Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 7

Catalonia_Yes.jpeg

‘He’

Eight verses; nine requests. A flood of appeals leaps off the page as the psalmist makes his entreaty to God. For what does the ancient writer ask? Is he pleading for fertility for his land, his people, and his own posterity—like the Greeks would assign to their gods Aphaea and Demeter? Does he want power over invading armies—like the Assyrians’ pleas to Ashur and Ishtar? Is he demanding protection from environmental disasters—like the Incas did through their child sacrifices to the sun god Inti? Is he exploiting the powers of a deity of the dead—like the Egyptian demands of the embalming afterworld gods, Anubis and Ra? No. Rather, the fifth stanza of Psalm 119—petition to the One known as LORD—is a prayer for authentic, holistic, whole-life relationship with God.

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end./ Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart./ Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight./ Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain./ Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word./ Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. / Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. / How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness”. (Psalm 119:33-40).

The psalmist has come to the Great One Himself to ask to be part of God’s plan for humanity. He wants to become what God envisions for him, and is willing to undergo whatever the process requires. Did you see that as you read his request?

He asks for a transformed mind (”Teach me…Give me understanding”)—he recognizes that his natural mind is prone to misunderstandings, assumptions, even ignorance. He wants to know God’s commands so that his rational, logical mind can be engaged in the process of obeying God.

He also asks for a transformed heart (“Turn my heart…”)—he acknowledges his usual set-point is one of selfishness, and this self-centredness has distorted his humanity. To get to the root of the problem, the psalmist knows, to be truly authentic his heart must be God-centred. He must love God, but he needs God’s help to do it.

He then asks for clarified goals (“Turn my eyes…”)—he identifies the fickleness of his own desires, the tendency for his sensual nature to override his mind and his heart. To become constant, committed and unswerving, the psalmist asks God for blinders. He wants to repulse the flare and dazzle of temptation so as to be sensible to the radiance and glow of true (hu)manliness. But he needs God’s help if he’s ever going to conquer this powerful adversary.

But the high point of the psalmist’s appeals comes after the requests for his mind, heart, and senses. The zenith of his petition points to a promise. The psalmist has read God’s word and has discovered a treaty, a promise made by God and confirmed by a covenant. It was a promise to bless all peoples (Genesis 12:3) through a ‘seed’ (Genesis 3:15). The psalmist recognizes that a promise made by God is as good as a promise gets, and he wants to benefit from it. What the psalmists doesn’t yet fully understand is how the promise will be fulfilled—that the promise is not a what but a who.

Centuries later who would come onto earth’s scene but a baby, a descendant of the woman of Genesis 3 and of the man of Genesis 12. He was Jesus, the Promised One who alone could assure the transformation the psalmist desired in himself.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ,” explains a later writer, “…was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes,” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ…Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (I Corinthians 1:19-22).

So we see it is He, Jesus, who answers and completes the psalmist’s petition. He transforms hearts, minds and goals. He takes away the disgrace the psalmist dreads of being less human than his Creator intended; He is the source of the precepts of Scripture; He is the Righteous One whose ransoming death and resurrection preserves the lives of those who submit to Him. He is the source of relationship with God. He is the answer to every prayer.

(Photo Credit: By Alex Sancliment – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33675549)

Advertisements

OVERCOMERS

Rob_Ford_Mayoral_Candidates_Forum_June_2010_(crop)

OVERCOMERS

Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, Canada, says he has a disease. He says it’s an everyday battle that he’s going to have to deal with for the rest of his life. It’s a disease that makes him do things and say things that he says he doesn’t like, or at least that he knows others don’t like. He’s been in detox for two months because it has scandalized his job as caretaker of the city. What Ford wants to do now, he says, is to buck this tendency, stem the tide, staunch the flow, and get back to the job of running Canada’s biggest city. He’s got to do that if he wants to be re-elected.

