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 What I had not anticipated, however, was that he would be working from an outdated class list!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!

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