Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 13

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‘Kaph’

Hunger, yearning, longing, desire: these are all concepts God endorses. In contrast to Eastern religions, Christianity boldly advocates—even insists upon—desire. We’re not talking about desire as an end in itself, though; that would be discontent. Nor are we talking about desire for anything that attracts us; that would be greed. And we’re definitely not talking about desire for things that could in any way harm us or harm anyone or anything around us; that would be destruction. What Christianity embodies is a desiring for what God specifically promises us in His Word. We’re talking about desiring God. Some of His promises are accessible right now, but some of them are for the future, a distant but very real future. This is what the psalmist speaks of in the stanza labeled ‘Kaph’.

“My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. / My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’ / Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. / How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors? / The arrogant dig pitfalls for me, contrary to your law. / All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for men persecute me without cause. / They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. / Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth”(Psalm 119:81-88).

The psalmist is fairly bursting with desire. His soul faints with longing for God’s salvation. His eyes fail for looking for God’s promise. He bemoans how long he is being required to wait for comfort, for relief, for rescue. He desires these things so fully that it occupies his heart, his mind and his senses. This desire is essentially for God to make good on a promise He made centuries earlier. It was a promise initially wreathed in mystery with revelations by increments made through an array of God’s prophets. Yet as little as the psalmist knows of the promise’s vast extent, he is entirely consumed by hoping for it, because he knows it embodies God’s love for him. So the promise itself has been the cause of the desire that fills the psalmist.

Since Jesus incarnated as a man and accomplished His redeeming work on the cross a millennium after the psalmist lived, the bulk of the promise has been fulfilled. But rather than dulling the desire of the promise, He magnifies it. His vast expansive eternal being enlarges and expands our appetite for Him so we desire Him not less than the psalmist but more. It seems to be true that ‘the more you have the more you want’. Jesus’ unbounded, immeasurable, limitless love makes us hunger more for Him with each successive taste of Him we swallow.

Not only is Christ the source of “the mystery of God…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), but He is “this mystery…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Christ living in the lives of those who invite Him within is both the source of and solution to our deepest desiring. ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ was Bach’s name for Him. All other desires are cheap imitations of Him our true desire.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,” invites Jesus through the prophet Isaiah, “come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!…Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?…Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3). If we want our desiring satisfied, it’s Jesus to whom we must come.

(Photo Credit: By Deepak Vallamsetti – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52197985)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus; Day 6

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Father-Focus

For once the hecklers were absent. The air was clear and those seated on the slope of the mountain could see the Jordan River winding through the valley below. Dusty tracks between villages were nothing more than threads on the draping fabric of the faraway land.

“Be careful,” began Jesus as He turned His attention to a topic that was of great importance to His listeners. Perhaps He paused there to draw their attention from the distant view back to His words—words of deep importance. Perhaps the disciples began to anticipate His next words: Be careful… of the precipitous drop-offs here on the mountainside? Be careful… of thieves hidden among the clefts of the paths in solitary places? Be careful… of the Roman soldiers who might demand you carry their gear on their journey to the next town?

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). So begins a chapter whose theme must have kept every eye and ear glued to the speaker. In teaching His followers how to live authentic, relevant lives that please God, Jesus uses a term for God that would have been unusual, maybe even unthinkable in those days. He calls God “your Father.”

We noticed he used this term in the previous chapter—He had said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He had also taught His astonished followers to “Love your enemies…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

Had they heard Him right? Did Jesus call God their heavenly Father? This kind of informal, unceremonious terminology was not commonly used of God. Yet the earth had not opened up and swallowed the man who used it. In fact, it somehow brought God closer, hearing Him referred to as heavenly Father. Some remembered the one hundred and third psalm saying, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”

Now Jesus continues using the term Father and its pronouns twenty times in the next thirty-four verses (You really ought to read Matthew chapter six to get the full impact of it). He is warming to his subject and the ears and hearts of His listeners are burning. Jesus is teaching them that life is about pursuing a close relationship with the unseen Father; it’s not about external show. It’s not about the power that comes through prestige, wealth, or fashion. It’s about the interior life that God designed to be eternally expanding with the sort of rewards only an all-knowing compassionate heavenly Father can give. Jesus explains the family rules:

Stop trumpeting your charitable giving—the world needs public praise because they haven’t a heavenly Father to reward them like you do. The Father sees the good you do in secret. Trust Him to settle accounts in His time.

