Tagged: Psalms

Psalm 84: Dwelling Place

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How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!

When Meagan and I were first married, we lived in Holland Landing, just about an hour north of Toronto. Holland Landing was a farming community that at one point had a community of radical Quakers. Quakers are a Christian fraction that believes less in the scriptures per se and certainly no traditions of any kind (which I don’t think is actually possible), choosing instead to prioritize the raw experience of the Holy Spirit. They got their name from sitting in silence meditating till they quaked with the Spirit.

Their church, depicted here, is a temple, which is now a historic site. I toured it one day with some friends. It was beautiful inside because they intentionally designed the interior like heaven. The building has three levels like how heaven is symbolically described in the Bible. Inside there is a rainbow shaped staircase going to the very top, representing Jacob’s ladder. The sanctuary has no pulpit, just a center where the Bible was placed. Everyone sits in a square with everyone equal. The windows on all sides let in an enormous, moving amount of light in the morning, filling the room as your eyes are drawn upwards to the top of the ceiling.

It is a deliberate attempt to symbolically create this sense of heaven on earth, God’s dwelling.

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I grew up in Stoney Creek. Hamilton has the mountainous escarpment going through it, which then moves straight up all the way to Manitoulin. One point, formed by glaciers, is a bowl shaped small canyon. It is called the Devil’s Punchbowl. Legend has it that it got its name from someone dying there by suicide. That’s just a legend though. At the top of the punchbowl is a look out with a cross. This cross you can see from most of East Hamilton, and always gave me a sense of hope. I remember hiking around up and down the Devil’s punch bowl as a kid, and it always felt eerie. Looking up at the bowl from its base gives you this uneasy looming feel, while looking down at the bowl from the look out with the cross was serene. The place for me was a kind of religious place, representing God’s presence in the world.

The cross at the top of the punch bowl felt like a lasting reminder of God’s victory over the devil.

hagia sophia

My wife before we were married went on a missions trip to Turkey with her college friends. They stayed in southern Turkey and worked at a mission, teaching English and assisting the missionaries there. They got some time to tour the country and went to Istanbul. Istanbul was at one point the capital of the Roman Empire, after Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome to there. In doing so, he commissioned this massive cathedral. When Muslims eventually conquered Turkey, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque. Now it is a tourism site. One of the architectural masterpieces of the ancient world, the Hagia Sophia uses its golden domes, widows, and candle chandeliers to bring light in and give this heavenly sense to the room. Look up and all you see is golden light coming down on you. It’s beautiful isn’t it?

Falls

I grew up 45 minutes from Niagara Falls. One thing we did often as a family was to go and tour the Falls. We would go on the Maid of the Mist, which was a boat that went right up to the edge of the bottom of the waterfall. The roar of water was intense. Whether at its base or just looking at it from the other side, the sound was moving. Some people described it like the voice of God: commanding, rumbling, powerful. This spectacle of nature remind people of the power of God.

 

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On my wife and I’s honeymoon we went to Europe.

My favorite day was touring Rome. We went to the Vatican. I remember walking into St. Peter’s Basilica and looking around. The walls are encrusted in artwork and monuments to great saints of the Church. When you get to the center altar and look up, no picture can do this sanctuary justice. It is so large you can fit 4 statues of liberty inside this dome comfortably. The little specks in the distance were people look down from a second level balcony. The room is so large and beautiful, you cannot help but feel moved with its splendor.

These are all places that people have descried as heavenly, reminders of God dwelling in the world.

However, these are in the end just man-made buildings and the creation, not the creator.

God has chosen to dwell on earth, to make his dwelling place here, in a place more beautiful than St. Peter’s basilica, more powerful than Niagara Falls: God has chosen to dwell in our hearts.

While the saints of the Old Testament met in a temple, because Jesus is the Word made flesh, because he sent his Spirit, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are spaces of God’s beautiful dwelling.

The theme of dwelling place is what we are going to meditate on.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.

1. God dwells with us.

As we have been talking about, this Psalms longs to worship God in the temple, a place where ancient Israelites knew God’s presence dwelt.

The Israelite temple was built around 960 BC by King Solomon. Solomon in his wisdom and wealth set out to make a proper temple for God. The temple was a magnificent achievement of the ancient world. It had three sections. The deepest section was the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was placed. The floors and ceilings were lined with approximately 20 tonnes of gold.

The Temple was meant to speak of the symbolism of the splendor and majesty of God.

But this Temple was inevitably destroyed 400 years later by the Babylonians and the people were carried off into exile. A replica was made by Ezra after the exiles returned.

About 500 years later, Jesus shows up and says that he is the new temple. Through him, people will be able to worship in spirit and in truth. As John 1 says, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

How lovely is your dwelling place: that dwelling place is Jesus.

Jesus is our King, our God, the Lord Almighty. It says that as he died on a cross for our sins, the barrier to the Holy of Holies in the Temple broke asunder. There is no barrier between God and man. God has taken our sins away and is now with us. God’s dwelling is now with us, in us, always for us.

40 days after he rose from the grave, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles to begin the church.

Where does God dwell? We see his beauty in mountains and waterfalls, in temples and buildings, but the truth is God dwells with us, in our hearts. He is with us in his Spirit.

He is in our hearts as we trust and accept him. He is in our midst when we worship and praise him. He is around us as we love one another.

God’s dwelling place is you. God’s dwelling place is us. God is dwelling with us right here, right now. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered, there I will be.”

That is all a church is. It is us. Don’t forget that. It is not this building.

A church is the people, the community, the people of God, who have taken time to dwell with each other to remember God dwells with us.

In our modern age it is important to remember that the church is not the building, the church is not the organization on paper. The church is God’s people. These other things are just an organized effort that we do as a community to help worship together and advance the Gospel together. They are important, but not the center point.

But the other side of it is that I can’t be a church by myself. Sure God is with me when I am by myself, but if God is love, he is most intensely present not in solitude by myself but in service to each other. That is why we have “church.” God is present to us when we get together with others different from ourselves and learn to love as he loves us.

In Jesus God dwells with us, not through a temple anymore, not a building, but in our hearts, in each other, through each other.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you…

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage…

2. Do you take time to enjoy God’s dwelling with us?

Blessing is that sense of joy knowing God approves of us and loves us. It is his reward and embrace.

While the ancient people heard this to refer those that made the trek to the temple, in the Spirit we hear this another way.

We can take this to mean today that we are blessed when we take time to remember God is with us. We are blessed when we sing to God, listen to his word, fellowship with other Christians.

