Provocative Devotion: Psalm 2

Psalm 2:1-6

“Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers of the earth council together, against the Lord and against His anointed saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’. He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me I have set my King on Zion, on my holy hill’.

It is a great question to ask, “why do people rage against God?” The angry atheist has almost become a caricature. People like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins made something of a cottage industry out of raging against God and religion. I can understand David’s concern in this Psalm. He is the king of Israel and when the nations were raging against God it invariably meant they focused their weapons on Israel. The answer to the question seems to be that the people want to cast off any claim God may have on their lives, break the bonds, cast away the cords. They want liberation from God at all costs.

The big question however is, what about me? It is easy to point an accusing finger at a group of pagan nations 3,000 years ago and declare what fools and sinners they were. But that would serve only to make me feel spiritually superior, not only to them but to others with similar thoughts today. What I need to ask is, why do I at times rage against God? Maybe not with fist clenched and spear raised like a Philistine of Assyrian from David’s day. No I am much more sophisticated and passive aggressive in my rage against God. It takes the form of quiet rebellion, of being unhappy with something, discontent with God’s plan, plotting my own course without reference to His will. In some ways that kind of raging is less honest, more dangerous to my soul. God seems to prefer a good stand up fight going toe to toe. He literally wrestled with Jacob over his future, debated face to face with Job the meaning of injustice, in Christ he toppled the tables of thieving money changers in the Temple and famously declared to the Laodiceans in The Book of Revelation that he would rather they were hot or cold towards Him rather than lukewarm, Such a tepid response was worthy only of being spewed.

I suspect the reason for the raging, in all its various forms has always had the same root cause. We human beings want things our way and only our way, all the time. Anyone or anything that inhibits that desire, even the Lord God of the Universe is seen as inhibiting us. How sad that it. God who created me in His image, created me to have dominion over the earth, who desires nothing but ultimate joy and peace for me, is the God I passively rage against in those times when I don’t get the pitiful worthless things in life that I foolishly desire. It makes me think if this wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis, “It would seem that our Lord find our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  Why do I ever even consider raging against such a God?

The Provocative Devotion: Psalm 1

One of the dangers of being a teacher of the Bible as ones profession is that the Bible can easily become something to dissect, study, analyze, and disseminate to others. Every reading of the Bible can turn into an exercise of the mind and never the heart. Aware of that danger I have made a point of having time in the Bible that is just for me, to let it speak to me, challenge me, comfort me. An important way that works in my life is to journal about the passage in front of me. Recently I dove back into the Psalms for just that purpose. After all, what better place to go to have one’s heart placed open before the Lord than in this most personal and honest of books.

But because I am also a teacher at heart it became clear that I should not keep those insights to myself. As a result I am offering a brief reflection on each Psalm in the hopes that God’s Word will accomplish in your life all that He desires. These are not exhaustive by any stretch and will generally only cover one major point that the Lord is making to me through the Psalm.

Sola Deo Gloria,

Dan

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all he does he prospers.

I love the grace of God. It is a gift beyond measure, to be loved, forgiven, afforded mercy, and countless opportunities to reset after failure. I love the freedom that comes in Christ. I love the message of the Gospel that a sinner like me, who was on a greased pole to hell could be rescued but the sacrifice of God-in-the flesh, Jesus Christ, who though He was in very nature God, did not cling to that position in a stingy way, but rather emptied Himself to become a servant to the point of death for me and for my salvation. I am all about grace.

David’s words in Psalm 1 seem to run 180 degrees counter to grace. David loves the law, he meditates on it day and night. He feeds his very soul on the law and is delighted by it. Clearly David was an extremely high J on the Myers-Briggs personality profile. Or was he? Maybe David saw something in the Law that points to God in ways that I miss when I focus only on grace. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who said we need the law to fully experience grace? Wasn’t it Paul who in essence said he would have never known the seriousness of his sin and need for grace, if not for the law? David is on to something when he says, “the law of the Lord”. It is not human rules of religion, by which we seek to prove our worthiness to God that David speaks of. It is the law of the Lord, the way of life that is delightful and restorative and freeing. Yes freeing. The law of the Lord is not meant to bind me and make me a slave but rather it is intended to show me the parameters of an abundant life. The law it like the steel fence at the edge of a vast meadow that keep one from falling off the hundred foot cliff and being crushed to death by the fall onto the rocks below. That fence, that law, is designed to show me the dangers of proceeding further and turn me around to enjoy the vast wonders of the glorious meadow behind me.

