OPENING THE DOOR TO PSALM 119, Part 3

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‘Aleph’ cont’d.

How can we move ourselves onto the path of life and blessing when our natural tendencies draw us toward things that damage and destroy that option? This is the question the psalmist explores in this first stanza of his psalm. In his deepest, truest self he wants to be “steadfast in obeying (God’s) decrees” but knows from experience he is incapable. There is always that part of him that messes up, that unpredictably thinks, speaks and acts in defiance of God’s ways.

Here, in Aleph, the psalmist begins to answer this question in a theme that will fill 176 verses—an answer that for himself and his listeners becomes the seed of the greatest answer available to humanity. The key to the door of blessing, to the path of not only a flourishing life but one that fulfills everything God created it to entail, is immersing oneself in God.

Seeking and immersing ourselves in a god…isn’t this a bit too reminiscent of the religions of the world, the attempts of humans to seek something greater than themselves, and by focused desiring attempt to find meaning in life? Is it, then, all about our efforts, regardless of the specific god we have in mind?

No. The psalmist is very clear to highlight Whom he means. He shows the “LORD”—Yahweh, the Great ‘I AM’—is the locus of it all. People, he says, who “seek him with all their heart” are those who will find life and blessing. What the psalmist doesn’t fully know yet is that God is a greater seeker than we are. God originated the seeking by creating a world that, though it would go afoul of His moral laws by the abuse of its freedoms, would also be the womb out of which a rescuer would come.

Words like the “law of the LORD”, “his ways…decrees (and)…commands” referenced in the psalm are principally and at their core, descriptors of the One who embodies that moral law, the fully God and fully human solution to our problem, the eternally existent One born into humanity: Jesus Christ.

“In the beginning was the Word,” explains the Apostle John in the opening lines of his gospel account of the life of Jesus, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5).

There it is. “In him was life.” John will also later quote Jesus as calling Himself not only “the life” but also “the way”, “the truth”, “”the door”, “the vine” and many other metaphors to help us see that it is He of whom the psalmist speaks as the source of blessing.

So God first seeks, but then we seek too. This is the foundation of the solution to the problem the psalmist mulls over. A blessed life is one wrapped in relationship with God. Knowing the Father as our loving provider, Jesus as our redeemer and friend, and His Spirit as our internally-abiding comforter and confidante is the beginning and end of what the psalmist is trying to convey. God does, but we also do. God provides moral strength, but we must avail ourselves of it. God reveals His will for our thoughts, speech and behaviour, but we must obey it. God expresses His majesty in His creation but we must choose to recognize it and worship Him within it.

It’s a learning process. We don’s always respond as we should, even if we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus. The psalmist admits it is a process of “learn(ing) your righteous laws.” But God is patient, and everything in Him is encouraging us to learn and to seek Him, because when it comes to God, “everyone…who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8).

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Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #20

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Prayer in the Night (A Paraphrase of Psalm 134)

Here in the middle of my night, LORD, I come to You. In the midst of my disappointment and confusion, my hurt and regret, there is yet a place where I praise You. My thoughts turn to You in Your Sovereign majesty and know that You are making all things right, even now when all is dark and I am at my weakest.

Your presence is all too easily obscured by the chaos of my world, LORD. The rebellions, the distortions of truth, the profanities and the threats I hear around me hide You. Make Your presence known to me now in this quiet hour; let me hear Your whisper reminding me that even when all seems wrong You are worthy to be praised.

I lift my hands in surrender and honour toward You. I am on my knees knowing this posture must reflect my heart or You will remain hidden here in this dark and dying world. And then suddenly, this quiet sanctuary in the dead of night opens for me a greater sense of the eternal life and light that is central to Your Being.

LORD, Maker of heaven and earth, of daytime and nighttime, bless Your people who find themselves in the midst of nighttime worship. Bless us with an awareness of Your presence. Comfort us with Your peace. Bring the light of dawn so that our praise may fill the morning sky. Complete in us the work You designed our worship of You to produce. We praise You.

