Archive for June, 2009

June 30, 2009

skimming profundity: psalm 123:1

by Bethany

 today’s readings: joshua 2 & psalm 123-125

Do you skim when you read? Are you skimming right now?! If so, don’t feel badly. I skim all the time. In fact, last Spring, one of my professors called me, “Skim.” 

The class was Federal Income Tax – every Monday through Thursday at 9:30 am. The professor was Marvin Chirelstein – a tax lawyer extraordinaire who has been teaching at Columbia for almost 30 years. When calling on students, Chirelstein did a modified version of the Socratic Method, in that he called on them in alphabetical order according to last name.  On the morning that I was christened as “Skim,” I calculated that I would not be called on based on the class list. What I had not anticipated, however, was that he would be working from an outdated class list! All of a sudden, I heard, “Ms. Jenkins, what is the issue of this case?” Dumbfoundedly, I searched the opinion and fumbled through a poor excuse of an answer. Understandably, he was confused. I said, “To be honest, Professor, I skimmed the case.” He laughed and called me, “Skim,” for the rest of the semester. In fact, students started calling me it as well – even outside of class!

As a self-proclaimed expert in skimming, therefore, I want to focus on a verse in Psalm 123 that I would have normally skimmed right over – for it is not the main point of the Psalm and appears rather introductory. Yet, its tiny message is profound. Psalm 123:1 reads,

I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven
. NIV.

Pretty simple, right? Here comes the profundity …

First, the Psalmist indicates that God has a throne, which means that He is a king. If you are a subject in a monarchy, you want to avoid the king’s bad side because he has enormous discretion in his kingdom, and his reign does not end until he dies.  Also, if you gain access to him, you gain access to his entire kingdom – including his land holdings, treasury, and dominion. In Psalm 123, God is king – He has dominion and power over His created kingdom, and we have access to Him. This is profound.

Second, the Psalmist says that His throne is in heaven, which means that he has a view of the world and time that we do not. He sits in a place from which there is perfect perspective – on joy, suffering, and humanity. We, on the other hand, sit in a place where there is limited perspective. Time is linear to us. We have no idea how the world fits together because we are limited to what we see today. This is profound.

Finally, the Psalmist responds to these two realities by lifting up his eyes to God. He knows that, since his God is king who knows all, there is no other response than to lift up his eyes and look to Him. Such a simple and skimmable concept.

But, let’s not skim this today. Let’s consider: God sits on a throne that is in heaven. We can go before Him and seek His counsel and help. Let’s praise Him for how He has given us access to Him through His Son. Let’s trust Him that, although we may not fully understand our situations, He has grand purposes and faces no limitations in accomplishing them.

June 29, 2009

the courage of the unemployed : joshua 1

by Bethany

today’s reading: joshua 1, psalm 120, 121, & 122

What you ever felt weak or afraid in the face of a looming obstacle? For the laid-off among you, that may be how you feel now. Not only do you suffer from a professionally quenched spirit, you also face dim job prospects in the future. For, although the Obama Administration predicted a peak unemployment rate of 8%, it has already reached 9.5%, which means that there are more than 5 unemployed workers for every job in America.

What to do?

In Joshua 1, the Israelites were in a similarly dire situation. First, they had no leader. Their long-time leader, Moses – who led the them out of slavery, who communicated the law of God to them, who spoke to the Lord “face to face” for them – had just died.

Second, the Israelites were lost in the wilderness. Moses had led them out of Egypt, but the Lord refused to let Moses taken them into Promised Land because he “did not trust in [the LORD] enough to honor and obey [Him] as holy in the sight of the Israelites.” (Numbers 20:12, NIV). As a result, the people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

In Joshua 1, we find the fearful Israelites without a leader and lost in the wilderness. But, God provided Joshua as a leader and, in the His overwhelming kindness, He communicated with His people. Our non-stuttering God said three times to Joshua,

Be strong and courageous.NIV.

This is an impossible command – unless there is reason for the strength and courage. Here, God told Joshua that he could be strong and courageous because the Lord gave him a clear calling – to “lead these people to inherit the land.” Additionally, the Lord gave Joshua assurance that He would “be with [him]” wherever he went” – for, as the Lord said, “[a]s I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.”

