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Psalm 46

January 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few thoughts on Psalm 46 that I wrote over ten years ago. I found it this morning in an old html file from a website I had in the 90s. As I reread, I think it is still relevant for today.

This psalm reveals the holiness of God moving in and through His people in the midst of chaos. I believe this speaks to what is coming upon the earth.

First Stanza

Verse 1 – 3. “God is both refuge an strength for us, a help always ready in trouble; so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil, though the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, and it waters roar and seethe, and the mountains totters as it heaves.”

(Vs. 1) The Lord is Holy. His holiness is perfect order. Therefore, his holiness is our only true refuge in the midst of the chaos.

(Vs.2-3) Sin brings disorder. Sin always works to chaos. It removes the core, and everything begins to fall apart. Here is a picture of chaos tearing the earth apart. There is no internal unity, thus the foundations are crumbling and the world is returning to the dark waters before creation.

This passage can be understood globally and individually. Anywhere sin has a stronghold, chaos will follow. Sin will always bring internal disorder. It moves people out from the purposes of God. And outside of God’s purposes all cohesive energy dissipates, thus everything moves into disorder and chaos. Many people live in a state of chaos. Their internal world is falling apart. Soon more will follow. Entire nations reel to and fro in the midst of this lack of cohesive energy.

The crumbling brings confusion, darkness, fear, and destruction.

Refrain. Yahweh Saboath is with us, our citadel, the God of Jacob.

(Note: The New Jerusalem Bible inserts the refrain found in verses 7 and 11 after verse 3, thus dividing the Psalm into three stanzas.)

The refrain occurs three times. Each time it reminds us that God of Peace remains present to those who humble themselves and cry aloud for mercy. It is imperative we learn to enter and dwell (by faith) in God’s holy presence. This is the only place of rest and peace. Those who fail to abide will grow weak and faint before having entered into what God has planned for them.

Rabbis have debated the meaning of Yahweh for centuries. Sometimes it is rendered, “IAM IAM,” or “I will be as I will be.” In his book Moses, Martin Buber explains that many ancient cultures believed that names had power. They believed if you spoke the true name of a person or a god you could control them. Thus their religion sometimes incorporated a form of divination. They thought they could control their gods through the name.

Moses asks God for his name. But God doesn’t give him a name, instead he says, “YAHWEH.” Buber interprets this phrase, “I Am and Remain Present.” Thus God communicates to Moses, “You cannot summon me like the Egyptians summon their gods. I Am and Remain Present. In the midst of your 400 long years of suffering, “I Am and Remain Present.” You cannot summon me, but I Am and have always been present. Even when you rebelled. Even when you killed the Egyptian. I did not turn my back. I Am and Always Remain Present- calling you to turn towards me, to face me, and yield to me. Thus life is listening and turning to the voice of God.

Using Buber’s interpretation, consider the refrain. In the midst of chaos, God says to His people, “I Am and Remain Present.” The Holy One of Israel, the source of creation and all order, remains in the midst of His people. He calls us to turn and listen. To find refuge in His holiness. Like Jacob, we cry aloud for mercy, and His holy presence surrounds us, engulfs us. The holiness drives out chaos from within. Holiness brings fire, not to destroy, but to root chaos. Holiness restores creation to perfect order.

Second Stanza

Verses 4 – 6. There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city, it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High. God is in the city, it cannot fall; at break of day, God comes to its rescue. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms are tumbling, when he raise his voice the earth crumbles away.

Jesus said that streams of living water flow out from his people. Each of those who cry out for mercy, are immersed in holiness. This holiness springs out through them. When the believers come together, these streams form a river of holiness which brings joy to the church and prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. As the Lord descends in the midst of the church, this river of life flows out from her. She is unconquerable. Moving in His purpose, the people of God, as one body, one river, stands strong.

The church has been weak and frail. While many churches have externally stood against the world, the internal forces of the world of selfishness worked chaos within the church. In the midst of the battle, she was weak. But as the holiness arises in and through God’s people, the church is rescued.

The true order is Christ in the center of the church in the center of creation. When the church is restored, then the Word of the Lord goes out from the church which brings an end to systems and structures and governments which operate in chaos keeping the curse upon the earth. The Word of the Lord flowing out from the church, breaks this power, kingdoms of darkness fall giving way to the light, to restoration.

