From Security to Brokenness to Restoration: Psalms 101-103

The collectors and shapers of the book of Psalms saw in Psalms 90-106—thought of as Book Four in the Psalms—the rich and exalted theology taken from various periods of Israel’s history and which addresses some of Israel’s and mankind’s deepest needs. The collection as a whole addresses the problem raised in Psalm 89, a psalm which at once praises God for the wonderful covenant he made with David and the terrible pit into which Israel fell after that Davidic covenant seemed to come to an end.

Psalms 93-100 stand out in particular as an extended series of “Yahweh reigns” psalms. Each of them (with the seeming exception of Psalm 94) exalt Yahweh as the king of Israel, apparently denying the problem seen in Psalm 89 by insisting that although David’s descendants no longer sit on Israel’s throne, in reality it is Yahweh who sits of the throne over Israel. Psalm 100 concludes this small collection of psalms by stitching together small lines and references to the previous psalms into a glorious concluding hymn of praise.

Psalms 101-103 seem to be an odd break from this theme. We can understand them, however, as a move in another direction that will support the previous statements. They take us through a cycle of establishment, brokenness, and reestablishment.

Psalm 101 is attributed to David and sings of the integrity of the psalmist. The psalmist sings in sentence after sentence of the things he will do on behalf of the Lord. “I will sing . . .” “I will pay attention . . .” “I will live . . .” The psalmist also includes negative actions as he details those things he is against. “I will not let . . .” “I hate . . .” “I will not be involved with . . .” From beginning to end, the psalm presents us with the worshiper of Yahweh who sees himself in the best possible light and who separates himself, sometimes with violence, from those who lack his integrity.

Psalm 102 moves quickly into a cry for help. The psalm has been given a title in the Hebrew text that identifies it as “A prayer of a suffering person who is weak and pours out his lament before the Lord.” While the psalmist is unnamed, it is sometimes thought to be from David. The name is not here as an aspect of the message of humility in relation to the previous psalm Gone is the proud integrity of Psalm 101. Gone is the smugness with which the psalmist of Psalm 101 calls down violence on the wicked. Instead, he finds himself in same need of help from God as those he previously separated himself from.

In Psalm 103, the psalmist, here identified as David once again, is singing praise to God. This praise is very different from the praise that opens Psalm 101, however. The praise now is focused on God’s forgiveness of sin and his ability to rescue his people out of trouble. This psalm directly answers the problems faced in Psalm 102. And it perfectly balances the first person vow of integrity found in Psalm 101. All of the first person verbs of Psalm 101 have been replaced by third person statements about God. Psalm 101 is about the goodness of the psalmist. Psalm 103 is about the goodness of God.

So the sequence of Psalms 101-103 takes us from security in ourselves to an utter brokenness, and then from that brokenness to restoration. In other words, Psalms 101-103 give us a small picture of what God is doing for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Humans smug in their own self-secure legalism, confident in their own ability to maintain the righteous life that God desires, find themselves shattered on the rocks of the law of sin and death. In that brokenness, they cry out to God and he heals them and forgives them.

The real import of these psalms might lie in the fact that it is David about whom the psalms speak. It is not a godless pagan who is new to God’s covenant with Israel. Rather it is Israel’s king. And not just Israel’s king, but Israel’s standard-bearing king. It is David against whom every other king of Israel and Judah is judged. He is the quintessential king. Since this is David presented to us in Psalms 101-103, we must see this process of security, brokenness, and restoration happening as a cycle in the life of the believer. We certainly come to Christ once and are saved. The New Testament is clear at this point. Christ will not be crucified again for our sin. At the same time, we are never really settled in our sanctified, righteous life. We fail. We fall into old habits. We settle for less than what God has for us. But when we do, we have a God that is listening for our cry for help and is there to help us when we do.

And when we cry for help and are healed and forgiven, we can cry out with the psalmist, “Bless the Lord, all his angels . . . Bless the Lord, all his armies . . . Bless the Lord, all his works . . . Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

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The Work of God in Genesis One

Genesis 1 presents mankind as bearers of God’s image. That concept has elicited much work on the question of what it means to bear God’s image. Without discussing the options here, I will merely continue with one of the options in mind. After God created man in his image, he then gave the man and woman authority over the rest of creation. It has been suggested that in doing so, God was leaving mankind as his vice-regents to care for and rule over the earth in God’s absence. This interpretation works well with the text and also with what we know of ancient Near Eastern practices.

