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The Psalmist Remembers Deuteronomy

January 21, 2009 1 comment

There are a whole series of Psalms (such as 37, 73) that write within a memory of God’s faithfulness to His people. Right before Israel enter the land, Moses delivers a series of sermons (Deuteronomy) that remember God’s faithful deliverance from Egypt, protection across the wilderness, and promises concerning the land they are about to possess. These sermons are deliver against the backdrop of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness.

As a part of His faithfulness, YHWH gives His people the Law. The Law will train them to rule. The Law will teach them how to live and prosper in the land they possess. There are a series of blessings associated with the Law, which is rooted in YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. These blessings include (but are not limited to) life, possession of the land, blessing upon progeny, wisdom and understanding (power to rule), prosperity in health, family and culture.

When Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness, he is aware of a disparity between the promise and the reality. Everywhere he looks, he sees covenant violators who despise YHWH’s Law and live as a law unto themselves. Yet, these people seem to enjoy covenant blessings, while those who remain faithful seem to suffer.

The Psalmist becomes a formal voice of remembering on behalf of the people. He reminds himself and them of God’s faithfulness in spite of appearances. Appearances are deceiving. Momentary exaltation may be followed by lasting humiliation. The people of God do not react in the moment but live and act for the long haul. Their vision must reach beyond their own life to the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Memory of the past and vision of the future, give YHWH’s people energy to act in the now. The people of God will be vindicated. They will truly possess the land. The blessings of God will not be withheld. Instead of looking around each corner for the promise, they train themselves to rest in YHWH’s faithful promise.

What is difficult for them and us is learning to rest in God’s faithfulness, realizing that His blessings will be revealed in proper time and across generations. We participate in the blessings in relationship with the family of God who precedes us and proceeds from us. Hebrews 11:39-40 argues that we need one another to be complete (across time). Romans 12 , 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages argue that we  suffer and rejoice together as one people (across space). So the fulness of blessing cannot be born alone but must be born in relation with the family of God.

And ultimately, I would suggest, the fullness of blessing must be enjoyed in relation with all creation (cosmos). This is the vision of harmony Paul’s envisions in Ephesians 1:9-10. The Psalmist’s call to remember and rest leads to repentance. Not repentance rooted in terror. But a fresh turning to God’s way, God’s call, God’s plan that is rooted in the rest that comes from God’s faithfulness.

Deuteronomy 4:1 – Law and Grace

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Israel stands at the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will leave them and Joshua will take charge as they cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. On the eve of this historic conquest, Moses delivers a sermon on God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

He has been calling to mind their journey after receiving the Law at Mt. Horeb and journeying toward the Promised Land. While their parents didn’t trust YHWH’s command (and died in the wilderness), the children have been brought back to the place of promise with the same command to go in and possess the land.

As Moses recounts God’s victories on behalf of His people, He reminds them of the foundation of their commission: observance of the Law.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Each word in this verse opens in summary a vision of how Moses and Israel understood their calling under the Law. As I reflect on these words, I hear insight into how Christian may understand our calling in light of the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.

Now – In light of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His promises, let us trust and obey His words. As I meditate on that transition word, “Now,” I can’t help but hearing Paul’s word, “Now.”

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2b

Paul has been talking about the great reconciling power of God’s grace in the midst of our human weakness. Now he exhorts the Corinthians to live as God has called them and empowered them to live in holiness and separation from the idolatries in the world around us.

Through Scripture we see images of people living and walking outside the fullness of God’s power and grace. I think of Zacheus, living of the exorbitant overcharges he places upon the people. Jesus comes to dine with Him, and the “Now” happens.

In the “now,” Jesus calls. “Come out and lived in the freedom and fullness I have prepared for you.” This now, is the now of Spirit calling me forth into a new way, a new path, a new life. This now is the now that proceeds out from the “fullness of time.”

