The Holy Helper

Our ideas of God take shape in the many ways we live our lives. A God who is always right, fair, just, and loving in everything he says and does is a God we can trust. A cranky god who is aloof and indifferent does not help anyone. Yet, with the one true God we can be assured of strong spiritual support for any and every situation. When we have as our ally a robust theology which informs how we think and gives shape to how we act, then we can step forward with confidence knowing God has our back.

Sound theology needs to be identified, nurtured, and expressed in daily life. The Old Testament psalms are pregnant with vigorous views of God, as well as being the Church’s prayer book. Each individual psalm invites us to see God in a new or fresh way and inspires us to pray. Using the psalms as boots-on-the-ground prayer provides a firm foundation from which to know, worship, and serve God.

Here is my own translation of Psalm 99, which is meant to capture the spirit of the text. I encourage you to pray it over slowly, several times, and with appropriate emotional flavor behind the words:

The LORD rules everything; let all people everywhere who live unjustly, shake in their boots!

            God sits enthroned above all creation; let the earth rumble on its foundation!

The LORD is great among his people.

            In fact, God is far above all people.

Let everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, praise Your great and awesome name. God is holy!

Mighty Ruler, the lover of everything that is just and right,

            You are the One who established what is fair and equitable.

You labored behind the scenes for causes which are just and right,

            and brought harmonious relations to folks at odds with each other.

Magnify the LORD, our God!

            Approach the Divine with great and mindful humility!

            God is holy!

Godly people of old such as Moses and Aaron were among the Lord’s devout followers.

            Those like Samuel were among the humble who called on God’s Name.

People from times long ago have cried out to the LORD and have gotten an answer.

            God spoke to the ancient Israelites in a great pillar of cloud.

They sought to keep and entrust the divine rules given to them.

O LORD our God, you answered them.

            You were a forgiving God to them,

            yet, you also were the One who held them accountable when they slid off the rails.

Magnify the LORD our God!

            Humble yourselves and worship at God’s holy mountain,

            because no one is like the LORD our God, a holy Helper!

Let’s get some hearty divine beliefs under our belt with the help of Psalm 99 so that we can live by faith, hope, and love…

God is Universal

A healthy view of God enables us to live with confidence no matter the circumstances. There is no place we can go where God is not there already. The Lord is universal – not tied to any distinct location, culture, class, race, gender, ethnicity, or group of people. God reigns supreme as Lord of all, not just some. The Lord is everywhere:

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
    Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
    If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
    stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
        even there your hand would guide me;
        even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
        the light will become night around me,

     even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
        Nighttime would shine bright as day,
        because darkness is the same as light to you! (Psalm 139:7-12, CEB)

God is not only our God but everyone’s God – which means you will find God amongst both Democrats and Republicans, upper class and lower class, black and white, American and Asian, in every nation of the world, and within all societies. No one group of people have the corner on God, for God is much too big for that – which also means God is not limited to looking just like an old white northern European heritage male Protestant minister.

God is Just

It is important to have a proper definition of biblical justice. In the way many use the word, it refers to punishing those who do wrong and deserve incarceration. Although this idea is included in the meaning, it is only a secondary understanding of justice. The primary essence of justice is ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive and flourish on this earth – that there are no obstacles to people realizing their full humanity in God’s image.

Conversely, injustice means someone, a group of people, or even a nation is withholding resources and blocking persons, either knowingly or unknowingly, from thriving in life. A punitive implication of justice comes into play here. Unjust authorities must be replaced or even punished for their gross negligence in failing to provide for the common good of all persons under their responsibility.

Throughout Holy Scripture God spotlights those who are underprivileged and under resourced through no fault of their own. Those who love justice seek to rise above ignorance; be non-judgmental; use power on behalf of others; and are vigilant to operate fairly and equitably in all things.

The reason aliens, strangers, widows, and orphans are oft mentioned in the Bible is because they were the most vulnerable people in the ancient world to unjust actions and policies. God acts on their behalf so they will experience a fair distribution of resources instead of retribution from others.

The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe. He makes sure orphans and widows receive justice. He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothes. So, you should love foreigners, because you were foreigners living in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, GW)

“You must defend those who are helpless and have no hope. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, CEV)

“I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos 5:24, NLT)

God is Relational

The Lord graciously gives guidance. God has spoken in the past in answer to those who called upon the name of the Lord. God’s presence was with the Israelites in their desert sojourn. God provided laws and promises to help them. And it was all done with the intimacy of a father and mother to a beloved child.

