October, 2006

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Psalm 18

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Many years ago I wrote a book for the doctrinal study week of the churches and members of the Southern Baptist Convention. The text of this book will be on this website. The title is The Doctrine of God.  Its focus is upon what Baptists have said that they believe about the nature and work of God in their various statements of faith.

While the Bible teaches that we are not to make an image of God, it uses many word pictures to describe God. Two of the most common and expressive are that God is like a rock and he is like smoke or a cloud.  I took to mean that while God is solid and dependable, he is also free and cannot be contained by mean humans.

The opening lines of Psalms 18, as translated by Peterson captures the picture of God as like a rock. “I love you God–you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight.  My God–the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout.”

The hymn, a great one, ROCK OF AGES, comes to mind. The true God is faithful, dependable, protective. But God is also pictured as fire and smoke.  Recall the Exodus and the pillar and the cloud. This says to me that God is not only solid and dependable, but he is also free and cannot be circumscribed or captured.  He always is mysterious and beyond our comprehension.

As we live the life of faith and get to know God, we experience a deepening and personalizing of knowledge of God. Head knowledge is supplemented by heart knowledge.

Psalm 19

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Peterson translates a stanza in the middle of the 19th Psalms like this–“The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road.  The life-maps of God are right showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes.”

A few years ago two friends and I got lost on the roads down in southeastern Montana, Peterson’s home state. The pavement and then the gravel ran out.  The Bentonite mud began to stick on the bottom of the old four hole Buick. The rain turned to snow. Finally, just before dark we came to a crossroads. There were no signs. By then, however, there was gravel on the road.  The tracks in the gravel turned to the left. Wisely, we figured that that was the way to town. Perhaps, Peterson had had similar experiences on the roads of Montana. I know that he has a deep appreciation for the Word of God. The Bible provides the maps and road signs that we need to make our way through life.  If one uses it he will not get lost.  He will find the way to deep joy.

Psalm 15

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

This brief psalm provides very practical and brief statements about the elements of a life that pleases God.
1. walk straight
2. act right
3. tell the truth
4. don’t hurt your neighbor
5. don’t blame your neighbor
6. despise the despicable
7. keep your word even when it costs you
8. make an honest living
9. never take a bribe.

Not a complete list, sure, but if one follows the list, then most interpersonal conflicts can be either avoided or settled. Spend some time reflecting upon the list, looking at your everyday life, and note needed changes.  This will need to be an on going exercise for most of us, certainly for me.

Psalm 16

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Peterson’s translation begins, “Keep me safe, O God, I’ve run for dear life to you. I say to God, ‘Be my Lord!’ Without you nothing makes sense. . .My choice is you, God, first and only.  And now I find I’m your choice.”

It appears to me that this is the correct order. Unfortunately, in contemporary American Christianity there seems to be a tendency to reverse things.  This to say that we need to initiate the quest for God’s forgiveness.  I am not the center of all things.  God is. He is lord, not me.  Like David, I need to be grateful that God will take me and make me his own. God must not be cast as being grateful that I have selected him.

The 16th Psalm ends with these words. “Ever since You took my hand, I\’m on the right way.”  True, but like most children I have pulled away from time to time, explored on my own, and strayed.  Thanks be to God that he has not given up on me.

Psalm 14

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

The past couple of days I have been reading Bill O’Reilly’s new book, CULTURAL WARRIOR. Then I got to reading Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalms 14 and concluded that it was very descriptive of the self O’Reilly presents in his book.  Not that O\’Reilly would deny the existence of God, it is just that his God is not all that holy, just or bright.  And O’Reilly’s language seems to be “poison gas” as the Psalms declares about many folk in David’s day.

He oversimplifies things by dividing Americans into the Traditionalists and the Secular Progressives. Personally, I was not comfortable with either group. Among many others he placed Bill Moyers in the SPs.  Progressive, yes, but not Secular.  Moyers’ thought is informed by the Bible. I would say the same for Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta newspapers whom O’Reilly puts with the SPs also.