We are blessed when we tune into God in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We are blessed when we take time to see God in each other. We are blessed when we love others and see God active in that.

I know singing to God charges me up. I know just sitting and having a word of prayer renews my strength. Those are their own blessing. They are right there for us to do. God gives us all these means for enjoying him. The question is will be take advantage of them?

It says blessed are those whose strength is in God, whose hearts our own pilgrimage.

Is your heart on pilgrimage? Have you resolved that there is nothing more satisfying, more strengthening than knowing God’s presence? Have you resolve to seek nothing but God’s truth and have your resolves to seek that truth using nothing but God’s strength? Because you will never find God by your own strength. It is only by God’s grace, let me tell you.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

3. When God dwells with us, we bring God to others.

What is the Valley of Baka? Well Baka means “weeping” so this is the valley of weeping. It was also called the valley of Hinnon or “Gehenna.” Gehenna is used as a metaphor for hell in the New Testament.

The valley of Baca or Gehenna was a place pagans would sacrifice their children in the fire. King Josiah tried to stop these detestable sacrifices by burning their alters there in turn, as a kind of ironic judgment. Then the prophet Jeremiah warned the people that if they kept sacrificing children in the flames in Gehenna, the whole city would burn and be like the fires of Gehenna. Sure enough, the Babylonian army came and leveled the city, burning it to the ground. The whole land looked like a charred wasteland. Jesus takes this warning up again in the Gospels and says if we don’t follow God’s ways, something like what happened in Gehenna will happen to us. Hell after we die is something like this place of burning punishment. In fact, the area of Gehenna, a valley going all the way to the dead sea where Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed in burning brimstone was called the Lake of Fire. So, the Book of Revelation picks up on this imagery when it warns us of the dangers of refusing to follow God.

So, this valley has a rich and powerful history, as biblical history and memory continues. But for right now, the valley of Baca or Gehenna was a place of death, a burn wasteland, full of ash and carrion.

Any pilgrim going from their town to the temple to worship God would have to pass by this place of death and judgment, reminding them of what can happen if they refused to acknowledge God and follow pagan ways.

These are places that we think of as places of the absence of God.

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Think of the desolation from the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This desolation you could think of as a place of the absence of God, places of death and destruction. Although these were not created by God’s judgment on the Japanese but by our sins as the Allied forces, mostly the Americans but us as well, who were quite comfortable killing hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in order to stop a war, in the ultimate ends-justify-the-means logic.

Or one closer to home is look at the regeneration that has happened around us due to the reforestation projects. Sudbury terrain has turned from a wasteland to beautiful forest.

slag dump

The Psalmist names this geographic symbol of a place of God’s absence and then says that those whose hearts are close to God are like healing streams to places of desolation. They are like streams that refresh and regenerate and restore.

Through the biblical narrative the imagery for hell, the places that the prophets use to warn us about our consequences of sin, also are captured with symbols of restoration. Ezekiel describes the waters of the temple replenishing the dead sea back to life. Revelation depicts the waters of flowing outside the gates of the city. And here, Baka, the valley of weeping, is turned into springs of life.

Those that walk with God turn hell on earth into heaven on earth, and that is the deep heart of God.

Let me ask you: Are you a healing presence to those around you? Are you bringing hope to others around you.

When you walk into a difficult situation, is it your natural inclination to just pass it by, walk away, don’t bother? Or do you feel called to help, heal, comfort, speak truth in places of deception, forgiveness in places of hate, hope in places of despair?

Do you turn valleys of Baka into Mounts of Zion? Lakes of fire into streams of Eden? Do you bring heaven to into places of hell on earth?

When God dwells with us, we bring God to others.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.

The psalmist longs for their prayer to be heard. And their prayer is for God to raise up the king, the anointed messiah, to be the protector of the people, bringing them back to God, bringing back justices and righteousness and mercy.

In the line of the human kings of Israel, that hope failed. God’s people were not meant to place their hope in human strength. But God filled this Scripture in sending Jesus, a descendant of king David, to be the perfect messiah, the perfect anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

4. To have nothing but God is to have more than to have everything except God.

In our world today, we face very real and powerful and persistent forces that want to choke us off in our faith.

We are far more likely to worry about our finances than to worry about our faith.

The rat race of life can keep us from prayer and pursuing God’s will for our lives. Even something as good as our families can quickly become an excuse to forget about meeting together as a church.

All the worries of wealth, the stress about work and time, the obligations of friends and family, school, sports, and whatever else. God is easily forgotten.

Jesus warns us, what profit is there if we gain the whole world but forfeit our souls?

It is the same truth as this Psalm. What is really worthwhile: working more and more to get that promotion or that next achievement and in doing so forget about God?

Better is one day in God’s presence than thousands elsewhere. Better is just a few moments resting in his love than a whole lifetime wasted trying to win in this world.

I’d rather be a door keeper in the house of God: If we had the choice between kings and billionaires in this world, this life, and being peasants in the kingdom of heaven…

To have nothing but God is to have more than to have everything except God.

Or as Jesus said, “What profits a person if they gain the whole world but forfeits their soul?”

We as Christians all know this, but the question is will we start to live it.

12 Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Let’s pray recommitting ourselves to trust in this

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The Psalm of Vengeance and How I Learned to Forgive My Mother’s Abuser

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The passage we are going to reflect on today is not your typical Bible passage. It is apart of the group of Psalms called the Imprecatory Psalms. These Psalms are angry sounding and vengeful.

Why is this in the Bible? What is God trying to tell us in these? These are the questions we are going to take up today.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

As we have been saying, the Psalms retell the story of God’s people. The earlier Psalms speak of the life of David the first king. Later ones lament the failure of human kingship, looking to God as the true King.

This one, located towards the end of the Psalms was written around the time of the exile. God’s people were oppressed, enslaved, carried off into exile while their homes are burned. Their children were slaughtered and their neighbors, like the Edomites, the brothers of Israel, cheered on the Babylonians as they pillaged.

Israel watched the brutal Babylonian army murder their children by dashing them against rocks. Then the Babylonians mock them telling them to sing songs of Zion.

This is a song of a people that have been hurt, frustrated, demeaned, and are in terrible despair. As the Israelites consider what happened to them, they cry out for vengeance, for God to do to the Edomites and the Babylonians what they did to them: dash their children against rocks.

The bitterness in their words is bone-chilling.