(Photo Credit: By Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1638a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51533658)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #18

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Prayer of Consecration (A Paraphrase of Psalm 132)

O God, I’m using the devotion of Your servant David as a pattern for my own life. His heart’s desire was for You, O Mighty One of Heaven, that You would have a dwelling-place on earth. It would be a place where You could be worshiped for all of Your splendor, where You would abide, where reminders of Your might would be housed. Your priests would be clothed in righteousness and Your saints would sing for joy.

Here I am discovering Your plan to fulfill David’s dream through people like me. You want my spirit to be Your dwelling place, my body to be Your holy temple. Your righteousness washes me and then clothes me so I may serve You in holiness. Your splendor and power is meant to flow through me in love and mercy toward others. How can this be?

Because of Your great sacrifice, Jesus, I am able to be part of this amazing and glorious plan. You are the King of Kings for whom David’s throne was prepared. You are the High Priest who makes my life a holy temple

So I consecrate myself to You again today, LORD, to be Your dwelling place. My body, heart and soul are in it. My life is a room cleansed by Your forgiving love, ransomed by Your death and dedicated for holy and eternal use by Your death-defying resurrection. My life belongs to You now. It is Your handiwork from start to finish. Be the Master of it, LORD. Reign here, rule forever here; be the rest I long for.

I’m looking to You, LORD, for every need to be met: my hunger with Your bread of life, my vulnerability with Your compassionate salvation, my deepest yearnings with rightful worship of You.

Jesus, help me stay true as I daily consecrate myself to participating with You in Your purposes for this life of mine and this world in which I live. Dwell in me and with me and through me. Help me to abide in You and with You and through You. You are the Anointed One—the Crowned One who rules my heart.

(Photo Credit: Eastern Wall of Jerusalem, By Yaakov Shoham – Own work (own picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1894985)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #8

A Prayer Anticipating Worship (Paraphrasing Psalm 122)

There is something big happening, LORD, and we’re so happy to be part of it. You’ve called us to be a body of worshipers of You, the One true and sovereign God. Our corporate feet stand on the doorstep of Your house, yearning to praise You the way You designed us to, longing to see You in all Your glory.

We’re a tribe, LORD; we’re a people, a family held together by Your grace, mercy, love, and redemption. It’s fitting that we should also be drawn together by worship of You, O complete One.

We joyfully long for the new Jerusalem, the spiritual home You are creating for Your family, LORD. Those who love You will finally and eternally be reunited with You and with each other. Those who have trusted in You will be secure. Peace will rule within its domain because of You, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

Brothers and sisters in Your family will finally be at home with the Father of our souls—that is peace and prosperity. We worship You.

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus, Day 26

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Worthy.

For drama, the 26th chapter of Matthew’s gospel has no equal: A last supper with a ragtag crew of twelve unable to understand their Master’s deep forewarnings; a sleepy midnight vigil in an olive garden; the Master’s struggle in prayer, sweating great drops of blood; betrayal with a kiss, vicious swordplay and a healing; a general desertion by fearful followers, a kangaroo court; a conviction; a disowning, and a rooster’s fateful crow.

There is no story like it. Narration of the angst and anger, the deceit and despair that the characters portray gives us a glimpse into the significance of this pivotal moment in earth’s history. Her only perfect son, fully God and fully man, performs the redeeming act required by His own perfect sense of justice to correct a race’s rebellion against its Maker.

“He is worthy of death,” the members of the Jewish supreme court of ancient Jerusalem pronounced. Their judgment was the product of greed and jealousy, of anger and ignorance and fear. Silent as a sheep before her shearers Jesus accepted the verdict without a word. Why?

The earlier scene in the olive garden provides us with the answer. Jesus’ struggle was never with human power or authority. In the garden before the mob ever arrived, we glimpse him wrestling in prayer in order to submit to His heavenly Father’s will that He be the scapegoat for humanity. “Not as I will, but as you will,” he conceded in the greatest mystery we humans will ever ponder. God the Son willingly agrees to pay your and my moral debt by suffering God the Father’s wrath against our rebellion. But was Jesus worthy of death as the Jewish council claimed? Heaven’s inhabitants claim He is worthy, but not of death.

