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Falling and Rising (Psalm 3)

August 21, 2011 2 comments

David is falling. The crack in his house fractures into an ever-widening crevice, and he is falling, falling, falling into that dark pit. Civil War splits his kingdom as Absalom, his son, occupies his throne, claims his title, and promises to usher in the kingdom that David could not. Lifelong allies betray David, offering allegiance to Absalom.

An age ago, he took Bathsheba and sent Uriah to his death. This fault line struck to the heart of his own family and now his own kingdom. Everything that can shake is being shook. David is falling.

1 Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
2 Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.” Selah*

His enemies are rising and David is falling. Falling, falling, falling into the grace of God.

3 But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
4 I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah

The depth of YHWH’s grace reaches deeper than the depths of David’s sin. David falls into the grace of God. As his kingdom comes crashing down, it falls into YHWH’s protection.
David lifts up his voice, “Shield me, Glory me, Head me.” YHWH lifts up David. In the covenantal faithfulness of the Lord, David can rest.

5 I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.

In the midst of surrounding enemies, he can fall back into the trustworthy arms of the Lord. He lays down. Sleeps. Arises.

David is acting out the pattern of God’s beloved.

Laying. Sleeping. Awaking.
Dying. Resting. Arising.

In his prayer, in his bones, in his heart of hearts, David acts out in an imperfect way the perfect and faithful response of Jesus to the Father. For Jesus lays down in the midst of His enemies. Falling. Falling. Falling into the hands of sin, evil, hatred and death. Jesus humbles himself before the Father, before humanity, before all creation, and dies a criminal’s death, bearing the sin of David and the world. His body lies in the tomb until the Father calls Him forth by His Spirit. The Father exalts Him above every name, every power, every thing in all creation. At His exalted name, all will fall and confess, “Jesus as Lord.”

Dying. Resting. Arising.
Laying. Sleeping. Awaking.

Every night we join David in rehearsing the pattern. We lay down in the grace of God. We sleep in the grace of God. We awake by the grace of God. Every night we rehearse the pattern of humiliation and exaltation, of lowering and rising, of death and life.

We are called into cross shaped lives. We are called to this fellowship of humiliation. Like David, we must also walk in the places of naked trust: the valley of the death. Like David, our enemies will surround us. Fear will raise its voice. Condemnation will shout aloud, “There is no help for him in God.” Voices of discouragement will surround us.

From the place of humiliation, we look up to our Savior, “Lord, Shield me, Glory me, Head me.” In David, in Christ, we find our prayer,

7 Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah

Even as we lift up our voice, the Lord lifts up our heads. He shields his people in embrace of His covenantal faithfulness. Nothing can penetrate the encircling love of God. We rise with Christ, and learn to trust, knowing one we will truly lay down to rest. And together we will truly arise into the dawn of His eternal blessing.

* Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible

The Call Out of Comfort

April 13, 2011 2 comments

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 ESV)

Abraham leaves the world he knows and steps out into the unknown. Genesis tells us that God tells Abraham to “Go!” Later, when Joshua recounts this journey we hear that God took Abraham out of the land.

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.
(Joshua 24:2-3 ESV)

God calls Abraham. God takes Abraham. Both happen at the same time. This suggests the call of Abraham may have been more dramatic than a simple invitation. The call of God is often cloaked in crisis, dissolution, and collapse of all our comfort places.
Sometimes our Lord stands at the door and knocks. Sometimes he comes like a thief in the night. When you hear someone say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman never forget that this gentleman is a wind and a fire that may blow your house down and immerse you in His living flames.

We may sometimes speaks of spiritual formation as a series of disciplines like prayer, Bible study, fasting and the like. These are helpful and certainly patterns that we see in Scripture. But let us never assume spirituality is trapped within our scope or definitions. All of life bleeds into one.

Our spiritual life is our family life is our business life is our personal journey of “self discovery.” God is no respecter of the categories we create and use to control our lives. He breaks in anywhere and everywhere with His burning fury.

Consider Father Abraham.

Abraham comes from Ur, the wealthiest city-state in the world. The residents of this world seem safer than those who live at the edge of existence. These civilized people have structures of support that assure their daily bread, their security, their self image.

Abraham is called to leave this behind.