How can a Psalm of such anger and vengeance and brutality be in the Bible? Is this giving us license to be angry and vengeful?

I would not normally preach on passage so dark and easily misunderstood, but in doing a series on the Psalms and getting people to read through the Psalms, these Imprecatory Psalms inevitable come up. People come to me saying, “Pastor I love praying through the Psalms, but what about this one?” And they don’t know what to do with it.

In fact, I know a person who read one of these passage, and were so disturbed and scared that it turned her off of reading the Bible for many years.

Many of us have similar experiences reading other parts of Scripture. Why are they in there? How can they be in there? What could God possibly be trying to say in these words?

Does God want vengeance like this? Vengeance does not sound like the heart of God, so why is this in the Bible?

Well, I suspect that this passage does have something to say about God, but before I walk you thought that, can we just admit that sometimes the Bible is not easy to understand?

I talk to some Christians that think the Bible is always clear on everything. That all you have to do is pray, crack your knuckles and the answer will just pop into your head. To which I want to ask: Are we reading the same book? Yes, there are lots of passages that are beautifully clear, but others that are not.

Listening to any voice in any relationship takes work. You cannot passively listen to your wife while the TV is on. Trust me, it does not work. You have to work to listen. Same goes with God and listening to him in the Bible.

Brian Zahnd once said the Bible is like a vast terrain with mountains and valleys. All the land is God’s Word, but if you get stuck in a valley, you can’t see what is going on. If you look from one of the peaks of the mountains, you see the whole land clearly. The Gospels’ are the peaks. John 3:16 is a peak. This passage can be a valley.

As we will see, this is just one of many passages that we need to read through Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of scripture. Jesus is the summit of Scripture.

Another way of saying it is that we believe that all Scripture is inspired and thus able to teach us salvation and righteousness. Yes, but that does not mean all Scripture is inspired the same way and teaches us our salvation the same way either.

This Psalm teaches us something profound about God and profound about ourselves, just not in the same way other passage of the Bible do that.

John Calvin called the Psalms the “mirror of the soul.” One purpose of the Psalms is to help us express what is in our souls, help us realize what we got going on inside.

The Psalms are unique in that they are the Word of God by first being our words to God.

This Psalm helps us be honest with ourselves. In being honest with ourselves, naming what is going on within us, we can then be honest with God. God is listening.

1. God is listening

Do believers ever feel crushed with hurt? These do. Do believers feel like their faith has been shattered? These did. Can believers feel incredible pain, frustration, even bitter anger over it? Yes they can. Does that make them evil? No. It makes them human.

This might sound obvious but the only way we relate to God is in our humanity, full honesty, laid bare.

The Jews in this passage are angry because they just lost their homes. Their land was conquered. Their safety and security was gone. Their temple was destroyed, so their way of related to God was compromised. And they had to watched their own children get killed.

Here they cry out to God in all the anger they are feeling.

This psalm does not condone anger, but does say God is listening to us when we are angry.

We worship God Immanuel, God with us. God with us, finding us, listening to us, wherever we are at, including times of anguish.

God does not wait to be with us after we get over our hurt; he meets us in our hurt.

The question is not whether it is appropriate to pray this way, longing for vengeance, but rather it is appropriate to share what is on your heart with God, no matter where you are.

Let me reassure you: Where you are at, what ever you are feeling, God is listening. God never stopped listening.

This Psalm, like all the other Psalms, invites us to share what is on our heart with God, allowing all of our lives to be seen from God’s standpoint. Don’t be ashamed of your emotions. That does not help. They are real and need to be dealt with. Voice them, tell them, express them.

Angry at others? Tell God. Angry at God? Tell him that too. He is listening.

He listened to the anger in Israel’s heart. He is listening to you now.

I am reminded of a time when I coordinated a soup kitchen in Toronto. There was an man that came in. He had a lot of problems. Homeless and alcoholic, his life was completely self-destructive.  So, I asked around: What is this guy’s story?

The man had been abused terribly. One other coordinator of a drop in a few blocks from ours told this story:

During an open mic night, where anyone could come up and offer a prayer for the community, this man decided to come forward. People prayed blessing on their communities and thanked God and praised Jesus. People were surprised to see him come up.

As this man took the mic, he began to scream curse words at God for what had happened to him, cursing all the people that had hurt him.

“Did you stop him?” I asked. “No, we let him say his piece like everyone else,” said my colleague. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Because, Spencer, at the end of the day, this was still a prayer, it was directed at God, and I have to believe that God was listening. He had something to get off his chest.”

There was a noticeable change in this man after his blow up. I think in order for that man to start healing, he had to name his hurt in all the raw anger it entailed, which he did not know how to process.

God loves the hurt and the broken, and for that reason, I have to believe God was listening to that angry rant of a prayer. Not because there was something moral about that prayer, but because God listens to us.

What are your hurts? How has someone hurt you? Can you remember the most angry you have ever been in your life?

If you remember how you feel in that moment, you probably aren’t too far off from the anger of this Psalm.

God knows what you utter in the bitterness of your soul. You can either keep it in, feel shame and have it destroy you, or let it out, and begin healing.

2. When we realize that God is listening, we entrust God with our anger

Expressing our hurts to God means placing our hurt in his hands.

As several commentators have pointed out, venting our anger to God disarms our anger towards others. When we vent it at God, we restrain our vengeance towards others.

Thus, it is not so much what Psalm 137 is saying – for many of us its language is not our language of hurt – it is what is able to do in us. It permits us to release our anger to the true Judge.

Notice in Psalm 137, the Psalmist does not ever imply that he wants to take vengeance.

When we do this we find that when we place our anger at others in his hands, we are freed from our anger to even do good to our enemies. Consider Romans 12:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

When we entrust our anger to God, we focus on God. Which means we are able to focus on his goodness again. Notice, for Israel who prayed these Psalms, the next few Psalms move from vengeance to focusing on love. The prayer continues.The process continues.

When we pray though our anger, we are able to heal our anger.

This is where the next stage of healing happens. When we entrust our anger with God, we turn to God and his goodness. When we entrust God with our vengeance, we have to turn to God and ask, what does justice look like for God, not us.

3. When we trust God with our justice, we realize God’s justice is mercy

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The end is important. Jesus has been talking about the true character of God: God is perfect. How? Not in punishment, but love, not is moral indignation, but mercy.  God is not perfect in vengeance, but perfect in mercy.

“If Justice is an eye for an eye, the whole world will end up blind,” says Martin Luther King.

Are we willing to see?

