Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 24 (Conclusion)

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‘Taw’

“How Should We Then Live?’ asks the provoking title of Francis Schaeffer’s documentary which bears the sub-title ‘The Rise and Fall of Western Thought and Culture.’ The documentary is an expression of Schaeffer’s defense of Presuppositional Apologetics—the view that Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. Remove that basis and rational thought decays. It’s a bold presupposition, isn’t it?

We all make sense of our experiences from presuppositions we hold. That is why two observers seeing the same thing can come away with two very different impressions. These suppositions, inferences, even hunches create the worldviews through which we make sense of everything we observe. Christian faith, explains Presuppositional Apologetics, presupposes the universe, the Bible, and Jesus, the Son of God are divine revelations without which every other worldview is lacking essential information for rational human life. There are no neutral assumptions from which reason can arise. Only the assumptions that arise from God’s revelation provide us with full rational thought that leads to full flourishing life.

As the psalmist brings us to his concluding stanza of Psalm 119, he summarizes Scripture’s teaching on the personal nature of God. He connects his experience of God with the rational basis of human thought: the Scriptural revelation that God alone is worthy of worship, that God’s precepts alone are faithful guideposts for life, and that God has created one salvation, the ultimate solution to every human problem.

“May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word. / May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. / May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. / May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. / May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. / I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. / Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. / I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psalm 19:169-176).

“Give me understanding according to your word,” pleads the psalmist. He is convinced that the wealth of wisdom (rational thought and the behaviours that arise from it) for the present, and hope for the future come from God. As modern thinkers, we may be tempted to think social consensus or political charters make Scriptural revelation obsolete. But can charters of rights and freedoms really trump the noble virtue God’s character and principles express? What about when society or nature and their current cohort of ‘freedoms’ and restrictions fail us?

The psalmist’s hope is in the Lord. “May your hand be ready to help me,” he prays, and “I long for your salvation…” So the psalmist guides us to look to the Hope of the Nations, the Lord’s salvation—Jesus—who alone offers a rational basis for believing that there is hope for us.

How ought we live each day in order to reflect the rational foundation of our faith? By coming to the Shepherd of our souls admitting we are “strayed…lost sheep” and “servant(s)”, and asking for His help to live lives of integrity, lives aligned with the truth of His revealed will. That is the message the psalmist has painstakingly taken 176 verses in twenty-two stanzas to communicate. Without God we are nothing. With His salvation we become everything He imagined. That’s more than epic. That’s rational.

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 23

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‘Sin and Shin’

The Vulcan hand salute is well known by Star Trek lovers. What few might know, though, is that Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock) borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish priestly blessing, a blessing he had seen as a child performed in an orthodox synagogue. The blessing shapes both hands to represent the Hebrew letter Sin/Shin representing the initiating letter of God’s name, El Shaddai—Almighty God. It recognizes God’s omnipresence and His genius for affecting the lives of people.

“Always, everywhere, God is present,” observes A.W. Tozer, “and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” How does El Shaddai, the Almighty God, affect people’s lives—your life and mine? How does He discover Himself to each one? These are the questions the psalmist explores as he pens the stanza he entitles with the Hebrew letter ‘Sin and Shin’,

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. / I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. / I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. / Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. / Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. / I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. / I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. / I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you”(Psalm 119:161-168).

Worldly regimes, observes the psalmist, tend to be fundamentally opposed to faith. Eventually, all ideologies—even those founded on rights and freedoms—degenerate into special, privileged interest groups using government power for opportunistic reasons. The God-centred worldview and practice of believers becomes abhorrent to worldly regimes, whose laws, bemoans the psalmist, “persecute me without cause.”

Yet something unexpected occurs within the man or woman of faith, something that has happened throughout history, regardless of the believer’s age, race, sex, or socioeconomic status when faced with persecution for their faith. They stand and rejoice in the Promise of God.

For one thing, God’s intentions for people are not to persecute them but to bring them good. God doesn’t rule by external pressure but by internally transforming people who joyfully submit to Him. His plans are to give us hope and an eternal future. This, says the psalmist, is the source of the believer’s joy. Persecution takes on as much importance as a tiresome insect.

For another thing, a relationship with God is based on reality, on deep, enduring truths, rather than on the falsehood, corruption, folly and situational ethics to which earthly rulers fall prey. God is the author of truly righteous laws because He made us and understands the core of our being.

