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.

A NEW CREATION, Part 5

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New Heart and Spirit

Have you heard the story of the woman who received a heart and lung transplant and discovered a few other things came along with it? She observed a new craving for beer, green peppers and chicken nuggets, among other things. Later, upon meeting the donor’s family, she discovered those tastes had been the preference of the young man whose heart she had received. Sound too strange to be true?  Can memories of preferences be embedded in cells like the heart and be received by transplant recipients? Maybe.

God is recorded in Scripture as using this concept of epigenetics to teach us an important truth: he describes the heart as the core and centre of our being. He describes it as diseased, weakened, hardened. It is not able to function as He designed it to function. We have a problem, and it affects every aspect of our lives, every relationship we embrace. We need a transplant.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” God declares (Hebrews 10:16). It’s an intriguing image– this earliest notion of organ transplant; but why the extreme undertaking? What is it about our ‘old’ heart and spirit that needs renewing? What does He mean by ‘your heart of stone’?

Imagine ourselves as babies. We don’t have any memory of those earliest days, but all the same, they were real. Very early on, our parents or caregivers began to see in us the emergence of the great human flaw. From the start we began to assert our own will, hardening our hearts to the injury it caused to those who loved us. When we were old enough to talk we shamelessly began using the word, “No!”

The drive for self-preservation made us senseless to the needs of others, especially those closest to us. By the time we reached adolescence if we had not yet put up some barriers in our heart toward others, this stage would accomplish the deed. We became hard-hearted toward unfair teachers, authoritative parents, backward peers, and anyone in general who put obstructions in our way. We began to realize that God, the sovereign of all, was the greatest threat to our selfish lifestyles and we hardened our hearts to Him. The disease was intractable. Like living oaks submerged under sediment and removed from the effects of oxygen, our hearts became petrified. Flesh became stone. The living, moving, pliant organ of relationability was replaced drop by drop in a stony cast; the form remained but the function dissolved. Shakespeare’s description fit our condition, “ ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart.”

This metaphor of the heart like a petrified rock lends insight into a further problem. The word ‘petrified’ has another meaning. We use it in hyperbole to describe excessive fear. “I was petrified to walk alone at night!” So we observe that not only are our hearts under the influence of selfish autonomy, but also of a deep fathomless fear. Hard hearts are lonely, fearful hearts. Do you agree?

When God, who is the very spirit and embodiment of love, gives new hearts and spirits there is another amazing change that happens. Love begins to flow through our metaphorical veins. (“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts our fear”–I John 4:18). How can we get our names on the waiting list for this essential transplant?

By saying “yes!” to Jesus. Acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God, that His death brings us forgiveness and His resurrection brings us eternal life, signs the release of permission for our new heart. And it comes with a bonus. God includes Himself with the new heart. He becomes closer than the very DNA of our being. He will never leave us, and we will never leave Him. The new heart also gives us a new craving to know Him better and to love Him and others more thoroughly. Now that’s a guarantee worth signing up for. It’s a choice we will live for eternity and never regret. It’s time to give this offer some thought…