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If mankind is left to care for the earth as representatives of God, does it then follow that we are to do the kind of work that God did in creating the heavens and the earth? On the one hand, the question in absurd. We cannot speak things into existence, nor can we make what is from what is not. The idea that we might carry on God’s work in this sense is completely impossible. On the other hand, has God left us a paradigm in his work of creation which we can follow in our work? I believe so.

Just as with the concept of mankind created in the image of God above, our understanding of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 has brought very spirited discussion and strong disagreements among biblical scholars. One of these interpretations looks at the literary structure of Genesis 1 and the pattern of creation revealed in the six days. The six days can be outlined as follows:

 

·       Day One: God created night and day.

·       Day Two: God created sky and sea.

·       Day Three: God created dry land from the sea.

·       Day Four: God created the heavenly bodies.

·       Day Five: God created the birds and fish.

·       Day Six: God created the land animals and mankind.

 

It is not difficult to see in the above presentation that there is a connection between the first three days of creation and the second three days of creation. Day one was occupied with the creation of light and the separation of that light from darkness. God concluded by naming the light “day” and darkness “night.” On day four, though, he created the sun, moon, and stars, in effect giving shape to the light and darkness that was created on day one.

On day two, God created the sky and sea. On day five he filled those spaces with the birds and the fish.  On day three, God separated the sea and had dry land emerge from beneath. From the land sprang forth all vegetation. Likewise, on day six God created all land animals including the separate creation of mankind.

It would seem clear from this summary that on days one, two, and three, God is making spaces. On days four, five, and six, however, he is filling those spaces. Having said that there are various ways of understanding the time and nature of God’s work on the six days of Genesis 1, no matter what understanding one has of the time involved, the fact of God’s creating spaces and then filling those spaces is still, or can be still, a component of that interpretation.

Now if God has done this kind of work on the six days, and if mankind is created to carry on the kind of work that God has done, could we not see our daily work as one of creating spaces and filling those spaces?

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Creating Spaces of Time

 On the first day of creation, when God created light and separated that light from darkness, he did not at that point create a space in the sense of a location. Rather, as what was emphasized earlier, he created a temporal space or pattern. God spoke light into existence and separated it from the darkness. The light he called day. The darkness he called night. On that day God created the alternation of evening and morning.

Our first work then might be seen as the creation of temporal space—the organization of time. Now in fact mankind has been doing this sort of thing since the beginning of time. The earliest pagan rituals were organized around the patterns of the sun, moon, and stars. Very early, man recognized the use of the rising and setting sun for the tracking of days. The cycle of the moon led to the concept of the month, which word in many languages is related to the corresponding word for moon. The rotation of the earth around the sun, noticeable to early man by the slowly moving location of the rising and setting sun on the horizon, led to the development of the year. The ease of tracking the lunar cycles led to an early adoption of a lunar calendar. The solar calendar, based on the earth’s rotation around the sun, did not correspond precisely to the lunar calendar, so various ways were developed over time and in different cultures for correlating the two calendars.

In similar fashion, we organize our time. We have our patterns of night and day. We organize our day by hours and minutes and such. When we do so, are we not carrying on the work of God on the first day of creation? And just as God created the evening and morning, he also on the fourth day created the sun, moon, and stars and did so, according to the text, so that we could use these for organizing our festivals and meeting times, and so that we would know the seasons and such. So the creation of the night and day was not done for its own sake, but so that we would then be able to fill that space with meaningful content.

Next Up: Creating Spaces of Place

Ordering Our Nights and Days: An Act of Bearing God’s Image

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My day, Lord, is yours. Creation gives us a daily sequence or alteration of evening and morning. The direction of that sequence is important and the opposite of what our language and culture dictate. We begin each day with the morning and end it at night. Genesis counts the days by evenings and morning, however, so we could say that the day begins with bedtime at night and ends in the light of day before the next sunset. Seen this way, we have a movement from darkness to light just as creation in Genesis moves from unadulterated darkness to a divided and ordered darkness and light. Revelation tells us that the darkness that permeated all things at the beginning will not be present in the eschaton.

