Lectio Divina: Psalm 37:3

Fishing

Irene Becker/Flickr

The entire 37th chapter of Psalms is a marvelous encouragement. It was written by David to reassure the godly of God’s providence and care amidst the sinful and prosperous who seemed to flourish. The admonishment is that the righteous should not worry, grow unconfident, or lose their stability and, in temptation, flip sides when they see the ease with which the scoffer may live. Continue reading

Lectio Divina: Psalms 13 – Despair and Hope

SA Lloyd Morgan

SA Lloyd Morgan

Psalm 13 presents the complaint of one waiting for God’s intervention. The writer, David, is clearly under some type of oppression from people he deems enemies. He has been patiently waiting for God’s action, but it seems that it will never come; now he struggles with despair.

When meditating on this divine reading, notice in Verses 1 and 2 the four vexations of the writer: the sense that he is 1-2) forgotten and avoided by God; 3) shamed and left to figure out his own escape plan; and 4) oppressed by the ungodly.

Verse 1 (ESV)

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”

Every believer walking with Christ will face trial, and every believer will have to wait for God’s deliverance. How we wait makes all the difference. We can wait trusting God’s promise to deliver us or we can wait begrudgingly and wondering why he doesn’t help us. But what about when we are patient, even longsuffering, but God seems to never come?

This is the writer’s foremost trouble: God has forgotten him. We sense that he is a godly man, has guarded his heart from bitterness, and endured much trouble while waiting for God’s vindication and deliverance. But the tenor of his words reveals that despair has seeped into his heart.

“How long will you hide your face from me?”

CC Marc Bruneke

CC Marc Bruneke

He charges the all-seeing God with the notion that he is avoiding him. Haven’t we all felt this way? We are confident that we belong to God and rightly understand that we will suffer, just as Christ himself suffered. We endure our pain with our minds focused on God and his Word but grow perplexed when he doesn’t make the pain go away fast enough.

Is God avoiding us? We can indeed feel this way. We all know what it feels like for a person we consider a friend to evade us; it doesn’t feel good. This is what troubles the writer. Satan will also attempt to confuse us and bring guilt. We’ll begin to ask, “What have I done that is pushing God away from me?”

Verse 2

“How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”

Have you ever gotten frustrated because you waited on God? You trusted the Lord, but, when his aid took forever, you felt that you would’ve never had trouble if you had only used your own head to solve your problem. This is the writer’s quandary. God gives us a mind, so we should use it; but when does our rationale interfere with God’s plan? And are there some trials he needs us to experience for our own making such that we could never think our way out of them?

The writer’s agony in this verse is his feeling embarrassed by God’s absence, that the Lord has left him to his own devices to fix his troubles when he has been doing what he’s always known to do, which is wait on God. What was right: to wait on the Lord or to tunnel his own way out? Not knowing what to do, he becomes depressed.

“How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

 Here is our clue that the writer has been afflicted by someone. So to add insult to real injury—“God, are you going to let my enemy rule me, your child?” How long will he allow those who scoff at religion to vex a believer?

NC-ND, Ferran Jorda

NC-ND, Ferran Jorda

It is not a charge against the writer here, but it’s a good place to deal with the topic. It is our human thinking, even for the Christian, that personal righteousness is to be rewarded by God. God has told us this in no uncertain terms (Matt. 20:4), but it is not our place to decide what is rewarded and when. Job was indeed righteous, but we notice pride in his attitude toward his suffering, which always has a profound way of making us see what’s in our hearts. Our thinking is off. Living godly is its own reward and only the Spirit and Heaven itself can prove this to us. God owes us nothing; we owe him everything.

Verse 3 and 4

“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

Could it be that the writer is antagonized due to his faith and because they understand his modus operandi is to trust his God? He pleads with God to prove his fame, for the man’s faithful witness and the credibility of his religion depend on God’s response. He has been a bulwark of conviction to this point; but now he’s in his prayer place wondering if God will ever come. He asks for light, here so symbolic of hope or a sign, lest depression consumes his very life.

Verse 5

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”

Suddenly, as though the light prayed for has come, the writer’s strength of heart returns. He remembers the kindnesses and the favor of God shown to him in the past, assurances that he has not forsaken him now, for God is constant. And with that look toward the future, he grows joyful at the prospect of God’s imminent deliverance. Trouble couldn’t last forever, but hope would steady the heart until the answer came.

Verse 6

“I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

CC Pol Sifter

CC Pol Sifter

We should praise the Lord for his mercy toward us. He knows our frailty and that we don’t always understand his dealings with us. He can also see where the strength of our faith weakens; and first not letting us be overcome by any trial, he draws close to us in hardship to let us know that he will answer.

Think in your own life how once you may have despaired and thought you’d never be happy again, at least not until the problem was solved. But the Spirit came and lifted your heart ever so lovingly; before you knew it, your confidence had returned though the problem lingered.

David remembers the character of God and sings his praise: “He has been good to me!” It all comes down to this—his kindness, his love, his faithfulness, his justice, his incredible goodness toward us. They are our assurances that God is present and coming to our rescue.

Lectio Divina: Psalms 130

CC BY, The U.S. Army, Flickr

“More than those who watch for the morning.”        CC BY, The U.S. Army, Flickr

Psalm 130 is one of the fifteen “Songs of Ascent” and its author is unknown. This psalm is the deeply anguished and moving prayer to God of one wrestling with sinful guilt. Yet the writer’s focus does not linger there; instead, the forgiveness of God is the subject. Notice how honest he speaks and how lucidly he contrasts his guilt with the Lord’s mercy. There is no person who cannot discover him- or herself in these words. (You may wish to follow along in your Bible.) Continue reading

Wow! What a Head!

