Saturday, December 31, 2005

Entering the New Year with Psalm 84 (part two)

Now we consider the beatitude of the pilgrims (vv 5-7), the worshipers who were going to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles. The "blessed" include the people of Israel journeying (v 5) with the priests and levites living in Zion (v 4) (Tate). Both share in the blessedness of those who trust in YHWH Almighty (or, "LORD of hosts", NRSV).

This beatitude (v 5) is for those whose strength is in God and whose hearts are set on meeting God. As God's people we are those whose strength is in him and whose hearts are set on meeting him. Thus we are on a different track than those who are not his people. As the community of Jesus we are on the same track. And having the mind of Jesus we want to bring others along with us.

As these pilgrims pass through the dry "valley of weeping" "they make it a place of springs" and "the autumn rains also cover it with pools." (v 6). This metaphor points to those being blessed to be a blessing (cf., Genesis 12:1-3). God's blessing overflows from its recipients onto others. This could also be pointing to God's care of creation which is included in his redemption in the new creation (Romans 8:19-21 an interesting parallel here).

We can imagine the pilgrims while on their journey singing "the songs of Zion" (Psalm 137:3; note vv 4-6 there). These songs (including this psalm) would provide "a means of grace", being sacramental as the tunes help carry the words deep into their hearts. For that matter the "pilgrimage and festival are sacraments: visible actions become the means of grace and revelation of the presence of God" (Tate). One has to be careful here not to get carried away with what one is doing in such activites. But they need to be intent in looking through such actions for their goal, being "centered" in meeting God.

Such pilgrims "go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion" (v 7). One is reminded of John 1:16: "Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given." (TNIV) Again this is not telling those people (nor by application, us today) that we need to be and do this. It is describing what is true of them and us as the people of God, and where our destination is.

Tomorrow we end our look together at Psalm 84 as we enter into another year of God's blessing.

Entering the New Year with Psalm 84 (part one)

For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD Almighty!

2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

8 Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.

9 Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

12 LORD Almighty,
blessed are those who trust in you.


As verse 1 in the Hebrew text indicates, this was a song to be sung so as to become a part of the heart and faith of the people of Israel.

Psalm 84 is a psalm of pilgrimage. "Zion appears only once in the Psalm..., but it reflects a longing for festival worship in Jerusalem...and the pilgrimage of worshipers to the autumn festival (Tabernacles)." (Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100).

Pilgrimages going up (in elevation) to Jerusalem were difficult. (Tate) They surely were challenging in the time and effort that was necessary, not to mention the dangers present. Such pilgrimages were done in community. There were not isolated holy people doing amazingly difficult ascetic feats in their devotion to God (as a rule, Elijah one exception but lived in an exceptional time). Rather it was done by those who could make it, together, in families, as community. "Others who could not go found that the psalms revived their memories and kindled their imaginations, either from their own experiences or from the stories of those who had been to Zion." (Tate)

Verses 1-4 speak of the anticipation which helped those pilgrims embark and have strength for the journey to Jerusalem. (Tate) They were looking forward to a kind of encounter with God, being in the presence of God. The picture here seems idealized. The priests and levites (described as "blessed" in verse 4) surely tired of their labors (Tate) as we all do, and surely often took more for granted a place in which they lived. Priests and pilgrims were real down-to-earth people like you and I. They carried problems with them. Yet the reality of what Zion (Jerusalem) and the Temple were, and what that was to mean for all the people of Israel as depicted in this psalm was to bring nothing less than joy and delight. (Tate) This would help them through all their difficulties to press on and even be "light of foot" at times.

Especially for you bird lovers verse 3 is interesting. The birds residing "in the confines of the temple" (Tate) are considered privileged. This thought goes well with verses 1-2 in which the vision of YHWH's dwelling place ravishes the hearts of the pilgrims with its beauty. And leads them to long for a meeting with "the living God" there.

This psalm, and particularly verses 1-4, our focus for today, is meant to help bring up in us, in our hearts, a longing to meet with God, separately and especially in view of this pilgrimage- together, as the community of Jesus.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Not many of you should be bloggers..."

Actually here is the real quote: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1; TNIV).

In this brave new world of blogdom, I am coming quickly to realize, as one who has started their first blog, a number of things. (Pardon this post, as I am going autobiographical, something I'm not very comfortable doing.)

