Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent of the King

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the LORD God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)
A throne and a kingdom signify a King. The birth of Jesus, His coming into the world, is the fulfillment of the promise God made long ago to David, that his descendent would forever occupy his throne. Isaiah likewise prophesied concerning the birth of this King.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)
The Magi came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). They were not of the house of Jacob. They were not even of the house of Jacob’s brother, Esau, from whom the paranoid king, Herod, descended. Yet, they understood that the time for the Great King had come (and it was not Herod). They had seen His star, prophesied in Numbers 24:16-17, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” and they came to give Him honor. They were of the goyim, the surrounding pagan nations — Gentiles. The kingdom and the covenant were not theirs, yet they understood that this King would be a benefit to the whole world. For just as the star could be seen in their land, so the King would arise not only in Israel but out of Israel — for the sake of the whole world.

This theme of kingship carried forth in the life and ministry of Jesus. After He was baptized by John and driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where He was proved for forty days, He came preaching, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). His healing miracles manifested the authority of this kingdom: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you,” He said (Matthew 12:28).

Standing before Pilate, who asked, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “It is as you say.” Before Caiaphas, the high priest who demanded, “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, ““It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). This was a reference to the prophetic vision of Daniel:
I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14)
When He was crucified, the charge placed above His head read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” The resurrection from the dead by the Spirit of God demonstrated that King Jesus the Messiah, born of the seed of David, is indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:4-5). And before He ascended to His throne in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, Jesus came to the disciples and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” then He commissioned them to teach all nations everything He had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20).

In Revelation, He is called Pantokrator, which means “almighty” or “all-powerful,” and “King of the Saints.”
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.
The coming of Jesus the Messiah into the world is the advent of the King who reigns over all.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prophets and Lovers

Here is a song I wrote some years back. I did not write it as an Advent song, but as I have been meditating on the seasonal themes of watching and waiting and longing and expecting, these lyrics have come back to me and seem quite appropriate.
Prophets and lovers in search of a kingdom
Humble and mourning and longing in faith
Offering this life as a simple oblation
Stretching their arms wide in mercy’s embrace

Sages and dreamers in search of a city
Passionate pilgrims who wander afar
Casting their lives for a beautiful country
Giving up claim to this place where they are

Walking this world like a resident alien
Lifting their prayers, their journey to trace
And God, unashamed to be known as their Father
Showers His blessings of mercy and grace

Prophets and lovers in search of the Spirit
Lovers of God and of all who will seek
They call to me and they bid me to follow
And widen my soul with the wisdom they reap

Walking this world like a resident alien
Lifting my prayers, my journey to trace
And God, unashamed to be known as our Father
Showers His blessings of mercy and grace
© 1999 by Jeff Doles

This song is from my Walking Barefoot album, which you can find at Amazon (CD & MP3) and iTunes (MP3). You can also enjoy it on Spotify. 

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Silent and Still

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
(Psalm 62:5)
Once again, David has come before the Lord. He waits silently before God. It is not that he is settled in the midst of calm. Quite the opposite. He is surrounded, once again, by those who seek his downfall, false friends who pretend to bless him while inwardly cursing him (vv. 3-4).

But David comes quietly before God. It does not happen naturally. He has to remind his soul, perhaps even repeating it over and over to himself: “Soul! Wait silently for God alone.”

“Wait silently” translates one word, not two. The waiting implies silence and the silence implies patience. The word also speaks of stillness. David is not scouring his heart, trying to come up with some sort of plan to deal with all the treacherous pretenders on his own. No, he has instructed his heart to sit quietly and still before God alone. Nothing else will do. Only God can help him.

“For my expectation is from Him.” Some versions translate this as “For my hope is from Him.” In the Bible, hope is expectation. What is especially interesting here is that David says, “My expectation is from Him.” Not in but from, as if to add a layer of specificity. David does not have just a general hope in God, or that things will somehow turn out okay. No, he expects something from God, for God to move specifically on his behalf. He has a personal relationship with God, so his expectation is for God’s personal attention.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God;
My strong rock, my refuge, is in God. (vv. 6-7)
Though surrounded by disloyalty and deceit, David stills his heart before God. The longer he remains in that inner quiet, the more he realizes how much he needs God, but also how much God is for him. Now the assurance rises up in him: He will not be shaken. His position is secure, for God really is his strong rock of refuge. Now he turns to those who have remained loyal to him, and who are disquieted by the dangers that have threatened him—and them.
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge.
The world does not slow down, nations do not cease their striving, obligations do not go away while we quiet out hearts before God. We must quiet them anyway, reminding our souls that our expectation is from God alone, that He is our rescue and refuge, and that our glory, every good thing in our lives, comes from Him. It is in that realization that we come to know that whatever is happening in the world cannot shake us, for we are not founded on the world but on God.

Though the world does not know what do with it, Advent is a season for quieting our hearts and setting our expectation on God. For He comes, as He did so many centuries ago and has so many times since, bringing His salvation and releasing His glory. In the quiet of Advent, our hearts are refreshed as we wait for expectation to be fulfilled anew.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mary in Expectation
Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
The angel Gabriel spoke the promise to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

Mary did not doubt, but she did not understand. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” she asked (v. 34). So the angel told her. Now, the promise was amazing enough, but the explanation was even more astonishing: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”” (vv. 35-37).

The favor of God had indeed come upon Mary. Her response was simple and direct: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” The word of the Lord had come; she presented herself to God and laid hold of His promise. Her expectation was now set: Whatever the angel of God had spoken, that is what would come to pass. The Holy Spirit would come upon her, she would bear the Son of God, who would assume the throne of David and bring His eternal kingdom into the world.

As the Child began to grow inside her, so did her expectation of what God’s word to her meant. Pregnant and pondering, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was beyond childbearing years but also miraculously with child. When Mary entered the house, Elizabeth’s babe quickened inside her and she immediately recognized the significance, for the angel Gabriel had also come to her husband Zachariah, with the promise of a child who would “turn the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16). “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,” the angel said (v. 15).