The Work of Night

I have my nights and days to order. I have a night for sleep and a day for work. As seen above and in Genesis, we come to the evening first in each day. We think of the night as being for sleep, and with good reason. Our bodies are conditioned through environment and habit to sleep easily at night. When I was in seminary I worked at night and had to try to sleep during parts of the daytime. It was always a struggle for me to adjust properly my sleep schedule and I eventually got a pneumonia and had to quit that schedule, but fortunately not the company that I worked for.

Sertillanges talks in his book on the intellectual life about the work of night. In that section of his book he explains the role of sleep in the scholar’s life. Sleep, he claims is both restorative and productive. It is restorative because you are resting from the day before and providing your body the stillness and rest it needs for your work the following day. Sleep is significant on these merits alone. Yet it can also be productive in that it is in the stillness of the night that ideas are often more clear or vivid than in the full light of day. Sertillanges recommends keeping a notebook and pencil by the bed so that you can make note of those thoughts you have in the middle of the night, both in your sleep and in those first clear moments upon waking before the mind begins its slog through the cares and worries of the day ahead of it.

Remembering that sleep is also restoration, we might see our work of night as a sort of reward at the end of the day, and so it is. Yet seen from the perspective of the evening and morning cycle, the restoration of sleep is all preparation for what is to come. It is a bit like preparing for a journey: we plan the trip, we gather the supplies we need for the journey, and then we set out. When we plan the events of a day, we must be sure that our body is equipped for the day’s activities. Much like the automobile that we check for oil and water which we fill with gas, and whose tires we fill with air, part of the preparation for the activities of a day includes properly preparing our bodies for the work ahead of it.

The Work of Day

The work of day is the heart of what we do each night and day. We will explore this further in the coming section. The work of day for us is to replicate in some way the work of God in the six days in which he made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. We, as his image-bearers continue that work as we relive the week of creation before each sabbath.

The Movement from Night to Day

The movement from night to day is not coincidental to the biblical message. Before God’s work of creation on Day One on which he spoke light into existence, there was a world of darkness and water, without shape or content. God, however, spoke into the tangible darkness and created light. He then divided the light from the darkness so that there would be no confusion and named the light day and the darkness night. At that point in the Bible—already in the fifth verse!—God began this alternation of darkness and light, of night and day. That alternation has continued to today and will continue, according to God’s word until the end of all things. Will we return to darkness at that time? On the contrary, the book of Revelation describes the new Jerusalem as a city in which God is the light, and whose gates never close because it is never night time.

So the direction of things is from a unitary darkness at the beginning of all things to a unitary light at the end of all things. In the time in between, we have our pattern of night and day that will continue unabated until Christ’s return.

We can see the alternation of night and day as representative of another eschatological reality. If we see the sleep of night preceding the work of day, then we have a daily reminder of the sleep of death preceding the light of the resurrection. Each night that we go to bed, we can consider the sleep of death that each of us will endure unless the Lord returns first. We can consider our own mortality. This is not a time for soul-crushing moroseness, but rather for an unfettered realism that liberates the person to look fearlessly into the future and consider one’s own end.

Seen this way, we can rise each morning not with dread about what is to come that day, but rather with thanksgiving that God has left us this little daily reminder of the coming time when he will raise each person from the dead. The slumber of death is not permanent, but is only a fleeting shadow awaiting the dawn of the coming of Christ when he reclaims his church and draws it to himself.

Reading through the Bible

Without a plan, you will find it difficult to develop spiritual disciplines. I encourage you in these days leading up to the new year to consider finding a plan for the new year that will help you in your Bible reading.

There is no right or wrong plan. (I suppose if you plan not to read, then that is the wrong plan!) A few years ago I began a reading plan that I have found helpful. It is an adaptation of a type of plan that has been used for many years by many believers. In this plan, you have three readings each day from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. You will complete the Bible in the course of the year.