On page 206 O’Reilly lists the 10 tenets of his code for culture warriors.  The fourth is “Understand and respect Judeo-Christian philosophy.” He fails to do so, personally, and his whole structure crumbles for this reader.

Back to Psalm 14. David warns that our leaders should not treat “people like a fast-food meal over which they’re too busy to pray.”  David adds, “Do you think you can mess with the dreams of the poor? You can’t, for God makes their dreams come true.”

I wish I could get my money back.  The O’Reilly book was a waste.

Psalm 12

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

The poet was often what we would today label as depressed. Other good leaders of Israel like Moses and Joshua had also experienced depression.

He we find him first lamenting the fact that those upon whom he had depended for assistance in his leadership tasks had not been faithful. The poet is obviously very angry about this and asks for God to punish them.

Apparently, the triggering problem was the failure of those whom he had seen as friends and helpers to care for the poor. This is not an isolated comment. Again and again God speaks through the law, the prophets, poets and kings about the need for justice and fairness in society. Building a community where there is goodness and right still needs to be done.

I have found that it does not take much imagination to “blame the victims” when dealing with poor folk. Some have truly “fouled their nest.” Some do not listen. Some make bad decisons. Some will “con” you.

Regardless, I believe that God expects us to do right by the poor. We must not exploit them and abuse them. Do right and let God be the judge of everyone involved–you, the poor, the insensative, and the exploiter.

The final stanza of this psalm tells us to depend upon God. He will care for those who do right. And while the exploiters will fool the poor and make them think that they are really their friends and benefactors, and this will tempt to to get angry and abandon our effort to be of help, do not do it.

This was an issue for the poet. It is an issue for me. It is an issue for any sincere Christian.

Psalm 8

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

It seems that many of us think too well or too poorly of humankind.  In this psalm we have a very high view of humankind, but one that calls for us to recognize our subservience to the great and good God. Instead of being proud and arrogant we need to be amazed at the grace of God to continue to love and care for us.

He also notes that we can think too little of ourselves, or just not bother to think about the deep and important things at all.

Like small children we must maintain our wonder about the world as we discover more and more about it and find how wonderfully made it is.

Apparently the poet is amazed that God did not fire us after Adam and Eve disobayed him.  He was greatful.  And he declares that we ought to be very greatful.

Satan, I think, tempts to us lose our wonder about the world, the universe, our own bodies.  It is so easy to become complacent, or to become proud, or to become one who wallows in trying to satisfy our lusts. Sloth, pride and lust continue to push us away from a proper relationship with God, with one another, and with even ourselves.

We are wonderful.  We have important things to do.  We are fallen.  We are often very evil.  And we are lazy.  We are slackers.  Constantly, we have to struggle with all of this. We do so, by keeping focused on the fact to God is the Lord.  We are his servants. He asks that we obey him.

Psalm 1

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

I want to shift my reflecting to the Psalms for a while now. We will pick up Abram at a later time. It was the Psalms which first attracted me to THE MESSAGE.  Peterson does such a great job of both translating and applying the message of the poet to our everyday life today. So, for a month or two, I want to read and reflect of the Psalms.

The first of the Psalms contrasts two life styles. One please God. The other does not. I sort of hate to say that David identifies three important characteristics for the life of one who is faithful and obedient to God.  That sound as though I might be trying to made David into a preacher with three points.  Not so.

The three are–thrilling in and focused on God\’s word, stable and productive in ones everyday life, following the road that God sets before us, one that will bring us to blessing.  It is interesting that he describes a holy life as one that is both stationary and moving, solid and in transit, nourished and productive.

Those of us who have lived for many decades can reflect upon the fashions of sin and recognize how they change. Each promises fulfillment and joy, but ultimately ends in hurt and dispair.

I see this psalm as anticipating the last chapter of Revelation where we will have access to the tree that bears fruit all year long and of the story with which Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, the story of two builders.  Be planted well.  Be built well.

The central purpose of our lives is not to be entertained or entertain, to be prideful or pitiful, to be in the fast lane only to crash through the dead end sign.

We should focus on pleasing God.  My prayer is that we all select this goal and do it well.