He is taken out of this land, this culture, this world. He is called to live in the land of the people who live at the edge of existence. He leaves behind the world that guards his identity, his control over life, his survival. He is sent to a land that his offspring will inherit.

Much of his life is spent waiting and waiting and waiting for the promised offspring. He never owns the promised land and dies with only a burial cave to him name.

Abraham’s journey into nowhere is way of rescue for a world that is collapsing. Ur is dying. Unlike Sodom, it’s not being bombarded by fire from heaven, but it’s dying nonetheless. Before we even learn that the Lord calls Abraham out of the land of his fathers, we find out that his wife Sarah is barren. In some ways her, barrenness represents the end of the culture. Ur still appears to be thriving, but it is fading and eventually fades away completely.

Ur is trapped by cyclical thinking. As a past-oriented culture, they believe they are re-enacting some type of drama in the heavens. Ever person simply plays the role in culture they are supposed to play just like their father and his father before him. Abraham breaks the cycle. He leaves.

The businesses, cultures, and systems that seem so secure and successful have no enduring quality. Our spiritual journey is often the story of stripping away of supports that seem firm but ultimate have no enduring quality.

We really are on journey, traveling across a wilderness. Look around. What seems permanent is temporary and fleeting. Whether you’re surrounded by the comforts of life or struggling to survive, remember that you are on journey. You are moving.

The struggles and the successes are temporary signposts.

God is calling you. God is taking you.

He is leading us from faith to faith. He is leading us from love to love. Though the way seems clouded and unclear at times know that He is leading, He is guiding, He is sustaining.

to be continued.

(My friend David Legg ends his writings with the subscript “to be continued.” There is always more to say but it may not be the time to say and we may not even be the persons to say it. )

Categories: Bible, Lent

Children of Abraham

April 11, 2011 3 comments

This is a teaching from Lent 5.
The Children of Abraham
John 8:46-59
Doug Floyd
April 10, 2011

James Jordan says that the Bible was written by a musician, but it’s been interpreted by lawyers for the last 500 years. Like a fugue, Scripture opens with a theme that is revisited again and again through the text. Genesis opens with a repeated rhythms of day 1, day 2, day 3 and so on. Throughout the story key songs interweave to form a multilayered composition that we are still unfolding in all its brilliance.

When reading through the Gospels, I sometimes hear a jazz ensemble in the background. Matthew lays down a steady beat with a cool tune exploring an expected birth that still comes as surprise. Luke joins the sweet sounds with a variation on a theme and adds to the surprise with another birth that comes unexpectedly. But then some minor chords from the song of Herod’s rampage break in with discordant strains that threaten the melody line.

During Epiphany, we focus on the great melody that surprises, delights, and fills with the wonder of God become man. This song seems to fully flower on Transfiguration Sunday, sending light beams of peace and love in all directions. During Lent, we pay more attention to those minor chords, playing a tune with a threat of discordance.

If you listen to those discordant sounds, the hints keep reappearing. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. Think about that for a moment. The Spirit comes down and the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Right after this moment of glorious authentication of Jesus’ life and ministry, the same Holy Spirit drives him into the threat of the evil one.

Those minor key’s in Herod song resound in the “Satan.” Or rather, we discover the true singer of discordant songs, the evil one. His song works against the theme, attempting to question, challenge, unravel the glorious melody at every point. After Transfiguration, the discordance becomes more pronounced.

In fact, the stories are a bit jagged. Think of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees in John. Instead of the sweet miracle stories, we hear fighting words back and forth, back and forth. The dialogues are almost irritating, unsettling. A certain dissonance moves toward center stage.

As Jesus and the Jews argue, we hear a clash of sounds. Disruptive. Unsettling. In the dialogues of John chapter 8, we hear this clash, this discordance all too clearly. Jesus and the Jews both seem to be arguing about their respective fathers. He speaks of His Father, and they accuse him of being a Samaritan and having a devil.

They speak of their father Abraham, and Jesus retorts that while they may be the offspring of Abraham, they look and act more like their father the devil.

