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 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)

OPENING THE DOOR TO PSALM 119, Part 1

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Introduction.

At one hundred and seventy-six verses, Psalm 119 is a marathon-length inscription among the Bible’s collection of ancient Hebrew poetry. Its length alone is enough to keep even the most devoted of Psalm-lovers decidedly busy elsewhere.

Daunting as the psalm is in length, its form is also singularly baffling; it was constructed along Hebrew alphabetical patterns that mean nothing to modern English readers like you and me. The ancient acrostic must have been intriguing for those who could appreciate its rhythm and rhyme in its original form but it’s lost on us. We are not able to grasp the linguistic play on words that would have accompanied the lyrical song.

There is a third reason to avoid the Psalm, if it comes to that. It is unabashedly repetitious. It tells us in dozens of ways how the psalmist feels, thinks, and acts (or wishes he could act) in regard to the driving theme, the concept of God’s morality. True, there is some variety; he uses several carefully chosen synonyms to describe the many facets of God’s moral nature. But what if we’re left feeling cornered, discomfited, even shamed to see we have disregarded such lofty maxims? Or worse, we might have no defense after one hundred and seventy-six verses other than to conclude that God’s moral Law is to be fully obeyed, something of which we fear—even know—we are incapable. Reading the psalm might imply moral liability. Wouldn’t it be better just to align with the axiom, “Ignorance is bliss”?

But we’ve come to recognize that ignorance is a shallow sort of bliss. A God-perspective on life, though, marks humans who are deliberately seeking the goal—dare we call it bliss—God designed for us. That is precisely why God ensured the psalmist would write Psalm One Nineteen: to present to our eyes a picture of the goal of human living that radiates with something amazing and quite beyond us—God’s plan for us. And God has good plans for you and me. It’s as if we’ve come to a door with a nameplate over it marked “The Real You and Real God Meeting Place.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14a).

We’ll find that in some ways the psalmist has only a glimpse of that goal. But it’s an important glimpse. Jesus Himself was the one who would come centuries later and open the door wide for humans to access that goal.

“Jesus came, in fact,” explains author N.T. Wright in his book After You Believe, “to launch God’s new creation, and with it a new way of being human, a way which picked up the glimpses of “right behavior” afforded by ancient Judaism and paganism and, transcending both, set the truest insights of both on quite a new foundation. And with that, he launched also a project for rehumanizing human beings, a project in which they would find their hearts cleansed and softened, find themselves turned upside down and inside out, and discover a new language to learn and every incentive to learn it.”

So as we enter on this journey through Psalm 119, let’s go as seekers—explorers with hearts of hope and with eyes open to a future where God makes it possible for us to ultimately live, dare we imagine it, as rehumanized human beings.

The door is about to swing open.

 

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)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #22

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Prayer Remembering God’s Acts of Love (Paraphrase of Psalm 136)

There is so much to thank You for, LORD, I hardly know where to start. You are opening my eyes to Your infinite love and goodness. Here You are, God Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords, yet Your power and majesty are matched by Your everlasting love. For that I will never tire of thanking You. The greatest wonder of all Your creative handiwork is that it flows from Your bottomless storehouse of love, never-changing and never-ending.

Your genius in creating the heavens is love-based; this great green and blue planet was conceived in love; the life-sustaining light of the sun, and the mystery of the moon, stars and planets was born through Your infinitely-enduring love.

Every event in the history of humanity speaks of Your ceaseless love, mercy, and grace as You purpose to accomplish our rescue, the redemption of sin-imprisoned people.

Like a father granting his children an inheritance of provision and rest, the opportunity to experience Your great love falls into my lap too somehow. You remember my weaknesses with love; You free me from my wretched selfishness, obsessions, addictions and enemies with love; You feed me bread of earth and bread of heaven with love; Your love endures forever.

Every time I think of the refrain of the song of Your involvement in our lives, I hear great, endless, life-giving, ever-enduring LOVE. Thank You.