More than that, God’s law is a law that produces in its adherents a deep, penetrating peace because it brings people into alignment with God’s ways—that which C.S. Lewis terms, ‘the grain of the universe.’ “Nothing,” insists the psalmist, “can make th(ose who love God’s law) stumble.” “Nothing,” concurs the Apostle Paul, “shall separate us from the love of God.”

How does a person access this uncommon relationship with God? By pursuing human law, by depending on personal rights, freedoms and identity? No. The psalmist says he waits; he follows, he obeys, and he loves everything about God. His confidence is not in his own devotion; it is in God’s devotion to him. God creates, God initiates the human-divine relationship, God loves, and God provides the salvation believers all come to recognize we need.

Which brings us always back to Jesus Christ, God-fully-contained-in-a-man, the One who personifies the “law” about which the psalmist cannot stop praising. Hearts that tremble before Jesus, who rejoice in Him, who love the core truth of Him and take Him as their sure salvation are hearts fully at peace. Come to Him and find the peace that breathes, “…all my ways are known to you.”

 

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 17

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‘Samekh’

Kim Peek could read two pages of an open book at one time by splitting his vision. Using his unique savant skill, Peek was able to memorize more than 9,000 books while he had an IQ rated at only 87. It seems that the prenatal development of his corpus callosum—the tissue normally connecting the two hemispheres of a brain—had somehow been arrested, leaving him with a condition known as ‘split-brain’. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy, and is used to reduce epileptic seizures. It seems to accomplish its purpose, but it comes with the strange side effect of dis-integrated actions. In one instance, a split-brain individual was documented as finding himself pulling down one pant leg with his left hand while pulling up the other pant leg with his right because of dueling desires to undress and dress. There are difficulties with being double-minded.

In ‘Samekh’, the fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, the Psalmist tackles the dilemma of double-minded thinking. He is appealing to God with deep intensity a prayer borne out of experience. He has felt the sting of opponents whose double-minded treachery has traumatized him. Perhaps he has even felt the influence of succumbing to their faithless double-dealing deceptions. The old King James version begins by translating his words as, “I hate vain thoughts…” Actions begin with thoughts, and none of us are immune to surrendering our minds to moments of low and ignoble imaginings in the hidden arena of our thoughts. Hatred against this most base indication of human degradation is appropriate. There is something in each of us—the vestige of a memory—that knows we were created for true and noble thoughts; we cringe when we recognize how far and how easily we can slip from the single-minded, undivided loyalty to our Creator and His calling.

With this caveat in mind, we read a newer version/translation of the stanza to say, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Why does the psalmist contrast double-mindedness with loving/hoping in God’s word? It sounds like he’s comparing apples to obelisks. We might need to begin by exploring and defining double-minded thinking.

Double-mindedness is a mindset of dualism that separates life into disconnected categories. Relationships, work, leisure, goals, desires, character and behaviour all stand apart from one another, and may be manipulated to achieve whatever an individual desires. There is no regard for any integrated whole to the sum of the parts of that individual’s life. If one were to investigate this kind of life more thoroughly, one would find inconsistencies and illogical, indefensible reasoning, a foundation crumbling from within. Double-minded thinking causes people to reject truths that annoy them and imprecate “Ignorant!” to deflect reality from piercing their souls.

Whereas, loving God’s revealed truths—His principles for living, His solution for our rebellion and His goals for our future—is the epitome of single-minded wholehearted thinking. It provides an integrity for our lives. It gives cohesion and logical coherence to everything we think, say and do. Only God can provide true single-mindedness. He does it by directing us to “Fix (your) eyes on Jesus,” to “Set your minds on things above…with Christ,” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves…(but to) do what it says(!)”

This is why Jesus is quoted so many times as prefacing His remarks with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” It is because He intends us to pay close attention to His words, to mull over them, to discuss them with other people and wrestle with the concepts until we can incorporate them fully into our lives. His words make us people of integrity and are the only remedy for double-mindedness.

“I will give them singleness of heart and action” promises God to the body of people He considers His children. What a promise! Let’s reach out and embrace Jesus, accept the gift, and embody the trueness He longs to impart deep into our being.

 

WHO IS JESUS? #10

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Glorious One, and Glorifier.

