Psalm 119:113-128 – How to Change Our Spiritual Taste Buds

I hate anyone
whose loyalty is divided,
    but I love your Law.
You are my place of safety
and my shield.
    Your word is my only hope.

All of you worthless people,
    get away from me!
    I am determined to obey
    the commands of my God.

Be true to your word, Lord.
    Keep me alive and strong;
    don’t let me be ashamed
    because of my hope.
Keep me safe and secure,
    so that I will always
    respect your laws.
You reject all deceitful liars
    because they refuse
    your teachings.
As far as you are concerned,
all evil people are garbage,
    and so I follow your rules.
I tremble all over
when I think of you

    and the way you judge.

I did what was fair and right!
    Don’t hand me over to those
    who want to mistreat me.
Take good care of me,
    your servant,
    and don’t let me be harmed
    by those conceited people.
My eyes are weary from waiting
    to see you keep your promise
    to come and save me.
Show your love for me,
your servant,
    and teach me your laws.
I serve you,
so let me understand
    your teachings.
    Do something, Lord!
    They have broken your Law.
Your laws mean more to me
    than the finest gold.
I follow all of your commands,
    but I hate anyone
    who leads me astray.
(Contemporary English Version)

Some people try to avoid doing wrong and always try to do right. Others either bulldoze or sleepwalk through life, doing what they will, with impunity. Yet others try to steer clear of egregious sin, while indulging in so-called minor sins. 

Sin is messy business. No matter the form or the attempt at dealing with or without sin, the bottom line is that we all sin because we like it. We might not like the consequences of sin, but it tastes good while doing it.

That’s why we need a complete re-orienting of our hearts to hate every way contrary to God’s good commands. The psalmist proclaims and affirms that all God’s precepts are right, hating every false path which deviates from the true and good. 

If we sin because we like it, the way to avoid sin is learning to hate it – to loathe it so badly that it’s like a nasty stench in our nostrils. Hating sin comes from the acquired taste of loving God’s commandments. When we come around to cherish and desire God’s Word, then sin gradually becomes so odious that we want nothing to do with it.

The reason the psalmist could proclaim such an extended love song to the commands of God, is that he tasted how good they were. And it caused him to forsake every dubious way to human enjoyment. 

The reason I constantly encourage myself and others to read Scripture every single day, with a solid plan of spiritual rhythms, is that it really does have the power to change our taste buds. Sustained, consistent, daily eating of the psalms will teach us to want God and God’s ways – while forsaking the dark path of insolence and oppression.

The psalmist committed himself to avoiding worthless situations, as well as steering clear of harmful people with the propensity to doing wrong. These are fickle, double-minded people, divided in their loyalties. On one side of their mouth, they talk a good line about faith; and then talk out the other side of their mouth, spewing a bunch of worthless gobbledygook which, at the least, adds no value to anything, and, at worst, wrecks good plans and harms others.

If there are people in authority over us who don’t give a wit about our most cherished values, we will likely find ourselves tasked with doing things which rub against our understanding of God’s Word. In this state of moral distress, we are pushed, pulled, and tested in our single-minded devotion by the double-minded person to do what we are uncomfortable with.

In the stress and crucible of trouble, we need the courage to speak up, despite the fear of repercussions. And that strength will only be possible if we have a resilient spirit with the capacity to sustain our personal integrity in the face of our distress. That is, we need God and God’s Holy Word.

Scripture and fellow believers provide support because we need to care for one another as a community of redeemed persons who seek to live into the words of ways of almighty God.

It can be tricky business, wisely trying to discern between what we must accept and what we need to pushback against. Yet, with God, God’s Word, and God’s people, we possess all the resources required in living the spiritual life and navigating the sinful world we inhabit.

God Almighty, I pray that you will deal with me according to your steadfast love and teach me your statutes.  I am your servant; give me understanding so that I might know and live by your commands and forsake the evil of the world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Samuel 18:6-30 – Saul’s Deep Anxiety

When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

Saul was incredibly angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand, and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul. So, he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David because he led them in their campaigns.

Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!”

But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” So, when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So, Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.”

Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law.’”