From Sinai to Zion, from Zion to Golgotha, the Bible is trying to teach us that God’s justice is not retribution, not even restitution, but restoration.

How does God repay his enemies? When we turn to God for justice, we realize we have done wrong. We are all sinners. We all deserve punishment, and yet God has chosen to bear that judgment on himself.

When God’s people prays in vengeful anger to kill the children of the those that kill theirs, God offers his only son to stop the cycle of violence.

When we are angry and in despair, this Psalm allows us to vent our anger knowing God always listens.

When we realize God is listening, we start focusing on God and trusting him with our anger, restraining our wrath.

When we trust God with our vengeance, we then have to ask, what is justice like for God? “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” But how did God in his sovereignty choose to repay?

He repaid the death of his son with forgiveness.

God listened to the hurt Israelites. He listens to all of us in our anger. But did he obliterate the Babylonians? Babylon did eventually fall, but that was just God saying, “Have it your way,” and letting history run its course. Sin is often its own punishment. No. he did not bash their babies against rocks. In Jesus he died for them.

God’s plan was not vengeance but reconciliation.

Far from racial genocide, God’s plan was for one day Babylonian and Jew (and us, Gentiles, too) to embrace as family in Jesus Christ.

That is God’s plan in our broken hurting world. He listens then he heals.

God is listen to the hurt of Syrian refugees, who have watched their homes get bombed.

God is listening to the cries of children who work in sweat shops.

God is listening to the cries of enslaved sex workers

He is listening to the worries of cancer patients

He is listening to the broken, hurt, disenfranchised, abandoned…

He is listening to you. Whatever it is that you are going through. He is listening to you.

When we realize he is listening, we become open to how he is working in us.

That brings us to now.

Who has hurt you? Who makes your blood boil? Who in your life has done things that the only think you can think of that they deserve is punishment?

Can you vent that anger to God?

Have you been discouraged. Have you experienced a moment where life just stopped making sense, and your only response is anger and confusion.

Can we realize that God is listening?

You might not think that this process works, but trust me it does.

I have spoken before about how my mother was abused. Not physically, but emotionally.

She remarried a man with a mal-formed conscience. He would verbally threaten her and demean her to get his way. He was a big man, and very intimidating. I remember being down in my room as a kid in high school, listening to the arguing. I heard his voice boom from the ceiling in my basement room:

“You’re just a stupid woman, Susan.”

“Don’t you dare, or I’ll break your arm.”

When my mother developed cancer, and he began holding money away from her, so that she would not use it on medical needs. He was banking on her dying and him being “taken care of” after she was gone.

My mom eventually split from him. It was difficult and police were called on occasion.

I hated my step-father. I used to fantasize about beating him up. I used to pray, “God give him what he deserves.” Of course, I had a few ideas about what he deserved.

Years when on. I learned from my step-father’s brother, that he had been abused. He had been treated the worst out of all the siblings by a father that was a bigot just like what he was now. After that, I did not see my step-father in the same way. It humanized him, and I remember praying, “God just stop him from hurting other people. Help him to realized what he has done and change.”

The last I saw my step-father was at my mother’s funeral. He came into the visitation, and my family and I kicked up a fuss. We did not want him there, and we wanted the funeral attendant to remove him. But, I believe it was my sister that said, “Just let him morn and go.” We realized we would be doing something terribly indecent if we refused a person to morn. We watched him come to the casket, give flowers that simply said, “Thank-you for all the good memories,” and he left.  I never saw him after that.

I realized that day that he did love my mother, albeit with a broken distorted love. I also realized that to include him in the funeral was just a small but very significant act of forgiving him, choosing to end the cycle of hurt and anger, embracing peace. I remember praying after that, “God bless him. Care for him. Heal him….and heal me too.” For me to say that prayer, authentically, began with my praying those original vengeful prayers. It took ten years or so. Healing takes time. God had a few things to teach me. God was listening to all of those, answering those prayers. I trust he still is. But that answer I think is not what I wanted originally, thank goodness.

i suspect it is like what Jesus told the disciples who betrayed him: “Peace to you.”

“Peace to you, Spencer”

And so,

Peace to you, Dave, where ever you are.

 

Psalm 2: Awaiting the King

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Anyone else into watching Netflix’s The Crown?

There is something beautiful and captivating getting this inside look into the monarchy. I been on a bit of a kick reading about the Queen.

Not gonna lie, it has made me a big fan of Queen Elizabeth.

 

Queen Elizabeth as a female leader to me has captured my deepest respect. All her speeches and public actions show her to be a person that is both gentle yet unwavering in resolve.

Did you hear her Christmas speech? The queen of England openly said that she believes wholly in Jesus Christ and she set out to live her life by his teachings and she called on all English people to turn back to Christ and not to forget God in these dark times.

I’ll be honest I have often questioned Canada’s connection to the British monarchy, whether or not it is useful or represents who we are as a nation, but in that moment I was glad we have a figure head of such conviction and decency.

Our Queen has done significant work to advance liberty and equality in the world. While her predecessors wanted an Empire in which the “sun never set,” She was instrumental in granting the independence of over 20 countries.

Our own prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, while having no love of the role of the monarchy, praised her for the “grace she displayed in public” and “the wisdom she showed in private.”

Later she was asked what she thought of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and she let it slip that she found him, “rather disappointing.” I thought that was funny.

She was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa. She has worked for stability and good governance of many commonwealth nations that were in turmoil during her reign.

There is a powerful scene in the Crown that symbolizes the influence she would exert, the coronation scene: You can only imagine what it would be like to be in that cathedral, the leaders of the free world in attendance, the head of the church of England presiding, choirs singing angelically as the jewel encrusted crown is placed on your head.

The splendor and magnitude of that moment would have been overwhelming.

Think of what the crown signified at that time. It does not quite mean the same thing today where the monarchy is more of a figure.

The monarch represented political stability, hope. The monarch, especially Queen Elizabeth perhaps the last Christian monarch, represents the moral resolve of the nation. With that mindset we turn to the psalms.

You see for Israel, God’s nation in the Old Testament, they had a similar view of their king, and the Psalm we are meditating through this morning is actually very likely the coronation Psalm of King David or the Kings of David’s line.

We are going to read this look at what this meant for God’s people in the old testament but then as a psalm of God’s people that point to the fulfillment of Old Testament in King Jesus, and what that means for us as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Like I said, this is very likely a coronation song for the king. You can imagine that being sung as the king has his crown placed on his head.

