Clinging to Dust

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! — Psalm 119.25

As a parent I feel a near-moral responsibility to upgrade my phone every year. I use my tiny computer (which occasionally receives a call) primarily to capture so many moments of our children’s growth and life—and how can I properly archive something of such magnitude with an outdated camera?

My family means so much to me, and I feel these memories—riding bikes, going to the philharmonic, bagels in the East Village, hiking the Rockies—slipping away, even as they happen. I realize this is one of the signs of my own idolatry. I’m clinging to dust.

The Biblical image of dust is not meant to diminish the joys of our world—the power of love’s embrace, the pleasure of food, or the depth of nature. Instead it is meant to show us these glories in light of an infinite God. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explains:

When people or when a generation live merely for finite ends, life becomes a whirlpool, meaninglessness, and either a despairing arrogance or a despairing anguish. There must be weight—just as the clock or the clock’s works need a heavy weight in order to run properly and the ship needs ballast. Christianity furnishes this weight, this regulating weight, by making it every individual’s life-meaning.

Christianity puts eternity at stake. Into the middle of all these finite goals Christianity introduces weight, and this weight is intended to regulate temporal life, both its good days and its bad days. And because the weight has vanished—the clock cannot run, the ship steers wildly—human life is a whirlpool.

What I’m really searching for cannot be found in the glow of a screen. Truth be told, it cannot even be given in systematic theology. Psalm 119 draws our attention here—the psalmist loves God’s word because it is God’s—through it he finds the intimacy, fulfillment, and transcendence for which we all long.

The invitation is not to let go of dust, but to find something more worthy to cling to. So we join with Kierkegaard in praying:

Oh God, forgive me for seeking excitement and enjoyment in the allurements of the world which are never truly satisfying. If like the prodigal son, I have gone in search of the wonders of the transient world, forgive me, and receive me back again into your encircling arms of love.

Today’s Reading
Daniel 11 (Listen – 8:13)
Psalms 119.25-48 (Listen – 15:14)


Awe and Devotion

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! — Psalm 119.4-5

How little time I spend praising God for Scripture. Somehow modernism reduced the sacred word to “the text”— an inanimate printed copy of something that at one time was important. Psalm 119 is significant not only because of its length (it is the largest prayer in Scripture), but because of its unrelenting focus on the glory of God’s word. The Psalmist pleads:

Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.

I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!

My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.

Modernism has flooded Christians with a desire to prove, explain, expound, justify, and defend Scripture. Add in evangelicalism’s fatuous mimicry of the entertainment industry and we want to “make it relevant,” and “engaging” through summaries, media, and topical studies. Praise, contemplation, and response have been eclipsed by study, systemization, and rote memorization.

This is, of course, the natural compensatory mechanism that kicks in when sinful people approach a holy God through the living word. Perhaps no one has summed this up as succinctly as Søren Kierkegaard:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to under­stand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accord­ingly.

Take any words in the New Testament and forget every­thing except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend it­self against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?

Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Psalm 119 is an invitation to experience the joy, intimacy, and power of God’s living and active word. The prayer is a model of what life could be when we allow study to take its proper place, behind awe and devotion.

Today’s Reading
Daniel 10 (Listen – 3:18)
Psalms 119.1-24 (Listen – 15:14)


God’s Power in Rejection

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.22-23

Picture Joseph: his dreams rejected by his father; cast out by his brothers; thrown out by the Egyptian elite—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. Then David: neglected by his father when the prophet arrived to anoint a king; hated by Saul; hiding in caves—and yet, cornerstone of Israel. The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarks:

Be not afraid, O ye persecuted ones, for you shall fulfill your destiny. It has happened again and again in history that those who have been destined to do great things for the Lord have first of all been compelled to pass through a trying ordeal of misunderstanding and rejection….

At this time, however, we shall confine our application of these verses to our blessed Lord himself, to whom they most evidently refer. Their meaning is focussed upon him, and in reference to him each word is emphatic.

Christ rejected: though he clamored for no earthly power; though he served the poor; though he was the cure all creation longed for. Spurgeon recalls that his was no ordinary rejection—it was unreasonably violent and indignant:

They were not content to say, “He is not the Messiah,” but they turned their hottest malice against him; they were furious at the sight of him. This precious stone was kicked against and rolled about with violence, and all manner of ridicule was poured upon it. Nothing would content them but the blood of the man who had disturbed their consciences and questioned their pretensions.

