Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 14

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‘Lamedh’

At 117, Violet Mosse Brown holds the honour of being earth’s oldest living person. She saw the advent of flight, the early development of the automobile, the overthrow of Czarist Russia, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, the rum-runners of the Prohibition, and the decolonization of the British Empire. She has outlived everyone in her generation, and most of those in her children’s generation. She predates virtually every household appliance including every digital device upon which our lives are now so dependent. To her, insulin, anaesthesia, and antibiotics are new inventions. If there is one thing we can say about this supracentenarian, it is that she is enduring. But compared to Someone Else, Violet Mosse Brown’s life is but a breath, here today and gone tomorrow—a speck on the horizon of earth’s history. Listen to how the psalmist puts it.

“Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. / Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. / Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. / If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. / I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. / Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. / The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. / To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless”(Psalm 119:89-96).

That is ‘Lamedh’, twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and twelfth stanza of Psalm 119. In Lamedh, the psalmist uses words and phrases like “eternal”, “continues through all generations”, “endures”, “preserved” and “boundless” to express the lofty theme of God’s great timelessness. There is something secure and restful in the contemplation of God’s boundless, enduring existence. He is the epitome of one who keeps His word, both because He is unerringly faithful in His promises, and because He is unlimited in His enduring perseverance loving humans.

While the psalmist admits he experiences the affliction and conflict common to humans, he sees himself as brought into an uncommon circle of friendship with God that allows him to request help from God. He says, “For I am yours.” He is claiming God’s ownership of him. He is acknowledging he relinquishes his autonomy and self-made rights, accepting God’s purpose for his life. Not as a mercenary contract but as a natural corollary, the psalmist anticipates being the recipient of God’s great salvation through His word—the living Word we know as Jesus.

Where the psalmist ends, limited by his place in history, other servants of the ever-enduring God continue expanding on the concept of the boundless nature and gift of God. The Apostle Paul records in a letter to early Christians on the coast of present day Turkey a prayer he prays for all who will ever say, “I am yours” to God.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 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” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

This passage is rich with descriptions of the boundless love with which our enduring, persevering God wants to transform our lives. His love, rooting and establishing us, fills us with His fullness. It is wider, longer, higher and deeper than we could ever imagine.

Timothy Keller suggests “wide” refers to the scope of God’s love, available to every human being—no exceptions; “long” refers to the eternal nature of His love—His never-ending faithfulness to bring good into our lives; “high” suggests the heavenly realm to which His love will ultimately bring us, where body, soul and spirit will enjoy the fullness of God’s design for humanity; and “deep” reminds us of the depth of horror to which Jesus submitted Himself, dying on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin and yours.

Which brings us back to the psalmist’s request to be saved. God’s love, fully expressed through His Son Jesus, is the culmination of the answer to that prayer. The Father’s love and the Son’s ransom-paying act ultimately save us from ultimate harm, preserving us even through death for a boundless, delightful eternity with Him. Now that’s enduring.

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)

Opening the Door to Psalm 119; Part 6

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‘Daleth.’

“I am laid low in the dust,” begins the psalmist in ‘Daleth’, the fourth segment of Psalm 119. What a start. There’s nothing proud or glorious here. There’s no false gaiety or bravado insulating how he feels. There is no glossy cover hiding the despair and disappointment. But remember, he’s not speaking to us here; he’s pouring out his heart to God.

I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.” The psalmist has bottomed out. It’s not just his feet that are dusty—he is flat out ‘laid low in the dust.’ He’s prostrate in it. The arid silt is gritty between his teeth, it’s stinging his eyes, it’s caked in his ears and it’s filling his nostrils. He’s not denying it. It’s threatening to swallow him into obscurity.

Perhaps he’s remembering the Genesis narrative in which the serpent was relegated to “eat dust” after tempting first-woman and first-man to rebel against God. Then first-man and his progeny were abandoned to return “to dust,” an incredible aftermath for creatures made in God’s image who had until then been feeding on the tree of life! For centuries the psalmist’s people had expressed their deepest sorrows with dust, covering their heads with its colourless, lifeless litter, remembering the curse.