So, Elizabeth, too, was living in divine expectation, and now the child in her womb was alerting her that the Lord had come to her home. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke vv. 42-45). Elizabeth’s expectation had increased and now included expectation for the promise that had been given to Mary. At this, Mary poured out her all her ponderings in a song of praise.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
    For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
    He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
    and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
    in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)
See how big her expectation. It was not just about what God was doing for her but what He was doing for Israel and, more than that, how He was fulfilling the word He spoke to Abraham. This was the promise that He would bless all the families of the world through the seed of Abraham. Mary’s expectation was as big as the world. Even though she had not yet given birth to Jesus, she counted God’s promise to Abraham as fulfilled. For whatever God has begun, He will bring to completion.

Advent is a season of great expectation. A season for believing the fulfillment of all that God has promised. A season for presenting ourselves to the Lord and saying, “Behold the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Watching in Expectation

Give ear to my words, O LORD,
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.
(Psalm 5:1-2)
David has spoken his words and thought his thoughts to the LORD. He has cried out to his King. He has brought his request, and brought it early, before God. He has directed his heart toward God, casting his cares on Him. There is now only one thing left to do: “And I will look up.” The NIV has it as, “And wait in expectation;” the HSCB as, “And watch expectantly.” It is the essence of hope.

Today, we often use our English word “hope” in a tentative way, to speak of things we desire to happen, things that can happen and perhaps will happen. Perhaps, or perhaps not. But that is not how the Bible uses the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “hope.” They speak of a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation, and there is a confidence to them. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” the author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 11:1). The word for “substance” speaks of the assurance and underlying reality of what is hoped for. Faith, then, is the underlying reality of things we do not yet see but fully expect to come to pass.

So, David brings his meditation (his “sighing,” as the HCSB says) before God, and now he has hope. But why? What is the reason for his positive expectation?
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;
The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (vv. 4-6)
David is expectant because he knows that God is not pleased by wickedness, nor with those who take pleasure in wickedness. The proud, the boastful, the bloodthirsty, the deceitful, these were the kind of people who were troubling David — the kind of people who are still present in the world today! God is not happy with them. They do not honor His way or believe His Word. They have no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). David, on the other hand, follows a different path.
But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.
Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;
Make Your way straight before my face. (vv. 7-8)
David leans hard into the one who has revealed Himself in covenant relationship by the name Yahweh (rendered in English by the word LORD, all caps). It is the name by which God has promised to be steadfast in love and mercy toward His people. The righteousness of Yahweh is not just His goodness in general. More particularly, it is His faithfulness in keeping His covenant. What God has promised, He will do. David comes depending on God’s covenant love and faithfulness. There is no faithfulness in David’s enemies, only falseness and flattery. They are wicked to the core and full of destruction, their throats like open tombs and their words like snares (v. 9).

David is waiting now, but for what is he watching? For God to come and settle the issue and set things right, to hold his enemies accountable. It is time for their counsels to fail, for them to fall by their own plans and be put out of the community, so that they can no longer trouble the innocent and the good. For in coming against the covenant people, they have rebelled against God Himself (v. 10). That is not the extent of David’s expectation, though. He also has a joyful anticipation for the covenant people themselves.
But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous;
With favor You surround him as with a shield. (vv. 11-12)
God honors those who honor Him, and keeps covenant with those who keep covenant with Him. He shows Himself faithful to those who put their trust in Him. He fills them with His joy and surrounds them with His favor.

Advent is a season of waiting and watching. Though there are many troubles about, and we are living in between the already of God’s kingdom breaking into the world and the not yet of when every eyes beholds it, God fills us with His joy and surrounds us with His favor. So we look up in joyful anticipation of what God is going to do next and how King Jesus will come to set everything right.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Longing for Light

LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. (Psalm 4:6)
David cries out to God.
He is in distress.
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
(Psalm 4:1)
God has brought him relief before in times of distress. Now he needs divine relief again. “Hear me … have mercy on me … hear my prayer,” he petitions. Here is what troubles him now:
How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? (v. 2)
David is beset by people who take everything that is good and turn it into shame, who love and attribute value to what is worthless and honor what is false. “How long?” he asks. Here, he addresses his opponents directly. Elsewhere in the Psalms, though, he directs the question to God. “How long, O LORD?” (Psalm 6:3; 13:1-2; 35:17; 74:10; 89:46; 94:3-4).

Not to make a pun here, but David is longing. That is one of the things that captures me in this psalm during this Advent season. Advent is not only a time of waiting and preparing, it is a season of yearning. Yet, though David longs, he is not in despair. Though he yearns, he is not without hope. Indeed, he is drawn by the expectation that God will free him from his afflictions once again. “The LORD will hear when I call to Him” (v. 3) is his confidence.

David is not the only going through this, his people are experiencing the same troubles. “Who will show us any good?” they ask (v. 6). David gives the answer in the second half of the verse as he turns their question into prayer: “LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.”

This is the other thing that captures my Advent imagination: Light. The light that comes from God. Though the darkness seems to be closing in all around, David knows who the source of light is: Yahweh, the God with whom David and his people are in covenant.
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (vv. 7-8)
David began in distress but now he is glad, lighthearted. He has turned it over to God and is longing toward the Lord, longing for the light of God. The answer has not yet turned up but he knows that it will. He rests in the peace, the shalom, the wholeness that comes from God. His trust is in Yahweh, who alone settles him in safety.

Longing and light. As we sit in the Advent shadows, surrounded by many distressing things that threaten our world, we watch, we wait, we yearn for the light that comes from the Lord alone. Only He can make us dwell in safety — and He will.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Season of Waiting

We are now in the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation. “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The season of Advent is an in between time, the time between promise and fulfillment, the time between “amen” and “there it is!” In the Church calendar, it is a time of preparation for the season of Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Historically, we are waiting for something that has already come, something that has already begun. That might seem a little strange. After all, if it has already come, why are we still waiting for it? But the truth is that, though it has already begun, it has not yet come in completeness. Theologians refer to this truth as already, not yet. That is, if I may make a little rhyme of it, we are waiting for something already begun, but not yet done.