And yet, he is the cornerstone of Israel. He is exalted—and it is the Lord’s doing. The path of rejection reveals this. Spurgeon concludes:

If the Scribes and Pharisees had endorsed the claims of our Lord it might have been said that Christianity was grafted upon the old stock of Judaism. If Pilate, or Herod, or any of the great ones, especially if the Caesar of the day had accepted it, then the following ages would have said, “Oh yes, he derived his power, and was lifted to his place through the prestige of empire and the prowess of arms.” But it was not so. All the establishments on earth were against him: rank and station despised the carpenter’s son; superstition abhorred his simplicity and spirituality.

“My strength,” God says, “is made perfect in weakness,” and, as the Psalmist says, “it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Today’s Reading
Daniel 9 (Listen – 5:22)
Psalms 117-118 (Listen – 2:59)


Christian Civility :: Weekend Reading List

“In Hebrew the term dabar means both word and deed,” Frederick Buechner observes. “Thus, to say something is to do something.” Buchner explains:

Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endless!

How many ripples have we suffered in this year of political rancor? The collective loss of civility has been mourned as often as it has inflicted wounds across the spectrum. Yet, Hua Hsu writes for the New Yorker, “The problem with civility is the presumption that we were ever civil in the first place.” Hsu continues:

Thanks to the Internet, we have become expert parsers of language, meaning, and authorial intent. We have grown obsessed with subtext. In other words, we live in very discursive times, when language seems to matter more than ever.

“See how a great forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire,” warns the book of James. How powerful would it be if the Church were to lead in the restoration of public civility in American culture?

For such a restoration to take place we would have to begin with confession. For while the nearly-endless coverage of this year’s broken discourse makes it feel different, it is far from abnormal. In a piece promoting the upcoming Civility In The Public Square event, Timothy Keller explains:

It could be argued that America has never really been a genuinely pluralistic, perspective-diverse, free society. We have never been a place where people who deeply differ, whose views offend and outrage one another, nonetheless treat each other with respect and hear each other out.

Those who have held the reins of cultural power—its greatest academic centers, its most powerful corporations, the media—have often excluded unpopular voices and minority views that fell on the wrong side of the public morality of the day.

In the 1980s and ’90s, many white evangelical Christians wanted to occupy those places of power, and showed little concern at the time to create a society that respected communities with sharply differing moral visions.

Civility falters when people live in fear—fear that their views may be wrong; fear that their power is limited; fear that there is no sovereign who cares for their interests. But the rhythms of civility restore what was lost in the fall, as Buechner concludes:

Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Daniel 6 (Listen – 5:18)
Psalms 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

Today’s Reading
Daniel 7 (Listen – 5:21) Psalms 114-115 (Listen – 1:18)
Daniel 8 (Listen – 4:39) Psalms 116 (Listen – 1:34)


The Beginning of Holiness :: Throwback Thursday

By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. — Psalm 111.3

Holiness in man is but the image of God’s holiness. Surely there are not more virtues belonging to the image than are in the original. Those affections that are truly holy are primarily founded on the moral excellency of divine things. In other words, love of the divine things—for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency—is the spring of all holy affections.

The word moral is not to be understood according to the common acceptation: as outward conformity to the duties of the moral law. It is this holiness that gives beauty to natural perfections and qualifications.

The holiness of God is the same with the moral excellency of the divine nature: comprehending all his moral perfections, righteousness, faithfulness, and goodness. As in holy men—Christian kindness and mercy belong to their holiness—the kindness and mercy of God belong to his holiness.

Strength and knowledge do not render any being lovely without holiness, but more hateful; though they render them more lovely when joined with holiness. Thus the elect angels are the more glorious for their strength and knowledge, because these natural perfections of theirs are sanctified by their moral perfection. But though the devils are very strong, and of great natural understanding, yet they are not the more lovely. They are more terrible, indeed, not more amiable; but on the contrary, the more hateful.

The holiness of an intelligent creature is the beauty of all his natural perfections. And so it is in God, according to our way of conceiving of the Divine Being: holiness is in a peculiar manner the beauty of the divine nature. Holiness renders all his other attributes glorious and lovely.

It is the glory of God’s wisdom—it is a holy wisdom—and not a wicked subtlety. This makes his majesty lovely, and not merely dreadful and horrible—it is a holy majesty. It is the glory of God’s immutability—it is a holy immutability—and not an inflexible obstinacy in wickedness.

Any vision of God’s loveliness must, therefore, begin here. A true love to God must begin with a delight in his holiness, and not with a delight in any other attribute: for no other attribute is truly lovely without holiness.

* Abridged and language updated from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Div. VIII, Part III, Section III.

Today’s Reading
Daniel 5 (Listen – 5:47)
Psalms 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)


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