But the psalmist doesn’t stop at the dust. He remembers something deeper and truer than his failings. He remembers God’s WORD. God, who “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” with a word (Genesis 2:7), who created the heavens and the earth with a word, “…and it was so.” To this the psalmist appeals.

In other words, ‘God, Your word is the only thing that can save me now. Speak it over me.’ And like a springtime downpour, God’s life-giving word rains down upon the thirsty souls not only of the psalmist but also of all who call on Him, souls willing to hear the word, take it to heart, and let it transform them from the inside out.

I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees./ Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders./ My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word./ Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law./ I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws./ I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame./ I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

The psalmist’s prayer is an agreement with God that he cannot sustain his own life, only God can. And the life that God gives him is the source of understanding and wonder, of strength and truth, of determination and faithfulness—virtues by which the psalmist recognizes God’s life takes hold of human life.

And as the psalmist grasps at the last straw it turns into a living proclamation by which the blight against his life is reversed and through whom the bondage of rebellion is undone. The proclamation is Jesus, anointed “to preach good news to the poor…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (portions of Isaiah 61:1-3). Beauty instead of ashes. Rich soil instead of dust. A heart set free.

God’s Word—Jesus—is unparalleled in effectiveness.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,” declares the LORD, “and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”(Isaiah 55:10,11).

As we hold fast to Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh and our hope for life, we begin a race where running is not wearisome, where dust is kicked off at every leaping stride, and where our hearts are finally free to climb up on high places to rejoice in our God.

(Photo Credit: MeghanBustardPhotography)

 

 

WHO IS JESUS? #11

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Knower of the Father.

Some things can be separated and still maintain their unique characteristics: a deflated balloon is still a balloon—even without air in it; separate bees from flowers and they will still be bees and flowers, although eventually both will die without the other. But some things cannot be separated and maintain their coherence: split the nucleus of an atom and see what happens.

In a similar way, everything Jesus claims about Himself is inextricably tied to God the Father. Jesus’ glory is tied to the Father’s glory; Jesus’ honouring of the Father is in balance with the Father’s honouring of Jesus; even the sovereignty of Jesus is inseparable from the sovereignty of the Father. So it’s no surprise that in this passage of John’s gospel (8:12-59) Jesus references the Father twenty-eight times. In a word, He is obsessed with Him. The centrality of the importance of the Father to the Son’s identity is summed up in the phrase Jesus now proclaims, “I know him.”

On the surface, to say we know someone is simple enough. We use it quite commonly in day-to-day life referring to family members, friends and even acquaintances. At some point, though, we recognize we can’t honestly apply the phrase to a relationship unless there is a certain level of mutual knowing involved. We may know about our country’s Prime Minister, or its President, or about other famous and infamous people, but we can’t sincerely say we know them unless we have connected at some level of intimacy.

Jesus makes this distinction in His discussion with the sanctimonious Jewish ruling class that have been challenging Him. He highlights the uniqueness of His claim to know the Father against the sham of their claims.

“Though you do not know him, I know him,” Jesus asserts. “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” Sharp contrast. Jesus does not mince His words when He wants to make an important point. He is saying, ‘you lie when you say you know the Father; I would be lying if I said I didn’t.’

The more we think about that claim, the more fantastic we realize it to be. Who can truly know God? Eight centuries earlier, Isaiah, God’s hand-picked prophet, had quoted God saying, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9); and a little later a prophet named Jeremiah quoted God as saying He is not impressed by human power, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me…” (Jeremiah 9:24a). The implication is that this lofty goal of knowing God can never be fully achieved by created beings.

So a claim to know—to fully and completely know— the Father is a claim of something at the level of equality with Him. It is a claim of cognitive intimacy that puts Jesus in a unique relationship and on par with the Father. But then Jesus is not a created being as we are; He is the “only begotten”, the “one and only” Son of the Father (John 3:16). His essence is eternally and inextricably bound up in the essence of the Father. We cannot fully know what that means—we have nothing in our experience that corresponds to that kind of knowing of God. At least, not yet.

Fortunately for those who choose to follow Jesus, to accept His offer of relationship, something amazing happens; we are brought into an intimacy with God that is foundationally one of mutual knowing. Jesus explains to His disciples (and by implication, to all throughout history who have looked to Him), “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). So the Apostle Paul extrapolates this idea by saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews explains that this new thing—this new kind of knowing of God—was in the mind of God to produce in humanity when He conceived of us. It takes time, and it takes the unsurpassed power of God to create the right conditions for it to happen, but without a doubt it is happening.