O Israel – Moses calls out to the elect named by God. While Jacob is named by his mother, God calls him Israel. He is a given a new name and raised into the status of royalty and promise by God’s grace and goodnness.

The sons of Israel or the children of Israel grow up as a blessed people who will fulfill the call upon Abraham to bring God’s blessing to the whole earth.

To hear the name Israel is to hear the blessing of God. In Jesus, this blessing is fulfilled. And now all who are in Christ Jesus, hear the blessed name of Israel, called out to be God’s blessing for the whole earth. Paul writes:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-5

Listen – In the middle of His sermon, Moses says, “Listen.” Makes me think of the preacher who pauses and says, “Listen up people.” Or more directly, it makes me think of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Truly, Truly I say to you.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “Now you better make a note of this. I am getting ready to say something that is deep truth and I want to make sure you remember and heed it.

As Moses calls us to “listen,” we lean in for a word from the throne of God. We hear a word that defines out mission and action in this world.

Statutes and Judgments – The two corresponding Hebrew words are khuqqim and mishpatim. These two words appears again and again when Moses is preaching about the Law.

The first word, khuqqim, is related to the idea of inscribing or carving. While Moses dictated the whole Law for the people, he received the “10 Words” inscribed by God’s hand. The fact that these words are inscribed in stone seems to give them a significance that no other words in Scripture have—except one.

There is a glory surrounding the giving of the 10 Word. Such glory that Moses has to cover his face. When I hear verses about God setting our feet on the rock, I think there is a connection with this stone. To stand on the 10 Words is to stand on the unchanging words and commands of God.

In the New Testament, the glory of the stone inscribed with words is surpassed by an even greater glory: the heart that is inscribed with the Word. Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the stone for now the 10 Words are united in a single Word made flesh.

This word completes, fulfills and reveals the Law. Jesus leaves us with a promise that we will be united with Him by the Holy Spirit. Paul continues Jesus’ theme in Romans by writing about how we are united with Christ in death and resurrection. Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about the glory of the Law in stone is now surpassed by a glory of the Law in flesh: not simply Jesus’ flesh, but our flesh.

The Spirit is writing the Law in our hearts, and we are moving from “glory to glory.” Eventually, we will see the image face to face:

7 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The other Hebrew word used for the Law here is mishpatim. This word has to do with the ability to judge. James Jordan understands wisdom as the ability to judge between good and evil. We see Solomon practicing wisdom in judging between two prostitutes with similar stories. He speaks and by the power of his word, reveals the liar (thus judging between good and evil).

This power to judge is directly tied to ruling. If we cannot judge, we will be like the simpleton who cannot distinguish between the house of lady wisdom whose house leads to life (Proverbs 4, 8 and 9) and the foolish woman whose house leads to death (Proverbs 4, 5, and 7).

There is a path that leads to the house of lady wisdom and a path that leads to the house of the foolish woman (Proverbs 4:18-19). One leads into the full light of day and the other stumbles further and further into darkness.

We see Israel walking into the light of day from David to Solomon’s rule and stumbling into darkness from Solomon to Zedekiah’s rule (although some kings in between do walk in light, the overall movement of the nation is a descent into darkness).

As I begin to wrap around this idea of rule and wisdom and the path of wisdom vs. the path of foolishness, I can see references to the law throughout the Psalms and prophets and more. There are multiple a references to walking in the path, I will show you the way,” do not turn to the left or right, the road to righteousness, the path of holiness, standing on the rock, and so on. I would suggest all these references are rooted in observance to the Law (meditation upon and obedience to the commandments).

Just a reminder, we do not simply go back to Deuteronomy 5 to meditate upon the Law. We have hear the same rhythms in Matthew 5 and other sermons by Jesus as well as the letters from Paul and others. These are not a bunch of regulations we post. Rather, we ruminate and reflect on them. We walk according to them. The Spirit teaches us them.

