I start this new year with a recognition of all those who have read this blog, seen the errors in grammar and spelling and kept reading anyway. Those who have received some sort of blessing and/or challenge from its reflections are both friends and those I have never met. Looking back over the last two years, I have shared over 140 pages of thoughts, quotations, devotions, and most importantly Scripture with you. This year will be no different, and I will try to commit myself to two posts a week; the first will be on Tuesday or Wednesday and the second will be on Thursday or Friday. This provides me with structure and discipline, but there will be times that once a week will probably be more doable! (Just FYI)
So, to start the year I want to sing a praise to God and join in all of creation (and outer space because I have been watching the Star Wars movies with my kids) in honor and glory to God. There are some days I need to read about and think about a God who is close to me and knows my needs. A God who sits in my mess and guides me through my daily walk is intimate and understanding. There are other days, like today, where a passage reminding me that God is above and beyond me, my situation, and the stuff in our lives is exactly what I need. A God who doesn't get bogged down in our thoughts and in our actions, but one who rises above to continue His purposes is strong and determined. Because God reigns and is far above the messes that we humans make is why we can honor, glorify, and worship this God. It is what gives God holiness and makes him “other.” And so we join with Psalm 29, a song of David, in praise to the God who deserves honor, speaks in the thunder but rises above the storm, and the one we worship in the “splendor of his holiness”
1 Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
2 Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
11 The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.
As we start 2018, with whatever it has already handed you, I think the last two verses will carry us and encourage us.
The Lord rules
The Lord reigns
The Lord gives his people
The Lord blesses them
Be still…settle the soul and quiet the mind…hear the worship of creation and live in the assurance of God’s position beyond our struggles and above our flaws! That is why God deserves our worship, and it is why we can come to him with our needs.
For our faith ancestors, Psalm 126 was traditionally known as a “Psalm of Ascent,” which meant that it was sung by travelers as they made their way to the Temple. Of particular interest is the understanding that this is not a Psalm of David, but one that was probably written during the return to Jerusalem around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, one caution would be to hinder the usefulness of the Psalm by tying it too tightly to its historical circumstances. While historical context is enlightening, God’s people are always in need of salvation and the Lord’s strength to restore us from our chaos and terrible choices.
126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
A Note about the Streams of Negeb (or Negev in the NIV) - These streams are well-known for being dry and being dry often. However, these stream beds can suddenly be rushing floods when the seasonal rains arrive. So, we can see the imagery here of a lack of hope suddenly turning into the arrival of life-giving deliverance.
The point of this Psalm is that we as God’s people live by both memory and hope. During this Christmas time, we remember the story of Jesus’ birth and what his coming means for us. We reflect on the cross and the resurrection as we take the Lord’s Supper. We hear the teachings of Jesus proclaimed and lived out as we interpret the Scriptures. We try to become like him as we live in the community of the church. And yet, through the tears, sorrow, and hard times—we hope. We hope that Christ is coming again, and our memory of what Jesus has done compels our belief in what He will do! Like the memory of Jesus burst on the scene unexpectedly and without warning, so we prepare ourselves for the hope of Jesus’ coming that will complete all things. Within these boundaries, we are a glad and joyful people!
We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
I was struck, probably by a strong dose of reality, the other day reading through this Psalm. It speaks of the entirety of forgiveness and a life lived in complete relationship with the Lord. It is a Psalm of David, but a song springing up from what event I wondered? What led to such confidence in God? What led to the outpouring of true and authentic confession and “complete honesty” as David says it in the verses below?
James Gray seems to agree with Jewish tradition that this Psalm, “Is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (you can read that in 2 Sam. 11-12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (David is said to have written Psalm 51 in his repentance for that sin), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it.” Christian Worker’s Commentary
Here are David’s words:
1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude
5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Selah)
6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. (Selah)
8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
I think what struck me about this Psalm was that when God is confronted with the reality of our sin, God doesn’t react like we expect him to react. God forgives, puts it out of sight, clears our guilt, protects us from trouble, gives us victory, and refreshes us in His unfailing love.
Because of the shame and guilt of sin, perhaps what we have been taught about sin, and many other factors…we often think that we have to rationalize our sin away or spend energy trying to hide it. Just focus on our strengths and eventually the weaknesses will be untraceable. Maybe we could even spend more time taking the focus off of “me” and start helping “them” live a better life. David is not the first or last leader who fell for this one…ministers, pastors, elders, bishops, and deacons beware of this. (I am too aware of the hiddenness and secrecy of sin in the lives of our most beloved church leaders.) So, conceal it and don’t feel it in the words of “Frozen” Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…be the good person you always have to be…
Yep, and there we are frozen to God’s work and our growth because like David we are wasting away and groaning, our strength being evaporated like water in the summer heat. If you find yourself in this picture, then understand a few truths about God:
God knows we sin, and God knows the effects of our sin and that is why at an excruciating personal cost Jesus was sent to live the life we are incapable of living and die the righteous death that we could never die.
God forgives sin through Jesus, and that forgiveness is complete and absolute for those who live in gratitude of this reality (Listen to David’s thankfulness above!)
The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give to it by pretending we are perfect and not taking advantage of the avenues provided to us through repentance and confession.
Christians are not perfect people, we are people who trust God’s promises and run to God for forgiveness, protection, and unfailing love.
Churches and faith communities must reflect these things and practice deep faith in God. If you find yourself among a group of people and leaders who say, “I’m sorry” and understand the supreme reign of Jesus Christ, then count yourself blessed!
Finally, this concluding thought from the Psalm of David, and if true in his heart than how much more true for those in Christ Jesus our Lord. “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!”
The other day in my time focusing on the Word, I was reading and portion of Psalm 119 and as I read this passage, a notion from the Gospel of John jumped int o my mind…so the passage was this:
119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
Of course, this Psalm refers back to Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament), or the law of God and it uses the term “word” to talk of the teachings that came for God. Well, the Gospel of John makes this crazy assertion that the WORD is actually taking on human form and thus Jesus becomes the very WORD of God. John sees Jesus then, as something better than the mere teachings of God, or the law, because Jesus is both word and action. That is, Jesus shows us how to not only KNOW the Torah, but how to fulfill TORAH (which, by the way, no human could ever fully do!) So, If I were to write a New Testament psalm that expressed the same as this passage, then it might read:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to love of Jesus.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander far away from your Son!
I have stored up Christ in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me the life of you son, Jesus!
With my lips I declare
all the good news of your Son.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Jesus Christ
and fix my eyes on him.
I will delight in your Son;
I will not forget Jesus Christ.
To see Jesus as the WORD of God, is to begin to move deeper into the heart of God. The rules rarely display the heart behind them, but the Son lived to reveal God to us in a way never before experienced.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.