me, blood spilled for my eternal good. Because of You the death of every one of us who trust in You will be the precious reuniting of children with good Father, servants with good Master and the rescued with good Redeemer.

So I rejoice in being Your servant. I will take every opportunity to thank You for Your goodness and love, to praise Your name before others, and to live my life as a thank offering to You.

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 19

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Mission Impossible.

“Hell on earth…something like Armageddon” is how it is described. Fort McMurray, Alberta is ablaze and the fire is growing by leaps and bounds. A war zone of charred homes, abandoned vehicles, and blackened tree-trunks mark the fire’s passage. More than 2000 square kilometres of tinder-dry land have fallen prey to the fire’s limitless appetite and the destruction is not finished yet. Stopping an inferno of this magnitude seems impossible.

When natural disasters like this wildfire assault us we are shocked. The enormity of the force surprises us because we are more familiar with order and organization than with chaos, with human mastery than with powerlessness.

As Jesus traveled by foot throughout the Jordan River region described in Matthew 19 he observed similar phenomena within people’s lives. He saw not external wildfires observable by flame, smoke or blackened arboreal remains, but internal conflagrations. Wildfires of the human spirit beneath façades of social etiquette—natural disasters of an internal type—are not hidden to the One who sees the heart of man.

“Now a man came up to Jesus,” we’re told, “and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’”

That seems like an honest and innocent enough question. The man had a desire for immortality and he figured it was in connection with doing good. Coming to Jesus for an expert opinion seems like a good choice. But listen to Jesus’ response.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good..”

Why is Jesus challenging this seeker? What misconception, what perspective or worldview does this seeker embrace that Jesus needs to clear up before the man is ready for an answer to his ‘eternal life’ query?

Jesus seems to be trying to shift the man’s focus from self (“…what good thing must I do…”)—to God (“…only One who is good…”). Did you catch that? The man is entirely preoccupied with himself and has forgotten God. He goes on to claim (according to the gospel accounts by Mark and Luke) to have kept, flawlessly, every one of the Ten Commandments—but Jesus observes it to be a focus on what the man himself has accomplished; what is conspicuously absent is his awareness of God—of any relationship with God.

Somehow, Jesus has spotted this distortion in the man’s thinking and wants to help the man see for himself where he has gone wrong. He has diverged from loving God to loving self, driven and obsessed by what he can accumulate for himself.

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus finally seems to acquiesce, “go sell your possessions…then come, follow me.” This was not what the young man had wanted to hear. No other prospective follower had been presented with this criteria. But Jesus knows individual hearts—yours and mine included. We’re told the man “had great wealth.” The penny has dropped. The heart of the matter has come to the surface. The man not only owns many things, but his identity is wrapped up in what he owns. Even his pursuit of eternal life is revealed as another quest to accumulate something for himself. And so he turns away, because he is not willing to leave his first love—self—for love of God.

We may use labels like hedonist, narcissist, self-absorbed egoist, but those labels distance us from associating ourselves with this one man’s fault. Honest self-evaluation can be painful. If we look carefully enough at our own lives, many of us will see something in ourselves that is not pretty. We thought we were on track with our spiritual lives, but something has slipped in, turning our focus from loving God first—dare we admit it—to loving ourselves first.

“Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ disciples ask him, seeing the rich young man turn away. They are still distracted and sidetracked by the picture of success that had radiated from the wealthy urbanite. They could not see the inner chaos beneath the slick exterior the young man presented.

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus answers with a penetrating look at each of his disciples. Perhaps at that moment each of them saw themselves a little more clearly. They too were self-centred. They too loved themselves more than they loved God. They too housed an internal inferno of chaos carefully hidden from others. Was it hopeless?

But Jesus was not finished. “With man this is impossible,” he had begun, “but with God all things are possible.” This was and is and will always and only be the answer to all our pursuits: God. God is the One who is strong enough and good enough to extend His life to us, transforming us from the inside out, making us fit for immortality. It is all about Him. And what He wants is a loving one-on-one relationship with you and with me that puts everything into perspective. Selfishness, then, will naturally give way to selflessness, hedonism to a God-honouring lifestyle. This is the mission Jesus was employed to perform and continues today in the lives of people like you and me—people who are tired of working with the impossible. Thank God that with Him all things are possible.

(Photo Credit: [[File:By DarrenRD [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.jpg|thumb|Landscape view of wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (cropped)]])

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 5

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Part 5: Security

Family. Physical and Mental Health. Career. Finances. Happiness.

Make a mental checklist. How many of the above spheres of your life are performing at one hundred percent their optimum? Which of them could take a turn for the worse and begin a downward spiral at any moment, heedless of your most determined efforts to the contrary?

If we’re honest, we will admit that while we have some control over the circumstances of our lives, things can go south all too quickly. Marriages struggle. Health fails. Worries plague our psyche. Unforeseen events sidetrack careers; finances plummet. Regardless of our best attempts at making our one chance at life work well, security seems to elude many of us. Life is a precarious and shaky arrangement at best and nothing is really secure against the wind and tide of the unexpected.

David, the psalmist, speaks hope into our situation by penning some simple but profound words in the fifth verse of Psalm 16.

“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”

Did we catch the first and last words of this statement? ‘LORD’ and ‘secure’. They stand like solid bookends bracketing his life. David, king and mighty protector of the Hebrew people camped on Promised Land surrounded by mightier nations wanting the land, recognizes where his security comes from. It comes from God.

“LORD” he addresses God. That is an English word for the Hebrew name Yahweh. It was a name expressed by God half a millennium before the psalmist, designating God’s eternal existence and being. It means, “I AM WHO I AM”, or just “I AM” for short.

This somewhat incomprehensible name speaks of the vast self-determined nature of God who cannot be fully understood by His creatures; so He simplifies His name to the most basic of tags, “I AM” or LORD.

But how does God’s name affect or effect our security?

There are two parts to it. “You have assigned me my portion and my cup,” begins the psalmist. In other words, ‘The food on my plate has been grown, cooked and served up uniquely for me, as has the drink in my cup’. God, the all-powerful and compassionate One knows exactly what conditions and situations make us most prone to turn to Him and rely fully upon Him. For some it will come within a tender and loving home environment. Others will need to experience the tough knocks of life before they are ready to see God as their loving Father and accept Jesus as their Redeemer. The point is, becoming bitter with our portion in life is counterproductive. Using it for our ultimate and eternal advantage by letting it turn us toward God is what God intends for our good. It’s who He is. It’s embedded in the name “I AM”. Take note, God does not make anything bad happen—He is the giver of only good and perfect gifts—but He is uniquely capable of transforming bad situations into settings that bring eternal good. Just look at the cross.

The second part of the psalmist’s observation is, “you have made my lot secure.” We are prone to think our lot in life is up to us. ‘Be born with it or work hard to get it,’ says our culture, ‘but don’t be surprised if someone stronger tears it away.’ God’s gift of Himself for us is very different. We cannot earn it, nor can we be too far-gone to receive it. And once we have it—that is, the forgiveness and new relationship He offers through His Son and His Spirit—it is eternally secure. “No one can snatch them out of my hand,” promises Jesus.

This verse is amazing, really. It has the power to transform our thinking and our living. The confidence inspired by God’s direct participation in our lives gives us a peace and comfort nothing–absolutely nothing—else can provide. Who wouldn’t want that? That kind of security is surely something to be thankful for.

Thank you, Father, LORD, the Great I AM, for assigning each of us our portion and our cup. We trust that You know exactly the portion and cup we need to be drawn to you. Thank you for making our lot secure. We entrust our lives and our eternal well-being to Your care.