What Rob Ford might not realize is that he’s not the only one with the disease. I don’t mean the substance abuse disease, although that can be a symptom of the bigger thing. I mean the capital-D Disease every one of us deals with every day of our lives – the mind-altering, word-influencing, action-impacting disease that has infected us all. Let’s not deny it. Ford tried denials and they worked for a while, but eventually all the evidence comes in and it’s not pretty. The lies can never ultimately stand up to the Truth: something nasty has inoculated its DNA into the nucleus of our soul and demanded we conform to its instructions. It has been referred to as the “pattern of this world” and it’s the great Disease that possesses every person on this planet.

That’s the problem at the root of every ill we experience, isn’t it? Every unkindness we find ourselves executing, every lie we defend ourselves telling, every selfish choice we support ourselves constructing is a symptom of the Disease. It has a name, though it’s unpopular in the social and political climate of today; it’s called evil. We recoil at the sound of that nasty little four-letter word; it’s so antiquated, primitive, and mythical-sounding. Surely we enlightened post-modern thinkers of the scientific age are not bound by the concept of evil. Are we? Of course, watching the first five minutes of the evening news illustrates for us every day, in many ways, that something dark and foul is happening in this world that most of us don’t like. For the sake of argument, just now, let’s give it the title ‘evil’.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world”, advises the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. He knows the human condition. The pattern of this world is the formula for rising to power on the ladder whose rungs are pride and selfishness. It is the convention that crosses all cultures and eras. It is the suggestion, obscure or blatant, that we are masters of our own destiny; that pride and selfishness are laurel wreaths we ought to wear without embarrassment; that the concept of God is a definition we can mould to accommodate our ladder-climbing, self-grooming agendas. Look around. On billboards, placards, best-selling book titles and parade banners; are the words ‘pride’ and ‘self’ used with embarrassment, or flaunted? This is the pattern of this world. The popular rhetoric is a blast of cologne but beneath it wafts the odour of Disease.

In contrast, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, Paul offers. He doesn’t mean read one more book, take one more class, or add one more degree to your curriculum vitae. He’s going back to the earlier shocking proposition, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”. He uses the loaded term ‘sacrifice’ because it is a slap in pride and selfishness’ face. He uses ‘living’ to show us that this is what real, exuberant, fulfilling life means. He uses ‘holy’ to show that there really is an objective standard for our behavior – we don’t make the rules after all. And he uses ‘pleasing to God’ to contrast our foolish ladder-climbing ambition that leads us anywhere but up. There is only one way to renew a mind that has inherited the human genome, that has been imprinted with the pattern of this world, the bent toward evil. It’s extreme. It is outside the box of thinking we consider normal. A renewed mind is one that has submitted to the mercy of God, the redeeming work of Jesus, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The book of Romans is overflowing with this theme and it’s worth delving into, if we have a mind to do it. Do we?

God has much to say about evil, including how to rise above the daunting disability the disease of evil has wreaked in each of us. Did you know He loves us? Did you know the sacrifice Jesus has made on our behalf was so that we can overcome the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? Have you sensed the optimism and hope He offers when we’ve finally become sick and tired of the Disease of evil? This message is for all of us.

Looking deeper than Rob Ford’s admission of disease helps us avoid pointing the finger; he has failed the people of Toronto, but if we’re honest, we’ve each failed someone too, haven’t we? Detox isn’t going to be able to help any of us with the big-D Disease we’ve got. Dealing with that has got to be the job of the Good God, and we must comply with his prescription if we ever want to get well and overcome this thing. To be overcomers, we need to overcome evil with good, and God is the only one who can empower us to do that. Now that’s a battle worth winning, for goodness’ sake. Are you with me?

(Photo Credit: Shaun Merritt, Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS

SINGLE-MINDEDNESS

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

IMG_0735

To live in our twenty-first century Western society requires one main skill: multitasking. Schedules rule. Our minds spin with things to do, things to remember, people to see, places to go. Even our leisure times are fraught with scheduling activities reflecting each family member’s varying interests. Our lives resemble a one-man band busking on a crowded city street.