The song signifies the place of the king to both ensure the stability of the nation and to be a person of close connection to God. David is seen as a cherished child of God.

But to read this Psalm in the context of the Old Testament is to understand that the Psalm if it merely looks forward for a human king to be these things, falls short of God’s kingdom.

Does God really want a human king to subjugate all the nations around them?

Does God want God’s people to build idolatrous empires?

Can a human king really claim the title of being God’s true son?

When we read this Psalm, like many passages in the Old testament, it leaves us uneasy, yearning for God to say something more.

Human kings were not really what God originally wanted, we find.

1. Israel’s Quest for a King

The Hebrew people saw the power of human kings and they wanted one themselves, rather than being a loose collection of tribes depending on God for guidance. They grew jealous of the nations. God nevertheless concedes and the first king, Saul is anointed.

This did not work out well. Saul proved arrogant and selfish. He only was interested in serving God if it served himself.

So the Prophet Samuel goes and anoints a boy named David.

All his older brothers were soldiers. At the time Israel and Philistia were at war. The Philistine warlord Goliath openly mocked God and the Israelites, and the people were scared since Goliath was a giant of a man. Goliath challenged the Israelite army to a one-to-one battle, and no one accepted.

David shows us and hears Goliath’s scorn for God, and he decides he will take on the giant himself.

This puny boy walks up to Goliath and as Goliath mocking him and God and the people, David drew a smooth stone – does anyone remember what he called it? It called it the Ebenezer, which means “Thus far the lord has helped me.”

He takes that, puts it in his sling-shot, and hits the Giant, striking him dead.

David became a hero. He later became leader of the armies of Israel. Then jealous Saul tried to get rid of him, and David had to live on the run. Finally, Saul died in battle, and David was enthroned as king.

As King, David was known for his military prowess, defeating the surrounding nations in battle, bringing a level of security to the land. The nations became the inheritance of the throne of David as this Psalm longs for. David, the anointed king, became a holy emperor over the nations around Israel.

But the question is does God really want an empire? We will see that this caused trouble in the line of kings. David himself was told by God that he could not build the temple in Jerusalem because the temple was to be a place of holiness, which David could not do since he was such a man of war.

Nevertheless, David was also a man of deep piety and love of God. God saw him as a man after his heart. It is the reason so many of the Psalms bear his name.

This did not mean he was perfect or even at times good. David later in life had an affair with one of his general’s wives and he tried to cover it up by having that man killed in battle. An act of terrible dishonor. The fact our scriptures report this misdeed is important. One scholar remarked that Israel’s scriptures contain the most honest history of the leaders of any nation of its time. For Israel, it was so important to understand the failures of God’s people in order to have a sense of moral responsibility and hope.

After David, the line of Kings slowly fell. Solomon despite his extraordinary wisdom refused to serve the Lord alone. His rule plunged into idolatry. It had something to do with the fact that he had hundreds of pagan wives.

His son, Reheboam, a foolish king, sundered the nation apart. While righteous kings still continued in the line of David, kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, inevitably their refusal to walk in the ways of God lead to the exile of Judea, the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians for over 70 years.

When the exiles returned, they remembered the prophets speaking about how God would raise up another king like David, the true messiah.

The true king that would bring an end to the destruction on their land. The faithful remnant would be safe.

The true king that would rebuild Zion. The true king that would make Jerusalem a place of peace again.

But left as an expectation for a human king to do all this, this Psalm sounds highly nostalgic and imperialistic. Surely God does not want the nations of this world in shackles. Surely God does not love Israel more than other nations. Surely the king is not God’s son just by the power of his office.

The king must be more than that.

The true king must rule not with force and war, but is the prince of peace, whose rule would undo the need for war itself, reconciling all nations to God.

A true king that would not merely be just, but is justice itself, righteousness embodied.

A true king that would be able to prevent not just enemy nations from conquering them, but their sins from corrupting them. A messiah that could forgive sins.

This longing suggests that the only King that could do this was not in fact a human king, but God himself, the true king.

In the Psalms we see this move where the Psalm begin singing about the human kings of Israel, then lament their failure then a turning to God as true King.

And so, from the time this was written, for several hundred years, the people were left praying: God when will the messiah come? When will all that has gone wrong in this world be made right? When will righteousness reign.

2. God did show up as this king.

Jesus is the true king. Jesus is true anointed one, the messiah, the true son of God, the true ruler of the nations.

But here is the thing: In fulfilling this Scripture God shows us a powerful provocative new vision of what it means to rule. How does Jesus fulfill this Psalm that looks to the messiah to conquer the nations?

He chose to be born in humble circumstances like David. He chose to be born to a poor girl named Mary, in the poverty of a manger. A poor king, a king for the poor. What an idea?

This Psalm is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament.  It is quoted at his baptism, transfiguration, death, and in Revelation, twice.

It is quoted at Jesus baptism. “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” Think of the Baptism of Jesus as his coronation. While the kings of the earth are enthroned in palaces by the powerful, Jesus is enthroned in the wilderness, in a lake, by a prophet.

While the kings of the earth are blanketed in jewels, Jesus is blanketed with the Holy Spirit.

From there, Jesus set out to conquer the enemies of God, but these turns out aren’t actually humans.

Jesus sets out to cast out demons, the radical evil in our world.

Jesus sets out to forgive sins, the real thing that shackles us.

Jesus sets out to heal the sick, the real things we are suffering from.

Jesus sets out to teach true obedience, the real path to freedom.

He starts talking about what his kingdom is actually like, how God chooses to rule,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are citizens of this kingdom.

Blessed are those who are sad and in morning, because God’s kingdom is their to comfort them.

Blessed are the humiliated and meek, the oppressed, because they are the ones that will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for justice, for they will get it.

Blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart.

Blessed are not those that try to conquer their enemies, but the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake, those that do not conform to partisan lies or the status quo, for these are the true citizens of God’s kingdom.

This message of Jesus the king about God’s heavenly kingdom is one that in a turn of sinful irony, God’s people are the ones that ended up rejecting and conspiring against him.

When Jesus claimed to be the messiah, they called him a blasphemer.

The nations conspired and sadly, Israel was one of those nations. The Temple priests plotted to have Jesus arrested.

Jesus’ disciples betrayed and abandoned him.

He was brought before a roman dictator and sentenced to death in order to satisfy a mob.

The conversation between the Roman Governor Pilate and Jesus is so telling:

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

One rules a kingdom of this world, the other rules a kingdom not of this world

One rules a kingdom with force; the other a kingdom of non-violence.