What freedom there is in such law. That law brings me life. Far from being a burden and a heavy weight that pins me to the ground and keeps me from experiencing life, the law of the Lord is life-giving. To be sure, obedience to it does not gain me salvation. That is by grace and one reason I so love grace. But obedience to the law, meditating on the law, delighting in the law, that gives me freedom to live a life worthy of the calling I have in Christ Jesus. A life saved by grace and protected by the law of the Lord.

Provocative Bible Verses: The Fellowship of Suffering

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” Philippians 3:10

We met the first week of sixth grade. I was the new kid in the class and as it turned out we lived two streets apart. In one of those oddities of life a group of six of us in the neighborhood became friends and all of us had a first name that began with the letter D. So very quickly we all became known by our last name with a D in front. I became D’Lacich and he became D’Johnson. His real name is Dwight and he is my longest lasting friend and as such a most treasured friend.

When we were growing up it was all about sports and girls. I wont say anything about the girl part of things but sports is another matter. We spent lots of time together on the baseball field, the basketball court, golf course, and the football field. In every instance except football, Dwight far surpassed me in ability. The sheer brute force aspect of football served me better than the precision of the other sports. I never could beat him on the golf course for instance. But I noticed that my game always got better when I played with him. In fact the best round of golf I ever played was the day before Dwight and Debbie were married. I played out of my mind that day, and still he led the way with a better score.

Many memorable events in our lives were shared events. We woke up in my parent’s living room one New Years day to the news that our hero, Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash while on a mercy mission to Puerto Rico. Dwight was in the room along with two other friends, the night I gave my life to Christ. We were in each other’s weddings. Like the deepest of friendships, no matter how long the time is between phone calls or dinners, the bond of friendship is still unbreakable.

A year ago I received the proverbial punch in the gut when I learned that Dwight had just been diagnosed with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure for ALS. The best they can do is manage the pain and the deterioration of the body. The first sign for Dwight that something was wrong was the difficulty he had holding a golf club. In just a year he has gone from that, to being in a wheel chair most of the time and needing a neck brace to hold his head up when he works on his computer.

Six months after the diagnoses we were together at a charity golf tournament for him and his family. The goal was to raise money for the remodeling of their house to accommodate the inevitable wheel chair. Just a few days ago we got together again, this time at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. For two die-hard Steelers fans it was a dream come true, especially since they won their sixth Lombardi Trophy. For me, getting a picture with Dwight at that game was more precious than I can describe. The Steelers winning was an ecstatic experience. Being with Dwight was deeper, more important by far, and will remain etched in my mind like few other events. It is another of those highly valued, shared events.

Whenever someone close to you has a tragedy strike, it must be a nearly universal response to at some point wonder how you would handle that in your own life. The way Dwight and Debbie have handled the illness that, barring a miracle, will end his life, has forced me to ask that question over and over again. You see, my friend Dwight loves Jesus with all his heart. It was out of love for Jesus that he and Debbie adopted two little boys with special needs, adding them to their very healthy biological daughter and son. It is out of love for Jesus that he has served in his local church. It is out of love for Jesus that he is approaching his suffering thinking only about others. I am forced to ask how I would handle such suffering because I see Dwight doing so with dignity and grace and for the glory of God.

Often times in the face of suffering we play the victim. “Why me?” we ask. “What did I do to deserve this?” We argue with the fairness of it all. In other cases we lapse into depression and give up. Dwight has been all about Jesus getting the glory. His attitude has been that of the Apostle Paul, whether I live or die let God be glorified. Also like Paul I think Dwight has an even deeper connection to Jesus because of the fellowship shared by those who suffer. Dwight wants Jesus to use his personal experience of suffering to point others to Jesus. I think his love for Jesus is actually growing as a result of that shared fellowship. Dwight understands that God never promised us a life free of suffering, at least not this side of eternity. What He did promise us was that He would be with us always, no matter what. We would be in fellowship with Him.

There is a sense in which suffering is the calling of the Christian. The health and wealth Gospel crowd that tries to show that God only wants you to be free of suffering and blessed by a huge bank account are totally out of touch with the true heart of God and the example of great saints from the past. The Apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus. In that suffering there was a renewed sense of being united with Him and of pointing people towards Him. Dwight Johnson is doing that every day. The more his body deteriorates the more glory he brings to Jesus by living a life that loves Jesus above all else.