In response to this clear calling and assurance of God’s presence, the people did not have, however, an excuse to ignore the Lord. Rather, God told them – in regard to the Word – that they were to obey it, proclaim it, and meditate on it “day and night.”

So, today, if you are facing a particular struggle – whether it is unemployment or another obstacle, then seek the Lord for His clear calling on your life. Then, once you embark on that journey, know that the He is with you (And, how much more we can know this truth now than Joshua did then? For we have Jesus who has gone before us and the Holy Spirit who lives within us.) Finally, we must obey the Word, proclaim it, and meditate on it. In these ways, we may “be strong and courageous” – able to face any obstacle!

June 26, 2009

devious people don’t lie : psalm 119:118

by Bethany

today’s readings: deuteronomy 31 & psalm 119:97-120

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
– Bill Clinton, 1998.

“I wanted to do something exotic … I was driving along the coastline of Argentina.”
– Mark Sanford, 2 days ago.

Although both Clinton and Sanford were technically telling the truth, they were purposefully misleading the listener by using a subtle manipulation of language to conceal the truth. This type of deviousness always walks alongside secret sin.

In a recent sermon, John Piper said, “Devious people don’t lie; it’s too risky. They deceive with the truth … Language is a game by which we conceal what we don’t want known and reveal what we want known – even if it is false. And, we have been good at it.”

In Psalm 119:118, we read,

You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their deceitfulness is in vain. NIV.

How I confess to you today that I have used my language skills and the ability to manipulate words in order to disclose only partial truths. The only difference between me and Clinton or Sanford is that I have not been exposed by the press!

But, even though the world has not seen my deceitfulness, the Lord has. This is why the Psalmist says that deceitfulness is “in vain.” No amount of effort that I put into being deceitful can mislead the Lord because he knows the truth.

What hope do I have in front of a holy God whom I cannot deceive?

First, I must confess that my heart is deceitful, and then I must expose it. For, just as mildew grows in deep dark crevasses, so does the deceit of my heart. Second, I must turn to the Lord and ask for his mercy, which he is ready and willing to give. As Psalm 119 also reads,  

Uphold me, and I will be delivered.

June 25, 2009

in need of a heart transplant : deuteronomy 30

by Bethany

today’s readings: deuteronomy 30 & psalm 119:73-96

When I was in the 7th grade, my dad invited me to accompany him on a trip to Ecuador. Although he was going to help rebuild a church, I was going just for fun. During that trip, I was only able to communicate with the lovely Ecuadorians through a translator. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the people and the Spanish language. As a result, when I began taking Spanish classes the following year, I did not approach my coursework as drudgery. Rather, I found it to be a wonderful endeavor that would enable me to talk directly with my new friends. Due to my love for Spanish, two concrete things happened: (1) although I regularly made B’s in high school, I always made A’s in Spanish, and (2) I never stopped taking Spanish until I graduated from college – I even majored in it!

My brother also took Spanish from the 8th grade until graduating from high school. He did not, however, go to a Spanish-speaking country prior to or during his Spanish classes. In contrast with me, he (1) only made one B during one 6 weeks period in high school, and it was in Spanish, and (2) he never took one Spanish course in college.

Why did I do so well in Spanish and continue studying it for the long haul while my brother saw it just as another class? I fell in love with the language because I fell in love with the people who spoke it. My brother, on the other hand, merely liked it. 

Today, in Deuteronomy 30, after Moses gave Israel the commands to follow, he says,

Now what I am commanding you today
is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Not too difficult? Really, Moses? The laws take up 22 of the 34 chapters in Deuteronomy! They are as expansive as the rules of Spanish syntax and grammar!

But, Moses could say this because he knew that the Lord would change their hearts to love him. And, in so doing, obedience would not be “too difficult” because it would be based on loving the lawgiver. In verse 6, we read,

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts
and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him
with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

How much loving someone changes our willingness to follow them! I spent 9 years dutifully studying Spanish because I loved the people who spoke it – not because I conjured up a love for it on my own.

Oh, that we ask the Lord to circumcise our hearts so that we may obey him as a natural response to loving him! For, in doing so, our obedience would not be drudgery, but rather the wonderful endeavor of being in a loving relationship!