It used to bother me how Jesus seems so aggressive in these stories. He’s not the kind and gentle Jesus we’ve all come to adore. C.S. Lewis has said that kindness can kill. In the “Problem of Pain” he writes, “Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”

Jesus is not always kind but he is always loving even when his love has an edge: a double edge to be exact. His word pierces “to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

In the confrontation with the Jews, Jesus speaks as Emmanuel, the “Lord with Us.” The Lord comes in judgment and finds these people wanting. Their blind and cannot behold the “Light of the World” who stands in their midst. His very presence is judgment on their blindness, their hardness of heart, and the dangerous containment of their enclosed world.

When God breaks into that world, he is not welcome. But Abraham welcomed the God who breaks in. Abraham obeyed. Abraham beheld. And Jesus says that Abraham would have rejoiced to see this day.

As we read this stark confrontation, let us pause and give thanks to God who has given us eyes to see Jesus and lips to proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” We cannot make this confession of faith outside the grace of His Spirit. We cannot grasp why, but in His loving grace, the Father has drawn us to Jesus and sealed us with His Holy Spirit.

In Christ, we have eyes. In and through Christ, we behold the goodness of the Lord. By the sheer overwhelming grace of God and through faith we have become the children of Abraham. As his descendants, let us pause think more deeply about Abraham’s song of faith, his life of trust, his longing to see the fullness of God’s promise that would one day be fully unveiled in Jesus.

He starts out as Abram living in the land of Ur. The land of plenty. Ancient Ur built a thriving civilization, sustained a successful and wealthy people, enjoyed the riches of the land. Ancient Ur was also a self-contained world sealed off from the voice of God.

God breaks into this world and commands Abram to “Go you forth!” The word “lech lecha” means Go! or Go forth! It only appears in Genesis 12 and Genesis 22. Both times it refers to the command of God to Abraham to “Go ye forth!”

In Genesis 12 we read,
Yhwh said to Avram:
Go-you-forth
from your land,
from your kindred,
from your father’s house,
to the land that I will let you see.
I will make a great nation of you
and will give-you-blessing
and will make your name great.
Be a blessing!
I will bless those who bless you,
he who curses you, I will damn.
All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you!1

The Lord breaks into this self-contained world and calls Abraham to leave. In Joshua 24:3, we read that God “took Abraham from beyond the River.” The command of God seems to have come with force. Again and again in Scripture, we behold a God who comes and calls His people with dramatic force.

Abraham must leave behind his identity, his comfort, his people, his civilization. He is called to an uncivilized world of barbarians, and he is promised land and descendants. Not simply descendants but a great nation that will impact all nations. Yet as we read the story, we discover a problem. Abraham never gets the land. When he dies he own one tiny plot of land, the tomb where he is buried.

There is also a second problem. Sarah is barren. In some ways, the barrenness of Sarah and Abraham may image the world they are leaving. While Ur wealthy and strong, it is in decline. It is barren. It has no power of the future. It will eventually cease to exist.

Abraham and Sarah are called to future promise with visible signs of the promise. They spend their lives as nomads, trusting the call of God. Their needs are met. The Lord prospers them with great wealth and cattle and servants but the promise of land and descendants is slow in coming.

Finally after many years of wandering, the Lord gives them the child of promise, Isaac. Through Isaac the Lord will fulfill His promise to Abraham of making him a great nation. God breaks in yet again with His command to “Go you forth!”

In Genesis 22 we read,

Now after these events it was
that God tested Avraham
and said to him:
Avraham!
He said:
Here I am.
He said:
Pray take your son,
your only-one,
whom you love,
Yitzhak,
and go-you-forth to the land of Moriyya/Seeing,
and offer him up there as an offering-up
upon one of the mountains
that I will tell you of.2

Before Abraham was called to leave his past behind. Now Abraham is called to leave His future behind. Isaac is spared, but the story reveals God’s demand upon Abraham: he must live in naked trust before the Lord. He lives as a friend of God and in relation with God. His hope is not in past identities and future dreams but in the Creator who sustains him moment by moment.

If we follow the story in Genesis 22, we’ll notice an emphasis upon seeing. By God’s grace Abraham has moved from hearing to seeing. As a man of faith, who has learned to trust in faithfulness of God, Abraham has learned to see, and he does rejoice in to see the day of the Lord’s appearing.

Now if we view Abraham’s whole story, we’ll notice several dramatic encounters with the Lord. We’ll notice several adventures that Abraham lives through. But if we think of the long period this story covers, we may come to see that Abraham had a few encounters with Lord but was called to walk out in obedience to the command with long stretches of no words, no encounters, only promise: a tentative promise of land that Abraham never fully realizes and a slow in coming promise of descendants.