What are we waiting for? One answer comes to me in my psalms for the day. Each day, I pray in the book of Psalms (5 a day times 30 days in a month is 150 psalms — it works out nicely). Today being the first of the month, I am praying through the first five psalms. But Psalm 2 is what I want to focus on here. Seeing that we are in the Advent season, I naturally tend to see this passage, at least today, in an Advent way. It begins,
Why do the nations rage
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed? (vv. 1-2)
Now, I have read this question many times before, but this morning I thought to ask it myself: “Lord, why do the kings of the earth still rage and the nations still plot in vain and set themselves against You and Your Messiah, Jesus?” I prayed through the psalm a little further.
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
“I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession. (vv. 6-8)
Yahweh says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” Past tense, completed action. This is the enthronement of a freshly anointed king over Israel. The New Testament attributes this psalm to David. David says, “I will declare the decree.” God has given David a decree and this is what He says to him, “You are My son, today I have begotten you.” In the mind of an ancient Israelite, this would speak of adoption — when God made David king, He adopted him as His son. This psalm, then, applied to David and to whichever of his descendents would ascend to the throne.

But there is also a deeper, prophetic significance here. Neither David nor the line of his descendents saw the fulfillment of the promise: “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.” Indeed, before long the throne of David began to crumble and the divided kingdom eventually went into a long exile, a deep time of waiting with the hope of a Messiah who was to come and a kingdom that would endure. After half a millennium, a new light began to dawn — the birth of Jesus, Son of David, who came announcing that the time was fulfilled and God’s kingdom had now come.

The most important thing in the world happened then. At the Incarnation, when Jesus came and took upon Himself our humanity. At the Cross, when He took upon Himself our sin and destroyed the works of the devil. At the Resurrection, when He took upon Himself our mortality and defeated it. At the Ascension, when He assumed His place at the right hand of the Father, where He now rules and reigns over all. And yet …

We are still waiting for the completion of what has begun. Ever since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of God has been “forcefully advancing” (Matthew 11:12 NIV). Still we wait. “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Still we wait. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And we wait for the day He comes again and receives all the nations for His inheritance and the ends of the earth for His possession. That will be the greatest Advent.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Mighty One of Jacob

LORD, remember David
And all his afflictions;
How he swore to the LORD,
And vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:
(Psalm 132:1-2)
Jacob wrestles with God

The Ark of the LORD had been returned to Israel and David brought it to the city of Jerusalem. He was ecstatic. He vowed to the Lord that he would not go to sleep until he made an abode, a place of habitation for God. For the ark was the place where God manifested His presence on earth, so it became the priority in David’s life to find a place where God might tabernacle with him, the temple where the Mighty One of Jacob would dwell on earth.

The Mighty One of Jacob is a name that speaks of continuity and covenant. He is the God who made covenant with Abraham and confirmed it with his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. He is the God who showed Himself strong on Jacob’s behalf. By this name, David acknowledged this covenant and the destiny contained therein. By this name, he gave testimony that God had showed Himself mighty on David’s behalf.

We first see this name in Genesis 49, where Jacob gives blessing to his children and prophesies over them. Of his son Joseph he said, “But his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24 NASB). Over his son Judah, Jacob prophesied an eternal kingdom: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Genesis 49:10). David, king of Israel, was of the tribe of Judah.

The Mighty One of Jacob was faithful to the promise given to Judah, and as He had strengthened Joseph in all his adversities, so He gave strength also to David in his. “For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall … He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze,” David said (Psalm 18:29, 34). As Joseph prevailed and rose to a position of greatness in Egypt, so David prevailed and ascended to the throne of Israel. Now the Ark of the Covenant manifested the presence of God in Jerusalem, and David wanted to honor Him with the best place.

David received the testimony and heritage of Jacob, and made a vow to the God of Jacob. In return, God made a vow to David, a promise of what this inheritance would mean in the world:
The LORD has sworn in truth to David;
He will not turn from it:
“I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.
If your sons will keep My covenant
And My testimony which I shall teach them,
Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore.”
(Psalm 132:11-12)
This promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, Son of David, who reigns forever as God’s Messiah King. In Him, all the covenant promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the world-redeeming purpose God had for Israel is made complete. God showed Himself strong on Jesus’ behalf when He raised Him from the dead, “according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19-21).

God has prepared the mighty working of this same power on behalf of all those who put their faith in King Jesus (Ephesians 1:19). By this power, at work in as well as for every believer, God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). The God who was mighty for Jacob’s sake, who strengthened Joseph and David, who made of Israel a great nation and who has given an eternal King to redeem and renew the world ~ this same God is mighty for all who will give Him the dwelling place of their hearts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yahweh Your God, Who Brought You Up from the Land of Egypt

I am the Yahweh your God,
Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
(Psalm 81:10)
This is a liturgical psalm, calling for the celebration of a solemn feast day, with loud singing and joyful shouts to “God our strength” (v. 1). It was instituted by God (v. 5):
This He established in Joseph as a testimony,
When he went throughout the land of Egypt,
Where I heard a language I did not understand.
A testimony is not only a reminder of what God has done in the past, but is also a witness of what God will do again in the future (see the Ark of Your Testimony). The reference to Joseph speaks of the days when the children of Israel were in Egypt, the land where Joseph became the rescuer of his family — Jacob and all the tribes of Israel. Their long sojourn eventually devolved into slavery, though, until God called Moses to lead them out of bondage.

“Where I heard a language I did not understand.” It is unclear who heard the “language” and what that language was. Some commentators believe the psalm writer is speaking for the children of Israel in Egypt, and that the language was therefore Egyptian, a tongue that was foreign to them. Others believe he speaks in the place of Israel as they heard Moses speak the revelatory language he received from God about their deliverance. It was certainly new to Moses himself, and he struggled to know what to make of it. God introduced Himself to Moses as, “The God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Or perhaps the psalm writer is speaking out of his own revelatory experience of the voice of God. The next section of this psalm, verses 6-15, is God Himself speaking.

