Short and Sweet

MSG Ephesians 5:1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Jesus view on life: live discreetly, love loudly
The world’s view: live loudly, love discreetly

Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side by side, often in order to bring out their differences. Get it?

Fearless Inspiration

NRSV Ephesians 2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

• God has created you in the likeness of perfection to insure you will be of value and succeed.
• He’s trusted you with abilities and talents unique to you.
• Your whole way of life is the inspired field of operation God has prepared for your good works.

Do you believe that?

Maybe it’s just me but doesn’t it sometimes seem the entirety of life from birth to death is graded on some sort of curve that eats away at the joy of “doing” because of the aspiration to be of value and succeed?  There are certainly times when that aspiration has negatively dictated my choice of whether to proceed in what I was doing.  I’m still learning the reality of good works and doing everything “heartily as unto the Lord.”  Sometimes you succeed beyond your wildest dreams…and that’s a blessing.  But, sometimes you fail so “heartily” you’ll never be asked to do that again…and that’s a blessing too. 😍. 

Artist: Gail Stanghelle

I’ve owned this piece of art for many years now but I’m still touched by the words “Do not be afraid to use what talents you possess…” I move it time to time from one prominent spot to another so that my eyes are reminded not to miss it’s inspiration.  It’s good to aspire to be of value and succeed but that’s not a required part of “good works. ” Fearless inspiration  is.

This is the fearless inspiration that transforms our aspirations into good works: NLT 2:13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

But as for Me

Psalm 109:19 Now may those curses return and cling to him like his clothing or his belt. 20 This is the Lord’s punishment upon my enemies who tell lies about me and threaten me with death.  21 But as for me, O Lord, deal with me as your child, as one who bears your name! Because you are so kind, O Lord, deliver me.  22-23 I am slipping down the hill to death; I am shaken off from life as easily as a man brushes a grasshopper from his arm. 24 My knees are weak from fasting, and I am skin and bones. 25 I am a symbol of failure to all mankind; when they see me they shake their heads. 26 Help me, O Lord my God! Save me because you are loving and kind…29 Make them fail in everything they do. Clothe them with disgrace. 30 But I will give repeated thanks to the Lord, praising him to everyone. 31 For he stands beside the poor and hungry to save them from their enemies.

I began this journey through these Imprecatory Psalms because of my frustration about being unable to pray about ugly circumstances beyond my control because the only words I could come up with were ugly too. It was a faithful pastor and friend that pointed me to these Psalms with the caveat they were not easy but they might help me understand my own situation. I’m certain that’s exactly how the Bible works and why it’s still such an important book.  So today I’m going to quote words of my own lessons from this series of posts.

“I want my heart to be so certain of God’s Sovereign reliability that I am not afraid of the effect my hostile and harsh thoughts and words against his enemies and injustice will have on God’s opinion of me.”

“God ultimately chose to intervene in his global creation through the life of Jesus and with the Holy Spirit for one specific reason: to make that same kind of freedom, personal relationship and aggressive faith with the all powerful, all knowing, ever present God available to each of us.” 

“Here’s the thing the giant slayer came to understand: Life is just another giant you can’t fight alone.  That’s the reality of Sovereign reliability.” 

“The  power of God was revealed  “for Heaven’s sake” in the imperfections of this king BECAUSE he knew exactly what to do with the ugly stuff!”  

“God’s justice IS going to defend the righteous but just as surely it’s “still” HIS righteousness that’s our right reward to enjoy, not the judgment of others.”  

“Life is our power struggle in which we constantly have to choose whether we’ll give the power to circumstances or to our intimacy with God to effect our response.”   

“Circumstances won’t always change but perspective can make all the difference in our response.  “The humble shall see their God at work for them. No wonder they will be so glad!” 

This week life has dished out some physical pain for me.  I read these harsh words from this man with a direct line to God’s heart with my own pain reminding me of the powerful challenge circumstance and perspective have on life, even in our intimacy with God.  Then I realized David’s prayer can be mine too.  “But as for me, O Lord, deal with me as your child, as one who bears your name! Because you are so kind, O Lord, deliver me.”

