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!

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers

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#1: Desert Prayer (A Paraphrase of Isaiah 35)

God Almighty; Father of Hope, Spirit of Life, Son of Truth; Come into our desert places. Like a summer rain, flash flood the barren reaches of our souls. We are parched; You are glorious. When your healing truth fills the fissures of our hardened hearts, lives like soil soften; Your Word germinates and sprouts. Like a crocus we burst into bloom; our souls rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

We of feeble hands and shaking knees arise; fearful hearts are made courageous, blindness healed, deaf ears unstopped. We the lame leap like deer for joy. O gladness filling feet, ears, eyes and hearts! The mute will shout for joy as You, God, come to us.

Our hearts like desert sands—unlivable places—dusty, hot and dry have been burdened with the enemy’s lies. Come Living Water, gushing spring. Quench our thirst with Truth—Your deep, deep love for us. So grass and reeds and papyrus begin to grow, lush signs of life sprouting from places we thought not only barren but cursed. Our jackal-like fears are gone now; the ferocious beasts that haunted our souls are driven away by the light of Your Truth and Love.

We are like travelers who have finally found our way—Your Way of Holiness. O lift us up to journey upon the highway that leads to You. We are redeemed! Ransomed! Crowned and singing, we joyfully tread Your Way, creatures made new.

(Photo Credit: [[File:Spry Canyon (8119659047).jpg|thumb|Spry Canyon (8119659047)]])

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 24

Alert to Deception

The orchid mantis deftly reaches out, snagging a bee for brunch. The hapless nectar-gatherer is easy game for the orchid mantis of Southeast Asia for one reason: this mantis looks and smells like a delicate nectar-producing orchid blossom. One can hardly blame the countless bees and butterflies deceived by this clever hunter—even the mantis’ own predators would never imagine that behind the cloak of its petal-like body parts lurks a living beast.

Discovering the intricacies of this world’s creatures is fascinating—especially since we ourselves are not the unlucky targets of deadly predators like the orchid mantis. But what if there was a predator in our world camouflaging itself to appear not just hidden, but actually attractive and even life-giving?

Matthew records Jesus offering counsel to His followers after His public contretemps with the religious ruling powers of the day “Watch out that no one deceives you,” He warns His disciples. Two more times in the chapter he refers to the existence of predators whose purpose it is to deceive people. And twice more Jesus advises, “keep watch” and “be ready.” We get the sense that something is afoot, something dangerous—perhaps even deadly—something cleverly disguised and attractive.

Jesus calls the danger “false prophets”; it’s a term used throughout Scripture to describe purveyors of ideas that sound good but contain anti-God sentiments. Those representing these false ideas may themselves not even be aware of the dangerous territory they inhabit; the force behind the ideas, though, is intent on trapping naïve and gullible individuals with the nectar of the gods—it will use any minion who volunteers for the task.

How can people like you and me protect ourselves from something as insidious as Jesus predicts will enslave so many? With truth and vigilance.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus claims twice in the chapter. It is a favourite phrase Jesus regularly uses to precede His teachings. The phrase isn’t just a nicety, though, a euphemism repeated in monotony like Eastern religion’s empty “OM.” Jesus is claiming to know truth. More than that, He is claiming to embody and even be the source of truth—all Truth. Think about that for a moment. Is the man lying? Or is He crazy?

The only other option is that Jesus is telling the truth. His greatest claim would be to assert that following His death at the hands of powerfully evil people He would resurrect—come back to life. That claim is enough to determine whether the man is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all creation. The fact is, He did rise from the dead. His resurrection is better documented than the existence of Shakespeare or you or me.

Those who accept Jesus and all He taught as ultimate truth—and are willing to live by those truths—are given what we might call an unfair advantage. They will be furnished with the ability to see beneath the attractive façade of the dangerous lies abounding in this world. They will have a sort of night vision warning of ideas and activities that house soul-dangers.

In contrast, those who reject Jesus and the way of life He models will be drawn like moths to the glitter of every whim of dangerous attraction. They are fair game for deception. Truth will no longer be important to them, will be unable to protect them.

“Be ready,” Jesus advises. Be alert. Be vigilant to our own naïve tendencies to be swayed by any wind of an idea that attracts us. Jesus is the only one who truly longs for our ultimate good, who will not prey upon us but is able, rather, to lift us up to become fuller, freer, truer people than we could ever become on our own. Do you believe it, or has deception already drawn you into its grasp?

(Photo Credit: Dr. James O’Hanlon, Macquarie University. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/41605-predator-lures-prey-by-mimicking-flowers.html)