“I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were freed from the baskets,” He says (v. 6). “You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (v. 7). God freed them, rescued them, heard their cry and answered them. At Meribah (which means “quarreling”), God tested them. Would they trust Him to take care of them in everything? See Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13.

Next are words of caution as God recalls how He had spoken to Israel in the past: “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you, nor shall you worship any foreign god” (v. 8-9). They had dwelt in the land of Egypt for so long they had begun to think like Egyptians, and though the language had been foreign to them, they had begun to speak to it. At times in their wilderness journey, they even longed to go back to Egypt. And they were influenced by the idolatry of the Egyptians, to worship the way the Egyptians did —see, for an example, how Aaron fashioned the gold calf for Israel to worship in Exodus 32.

Now we come to the declaration of who God was to them, a name by which He revealed Himself as their God. “I am Yahweh Your God Who Brought You Up from the Land of Egypt.” It was He, and none other, who delivered them. It was certainly no the gods of Egypt who did this, nor those of the surrounding nations. Yahweh alone did it. He did not just deliver them from their bondage; He brought them up from the land of the bondage. He lifted them out and caused them to go up to a higher place. He exalted them, taking them unto Himself as His own people.

What is the appropriate response to this? The answer is in the second half of the verse, where God says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” In the wilderness, the children of Israel worried about what they would eat, what they would drink and whether God would take care of them. When they opened their mouths, it was not in faith, but in murmuring. At Meribah, they quarreled and complained against God instead of trusting in Him.

God wanted to fill their mouths, to satisfy them with good things, but they would not have it. “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels” (v. 11-12). They would not listen, their hearts were stubborn and they preferred their own words to those of God. God’s judgment on them was that He let them have their own lusts, which is the worst of punishments.

Oh, what God longs to do for His people, if only we would listen to His voice and walk in His ways. “I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries,” He says (v. 14). He would feed us with the finest wheat and satisfy us with honey from the rock (v. 16). Sustenance and sweetness!

In Jesus the Messiah, God has lifted us up out of the “land of Egypt,” the place of our captivity and shame. He has exalted us and brought us into the “Promised Land,” just as He did with Israel. Open your mouth wide in expectation and let Him fill it with the language of faith.

Don’t worry about what you shall eat, what you shall drink, what you shall wear, as the rest of the world does, but seek first the rule and reign of God, and His way of doing things, and all these things will be taken care of (Matthew 6:31-33) and He will satisfy you with good things.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Disciple Jesus Loves

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. (John 13:23)
Who is the disciple Jesus loves? The gospel of John mentions him five times, and in all five places appears to be referring to John himself. He received from Jesus a deep understanding of the love God had for him. So deep was this revelation that John has often been called the “apostle of love,” and the theme of love permeates his writings.

Do not suppose, though, that there is only one disciple Jesus loves. There is another, and when you realize who it is, you will lean your head on Jesus’ breast.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Make Your Name Famous

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
(Matthew 6:9)
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” But what is it that we are really asking? To hallow something means to consecrate it, sanctify it, set it apart from all others, to make it holy. Or to put it another way, to make His name famous. “Your name, be made famous.” Grammatically, this is in the imperative mood. Conceptually, it is a divine passive. That is, we are calling for God to make His name holy — on earth as it is in heaven.

The Message Bible puts it this way: “Reveal who You are.” This brings out an important aspect: We are asking for a manifestation of who God is, for God to reveal Himself in the world, and thus cause His name to be recognized as holy. This is not a new idea Jesus is introducing but one that is rooted prophetically in the Old Testament. What is new, though, is the timing. Jesus brings it at the kairos moment, the point where everything was coming together in a way that would change the world forever.

Remember, Jesus began His ministry preaching, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). In Luke 4, He lays out the charter of the kingdom in terms of Isaiah 61, and declares, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Sermon on the Mount, which is where we find the Lord’s Prayer and “hallowed be Your name,” functions in much the same way.

Now, let’s look at what the hallowing of God’s name means prophetically, first in Ezekiel, then in Isaiah:
For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel,” says the Lord GOD, “there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things. I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. (Ezekiel 20:40-42)

Thus says the Lord GOD: “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am hallowed in them in the sight of the Gentiles, then they will dwell in their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob. And they will dwell safely there, build houses, and plant vineyards; yes, they will dwell securely, when I execute judgments on all those around them who despise them. Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God.” (Ezekiel 28:25-26)

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name — after they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid. When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 39:25-29)
Israel was held captive in foreign lands because of her unfaithfulness to God’s covenant in going after other gods and committing spiritual adultery. Even so, God promised that He would one day finally bring her home from exile. She would be accepted by God forever and He would fulfill the covenant He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No more would He hide His face, but He would pour out His Spirit on her. By this great act of deliverance, God would hallow His name and cause all the nations to know that He is God and there is none like Him. Isaiah likewise picks up this theme.
Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall not now be ashamed,
Nor shall his face now grow pale;
But when he sees his children,
The work of My hands, in his midst,
They will hallow My name,
And hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
And fear the God of Israel.
These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding,
And those who complained will learn doctrine.”
(Isaiah 29:22-24)

Surely the coastlands shall wait for Me;
And the ships of Tarshish will come first,
To bring your sons from afar,
Their silver and their gold with them,
To the name of the LORD your God,
And to the Holy One of Israel,
Because He has glorified you.
(Isaiah 60:9)
This redemption would also cause Israel herself to recognize the holiness of His name. The nations would not only bring her sons home but would also bring tribute to the name of her God, Yahweh (which is the name that the word, “LORD” in all caps, signifies). They would all honor Him as the Holy One because of the glory with which He would adorn Israel. Even the psalm writers note how great a cause for praise this would be.
Save us, O LORD our God,
And gather us from among the Gentiles,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
To triumph in Your praise.
(Psalm 106:47)

He has sent redemption to His people;
He has commanded His covenant forever:
Holy and awesome is His name.
(Psalm 111:9)
All this began to be fulfilled when King Jesus the Messiah came and proclaimed the kingdom of God was at hand. We see it in His reading of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
(Luke 43:18-19)
This is the good news Israel had been waiting for. Healing for the broken in heart, freedom for the captives, recovery of sight, liberty for the oppressed. With the words, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus was proclaiming that the “acceptable year of the LORD,” the time of God’s favor, had come. It came in the person of Israel’s Messiah King, Jesus. Through His death, burial and resurrection, He brought deliverance and forgiveness. Through the pouring out of His Spirit upon all who believed the good news, He fulfilled His promise to Israel and extended it to the nations.