We enter into the heart of them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In some ways, the New Testament is an extended reflection upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ and through His cross, and how it now is revealed in the midst of His people and in the midst of the world.

Live, and go in and possess the land – Moses ties the Law directly to the action of entering, possessing and living in the land. The Law is the wisdom that gives Israel boldness to enter the Land (because the covenant-making YHWH stands behind it with promises of a His faithfulness).

Observance of the Law is connected with Israel’s fear of God. As they walk in the fear of God, other nations fear them. For they bear the name and the power of YHWH (who makes mountains melt and by a single word causes the earth to melt).

Observance of the Law is essential for Israel to dwell in the fullness of God’s provision as they live in the land. In other places, Moses will predict that in prosperity, Israel will forget the source of blessing and quit observing the Law. This forgetfulness will cause God to forget them, thus allowing their enemies to overtake them.

Paul quite possibly gives us a poetic reinterpretation of this phrase by quoting a poet of his day. In his sermon to the idolatrous philosophers, Paul says “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the source of our courage and power and prosperity. We are blessed in Him and live in Him and live to glorify Him in all things.

LORD God of your fathers – Moses reminds the people that the source of the Law is not some oppressing dictator, but the covenant-making God who remembers His promises. LORD or YHWH is a covenant name for God, which connects with His faithfulness to the promise. The Creator God made a promise and cut a covenant with father Abraham. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac and then again with Jacob. Now as the children of Israel look at how the Creator God did in fact remember his promises to the ancestors, they can call Him YHWH for he has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness again and again.

We are brought into this family of Abraham through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus answer’s YHWH’s faithfulness to man by becoming the man who is completely faithful to YHWH. In Jesus, we enter into this circle of covenant faithful love. In Jesus, we enjoy the fruist and healing blessings associated with the covenant, and in Jesus we are transformed by the Spirit in the covenant faithful people, revealing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This fruit reveals the fulfillment of the Law in us by the power of the Spirit.

Giving You – The land that Israel will soon possess does not come through their own efforts, their own righteousness or their own prowess. It comes as pure gift.

While they must possess and follow the prescribed ways of possessing each area, they are simply obeying the Father who is giving them the gift.

For those who think grace suddenly appears in the New Testament as opposed to the Law in the Old Testament, they should go back and reread the Old (especially Deuteronomy). As we read and reflect on the rhythm of the Law, we realize it is gift. It is grace.

It is grace stretching and reaching forward. To what? To the fulfillment. When Jesus comes, he fulfills the striving and longing of law. This law is incomplete until it is fully enfleshed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Law

January 19, 2009 2 comments

Some folks have requested that I write a few more posts about the “10 Commandments” or “10 Words.” I think once you begin to see the rhythm of the commands, you can see how a variety of images in the Scripture continue pointing back to these essential commands. As a quick reminder, when I talk about the 10 Commandments, I am in one sense referring to the whole of the Law.

I see two extreme responses to the Law based on Paul’s letters that I think are not helpful. There is a tendency to read Paul as rejecting the commandments. As a result, some people suggest that as people under grace the Law has passed away. Thus we disregard the Law. Other people decide that Paul is wrong and reject Paul instead. I’ve seen several strange websites that try to reduce or eliminate Paul’s inspired writings. Both of these extremes are problematic.

This is a problem because the commandments do not pass away. Jesus references them and says that He has come to fulfill the law. The commands are still present in the New Jerusalem and lawbreakers cannot enter the city.

So how do we deal with Paul’s references to the Law? Now I am not going to delve into a deeply technical response here. Rather, just consider the letters by Paul. In almost all the letters, Paul includes an ethical component where he gives guidelines for behavior. These guidelines offer direction in marriage, the community, the government and more.

So to think that Paul is saying there are no correct behaviors is absurd. He continually writes about how to behave and even offers strict penalties for the man whose sinful sexual activity is being condoned in the church. It is unquestionable that Paul has expectations about how we act and treat one another.