“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts,” Jeremiah quotes God saying. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Amazing news. Our best response to this news is to commit every day to spending increasing time with Jesus; we can read His Word, incorporating what we learn about Him into our lives; we can commit portions of that Word to memory, recalling them in times of need; and we can converse with Him—a process we call prayer. That is our part now in the glorious adventure we will spend eternity exploring—that of knowing God. There will be more when we finally see Him face to face. For now, know and be known.

(Photo Credit: [[File:NNSA-NSO-504.jpg|NNSA-NSO-504]])

WHO IS JESUS? #11

Balloon.jpg

Knower of the Father.

Some things can be separated and still maintain their unique characteristics: a deflated balloon is still a balloon—even without air in it; separate bees from flowers and they will still be bees and flowers, although eventually both will die without the other. But some things cannot be separated and maintain their coherence: split the nucleus of an atom and see what happens.

In a similar way, everything Jesus claims about Himself is inextricably tied to God the Father. Jesus’ glory is tied to the Father’s glory; Jesus’ honouring of the Father is in balance with the Father’s honouring of Jesus; even the sovereignty of Jesus is inseparable from the sovereignty of the Father. So it’s no surprise that in this passage of John’s gospel (8:12-59) Jesus references the Father twenty-eight times. In a word, He is obsessed with Him. The centrality of the importance of the Father to the Son’s identity is summed up in the phrase Jesus now proclaims, “I know him.”

On the surface, to say we know someone is simple enough. We use it quite commonly in day-to-day life referring to family members, friends and even acquaintances. At some point, though, we recognize we can’t honestly apply the phrase to a relationship unless there is a certain level of mutual knowing involved. We may know about our country’s Prime Minister, or its President, or about other famous and infamous people, but we can’t sincerely say we know them unless we have connected at some level of intimacy.

Jesus makes this distinction in His discussion with the sanctimonious Jewish ruling class that have been challenging Him. He highlights the uniqueness of His claim to know the Father against the sham of their claims.

“Though you do not know him, I know him,” Jesus asserts. “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” Sharp contrast. Jesus does not mince His words when He wants to make an important point. He is saying, ‘you lie when you say you know the Father; I would be lying if I said I didn’t.’

The more we think about that claim, the more fantastic we realize it to be. Who can truly know God? Eight centuries earlier, Isaiah, God’s hand-picked prophet, had quoted God saying, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9); and a little later a prophet named Jeremiah quoted God as saying He is not impressed by human power, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me…” (Jeremiah 9:24a). The implication is that this lofty goal of knowing God can never be fully achieved by created beings.

So a claim to know—to fully and completely know— the Father is a claim of something at the level of equality with Him. It is a claim of cognitive intimacy that puts Jesus in a unique relationship and on par with the Father. But then Jesus is not a created being as we are; He is the “only begotten”, the “one and only” Son of the Father (John 3:16). His essence is eternally and inextricably bound up in the essence of the Father. We cannot fully know what that means—we have nothing in our experience that corresponds to that kind of knowing of God. At least, not yet.

Fortunately for those who choose to follow Jesus, to accept His offer of relationship, something amazing happens; we are brought into an intimacy with God that is foundationally one of mutual knowing. Jesus explains to His disciples (and by implication, to all throughout history who have looked to Him), “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). So the Apostle Paul extrapolates this idea by saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews explains that this new thing—this new kind of knowing of God—was in the mind of God to produce in humanity when He conceived of us. It takes time, and it takes the unsurpassed power of God to create the right conditions for it to happen, but without a doubt it is happening.

“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts,” Jeremiah quotes God saying. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Amazing news. Our best response to this news is to commit every day to spending increasing time with Jesus; we can read His Word, incorporating what we learn about Him into our lives; we can commit portions of that Word to memory, recalling them in times of need; and we can converse with Him—a process we call prayer. That is our part now in the glorious adventure we will spend eternity exploring—that of knowing God. There will be more when we finally see Him face to face. For now, know and be known.