When we pray, as Jesus taught us, “Our Father in heaven, make Your name holy and reveal who You are,” we are hastening the completion of what He has already begun. We are in a new time, a kingdom time when the God of Israel, His kingdom and Messiah is being proclaimed to all the world. He will continue to make His name known until His will is completely done on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Calming Yourself

Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
Like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.
(Psalm 131:2 HCSB)
There is much going on around us. Much turbulence to be caught up in. Much that we do not understand. Many things that tempt us to worry. David the Warrior could certainly identify with us. In fact, he often experienced it much more and to a greater degree than we do. But he came to a place in his life where he learned how to deal with it effectively. A place where he could say,
LORD, my heart is not proud;
My eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
Too great or too difficult for me.
(Psalm 131:1 HCSB)
He realized it was not necessary for him to understand everything that was happening in his life. He did not take it upon himself to fix everything. “Instead,” he said, “I have calmed and quieted myself.” He did not try to calm and quiet the world around him — that was not his to do — but he calmed and quieted himself. Like when he and his ragged band of soldiers came back to camp to find their families and all their possessions had been carried off. David’s men were ready to kill him. He might have simply given up in despair, but instead we read, “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6 KJV; see How to Encourage Yourself in the LORD).

Now he speaks of calming and quieting himself, to become “like a little weaned child with its mother.” When a child has weaned away from his mother’s breast, he has begun to learn how to trust and have patience. He is not worried that he will be abandoned; he knows that his mother will see that he is properly fed and clothed and provided for. He is secure in the knowledge that his mother is neither far away nor inattentive.

Of course, David is not actually talking about his mother here. He says “like a little weaned child.” In learning to trust his mother in the weaning process, he was also learning what it means to trust in the Lord. Now he was like a like a little weaned child with God. Whatever issues of life were too deep to ponder, whatever circumstances were too difficult to understand, David did not concern himself with them — he left them for God to deal with, fully confident that everything that was needed would be taken care of.

Jesus calls us all to be like that, like a little weaned child. He said,
Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it. (Mark 10:15)

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
A weaned child does not worry about these things. Likewise, we do not need to anxious either because God has already provided for everything we need. Our part is not to understand everything but to trust God in everything. There are many things in life that are too difficult for us, but they are not too difficult for Him — and He doesn’t even need our advice on how to deal with them.

This is living life in a different, more powerful and effective way. We have a new focus now — God. We seek His kingdom (God’s rule and reign) and His righteousness (God’s way of making things right), and everything else that we need will be added to us. David had many enemies set against him, but he set his focus on God
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
(Psalm 27:4-5)
When Martha was fussing with numerous tasks and complaining that Mary was not doing what she was supposed to (and doing what she was not supposed to), Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41). Martha was worried and distracted by many things, but Mary was thoroughly focused on one —the Lord Jesus.

“O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever” David concludes (Psalm 133:3 HCSB). In the Bible, hope is not a tentative, maybe-so, maybe-not affair. It is a solid expectation, a positive anticipation. This is how we calm and quiet ourselves, how we wean ourselves from the worries of the world and things too deep or difficult for us: We set our expectation on Yahweh. We seek His kingdom, His power, His glory — His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. We focus on His righteousness — His ability to set everything right. And everything else will be taken care of.

This is our new SOP, our “standard operating procedure” from now on.

Friday, July 16, 2010

When God Seems Absent and His Hand Still

So I say, “It is my sorrow
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
(Psalm 77:10 HCSB)
The psalm writer has been in a severe time. “The day of my trouble,” he calls it. He has been afflicted somehow. He is in deep distress. By what, we do not know. He calls out to the God — loudly. “I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs” (v. 1, The Message). All day he lifts his hands to the Lord in prayer, but finds no comfort (v. 2). He remembers God, but his trouble remains. He meditates, but he is overwhelmed and weak (v. 3). Whatever this thing is, it is keeping him awake — and God is silent about it. His pain becomes too deep for words and his voice gives out (v. 4). He thinks of earlier days and happier times (v. 5). In the night, he calls to mind the song he used to sing, the music he used to make. He ponders in his heart, diligently seeking an answer (v. 6). He asks himself,
Will the Lord reject forever
And never again show favor?
Has His faithful love ceased forever?
Is His promise at an end for all generations?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger withheld His compassion? Selah.
(Psalm 77:7-9 HCSB)
These kinds of questions are easier to answer when things are going well than when everything seems to be falling apart. They emerge from the psalm writer’s deep pain: Has he been rejected by the Lord? Has the favor of God come to an end in his life? Has God stopped loving him? Has the promise of God failed? What about grace — has God forgotten to hear and answer prayer? Is God holding back His compassion?

Selah, indeed. Quick and easy answers won’t do here. He has come to the end of those. The anguish of his heart is too deep for shallow, thoughtless responses. He needs something that will sustain him.

It is characteristic of many psalms that the climax comes in the middle, not at the end. That is the case here. The turning point in the next section, verses 10-12, brings the climax of the psalm. It divides the psalm into two, roughly symmetrical, halves.
So I say, “It is my sorrow
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will remember the LORD’s works;
Yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders.
I will reflect on all You have done
And meditate on Your actions.
(Psalm 77:10-12 HCSB)
He concludes the first half with the words, “It is my sorrow that the right hand of the Most High has changed” (v. 10). Of course, as he was going through his distress, he probably did not realize it was just the first half of the story. He has presented the intensity of his anguish, and he is in rough shape, perched on the sharp, painful edge of sorrow. His answer to the earlier questions he posed is, “Yes, God has changed toward me.” It is an emotional response.

