Psalm 90 – Of God and Humanity

Lord, you have been our help,
    generation after generation.
Before the mountains were born,
    before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
    from forever in the past
    to forever in the future, you are God.

You return people to dust,
    saying, “Go back, humans,”
    because in your perspective a thousand years
    are like yesterday past,
    like a short period during the night watch.
You sweep humans away like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning.
True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
    but come evening it withers, all dried up.
Yes, we are wasting away because of your wrath;
    we are paralyzed with fear on account of your rage.
You put our sins right in front of you,
    set our hidden faults in the light from your face.
Yes, all our days slip away because of your fury;
    we finish up our years with a whimper.
We live at best to be seventy years old,
    maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
    because they go by so quickly.
    And then we fly off.
Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
    The honor that is due you corresponds to your wrath.
Teach us to number our days
    so we can have a wise heart.

Come back to us, Lord!
    Please, quick!
    Have some compassion for your servants!
Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
    so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.
Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—
    for the same number of years that we saw only trouble.
Let your acts be seen by your servants;
    let your glory be seen by their children.
Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us.
    Make the work of our hands last.
    Make the work of our hands last! (Common English Bible)

The Bible is first and foremost a collection of books about God. Even though Scripture’s pages are filled with the fame and foibles of humans, nevertheless, the biblical drama unfolds because of the Lord. Holy Scripture is, indeed, a self-revelation of God.

There are times we get too focused on ourselves – our fears, inadequacies, weaknesses, failures – and lose sight of just how huge God really is. Today’s psalm helps reorient us back toward the grand Sovereign of the universe. There is a decidedly theistic worldview espoused and embedded in the psalm. It is a cosmology dominated by the immensity and largeness of a Creator God who is pictured as completely in control of all creation.

Let’s face it: Our lives are a weird and complex concoction of fear and joy that can combust at any time. We swing from high to low, and low to high. If we are on an even keel, its only because we are currently in the middle of swaying to one extreme or the other. Even introverts are familiar with this – it just happens to take place mostly inside their vast inner world, instead of on the outside for all to see.

So, we all need the grand vision of God in this psalm to anchor us through the unpredictable vicissitudes of life. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth was formed, from everlasting to everlasting the Lord is God. 

The transcendent God, although high and above everything in all creation, is not at all aloof from humanity; the Lord of the universe is also imminently close. God is near enough to know both our outward iniquities as well as our secret sins. Nothing gets by God. The Lord always knows the score.

The proper and appropriate response to such a God is to exclaim along with the psalmist to teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom. Whenever we appropriate a biblical worldview, we learn to measure our days and live consistently moral lives with wholeness and integrity. 

This is why a regular regimen of the psalms is important to us, so that we will continually have before us the basic nature and character of God. And, as we do so, we cannot help but reflect God’s glory and contribute to human flourishing on this earth and the care of all creation.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, we rejoice in your greatness and power, your gentleness and love, your mercy and justice. Enable us by your Spirit to honor you in our thoughts, words, and actions, and to serve you in every aspect of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Kings 22:11-20 – Humble Yourself

The Scribe Shaphan Reading The Book Of Law To King Josiah by Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674)

When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.”

The five men left right away and went to talk with Huldah the prophet. Her husband was Shallum, who was in charge of the king’s clothes. Huldah lived in the northern part of Jerusalem, and when they met in her home, she said:

You were sent here by King Josiah, and this is what the Lord God of Israel says to him: “Josiah, I am the Lord! And I will see to it that this country and everyone living in it will be destroyed. It will happen just as this book says. The people of Judah have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I cannot stand it any longer. I am furious.

“Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. I noticed how sad you were when you read that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry. So, I will let you die in peace before I destroy this place.”

The men left and took Huldah’s answer back to Josiah. (Contemporary English Version)

It is hard to fathom that things spiritually degenerated so much in the kingdom of Judah that the Book of Law, God’s Word to Israel, was completely lost. The Law was tucked so far back in the temple, and had gathered so much dust, that everyone simply forgot it existed. 

