Monday, May 23, 2016

Walking Uprightly

This morning I was reading from the Psalms and I read one of those things that just stopped me in my tracks.  It was in Psalm 84, which my Bible titles, "My Soul Longs for the Courts of the Lord."  In it the psalmist talks about the blessings that come to God's children and the great joy of being in the house of the Lord as compared to being anywhere else.

It was in last part of verse 11, just before the psalm's end, where I saw something other than a simple longing for the place where God dwells, where the psalmist writes,

"No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly."

Those are just eleven words, and I believe the words are true, that the Lord will not keep back His good gifts from those that walk uprightly.  But that is where things are both much more complicated, and ultimately much more beautiful, than they seem at first glance.

On my own I cannot "walk uprightly" in the eyes of God, nor can anyone else, save for one person, Christ Jesus.  He alone walked uprightly, from His first day to His last. God the Son in complete obedience to God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That was a pretty easy sentence for me to type, but the cost to Christ Jesus as He acted in complete obedience was very great.  For Him, walking uprightly meant to ultimately lay down His life to pay the debt of my sin.  And so the promise of the psalm is true for all believers, only because Jesus has traveled the path they could not.  I "walk uprightly" not on my own efforts but only by faith in Him.

I read a sermon last week by Charles Spurgeon called "The Death of Christ for His People."  In it Spurgeon says,

"Our sins were numbered on the Scapegoat's head, and there is not one sin that ever a believer did commit that has any power to damn him, for Christ has taken the damning power out of sin, by allowing it, to speak by a bold metaphor, to damn Himself, for sin did condemn Him.  Inasmuch as sin condemned Him, sin cannot condemn us.  O believer, this is your security, that all your sin and guilt, all your transgressions and your iniquities, have been atoned for."[1]

So I can go back and re-read the Psalm 84, and, like the psalmist, look forward to seeing the promises of God fulfilled, the joy of one day living in the courts of the Lord, because my place has been secured there by the upright walk of Christ Jesus, my Savior and Lord.

May the joy of this promise also belong to you.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] I made minor modernization updates to Spurgeon's language. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Speed Bump

Each Sunday morning as our worship begins we recite a Psalm.  While I don’t use the Revised Common Lectionary for preaching I do look each week to see what Psalm it includes and then use that psalm in our worship. 

Well, that is kind of what I do.  Sometimes the lectionary includes just a few verses of a psalm, or sometimes it may omit large sections of a psalm, and some psalms are completely excluded from the lectionary.  I understand part of the reason why this is, because the psalms include the full range of human emotions.  On the one side it is easy to include psalms heavy in praise and joy.  Way off to the other side, the psalms that call for God to avenge God's enemies…those require a different touch to be used well in worship. 

So my practice in planning our worship has been to use entire psalms, wherever practical, by length and topic.  The lectionary repeats over a period of three years and if I have already used a psalm in that time-frame I may look to see about using one of the psalms the lectionary passes over.

This past Sunday we recited Psalm 104, verses 24-35.  The psalm is 35 verses long, and perhaps a bit long to use in its entirety.  The heading to the psalm in my Bible is "In Praise of the Creator" and that is basically what it is.  It is a song of praise to God the Creator, making mention of many of the things found within creation, all made  by God.

I was led to choose this section of this psalm because it was in the lectionary.  Sort of.  The lectionary included verses 24-34 and 35b, omitting the first part of verse 35.  In the Good News translation, the version of the Bible in the pews of our church, verses 24-34 read:

 Lord, you have made so many things!
    How wisely you made them all!
    The earth is filled with your creatures.
 There is the ocean, large and wide,
    where countless creatures live,
    large and small alike.
 The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan,
    that sea monster which you made.
 All of them depend on you
    to give them food when they need it.
 You give it to them, and they eat it;
    you provide food, and they are satisfied.
 When you turn away, they are afraid;
    when you take away your breath, they die
    and go back to the dust from which they came.
 But when you give them breath, they are created;
    you give new life to the earth.
 May the glory of the Lord last forever!
    May the Lord be happy with what he has made!
 He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
    he touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke.
 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
    as long as I live I will sing praises to my God.
 May he be pleased with my song,
    for my gladness comes from him.

This last third of the psalm is joyous. It begins with praise for God as Creator, then shows God as the Sustainer of creation, and then shifts to the psalmist personally praising God.  Then comes the first part of verse 35:

May sinners be destroyed from the earth;
    may the wicked be no more.

That is the speed bump, before closing with these words:

Praise the Lord, my soul!
Praise the Lord!

I can only guess as to why the people compiling the lectionary left out the first part of verse 35.  I'll grant that it does interrupt the flow of praise that builds throughout the whole psalm.  But on the other hand, if the entire Bible, from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 21:21, is God's Word, and a relentlessly good word, then perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to pass over those things that might offend our sensibilities. 

The psalmist knows that not everyone looks at the world from the same vantage point he does.  Not everyone has praise for the Creator, Sustainer and ultimately, the Redeemer, of the world.  And so he calls for God to bring His just judgment on those people.

And as I think about our use of the psalm from yesterday the speed bump gives me pause.  If I consider what it means, in an eternal sense, for sinners to be "destroyed from the earth," for "the wicked to be no more," that end is frankly horrifying.  And so the speed bump gets my attention and calls me to serve God in ways which lead others to see His goodness and mercy, revealed perfectly in Christ Jesus, so that they, and I, and the psalmist, can join together in singing our praise to God.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Scenic Vista

This week we went camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is located in the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in south central Colorado.  I took the picture here while sitting at our campsite, looking east across the San Luis valley, with the San Juan mountains rising in the distance.

Looking at a map I would guess that it is about 40 miles from the park to the San Juans.  The first night of our trip I sat at our campfire and looked across that distance, seeing a thin line of lights appearing to spread across the base of the mountains, running as far as I could see from south to north.  And while I looked at those lights and the distance they covered, three things came to mind, in this order.

First was verse 1 from Psalm 19,

"The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."

While on the one hand that verse is pretty standard fare when we pay attention to the glory of God in creation, on the other hand it remains true whether we notice the work of God's hand or not.  Creation, every bit of it, large and small, declares the glory of God.

Second, that panoramic nighttime vista brought a thought from Job.  Yes, Job.  Job 1, specifically verses 6-7,

"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”"

Looking at the space it was easy to imagine Satan, wandering back and forth, looking for weaknesses to exploit in his battle with God.  And as I pondered that idea it was easy to imagine that at the moment Satan was having a measure of success, but that also there were people who have faith in the Lord God and were turning to Him to resist in whichever ways they were being tempted.

And that brought a third thought to mind, from Revelation 21, verses 1-4,

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”"

The world is a beautiful place but in God's story it is not our final home.  Satan is a powerful enemy of God and all who love Him, but his power is not unlimited and his defeat is certain.  And so as beautiful as my daytime and nighttime views were on our trip, God has something much more glorious in the works. 

A new heaven and a new earth, with Satan permanently defeated, and best of all, where God's children will behold His very presence, forever. 

To God be all the glory. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.