At the same time, He offers a theology of justification and sanctification rooted in the cross of Christ. Paul realizes that the sacrificial system in Judaism was pointing toward a fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The action of God in the cross ripples out in many directions across space and time.

The cross fulfills and/or transforms the sacrificial system, which ripples out in ways that transforms the application of the Law. The rituals have no power outside of Christ Jesus (either before or after the cross). Paul is very clear that once the cross fulfills the Law, circumcision is fulfilled in the heart. And that one could be circumcised in the flesh while not really being circumcised if their heart remains unchanged.

Who better to write on the Law that a Pharisee of Pharisees? When creating and calling Paul from the womb, YHWH raises up the greatest of Pharisees. Just as John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Paul becomes the greatest interpreter of the Law, because by God’s grace He realizes and reveals that Jesus Christ is the heart of the Law. And once Jesus is revealed, the Law cannot be understood or interpreted outside of Jesus.

If we can begin to grasp this, then we can begin to see that Paul is not at odds with the Law but he is at odds with a legal system that is rooted in human behavior outside of God’s redeeming action. The legal customs offer no redemption and no power. To practice outside the light of Christ is to waste your time with dead rituals. In Christ, the relational laws do not change but the way ritual laws (from Sabbath to circumcision) do change.

This doesn’t mean we ignore them. We must wrestle with the text. We must listen to the Spirit of the text. As the Lord gives wisdom, we begin to understand how Sabbath, circumcision, unclean and clean laws, and so on are expressed in the community of faith. James Jordan has wrestled deeply with these questions and has certainly been helpful for me as I think about what some people call the “ceremonial law.”

With that little intro about the heart of the Law (Jesus) and the constancy of the Law, I will proceed to write a few posts on how I see references to the Law showing up all through the Psalms and other passages in Scripture.

Articulation, Vision and Mutual Experiences

January 13, 2009 2 comments

When a preacher speaks, a teacher teaches, an artist creates, or a write writes, they express or articulate in some form their vision. While the created work (spoken, written or otherwise) may articulate a new perspective, the power of resonation is hidden within the mutuality of the given articulation. Okay, now that sounds a but to abstract. Let me explain in terms of a speech or sermon. For the given word to move the audience to action, pathos (emotional connection), logos (logical connection) and ethos (crediblity connection) must all make authentic connections with the audience.

But what is the connection begin made? The vision articulated connects or resonates with a vision that is already in the listener. So in some sense a great writer or speaker or creator gives form and shape to something their audience knows or senses as well but has been unable to fully articulate. So when the audience hears a song that touches them deeply, the song may be touching a feeling or sense they already had before hearing the song. The song merely connects with that feeling or yearning that was already there, and in so doing gives the listener a sense of ownership. The song becomes their song. By identifying with the song, the listener may respond at a deep level.

So writing, preaching, speaking, painting, and all forms of creating is not simply expressing an exclusive vision, it is also about articulating a mutual vision between creator and audience. It is a conversation of similar visions.

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Vision and Love

January 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Just as true vision proceeds from the Father’s love, all vision is one sense an expression of love. Thus we often discover aspect of the vision when we are in the midst of a loving relationship. One of Van Gogh’s most creative phases was when he was exchanging letters with a close friend. The relationship seemed to draw upon his gifting and calling.

The people we love often stir or draw out something within us that we cannot fully grasp. In the mystery of relationships, we change one another and we stir vision and gifting in one another. In Paul’s letters and in the letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged again and again to minister to one another, encourage one another, serve one another, submit to one another. In the act of loving and exchanging love we often discover gifts and abilities and dreams. So one key aspect of vision comes from human relationships.

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Vision and Revelation

January 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Just a reminder – These are rough notes and subject to critique and refinement.