One, it takes quite alot of time to offer a posting, especially when I am trying to do so daily. As long as I have access to a computer, I do intend to get something out daily. I had to go back to work yesterday, and I'm quickly realizing the time element. Time with family, time asleep, other matters, all press in, and are important. I'm sure as one goes on in this endeavor they learn alot and in the long run can make better use of their time. I remember Dr. Ted Rendall (of my Prairie Bible Institute days), a wonderful teacher, pastor and man of God, tell us that the thing that marked out those who really seemed fruitful in the work of the Lord from all his reading (which is immense) is their use of time. They made the most of it, and used it wisely. Though wisdom certainly includes fun times and times doing nothing, I believe.

Second, I'm not Scot McKnight, which everyone knows anyhow. I love his blog "Jesus Creed" and I love how he writes and interacts with people on the blog and in person. I have something of the teacher in my own bones. So that's what I do. I've had to learn to hold myself back from doing that so as not to be a nuisance to people around me, which I am doing much better now. I don't begin to have Scot's knowledge or skill, or people like him. Of course I don't have John Frye's wit and wisdom or Jamie Arpin-Ricci's experience and fine way of putting his thoughts into words, etc., etc. But that's part of the beauty of fellowshipping with each other in blogdom.

Third, I do appreciate the rich interaction I've already received, including from those who disagree (one so far- though I don't consider it negative since we're conversing in a good spirit I think; but I'm sure more are coming). I think of a good man with a good spirit in his blogging, with whom I've had some friendly debate. Brad Huston at "the Broken Messenger" I can tell that he too is one who works hard at getting down the right words (Ecclesiastes 12:10). And though I find myself in disagreement with him in some ways theological, I know the "iron sharpens iron" metaphor in Proverbs (27:17) at least on me has worked in our exchanges for my good. So what I'm saying here is I welcome critique and correction. I can adjust my posts if I think it well to do so. Of course our perspectives and convictions will differ at times, as in the case of Brad and myself. Though I will add here that I find much I agree with, in his offerings and comments.

One other thing I'd like to add: The title in this blog is not meant to discourage anyone from blogging or starting a blog. It's meant to give one take of what one is getting themselves into in so doing (besides trying to have a "catchy" title).

Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. It's already been fun. "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Corinthians 13:14; TNIV) Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Praying "the Jesus Creed" (part three)

In praying "the Jesus Creed" (Mark 12:29-31) as the community of Jesus we first pray in terms of love for God (Matthew 6:9-10; Luke 11:2). Then we pray in terms of love for our neighbor (Matthew 6:11-13; Luke 11:3-4). Our neighbor in this prayer refers to our brothers and sisters, the community of Jesus.

Scot McKnight in his chapter, "Praying the Jesus Creed" from his book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, gives us these helpful headings (with helpful explanation): "We learn to approach God as Abba", "We learn what God really wants", "We learn to think of others" and "We learn what everyone needs".

The prayer taken as a whole, seems to be inclusive, for all people. From Scripture we can say that where the Father's name is hallowed, where his kingdom comes, where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven, there shalom ("peace", wholeness, prosperity for all) is present. Relationship to God and to each other is restored in reconcilation. God's blessing brings good in the restoration of creation for humans to live in, enjoy and take care of.

So even though we await the consummation of all things in which God will bring in the completion of shalom, we ought to be praying and working towards this end for our world now. In so doing we are carrying out what we as the Jesus community already are- the salt and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). This love we know again from Jesus, is to be extended by us even to our enemies, if we are to be like our Father (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36). If this love for God and for our neighbor isn't at the forefront of our thinking and activity, beginning in our circles of family, and the community of Jesus- then we're missing the point (1 Corinthians 13).

Praying "the Jesus Creed" is an important part of seeking to live that creed out. Both seeking to live it and pray it go hand in hand. This prayer is given to us to know how to so pray and live as those who would follow Jesus.

Walk the Line

Deb and I saw the film on Johnny Cash last evening From our perspective we found it moving and realistic. The actors who portrayed Johnny and June seemed to me to hit homeruns. Hollywood left out a clear conversion to Christ which I believe, both Johnny and June Carter Cash professed. Here is a page about Johnny's life. Especially helpful is the information from wikipedia:

I remember watching Johnny on a Billy Graham telecast. My memory tells me that he talked (as only he could) about God's grace, the cross and forgiveness of sins, his sins. I think he and June were friends with the Grahams. Recently on "Jesus Creed" we had an interesting conversation about and surrounding this movie: We know of someone who was turned off years ago because Johnny Cash did a concert in their city, drunk.

