realism and relief from the Psalms

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.

Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.

As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
But you, God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

Psalm 55

I love the psalms in part because of their unflinching realism. The psalmists tell it like it is about their own experience, understanding, and faith. Of course it is part of God’s word, and gives us revelation concerning God and God’s will for humanity, and especially for God’s people, either directly, or more indirectly like in this passage.

This psalm is lively and stirring, and a bit of a head scratcher when comparing it to Jesus’s teaching, such as his command to love our enemies. But inherent here is the concern for justice to be served. We know the bigger picture now, Christ providing the means in which both justice and mercy together are fully revealed and offered to all.

I love how one of those precious promise verses appears in this passage. So good to see its context. And that can help us realize that whatever we’re up against (for us, not physical warfare, but spiritual), whatever we’re facing, God is present for us. That we can cast our cares completely on him, that God will see us through everything. In and through Jesus.

 

part of what draws me to Scripture

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

I said, “I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
you consume their wealth like a moth—
surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
before I depart and am no more.”

Psalm 39

One thing about the Psalms I love is their rugged, realistic approach to life, and the honesty expressed. There’s no pretense, nor is anything held back. That is a characteristic of all of Scripture actually, but especially evident in the Psalms.

For those who are suffering and reflective, the Bible has so much to offer. And not just words of wisdom that can help shape our lives in the struggle, but the path to wisdom itself. In and through Jesus.

difficult passages of Scripture

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30

If you begin to read through the Bible, even through the gospel accounts of Jesus, you’ll find passages which are difficult, and make little sense at least to us. The more we read each part in the context of the whole, the better off we’ll be, the more able we will be to let a difficult reading sit. The last thing we should do is dismiss it out of hand as nonsensical. It may not make sense to us, or it may even be offensive. But we might need to read further and let it sit as we prayerfully consider.

For me it’s obvious in the above passage that Jesus was making a point. Although Christians have actually taken this literally in a physical sense, that is surely not what Jesus was getting at. But I will say this: Jesus is saying we need to deal with this sin ruthlessly, lest this sin deal with us in the same way.

Thankfully there are plenty of Scripture passages which are plainly instructive and encouraging to us. But we have to see those as well in the whole. The Christian faith is not about being happy, but blessed. It’s not about everything being great and pleasant in this life. It’s about following Jesus, come what may, and in doing so, dealing with the sin in our own lives, before we think for a second we can help someone else. It does no good to dwell on the precious promises, if we fail to take seriously the entire word, each and every part of it, even if we struggle to understand. God will help us understand what we need, to continue on the way he has for us. In and through Jesus.

the boring Bible

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

Evidently we don’t have the time, or more like the will to regularly be in Scripture. Or at least that seems to be the case given the increasing lack of basic knowledge Christians have about the content of the Bible. We have all kinds of helps at our fingertips, not to mention the Bible itself in numerous translations.

Instead we’re obsessed with this or that, for many today it’s politics. Or whatever occupies your mind and time. That’s what moves us. If we’re attending a good Bible teaching or preaching church, we’ll get something good every weekend, if we have the appetite to receive it. God does meet us where we’re at, but we need to grow from the milk of the word into the meat of the word. But that requires the commitment of being in Scripture regularly day after day throughout each day.

And it’s best to take it slow, but not stop, to keep going. Two-pronged in reading (or listening) through the Bible in a year more or less, and in slowly going over especially the New Testament. Study of Scripture is good too, with good helps online as well. But most importantly in one way or another we need to have a consistent sustained practice of being in Scripture. Without that we’ll become weak and susceptible to becoming hollow in our faith, nothing much backing what profession of faith might be left.

Something we have to continue to pursue and grow in day after day. In and through Jesus.

 

what does Scripture say

I am a Bible person in a day and age when that is often questioned. We’re told to be Jesus people, but I see Jesus as a person who appealed again and again to Scripture, and the rest of the New Testament does the same. One of the biggest and most subtle problems of our time is how we import our views into our reading of the Bible, if we read it much at all.

I can say all of this, but I need to ask myself if my practice lines up. It’s not enough to try to let God’s written word move us in what ends up being, I think, a gospel direction. We must act accordingly. And we find out from Scripture itself that we need the entire Bible to do that, not just our favorite parts of it, not just the New Testament, not even just Jesus’s words, although they are important in this endeavor.

This is ongoing, enough to preoccupy us the rest of our days. We need to do this not only individually, but together with others. And weigh, indeed critique all our thoughts and actions according to this. In and through Jesus.

Mark 10:46-52

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52

 

stay in the lines

When I do a post, sometimes I want to make a particular point on an opinion, maybe even close to a conviction of mine. But then I remember what this blog and what Christian ministry is all about. It’s not about what we think, but about God’s word. Yes, God’s word interpreted, and in consideration of how the Spirit has guided the church in that interpretation, maybe we can say, loosely speaking. And then I draw back, going to what the word, Scripture specifically says.

Opinions are fine for talking, conversational points, but not good for Christian teaching.

There are issues of interpretation, called biblical hermeneutics. And that can open up controversy, no doubt. Maybe there’s a place for that in considering different ways a text might be understood, with perhaps more than one point being made in a text. That’s part of the genius and depth of Scripture. At the same time, we do well to seek to stay in the lines of what Scripture is saying, noting possible differences in understanding that, but nevertheless seeking to stay true to what Scripture calls itself: God’s (written) word.

I think sometimes Scripture is a bit fuzzy on purpose, and that we’re not meant to unravel it all. At the same time we ought to pay attention to both sound interpretation along with how the church has generally interpreted a passage, trusting that the Spirit keeps the church true to the main intent of Scripture, the gospel, and in doing so, helps the church on the details. There is a need for reformation in understanding at times, because humans and institutions within the church can get off track.

The main point here is to seek to adhere to what Scripture says, what God might be saying through it, along with what God indeed is saying. And remain in dialog with that, with the goal of remaining true in both faith and practice. In and through Jesus.