It’s easy to give a caustic answer to an insulting comment. That moment when the cold response we have been formulating in our mind escapes our lips and makes its attack is rarely satisfying and usually regrettable. It seldom creates the reaction we had hoped for either. Yet we seem unable to give a reply that is both full of truth and of hope, that stands its ground and yet offers a lifeline to the insulter.

“Who do you think you are?” Jesus’ accusers had hissed. While it may have been a rhetorical question with which the First Century Jewish cultural leaders had attacked Jesus, He chooses to respond. He frames His answer as if the emphasis of the question had been on the words you and think—“Who do you think you are?”

“If I glorify myself,” Jesus replies, “my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me…Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:54-56). In other words, Jesus was saying, ’Let’s not quibble with who I think I am. God the Father thinks I am a gloriously splendid expression of Himself.’

The Pharisees must have blinked in astonishment. Before them stood a man without wealth or prestige by earthly standards, whose clothing was simplicity itself, whose followers were the unremarkables and even castoffs of society: fishermen, tax collectors, lepers and worse. And He speaks of glory?

This claim of Jesus has twofold interest for us who have at our disposal the fully completed Scriptures. The Pharisees had the Old Testament, which in fact spoke exhaustively about the Messiah, God-with-us, setting aside His glory to come in the flesh to humanity; but their hearts had been hardened and their minds were closed to that truth. We have the added support of the New Testament commentary that reveals even more about the Son of God. Yet, soft hearts and open minds are still as much the necessary equipment to understanding Jesus’ claims now as they were then.

Firstly, Jesus is claiming to be “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He lays claim to that glory as a characteristic of His union with God the Father. He is the Glorious One whose brilliance and energy is the source of the sun and stars and light itself. The glory of Jesus is a term that helps us capture a hint of the sum total of His being—the fusion of His complete goodness and power. This is no small claim. It is also no small thing for His listeners to grasp that concept—they and we are creatures of habit that have gotten used to relying solely on our five senses. “Seeing,” we suppose, “is believing.”

The greatest mystery is that Jesus doesn’t stop there. He is not only the Glorious One; He is also the Glorifier. Jesus offers His followers a reflected glory through association with Him: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:9). As we take stock of our lives—balancing all the hopes and disappointments, successes and failures like spinning plates on batons—we wonder what that glory means. Scripture tells us that when we face suffering for what is right, we “are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (I Peter 4:14). Christ’s glorious strength of character becomes accessible to us to face difficulties with grace.

We are also provided with that inner glory and grace of Christ for the express purpose of loving others, especially the unlovely. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” instructs Jesus, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44).

We will not always be here in these troublesome bodies amid challenging relationships plagued by the difficulties of life. As C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory describes, “..all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”

Join with me today in giving honour to the One who is both Glorious and Glorifier, for He is worthy. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

(Photo Credit: Bob Embleton [[File:Summit of Black Hill – geograph.org.uk – 685273.jpg|Summit of Black Hill – geograph.org.uk – 685273]])

WHO IS JESUS? #9

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God-honouring.

No one appreciates being misunderstood. Confusion, false perceptions, and accusations about and against our person can be exasperating. Sometimes a simple explanation can correct a false impression, but there are times when no amount or degree of clarification can shed light on the matter. It is as if a dark veil lies over our accuser’s mind obstructing the truth from penetrating within.

“I am not possessed by a demon,” counters Jesus against His opponents’ accusations, “but I honour my Father and you dishonour me” (John 8:49). While the Pharisees were resorting to epithets and invectives in their attempt to obscure and yet defend their position of self-righteous social power, Jesus’ reply is simple: My identity consists in honouring the Father. There is no secrecy or ulterior motive to Jesus. Every facet of His character, every intention and action of His being converges on one purpose: to honour the Father. And, He maintains, I accomplish it.

Only a completely sinless person can bring God honour. Christ does not do as we might expect if He were merely a good man or only a mortal ambassador of God; He does not say, I try to honour God. That would leave room for moments of imperfection. He says I honour the Father. Flawlessly.

Jesus even goes so far as to challenge His antagonists, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” They wanted to. More than anything else His pious accusers longed to pin on Jesus a charge that would allow them to execute Him. A man who lived like Jesus lived, and taught as He taught is infuriating to those whose purposes are self-centred, coarse, and hateful.