In contrast, I love the Psalmist’s single-minded focus expressed in this verse. His focus is on “one thing”. Not, ‘the first thing’ or ‘one of many things’; just one thing. He asks just one thing of the LORD. Only one thing will meet his deepest yearning need. He has pared away all superficial wants and mined to the core of his human condition. He has one driving ambition.

He describes this one thing with three verbs. He wants to dwell, to gaze and to seek. He wants to participate fully in absorbing himself with his Creator. He wants to live with Him, look unflinchingly at Him, and worship Him.

How does the Psalmist envision this dwelling, gazing, seeking activity to occur? Prayer. The Psalmist instinctively knows that prayer is his avenue to participating in the God-life, to relating ‘face to face’ in the spiritual sense with his Lord.

He prays, “Hear my voice when I call, O LORD…My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.”

What a call to action this is for us who say we love God, or, for that matter, for us who say we want to live life to the fullest. This is the greatest frontier we can ever explore, to probe the infinite reaches of the person of God. I’m thinking this is why we have been given the opportunity of everlasting life. The task will take an eternity and longer. It also demands the full extent of our focus and energy, to earnestly seek Him. Anything less than single-minded undivided attention will ultimately disappoint both God and us. There is no multitasking when it comes to worshiping the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Let’s put into perspective our purpose here on planet earth. Everything is about one thing. Our attention must be focused, our loyalty unalloyed, our heart undivided. It’s all about God, and we’re invited to be part of the experience. So let’s give a try today at focusing on God. Let’s think about Him throughout the day, talk to Him as often as we think of Him, and when we find ourselves distracted, shake off the inclination to multitask.  Let’s incorporate prayer INTO today’s events rather than segregating prayer from them. This is single-mindedness. This is wholeness.

 

Psalm 15: 4b, 5a Integrity

Psalm 15:4b,5a  “…who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.””.

 

Title page of the irst edition of the Bay Psal...

Title page of the irst edition of the Bay Psalm Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This phrase is about integrity.  My dictionary says that integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” and/or “the state of being whole and undivided”.  The former are the daily battles, the latter is the war.  I see them as battles and a war because I know myself so well. My natural bent is so self-focused.  It’s a real battle some days to be whole and principled. Each example, (oath-keeping, money-lending, and bribe-resisting) describes moral principles that are put to the test, usually when I am at my weakest.  I’m fine keeping my promises when the sun is shining.  But what about the “even when it hurts” times?  Can I still love and forgive when that person hurt me so badly? Am I so willing to lend my resources when there is nothing in it for me, not even a little publicity?  Do I resist the temptation to treat certain others with a little more equality than everyone else because it benefits me in some way?

 

Integrity really only describes God, the completely whole one.  Yet, unless I am described by this trait, says the Psalmist, I cannot hope to dwell in the LORD’s sanctuary, to live on His holy hill. It’s an unhappy quandary.  Unlike many, I just cannot see myself as good enough to meet this high standard.  Do you? Have we really the integrity to keep every promise, lend every last penny, and refuse every temptation to favouritism?

 

Once again, we must rely on the Source of all good to transpose into our souls the resources needed to meet God’s standards.  He who makes us blameless by His Blamelessness, enables us to speak truth because He is Truth and enables us to love our neighbours because He is Love, does something about our need for integrity.

 

In another Psalm, David asks (on behalf of us), “give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name”  (Psalm 86:11).  God’s answer?  He says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone…” (Ezekiel 11:19).  There it is: Integrity for the asking.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but it will put wholeness back into a heart fractured and hardened by selfishness.  God ‘s soft-heartedness (often referred to as ‘compassion’) is transposed into our hearts as we allow Him to work His great task of re-creation.

 

LORD, great:
Oath-keeper,
Resource-lender,
Lover of all.
None of these am I, and so,
In desperate sense of need I come
To Your great throne, true sanctuary, holy hill
On bended knees.
Restore my heart, soul, mind and strength
To wholly be as Yours,
My fractured, stoney, hardened heart
Made new.
So off and out I go, now whole,
To keep my oaths,
Lend what I have,
Love everyone
Through You.