Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.

Romans 3:21-31 – 8 Words That Can Change Your Life

Statue of Martin Luther in Dresden, Germany

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (NRSV)

Five-hundred years is a long time. It was that long ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door in Germany. It sparked the flame of Reformation, a legacy we still live with today.  Protestant Christians have a rich spiritual heritage in acknowledging and affirming the veracity of Holy Scripture and its central message of Christ’s good news of salvation.

Eight words changed Martin Luther’s life, changed the course of history and Christianity, and can change our lives, too.

Law

The role of the law is neither to save nor sanctify but to reveal the true state of our hearts. The law can only condemn; it cannot save. Obedience is important yet cannot be done by sheer willpower. Deliverance does not come by turning over a new leaf; that approach only gets one caught in cycle of regret, promising not to do it again, and then returning to it. Law makes us feel the great weight of our darkness. We need to feel and know what that darkness really is….

Sin

Sin means missing the mark, falling short. We must face what sin really is, without sugar-coating it.  We tend to think of sin as some terrible action like assault or murder, yet sin is primarily thought of in Scripture as attempting to de-throne God with a replacement. You and I need to be realistic about the bad news of sin before we can ever receive the good news of forgiveness. Forgiveness will be elusive until we admit what we have done, or not done, something that warrants needing to be forgiven. Moving forward in hope can only happen when we possess…

Righteousness

Righteousness means right relationships; unrighteousness means broken relationships. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right relationships. Like illegal aliens who cannot make themselves citizens, God grants us spiritual amnesty because we cannot make ourselves legal or righteous. Through righteousness God has made it possible for us to live in harmony. Holding onto bad relationships is like a dog returning to its vomit; there is no need for it because God has given us…

Justification

This term is a picture of the court of law. It is a metaphor communicating that righteousness comes because God justified us, that is, did for us what the law could not do – God sent his Son to be a substitute for us. We cannot justify ourselves by obeying the law or simply by being sorry. Without the next word, we will wallow in our guilt because we need this for our justification to really live…

Faith

Faith is a gift given by God. We are unable to generate faith within ourselves because sin estranges us from God. We need divine action. God’s righteousness can only become operative through faith. We must hold out our hands and receive a gift to possess it. We must come to the end of ourselves to exercise faith. We need to see that sin is bad enough to have made life unmanageable and that we have dug a hole too deep to get out of by ourselves. If one thinks they can handle it, then they are going back to the law, living in denial and not by faith.  We also need…

Grace

Faith must have an object, and that object is the cross of Christ. It is grace which gives faith and saves us. Our denial is so great about our sin that we cannot reach out to God unless God acts. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Opening the gift given to us, we find that we are given…

Redemption

Redemption is a word referring to a slave market. We are slaves to sin. We need someone to purchase our freedom. The blood of Christ paid for my sin. Jesus bought me through his death. Jesus has taken care of the sin issue through…

Propitiation

“Sacrifice of atonement” is the meaning of propitiation. It is the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.  Because God loves, God has wrath – God is not okay with sin running amok in this world. We are forgiven through the blood of Christ. We are free to live into the gracious joyous life of God in Christ. Yet not all of us do so. For example:

If the institution that gave me my car loan came along and forgave or satisfied the debt I have on my car, it would be weird if I kept making loan payments. But that is what many people keep doing with their lives because they do not really believe they are forgiven and loved by God. We think God is constantly upset or, at least, agitated with us since we screw-up so often. So, we live by law hoping that God will applaud our sincerity and our effort, wishing that everything will be okay. But everything will not be okay with that approach because God wants our faith, not our promises to be better. The Lord asks us:

Do you trust me?  Do you trust me to deliver you from your sin?  Do you trust me to work out the situation that you have made a mess of on your own?  Do you trust me to provide for you everything you need? 

Live into your spiritual heritage. Do not return to the law. Bask in the gracious gift of your freedom in Christ.  Live and enjoy Jesus because you have been made righteous, justified, and redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit so that we may perfectly love you, and magnify your holy Name in a worthy manner, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daniel 9:15-25 – A Prayer of Confession, Part 2

“But now, my Lord, our God—you who brought your people out of Egypt with a strong hand, making a name for yourself even to this day: We have sinned and done the wrong thing.” My Lord, please! In line with your many righteous acts, please turn your raging anger from Jerusalem, which is your city, your own holy mountain. Because of our sins and the wrongdoing of our parents, both Jerusalem and your people have become a disgrace to all our neighbors.

“But now, our God, listen to your servant’s prayer and pleas for help. Shine your face on your ruined sanctuary, for your own sake, my Lord. Open your ears, my God, and listen! Open your eyes and look at our devastation. Look at the city called by your name! We pray our prayers for help to you, not because of any righteous acts of ours but because of your great compassion. My Lord, listen! My Lord, forgive! My Lord pay attention and act! Do not delay! My God do all this for your own sake because your city and your people are called by your name.

While I was still speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sins of my people Israel—while I was still praying my prayer for help to the Lord my God about my God’s holy mountain— while I was still speaking this prayer, the man Gabriel approached me at the time of the evening offering. This was the same Gabriel I had seen in my earlier vision. He was weary with exhaustion.