In one sense, much of Abraham’s story is a story of waiting. Waiting. Waiting. What did he while he waited?

In the beginning of his story, we notice that he built altars wherever he went. In Isaac’s story, we see the same pattern. So this pattern of building altars was still going on as he raised Isaac. So Abraham builds altars while he waits. Isaac’s story also tells of unplugging wells that Abraham dug.
So Abraham wanders through the wilderness following the call of God. All the while, he is building altars and digging wells. The altar is the place of worship. The place of acknowledging his dependence on God. The place of offering thanksgiving.

The well is place of sustenance. In a wilderness area, a well can mean the difference between survival and extinction. This place of provision also becomes a gathering place. If we follow the image of wells through Scripture, we discover people gathering in community at the wells. Several people meet their spouses at a well.

As Abraham follows the call and waits on the promise, he worship God and sustains community. As the children of Abraham in Christ, we should hear and see the Lord calling us even in the life of our father Abraham.

For we also live in the land of Ur. Like the ancient Jews and the people of Ur, we live in a self-contained world that has little room for God. When writing our current culture, Louis Dupre exclaims, “Culture itself has become the real religion of our time, and it has absorbed all other religion as a subordinate part of itself. It even offers some of the emotional benefits of religion, without exacting the high price faith demands. We have all become atheists, not in the hostile, antireligious sense of an earlier age, but in the sense that God no longer matters absolutely in our closed world, if God matters at all.”

We live in a world of practical atheism that has no room for God. It is in this world where God breaks into our lives with his command to “Go you forth!” In following our Savior, he may lead us away from comfort, security, old identities. He may call us a land of promise that we cannot see.

Much of the life of faith may be spent following a call that seems as though we are gazing through a glass darkly. We may not understand the story we are in or even the part we are really playing in God’s grand design. And much of our lives may be spent waiting. Waiting upon the Lord. Waiting for His promise. Waiting for His guidance. Waiting for His grace.

In this place of waiting, let us heed the simple discipline of our father Abraham. Let us build altars and dig wells. Let us cultivate a life of thanksgiving and worship to God in all things. When we eat and drink and work and play, let us lift up praise unto the Lord. Let us worship in the assembly of God’s people. Let us heed the words of Scripture. Let us draw near to the table of the Lord.

At the same time, may we also dig wells. Let us live in and sustain communities of faith. We need one another. We need to hear one another, face one another, love one another. Let us offer our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord and serve one another humbly in the grace of our Lord.

Even as we struggle and wander and wonder when the Word of the Lord will be made sight, let us rest in His faithful love. He is making us into signs. As living witnesses before a dissonant world, we are echoing the harmony of His love, His grace, His goodness. We are truly caught up in a song of praise, and He is assembling into a vast symphony of praise unto our God and Creator. Blessed be His name.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Ge 12:1–3). New York: Schocken Books.
2 Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Ge 22:1–2). New York: Schocken Books.

Categories: Bible, Lent

Prophetic Faith

July 2, 2010 1 comment

Moses the Prophet of the LORD (photo by rorris via Creative Commons)

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
(The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ps 101:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

This morning as I reflected upon Psalm 101, I heard David singing. He is singing back the Word of God’s covenant faithfulness. He is singing about the “way that is blameless.” What is the “way” that he is pondering? Before we can begin to understand what David means, we must understand how the revelation of TORAH provides a foundation for everything in Scripture that follows it. By TORAH, I am referring to the first five books of Scripture. In TORAH, the LORD speaks His people “into being” through His servant Moses.

Thus Moses in rightly understood as the first and greatest of the Prophets (prior to the end of the ages when John the Baptist and Jesus Christ appear). The TORAH is God’s revelation, God’s Word, God’s breath, quickening the children of Israel into the people of God. The Ten Commandments in some ways captures the heart of TORAH. In Deuteronomy 5, after Moses speaks the Word of the LORD in the Ten Commandments he says,

33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 5:33). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

The “way” includes obedience to the Word of the Lord. Per Deuteronomy 6,the “way” includes love of God, fear of God, meditation upon the commandments, obedience to the commandments, teaching of the commandments, living the commandments in the family and in the community. In one sense, “way” refers to the Word of God enfleshed in God’s people. It is obedience the commandments. This obedience is rooted in the life that comes from God’s Word alone.