The powerful, living Spirit of God is available to us today, as well. The fallen nature of this world and our own sin is overcome through the grace of forgiveness in Christ. Even Jesus himself closely identifies with us and offers prayers on our behalf:

Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” (John 17:1-10, NIV)

God is Holy

God is pure, set apart from injustice, wickedness, and sin. There are no impurities of mixed motives or malevolent plans with God. God’s holiness is the ground of the divine Being. In other words, the Lord does not simply act holy in all responses, plans, and works; the very essence and character of God is holiness. Therefore, God only acts consistent with this inherent personhood. Sacred words and actions come from the holy God.

And this is what engenders trust with the psalmist and caused him to acknowledge the great and wonderful help God gives. God’s holiness encompasses both divine transcendence and immanence, that is, the Lord is both far and near at the same time, all the time. And that theological understanding is of great worth to the worshiping and devout believer.

Each Sunday Christians all over the world gather and pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” God is as near as a parent to a child and also reigns in heaven far above all – at the same time, all the time. God maintains a close and intimate relationship with humanity while also keeping a distance from injustice and unrighteousness.

Let us, along with the multitudes of heaven, proclaim God’s holiness:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come… You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:8, 11, NIV)

Our holy God lives forever in the highest heavens, and this is what he says: “Though I live high above in the holy place, I am here to help those who are humble and depend only on me.” (Isaiah 57:15, CEV)

God is our holy Helper. The Lord’s assistance is available, abundant, and awesome. So, let us take courage and pray with confidence and boldness to the God who listens and answers.

Psalm 149 – Praise and Punishment

Church stained glass windows sword dividing

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

The initial question that arises with me is this: Is this a psalm of praise to the Lord, or an imprecatory psalm encouraging the punishment of the wicked? Well, perhaps the obvious answer is “yes.” I suppose what I am really struggling with is that out of all the one-hundred fifty psalms in the psalter, only this one has this unique combination of vocal praise and punishing action.

The psalm begins much like many psalms of praise but takes the unexpected turn of a call to a war-like operation to execute vengeance on enemies. I freely admit that I do not know quite what to make of this strange amalgam. I wonder along with the venerable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann who said, “One cannot tell whether this is a responsibility to fend off oppressors or a temptation to gather imperial power.”

Perhaps my wrestling with this psalm is really the struggle with history itself. The Holy Scriptures do not shy away from the realism of its times and often offers historical events and human attitudes with unvarnished narratives. The Bible, and especially the psalmist, will not let us sanitize the past as some idyllic bygone era of divine drama to be envied. Instead, we receive the liberation of God’s people with all its harsh truth.

So, it could be that is why I also loathe seeing some mass market crosses which look ornately beautiful, as if Christ’s death was some pleasant affair. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell came at an awful price. Jesus absorbed all the foulness and degradation of a tortuous ignoble death. In other words, he was a bloody mess, publicly displayed for all to jeer at and be repulsed by.

What is more, for the Christian, perhaps the sagest approach to today’s psalm is unabashedly choosing to view it through Christocentric lenses. Christ is the strong man who has bound the ruler of this dark world with iron chains and secured our liberation from a hellish existence. And the Lord will return, the nations of the earth will be judged, and the faithful will reign with Christ forever.

Even if I read a bit too much into the psalm by interpreting it Christologically, it still leaves the intention of the imprecation open as to its true nature. In other words, the psalm simply does not tell us the trajectory of the curse which comes out of the praise. We are left to wonder in what kind of direction it goes. The Christian tradition of reading psalms and seeing Jesus in them might be our best guide.

Whichever way we choose to examine this unique psalm, the thing which we do know is that it unequivocally stands as a defiance of the nations and peoples of the earth who oppose the living God. Resistance to injustice, unrighteousness, and evil is encouraged by this psalm. The only ruler of this earth who has absolute power is God; and, anyone or any group which attempts to gain and grab such power for themselves is to be resisted. For the harsh reality of living on this created yet fallen earth is that violent and insolent people still desire total control and will do just about anything to get it and keep it.