One rules a kingdom with a sword; the other with sacrifice.

One rules a kingdom of apathy, the other rules a kingdom of truth.

This drama has its climax in the cross, where in that dark moment, Jesus is shown as the king God chooses to be.

They give him a crown of thorns and write “King of the Jews” over the cross. The narratives have these kinds of ironies to it.

Here is the king, not making himself first but last.

Here is the king, lifted up not in exaltation but in crucifixion.

Here is the king, conquering, not with violence but with forgiveness

Here is the king, fully obedient to God the father, such that he is shown to be God’s true son.

“Surely this man is the Son of God” says the soldier, unwittingly quoting Psalm 2.

The rule of the nations was broken that day, not be military power or legislative acumen, but by the humble faithfulness of Jesus Christ, obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

That day the wrath we deserved he gladly bore upon himself in order to show that this king, this God, is a God of love.

One the third day Jesus rose again, completing the victory, ascending to heaven to rule at the right hand of the Father, sending the Spirit to commission his disciples to go out into all nations.

Death and despair, disobedience and the devil were defeated, so that all people include his enemies, including us, can be apart of his kingdom.

Christ as died, Christ has risen, and Christ will also come again

3. Our king will return

The victory of the resurrection points forward to the victory of Christ’s second coming. Psalm 2 is quoted several times in Revelation. One day Christ will return and he will set right all that has gone wrong. He will return to judge the nations with justice and truth and mercy.

Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.

That day will be like the confusion of tongues at Babel. Where we create empires of uniformity, God will break our plans apart with diversity. God will show he is that God of all peoples, all nations, all humanity.

That will be a terrible day like that day Pharaohs army drowned in the sea, all that power will be nothing compared to the glory of our infinite God.

That day will be like the destruction of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Empires come and empires go, crushed by the sweeping power of the Rock.

And let us not go arrogant as we – God’s people Israel – have in the past. That day will be like the destruction the Temple because we turned their religion into an idol of power and control.

But for those whose hearts are sincere and ways are just and merciful, we await that day with hope. We long for the day when all that was wrong in this world will be put right, death will be no more. Tears will turn to joy.

We await the day his kingdom reigns fully and visibly over our world, but in the meantime, as Jesus says, the kingdom of God is within us. It is within us as we turn our hearts over to King Jesus.

How do we live this kingdom out? We chose to live as citizen not of this world. 1 Peter talks about how the early Christians lived as if strangers in a foreign land. We live like we don’t belong. We live like we don’t want to be a part of these corrupt discourses.

There is a better way 1 Peter talks about it: it is called being holy, set apart.

It be a Christian today show give us a kind of culture shock, the way an immigrant might feel, a fish out of water. As our culture continues to more away from God, as our leaders grow more and more depraved and greedy, we will continue to live as citizens of heaven.

While the nations rebel, we will obey.

While the kings of this world look for war, we will walk in peace.

While the kings of this world delight in perversion, we will walk in purity.

While the kings of this world deal in oppression, we will promote liberty.

While the kings of this world take care of the rich, we will take care of the poor.

While the kings of this world speak lies, we will speak honesty.

While the kings of this world further division, we will walk in reconciliation.

While the kings of this world see themselves as gods, we worship the one true God, the one true king.

And one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ is Lord and king to the glory of God the Father.

In the meantime, we will bow and confess. We will never stop confessing Christ is Lord.

But the question is not what the rulers of nations recognize God as king. Right here, right now, are you ready to make Jesus the king of your heart?

Are you ready to say, “King Jesus, I submit to your rule; I want to be a part of your kingdom. I repent of my sin and resolve to walk in your ways.”

So the Psalm ends: blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 1: Which Way is Your Life Going?

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Which way is your life going? There is a beautiful poem by Robert Frost that goes like this…

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;…

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Robert Frost tells of the paths we take in life. Some are popular ones; others are unpopular. Some follow well-worn paths; others down the road less traveled. Some are common turns in the road; others are watershed moments: those decisions that reshape your life in a way your will never be the same, you cannot undo, you will forever look back on as momentous.

It is a cliché but life is a journey. The more important question is journey where? What way are you taking?

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction

This psalm almost feels more like a chapter in the Proverbs then the Psalms. Doesn’t it? It is an odd way to begin the Psalms, but it really gets at these prayer-songs’ true purpose.

The Psalms are organized into 5 books which mirror the 5 books of the Law. That is intentional. The longest Psalm, Psalm 119, praises the goodness of the law. That is also intentional.

The Psalms were intended to aid the people of God to follow God better. And this Psalm makes that point clear.

When we pray, we pray for wisdom. When we believe, it is to form and reform the way we live. When we act, it is to seek God’s blessing, his will, his love in the midst of life.

As we will see, the Psalms are the prayers of God’s people through all the up and downs of life, from thanksgiving to lament, from good times and bad, whether season your soul is in, these are intended to teach us how to walk with God better.

What does it mean to be blessed?

We here about blessing thought the Old Testament. God blesses creation on the seventh day of creation. God blesses Abraham to go and be a blessing to all nations.

My personal favorite, Jacob steals his brother’s blessing by dressing up like him while his brother is off hunting. The story says his brother was super hairy, so Jacob puts fur on his arms and goes in and sees his father, who is near blind. His father, Isaac thinks it’s the older brother, Esau from petting his fur-clad, and blesses Jacob. Jacob then high-tails it out of there before his brother gets home, and his brother does not get a blessing, because apparently blessings can get revoked even under false pretenses.

So…What is a blessing?

Blessed is not being rich or getting material stuff, although the patriarchs of the old testament did have those things. Blessing is not some warm and fuzzy feeling either. If you are blessed you are probably happy, but not necessarily. Listen to the beatitudes of Jesus, and you get a sense that blessed is a lot different.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek (the humiliated) for they will inherit the earth Or fast forward to the end: blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.

Obviously those who are mourning are not happy. Obviously those that are being persecuted might not have much at all. Blessed does not merely mean you are comfortable in life or happy.

Blessing means something different. Let me take a stab at it. Blessing is God’s approval over your life.

I think how as a child and as a teenager who I strived to make my dad proud of me. I was a good student, so I loved bringing a test home and showing my Dad my grades. I remember his smile, his sense of pride and joy over me doing that. That approval and encouragement in my life, gave me a sense of worth that allowed me to keep going.