But then, in verse 11, he takes an unexpected turn. He begins to speak in a different way. He does not tell his soul, “That’s just the way it is, get used to it.” Though all seems dark, though God seems absent and His hand seems still, the psalm writer makes a critical decision: “I will remember the works of the LORD.”

Up until now, he has spoken only of “God” and “the Most High” and “Lord.” The name “God” is a title; it does not tell us who God is but what He is. “Most High” is an honorific, and “Lord” (Hebrew, Adonai) is a name of respectful address. But now he speaks of “LORD” (all capitals). We often forget that this is a personal name there because it is usually disguised in English translations by the word “LORD,” in all capital letters. But the Hebrew name is — Yahweh, the personal name of by which God reveals Himself in covenant relationship with His people.

Until now, the psalm writer has wallowed in his distress and how he called on God but found no help. But now, he remembers that his God is Yahweh, with whom he and his people are in covenant. He has gone from thinking generically and religiously to leaning into personal relationship with Yahweh. And he makes a definitive choice: “I will remember the works of Yahweh!”

He confirms that with, “Yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders” and follows it up with, “I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions.” Before, he spoke about God. Now he speaks to Him. Before, God felt distant to him. Now, he is stepping into intimacy with Him.

Understand, God has not moved anywhere throughout the psalm. He did not go away; He has not just now come back. God has not changed, but the psalm writer has. He has stepped away from how things seemed and the way he felt, into the personal relationship with Yahweh that was waiting there for him all along.

In the first half, the psalm writer thought about the “good old days,” his thoughts switching back and forth between the way things were then and how they were now. In the second half, he makes a choice: “I will remember Yahweh’s works.” Before, it was all about him and his misery. Now it was all about Yahweh and His works, His miracles and wonders, and all the ways He came through for His people.

The psalm writer made a definite choice. It was a willful, intentional act. To remember is to call to mind. “I will call to mind the works of Yahweh,” he said. More than that, he pondered them, meditated them, reflected upon them, and spoke of them, uttering them with his lips.

The second half of the psalm is all about Yahweh, His wonders, His strength, His power and the redemption He brought for His people. Specifically, he talks of God’s great redemptive act: When God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness into the Promised Land. It is the touchstone of salvation in the Old Testament. It points us toward the New Testament and the greatest redemptive act of all: The Cross and Resurrection of King Jesus the Messiah.

This sets things in perspective for us. Paul, who was no stranger to affliction, distress and days of trouble, put it this way
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
When God seems absent and His hand seems still, it is time to remind ourselves of the mighty works of God, the victories He has won for us in King Jesus the Messiah. Even now, they are already being worked out in the world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Filling the Space Between Heaven and Earth

Your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the clouds.
(Psalm 57:10 ESV)
David was in a tight spot. He wrote this psalm when he had fled from Saul and was hiding out in a cave. Though he is closed in, his faith is in God, trusting Him to be gracious to him. Even in the midst of his trouble, he knows that God is moving on his behalf.

He will send from heaven and save me;
He will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
(Psalm 57:3 ESV)
The Hebrew word for “steadfast love” is hesed. It speaks of God’s personal commitment, His covenant to love His people and show them His mercy and favor. God’s “faithfulness” (Hebrew, emeth) is His truthfulness, His trustworthiness, His reliability. It is the guarantee that He is always going to come through on what He has promised. It is David’s assurance, and this is his prayer:
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let Your glory be over all the earth!
(Psalm 57:5 ESV)
Isn’t this how Jesus taught His disciples to pray when He said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? It is not an abstract request. Not in David’s case, nor in Jesus’ prayer. They both call for a tangible manifestation of God’s glory and holiness — on earth as it is in heaven. The Message Bible has the opening lines of Jesus’ prayer as, “Our Father in heaven, reveal who You are. Set the world right.”

That is what David, in his exile, is asking the God to do. He is looking for God to be exalted in the heavens, to reveal Himself, by might mighty acts of deliverance. To reveal His glory on earth by His saving deeds, and set the world right. David is so certain of God’s deliverance that he begins to sing the victory, even from the bowels of his hideout.
My heart is steadfast, O God,
My heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
(Psalm 57:7-9 ESV)
God’s love is steadfast and David’s heart is fixed on it. The matter of his deliverance is settled; everything else is just details, and they will soon be worked out. All that remains now is to wake up the world with praise to God, and exalt him among the nations. So David stirs up his “glory” (Hebrew, kabod, every good thing within him) and pours it out to God. This is his song, his cause for rejoicing:
Your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the clouds. (v. 10)
God sends out His steadfast love and faithfulness, filling the space between heaven and earth. It exalts Him above the heavens and fills the earth with His glory.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smooth in the Day of Adversity

Happy is one who cares for the poor;
The LORD will save him in a day of adversity.
(Psalm 41:1 HCSB)
These are days of adversity for many people in the global economy. Many have lost their jobs, their homes, their savings and their retirements. And that is on top of all the many more who never had any of those things to begin with. While some continue to prosper, there are many who are “hanging by a thread.” These are ones the Bible calls “the poor.” The Hebrew word derives from a root that literally means to dangle, to hang down low. Though they may seem to have no help, God has not forgotten them. He is mindful of them and wants us to be mindful, too. God wants us to share His heart for the poor.
David understood this. “Happy is the one who cares for the poor,” he says. The NKJV says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” Young’s Literal Translation has, “O the happiness of him who is acting wisely unto the poor.” This speaks of a depth of joy, a joy that partakes of God’s own pleasure. When we share in His heart for the poor, we also share in His joy when they are helped.

It is an abiding joy, not a happiness that quickly fades away. Likewise, our concern for the poor is to be more than an afterthought or a sporadic, momentary act. The word for “care” means to give attention to, to look upon with insight, to have wisdom and understanding concerning the poor. It is a consistent mindfulness, a recognition that we are connected to the poor. They are not so different from us after all. They are experiencing a time of trouble, and we could one day find ourselves in a similar situation.