This plan includes daily readings from the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, and the New Testament. The order of the some of the Old Testament books will not be the same as in your English Bible because it follows the order of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Here are the files for each of the four readings. I print these double-sided and use them as bookmarks in each of the four sections of the Bible I am reading.

Torah Reading Schedule

Prophets Reading Schedule

Writings Reading Schedule

NT Reading Schedule

Lectio Divina

We had a great Lord’s Day together yesterday. Dave Payton taught our class and did a great job with John 14. I am very happy to have able men who can teach alongside me.

At the end of the lesson, Dave included some notes about a Bible reading strategy that is very old, called Divine Reading, or Lectio Divina. The traditional form of this reading has four steps (lection, meditatio, oratio, and contemplation), but you can also find it with the six steps that Dave presented on Sunday (adding silencio and incarnatio). I think the six steps contain helpful additions to the original four.

The four stages of reading were equated with taking a meal or feasting. A bite is taken (lectio, or simply reading the text). The bite is chewed (meditatio, or meditating on, thinking about the text), the flavor and aroma of the text is enjoyed (oratio, or the prayer offered back to God concerning the text), and then swallowed (contemplatio, or the taking of the text into one’s life and the transformation of the life that results).

The two added stages of reading are the beginning prayer (silencio) and finally the living out of the text in your life (incarnatio).

Dave gave some practical suggestions that I think are imperative to good Bible reading:

1. Choose a length of text that fits you. Do not read too little. Challenge yourself. But also, do not try to read so much that you lose the life-transforming aspect of the reading. In my own reading, I have large portions that I read daily, but I choose smaller sections to use for the Lectio Divina described above.

2. Have a plan. This cannot be stressed too much. Do not be haphazard in your reading. Do not simply read when you feel like it or read what you feel like reading. No matter how much or how little you read, be intentional about it. As Dave also says, make a plan for how you are going to read. Find a time and a place to read.

3. Have study helps available. Be ready to understand the difficulties you might find in the text.

4. Don’t be in a hurry. Haste is your enemy. Consider the analogy of the feast described above. Reading the Bible is not a trip to McDonald’s. Don’t treat it that way. Whether you are reading large or small passages, consider them as gourmet food and savor them that way.

5. Adapt this plan to your situation and be creative. Dave stressed that each of us has a unique life situation. There will not be one specific plan that fits every person and every lifestyle. Don’t use this as excuse to be lazy, or worst of all as an excuse not to read at all. Rather, look at your life and the consider the challenge of how best to shape your life around the reading of God’s word.

We have a break for two weeks from our Sunday Bible Study. Take this time to continue privately in the Word. Consider the coming of our Savior at this time. Think about the New Year coming. Take every opportunity to make changes in your life that would form you into the image of God’s son.

Bon Appetit!

John 13

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This Sunday we are studying John 13. We are entering a new section of the Gospel of John. Jesus’ public ministry has been the focus of John 1-12. Beginning in John 13 is an extensive section where Jesus is alone with his disciples. Following this section comes the crucifixion and then resurrection of Jesus.

John 13 can be divided into four sections:

John 13:1-11–Jesus Sets an Example for His Disciples
John 13:12-20–Jesus Teaches His Disciples the Meaning of Service
John 13:21-30–Satan Enters Judas
John 13:31-38–Jesus Gives a New Command

As you read each section, remember to first pray that God would help you to understand the text. Second, read each section asking what we might learn about God the Father and about Jesus the Son.

As you read, remember that last week in John 12 was the first time that Jesus said that his time had now come. Before then, he always said that his time was not yet. Notice the beginning of John 13. John repeats that Jesus knows that his time has come. That makes what follows all the more poignant.

In the first section, Jesus provides an example for this disciples to follow. He takes off his outer garment, takes the basin of water and a towel, and he washes the feet of the disciples. Consider what this act tells us about Jesus. What does Jesus think of himself? What does Jesus think of himself in relation to his disciples? What about Judas, who is still at the table at this point?

