Friday, February 11, 2011

Pointing the Finger

But let all who take refuge in you be glad
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Psalm 5 v11

Psalm 5 is curious. In Psalms 1,2 and 3 we are told of God's faithfulness and how he rewards those who seek him. Little demand is made on God to meet the needs of his people, the reciprical relationship is simply stated. In Psalm 4 David is finding that the promises of the first three psalms cannot be assumed. Sometimes God witholds his blessing for reasons known only to him. That doesn't mean that he is fickle or capricious - its because we are presumptious and shallow; as the saying goes: "easy come, easy go". In Psalm 5 David is in distress like in Psalm 4 but this time he doesn't demand an answer or an action, only that God listens. "In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." I wonder if, in the depths of despair and fully conscious of his own sinfulness - in no doubt that God is his only hope (Psalm 4), that David can see clearly the grace and mercy of God. The lack of urgency here suggests that there is no crisis but there are undercurrents that worry the king. He is still conscious of his need for God but not so conscious of God's presence.

He begins by asking God to keep an open ear and proceeds to describe those that God will not listen to - "The arrogant cannot stand in your presence." Further on he asks God to "Banish them for their many sins" but to "bless the righteous." Where is Jesus' call to love your enemies and bless those who curse you. Is this not hypocritical? Where does David get off on pointing the finger? The key, I think, is where David says, "Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies - make straight your way before me." Notice how he says 'your way' not 'my way'. In separating the righteous from the wicked he isn't making a distinction between them and us. His hesitation in demanding God come to his aid is because he's finding it difficult to distinguish who are the wicked. Don't you think he is fearful that 'they' are more righteous then 'he'. Where does he stand if God answers their prayers and not his: "Lead me BECAUSE of my enemies".

We can be so sure of the justice of our cause, while dismissing others as 'wicked'. Hosni Mubarak has stepped down and Egypt will hopefully be free from tyrany but the people of Egypt are not going to look favourably on the West because it was us who supported the dictator. Who was more wicked - the repressive regime or the Western governments that supported it for their own ends? "Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." For me this is the highlight of the psalm. When David asks the LORD to lead him in righteousness he is asking that God cover his sin. He asks God for a straight path otherwise he'll get lost on the way. We are so hopeless and sinful we even need God to help us pray and not be too particular about who he listens to. Compare Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand.

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Promises Promises

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 23 vv5&6

Its clear from Psalms that David sees God as a king like himself. Just as the kings of his day had vassal kings under them so David recognises himself as a subject king before the LORD. If David has been called to the table of the King of kings his enemies had better not touch him. That God should then anoint him and fill his cup to overflowing should fill the hearts of his enemies with terror for in opposing God's Anointed, the one God has favoured, they oppose God himself.

'Follow' in 'will follow me' literally means to pursue. While his enemies flee, the blessings of God which 'surely' follow on from his anointing will not only be available for him but will pester him till he receives them. But this is far more than a promise to bless. Jesus tells us he is the good shepherd yet, reading Psalm 23, I can't help but see Jesus as the lamb sustained by his shepherd-father on the path to Jerusalem, shadowed by death in Gethsemane and glorified at Golgotha where he was mocked by his enemies.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.*

We are foolish to depend on a promise unless we know the basis on which that promise was made. On February 14, millions of cards will be given, proclaiming undying and everlasting love but there is only one love we can totally depend on - a love not based on emotion, duty, relationship or even devotion but on a covenant, sealed in blood. "Will you still love me tomorrow?" the song asks. "Don't just take my word for it", Jesus says, "see what I did for you."

* Colossians 2:13-15

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Call Out the Plumber

Answer me when I call to you
O my righteous God.

Psalm 4 v1

When you go to the doctor with an ailment you should not expect to walk out of the surgery cured. He will more than likely give you a prescription for a course of tablets and ask you to come back if it doesn't clear up. He may refer you to someone more qualified to treat your complaint. On the other hand, if you had a burst pipe in your house you would not expect the plumber to refer you to a specialist or give you a series of instructions, asking you to call back if the problem persists. You wouldn't expect to do anything yourself, other than to call him out and be there when he calls.

When David asks God for an answer he's expecting a plumber. "Give me relief from my distress" he says - stop the leak. "How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false Gods?" David has placed his hope in the LORD but his people are trusting in false Gods to meet their needs. They are using the cheap leaky pipes their Canaanite neighbours swear by. Any glory they might have received is shamefully pouring all over the floor yet the taps are dry. "Offer right sacrifices and turn to the LORD", David says. Don't put up with counterfeit goods, they will only let you down. "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound," he proclaims. There's water everywhere but why drink out of muddy puddles when you can drink pure water from the tap. "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." What price, peace and safety. The genuine article usually costs more but it's worth it.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy", Jesus said, "but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven". "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also".

If you were going to a fancy restaurant for an expensive meal you wouldn't pop into McDonalds for a cheeseburger to keep you going, you'd save yourself. How many celebrities have had a bit on the side and wrecked their marriages and possibly their careers? David was as guilty as anyone for lusting after abundant, cheap wine but he knew that God could fill his heart with a greater joy because he was a man after God's own heart.

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Monday, February 07, 2011

No Smoke

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD delivers me.

Psalm 3 v5

Smoke might continue to rise long after the fire is put out and, innocent or not, one embroiled in a scandal will always have that whiff of burning around them. It seems unfair that despite the principle of innocent until proven guilty, once tarred, the accused will always be conscious of a mark even if the stain is removed. You can rewrite history but the rubbings out remain. It's as if we imagine the perfect life to be one of continuous success without regret but the truth is: those that are most successful are often those that make the most mistakes on the way. Strength comes from persevering even when falsely accused, not blaming your situation on circumstances but triumphing over adversity.