June 24, 2009

shhhhh … the secret things : deuteronomy 29:29

by Bethany

today’s reading: deuteronomy 29, psalm 119:49-72

One of my dear friends in New York got engaged on Sunday night. But, two days before that, it was looking like she and her boyfriend might not make it.

On Friday night, my friend Jill knew that something was “off” with her boyfriend Jack. He was acting strangely on the phone and thought he was lying to her. When she asked what he was doing, he said, “Nothing.” When she asked where he was, he said, “Walking around and heading home.”  But, she heard a woman’s voice in the background and lots of noise. Then, after telling her that he’d call when he got home, he didn’t call until 4 am. 

What Jill didn’t know was that Jack was on a layover in the Dallas airport on his way to her parents’ house in South Carolina to ask her father for permission to marry her. The woman’s voice that Jill heard was the airport announcer’s voice. Jack called at 4 am because, due to delayed flights, he was spending the night on the airport floor. On Saturday, after he asked her dad for permission, he boarded a flight again and headed up to New York with the ring in his pocket.  

In planning for the proposal, Jack did not miss one step. He sought out a beautiful ring, planned a diversion for Jill on Sunday night, and made reservations at an old Rockefeller home upstate for dinner. He did all of this out of his immense love for Jill and his desire to surprise her.

Yet, she doubted him. And, for seemingly good reason. After all, he was lying to her.

How often is this the story of our relationship with the Lord? He longs to lavish us with his love and, in order to surprise us (or because we wouldn’t understand anyway), he keeps things hidden. And, yet, we get frustrated because we don’t have the entire picture and we want to know NOW. Yet, in Deuteronomy 29:29, we read,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God. NIV.

The secret things belong to the Lord because he understands how every single movement on this earth has a ripple effect throughout time and he can see how those ripple effects impact eternity. So often, when something happens to me, I try to make heads or tails of it and, although I may come up with one or two reasons, God has a million reasons for how that particular situation is going to turn out the way that it will. My pea brain wouldn’t be able to understand it even if he tried to explain it to me!

What is the lesson? We should be extremely slow in indicting the Lord with bad purposes or with a lack of love for us. Just like Jack had his own secrets from Jill that were meant to shower her with love, God has the same secret things with the same purposes. And, these secret things belong – not to us – but to him, so that he can disseminate at the proper moment. And, how loved we will be when he presents us – not with a ring – but a crown!

 

 

*I used fictitious names to protect the innocent lovebirds!

June 23, 2009

[Morning Walk] Confessions of a Jealous Heart : Psalm 119

by Bethany

today’s reading: deuteronomy 28:20-68, psalm 119:25-48

Have you ever been jealous of another’s confidence? I’m not talking about being jealous of what that person has or how their life has turned out, but rather being jealous of how confident they seem. 

Recently, I’ve been professionally and relationally jealous of others’ confidences. Professionally, I have been jealous of others’ confidence in their job security. I have wondered, “Why did the Lord call me to starting a non-profit during this economic downturn? How much easier would it have been had I just accepted my law firm offer?” You may think that it should be a comfort to me that everyone feels less secure in their jobs today than they did last year, but jealousy and self-pity are always on relative scales.

Relationally, I have experienced jealousy of the confidence of others who are in relationships. As I look around at my friends who are in relationships – two of whom got engaged within the past week – I have wondered, “If I were in a loving relationship right now, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to justify myself as much as I do?”

Regardless of the subject of my jealously, the Psalmist throws me against the wall today.

May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word.

Who is it that taunts me? Ironically, ME! I have been taunting myself by telling myself these untrue things about what would bring me more confidence. But, in reality, these things – relationships and career – can never bring security because they will always be subject to loss or rejection.

Therefore, I must find something that remains and endures. Here, the Psalmist says that the conditions precedent to responding to the taunts are that the Lord’s unfailing love and salvation according to his promise must come to me. These things are unending. I must say, therefore, “Hello, Ms. Job of a Lifetime and Mr. Man of My Dreams. You are wonderful gifts, but you are not my life. Rather, God’s love is the only unfailing love that exists and Christ alone offers salvation. You may be good, but Christ is my life” (Colossians 3:4). 