God’s Word is not just a set a written texts, it is His Living Breathing Word, blowing through His servant Moses and calling forth the people of God. Just as the LORD breathes into clay and forms Adam, the LORD breathes into and through His people to bring life and righteousness and power and glory. This WORD is not simply ideas, but enters and enlivens human form. Adam comes to life. Israel becomes a people. Ezekiel speaks (blows) over the dry bones and they come to life.

As the ancient Israelites meditate upon TORAH, they soak and read and speak and sing and act the WORD of the LORD. They dwell in the Life-giving Breath of God. This prophetic faith was never meant to simply be carved into stone. The stone is but a memorial of the real carving, shaping, forming that the WORD of the LORD does as He breathes into the hearts of His people. It is prophetic is the truest sense of the word. “Prophecy” is the wind, breath, word of God that creates, brings light, brings life, and fulfills God’s Will. Ours is a prophetic faith because it is rooted in the creative breath (Word) of God.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 6:5–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

From the very beginning, His WORD was given to shape us into His image in our hearts. Circumcision pointed ultimately to the heart being shaped for love and life,

6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 30:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Just as the Spirit hovers over the waters of the deep at Creation, He hovers over the heart of man, blowing, speaking, convicting, shaping us into being as the Image of God. But the heart of man turns away of this Living Word.

17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 30:17–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Simply having the Commandments carved in stone gave Israel no magic power. The stone was not a talisman that protected them from enemies. The stone was simply a reminder of the Living, Breathing Word of God sent forth to transform their hearts. But in turning toward idols, they turn away from Life and toward lifeless images made of wood and stone and other lifeless, breathless objects. Thus they have hearts of stone.

David sings about the way that is blameless. He is singing about trusting in this Life-Giving, Spirit-Breathing Word of God blowing forth from TORAH and obeying it (echoing it in our thoughts, words and deeds). The Old Testament tells a story of humanity resisting, rejecting and turning away from the Word of God. It also tells the story of God’s mercy and faithfulness and promise to fulfill His Word in His People. When God enters into history in Jesus, the Word is made Flesh. Jesus fulfills the Word in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength. He reveals and fulfills perfect love.

Like David, we continue to sing His words. The Psalms quicken us to rehearse, echo, breath the Life Giving Word. His Word will not return void. But calls us out of darkness and into light that the life of Jesus might shine out even in our own lives. We turn to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We call upon Him. We trust Him. We abide in Him. And by His Spirit of Grace, He Who is the Way will present us blameless before the Father.

Note: I made a few minor updates on the post I originally put up earlier today.

Categories: Bible, Reflections

Psalm 126 – Returning

July 13, 2009 2 comments

A cool burst of wind turned the falling droplets toward him, christening his face. Looking up momentarily, he drifted off between sleep and waking. His stomach felt queasy on the shifting ship.

But his soul felt numb in gray light between life and death.

He was going home. But there would be no parade. The band wouldn’t play. The people wouldn’t sing. Most folks would probably avert their eyes when passing him for fear of adding to his shame. The great missionary who left Rogersville with a vision from God to convert the Burmese was traveling home a broken, god-forsaken man.

Everything he planted, the soil rejected. He tried to farm but nearly starved. He planted the gospel in the people only to watch a drought suck their faith dry and send them back to their old rituals. The only thing that remained in the soil was the body of his wife and child. Fever and some unknown illness stole her life. All the while he cried out to God, but the heavens were silent.

He sat by his wife and child’s grave for one year. When God refused to kill him as well, he decided to return home from this exile in hell.

Memories of his failure haunted him day and night.

But not today.

He remembered an old Psalm that he taught the people there. Today the words of the song drifted and danced around his half-conscious stare. As the words of the song played over and over in his memory, he began dreaming of another time, another people, another nightmare.

When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream. (vs 1)

The nameless, landless people sat in the darkness of Babylon. Israel ceased to exist. Her children were no longer “children of Israel.” They were exiles. Nameless, faceless people who watched their past burn to the ground. Without a past or a future, they sat and wept.