In the second section, Jesus explains to his disciples the meaning of the foot washing. The action of foot washing followed by Jesus’ explanation sounds quite a bit like the way Jesus taught through his parables. His act of foot washing is the parable. His explanation is the private word Jesus would have with his disciples when he explained his teaching to them. Jesus is Lord and Teacher, yet he washes his disciples’ feet. How much more should we, who are not lords and teachers, wash the feet of others.

The next scene tells of the dinner. There is an interaction between Peter and John, and then John asks Jesus a question, but this whole section is leading up to moment of decision for Judas. In the middle of the meal, Judas arises and leaves to begin the process of betrayal. John concludes, “And it was night.” What a contrast to the light of Christ coming into the world.

After the departure of Judas, Jesus begins teaching the disciples. He offers them a new command, “Love one another.” This is not really a new command. Jesus knows and quotes the Old Testament when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rather, it seems that Jesus is amplifying and emphasizing the importance of this command. This emphasis on loving one another seems to be what Jesus was getting at in the other Gospels when he gave the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord Your God” and a second command like it, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, in effect, was saying, “You have heard it said, ‘Love the Lord your God’ (And you should), but I say to you, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (because you haven’t been doing this).” This is what Jesus is getting at by saying he is giving them a new command.

Notice at the end of this section what Jesus says about love. Our love is the sign to others that we follow Jesus. It is not by our doctrine (although right doctrine is important), it is not by our dress (though we should dress modestly and appropriately), and it is not by what we say (although we should speak the truth and be prepared to give witness to Christ). Instead Jesus says that people will know we are Jesus’ followers by the way we love one another. Pay attention to what Jesus says and what he does not say. He does not say that people will be won over by our love, but only that they will know who we are and our identity in Christ. Also, he does not say that this happens through our love of them (although we should love all people), but rather that they will know who we are by the way we love each other.

I look forward to seeing our small group Sunday morning.

Blessings

How Will They Preach?

I just received a message from friends on the mission field with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In their message, they included some statistics about the current state of missions around the globe. Here is what they said:

Fast Facts
Global population ………………………………………………………………… 7.0 billion people
Population of unreached people groups with limited
or no access to the Gospel …………………………………………………… 3.9 billion people
Number of Southern Baptist missionaries currently
serving overseas with IMB ………………………………………………….. 4,854 missionaries*
(* Plus their approx. 4,000 children)
Number of countries in which they are working …………………….. 134 countries
Number of people groups currently being engaged
by IMB missionaries ……………………………………………………………. 874 people groups
Number of people groups currently being engaged
that do not have Scripture in their language
(“Bible-less people groups”) ………………………………………………… 204 people groups

I want to point out two items from this list and then encourage you to give sacrificially to support the International Mission Board.

First, notice number of people groups that the IMB is currently engaging: 874! I wish that number were higher, but we need to praise the Lord for what he is doing among those 874 different people groups. But second, notice that among those 874 people groups, 204 of them have not scripture in their language! That means that almost one in four people groups being engaged by the IMB has no scripture available to them.

If I might add to Paul’s argument in Romans 10, “How will they hear the gospel, unless someone preach it to them; how will they preach unless they be sent; and how will they preach unless there is a scripture to preach!

There is an urgent need to provide scripture to those 204 people groups currently being engaged by missionaries. There is also a great need to provide both missionaries and scripture to hundreds upon hundreds of other people groups that have not been engaged and which have no scripture.

This Christmas you have an opportunity to help support the work of the thousands of IMB missionaries through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, an annual offering taken on behalf of the IMB. 100% of the funds raised through the offering go to support overseas operations. Your offering will make a tremendous difference in the world. If you are not part of a church that takes an offering for the IMB, please go the IMB website for information about how you can help support their work.

John 12

We are preparing for John 12 today at church.

This chapter highlights several different responses to Jesus. Jesus himself will conclude the teaching.

First, we see the response of both Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the keeper of the disciples’ money. Mary uses expensive perfumed oil to anoint Jesus’ feet before his coming death. Judas is greedy for money.

Second, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, many people followed Jesus. The priests, on the other hand, responded to Jesus’ life-giving miracle by seeking to kill Lazarus, so that the crowd would cease following Jesus.