Stop trying to look holier-than-thou in front of others; a humble attitude of seeking forgiveness from others and from your Father will get you more in the long run.

Stop surrounding yourselves with the treasures of this world—property that will ultimately be taken from you. The Father is your greatest treasure—valuing Him above all else will keep your heart safe.

Stop fretting about your lot in life. Instead, set your vision on your Father’s plans for you to be people of good character. Your hope ought to be trained on the heavenly home the Father is making available for you.

Jesus’ focus on the Father is a message for each of us, every day—including today. He even sketches out a prayer for us to incorporate into our daily routines. It starts, “Our Father in heaven…” Remember it? The point is, we must think on the Father. Bringing Him into our thoughts will change our outlook on life.

Do we really want to take advantage of God’s fatherhood in our lives? We need to spend some time, as Jesus calls it “in secret” with the Father. Voice a prayer. Read a Psalm. Think about how He wants us to respond to life’s challenges. Ask Him to make Himself present in our lives. When we contemplate, ruminate and meditate on our heavenly Father, we are living in the present as God designed us to. Isn’t that right, Father?

 (Photo Credit: “Gorakh hill lonely tree” by Shahrukhphotoart – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG#/media/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG)

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 2

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 Written Not With Ink

The Abbe Faria recounts to his prison mate, Edmond Dantes, his discovery of a treasure map. In the dim light of dusk one evening before his arrest, the Abbe needs to ignite the kindling in the room’s fireplace. Twisting a blank piece of paper into a wick, he lights the end of it on fire from a lantern and reaches toward the hearth to transfer the flame. In so doing he begins to notice letters appearing on the crumpled paper in his hand. Quickly stamping out the flame he unrolls the paper and smooths out its creases. The heat of the flame has revealed a message of treasure, written with invisible ink. So goes the classic story of The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Alexander Dumas in the 1800s.

We all love stories of hidden treasure – or rather, of treasures found. There is something deep within us that hopes beyond hope that we will find a letter written in invisible ink that will reveal a hidden treasure of some sort.

The Apostle Paul’s second epistle to the church in Corinth, Greece, in the middle of the first century, A.D. describes such a letter. He explains that God’s ministry of using Christians to bring others closer to God, not only has an aroma to it (see Part 1: Aroma of Christ), but also comes with a task of revealing treasure-letters. Listen to what Paul writes to believers:

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.” (II Cor. 3:3-4).

Ink is unnecessary here. The Spirit of the living God is indelibly impressed on hearts when believers minister to people around them. The ministry spans human experience from stone inscriptions to digital texts. The message is Christ transforming hearts from the inside out. Neither chisels nor ink nor touchscreens can send the kind of message the ministry of Christ accomplishes. He uses His people to reach out to other people with the message of His love, His redeeming work, and His transforming power.

And our role in the ministry of God’s internal affairs is active. We are to allow Christ, by His Spirit, to minister to our own hearts as we minister to others. Another Apostle, Peter, gives us a clear picture of the map leading to the treasure of lives lived for Christ.

He says, “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:5-8).

It’s worth memorizing these steps, isn’t it? They are guidelines to move us into the direction Jesus wants us to take to find His treasure. His Spirit is present with those who love Him, pricking our conscience when we need prodding, urging us to be moving always closer to the treasure He’s written on our hearts, providing us with His resources. His goodness becomes ours; His self-control enables ours; His kindness and love become ours to be used to minister to others. That’s a message that becomes visible when we step into the ministry of Christ. That’s a message of treasure.