Perspective

Psalm 69:5 O God, you know so well how stupid I am, and you know all my sins. 6 O Lord God of the armies of heaven, don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don’t let me cause them to be confused,…13 But I keep right on praying to you, Lord. For now is the time—you are bending down to hear! You are ready with a plentiful supply of love and kindness. Now answer my prayer and rescue me as you promised… 30 Then I will praise God with my singing! My thanks will be his praise— 31 that will please him more than sacrificing a bullock or an ox. 32 The humble shall see their God at work for them. No wonder they will be so glad! All who seek for God shall live in joy.  TLB

Circumstance and personal struggle have sapped all David’s energy.  He’s exhausted from his constant need to protect himself but something new has happened to him in the midst of his distress.  He’s seeing his circumstances from a new perspective.  He’s seeing and praying beyond himself to the impact his struggle may have on others who trust in God’s reputation.  

It’s that perspective, not his circumstances, that has changed everything.  “Don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don’t let me cause them to be confused… I keep right on praying to you, Lord. For now is the time—you are bending down to hear!”  That’s his  source of comfort and praise…and now that’s my inspiration. 

Circumstances won’t always change but perspective can make all the difference in our response.  “The humble shall see their God at work for them. No wonder they will be so glad!” 

Power Struggle

Psalm 59 – Written by David at the time King Saul set guards at his home to capture and kill him.

1 O my God, save me from my enemies. Protect me from these who have come to destroy me.  2 Preserve me from these criminals, these murderers.  3 They lurk in ambush for my life. Strong men are out there waiting. And not, O Lord, because I’ve done them wrong. 4 Yet they prepare to kill me. Lord, waken! See what is happening! Help me!
9 O God my Strength! I will sing your praises, for you are my place of safety. 10 My God is changeless in his love for me, and he will come and help me. He will let me see my wish come true upon my enemies.

11 Don’t kill them—for my people soon forget such lessons—but stagger them with your power and bring them to their knees. Bring them to the dust, O Lord our shield.
16 But as for me, I will sing each morning about your power and mercy. For you have been my high tower of refuge, a place of safety in the day of my distress.   17 O my Strength, to you I sing my praises; for you are my high tower of safety, my God of mercy.

David writes of his personal “power” struggle in these imprecatory Psalms.  His is a struggle between real circumstances and real intimacy with God.  You can see that in the verses above.  Over and over his conflicted thoughts demand my thought because that’s my power struggle too.  Circumstances do not operate independently of intimacy with God.  

There’s no way to get around the fact our power struggle is just like David’s.  Life was his connection between real circumstances and real intimacy with God.  Maybe God is using David’s Psalms to make us look at life in a more realistic way.  Life is not a sentence because of circumstances or a slam-dunk because of intimacy with God.  Life is our power struggle in which we constantly have to choose whether we’ll give the power to circumstances or to our intimacy with God to effect our response. 

The Right Reward

Psalm 58:6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!  7 Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.  8 May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun…10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. 11 Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

This Psalm is really hard to read because of David’s frustration and anger about the injustice, violence and lies of the wicked.  Me too, but… It ends with what reads like a gruesome emphasis on how good the righteous will feel when God steps in and wipes out those wicked people. 

I understand the need for the assurance “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;  surely there is a God who judges the earth.” Those assurances are absolute and timeless truths but all I can think of is how important is is to not make the mistake of enjoying the wrong reward.  God’s justice IS going to defend the righteous but just as surely it’s “still” HIS righteousness that’s our right reward to enjoy, not the judgment of others.

BECAUSE

Excerpts from Psalm 55 NIV
1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea;  2 hear me and answer me.  My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught,
17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. 18 He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days.  But as for me, I trust in you

This Psalm reads as if it must be the apex of David’s anguish.  I hope the remaining four on my list are not as intense.  My brain and my heart can’t handle it.  This powerful and imperfect king has given me an appreciation of what the desire to trust God so completely really looks like. These Psalms are sort of like reading David’s personal diary of ugly stuff.  Over and over no matter what, or whose, sin David was dealing with, his choice was to depend on God’s integrity not his own.

I can understand the need to write down his intense and troubling thoughts knowing no one else needed to know them.  I can imagine him reading and editing them at length to distill them into as truthful a representation of his faith before God as he could.  What is so much braver than I can imagine is his choice to write down the reality of his fears, flaws and failings to be sung from the mouths of others for heavens sake!

That’s enough to bring tears to my eyes as I type.  After 40+ years of following Jesus I still have ugly stuff.  I’ve not written it down for anyone to sing about but there are family and other people in my life who’ve seen what I couldn’t write and they surely could.  

These Psalms have become a lesson for me.  The  power of God was revealed  “for Heaven’s sake” in the imperfections of this king BECAUSE he knew exactly what to do with the ugly stuff!