I had a Dad that blessed me with that kind of approval and pride in my life. It didn’t matter if I messed up either. He was the kind of Dad that was always proud.

Do you remember the face of you parent when they were proud of you?

Do you strive to live your life longing to do God’s will that way?

Blessed is the sense of God’s approval on your life. It is that deep peace knowing you are living in the will of God, the heart of God, and you know God will use you and bring you into his kingdom, which you are apart of.

You right now, if you trust Jesus, if you are seeking to follow him – and we all mess up following him make no mistake on that – if you are seeking him, trying to follow his way, even if you stumble, even if you are crawling along, you can rest in the fact that God looks at you with a smile, like I said, even if we fail terribly in our walk with Christ, God loves sincerity before perfectionism. You know you have the peace of heaven in store. You know you are a part of his kingdom.

You are like the thief on the cross, where Jesus says, “Today, I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.” You are blessed. Right now. Knowing that beautiful gospel truth that God loves .

You might not have a cent to your name. You might have health problems. You might have stress in your life. Whatever it is, where ever you are at, our problem in this life pale in comparison in knowing God loves us, he has saved us, he has given his life for us, he looks at our lives with a certain deep pride, deep regard, deep joyous love. That is God’s blessing.

Do you strive for God’s blessing? Then comes the question, who is blessed in this Psalm?

   Blessed are those, who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

See the metaphor of the journey and way get taken up there: walking in the way of the wicked, the way of sinners or resting along the way in the company of mockers.

Who are the wicked and who are sinners? Well in one sense we are all sinners and we all have wickedness in our hearts, but often the Psalm use it in a more concrete sense of those who very explicitly have turned their backs on God and embrace ways that hurt and harm others.

Just like salvation has multiple sense: we are saved the moment we accept Christ’s forgiveness, then we are being saved as we take of practices of grace in our daily life, and one day we will be saved, vindicated in the final day.

One theologian talked about we have been saved from the penalty of sin, being saved the practices of sin, and one day will be saved from the presence of all sin. It is the second sense, our daily choices to either draw closer to God or turn away, that is what we are talking about here.

Who are mockers? This word for mockers in the Old Testament is synonymous with arrogance, stubbornness, ruthlessness, and hostility.

Mockers are those who have chosen to harden their hearts from God. They have chosen to ignore God’s commands. They have chosen to turn a blind eye to human suffering, choosing to benefit themselves. They live life for themselves and they don’t care.

And when a Christian comes along they mock, they scoff: You believe in God? Pfff… You actually go to church? Boring. You don’t drink or do drugs or sleep around? How on earth do you ever have fun?

They are quick to label you the closed minded one, when they have long since closed their souls off from the pursuit of truth.

They are quick to say they aren’t so bad, they don’t need God to be good people, but in turn their morality is maintained only if it is convenient for them.

They scoff at faith in God, we have all encountered these people. The scary thing is that we are often tempted to join in. We don’t want to be mocked. No one does. We want to be popular and do all that wild and crazy stuff our co-workers brag about on Monday mornings.

There is a seductive allure to the life lived ignoring God.  Its so much easier, it is no much more fun.

This is nothing new. It is a temptation that is thousands of years old.

One way seems easy and better, the other seems difficult and unpopular. One leads to life, the other leads to destruction.

How can that be? Let me put it this way. THink of two paths

The first looks straight forward, but actually it is the deadliest road in North America. The Dalton Highway is a 667 km road in Alaska. It is a serene drive, but a dangerous one. The road has numerous potholes due to the frozen ground shifting – we in Sudbury know a think or two about that. I should have put a picture of Maley drive there! Anyways, Dalton highway have fast winds that unexpectingly freeze the road leaving unprepared drivers stuck in the middle of nowhere to freeze to death.

Think of other paths. This might not be a path per se, but it works. Think is Edge Walk in Toronto around the CN Tower. First glance, I know what answer would be if you were to ask me to go on that: no thank you!

But the fact of the matter is it is completely safe. You have a safety harness that ensures you cannot fall. In fact, just last year, a 90 year old lady walked it. It was on her bucket list apparently. Good for her.

Do you see the difference between paths. One looks easy but is in fact very dangerous. One looks impossible, but is in fact quite safe and quite rewarding.

What way is your life taking? Is it towards God or away?

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Dt. 30:19-20)

How do we follow this difficult way?

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

Notice the importance of meditation, thinking, pondering, wrestling. I think it implies that the way of God is not always so simple, but there is joy in facing difficult realities longing to follow God.

Life will be messy. Life is not black and white. Neither are the Scriptures sometimes because if the Scripture were just simple and nothing more complex to them, they would only offer us shallow truism in the face of life’s perennial questions.

God does not just want us to have all the answers, he wants us to trust him, to walk with him, even to wrestle with him.

I know so many people that quote passages of the Bible in harmful ways rather then taking the time to mediate on them.

I usually encounter two people: One thinks too much of the law directly applies today and falls into literalism and legalism, imposing oppressive rules that don’t function.

The other doesn’t think any of the law applies today and their faith is often vague or action-less. The problem with that is that love and grace demand action, that is why law does apply. If I love someone there are certain things I will do and won’t do. In that regard the law does apply.

It does not make God loves us, and this is the Apostle Paul’s point. But God is pleased when we follow its principles, which get to God’s very heart and will for our lives today.

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus lived the law out and said if a law does not conform to his summary of the law, the law of love, that the core purpose of the law is not sacrifice but mercy and compassion, if an individual law did not function to promote love and mercy, then Jesus simply saw that individual law as no longer applying.

So, do you meditate on God’s law? John Wesley the great revival preacher said that before he went to bed he would pray asking God whether he had wrong anyone that day and resolved in prayer to fix it or if he had sinned against God, he would ask forgiveness, and resolve to work tomorrow on that aspect of his character.

Do we have that kind of deep self-examination before God? This is what this Psalm is calling us to.

When we do these things, what kind of people do we become?

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

The Psalmist uses this analogy of a rooted tree by the water. Let me take this metaphor further…

There is a tree that grows in the desert called the mesquite tree. It thrives there. Why? Mesquite trees have roots that can go down over forty feet to underground streams.

Mesquite trees in times of drought or in the harsh winds of the dessert, stay green and lush. It is because of their rootedness. Their roots are strong enough to reach streams that refresh them.

The question is whether we are like Mesquite trees. Are we rooted enough in God? Do we nourish our spirits by meditating on God’s law? Do our souls drink from the streams of the Gospel to refresh us?