Maybe we in the Western world can relate to this more than we think. When a plethora of Bibles and translations exist, yet they gather dust on the shelf, and we have not cracked it open since….?

We are approaching the end of the Christian Year which annually culminates in Christ the King Sunday. As we journey with Jesus and ascend his holy hill, we anticipate corporately acknowledging Christ’s lordship. A good and biblical way to do so is through penitent humility. 

King Josiah’s officials found the Book of the Law and brought it to him. After they read the words, which had not been uttered for a very long time, the king was completely undone with humble repentance. He realized the life of the nation did not revolve around the majesty and kingship of God, and it cut him to the core of his being.  

An appropriate response to the realization of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s lordship is humility. Without humility, there is no going forward; there is only the ghastly state of remaining stuck in one place with ancient dust accumulating on our static hearts. However, with humility there is repentance; and with repentance there opens up the grand vistas of hope, new life, and fresh beginnings.

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

St. Augustine

I (humbly) ask that you try something quite different from your regular experience today. Put on some old clothes then carefully read the words of today’s Old Testament Scripture lesson. Take the time to acknowledge a sin of omission in your life. Then, tear your clothes; yes, rip your shirt. 

Allow yourself to feel, like Josiah, the realization of missing the mark. Yet do not remain in this condition. Drink in the grace of God in Christ and receive the forgiveness that is yours in Christ. The trajectory of our Christian lives is determined by the depth of humility we experience and filling the hole with mercy.

It’s difficult to be submissive. To acknowledge, without denial, that we are in a bad place and will reorient our lives takes a lot of courage and humility. If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is a meek and obedient spirit. 

No matter who we are, people are meant and designed by their Creator to live a humble life of submission to the moral and ethical will of God.

Humility is the cornerstone to every good thing in this life.  Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5 NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human relations are to be firmly grounded in humility. The old prophet made his expectations clear:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV)

Life is truly life when it is based in humility. We live with the confidence of the psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right, and he teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, we are to bow to the God of the Word, for the Word is life.

Awesome God, although I might not always perceive your majesty and sovereignty, you stand above all creation as the Lord whom I am to submit to in all things.  I come to you in great humility of heart and vow to obey everything I read in your Holy Word through Jesus Christ, my King. Amen.

Psalm 119:9-16 – How Can a Young Person Live a Pure Life?

How can a young person live a pure life?
    By obeying your word.
I try with all my heart to serve you.
    Help me obey your commands.
I study your teachings very carefully
    so that I will not sin against you.
Lord, you are worthy of praise!
    Teach me your laws.
I will repeat the laws we have heard from you.
I enjoy following your rules
    as much as others enjoy great riches.
I will study your instructions.
    I will give thought to your way of life.
I enjoy your laws.
    I will not forget your word. (ERV)

Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry and is steadily growing. The younger generation is particularly susceptible in this internet age of easy access and multiple porn websites.

  • 35% of all internet downloads worldwide are related to pornography.
  • Teen-aged boys are the largest consumers of pornographic internet sites. 

The following percentages of children report having seen pornography in some way:

  • 50% of 11-13-year-olds
  • 65% of 14-15-year-olds
  • 78% of 16-17-year-olds
  • 75% of parents believe their children have not seen pornography online.
  • 53% of the children said that they had seen pornography online.

Into this terrible muck of impurity an impropriety enters the biblical psalmist with his ancient, yet truly relevant question for us today: How can a young person live a pure life? 

The answer the psalmist gives is this: By guarding the heart through obedience to God’s Holy Word. The psalmist himself stored up the commands and teachings of Scripture in his heart so that he might not sin against God.

A solid tried-and-true activity parents can do for themselves (the statistics for adult use of porn are staggering) and for their kids in this area of purity is for the entire family to do some old school Bible memorization. Yes, I mean getting down to rote memory work. 

This is to be neither a legalistic practice nor some fetish that will keep evil away. Instead, memorizing verses and large sections of the Bible provides a solid foundation from which to construct of base of operations for the work of meditation. When temptation occurs, there will be something to stand upon in the heat of the moment.