Third, the crowd responded to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with shouts of praise and a welcoming of Israel’s king.

Fourth, back to the problem of Lazarus, the Pharisees saw the crowds rushing after Jesus because of his rising from the dead. Their response was, “We have failed.” Their only failure was failing to open their eyes and see the truth.

Fifth, some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover seek out Jesus through Philip and Andrew. Jesus responds to the news with the long-awaited “Now my time has come.” Jesus has said repeatedly throughout the Gospel of John, “My time has not yet come.” Now it has arrived.

Sixth, the Father, in a voice from heaven, responds to Jesus, saying, “I have glorified [your name], and I will glorify it again.”

In all of these responses, do you see yourself? Jesus says at the end of the chapter, “The one who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me. . . . I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness. . . . I know that [the Father’s] command is eternal life.”

Have you placed your faith in Jesus as the one sent from God? Are you still walking in darkness? Jesus came as a light in the darkness of the world so that we would not remain in the dark, but would receive the light, and the gift of eternal life. That is God’s gracious offer to you today.

Nigeria Bible Translation Trust–Week Two

I am at the end of my second week in Nigeria. Things continue to go well and I am looking forward to our third week here, and then seeing my family again!

Work in a developing country is always a challenge, and we have daily reminders of that as we deal with the electricity. Electricity from outside regularly turns on and off throughout the day. It seems to be mostly off, but I can’t always tell. The NBTT has a generator that can be turned on to power the compound when the outside electricity is off, but there are significant amounts of time when neither the generator not the outside electricity is on. Since the generator uses fuel, they do not run it in the middle of the night, for instance. And they especially don’t want to run it when there is outside electricity coming in.

the result of all of this is that our meetings are frequently, and sometimes quite inconveniently, interrupted by power outages. Since we are using a minimum of paper in this meeting, all the information is shared electronically, and the presentations are projected on a screen for the audience. Once the electricity goes off, it is quite difficult to continue what we are doing.

“What is the problem?” you might ask. We could just turn on the generator then and continue with the program. That works when the person that runs the generator is present, is awake, can be found, is not away on a trip, etc. But we persevere. And good things are happening.

I observed two translation teams this week. The first three days of the week I spent with two Kamwe men and their consultant. Another man was there being trained for something, but I could find out what. The first day we met and they went through a chapter of Leviticus, chapter three, I believe. One of the translators read the verse in Kamwe. Another would translate that translation into English. Then the consultant would ask questions about the translation. They worked so quickly that they finished the chapter in about two hours.

I was particularly impressed with this young lady working as the consultant. The group was working in English, but she knew the target language of Kamwe well enough that she could converse with them in that language. In addition, she would talk at times to the other young man there for training in a third language that the two Kamwe men did not seem to understand. And then, when there were difficulties at certain points she would read from the Camerounian Bible to give them other examples of translation options. This, and she knew Hebrew extremely well.

When I pointed out to her the next day that she was working in four languages besides Hebrew, she smiled a little shyly. “Did I?” When I counted off the languages and then paused, she said, “Oh, you forgot about Hausa. We used that quite a bit.” I believe it was a desire for accuracy more than pride.

The second day that I spent with the group they got hung up on two verses in Leviticus 4 that dealt with sin that came from mishandling things devoted to God. They had great difficulty in getting the right sense for the things devoted to the Lord. They tried many options, but they all fell short for one reason or another. They struggled through two hours like this. The translators apologized repeatedly for taking so long with these concepts. They were embarrassed, I think, because they were afraid I though they were going too slow.

At the end of the two hours, we began to pack up our things to leave. I asked the consultant if I could say a few things to the translators. I told them that the previous day they flew through about 35 verses of text, but that today they could only do two verses. But then, I reminded them of the text they were translating. It concerned the guilt that would attach to a man who mishandled the things of God. I reminded them that their job there was to translate the Word of God into their native Kamwe language. They were handling the things of God. It was crucial for them to not mishandle it, but to treat it carefully.

There is serious work being done here these three weeks. I am humbled to be invited to be a part of it. My prayer is that God would be honored by the correct handling of his Word, and that many people and peoples would come to know him by reading and studying his Word in their language.