The closing book of the Bible, known as Revelation, reveals a glimpse of the heavenly splendor to be seen one day by every eye—yours and mine included. John, the scribe of Revelation writes, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:11-13).

The characters of that world by the thousands and millions voice their judgment of this same Jesus, Son of God, redeemer of all people who accept His gift. Did you notice what they describe Him worthy of?

He is worthy of all creatures’ bursting and overflowing song-filled worship—awestruck wonder and praise. For how long? For ever and ever. And why? Because He who was perfectly pure and right, who has existed for eternity in joyful community with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, became one of us, precisely to submit Himself to the Father’s will which was that He bear the death you and I deserve.

The angels claim He is worthy, not of death but of eternal worship.

Our choice, yours and mine—while we have that moment of choice here on this earth—is to claim one or the other. Do we discount Him, ignore Him or desert Him? In effect we are pronouncing Him worthy of death. Or do we, regardless of the struggle, hold Him in highest honour, following in His footsteps, seeking the Father’s will? That is pronouncing Him worthy of honour and praise.

Read Matthew Chapter 26 again for yourself. As we prayerfully consider the final hours of His amazing earthly life—we will discover new ways He speaks to us through His ancient and moving story. He is worthy.

 

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 10

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Steadfastness:

Most of us love stories of uncommon loyalty, and the tale of Bamse is no different. Enrolled as a crew member on the Thorodd, a Norwegian coastal patrol vessel in the Second World War, Bamse was a unique morale-booster among the ship’s crew. All who knew him would agree, he was anything but an ordinary sailor—because Bamse was a dog.

He once saved the life of a young lieutenant commander by knocking his knife-wielding assailant into the sea. On other occasions he was known to have dragged drowning sailors from deep waters to shore and safety. He learned to ride the bus route from the ship’s dock in Scotland to Dundee where he rounded up and escorted crew back to the ship by curfew. And he regularly broke up bar fights among his crewmates by rising on hind legs and putting his great paws on their chests as if to say, “Calm down, mate. Time to head back aboard ship.” Bamse loved his crewmates with a proactive and steadfast loyalty. In return, the Royal Norwegian Navy honoured Bamse upon his death, by giving him a burial with full military honours.

Bamse’s story is a heartwarming one; we resonate with his constant allegiance and doggy dependability. But he only scratched the surface of loyalty. There is one who acts with even greater steadfastness and commitment toward those on whom his favour rests.

“(Y)ou will not abandon me to the grave,” marvels the writer of Psalm 16, “nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Who is the “you” David mentions? He’s referring to God and he’s making an extremely bold statement, even for a psalmist. David is in wonder and awe as he pens words of which he himself hardly understands the meaning. He knows people die. He comprehends the reality of death in the life cycle of all living things. So what could he possibly be saying to connect God’s steadfast loyalty with David’s and our own sure and imminent death?

David is uttering the mystery of the ages; he’s revealing God’s intentions for solving the dilemma of death. Created beings designed for immortality, such as we, feel cheated by death. We feel uneasy thinking of life simply ceasing to exist when our fragile bodies stop living. And so we ought to feel, because it is not natural. We were made in the image of the eternal God, created to live forever with Him. But the fiasco of rebellion in the Garden so long ago ruined it for us all (we would have done the rebellious deed ourselves had not Adam and Eve done it first).

But now David is looking ahead a millennium to a second Adam, our species’ second chance to be represented by a son of God – a unique Son who would succeed in living a perfectly obedient life and follow it by dying a death worth more than the deaths of every rebellious person on this planet. David is seeing Jesus. He is seeing God’s allegiance to His image-bearing creatures.