June 22, 2009

[Morning Walk] Open My Eyes : Psalm 119

by Bethany

today’s reading: deuteronomy 27:1-28:19psalm 119:1-14

Our God is one who speaks to his people. In the Old Testament, he spoke to his people “through the prophets, at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1-2). In the New Testament, he spoke to us “by his Son” – whom John the Apostle calls “the Word” (John 1). Consonant with his teaching that he came to fulfill the law and not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17), Jesus quoted 24 books of the Old Testament.

Today, in Psalm 119, we read of the high value that the Psalmist placed on the Word. As an acrostic psalm, the psalm has 8 couplets for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Today, we consider the first 3: aleph (v. 1-8), beth (v. 9-16), and gimel (v. 17-24).

Here, the Psalmist used 8 different words to refer to the Word – each with a distinct meaning. “Word” indicates that which God himself has spoken. “Laws” and “statutes” give insight into the mind of God, where the laws enable binding judgment and statutes bear witness to God. The Psalmist uses the word “decree” to signify the enduring significance of the word. Teaching and authority is conjured up by the word “law.” Finally, the words “commands,” “precepts,” and “ways” indicate that teaching which has practical application to life.

In regards to each of these types of the Word, we are to walk according to it, obey it, live by it, hide it in our hearts, learn it, recount it, rejoice in it as one rejoices in great riches, meditate on it, consider it, delight in it, and not neglect it. According to the Psalmist, if we do these things, we will be called “blessed,” we will “do nothing wrong,” we will “not be put to shame,” and we can keep our ways “pure.”

Take comfort. This is impossible to do on your own strength.

Yet, in Christ, it is possible. God not only gives us the commands to obey, he also gives us the power by which we can obey it. But, we must come before him with a willing heart and ask. And, if you ask, you will receive. Matthew 21:22.

And, the Psalmist knows this. For he wrote perhaps one of the most powerful verses in all of the Word – and one that I pray every time before I open the Word,

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

Use this verse to pray for your own heart each time you open his Word. God will open your eyes for he longs for you to see the wonderful things that he has in store for his creation.

June 19, 2009

the dictatorship of iran : psalm 115

by Bethany

today’s reading: deuteronomy 24, psalm 114 & 115

On Saturday, the Interior Ministry of Iran announced that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the country’s presidential election with 63.29% of the vote. The opposition leader said, however, that the results were rigged and that he won.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the result was a “divine assessment.” Although Washington has been cautious in commenting on the election, VP Biden went on Meet the Press and said, “There’s an awful lot of questions about how this election was run.”

For the past week, the streets of Tehran have been packed with protesters. Internationally, people are expressing their opinions in strange ways.

At the end of the day, however, it does not matter how many protesters or international commentators denounce the election. Iran is not a democracy. It is a religious dictatorship, and it has been since the 1979 revolution. Since then, only two men have led the country: Ayatollah Rujollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei. When Khomeini set up his government, he announced, “Do not use this term, ‘democratic.’ That is the Western style!”

Today, in Psalm 115, we read:

Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” … their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They … cannot speak … see … hear … smell … feel … walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

How is an authoritarian dictatorship like an idol? Neither see nor hear their people.

But, you may say, isn’t God a dictator? After all, Psalm 115 says, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory … Our God in heaven does whatever pleases him … You who fear him, trust in the LORD.” How is that not the attitude of an authoritarian dictator?

But, unlike earthly rulers, God created and loves his people. In fact, the Psalmist clarifies, “ … to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness … You who fear him, trust in the LORD – he is their help and shield. The LORD remembers us and will bless us.” The reason that the Psalmist praises the Lord is that he is the only thing that is worthy of praise because he is a truly benevolent ruler.

Let us pray for Iran – that they may have a leader who knows the Lord and models his government accordingly. Let us be thankful that we live in a democracy – in which we can worship our Lord. And, let us always remember, that our hope is not in a ruler nor in a group of protesters – but rather our hope is in God.

