Psalm 113 ~ Distances

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Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? Psalm 113:5-6

In this brief recital of God’s great glory, the careful reader notes the psalmist’s use of contrast in the verses. As you read and meditate on the verses you are struck by the various ‘distances’ that bookend the effusive worship.

Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. (v2)

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, (v3)

the One who sits on high, who stoops down to look (v6)

He raises the poor from the dust (v7)

The God of All, seated in the Heavens surveying all in His domain is also the intimate God. He is seated next to you in trouble, He is present in His full glory no matter the distance we attempt to place between us. He is timeless; there was, is, and never will be, a time in which we are not His beloved. Bending a knee in humble adoration does not call Him screaming across the heavens to be with us, He is already present, His heart overflowing with love.

In our Lenten reflections we focus on the redemption that has transformed our lives. This same distance applies to our forgiven sins..

Let our sins be forgiven and forgotten, both now and forevermore..

Let us walk in the light of God’s glory from the rising of the sun to the time at which it sets..

Let us be mindful of the One who sits on high, who desires to look down on lives of holiness..

Let us remember always that we are the poor and lost who He raised from the dust…

 

Grace and peace to you..

image Horia Varlan

Psalm 103–So Great Is His Love

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The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Ps 103:8)

Of all of the great promises in Scripture, this stands out for those who only see God in terms of His wrath. For many within His people and many more who still stand apart, the image of the Holy Father is not one of love, but one of a God of vengeance, sweeping His eyes east and west watching for any infraction that might be an opportunity to visit retribution upon their heads.

While we are wrong to discount His anger at the ways in which we treat one another upon His creation, we also err when we see His holiness only in terms of righteous wrath. God is patient, demanding holiness, but teaching rather than terminating. When you live with the constant fear of failure and its outcome, the fruit of joy is never harvested in your life. Many Christians have followed this path, living their entire lives with a very narrow understanding of God’s character.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (vv 11-12)

This unmatched, vast and measureless forgiveness is one of the prime character traits of God. Far from the hair-trigger vengeful God of lore, He desires a loving relationship rooted in love much more. When we look to the cross, we don’t see charges waiting to held against us, we see a fresh start that is refreshed by our prayers of repentance and our journey toward greater and greater holiness.

Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. (v22) 

Grace and peace to you.

image Ministerios Cash Luna

Psalm 80 – Restore Us, O Lord God Almighty

imageRestore us, O God;

make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Ps 80:3)

This plea for restoration  echoes three times in the psalm, and it is very familiar to readers of the psalter. Israel pleas for God’s love to return to her and to save her from her enemies. In many of the preceding psalms we have heard this same petition sounded on an individual basis, as the king asks to be relieved of the many enemies who come against him. The corporate plea is of the same timbre, how long God? How long will your punishment last?

Israel’s petition takes the path of covenant reminders. She reminds God of what He has done for her in the past, reminding Him of her special status in His eyes. Yes, we’ve been bad God. Yes, we’ve deserved punishment. But how much God? How long will you punish us for the sins of our fathers?

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Though we are forgiven of all, past, present and future, we are not given to license. Should our choices lead to consequence, we ask our Lord for relief. How long, we ask. How long must we suffer the consequence of our choice? We often follow the same pattern in pleading for relief. We remind God—as though He has forgotten—how he saved us. We remind Him of all that He has done to change our circumstance. We may even try to convince God that all of this punishment makes Him look bad.

We rarely see Israel and her unfaithfulness in ourselves.

Grace and peace to you.

Psalm 51 Create In Me a Pure Heart

David and BathshebaYou do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (vv 16 – 17)

This truth has very nearly become obsolete in the modern church. We have replaced contrition and brokenness with ministry busyness, our ‘offerings’ and church attendance. Sin has become rule-breaking rather than a personal affront; it has become external instead of internal. Repentance has become little more than ‘I’m sorry…’.

Psalm 51 is traditionally seen as being composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) and then being confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12). We know how the single transgression of Bathsheba leads to further abhorrent behavior on the part of the King and we know all too well the horrible price that he pays for this string of evils. We don’t know how an exemplar like David can succumb to sin in this fashion but we do know that, if it can happen to someone so close to God it can happen to us as well.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (vv 1-3)

Is God moved to offer pardon through this string of praise? Exclaiming God’s unfailing love, His great compassion, and His mercy, is this proclamation of what must be entirely self evident to Him what will invite Him to offer grace? He must view these prefaces to our admission of guilt much as we do our teenager’s statements that they love and respect our household standards: we ask them why they performed such and such and act if they hold such great respect for our rules? No, we should believe that God is moved when our hearts finally arrive at the core truth of our relationship with Him voiced in verse 4.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (v 4)

We must restore the proper understanding of sin in our lives and in His Church. Sin is properly viewed as being personally enacted against God. We have been lured to see sin as an external act, sort of a third party action of simply breaking a rule in which no one gets harmed like running a few miles over the speed limit. No harm, no foul. This is not how God views sin however. He views each act against His holiness personally, as though we look Him in the eye and while defiling His throne. It becomes even more serious when imagine how God must see our sin in the shadow of the Cross.