The more I think about Dwight the more I am forced to smile. He was better than me at Baseball, Basketball, and Golf. Now it appears he is better than me at being a Christian as well. He is bringing glory to God in a situation that I don’t know how I would handle. However, I do know this, when the time comes when I must face that kind of suffering, I know that my game will be better because of Dwight. Some things never change.

UPDATE: Tuesday February 1st 2011. I visited Dwight for the last time today, in this life anyway. The breathing apparatus that he has been using is no longer helping. The next option is a tracheotomy to put him on a ventilator. Dwight and Deb decided long ago that when it reached this point, they would not take that option. There is no point. Dwight is ready to go. So on Thursday morning they will transition Dwight off the breathing mask, give him some medication to keep him comfortable, and wait until the CO2 levels rise to the point that he sleeps and slips away into the arms of Jesus. Dwight is ready to go. In fact he is so ready he decided to not wait to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl on Sunday. I told him I understand, for all the glory that is the Steelers and Super Bowls, the glory of Heaven outshines that in ways indescribable. I have to admit that my emotions bounce from moment to moment between joy at the picture of Dwight with Jesus, emptiness at the sense of a page turning in my own life and the resulting void, to wanting to break something, and back to joy. But this is not about me. It is about Dwight and Deb and the incredible way in which they have dealt with this. As Deb said today, she knows that God is real if only because of the otherwise unexplainable peace that washes over her when she pictures Dwight with Jesus. Enough said.

Provocative Bible Verses: Jesus Came to Divide People

Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” Matthew 10:34-35

There is a clear impression of Jesus as being very mild mannered, kind, caring, and a person who reconciles people to one another and to God. There is a certain sense in which that is true. He certainly came to reconcile us to God and one another. Yet in another sense the mission of Jesus is one of division. He says that he came to set men at variance with one another. In some way, because of Jesus, even close family members will be at odds with one another.

When I gave my life to Christ things began to change very quickly in my life. It had a huge impact on my family relationships. The heart of the conflict was that by following Jesus I had adopted a new Lord and Master. My view of the world began to change. My values changed. My priorities changed. My ambitions changed. There was a growing gap that developed between me and my dad in particular. His hopes for my life, to be in business and make lots of money where no longer my hopes. When I had been a Christian for less than two years I sensed God calling me to a life of serving Him. My dad told me that when i came home from college and told him that, I cold not have hurt him more if I had kicked him in the groin. Clearly Jesus had put me at variance with my dad.

If we are going to follow Jesus and have Him truly be our Lord then there will be times when people who do not follow Him will not understand us. There will be times when they will angry with us, hurt by us, argue with us. We must realize that when we follow Jesus we become citizens of His Kingdom. We become exiles in our own communities. We just don’t exactly fit anymore. That misfit will divide us from others. But it need not make us people who lash out against those who are different from us. Paul tells us in Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”. By it’s very nature our following of Jesus puts us at odds. But in spite of that reality, we are to do all that we possibly can to bridge the gap and be reconciled in Christ.

In the case of my dad it took years of my wife and I faithfully living out our relationship with Christ before anything changed. It meant that at times we put ourselves at odds with him. There were times when he just did not understand why we lived as we did. In fact he was certain that we were being irresponsible by not trying to get as rich as possible. But over time he began to see something. He saw that our children were happy even though they did not have all the stuff he thought they should. He saw that our family was content even though our cars were old and out house was the post child of the handyman special. He saw that Barbara and I deeply loved one another in a way that he felt he was missing in his relationships.

Eventually he contracted acute leukemia and within 9 months he died, but not before he came to the realization that he needed the Jesus that I knew. As my father was near death he reached out his hand to me in a sign that he wanted to pray. I took his hand fully expecting to pray in some way for my dad to finally give his life to Christ. Before I ever had a chance to say anything, my dad said these words, “Jesus I am trusting in You. I put my life in your hands and I want to go to be with you”. In that moment the sword between me and my dad was removed. He was reconciled to me but more importantly he was reconciled to Jesus. It was the last time we spoke. A few moments later he said he wanted to sleep. He went to be with the Lord a few hours later.

Yes, by the very nature of who Jesus is, people will be at odds with one another. But also by the very nature of His death on the Cross, his Resurrection, and Ascension, Jesus reconciles people to one another and to Himself. That reconciliation brings us closer to one another than we ever could be without Him. Out role in that is to live out the Gospel with as much passion and devotion as possible.