CC BY, Thomas, Flickr

CC BY, Thomas, Flickr

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Eph. 4:15)

Who has not admired a newborn or young child and thought, Look at the head on that one! I know I have and I know you have, too. It’s a fact of life: humans, from fetus to toddler, have big heads. And it’s by design.

Babies’ brains grow large in vivo and quickly develop to an advanced stage in order to accommodate the body’s further development. A child’s brain is one-half its adult size by nine months and two-thirds that size by two years of age. Of all species, the human brain is proportionately larger than other animals’. Studies suggest that the larger the brain, thus head, the more intelligent the child.

Interestingly, our brains would be bigger if they could be. The brain is the human organism’s administrative “ground zero,” certainly the most mysterious body part and a science with many vague areas still. Yet all that remarkable circuitry and undiscovered ability is packed into our craniums, its growth limited by one thing: the size of the birth canal.

An infant’s head is never larger than 25 percent of its size; strangely, some still sport a whopper of a noggin!

The Chief Thing

One of the Bible’s metaphors for Christ is “head of the body” (Col. 1:18), signifying his Lordship over the Church. We should think more broadly here. Scripture also refers to him as the “firstborn” of creation (Col. 1:15) and of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). It all points to Christ’s preeminence, as Hebrews 1 so marvelously explains.

Our English word “capital” derives from a Latin root meaning “of the head.” You’ll recognize the concept in statistical parlance specifying something “per capita” or per person, literally meaning “by the head”. The idea of authority and supremacy are strongly affixed to “head”, which is obvious when “capital” is defined.

In Good Proportion

Paul’s concern in Ephesians 4 is the growth and maturity of the church at Ephesus. You may recall that he spent three years there on his third journey. In his farewell to the elders, Paul offers us a glimpse of the conditions vexing the Ephesian Christians:

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)

So from prison in Rome, Paul writes to them and, in Ephesians 4, highlights the rich diversity, complexity, instinct, and acumen of the spiritual gifts that flow from Christ, the Head, to the Church, his Body.

And what is the intended result? “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13)—or until this body catches up with its head; and “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people” (vs. 14)—or until we gain the strength and coordination to stand and walk and do so against all resistance.

When we look back at the early church, we see a baby with a mighty big head, wouldn’t you say? Hopefully, today we’re a mature and fit body that matches.

More on this topic: A Survey of Ephesus, Paul and Timothy’s Field

My Two Cents on Generosity

CC BY, emilianohorcada, Flickr

CC BY, emilianohorcada, Flickr

Thought: If I had millions of dollars, I’d be an incredibly generous person.

I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of talk, especially when the jackpot swells. Wealth does indeed allow people to be generous and helpful. My problem with this rationale, however, is that we should think more money makes us more generous persons.

Now I don’t doubt that there are many who have respected their fortune by carefully weighing the responsibility of managing it—and have become more generous due to a new appreciation for wealth’s power. And there are those who have purposefully and creatively used earlier hardship as the impetus to empower others less fortunate.

These kinds of people underscore a process of building virtue and have understood that to be reckless with wealth is to disregard the noble prospects it is capable of producing.

But to assume that abundance directly translates into abundant virtue…well Jesus would quickly disagree with us.

Asian Hospitality

Let me tell you about a wonderful encounter of hospitality I had.

I was a teacher in Japan and decided to spend my first vacation in Tokyo. My American co-worker (and college mate) grew up there and was going to visit family; he asked me to come along. Lodging for me was arranged with a Christian family who gladly agreed to house me.

I was shown incredible hospitality. The entire upstairs loft belonged to me, and my host pre-stocked the refrigerator there with every imaginable treat. My clothes were washed, ironed, folded, and delivered daily. Meals were prompt and the matron’s sister baked and sent over exquisite breads for us. I was insisted upon to use the home phone to call and chat with my family back in the U.S. And despite the language barrier, we enjoyed the presence of Christ together in devotions after meals.

My friend had decided to join me the second day. Those he visited were elderly, so he opted to lodge with us and use his fluency to help us all communicate. When it came time for our departure, the patriarch handed each of us an envelope that, to our astonishment, contained almost $200 to pay for our train home—and a trip to visit them again.

Cultivated Hearts

This kind of hospitality, which I bumped into regularly as a gaijin (foreigner), is extreme by American standards. Obviously, it’s largely rooted in Japanese and Southeast Asian culture, but that lends to what I attempt to convey here. (And I should again emphasize and beg you to consider, to my point, the authentic faith I witnessed in this home.)

To think that wealth, newfound or otherwise, makes us more generous individuals really is to deceive ourselves. If you missed the point the first time: the heart must be cultivated this way.

I hope you go out of your way to accommodate others, really. But the level of generosity I described—let’s face it—isn’t quite American, culturally, for reasons I cannot explain now. When you go on vacation, is it imperative that you return bearing gifts for co-workers to show you were thinking about them? No, you hightail it outta the office just to get away from them jokers!

Gifts of the Heart

Let me be concise. I’m not convinced by wealth-induced “sudden generosity” because abundance has very little to do with virtue. Folk who have nothing but are truly generous people will share the little they have with others in need without a second thought. Did we clearly hear Jesus’s proposition—“Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Real generosity doesn’t need wealth.

After observing the rich give their offerings and a widow place two copper coins in the temple treasury, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “They all (the rich) gave out of their wealth,” meaning their gifts were inconsequential to what they possessed and were easy to offer. For all their abundance and the pride they derived from it, they possessed little spiritual wealth that begged of sacrifice and unadulterated devotion.

But this widow “out of her poverty, put in everything she had”—two paltry coins—and so confirms my point here.

More posts on this topic: The Perils of Covetousness, Living with Simplicity, and Why Do the Wicked Prosper?