Psalm 28 – To Be, or Not to Be

David pelted with stones
David being pelted with stones, by unknown Slovakian artist, 1937

I cry out to you, Lord.
You are my rock; don’t refuse to hear me.
If you won’t talk to me,
I’ll be just like those going down to the pit.
Listen to my request for mercy when I cry out to you,
when I lift up my hands to your holy inner sanctuary.
Don’t drag me off with the wicked and those who do evil;
the type who talk nice to their friends
while evil thoughts are in their hearts!
Pay them back for what they’ve done!
Pay them back for their evil deeds!
Pay them back for their handiwork!
Give back to them exactly what they deserve!
Because they have no regard for what the Lord has done,
no regard for his handiwork,
God will tear them down and never rebuild!

Bless the Lord
because he has listened to my request for mercy!
The Lord is my strength and my shield.
My heart trusts him.
I was helped, my heart rejoiced,
and I thank him with my song.
The Lord is his people’s strength;
he is a fortress of protection for his anointed one.
Save your people, God!
Bless your possession!
Shepherd them and carry them for all time! (CEB)

The biblical character David, in frustration and agony, cried out for help, for God to hear his prayers. And, when his prayer was heard, David gave exuberant praise to the Lord for listening to him. We are not told specifically of how that prayer was answered and what happened between the request and the response. It seems the juicy details are left out on purpose, so that maybe we would not get lost in the retribution but stick with the fact that there was a desperate need and the Lord stepped in and did something about it.

As I pondered this psalm and its lack of life-detail, I wondered about David’s situation: Could it be that David gave God praise just for being heard by him?  Was David cured in some way, or was he healed from the need to be healed?  Was there even any actual deliverance that occurred?  Did David come to praise God despite a lack of deliverance?  Was David’s joy in his relationship with God conditional, or unconditional?

Hamlet
Hamlet, played by actor Matt Amendt in the Pittsburgh Public Theater, 2018

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c.1601 C.E.) put the question this way: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s soliloquy went on to say:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance, to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin (knitting needle)?”

Hamlet, much like David of old, was miserable and burdened with a profound lack of power to change his circumstances. So, he reflects on life and death in a morbid and melancholy way. It is not that Hamlet was contemplating suicide as much as he meditated on what life truly is and finding some meaning within it. Unlike David, Hamlet cannot find the courage to deal with his frustration and feels stymied with fear of the unknown.

If we are blatantly honest with ourselves, we must admit that far too often we have a particular outcome in mind for God to do.  Our hopes and expectations are tethered to God doing something extremely specific so that, if it does not come to pass (or does not come quickly!) we become discouraged and disillusioned. Like Hamlet, we become lost in the shadows of our thinking and ponder some sort of escape.

So, here is another set of questions I am asking myself: If my adverse circumstances do not change, can I praise God anyway?  Can I, like David, take joy in simply being heard?  Can I find gratitude in all situations?  Do I only express thanks and praise to God when things are going my way?  Am I open to whatever God wants to do in my life, even if it is not what I would choose?  Do I feel that I am above having to put up with the wickedness of this world?  Am I expecting heaven on earth, or am I willing to suffer as Jesus did?

I honestly believe the answers to those questions will determine the trajectory of our Christian experience. For the identity and meaning of all persons is found in the divine.

I praise you, O God, in the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the failures and the victories.  You are Lord over all things.  You are my strength and shield in every circumstance.  When I am weak, I am strong. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Amen.

Matthew 14:22-33 – Walking on Water?

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let’s have a time together around God’s Word.

You may also view this video at TimEhrhardtYouTube

For a classic hymn on God’s peace, click Like a River Glorious by Stonebriar Music.

For a contemporary song based on today’s story, click Walking on Water by the group NeedToBreathe.

May Christ dwell in your heart through faith, now and always. Amen.

Matthew 16:1-4 – Interpreting Jesus

Christ the Ruler 400 C.E.
Christ the Ruler, from the Santa Pundenziana Basillica in Rome, c.400 C.E.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (NIV)

It is a mystery that two persons who come from the same family, have the same training and experiences, can take such different perspectives on God, and go in completely different directions in their lives. Maybe it is not so much about shared events and circumstances as it is about how those experiences are interpreted by each person.  One gives herself to God, the other doesn’t. I believe the fulcrum of history rests on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In saying that, I just offered an interpretation of Christ which many people do not share.

We all have our slant and analysis of Jesus and his ministry in some way. Everyone has epistemic assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions which inform the way they look at the world, and how they discern Jesus.

The Jewish sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the ancient world took a different metaphysical spin on Christ’s ministry than did his disciples. The two groups were skeptical and wanted incontrovertible evidence of Messiah credentials from Jesus in the form of a sign.