At this point there is another refrain. Reminding us that God is and remains present. He is and remains our refuge. We can never move beyond the simple truth of practicing the presence of God.

Third Stanza

Verses 8 – 10. Come consider the wonders of Yahweh, the astounding deeds he has done on the earth; he puts an end to wars over the whole wide world, he breaks the bow, he snaps the spear, shield he burns in the fire. “Be still and acknowledge that I am God supreme over nations, supreme over the world.”

All the effects of the chaos come to a halt through the power of holiness. Works of destruction are brought to an end. And all mankind will see the glory of the Lord. This seems to point to the ultimate restoration of all things into Christ. Holiness does not simply change our inward character, it also transform everything outward. It brings true justice into the world. This is possibly the beginning of a second Eden.

The psalm ends with the refrain. Regardless of what has been or is coming, God is and remains present. We must not look for him in the past (i.e. – focusing too heavily on what he did in the past, including the Early Church). We also must avoid looking for him in the future (simply waiting for the great revival or renewal or restoration to come). As servants of the Lord, we learn to watch for His coming and meet Him in the now.

Advent – Remembering the Future

December 4, 2007 Leave a comment

Remembering the Future
Looking forward with hope is active resistance the experiences of life. The longer we live, the more we experience the pain, discouragement, disappointment and seeming hopeless of life. People disappointment us. We disappointment ourselves. Nothing lives up to the hype.

Isaiah realized that he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among a people of unclean lips. The very people chosen to reveal the goodness and glory of the Creator could not. They were flawed and failed. Their kingdom split and their history is not a story of ever-increasing glory but a story a darker and darker defilement. They fail God. They fail the world.

Isaiah exclaims that the people have “turned away backward.” They’ve become a desolate nation full of corruptors. They abuse one another. They oppress the weak. They forsake the fatherless. In other words, they look a lot like our world today. Looking around at our world of war, we cannot help but see ripples of unfaithfulness and broken relationships.

Nations war against nations. And this war is not limited to one or two or three geographical regions of the world. We are all at war. We war with our neighbors. We war with our friends. Even in the family and the church we see pain and betrayal. The places that should be provide a place for love to flourish sometimes foster the deepest violations of intimacy. It is easy to become bitter, hurt and lose hope that life can really be meaningful and love can truly prevail.

Facing this dark world, Isaiah remembers. By the grace of God, he remembers the faithfulness of God. He remembers the promises of God. He remembers the longsuffering of God. Looking back through the story of Israel’s failures, he also sees another picture. The longsuffering God prevails upon His people again and again.

Our friends may fail us. Our country may fail us. Our lovers may fail us. We have failed us. For if we are truly honest, we have also failed the people around us. Yet this longsuffering God is still at work in our world and our lives.

In the midst of a bleak, yet honest vision of human failure, we need God’s grace to remember rightly. As we remember His longsuffering, we remember that grace has prevailed and will prevail in our lives and our world. Like Isaiah we see beyond the bleak disappointments of life and learn to hope.

As we wait and long for the fullness of love, let us remember the future with Isaiah and behold the longsuffering love of God prevailing in our families, our culture and our world.

Isaiah 2:2-5
2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,

“ Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the LORD.

Categories: Advent Tags: , , , ,

Thomas Merton on the nature of personhood

May 21, 2007 Leave a comment

Here’s a great quote on the human person from Thomas Merton:

“The person is defined in terms of freedom, hence in terms of responsibility also: responsibility to other persons, responsibility for other persons. To put it in concrete terms, the Christian is not only one who seeks the expansion and development of his own individuality and the satisfaction of his most legitimate natural needs but one who recognizes himself responsible for the good of others, for their own temporal fulfillment, and ultimately for their eternal salvation. Hence, the Christian person reaches maturity with the realization that each one of us is indeed his “brother’s keeper,” and that if men are suffering and dying in Asia or Africa, other men in Europe and America are summoned to self-judgment before the bar of conscience to see whether, in fact, some choice or neglect on their own part has had a part in this suffering and this dying, which otherwise may seem so strange and remote. For today the whole world is bound tightly together by economic, cultural and sociological ties which make us all, to some extent, responsible for what happens to others on the far side of the earth. Man is now not only a social being; his social nature transcends national and regional limits, and whether we like it or not, we must think in terms of one human family, one world.”