And Jesus is the epitome of steadfast loyalty. His purpose and resolve is to ensure that every one of us who comes to Him will not be abandoned to the grave. He is the “Holy One” who did not “see decay” – His death was a beginning, not an ending, and He rose from His grave victorious over death’s decay.

What does that mean for us today? It means today is just bursting with hope. Regardless of the chaos and destruction going on about us, we can take refuge in the steadfast dependability of a God who will not abandon us. Our thankfulness to Him for His work on our behalf is the beginning of our worship of Him. It also puts life in perspective. Everything is different because we are not abandoned. He is steadfast.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons [[File:… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117).jpg|thumb|… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117)]])

PIGMANIA

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Pigs have become as good as gold. The goddess Demeter demands them on her altars, the prevalent Greek and Roman cultures happily acquiesce to the ritual feasts, and local farmers are willing to plunge their hands into the proverbial pot of profit. Popular spirituality is like that: it caters to disguised pleasures. The trouble is, the Jewish community has been distinctly forbidden to eat or touch these ‘unclean’ animals, according to the Torah, never mind be involved in supporting pagan worship rituals. So when Jesus enters the scene in the remote Gadarene area east of the Sea of Galilee, he is stepping on rocky ground. This is pig-farming territory, and the locals don’t want to hear any moralizing from zealous Jews. It’s like inviting yourself onto a grow-op and asking to have a look around to set up your picnic; the locals are not going to be happy about it.

When Jesus proceeds to exorcise a regiment of demons from the unhappy local madman (see July 18/14 posting) He is making a unilateral decision: He is evicting them from their human host and authorizing the devilish spirits to transfer their accommodation to the herd of local pigs. It makes sense, really. The pigs are putting on pounds just waiting for the day they will nod their heads[1] to become fodder for the Greek gods. Perhaps Jesus is making a subtle point that worship of gods other than the true God is demon’s territory. One is fitting for the other.

Suddenly, the pigs rush headlong into the sea in a mad fit of uncontrollable abandon, and the locals are not happy. In fact, we’re told that when the townspeople see the ‘madman’ dressed and his right mind, they’re response is fear. They are afraid of One who can cure a madman of his madness. They sense His power exceeds that of the Greek gods; like the demons, they are afraid Jesus will demand more of them than they are prepared to give. So they do what many of us have done when we sense Jesus is a little too close for comfort: they ask Him to leave.

We’ve done that too, haven’t we? There have been times we’ve sensed that if we submit to Him in this or that area of our lives He’s going to turn things upside-down on us; nothing will be the same. We’re afraid He’s going to spoil the profit, take away the pleasure, or make us feel guilty about some of our behaviours. So we ask Him to leave. We shut our ears to His words; we close our eyes to perceiving His presence. We breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve escaped.

The amazing thing is that Jesus doesn’t force His presence on anyone. Having returned the willing ‘madman’ to his right senses, Jesus leaves the remaining townsfolk in their chosen pigsty. Everyone ultimately gets what he or she asks for. It must sadden Him immensely to see that only one person there in Gadara is willing to be healed mind-and-soul this day, but it is how the people want it.

This anecdote is not just a chronological event in the life of Jesus. It’s historical, yes, but it’s much more than that. It contains within it a living message for you and me today. It’s an invitation. Jesus is stepping out of His boat onto the shore of each of our lives right now. He’s standing, sensing the needs each of us have in the deepest depths of our soul. Many of us, like the masses, will react in fear. We’ll push Him away, and He’ll respect that. We’ll lose the greatest opportunity that this day will ever bring us. Or, we can be the one-in-a-hundred that senses He is our only hope – that beats the odds of our stubborn will and humbles ourself before Him.

“Stay, Jesus. Do for me what only You can do. I’ve had enough of pigmania.” A prayer like that is all it will take to begin to replace our pop-culture spirituality with worship of the true and living God.

 

[1]Greek sacrificial ritual included pouring water on the pig-victim’s head, causing it to ‘nod’ its head in agreement with its imminent sacrifice on the altar.