Psalm 3 is King David's cry to God when he has been hounded out of Jerusalem by Absalom, his own son. Looking back, David would see a chain of events leading up to this treachery beginning with his own sinful actions. As an insult to his father, Absalom sleeps with his father's concubines in a tent erected in full view of the residents of Jerusalem but David can't point the finger without considering his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba. He takes it on the chin acknowledging that God can remove or restore his kingship as he wills. In 2 Samuel 15 we read that David takes the Ark of the Covenant with him as he flees but sends it back to Jerusalem where it belongs. In his distress David wants God in the centre of his world like a genie in a bottle but he knows that, instead, his heart must be in the centre of God's will. If he's to be king it can only be in Jerusalem.

David begins by counting his foes. He knows they are saying, "God will not deliver him", and these are his own people. In the next breath he declares, "You bestow glory on me and lift up my head". "He answers me from his holy hill". David assumes God's blessing, not in arrogance but because God isn't one to change his mind. The Ark still resides in Jerusalem and he is still God's anointed. Though tens of thousands oppose him David is able to sleep and when he awakes he understands that it was God who kept him through the night.

What do we know of God's character except what he shows as a mentor in our own lives? Would it be arrogant to pray to God, "do what I would do"? Is it not a compliment when our children tell us to do what we have been telling them for years? From his own kingship, David to some degree understands the mind of God and how the King of kings would deal with his adversaries. "Arise, O Lord", says David, "and do what you would have me do".

"From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people". David isn't just king of his castle, he's the leader of his people. What he knows of God he wishes for those who look up to him. All will be resolved, God will be glorified and the people will be blessed.

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Fatherhood of Kings

Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance
the ends of the earth your possession

Psalm 2 v8

Psalm 2 was written to inaugurate a new king. "Why do the nations conspire", asks the psalmist. The obvious answer is: with a new untested king with no accomplishments under his belt, what better time to revolt. However, the question is rhetorical because the "one enthroned in heaven laughs". "The rulers gather together against ... his Anointed One". "You are my son", says the King of kings, "today I have become your Father". Apparently the relationship of father and son was not unusually declared between a high ruler and his subject king. In this we see the father-son relationship as much more than a biological bond. It's a relationship of respect and trust that is more than simply sharing DNA.

There appears to be a simple message. What God has ordained, tamper with at your peril. The one God has anointed stands not on his or her own authority but in the stead of God himself. When you argue with God's representative you argue with him. For the Jews, the Anointed One was not only their appointed king, but also the future messiah who could truly boast of the earth being his possession. Now when Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in my name", he looks on us as co-heirs in his inheritance. We can't think of ourselves being in any way equal with Christ but we can look back at the monarchy of Israel and David in particular and see the father-son relationship in action.

David was a man after God's own heart. We can't suppose that God will give us whatever we want or even what we think he should give us but as subject kings, acting on his behalf and with a heart for his kingdom we can expect God to laugh at the conspirators and rebuke whatever stands in our way. We should also consider that becoming a father is more about mutual respect than genetics.

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Not So the Wicked

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Psalm 1 v4

Early Psalters have Psalm one as a prologue to the books of Psalms, there being five in all. In this respect there is a striking similarity between the beginning of Psalms and Proverbs. Both present the principle that the one who follows the way of righteousness will prosper while the wicked will perish in their folly. The Bible could never claim to be concise and to the point - that's why so many books are written on biblical themes, collecting the pieces together into a coherent block of understanding. We need square shaped instructions to fit our square shaped faith. The first nine chapters of Proverbs and Psalm one provide that for us so that when we are handed a round block we instinctively know it won't fit and there's no point in trying.

However we all know that life is never actually that straight forward. There are no perfectly square pegs or perfectly round holes, just as we know that the wicked do prosper because they cheat on the righteous. We also know that there is no clear line between the righteous and the wicked and, if truth be told, none of us can claim to be righteous. But before you learn to fix something you need to know how it was designed to work and first principles are always a good place to start. Psalm One is the duffer's guide to life. It's exquisitely crafted yet its truths are transparent and simply stated.

The psalm begins with three negatives - what the blessed man doesn't do - and covers all the angles. He does not walk, stand or sit in the company of the wicked. In other words, he doesn't practice what the wicked do, doesn't agree or co-operate with sinners or sit and watch while they carry out their evil.

Don't eat spaghetti wearing a white shirt. However good you are you are bound to get sauce on it.

What does the blessed man do? He studies God's Law. Does that make him good? No! By learning the ways of righteousness he plants himself not in a stagnant bog but by a stream of clean water. That way he is like a healthy tree that bears fruit at the right time (guaranteeing sustenance) and is always in leaf (providing shelter). We are told he is prosperous. The wicked prosper only through plunder and enrich only themselves. The righteous can prosper even when they have nothing because they bless others in everything they do. What of the wicked? They're like chaff - just blown away.

If the righteous are beautiful, splendid trees you'd expect the wicked to be miserable stumps but for the psalmist they're a waste of words. They're just dust. The psalm begins with the 'council' of the wicked and ends with the 'assembly' of the righteous. The wicked are like dust that accumulates in the corner of the yard, blown by the wind. The righteous are planted by the river of life where the LORD watches over them. Even if the wicked were invited they would blow away with the slightest breeze.

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (c) 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.