(Photo Credit: Beria Lima, Wikimedia Commons)

 

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS 2013, Part 6

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Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Christmas Treasure (Luke 2:15-35)

 

The baby has arrived. Mary has nursed him and now lies resting. Joseph has taken the gauzy cloths from around his own waist, traveller’s garb in case of unexpected death on a journey, and with it swaddles Mary’s tiny son. Lined with fresh hay, the cave’s manger becomes a cradle for the infant. Humble beginnings. As the first light of dawn chases away all but the brightest of stars a small group of shepherds arrive, breathless with excitement. They pause at the cave’s door; will the sign given by the angel be as he said? Does the Messiah lie within?

 

After hearing their incredible story Joseph wakes Mary and admits the visitors. He tells her they are looking for a baby in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. ‘How did they know?’ her eyes silently ask. At first sight of the baby they fall to their knees in wonder, worshiping God. Murmurs of praise rise from their lips. Why has the Almighty One chosen them to be the first to witness such a prophecy’s fulfillment? Great treasure lies before them. The Messiah, Savior of the people, has finally come!

 

Now, forty days have passed since the baby’s birth. He has been named Jeshua–‘Yahweh Saves’ (Jesus) as the angel directed. With two pigeons in hand, Joseph arrives in Jerusalem with his young family, making the required offering to redeem and consecrate a firstborn son. Entering the temple courtyard they are greeted by an old man, eyes blazing with a holy fire. He wants to hold this baby and none other, so Mary transfers Jesus carefully into the aged arms. Trembling, the old man gazes at the child he holds. What treasure! Tears course down his face and into his white beard as he raises his voice to heaven.

 

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

Simeon’s prayer is one of grateful thanksgiving. As a conduit of the Spirit of God, he speaks of a prophecy fulfilled, a promise realized, a salvation prepared for all people. He sees beyond the simple garb of the baby’s parents; they bring the lesser sacrifice of pigeons because they cannot afford a lamb. Simeon’s aged, watery eyes see in this child salvation for mankind, glory for the people Israel, and light for a world of people God wants to bless. He holds in his arms God incarnate, Immanuel.

 

“Now dismiss your servant in peace”, he prays. Nothing greater in life can compare; he has held the Christ of God and he is ready for the Holy One to take him home.

 

Simeon’s prayer has something for us today. It reminds us that God is faithful. His promises are given so that we will take them seriously. We, like old Simeon, will only have eyes to see His Treasure as we ponder His promises and wait. Breathless, hopeful faith, the kind that puts all ones eggs in one basket is the kind of faith we must set before ourselves. The promises involving Jesus are many. We need to become obsessed with them, ponder them, praying for their fulfillment in our lives. Then we, like the shepherds, like Mary and Joseph, and like the old man Simeon, will honour Jesus as the greatest treasure of all time and beyond.

 

We bless you, Sovereign Lord, for keeping your promise to us. Thank you for giving us the priceless gift of Jesus. He is truly our salvation, the light of revelation and of glory. This is Your treasure, Your Christmas gift to us. Thank you.

 

Meditations on Psalm 15: Introduction

Prayer is nothing more or less than openness to God.  It flows through our being in many forms: thoughts of Him, songs of and to Him, actions inspired by Him, and, of course, words spoken to Him.  I am aware of my need to be more open to prayer, more exposed to God, windows open to the fresh air of His presence.  This blog is part of my quest.  I am keenly interested in others’ thoughts, discoveries, and surprises in their God-focused journey.

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Man reading Psalms at the Western Wall. Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine, March 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the next series of postings I will be exploring the ‘blog post’ of the Psalmist, David, ancient writer/poet/historical figure of the nation of Israel some three millennia ago.  He expresses some thought-provoking comments regarding God, sources of great wisdom for those who will listen.  The one labeled ‘Psalm 15’ is titled ‘The man who abides with God’, and is a treasure worth exploring.  I thought I would work through this Psalm with some thoughts of my own, and would love to hear your thoughts too.  May God grant us His truth and wisdom as we explore His Word.