Today’s lesson from Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. Expand to memorize the entire psalm, all 176 verses of it. When faced with the decision of viewing pornography or not, it would be wise to dedicate the time to memorizing Scripture so that there will be a delight in God’s statutes rather than a depressed guilt over another fall into impure thoughts and/or actions.

Now, I can feel the pushback from some folks. You might not have memorized anything your entire life, or so you think. One of the reasons many people can freely quote lines from movies is that they have watched their favorites repeatedly. Ah, so we are on to something, right!?

I have been reading the Holy Bible for over forty years, every day. I have large chunks of Scripture memorized – mostly because of all that reading. So far in my life I’ve read the entire Old Testament around 100 times and the New Testament about 300 times – not because I ever had the goal of doing all that reading but because I need God’s Word.

What’s more, I take the further step of spending some time in reflection and ongoing meditation on Scripture, especially at night before retiring. This might seem over the top to some. However, the reading and reflection of Scripture is about a 30-minute venture for me on most days. The goal is engrafting the message of the Bible into the heart and life. Memorization is simply the means of helping that to happen.

There are some memorization tips I use and have picked up along the way to aid in pressing Scripture firmly into my soul:

  • Sleep on it. Studies show that our brains process and store information while we sleep. Try to review some Scripture just before you go to sleep—even if it’s only for a few minutes—and see if it helps embed the information in your memory.
  • Repeat it. There is no substitute for consistent and repetitive reading or listening to Scripture being read to you. This one practice alone has been key to my own ability to memorize. 
  • Write it out. Writing helps deeply encode biblical truth we’re trying to learn because there is a direct connection between our hand and our brain. To increase recall, speak the Scripture out loud and visualize the concepts as well.
  • Sing it. Singing is what got my middle daughter through school. Songs or jingles use your brain’s right hemisphere, helping us to remember. There are already plenty of songs out there for all kinds of biblical passages. And, of course, you can always try making your own music.
  • Sense it. Use as many of the five senses as possible. Our senses enable us to use more parts of our brains and retain information better. For example, when I read Scripture, I use a physical Bible to hold and often use a pointer when reading (touch); have a cross in front of me (sight); read out loud, sometimes with worship music in the background (hearing); light a candle (smell); and, I always have a cup of coffee to sip while reading! (taste)

The biblical psalms are meant to be prayed. So, using them for that purpose has the effect of shaping our prayers and desires in a good direction, as well as helping us to live into the commands of God to “repeat the laws I have heard from you.” In a world of spiritual impurity, emotional assault, and mental adultery, we need the purifying work of God’s Word to wash our souls clean.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Merciful God, thank you for providing your Word to me so that I might read it, use it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and engraft it into my soul.  Fortify my spirit against the demons of impurity by the power of your Holy Spirit, to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Matthew 12:46-50 – Family

En la Cena ecológica del Reino (At the Ecological Kingdom Dinner) by Spanish artist Cerezo Barredo

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV)

Jesus obviously did not get the memo that blood is thicker than water. When his own blood family were waiting outside for him, Jesus used the occasion to speak of what makes up a true follower of God. Christ boldly asserted that his true family is made up of people who do God’s will.  By saying this, Jesus brought the point home that the kingdom of God turns on obedience.

Rather than solely confessing belief, or appealing to a family heritage of faith, Jesus said that a genuine believer in God is one who listens to God’s words and then promptly obeys them. Therefore, a Christian is defined by allegiance to Jesus, and not by having a certain bloodline. 

Identity determines activity. For example, if I identify myself primarily as a worker at my job, my activity will show it – I will spend long hours at my labor, and will do whatever it takes to please my boss and gain promotions. If I identify myself primarily as an athlete, I will spend long hours honing my skills, and do whatever it takes to please the coach and to win. If my identity is mostly wrapped around being a husband and father, I will focus most of my attention on my family and seek to please my spouse and children in all things. 