God makes a connection between how we treat the poor in their day of adversity and how we will fare in ours. He gives this promise to the one who cares for the poor: “The LORD will save him in a day of adversity.” Whenever a time of trouble comes upon us, God will save us, deliver us, rescue us. The Hebrew word speaks of smoothness, slipperiness, like one who slips out of a tight spot or escapes a snare. When we give to the poor and help smooth their way, God will likewise smooth our way and slip us through our time of trouble.

When we give of our resources and ourselves to help the poor, we are “laying up treasure in heaven.” That is how Jews of the Old Testament era understood it; we see that from some of the ancient apocryphal writings:
Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from every disaster. (Sirach 29:11-12 NRSV)

Give alms from your possession, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. (Tobit 4:7-10 NRSV)
We find this also in the New Testament, where both Jesus and Paul speak of being generous with one’s resources.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come.(1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Our open-handedness to the poor becomes treasure we lay up for ourselves in heaven. Not for the next life, as many think, but to be released as needed for this life. Psalm 41:2 says that those who are mindful of the poor will be blessed “in the earth.” The generosity we show is laid up as treasure in heaven for the sake of earth, so that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s desire is to smooth the way for both the prosperous and the poor in the day of adversity.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Do Not Be Agitated

Do not be agitated by evildoers;
Do not envy those who do wrong.
For they wither quickly like grass
And wilt like tender green plants.
(Psalms 37:1-2 HCSB)
Lately, I have found myself talking back — yelling, actually — at my TV set. Not that anybody I am yelling at can hear me, I know. But I have become weary of the lies, dissimulations, hypocrisies, frauds, empty posturings and arrogances of politicians and their media enablers. These days it seems that it has been a relentless stream. And I have let it bug me. Really, really bug me.

Yesterday, as I was praying this psalm — my habit is to pray through the book of Psalms each month (150 psalms / 30 days = 5 psalms a day), and Psalm 37 falls right in the middle of my group on day 8 — I was brought up short by this admonition: “Do not be agitated by evildoers.” The Hebrew word for “agitate” means to be hot, furious, burn, become angry, kindled, incensed, to blaze up and be heated with vexation. Yep, that’s been me. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But David gives us this admonition, and also a very good reason for it: “For they wither quickly like the grass and wilt like tender green plants.” David was speaking from experience; he certainly had his share of opportunities to be agitated. Sometimes he may even have taken advantage of those opportunities — but he strongly recommends against it. Why? Because it doesn’t do any good. Quite the opposite.
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
Do not be agitated — it can only bring harm.
For evildoers will be destroyed,
But those who put their hope in the LORD
Will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
Though you look for him, he will not be there.
But the humble will inherit the land
And will enjoy abundant prosperity.
(Psalm 37:8-11 HCSB)
Cease from “anger” — the Hebrew word pictures the heated flaring of the nostrils. Give up venomous rage and its poison. Do not be agitated — it only does harm! Liars and cheats and frauds — evildoers — will soon reap what they have sown, and become a byword of infamy. My agitation will not do anything to hasten that day; it will only hinder me. It is a stumbling block and if I let it trip me up I will no longer be making progress and moving forward. And, after all, I do want to move forward. So what should I do? David offers an effective strategy in verses 3-7:
Trust in the LORD and do what is good;
Dwell in the land and live securely.
Take delight in the LORD,
And He will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit your way to the LORD;
Trust in Him, and He will act,
Making your righteousness shine like the dawn,
Your justice like the noonday.
Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for Him;
Do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
By the man who carries out evil plans.
There are a lot of good bullet points here and they all work together for my good.
  • Trust in the LORD. If I let myself become agitated by those who do what is wrong, I am not trusting in God and resting in Him.
  • Dwell in the land and “live securely.” The ESV has it as “befriend faithfulness.” The NKJV says, “feed on His faithfulness.” To dwell means to abide. God has not gone off anywhere, and neither should I. If I stay put and feed on God’s faithfulness, I will befriend it and find it in myself.
  • Take delight in the LORD. I can choose to be agitated by the faithless and feckless or I can choose to take delight in the Lord. Delight is better. The Hebrew word for “delight” here means to be luxuriantly happy. The promise is that He will give me the desires of my heart. The wicked cannot keep that from me, but allowing myself to be agitated by them can.
  • Commit your way to the LORD. The word for “commit” literally means to “roll.” Whatever is bothering me, I can roll it over onto Him. “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “Trust in Him,” David says, “He will act.” Whatever needs to be done, He will bring it to pass.
  • Be silent before the LORD. Be silent, be still and rest quietly in Him. If there is anything I need to do or say, He will show me. And I certainly don’t need to tell Him what to do. His words will always be much better, and God-directed actions will always be far more effective than my own. But if I let myself become agitated, it will be much harder for me to hear His voice.
  • Wait expectantly. Faith is the substance, the underlying reality, of things hoped for, the things we are joyfully anticipating (Hebrews 11:1). When we put our trust in God, He will bring about everything that needs to be done.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Shekinah Dwelling (Part 2)

Read Part 1
Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
King Jesus the Messiah is the Word who became flesh and tabernacled among us, manifesting the divine presence, the dwelling place of the shekinah glory of God. Since then, He has ascended, in His body, to the right hand of the Father, where He now rules over heaven and earth forever. But what of the shekinah, the glory of the divine presence?

In the Old Testament, the dwelling place God chose to manifest His presence was the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, then the Tent of David, and finally, the Temple in Jerusalem. With the sacrifice of Messiah Jesus for our sins, the temple system of burnt offerings and sacrifices, which served as a type or foreshadow, was fulfilled, and the temple itself was rendered obsolete. This was one of the points the author of Hebrews emphasized:
The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing … But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. (Hebrews 9:8, 11)
Jesus came as the mediator of a new covenant, the one foretold by Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezekiel 36:25-27), in which God would write His law upon our hearts and place His Spirit within us. This required a temple not made with human hands.