Revelation and Vision
By discussing stories, memory, songs, dance and art, I am both developing the roots of vision and the idea that the world we live in is an outward expression of a symbolic center. In the center of the world is an idea about what constitutes the world and the destiny/purpose of that world. No one symbolic center can fully express the depths of our lives on this planet, so symbols may change and develop over time as new depths are revealed the rooted of our purpose.

“Revealed” is the key. We do not simply make up a purpose or a vision or a history. It is a calling. We are called out of the darkness into the light. N.T. Wright suggests that conversion and calling are one and the same movement of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit penetrates our heart with the Word of God. (Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word.)

While Paul was a master of the Torah as a Pharisees, he actually “hears” the Word on the road to Damascus. At first, he doesn’t even recognize the Word until the Lord of the Word reveals Himself. This encounter, this calling is the unfolding of Paul’s conversion and faith in Jesus Christ. This faith continues to unfold and open by the Spirit of God, bringing revelation to Paul, which becomes the driving vision of his life.

Revelation might be understood as the Spirit of God unfolding the call of God in our lives through the Word of God. The Spirit of God is revealing the Word of God. As we behold Him, we are changed into His likeness. As He transforms in loving relationship, He gives us vision and purpose, a realization that like Paul we are called to reconcile the world to Christ.

Divine Revelation is the Father sending the Spirit to reveal the Son, changing us into His people, His family, His called out ones. As we meditate upon revelation and vision, we may begin to see this as part of the larger call and response between the Father and His people that spans time and space.

As Dmitrue Staniloae says, time and space give us two realms for movement toward love. All of history is the story of movement toward love. At the beginning of time, the Father’s call of love goes forth and the echo of God’s people returns that call back from the end of time. When Jesus goes to the cross and passes through death to life, He is answering the call of love from the end of time.

And now that call is being unfolded in His people and will be fully unfolded in the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, the people of God who join Jesus at the Marriage feast, returning the call of Love.

Singing the Vision

January 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Singing is one of the ways the ancient Hebrews remembered their history and their commission. The Psalms are songs of praise to YHWH rooted in the Law of the Lord. This patterns starts immediately after the crossing of the Red Sea. A song is composed to memorialize this event and YHWH’s redeeming hand in the midst of it.

The psalms climb to the heights of human joy and drop down to the depths of grief and lamentation. While focused on the objective unchanging Law of the Lord and the story of God’s people, these songs give full expression to human emotion and human experience. By singing the songs, the listener begins to enter into the story and world of the people of God.

Music integrates words, emotions, imagination and body. Singing requires both our breath and our thoughts. In one sense, dance is the song moving and expressing through all the members of the body. In music (song and dance), there is movement between words and ideas, and in this movement hidden connections may be revealed.

This is not irrational. Instead, it might said that music fulfills the real, objective connections between realities that may not be obvious otherwise. Because melodies can bend backwards, overlap and play atop one another, we can see multiple connections between notes that might be difficult to see if we were simply staring at a score.

These connections between notes are like connections between ideas and action and vision. Humans are connected in relational ways that may not be obvious to the human eye. For instance, I cannot see a physical connection between father and son but they are connected on multiple levels. Extend this outward between man and man, man and creature and even man and objects, and I may discover many more connections than I ever imagined.

The Church Fathers expressed this connection as perechoresis and rooted this idea in the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (one God in three persons). Perechoresis is sometimes expressed as the loving dance between Father, Son and Spirit. In the dance, we cannot distinguish between Father, Son and Spirit. They are one, and yet they are three.

They extended this idea of a loving dance to all creation and all the spheres. The whole cosmos is created to reflect the loving dance of God. Every particular person and thing in creation is distinct and yet all are created to move in a harmony of love. Music helps us to experience, remember, see these connections.

Thus music can stir vision by revealing unexpected connections and by rehearsing ideas in my body and memory.

Art and Vision
Developing out from the power of remembering in stories and song, we begin to see how all the arts express this memory in different ways. Painting, poetry, drama, architecture and all the arts put this music into forms: some more solid (permanent) than others.

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