But the Lord turned with a turning toward them. He called the dead bones back to life. He gave them a name. He gave them back their land. He called a non-existent nation back into existence. And after a 70-year-nightmare, they woke up to a glorious, shimmering dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing. (vs 2)

While their eyes wept, their mouths sounded forth with joyous laughter. And their hearts resounded with singing. As they returned home, “They said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” And the newborn Israel resounded, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (vs 3)

He woke up. And he remembered the faithfulness of the Lord. He remembered how the Lord restored him from the point of death as a child. He remembered the laughter and rejoicing that echoed from house to house throughout the community.

He remembered the dramatic provision the Lord made for him and his wife when they were planning to launch on the missionary trip. As they were saving money for the journey, the community joined in preparations. Strangers even came and blessed them with provision. They went out rejoicing in God’s blessings and looked forward to His continuing blessing.

But then the dry season. Then the failed crop. And then, and then….

His mind drifted back to the song.

Bring back our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him. (vss. 4-6)

The covenant community now living back in the land, remembered and resounded the song of the captives coming home. But even as they did, they cried out for God to turn a turning toward them yet again.

Crops were failing in a life-sucking drought. They watered the ground with tears crying out for God’s face to look upon them, to look upon the land, to heal the land, to resound His word of joy across the land and beyond.

Their tears of anguish in the land reminded him of his tears sown over the land, the people of the land and his own wife and child. He planted his most valuable treasure in that land.

As he reflected, something turned. Something almost imperceptible turned within him, upon him. Something like the first hint of dawn before the sun appears.

In the middle of this moment, he would not have been able to explain this something. He didn’t fully understand it. Yet in the weeks and months ahead, he would talk about this moment. He would talk about this psalm. He would remember the crop that he planted in Burma. He would ask God to tend that crop and water that crop. He would ask the Lord to bring him back home to that crop.

The almost imperceptible moment awakened his dead heart.

Now he realized that his heart was in Burma. He turned back toward Burma. Or the Lord turned him back toward Burma. In this turning, he sensed the face of God once again. And he asked the Lord to turn a turning toward the people and the land.

He continued gazing across the deck of the ship. The droplets now blossomed into a spring shower. He stood up and lifted up his hands and for a moment remained motionless, resting in the falling rain, resting in the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 125 – A Story

July 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Jeshua walked alongside his grandfather Johanan as they sang,

“Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

With each step they called out, “resting and resting and resting.” Jeshua liked this part and often repeated it.

“resting and resting and resting”

Smiling at his grandson’s energy, Johanan joined and boldly sang out, “resting and resting and resting.”

Soon they would be in Jerusalem. Soon the whole company of exiles would arrive home. Some for the first time. When Ezra announced to the community that he would be taking a group of exiles to Palestine, Johanan immediately told his family that it was time. The responsibilities among the exile community kept his father Azgad from ever making the trip. But he spoke of return and dreamed of return until his final day.

As he walked toward Zion, Johanan fulfilled a promise to his father. The family would once again since out praise to HaShem in the midst of the land.

So he sang out with gusto,
“Jerusalem rests in the circle of mountains
His people rest in the circle of HaShem
resting and resting and resting.”

As he sang, he smiled. The Word of the Lord did not return void. The city that burned. The city that died. The city that vanished into dust was rebuilt. Songs of joy and gladness echoed from the Temple both day and night. The land was waking up. The trees were beginning to clap. And people poured into Jerusalem: coming and coming and coming back to the place God had given them.

Johanan’s mind drifted off to an old story of God bringing His people back. Turning to Jeshua he asked, “Did I ever tell you the tale of the boy King Joash?”

Of course Jeshua knew this story had heard this story and loved to hear Johanan tell the story.

“The boy King Joash?” He replied inquisitively.

“Oh yes. Now that is a story.”

As he talked, Israel’s ancient history came alive in Jeshua’s imagination. Soon he saw pictures of the wicked Athaliah who to tried to seduce and destroy the kingdom of Judah and the throne of David.

Daughter of the notorious Jezeebel, Athaliah had been offered to King Jehoram of Judah. Their marriage would seal an alliance between Ahab and Jehosophat, a hopeful step to restoring the Kingdom of Judah and Israel. But this alliance turned out to be a subtle invasion of Judah.