If my identity is first and foremost as a Christian, I will always seek to please Jesus. I will then view my job as an opportunity to express the ethics of God’s kingdom, as a calling from God, and as a means for God to transform me for his glory. I will view athletics as means to glorify God, and not as an end in and of itself but as a special gift for God to teach me about the importance of community and working together. 

If my identity is clearly in Christ, I will view my kids as belonging to God and I will steward the trust of children given me by doing whatever it takes to teach and train them in the way of Jesus. I will thank God for my family and not confuse them with being God by idolizing them.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was inside a house, with his family on the outside. So, why were the family members of Jesus not inside the house sitting at his feet, taking the posture of a disciple? The disciple Matthew wanted to communicate more than physical distance between Jesus and his physical family – being “outside” was meant to convey the posture of Christ’s family as spiritually distant, skeptical of him, and indecisive about who he was and what he was up to. In fact, the disciple Mark made this spiritual and emotional distance clear:

Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!” (Mark 3:20-21, CEB)

Christ’s earthly family were not looking for Jesus to give them warm-fuzzies and have a family group hug. They were there to tell him: “Cut it out, Jesus, because you’re acting like a nut-cake and embarrassing us all!” The kid brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) would go on to become powerful Christian preachers and each pen a New Testament letter, but that does not happen till after Jesus’ resurrection.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Christ and his disciples

Jesus was saying that identifying only with a biological family leads to only pleasing that family. However, identifying with Jesus leads to a radical form of following God that seeks to please him instead of submitting to family practices, mores, and beliefs which are inconsistent with the kingdom of God. 

For the follower of Christ, the church is the family of God, and we are to act consistent with being in such a family.  We are to go hard after God’s will, serve one another, and adopt outsiders into our family.  The church is a family, not a restaurant.  When we go to a restaurant, we either like the food and the service, or not. If the experience was unpleasant, we might complain to the waitress and may or may not come back.  Try doing that with your mother and see where it gets you!  As a biological family, we are committed to each other. There is no complaining about mom because of dad’s wrath. Instead, we are expected to clear our plates and put them in the dishwasher, to sweep the floor and clean the table, and to work together for the benefit of the entire family.  In the same way, following Jesus means being committed to his family, the church.

Priority is to be given in doing God’s will, regardless of blood, because obedience to Christ identifies us as being in the family of God.  Our actions and the way we live points to what we honestly believe and where our commitments truly lie. 

The first step of God’s desire for us is quality focused time in sitting at Christ’s feet and listening to him because this is at the heart of all Christian discipleship. We cannot do God’s will until we have clearly heard it; and we cannot hear God’s will unless we take the time to be at the feet of Jesus. 

Both listening and doing are necessary.  Listening without engaging the world is a failure of mission; and doing without first listening leads to misguided acts and eventual burn-out. Allow Jesus to call the shots and let him instruct us so that we can act wisely and obediently. 

Jesus did not devalue blood relatives as irrelevant. Rather, Christ emphasized that our primary allegiance is to him, and not to our biological family.  The kingdom of God seeks to restore and redeem all things, including family. Both church and family are important. The relationships within each are to be nurtured.

The family of Jesus, the church, is important because Christ suffered and died for her. So, we are to be committed to the church, love the church, and serve the church because we are family. If we have a good grasp of this, we will make decisions based in what we believe God’s will is, instead of whether a relative will get upset, or not. 

Our biological families are important.  Jesus never pitted one against the other, because he wants to see families redeemed and work together as the family of God. Every Christian family can do this:

  • Appoint a time to read Scripture together and listen to Jesus and discuss it.
  • Show hospitality so that we can eat and drink our way into the kingdom of God. 

We need to persistently pray for spiritually lost family members, and those whom we are estranged from. Most families have at least a few toxic persons in their orbit. Here is how we might pray for them:

  • That God will arrange divine appointments between them and other believers who love Jesus.
  • That God will draw them to the mercy of Christ.
  • That God will hinder the devil’s schemes against them.
  • That they will understand and respond to the good news of God’s grace.

Soli Deo Gloria