Sunday, June 28, 2015

Be Gracious to Me, Lord; Psalm 56-57

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Do Not Fret; Psalm 37

Today’s psalm has been a favorite of mine since middle school. It has helped me over the years through bouts of depression. It was interesting to find that my co-leader in Celebrate Recovery had the same favorite psalm for some of the same reasons. Twice the psalmist tells us “Do not fret,” but this isn’t just about general anxiety; it is more specific. “Do not fret because of evildoers.” We are not supposed to be worried and upset at the seeming triumph of evil. Instead, 5 times the psalmist tells us to trust in or wait upon the Lord. To fret is more than just worry or anxiety. It is to become enraged because of allowing worry and anxiety to fester. Dr. Kenneth Bailey often speaks of the need to re-purpose anger into grace. This is the way of God. It is demonstrated by God in the way God deals with God’s people in Exodus and in the prophets. It is the way of Jesus. Jesus turned anger into grace when He turned away from the Pharisees in favor of the company of sinners. Joseph re-purposed anger into grace when he provided for his brothers and fathers. David re-purposed anger into grace when he spared Saul’s life and married Abigail. Sometimes you can genuinely “stick it to the man” by re-purposing your anger into grace by helping other or working for justice. The Bible calls this “heaping coals on your enemy’s head”. Instead of retaliation and retribution, you can take choose a path of integrity, justice, and generosity. Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm that contrasts the righteous and the wicked, even more specifically--the wealthy wicked and the poor righteous. It calls us to be among the righteous. Like many wisdom psalms, it is an acrostic, where each verse begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The source of wisdom is always the Lord and we are to follow the Way of Wisdom, which is Christ. The psalm lists characteristics of the righteous person often using body imagery--a mouth that speaks wisdom, a tongue of justice, a heart that receives God’s law (i.e. Someone who is willing to be taught by God), secure feet (i.e. Knowing where your foundation is). The righteous are characterized by generosity and goodness and are motivated by God’s Spirit and guided by God’s law. The righteous are people of integrity whose future is forever. They live upright and faithfully in this life. In contrast the wicked are described as having a future that is cut off, they are broken, they will come to an end. The wicked will wither while the righteous will prosper. How you live is more important that what you have. The wicked often achieve success through evil schemes, stepping on others on their way up to the top, misusing resources for selfish gain, or running a business unethically. Another reason we ought not envy the prosperity of the wicked is because you never know what is going on inside them. There are a lot of folks who seem to have it together on the outside whose lives are falling apart and empty on the inside. There are a lot of miserable people out there. No it is not the case for everyone; not even the wicked. But we must be careful not to make blanket assumptions and hasty judgments. Don’t sell out to wickedness out of envy. Some of you may know verse 4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” “Delight yourself in the Lord” means to pamper yourself in the Lord. When I think of pampering myself, I think of going to the spa to get a massage. Some of you ladies may think of getting your nails done. Some of you men may think of going out on the golf course. Pampering implies enjoyment and relaxation. What if we enjoyed being with God and looked forward to it as much as playing golf or going to the spa. And what’s great is that it doesn’t cost money, nor do you have to wait a long time to do so, though it may take some intentional planning. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, God gives us what our hearts really desire. The inheritance that this world offers, that which the wicked seem to have is only a temporary inheritance. The inheritance of the righteous is an eternal inheritance. Instead of being envious in regard to what we don’t have, we are called to be generous with what we do have. Verse 21 contrasts the wicked, who do not return what they borrow, with the righteous, who show mercy and give. Giving helps us realize and appreciate what we do have. It is a joyful act of worship. How do you feel on 2¢-a-meal Sundays, which is coming up next week, by the way? Or when it comes to raising money for ministries like the Pregnancy Center? You have shown yourselves to be generous, and I think we are generous because we are excited about these ministries, and we enjoy being a part of them. Verses 25-26 are difficult. If David never saw poor people, then he was spending too much time in his palaces. Of course righteous people have had to beg bread and have even starved to death. The answer is that these verses are communal. The righteous community has enough to provide for those in need. If there is a need that we do not meet, then we are at fault. However, we are not held accountable for meeting the needs that we do not know about. There was a man in my first church with whom I had a lot of shared values when it comes to social and economic justice. However, he worked hard to promote social justice through changing the government, whereas I believe it is the calling and responsibility of the people of God to bring justice. Look at the top schools, hospitals, children’s homes and welfare programs of this country. Most were started by churches, and many of the highest quality ones are still run by religious non-profits backed by churches. This is the work of the kingdom of God, and it will always be far more effective than any human government agency. As for the righteous being hungry, even in this condition, the righteous truly are never forsaken by God. Jim and I are reading Tom Doyle’s newest book Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe. The stories in the book show God’s people at points of real need in their lives, but never do they express feeling forsaken by God. And it is often through the righteous community that their needs are met, and indeed, these believers in need are also some of the most selfless, generous people you will ever meet. They hold loosely to the things of this world in exchange for an eternal inheritance, and they delight themselves in God’s presence and in doing God’s kingdom work in this world. Suffering is not in vain and is pretty much a given in this life. It can help us better understand our relationship with God and may even be used to deepen our relationship with God. It may be used to help another person on their spiritual journey. We may never know the why of suffering, but we can know that God doesn’t abandon us or waste our hurts. This psalm is about educational instruction in regard to righteousness as opposed to being a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. No, life is not fair, but our God is a God of justice, and even more than that, our God is merciful! Despite what is going on around us, God’s justice is certain. The blessedness of the righteous is a given. They are greatly honored. The psalm says the meek will inherit the land, which is probably what Jesus quotes in the beatitudes. Isaiah 65 is another passage where future economic justice and prosperity is promised for God’s people. We are sojourners here, but we are to make the most of our time in the way we live our lives.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Great Work of God; Romans 8

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