Athaliah raised her son Ahaziah to follow in paths of Ahab and by the time he became king, he was turning the people of Judah away from HaShem to worship Baal. A dark crimson cloud descended upon Judah as the bloodthirst of Baal was hailed across the land.

In this desperate darkness, the faithful cried out to HaShem for deliverance.

Johanan stopped his story and laid his arm upon Jeshua’s shoulder.

“I’ve known the dark struggle of these people. My father and his father knew the dark struggle. What happens when the wicked rule?”

Almost on cue Jeshua said, “The righteous are led astray?”

“Yes, yes my son. The wicked prowl around like wildcats looking to pounce, looking to kill, looking to destroy the people of God. Watch out! Keep alert! For they are coming for you to!”

Even though Jeshua had heard this before, a cool shudder swept through his body.

“But do not fear my boy. Watch for their footprints. Listen for their seductive words. When you see them coming, look to the Lord. HaShem will give you strength and wisdom to stand against their traps, their seductions, their deceptions.”

“Remember our song.”

Together they proclaimed, “The rule of the wicked will not rest, will not rest, will not rest on God’s people. So the righteous may not fall but walk upright in the land.”

And then, “Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

A moment later they returned to the terror of Ahaziah’s rule. As the people of God cried out for justice, Ahaziah cried out in terror at the sword of Jehu. The wicked king fell. Upon hearing reports of her son’s slaughter, Athaliah immediately executed his sons and cut down the house of David. In the void, she now ruled with terror and tyranny.

The dark cloud seemed to grow darker. Under her cruelty the people groaned and the land groaned. But the Lord was silent. Was He powerless in the face of the mocking followers of Baal?

Year after year after year passed by. The wicked Queen grew stronger and stronger as each year passed. The land and the people grew weaker and weaker.

Yet the Lord really did surround His people in the midst. For even in the dark days, His hand extended over His people, and His Spirit protected the House of David. One child survived the slaughter of the princes. One child grew up in hiding. One child learned the wisdom and power and faithfulness of HaShem.

That child was Joash.

In his Sabbath year, rest was restored to the land. The Priest Jehoida crowned Joash, son of David, King of Judah. And the people cheered. And their cheers echoed throughout the city and into the ears of the wicked Queen.

In her fury, she tore her clothes and cried, “Treason!” But her restless reign was over. Armed guards removed the wicked Queen and the righteous rule of God was restored in the scepter of a seven-year-old.

As though the song were part of the story, Jeshua and Johanan resumed the chorus,
“Trust in HaShem and rest like Mt. Zion
resting and resting and resting.”

As they sang the final words of this song, the old man and young boy thought of the land beneath their feet. They walked upon the land of their fathers. They walked upon the promise of God fulfilled. They could see Mt Zion in the distance. They could hear the steps of God’s people all around them.

“His people will rest, will rest, will rest in His way.
But the wicked leave the way and the land.
So the land may be Shalom
and Shalom may be the land.”

Categories: Bible, Word of God

Psalm 125 – A Translation

July 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 125 and trying to write a mini story in it. As a way of getting inside, I thought I’d write my own translation based on the rhythms I am hearing.

Psalm 125
Rest in YHWH like Mt Zion
dwelling, resting, abiding on and on and on.
YHWH surrounds Jerusalem like the mountains
surrounding, enclosing, guarding on and on and on.
NO!
Wicked rulers are not like the mountains
shall not endure
shall not remain
shall not rest
in the land YHWH created
for His people
for His children
to rest
in His way
in His truth
in His goodness
in His love
But to those who hate, who reject, who resist
His way
His truth
His goodness
His love
Remove from the land.
So the land
may be Shalom
and Shalom
may be the land.

Categories: Bible Tags: , , ,

3rd Commandments

June 29, 2009 Leave a comment
The Good Shepherd (Ravenna)

The Good Shepherd (Ravenna)

If you haven’t guessed, I’m working my way through each of the 10 Commandments and meditating upon the glory that I believe is revealed and guarded in the command. This is not comprehensive but thoughts that come to mind after spending the last 18 months reflecting on these grand and wondrous Words.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Deut. 5:11)

Blessed be the our Lord Creator and Ruler of all times, all places, and all peoples. We bow our knees and confess, “Jesus is Lord, Jesus is King, Jesus is Savior.” We confess Jesus as the name above every name. We lift our voices to the Lamb of God who is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and power and wisdom.