Thomas Merton. Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979: 152-153 

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Jerry Falwell, Heaven, Hell and the Kingdom Come

May 16, 2007 Leave a comment

Yesterday Ryan asked the question, “Did Jerry Falwell go to heaven or hell?” I jotted out a few responses in my late night stupor. I awoke this morning still wrestling with the other questions that his one question set off. Beneath the particular question relating to the fate of a specific person, I hear the question about justice.

What significance do our words and actions have? If we violate other people and the world around us, is there a price to pay? As I think about these questions, I think about the idea of rectitude. Will there redress for every wrong? Can every wrong by righted in some way? These are questions better left to greater minds than mine, but at the risk of becoming a treading fool, I will proceed.

As I think about these questions, the bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” comes to mind. In a short phrase this sticker attempts to reflect something of the grace and forgiveness of God. At the same time, it may have some disquieting implications.

Are Christians claiming that their faith functions like a “get out of hell” free card? Does my faith in Jesus mean that I am not accountable for my actions. I can cut in front of you at the grocery store, or shake my fist at you on the highway, but it doesn’t really count: because of Jesus, the Father sort of winks at my indiscretions.

While these minor infractions seem innocuous, what happens when my words and actions set in motion violation upon violation upon violation of other people? I can cheat on my taxes and cheat on my wife but rest secure that I’m not perfect just forgiven. I can buy discounted clothes and foods that may come at the price of enslaving someone in another country whom I will never know or see.

I can enjoy the benefits of a culture that built its wealth on enslavement, torture and dehumanizing an entire race. The more I think about the implications of our actions, it becomes evident that either directly or indirectly each of us are oppressors. “Does God simply wink at this evil because we have faith in Jesus?”

If God is good, shouldn’t wrongs be righted? Do Christians suggest that because God forgives us for our wrong actions, everyone else should to? This obviously could cause some people to line up, ready to damn every Christian that acted though they had a right to condemn and/or mistreat the people around them.

Then I wonder, what if the Judgment Day looked very different then we expect. What if Judgment Day is not about God giving all my enemies their just deserts? What if it really is about redressing wrongs?

What if I had the opportunity to face all my oppressors on Judgment Day? My word would carry the power to determine their sentence. Each person who ever hurt me, oppressed me, or in any way violated me (directly or indirectly), would stand before me. By direct violation, I mean people who personally violated me. By indirect, I mean people whose actions hurt me even though we never faced (politicians, people’s action in other cities, states, nations, and even times). In fact, each oppressor would stand before every single person they harmed through words or actions.

The Prosecutor would show in detail every form of harm each oppressor ever caused. As the Defender, Jesus would stand on behalf of the accused. Because there are no longer any time restraints, this judgment would proceed until every single person faced his oppressors and all those he oppressed. Therefore, even as I looked upon those who caused me pain, I would know that I faced the same trial for all my offences (direct or indirect).

As I prepare to pass judgment, the Defender would make the audacious claim that he had took the wrong of each violation upon his own body. Then he would proclaim that his resurrection is a sign that rectitude has been made and will be eventually realized by every harmed person.

As I faced my oppressors, he would explain, “You can use condemnation or mercy as your measure for justice. If you choose condemnation, this person will bear the full weight of their offense. If you choose mercy, you are trusting that I will redress your grievance.” And then he would offer one last reminder, “The measure you use, will also be the same measure used for you.”

Please forgive my presumption to explain and or envision something beyond our human capacity to full grasp. I have no idea what the judgment seat looks like.

But I do think that Christianity claims that Jesus death and resurrection assure us of justice. Jesus and Paul both indicate that to follow Jesus means to bear his cross, his suffering. Oddly, this means that I might walk in the reality of Judgment Day today; that I might choose to bear the offence, the grievance of another so that mercy might prevail.

As I face those who oppress me, might I trust in the promise of both forgiveness for my failures and vindication for the wrongs against me? Might I have the power to offer mercy? This seems impossible and yet some have manifested in their lives.

My hero Richard Wurmbrand, suffering under daily torture for 14 years, pleads to God for mercy on behalf of his oppressors. More recently, South Africans facing the threat of inevitable civil war chose to enter into this model as a means of justice. The oppressors faced their victims. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, confession and forgiveness became a model of justice. The reality of Jesus’ cross manifested in a national policy, attempting to heal of deeply divided nation.