(Photo Credit: By NASA/GSFC/Reto Stöckli, Nazmi El Saleous, and Marit Jentoft-Nilsen – http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=885, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2561260)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #12

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Prayer of Joy (Paraphrase of Psalm 126)

Lord, when I think of how You rescued me from my own foolishness, I feel like a freed captive. I was mindlessly intent on achieving my own goals and didn’t notice the hole into which I had dug myself. It became a prison with walls of selfishness, hurt, bitterness and pride before I began to recognize my yearning for home, my longing for the clean fresh air of release.

One call of Your Name brought You here. You broke down the walls, lifted me up, and brought me out of my dark place. I looked around and found You had set me among a family—brothers and sisters rescued just like I had been.

It fills my mouth with laughter and my tongue with songs of joy to think of it. Not only do I partake in Your blessing in the corporate sense with the body of believers, but Your blessing, the good You bring, is directed to me individually too. It really fills me with the deepest joy.

It’s like irrigation spreading across fields, making everything it touches green. It’s like harvest time in those fields—the land You love—the hard work is all worth it to You. Even my tears become songs of joy under the influence of Your blessing.

Not that all is rosy now. There are still the temptations—but now I know You are with me and offer me an escape.

There are still the hurts—but now Your love and comfort heal me in ways I never knew before.

And there are still the questions—but now I trust You will one day answer every one of them for me.

So no matter how hard, how heavy or how daunting the day’s events seem to be, I’m going to envision it all as seed to sow in a land You irrigate. The harvest is Yours, God. Its abundance is Yours and I’m filled with joy at the thought of it. You do all things well.

(Photo Credit: By Herry Lawford – originally posted to Flickr as Harvest, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11269097)

A NEW CREATION, Part 1

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New Song

God is in the habit of creating. There is no limit to the new ideas, plans and projects to which the Ancient of Days applies Himself. We may be tempted to think the Genesis account of earth’s beginnings leaves God perpetually resting after creating this physical world. But is that impression correct? Is it possible for One whose character is so creative to cease creating? Isn’t that what gives hope to this decaying world—that the old will be replaced by something new?  The Creator’s new projects are mentioned throughout Scripture like jewels embedded in granite, needing to be mined. They are just waiting to be exposed, extracted, and treasured.

The Psalmist sings, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).

A new song inspires us. Songs are expressions of our deepest feelings, moods, impressions and hopes. This song is unique. It is God-given; it is God’s truth corroborating our hearts’ longings. It is ‘a hymn of praise to our God’. This song articulates the relevance of God’s awesome qualities to our existence. His goodness is good for us. His being gives significance to ours. His power empowers us to experience life in a new way; His joy becomes ours. Praise of His attributes bursts from our hearts and fills our mouths.

It’s a ‘new song’, which implies it replaces an old one. What decaying song doesn’t need replacing? Haven’t we had enough of the mournful dirges chanting incessantly in our minds, telling us life is hopeless, we are hopeless, and everyone about us is hopeless? This song speaks refreshingly of the truth; that we are precious in the eyes of the all-seeing God, that his plan redeems us from all hopelessness.

It’s a song that will impact ‘many’ when we sing it faithfully. The ears of this world are filled with distracting noises clamoring for attention; yet the song of God will pierce through the commotion, touching hearts tender to His tunes. But how can they hear it unless we sing it?

‘Many will see’. This song, unlike any other, opens many eyes. It enables hearers to see. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa. 119:105). The lyrics of the song become illumination guiding the lives of those who accept that light.

And finally, it is a song that prompts, fuels and inspires a response. Some will turn away from that song. They will plug their ears, turn up the volume on the world’s clatter, and walk away; the song inspires both fear and trust, and some are ready for neither. Yet, many will ‘fear and put their trust in the LORD’. The song will resonate with something deep within that says, ‘God is sovereign. I will entrust myself to Him come what may’. The Greatest of composers wrote this song to fill heaven’s spaces with those that respond ‘yes!’

Will we be the choristers, minstrels, and troubadours that wake each day singing the new song? Will we keep caroling it as we connect with loved ones, friends, coworkers and colleagues? Will we continue to sing it even as we face our own challenges, troubles and sorrows? “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”. Let’s ask Him today to put the new song in our mouths.