If we don’t we will wither. If we do, we will produce fruit.

The Apostle says that the whole law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: love your neighbor as yourself. When you do that, when you life in God’s love and for the love of others, not in the pits of laziness or legalism, then our lives produce fruit. Paul describes them in Galatians 5:

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

You see, when we strive to follow his way, when we mediate on his word in wisdom, when we know how the law culminates in prayer and love, and we look for these fruit, the law is fulfilled.

You can weather storms. It is not that storms don’t happen. It is that you can weather them because you have strong roots.

Whatever they do prospers. In the Bible there are kind of two perspectives on obedience and success. This early Psalm expresses the idea that those that do right are virtuous and therefore succeed in life. There is a lot of truth to that.

We also know that the righteous can also find a lot of strife in life. Those that are honest do not always get promoted. Those that are self-less don’t always make a lot of money. Bad things can happen to good people. That is the whole book of Job.

Perhaps you are wondering this: I am trying to follow God, but why did I lose my job? I tried doing what is right, why are more people angry at me? I am honest in my life, why is my health worse? It is in the face of questions like this that we have to reevaluate what true success is.

True success in found in God.

True success is found in trusting the Gospel

True success is found in walking with Christ, through all the ups and downs of life.

True success is knowing that at the end of the age, Christ will turn to you and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

That is all that matters. If you are wondering why life has given you the short end of the stick, remember in the eyes of the world we all might be losers and suckers, but in God’s eyes we are kings and queens, ready for the crowns of life.

Are you ready to rest in that, to know that God is enough.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction

You see the success of this world is not success in God’s eyes. They are like chaff. They are like the dry husk of grain that is blown away in the wind.

Some of us that have not grown up on farms might not get the chaff analogy. I was sitting looking out the window and the light shown in. In the beams of light, you can see little particles of dust, normally invisible, gently moving. You can’t even feel them on you hand.

That is the success of this world. They are that dust to God. One day they will be exposed for how inconsequential they are.

The people of God trust in hope that God will return to set right all that has gone wrong. And the sad fact is that those that continue to hold on to the idols of this world will experience this day as a bitter day, a day of destruction.

All the money of the greedy will burn, all the towers of the ambitious will be flattened, monuments will be melted, so much false-accomplishment will be destroyed. Everything that was not done to the glory of God will be no more.

It will be a bitter day because so many have spent their entire lives, they have built their entire lives on things that cannot last. They have refused to build their lives on God.

Jesus warns this:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Mt. 7:13-14)

The question then for us is, will we enter the narrow gate? Will we follow the path of the righteous? Will be build our lives on the things that last or the things that will be dust one day?

Seven Last Words: Thirst

watercross

“I thirst” (John 19:28)

In the beginning as Genesis two tells us, there was a stream that bubbled up and watered the earth. From the clay of this stream the first man was molded, from its water Eden was irrigated, and from there, the text says, out of the garden the stream became four great rivers. Here is the archetypal river of life, fountain of salvation.

The human body is about 50-80% water, and doctors recommend that a person drink about 2 litres of water a day to be healthy. It is no stretch of the imagination that we can say that water is life.

Not surprisingly, there is a persistent image of water in Scripture as a source of cleansing, purifying, and revitalizing.

John, a master story-teller, makes use of the theme of water and thirst throughout his Gospel. Disciples are baptized in water. Those entering the kingdom of heaven are born of “water and spirit” (Jn. 3:5). Jesus poured out water to wash the disciples feet, the quintessential act of servanthood.

One instance is particularly applicable. Near the beginning, a woman comes to the well in Samaria, who has been married five times and is living with a man not her husband. Jesus meets her there, and asks her for a drink. She protests, saying the well is deep. Jesus uses this to tell her that there is water that will make her thirsty again, and than there is living water form which she will never be thirsty again. While naïve and uninitiated, she tells Jesus that whatever this is, she wants this water.

She does not understand what this water is, but she is thirsty for it. She is thirsty for water that is more than water. She is thirsty for compassion, for love, for forgiveness, for truth.

Of course, this water is eternal life, and this water is found in Jesus.

The Samaritan woman is, as we all are, thirsty for salvation.

Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Yet, here on the cross, Jesus, the God-man, the one who is life, who is living water, is now thirsty. In this beautiful use of irony, water does not mean water, and thirst does not merely mean thirst: Thirst is the thirst of the soul. Jesus becomes thirsty.

As Jesus cried out in thirst, they gave him sour wine. The offering was not a malicious gesture as sour wine was considered better for quenching thirst, often used by soldiers like modern-day Gatorade. But Jesus’ thirst here is more than just thirst.

Psalm 63:1: “God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

The Scriptures say, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ, the son of God, the son of man, died representing all humanity before God and representing God to all sinners. He died in our place. He took on our pain. He took on our thirst.

His parched throat mirrors the desert wasteland of our souls.

In John’s gospel, as he died, after crying out “I am thirsty,” a soldier pieced Jesus’ side and it says water flowed out. Here we see another allusion to Psalm 22: “I am poured out like water.” Water flowed out of the one whom was thirsty. Through Jesus’ death, water flows. Through Jesus taking our place, God dying as a sinner, our souls will one day drink of the river of life.

So the vision in Revelation 22:1-3 says,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse…

In this passage thirst, water, and the overcoming of the curse are intimately connected. We are all thirsty. We thirst for Jesus. Jesus is that water that restores us to vitality perfectly. We know this because Christ bore our curse. Jesus is the only thing that refreshes our parched, dry souls.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus made this promise, and here on the cross, he cries out thirsting for justice himself, dying from the oppression of a corrupt religious and political system. Yet his thirst was not for vengeance, but for the healing of sick, sinful souls. So Revelation depicts a day here water flows from the New Jerusalem “for the healing of the nations.”

Jesus is righteousness. Jesus is truth. Jesus is forgiveness. Jesus is living water.

And because of the cross, because Jesus chose to be at one with the thirsty, to thirst in our place, we are free to drink of the water of life; We are free to drink of the resurrection reconciliation.

So Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

Father,

We realize that we thirst for you.

We may think that we thirst for other things – money, safety, popularity, health – but it is you that we ultimately thirst for.

Thank you for becoming thirsty, taking on our thirst.

May we drink of the water of the river of life that flows from Christ who died in our place.

May the day come quickly that we see all nations gathered to be healed by the water of the river of life.

Let all who are thirsty come to you, Lord Jesus.

Amen.