They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”

When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So, before the allotted time elapsed, David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known. (New International Version)

Anxiety can warp our thinking, cause pain in our gut, and darken our heart. Maybe that statement seems a bit harsh. After all, everyone becomes anxious, at some time or another. Anxiety is endemic to the human experience; it is something we all have in common. Whenever anxiety takes root in the life of a person, it bears the fruit of irrational fear and deep insecurity. 

King Saul was jealous of David’s success in battle. Behind Saul’s personal anxiety was the concern that David was stealing the limelight. It made Saul angry, David getting all the attention. Since Saul was the leader in charge, he continually put David in overwhelming situations where it seemed likely he would fail. But instead of failure, David was wildly successful in everything he did. 

Today’s Old Testament lesson makes it clear David’s achievements were because the Lord was with him. This made Saul even more anxious and afraid, possessing malevolent motives behind everything he did toward David. Even though it might not have looked evil on the outside, in reality, the interior life of Saul was a mess. And it made him plain stupid.

When Saul observed God was with David, it only reinforced his fear and led him down a dark path. In contrast to Saul, David had godly character, developed in the lonely place of the pasture. It led him on a lighted trail toward the will of God.

Genuine integrity is always forged in the secret place where no one is looking. If we are merely concerned for outward performance and/or perfectionism, all sorts of anxieties can develop and twist our sense of reality. Yet, if we pay attention to the inner person, and allow God to create a deep faith within, then we can stand strong, even when there are those who have ill will against us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen.

*Above painting by Chinese artist He Qi

**Above statue of King Saul at the University of North Carolina Art Museum

John 12:1-11 – Broken and Poured Out

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (NIV)

Jack Klugman as Quincy, M.E. (1976-1983)

When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.” Quincy was a coroner. Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death. But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation. His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.” Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone. There’s more here than what meets the eye!”

Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation. In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye. There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding.  There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.

Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.

Near the end of Christ’s life, as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. In fact, she was aware of what was happening when others did not. Mary’s own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history. This woman, whom everyone knew as a damaged person, took a high-end perfume, and broke the entire thing open. She then proceeded to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma filling the house with an expensive perfume for all to smell.  Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.

But there’s more here than what meets the eye. Let’s observe some of John’s expert autopsy work:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken. (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary used an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus. (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applied the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is culturally symbolic for submission and respect. (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus. (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world. (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor. (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks.
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation. (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which merely runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant for deep personal transformation, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy. 

Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do. But the Mary’s among us dramatically point others to Jesus with their tears, humility, openness, and love.

In our social landscape of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus. Methinks Quincy was on to something.

Loving Lord Jesus, my Savior, and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude. May I and all your followers emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.

Trinity Sunday – The God of Wholeness

oak tree 2

We live in a fundamentally broken world. Systemic racism, political gridlock, social stratification, hate crimes, alcohol and domestic abuse, ageism, disease, malpractice, terrorism, and xenophobia barely scratch the surface of sad societal ills and we face living in this old fallen world. Indeed, it is all quite distressing. To realize wholeness and integrity will require operating the mechanism of blessing.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

This is the blessing I leave with my congregation each Sunday. A divine blessing involves the wholeness and integrity of the triune God given to us through grace, love, and fellowship. Holding each facet of that blessing together can sometimes be a challenge.

There was a time in my life when I golfed every day. Even though I played a lot of golf, it was rare for me to have an entire round where my driving, approach shots, chipping, and putting all worked nicely together. My typical experience was that when my driving was superb, my chipping and putting was awful; or, that when my putting was amazing, my approach shots were atrocious. Rarely did I have the whole package of a solid golf game put together in one seamless round. Instead, my game, along with most amateur golfers, is typically disjointed with a combination of brilliant shots and ugly shanks.

The Christian life can seem the same way – with the ability to show love and grace, be open and caring on some days, and not so much on other days. We need God – the triune God. Within God there is complete wholeness, a total well-rounded divine Being.  As we connect with this Being, then we can experience God’s wholeness and integrity, which leads to our own consistent daily wholeness, with no divided herky-jerky self.

The Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – provides us with a model of wholeness and displays how it all comes together in a solid consistent life of blessing. There is a beautiful connection between the Trinity and our lives.  It is a path to wholeness that involves healing, hope, and spiritual health based in the triune God.

Healing

The grace of Jesus enables us to pull ourselves together. Jesus is the one who has brought reconciliation and restoration – he has made the bridge and connection to God. In response to this grace we aim for perfection (not perfectionism) pull ourselves together” and restore and heal ourselves. Since Jesus is the Reconciler, the one who restores and heals, we are to allow that grace to wash over us and seep deep into our souls so that we experience reconciliation, restoration, and healing.  When we are broken and disjointed, the grace of Jesus sets us back in place again.

Tim Hansel

The late Tim Hansel was a teacher and mountain climber. He wrote a book many years ago entitled, You Gotta Keep Dancin’: In the Midst of Life’s Hurts, You Can Choose Joy! Hansel lived with chronic debilitating pain for thirty-five years after a climbing accident where he literally fell off a mountain and shattered most of the vertebrae in his back. In his long journey of coming to grips with his painful existence, Tim Hansel discovered that wholeness can certainly come through brokenness. Healing can happen with pain still present. Maturity can occur through painful growth of the human spirit. He constantly said to people, “Pain is inevitable; but misery is optional.” He explained to others, “Character is developed through adversity and pain. That adversity can either destroy us or build us up, but it will not leave us the same, depending upon our chosen response to it.  Pain can either make us better or bitter.”

Even if you do not experience the kind of healing and restoration of body or soul you are looking for, maybe, like Tim Hansel, you will receive grace and freedom that the loving triune God gives. God himself lives with observing the terrible pain of humanity’s hurts every day. The more we participate in the life of God, the greater is our ability to deal with pain – our own as well as the pain of others.

Hope

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit enables us to receive comfort. The Spirit is the Paraclete, the one who encourages by coming alongside and helping. The Spirit works with us, intimately participating in our lived everyday experiences. The Spirit is God’s means of experiencing wholeness. The Holy Spirit lovingly appeals to us in ways we can understand and act – speaking words of comfort and exhortation with the commitment to a faithful presence. Since the Spirit is committed to helping us, thus, we are to help others through living in fellowship with them.

John-Wesley

When John Wesley was a young Christian, a seasoned saint advised him, “Do you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” Wesley took that advice to heart. Convinced that the pursuit of personal holiness was impossible apart from Christian community, he carefully organized the Methodist movement (a reaction against solitary religion) into societies (congregations), classes (small groups of eight to twelve), and bands (accountability groups of three to five).

We are meant to receive the encouragement of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not hold back in providing us with the help we need to live the Christian life in the form of other believers. We are all important. If we are not healed, we hurt and then hurt others. However, with healing comes hope, and hope encourages us that it will not always be this way – there are better days ahead.

Hope helps us to see beyond the immediate pain, hard circumstance, or adversity to what God can do through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. Just as there is complete and whole fellowship within the triune God, so there can be wholeness of fellowship with us. Christianity is not a solitary religion; it involves companions and fellow disciples for the journey.

Health

The love of God the Father is our peace. God’s unconditional love brings spiritual health to the Body of Christ and to the world. Within God there is complete and total love – a wholeness in which everything God does expresses loving-kindness.

Unity and peace happen when there is health in the church and the world. It is the fruit of love. Love for one another brings unity of prayer and purpose. It is love that brings about peace and harmony. It is love which solidifies compassion in circumstances of adversity.

We are meant to receive the Father’s love. Love brings people together and enables them to become conduits of the loving nature of God to others. There is no other path to spiritual health and sanity than the journey of love.  And love most often gets messy because we get into the muck of people’s lives with all their needs and hurts. Sometimes it takes a tragedy before some folks show love. So, live each day with no regrets as if it were your last and Jesus was coming today.

The Trinity

God the Son, Jesus Christ, brings healing because of his grace.

God the Holy Spirit brings hope because of his encouragement.

God the Father brings health because of his love.

Because of the Trinity, our work is clear:

The Body of Christ brings healing to the world because it bestows grace.

The Body of Christ brings hope to the world because of its encouragement.

The Body of Christ brings health to the world because of its love.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever. Amen.