Almighty and sovereign God, we, your people, ask in the Name of your most precious Son, Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord, to look upon the good desires of your humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of your power to be our defense against evil in all its insidious forms. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:13-29 – Pruning and Grafting

olive tree

I [Apostle Paul] am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, if you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (NIV)

The letter to the Romans reminds me of two siblings going at it, always at odds with each other. Gentile and Jew both together in one church and constantly arguing, bickering, and never stopping to listen to the other. The Apostle Paul, their spiritual parent, had enough of it. So, he wrote a lengthy tome, often alternating between speaking directly to Brother Gentile and then to Brother Jew.

Wisely, Paul never took sides and avoided favoritism even though he himself was Jewish. In today’s New Testament lesson, Paul speaks forthrightly to the Gentiles in the church. He gets to the issue of Brother Gentile’s attitude and view toward Brother Jew. Father Paul’s instruction to Brother Gentile is also instructive for us, as we navigate a pluralistic world and diverse church.

Brother Gentile tended to look down on Brother Jew as stuck in the past, too concerned for tradition, and unwilling to change. Brother Gentile thought it was high time Brother Jew understood that all that Jewish stuff is no longer needed and that the Gentiles were the future of the church. For Brother Gentile, God has accepted him, and Brother Jew has been rejected. But Father Paul would have none of that kind of talk; he was not going to allow Brother Gentile to eviscerate Brother Jew of his identity.

Notice Father Paul’s reasoning to his son, Brother Gentile, utilizing the lesser to the greater argument:

  • Brother Jew’s stumbling and bumbling has already caused Brother Gentile to come to faith in Christ.
  • Brother Gentile’s deliverance and acceptance will cause Brother Jew’s jealousy to kick in.
  • Brother Jew’s response will bring even greater spiritual blessing to the world.

Paul insisted that Brother Jew still has a prominent place in the family, and that a time is coming when the entire human family will have their socks blessed off because of him. Just as an olive tree can and does experience pruning and grafting of branches, so Brother Gentile needs to understand he was not originally part of the tree but was grafted in later. There is no place for arrogant pride. Grafted branches can and do get broken off and pruned; and, pruned branches can and do get grafted back on the tree, too.

brothers

So, Father Paul wanted his sons to understand and appreciate one another as the one tree in God’s family. There is room for neither Brother Gentile’s complacency nor Brother Jew’s despair. Both brothers share together in one equitable tree of life, enjoying the blessings of renewal and restoration.

It is imperative we take these lessons to heart in our interactions with folks who are different from ourselves. There is no room in God’s rule and reign for simpletons who fail to see beyond the end of their noses. Instead, we are to appreciate our brother who looks, thinks, and lives differently. It seems the only things God does not tolerate is intolerance and injustice toward those distinctly offbeat from our own path. Just because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, this does not give any follower of Christ a license to misinterpret, misrepresent, and mistreat another group of people who subscribe to various jots and tittles other than me.

Neither you nor I are the Gardener. We do not get to do the pruning and grafting. That is God’s job, not ours. Love is our business, while the Lord will show both his kindness and sternness when and to whom he will. Simply assuming we are always on the right side of things only produces a lack of listening, a lack of like-mindedness, and a lack of love. It creates a worldly system of demagoguery, inattention to suffering, and narrow policies, procedures, and laws which benefit only one brother, not all the siblings.

As Father Paul said earlier in his letter, “God doesn’t have any favorites!” (Romans 2:11, CEV)

As Father James said in his letter, “Don’t treat some people better than others.” (James 2:1, ERV)

As Father Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35, CEB)

As the witness of the Old Testament says, “Cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he is the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, MSG)

For our failure to realize that the whole world is a family, that Christ is all and in all: O Lord, forgive.

For our prejudice and self-consciousness of race, color, or language: O Lord, forgive.

For our indifference and lack of concern for our neighbors living in poverty and unemployment and for children who are ill-clothed, illiterate, and ill: O Lord, forgive.

For our unwillingness to understand the needs and problems of other people, the bitterness of those without power, and the groans of the oppressed: O Lord, forgive.

For our readiness to acquiesce in the ways of the majority, to seek the path of least resistance, and to prefer popularity to fairness: O Lord, forgive. Christ have mercy on us all. Amen.

Genesis 45:1-15 – The Big Reveal

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let us gather together around the Word of God.

You may also view this video at TimEhrhardtYouTube

For the story of Joseph set to song, click Bend by Brandon Heath.

May the Lord bless you
    and keep you.
May the Lord smile down on you
    and show you his kindness.
May the Lord answer your prayers
    and give you peace. Amen.