He explained as he spoke with me: “Daniel, here is why I have come: to give you insight and understanding. When you began making your requests, a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you because you are greatly treasured. So now understand this word and grasp the meaning of this vision! Seventy weeks are appointed for your people and for your holy city to complete the rebellion, to end sins, to cover over wrongdoing, to bring eternal righteousness, to seal up prophetic vision, and to anoint the most holy place.

“So, you must know and gain wisdom about this: There will be seven weeks from the moment the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until a leader is anointed. (CEB)

We learn to pray through praying the prayers of the Bible. One of the great wrestlers of prayer in Holy Scripture is Daniel. His prayer when disaster overtook the people of Jerusalem is apropos for us in our national disasters of egregious sin. Today I take the second part of Daniel’s prayer and use it as my own prayer (this is a continuation from yesterday’s prayer of confession).

Prayer is an act of subversion. It challenges the status quo. It looks evil in the face and gives it a name. Real change begins with the step of real prayer, and real prayer is modeled after the great prayers of Scripture. The season of Lent, with its focus on repentance and spiritual discipline, is the appropriate time to offer prayers of confession and express fealty to the God who deserves it.

Our Lord God, with your own mighty arm you brought our forefathers from religious harassment to a place of religious freedom. You graced us with liberation to become what we could not in other places. Through this you made yourself famous to this very day, but we have sinned terribly.

We turned around and did to others what they did to us.

We have been unequal in our treatment of all people. In our pride, we think we are better than others, even though we have been called to treat others better than ourselves.

We keep killing one another with words and then with guns, all the while justifying our behavior through inaction and spiritual gerrymandering. Meanwhile, our children and our neighbors keep dying. 

In the past you treated us with such undeserved kindness. We now beg you to stop being so terribly angry and hear our plea for your grace to awash us again. Although we have suffered public disgrace from our own stupidity, we throw ourselves upon your great mercy.

I am your servant, Lord God, and I beg you to answer my prayers and bring honor to yourself by having pity on our grieving families as well as the people who have forgotten you. Please show mercy to us, not because we deserve it, but because of your great kindness. Forgive us! Pay attention to us, even though we failed to give you the time of day. Hurry and do something, not only for us, but to bring honor to yourself through Jesus Christ our Savior in the might of your blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.

Proverbs 1:1-7 – Right, Just, and Fair

“Passing Wisdom, Planting Seeds,” building art in Brooklyn, New York City by artists Danielle McDonald and Jazmine Hayes

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young.

Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
    Let those with understanding receive guidance
by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (NLT)

The pursuit of wisdom is a noble aspiration for the New Year. One of the best places to go in that pursuit is the biblical book of Proverbs because it is all about living wisely and not foolishly.

To acquire and live by wisdom means learning to become right, just, and fair in all our interactions and dealings with others.

“Right” for the ancient King Solomon is a relational term – to be righteous, to have right relationships with God and other people. Righteousness involves experiencing peaceful, harmonious, and fruitful relations. For the Christian, right living is to know the wonderful freedom and joy of an unhindered relationship through Jesus Christ in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. 

When it comes to fellow human relations, a person characterized by righteousness does not, for example, let the sun go down on their anger. It is to know personal peace as well as to be a peacemaker so that relationships do not remain strained but enjoy harmony.

“Just” is closely related to “right.” We might tend toward primarily understanding justice as a punitive act – and that is certainly a part of the term. God punishes the wicked (not us!) with appropriate timing and wisdom; and deals with those who withhold righteousness and love through their uncaring, inattentive, or evil acts. 

Solomon understood justice as mostly concerned with providing a person with the necessities of life. So, for example, if someone is hungry and needs food, or does not have clean water to drink, it is a “just” act for us to provide those critical needs. God is deeply concerned for justice and expects people to act in this same manner.

“Fair” is to be egalitarian. Fairness and equity binds righteousness and peace together by avoiding prejudice toward others and their needs. It means to not show favoritism because there is an unshakable belief in the equality of all people, no matter where they are from, what they do, or who they are.

Therefore, if we exercise righteousness and justice exclusively with individuals and groups we like, but ignore others in need, there is no fairness. To give our love and service to all persons without strings attached, or without being concerned to get paid back, is the practice of being fair in all our affairs.

To live in the way of being right, just, and fair in all things is to be wise. Conversely, the classic fool is one who judges others, creates discord, and ranks persons according to their own personal standard of who deserves help, and who does not. Trying to have a useful and gracious conversation with a fool is like trying to reason with a toddler – you will get nowhere. 

A good place to start in pursuing the wise and biblical virtues of righteousness, justice, and fairness is to ask God to open our eyes to those within our sphere of influence who need both physical and relational needs met. Then, follow through with loving those persons for whom God brings into our lives.

Almighty God, the essence and source of wisdom, you are always right, just, and fair in all things, I praise you for your infinite and abundant wisdom. Whereas you abound in wisdom, I am lacking. Please help me to grow in wisdom as I increase in my knowledge and respect of your divine presence. By means of your Spirit, please increase my depth of insight as I study your Holy Word. Hold me back from leaning on my own understanding and enable me to wholeheartedly embrace the wisdom from above. Righteous God help me to grow in wisdom continually and consistently. Teach me your ways. Since you are a just God who shows no favoritism, lead me into being like you in my dealings with others through the example of Jesus Christ, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.