We rejoice that the Father in heaven has adopted into the family of God through our Lord Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for sealing us with the Spirit of Truth, who teaches us to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Not simply with our mouths but with our lives. The word of truth articulated and translated in our tongues, in our hearts, in our hands and in our feet.

We rejoice King Jesus in your righteous rule. We didn’t know what greatness was, we didn’t know what glory was, we didn’t know what beauty was, until you came. You revealed the rule of the Father in the heart of a servant. Clothed in glory and dwelling in unapproachable light, you precede all things, all thoughts, all referents. No idea, no concept, no word can contain you, the Lord of Glory.

And yet.

Instead of grasping for glory and power and honor (which are all yours), you let go and humiliated Yourself before all creation and entered into creation as Word made Flesh; as servant; as criminal; as the cursed scapegoat of all our violence, all our cruelty, all our pain, all our brokenness, all our sin. You carried all of the darkness and pain and evil of the world upon yourself.

In dying, you poured out your body, your love, your life into the Father’s hand who raised you up by His Spirit and exalted you above every name. We glorify this name. We honor this name. We bow before this name. We swear fealty to this name.

We confess this name by Your Holy Spirit.

By the great and wondrous Grace of Your Spirit, we’ve been caught up in your Righteous Rule and we rejoice. We’ve been taken up to the throne. We’ve been set in a family: the family of God. We’ve been made kings and priests of our Lord Jesus, the King of all Kings.

May our words and our hands and our feet and our hearts become an anthem of praise and glory and honor unto the true King, the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (and the end of all things)

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment
Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

In order to begin thinking about John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ and the end of all things, it might be helpful to think about the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the whole Bible. Here are a few highlights just to get the mind (and heart) ruminating upon the revelation.

After Adam forfeits his rule by obeying the serpent, God promises his seed will arise to crush the serpent’s head. Paul teaches us that Jesus in the second Adam (who does in fact crush the serpent’s head).

Moses gives the Law to Israel, but realizes they will falter and disobey. He proclaims another Lawgiver will come. The people will hear and obey Him. Jesus comes as that Lawgiver and Law fulfiller. He gives His Spirit to the people and now the Law is written on the hearts of God’s people, so they will obey the law of love.

Joshua goes to battle on behalf of Israel. As he leads the armies of Israel, he meets the “Captain of the Lord’s Army” who will truly battle the enemies of God by harrowing hell and rescuing the captives. Jesus is the supreme warrior and commander of angel armies who defeats evil, so that the weak and oppressed may rest in the goodness of God’s love.

Israel lives through 400 years of judges. These judges can only offer a provisional peace and victory to Israel. But one day the true judge of Israel will come. When Jesus comes, the day of the Lord arrives. He is the judge who will separate the sheep and the goats. He is the judge who will exalt the humble and humiliate the exalted.

Israel lives through an age of kings. Some rule with wisdom and many rule foolishly. David is a king after God’s own heart and is promised that one day a king will come from the house of David who will defeat all Israel’s enemies, bring peace the the land and restore worship in the land. Jesus, the Messiah, is that king. He is born to the house of David and defeats the enemies of God, restores the land (the whole earth) and makes a way for the people of God to worship in spirit and in truth. He is the king before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: Jesus is Lord.

The prophets call Israel back to the Law and the Covenant. They appears as voices in the wilderness (often literally), proclaiming judgment on the enemies of God, calling for repentance, and offering a vision of the kingdom of God that extends to all nations. The greatest prophet of all, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but another prophet is coming after him who will baptize with fire. Jesus is the prophet of God who baptizes His people in the fire of the Holy Spirit and sets these blazing bushes loose to bring the good news of the kingdom to every tribe and nation.

These are highlights and there are many more rhythms that final consummation in Jesus Christ. Before we can tackle the John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, we must come to realize the whole Bible has been a revelation of Jesus Christ, and John’s writings are written within this movement that is always finding fulfillment in the gracious, gentle and every loving ruler of time and space. All persons and all things find their consummation in Jesus. Thus, the end of all things is not the non-existence but the fulfillment of all things in Jesus.

Categories: Bible, faith, Jesus, meditation
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