(Photo Credit: [[File:NNSA-NSO-504.jpg|NNSA-NSO-504]]

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #30

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Paradox Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 146)

Father God, I feel so glad when I think of You. My heart warms, my soul awakens, and my lips want to find a way to express my thankfulness to You. The best use for my life is to seize every opportunity to praise You.

There’s no point in praising princes, applauding the rich and famous, or flattering those who hint they have the power to do something for me. They’re just mortal like I am. Their glory passes, their lives end, and the memory of them eventually evaporates.

But You, Maker of all, You are Someone worth praising! In You we can put our trust and know it is well-placed. Not only is our unadorned simpleness not scorned by You, but You are the God of and for the weak. It’s a holy paradox.

You uphold the cause of the oppressed. You ensure that ultimate justice will be served one day, that the oppressed will be raised in glorious honour.

You give food to the hungry—not sparingly, but with prodigal generosity at the Great Banquet You are preparing even now.

You set prisoners free. Redemption frees those of us who have been in the worst kind of bondage, imprisoned in our senseless sin. Since Christ has taken the punishment that was our lot, we walk away from those chains free.

You give sight to the blind. We had not seen that the paths we had chosen would lead us into destruction. But as we admit our blindness, Spirit of Truth, You open our eyes to see there is more to life than the visible here and now.

You lift up those who are bowed down. We are all wounded in some way. Life leaves scars and weights that seem too heavy to bear. But You, LORD, are the Great Healer and Comforter. You lift us up in Your great arms of love and carry us to our journey’s end—the new beginning.

You love the righteous. The only truly Righteous One is Your Son, Jesus, whom You love with an infinite, inexhaustible and joyful love. Yet somehow, as we accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness, His righteousness covers our nakedness like a magnificent royal garment. Dressed this way, we enter Your presence in complete confidence that we are loved and accepted by You.

You watch over the alien. Those who have become refugees from society’s godless norms, who have faced its rejection, find refuge in You. You welcome us with open arms and give us citizenship in Your eternal Kingdom.

You sustain the fatherless and the widow. Great Father and Husband of our souls, we who have felt lost and alone find You to be all and more. You provide for our every need, Bread of Life and Living Water. We thrive under Your sustaining care.

Upholding, giving, freeing, revealing, lifting, loving, watching, and sustaining—LORD God You reign forever and for all generations. We praise You!

(Photo Credit: By JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #29

Eternity Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 145)

I praise You, Sovereign and Almighty God. My words mix with the praises of Your worshipers from ages past to eons future in a symphony of eternal praise. Each day I lend my note to the throng of voices calling out to You. My prayers today are but the middle of a song that will continue forever and ever. Here are some of the verses:

You are Great. Your height and depth and breadth of existence and character are so great they are beyond comprehending. No one can fully fathom You. This is enough to warrant our unending praise.

You are Glorious. We’ve caught glimpses of Your splendor of majesty in Your creative works here in this universe: glorious mountains and majestic sunsets, intricate designs in nature and vast constellations, songs of birds in the morning and smells of the earth on the wind. We’ve heard tell of more in the descriptions told by men like Isaiah and Daniel and John, pictures of Your glorious visage. Some day we’ll see as much of Your glory as we can bear—what worship then will come from our hearts and lips!

You are Mighty. You are tirelessly involved in Your creative acts in our world. One generation after another has had ample opportunity to see You working for our good. Transforming hearts and minds—restoring lives broken by sin—is Your ongoing task among us. Your open hand satisfies the desires of every living thing.

You are More: faithful to Your promises, loving to all You have made, righteous, near to all who call on You, upholding those who fall, and lifting up the lowly. The list goes on.

So my voice is tuned to sing Your praises, LORD. Let every creature great and small praise Your holy name forever. And as our ears become attuned to the song of the ages, we’ll hear Your own voice, deep and rich and melodious singing from eternity. What joy is ours to sing with You for ever and ever.

(Photo Credits: By Astroval1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; By Mount_Everest_as_seen_from_Drukair2.jpg: shrimpo1967derivative work: Papa Lima Whiskey 2 (talk) – This file was derived fromMount Everest as seen from Drukair2.jpg:, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18262217; By Andrew – originally posted to Flickr as Rock wren, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4215694)