But God has not left Himself without a place to manifest His presence, His shekinah, on earth. The apostles teach us that there remains yet a temple on earth, a dwelling place where God has chosen to reveal His glory. It is not a temple of wood and stone, but a temple made without hands. It is the people of God themselves. The apostle Paul says,
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Again, Paul says, quoting Ezekiel,
For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
Those who have received King Jesus the Messiah are now the temple of God, because He has placed His Spirit in us, just as He promised in Ezekiel. Collectively, as a people, we are the place where God dwells on earth. But even individually, we are, each one, the temple of God. He dwells in our bodies as well as our spirits:
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The apostle Peter likewise understood his own body to be a tabernacle, or tent.
Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. (2 Peter 1:13-14)
The Greek word for “tent” here is skenoma, which is used of the divine dwelling. And indeed, that is how Peter would be thinking of it here, fully aware, as he wrote just a few verses earlier, of the “exceedingly great and precious promises” God has given us and that those who belong to Jesus the Messiah have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

God’s promise of a new covenant and a new temple was not just for the Jews but also for all the nations. In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul speaks to both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Paul makes the point again in Colossians: Jesus the Messiah comes to dwell in believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews.
To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Messiah — God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us — now dwells in us. Paul calls it “the hope of glory.” The Greek word for “hope,” speaks of a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation. Surely, the glory of God’s presence dwelling in us is the shekinah. Because King Jesus the Messiah dwells in us by His Spirit, we can expect and anticipate the shekinah glory of God to be made known in us, to us and through us.

(For more about this glory manifesting, see The Shadow of Glory.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Shekinah Dwelling (Part 1)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Greek verb for “dwell” is skenoo and means to tent or encamp. The noun form is skenos, which speaks of a tent or tabernacle. In the Septuagint (or LXX), which is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, skenos is used to translate the Hebrew word for “tabernacle,” which is mishkan. Mishkan is from the Hebrew verb shakan, which means to dwell or inhabit.

The Hebrew root for mishkan (משכנ) and shakan (שכנ) are the three Hebrew consonants shin, kaf, nun (שכנ). Note how similar these are to the consonants in skenos (the s-k-n sound). This may be an indication that the Greeks borrowed the Hebrew word shakan and transliterated it into skenos.

Not to overburden you with too many ancient and foreign terms, but I would like to talk to you about shekinah. It is from the same root as mishkan and shakan and speaks of dwelling, resting, abiding, even nesting. In ancient Jewish writings, it is used to speak of divine presence, the manifestation of the glory of God. In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle (mishkan) was the place God chose to reveal His presence in a special way to His people. The Targums, ancient translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into its sister language, Aramaic, speak of God’s manifest presence as the “shekinah of His glory.”

The tabernacle was the place of God’s divine presence, the place where He manifested His glory. This manifestation was the shekinah, the divine glory resting and abiding with His people.

The Gospel of John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John is speaking of Jesus as the Word (Greek, Logos), which was consistent with the Jewish practice of referring to God by the Hebrew and Aramaic equivalents for “Word” (see The Memra Became Flesh), because God revealed Himself by His Word.

That is the point John makes: God has now revealed Himself in human flesh as Jesus, the Word who was with Him from the beginning and, indeed, is God (John 1:1-2). He is that Word by which God created the heavens and the earth, the Word by whom all things were spoken into existence.

This same Word became flesh — incarnation is the theological term — and dwelt among us, tabernacled among us, manifesting the presence of God among us. “And we beheld His glory,” John says, and the Jews of his day would have understood this as the Shekinah. The divine glory was revealed uniquely in Him, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”

This shekinah glory, John says, was “full of grace and truth.” In the Old Testament, the combination of “grace” and “truth”, or rather, the Hebrew equivalents, hesed and emeth, spoke of God Himself. Hesed is the word by which God was revealed in His mercy and kindness; emeth revealed Him in His faithfulness and truth. The word “full” speaks of completeness, leaving nothing lacking. As Paul says, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus is the Living Tabernacle, where the presence of God is fully manifested among His people. His glory, the shekinah glory, fully reveals the faithful love and mercy of God.

Part 2

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Do You Seek? Where Do You Dwell? (3)

Part 1 | Part 2
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” (John 1:38).
The Greek word for “stay” in this verse is meno and means to abide, to continue, to dwell.

“Where do you dwell?” the disciples asked.

“Come and see,” Jesus answered.

They came and saw and became His disciples. They dwelt with Him for over three years, the length of His ministry. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). The word for “mansions” here is mone, which is derived from meno. It is the place of abiding, a dwelling place.

Many people believe Jesus was talking about the Second Coming, that is, when He returns at the end. They imagine He is spending all of this time between now and then preparing a big house for us. But I don’t think that is what He is talking about here. I believe the place He went to prepare for us has already been prepared for us long ago.
  • It happened at the Cross, where Jesus prepared the way for us.
  • It happened at the Resurrection, when Jesus came again to the disciples.
  • It happened at the Ascension, when Jesus ascended to the throne in His Father’s house.
There is a place for us with Jesus on that throne at the right hand of the Father, far above all principality, power, might and dominion. Paul tells us,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
God has made us alive with Jesus, raised us up with Jesus and seated us in the heavenlies, where Jesus is seated — the place of ruling and reigning. Notice carefully the tense. It is not future, a promise of what will be. It is past tense, more precisely, the Greek aorist tense, which signifies completed action. In other words, it is a “done deal.” Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house and He has received us there, on His throne at the right hand of the Father (see Ascension: Receiving Us Unto Himself). It is our dwelling place, our mone with Him.

There is only one other place where this noun, mone, is found in the New Testament, and that is just a few verses later, in John 14:23, where Jesus says:
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home [mone] with him.
Not only has Jesus prepared a dwelling place for us with Him, He has also prepared us as a dwelling place for the Father and Himself. If we love Him and keep His word — that is, believe what He says — He and the Father come and make their home with us (see The Abodes of God).

“Where do you dwell?” the disciples.

“Come and see,” Jesus answered.

He comes to dwell with us and invites us to dwell with Him.