This claim Jesus is making, that He is the uniquely God-honouring One, is problematic for us mortals; we sense the contrast against ourselves that is implied in His claim. Jesus honours the Father in everything, absolutely everything He does—but we don’t. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions are often compromised. The best of us have dishonoured God in untold ways. Jesus’ claim seems to unmask us, causing our less-than-perfect motives and intentions to stand in stark contrast to His. What ought we to do with that feeling? Ignore it? Deny it, hide it, or make counter-claims back at Jesus saying His attitude is just a ‘holier-than-thou’ one?

Let’s keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in this pointed way to an audience that has hardened their hearts toward Him. They and their ilk were spoken about by the prophet Isaiah as leaders whose motto toward ‘lesser’ people was, “Keep away, don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!” (Isaiah 65:5). Jesus’ succinct remarks to this group are deliberately intended to challenge their self-righteous attitudes.

So firstly, we must ask ourselves, are we one of these? Have we dishonoured Jesus, allowing Him anything less than full access to our hearts and lives? Have we avoided or wandered from our childlike trust in Him? If so, the only response that offers us any hope is to humbly recognize our error and return to Him.

“Come to me,” Jesus invites. “Believe me,” He enjoins. “Remain in me,” He offers, “and I will remain in you”. When we respond to Jesus in the way He summons, His perfectly God-honouring character begins to flow through us, enabling us to be God-honouring too. Alone, we are unable to do it. But living by Jesus’ strength of character, and being moved by His Word and Spirit lifts us up by degrees to be the God-honouring creatures we were designed to be. With Jesus’ Spirit living in us, we escape the twisted degradation our species inevitably slumps toward. The world does not need any more Pharisees.

Secondly, if we have sought to follow Jesus—to honour the One who honours the Father so well—our best response to Jesus’ claim is to keep on keeping on, to persevere regardless of the way things look today. We need to do as the British WWII morale-boosting message urged: To Keep Calm and Carry On. The disappointments of this life, the weight of our own weaknesses, and the devil whose purpose is to deceive, all conspire against us to tempt us to give up on trusting Jesus. Don’t do it. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” reminds Scripture, “and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

(Photo Credit: By UK Government – UK Crown Copyright – expired, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17015658)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #6

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Prayer for Tongue-healing (Paraphrase of Psalm 120)

I’m on my knees before You, God. I’m more than disappointed in myself and others; I’m appalled. And yet, I know from Your Word that You hear the heart that repents.

Save me, O LORD, from undercurrents of deception. They’re everywhere I look and listen. Even my own lips have worded thoughts in ways that are not wholly true. What can be done to heal a lying tongue? Pierce it with the arrow of Your Truth—embed Your very being into it, so that truth becomes a good infection filling it. Redeem it for Your true and eternal purposes.

Too long have I let pride and selfishness influence the way I speak; that is the worldview of my fallen nature within me and the godless culture around me. The deception goes deep. It says that You are absent, impotent or nonexistent, and truth is only what we make it.

Instead, fill me with a deep sense of Your ever-present companionship. Let the overflow of this reality be expressed as words of truth and love; let my tongue be Your faithful servant, not only here in this quiet place with You, but also in my world where war is being waged against truth. Teach me to speak truth and life for eternity, where I will praise and honour You without end.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #5

World Prayer (A paraphrase of Psalm 117)

(Hey world! Let’s stop all the spinning and think about what really matters in these lives we’ve been given. Let’s shake off the blinders that hide from us the core truth of our existence, the reality that God…loves…us!

How much? He loves us with a vast, all-knowing, never-ending limitless love that is aimed at our eternal good. Take a long, slow draught of that news. There is no love on earth that comes anywhere near approaching this God-love. It is feather-light, sea-deep and mountain-solid.

Is it fickle, like human love? Not one bit. The faithfulness of the LORD endures forever—not only forever in a time-based sense, but eternal in depth and scope and height of majestic wonder.)

Your inexhaustible love and faithfulness, O God, is our greatest comfort and we thank You. That You will never leave us is beyond our wildest dreams and we praise You. You’ve inscribed it on our hearts, tattooed it on our souls, and imprinted it on our minds. We exalt You and sing Your praises. Give us an eternity in which to do it!