Statistically, few people read these posts on the Psalms. More people are interested in the Calvinism-Arminianism argument or my posts on the Hebrews warning passages but my prayer is that more will take the time to at least return to their Bibles and prayerfully consider this Psalm. Doctrine is important and it is valuable time spent considering the facts and searching the scriptures for the truths that underlie the doctrines but this cannot be at the expense of our relationship with God and our personal holiness. Far more important in our lives should be a plea similar to David’s:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (vv 10-12)

Four Knows for Talkin’ Theology

Writing blog entries about theology seems so easy on the surface. Identify a particular point or doctrine that you want to share, defend, or critique and lay out your thoughts. The thesis can be drawn from Scripture, a systematic, or the writings of another theologian followed by an explanation of the position that the writer wishes to stake. The words that underscore that position can be the author’s own or quotes/texts pulled from other sources and cited. All of this is well and good, but theology is not the same as discussing baseball, it has life altering implications.

image Because theology concerns God, we who choose to write on the topic have a responsibility that goes far beyond the ethic of the normal social contract. Theology impacts lives even when it is unstated and has become a cultural norm. Before we defend, critique, or even propose a specific theological construct or an entire framework, we must consider the impact of our position in light of its impact on God’s people. We are not operating in a vacuum where these beliefs and behaviors affect no one, a fact that we need to carefully consider before pushing the first words out into the cybersphere.

While I’m certain that I have exhibited a disregard for each of these at some point in my time as a theologian (and we’re all theologians), here are four rules that I try to apply to anything I do in this sphere, whether it is writing here or for publication, in preaching, and in the way I live out the theology. You might find them helpful as well or may have some additions that we can all utilize.

Know Your Theology Beyond Proof Texts

God did not limit his revelation to specific texts in the Scriptures. The first rule in theology is to consider every doctrine or position in light of the entirety of God’s revelation. Though you may disagree with his theology, Wesley utilized what has been labeled his Quadrilateral as a way of studying and organizing his understanding. This included the use of the complete Scripture (OT & NT), Tradition in the form of church history and the Spirit’s movement, Reason in the form of rational thinking and sensible interpretation, and Experience in examining a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ. Proof texting often fails to consider the ever widening circles of context and more often than not, another text can be found to show the point in a different light.

Know Any Theology That You Are Going to Label as Incorrect

I am less and less surprised at the number of critiques that I encounter in which the author rails against a certain theology or doctrine by using caricatures or incorrect representations of the belief (this happens with political discussion as well.) Before taking a critical position, we must have a relatively thorough and accurate knowledge of the development, the scriptures, and the persons involved in the doctrine we critique. If we rely on the opinions of others or a surface deep understanding of the doctrine, knowing only that it differs from our own, we do not serve God well in simply creating dissent among the body. Worse yet, we promulgate a shallow belief system that risks getting adopted by others. As an example, survey the number of times that Mormonism is declared heretical by an author who does not know the history of belief system or how many times Arminian belief is associated with Pelagius.

Know the Practical Application of Your Theology

All theology is practical. Every aspect of God has some effect on His relationship with His people. We are incorrect to treat theology as separate from life. The doctrines and beliefs that we hold are meant to affect our lives in practical ways, shaping the way in which we interact with the world, other people, and God himself. Arguing the different views of Atonement is one thing but how often do we think about the practical impact of believing the Penal substitution view against the Ransom, Moral Influence, Example, or Governmental positions? Each of these beliefs has a different impact on the worldview of the believer and how he or she interacts with God and the world.

Know God

This would seem to go without saying but it is so easy to find ourselves devoting enormous energy to knowing about God and less and less time knowing God. I can express my thoughts about my wife and child very well because I know them intimately. I have a deep relationship with each of them and have lived in close proximity for many, many years. Writing about your family would be much different because I can know only what you let me know or I can observe for myself. The same applies to those who choose to write about God; we must know Him intimately. We must be in tight relationship with Him and His Spirit. Not only will the Spirit guide our work but will also help us in withdrawing from battles that our worldly reactive side would choose to engage.

God bless each and every one of you who furthers the work of the kingdom in your writing and thinking. If I’ve missed or misstated something, I’ll look forward to reading your suggestions.

Advent Peace Comes by Forgiveness

Peace comes to the Christian when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our innate desire for judgment and retribution into a Spirit-driven act of forgiveness. As we forgive we are released from the bondage of rage that threatens our hearts and keeps us tied to past actions and injuries. Reflect this midweek day on Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

The horror visited on YWAM and New Life that has broken the peace of our Advent causes us ask ourselves whether or not we can forgive the young man who brought the violence to life. The Lord calls us to repent of our desire to judge others while avoiding our own judgement. As Glen Stassen eloquently posits, “Grace teaches peacemaking, not putting all the blame on others and building up hostility against them but acknowledging our own contribution to the problem.” It can be difficult for us to associate ourselves with the violent but we can find in our lives many opportunities to put this ideal into practice. Why not now?

Stackhouse on Advent: Repentance and Forgiveness

Stackhouse speaks to repentance and forgiveness as themes for reflection during Advent (Entering Advent: Repentance and Forgiveness (I)  ), ideas that are often the focus of our Lenten meditations. The gift of both practices is seen in the release from bondage that ensues. We who practice biblical forgiveness is freed from the bitterness and unloving attitude toward our neighbors that is part and parcel of begrudging one who has injured us. Similarly, repentance breaks the shackles that bind us to the past behaviors and errors. Great gifts indeed.