It is important to note about the Pharisees and the Sadducees that they came from opposite ends of the political and theological spectrum.  The Pharisees were the Jewish conservatives, greatly concerned for Scripture and tradition. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the liberals of their day, much more concerned with the Temple sacrifices and controlling all aspects of Jewish worship.  Most of the priests in the first century were Sadducees, whereas most of the scribes (who copied the Scriptures) were Pharisees.  They did not see eye to eye on much of anything, except Jesus.

To them Jesus was an untrained, sinner-loving, non-Temple endorsed teacher from lowly Nazareth who could not possibly be the Messiah.  The Pharisees did not like how Jesus handled the Torah; and, the Sadducees didn’t like all the nonsense Jesus was spouting about identifying himself as the true Temple.  In short, Jesus was a threat to the status quo.

So, they “tested” him, that is, they tried to tempt and trap Jesus into giving them a sign – they wanted him to do something dramatic to prove his credentials as Messiah. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the Temple and demonstrate he is Super Messiah, so the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for something that Jesus would not give them.

Instead, Jesus let them know they completely misinterpreted who he is and what he is doing. In fact, Jesus said they have all the evidence they need with the prophet Jonah.  Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus would be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.  Just as Jonah would rise from certain death, so Jesus would rise again.

Jesus insisted they needed to rightly decipher and act on the evidence they already had – which raises (pun intended) some critical questions for us, as well: Are we searching for something more than Christ’s resurrection?  Are we looking for some sign or some more information before we will act?  Do we think we need a class on spiritual gifts before we can serve?  Are we obsessed with how to do any kind of ministry or mission, instead of satisfaction with knowing what it is we are to do?

No further sign is given because we already have the redemption of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.  We have everything we need to do the will of God.  So, we must discern our situation appropriately and cease believing we need all the answers to God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christian ministry.

It is imperative we go out and be missional people with an action/reflection model of obeying what we already know and then reflecting on it so we can go back out and do it again better. For the best interpretations come from a lived experience of putting our metaphysical notions into practice and trying them on for size – and finding that Jesus is enough.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45 – On Divine Providence

Egyptian workers harvesting grain c1420BCE
Egyptian workers harvesting grain. From the tomb of Mena in Thebes, c.1420 B.C.E.

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Abraham,
you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones….

He called for a famine on the land of Canaan,
cutting off its food supply.
Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers….

All this happened so they would follow his decrees
and obey his instructions.

Praise the Lord! (NLT)

Our spiritual and emotional vision can sometimes be myopic. It is precisely in those times when we have tunnel vision and neither look back to a past in which God acted with justice nor see ahead to a future with hope that we must remember God is supreme over everything, including time.

God’s providence and blessing is the animating force behind all events. The biblical character of Joseph is Exhibit A of God’s sovereign backstage orchestration of personal and world forces. Joseph’s story of brotherly betrayal, bondage, imprisonment, and rise to power include some lessons for us (Genesis 37-41):

  • Joseph is portrayed as a model of wisdom for us to follow.

Respect and obey the Lord! This is the beginning of knowledge. Only a fool rejects wisdom and good advice (Proverbs 1:7, CEV).  

Do not let mercy and truth leave you. Fasten them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will find favor and much success in the sight of God and humanity (Proverbs 3:3-4, GW).

  • Joseph did not know the end of the story while he was in the middle of it, languishing in prison. Little did he know that God was testing his character, training him to listen well, and preparing him for his eventual leadership in Egypt – all to save many lives from hunger and starvation.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

  • Joseph successfully negotiated and navigated a world which was vastly different from his own religion and ethics. He was determined not to give in to the seductions of women and power around him; and, he did not become bitter against his brothers, nor against the Egyptians.

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (1 John 2:15-17, MSG)

Four-hundred years later, Moses also had to navigate the situation of being an Israelite in the world of Egypt, and walked in the footsteps of his forebear, Joseph:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26, NIV)

We understand, knowing the end of the story, that Joseph was in Egypt (in the world) to be a blessing and that God had him there for a purpose. This is no less true for the people of God. We do not exist merely for ourselves but to be a blessing to the world.  God, as he did for Joseph, shows us mercy while we are smack in the middle of hardship and not by taking us out of our worldly predicament.  Life must sometimes be lived at great risk amid the world and not apart from it.

Seen from a strictly worldly perspective, Joseph’s time in slavery and prison was an unnecessary injustice. However, from God’s vantage point, Joseph was learning to be mindful of God despite his circumstances. For the Lord is much more concerned about the process we undergo in spiritual formation, rather than simply producing a product at the end of the line. Most of life is lived in the mundane, and Joseph was faithful in all the workaday decisions and demands of life. This made him able to handle all the vicissitudes of others in their fickle and feckless ways and see God’s providential working.

Lord God, you hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our anger and sorrow, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord who with you and the Holy Spirit benevolently reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.