June 18, 2009

me? barren? : psalm 113

by Bethany

today’s readings: deuteronomy 23, psalm 112 & 113

For a few weeks in 2006, I led a small group in Union Square so that the regular leader could take a break. During that time, I came to know one of the women in the group fairly well.  She was 23 years old and had just moved to NYC. One evening, the conversation turned to the topic of weddings. Although both of us had been in numerous weddings and thought that we would have been married by then, neither of us were. A few days later, she sent me an email and, although I no longer have the email, the relevant paraphrase was the following:

Bethany, I am so glad that you are still single because you have such an impact. It is very true when the Psalmist says, “Sing, O barren woman … because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Barren? Really? Did I mention that I was only 29 years old at the time?

Of course, I knew that she meant to be encouraging, and so I laughed about it and replied nicely. However, irrespective of her intention, I had to figure out what it meant that a barren woman has more children than a married woman. Today, in Psalm 113, we read: 

[The LORD] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.

How can a barren woman be a happy mother of children?

Twice in Genesis – after the creation of Adam and Eve, and after the flood – God blesses his people and says, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (1:28, 9:7). In addition, in Psalm 127:3-5, we read, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward … Like arrows in the hands of a warrior … Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

Clearly, God created procreation. But, he did not do so merely to have warm bodies fill the earth. Rather, his purpose was to fill it with worshippers. What happens to a baby who does not become a worshipper? That is a scary thought.

The family of God is not built on blood relations. In Matthew 12, while Jesus was talking with a crowd, someone told him that his family was outside and, in response, he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Likewise, Paul wrote in Romans 9:8, “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise …”

So, how is a barren woman a happy mother of children? And, how does she have more children than a married woman? Here is how: she participates in the spiritual regeneration of His people so that they are born anew in Christ. This is the multiplication that God spoke of in the Garden. Creating children is not the ultimate thing; creating worshippers is.

Admittedly, I want to be married and have children, but until that day comes, I want to participate as much as possible in the rebirth of God’s creation. Therefore, I lead a small group in my home every Tuesday. But, you don’t have to lead a small group; there are hundreds of ways to have children without procreating: teach a Sunday School class, help out at the nursery, practice hospitality in your home, have a welcoming heart, adopt a child, support a non-profit that promotes regeneration … There are hundreds of ways that the barren woman can be a happy mother. And, in that role, can follow in the steps of Jesus who, having had no children here on earth, is called, “God the Father” in one part of the trinity.

June 17, 2009

an oath for a priest-king : psalm 110:4

by Bethany

today’s readings: deuteronomy 22, psalm 110 & 111

Psalm 110 is the Old Testament chapter most often quoted in the New Testament. One of the more “famous” verses in this chapter is verse 4,

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” NIV.

But, what does this verse mean?

the oath.

What does it mean that God made an oath (i.e., he swore)?

In Israel, Aaron and the Levites were the appointed priests in accordance with the Levitical laws. These priests and these laws, however, were insufficient to make full atonement. And, thus, they had “to offer sacrifices day after day, first for [their] own sins, and then for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 7:27).

In Psalm 110, on the other hand, the Lord makes an oath to the Messiah, saying that he will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Unlike a legal installation, an appointment by oath is an irrevocable binding promise that is made on the basis of something sacred. Here, with an oath, the unchangeable high priesthood of Christ was established, and he became “the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). It was better because, unlike the priests who repeatedly made sacrifices on behalf of the people, Jesus “sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27, 28). 

melchizedek and the priesthood.

What is the meaning of the oath’s text?

At first blush, Melchizedek is a fairly oblique character in Genesis (14:18-20). Upon returning from a meeting with some allies, Abram is greeted by Melchizedek – the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High. He blesses Abram and then mysteriously disappears with no further mention.

In 1000 BC, when David took conquest of Jerusalem, he and his house became heirs to Melchizedek’s dynasty of priest-kings. This is the context in which David wrote Psalm 110:4.

When Jesus arrives, he is the final priest-king in the line of Melchizedek and David. Rather than becoming a priest on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry, however, he became a priest “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”

In Hebrews 7:23-26, we read: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

application

What does it mean that Jesus is the priest-king forever in the line of Melchizedek, as foretold in Psalm 110? For me, at least two things: (1) God keeps his word: although David spoke of the Messiah hundreds of years before Jesus came on the scene, he did come and fulfill his promise, and (2) his word is complete: I do not need to rely on any human being in order to approach God because Jesus himself is the great High Priest, who lives to intercede for me.

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