This model of justice involves personal suffering, intentional forgiveness and trust. Instead of me trying to determine who goes to heaven and who is bound for hell, can I live in this world in a way that fosters peace and reconciliation? Can you imagine what our world might look like if we lived the reality of confessing our faults one to another and forgiving one another. Maybe we might finally see a glimpse of the kingdom come.
(Note: Please forgive my shortcomings. What I am trying to think about is more complex than this simple essay can address. And there are others like Miroslav Volf who are far more articulate and theologically astute than myself.)

Potatoes and Peace!

May 16, 2007 Leave a comment

During the middle of the Cold War, as America and the Soviet Union raided their children’s future to fund a space program, Welsh poet Bobi Jones wrote a plea for peace with the potato as a love messenger. Could the poor potato bring that love message to our warring world?

Sending a Potato as a Love-Messenger to the Spacemen of America and Russia

Will you go for me to the moon-struck men?
Oh political matter, will you go?
(Stars and moon are political matters now:
A potato’s a political matter in our enlightened age.)
I’d like to see you go because you know what it is
To be in hot water, old friend of peas,
Fellow union-member with meat. You know
The slums of the earth, and on your crooked back
Is found the mark of toil; through your pits
You’ve heard the simple cursing of the unchosen people
Of worms and the beetles (neighbor of beans).
I’ll send you, because you’re a fist, and your smile
Is almost kind; and tell them
(The interworldists who are worse than the almost unmentionable internationalists)
Of solid lands, stupid potato
Of good leaves, of deep soil with roots, of fat ants
That lick a hollow through your side. I know
That will be a void of meaning, but at least
It will be a void fit for them to fly through
On a new course. So they will sing to hear you,
And you know how a seed can grow
When the forests have doffed their shadows
And when the mornings come to ride their big-bellied colts.
You needn’t insist you can’t possibly go
Because you’re so fatigued: ask someone to fling you.

(from Bobi Jones, Selected Poems, Christopher Davies Ltd: Swansea, Wales, 1987.)

A Vision of the Peaceable Kingdom

December 14, 2006 Leave a comment

What a treasure from Henri Nouwen’s Daily Meditation:

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives. Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises. Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are. Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

Advent Peace

December 8, 2006 Leave a comment

I just posted this to Floydville. Here’s a sampling:

The songs we sing to celebrate this season carry profound messages of hope and possibility in the midst of dark nights and sometimes even darker days. One song that captured my heart last week is the familiar “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For many of us, the words of the first verse echo easily through our minds after years and years of singing:
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious night of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heavens’ all gracious King;”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

This verse brings to mind the stories of childhood: shepherds in the field; Mary and Joseph in the stable; a glorious display of heavenly light as angels proclaim the good tidings of heaven. These images make me feel warm and safe—like the world is all right.

But the world is not all right.  read more

Peace

December 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Here’s a thoughtful quote by one of my new mentors: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. I discovered him about two years ago, and the life force that exudes from his speaking (and writing) overwhelms me.

 The world was created peace. But…the act of creating the world is a perpetual act. What we call the creation of the world is not an event of yesterday, but the event of all times, and goes on right under our noses. Every generation has the divine liberty of recreating the world.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Living a Life of Dialogue

October 31, 2006 1 comment

Here’s a great quote from a man whose writings have deeply shaped my life:

All real living is meeting. – Martin Buber

I could write a few paragraphs of commentary or I could simply let it stand and encourage you to think about that for a little while today. Good words.

Defending Joe Lieberman

September 29, 2006 Leave a comment

There’s only one political race that I’ve been following this year and that is the Lieberman-Lamont showcase showdown. And the only reason is that I think Lieberman is a decent guy that was completely hung out to dry on the basis on one issue. So I was delighted to read this little article on Lieberman today in The Stanford Daily.

I don’t normally mention politics here simply because our culture has moved far beyond any form of reasoned discourse or proper rhetoric. I think many of us Americans are not on the fringe waiting and wanting to virtually crucify the “other guy.”

There are real problems in our world and real disagreements as to how to solve those problems. If we could ever learn to listen and really dialogue (Martin Buber), we might actually find places of wisdom that teach us to avoid killing each other (virtually or literally).

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