This movie, for those of us who know "the rest of the story" is a powerful witness of God's grace in the lives of those in the margins who often fall between the cracks. It was one of those movies that I was glad to have seen and will not forget.

Praying "the Jesus Creed" (part two)

"The Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4) seems to be inherently public, communal (Michael Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew), liturgical (R.T. France, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Matthew) and intimate (family oriented) in nature.

Jesus taught a variation of this prayer to his disciples in answer to their request to teach them to pray (maybe the first time they heard him speak of it?), after having witnessed his own praying to his Father. So this prayer can certainly be prayed in private. But it is addressed to disciples (I include us today) in plural pronouns and the prayer itself is about "us", not just "me". That together, with the fact that this prayer seems patterned after the Jewish liturgical prayer called the Kaddish (Scot McKnight: The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others) seems to me to indicate that this prayer is to be done in public together as "the community of Jesus".

This prayer goes back to "the Jesus Creed". We're to love God with our all, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the prayer Jesus taught falls out like that. Again, like Jesus' changing of Shema to add love of others to love of God (Mark 12:29-31) (Scot McKnight) we see that this prayer consists of petitions concerning love to God and love to our brothers and sisters in the community of Jesus.

Two thoughts I'd like for us to consider here. Who are we praying to? And what does that mean about us?

Jesus taught us to pray: "Our Father"/"Father". Jesus certainly used other titles when addressing God or referring to God, in keeping with the Jewish practice of his day (example: Matthew 11:25 though even here he includes "Father"; Matthew 26:64; 27:46). But overwhelmingly he used pater, and on occasion abba both translated into our language "Father", when praying or referring to God. This emphasis is unique to Jesus up to that time in Scripture. And when we pray, we're to refer to God as "Father".

Yes God is holy, to be held in awe, a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28,29). But as Jesus taught us we're to look at God and approach him as Father. Jesus as our Brother (Hebrews 2:11-12). Certainly this does not not exclude Jesus as Lord which is always true, but not our focus here. The Spirit is our Advocate, or Helper in all of this (John 14-16).

Maybe God does seem distant to us many times, or especially at certain times and points in our lives. But in Jesus we are to address God as Father. This means we are his children. And as his children we are family together. For better or for worse. God wouldn't let it be any other way.

Do we see God as "our Father" and Jesus as "our Brother"? Do we see each other as brothers and sisters in Jesus, as God's very own family? This is at the heart of this prayer that we are to pray. And the prayer is surely meant to be for us a powerful reminder and enactment so as to help establish this among us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Praying "the Jesus Creed" (part one)

You can guess by now that I think highly of Scot McKnight's book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. In it he has a chapter on praying that creed that we looked at in the last posting.

We call this prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), "the Lord's prayer", a title that has been given to it by the Church. But often it is lightly esteemed. Many of those raised in liturgical churches grew tired of what seemed to be (and too often can become) an empty, ritualistic recitation of it. Those of us raised in nonliturgical churches tend to disdain any such recitative praying, believing in prayer "from the heart"- or spontaneous prayers. Recently on Scot McKnight's blog, "Jesus Creed", we had a stimulating conversation on this subject:

I'm confident Scripturally that this is not a case of either/or, but and/both. So this prayer, given by Jesus to his disciples in answer to their request to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1-4) ought not to be neglected for one reason or another, as it often has by us. We who belong to the community of Jesus ought to recite it, and it ought to have more impact on our prayer lives.

Prayer is not easy. As Scot McKnight says, so refreshingly, in his book, it is often hard, though being an intrical part of our love relationship with God. This prayer was given to us as God's prayer for us. It runs counter to our own often self-centered and misguided prayers to God. It can help shape our spontaneous praying to God. (Most of the thoughts here are from Scot's book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. )

Monday, December 26, 2005

the Jesus Creed

Scot McKnight in his book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, helps us see that for Jesus what today we call "spiritual formation" consisted in a change Jesus made to the Jewish Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). He added Leviticus 19:18 to make a new creed for his followers:
"29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31; TNIV)

If we are to understand the community of Jesus, we must understand it as those whose lives are directed by love to God with their all, and love to others, as they love themselves. This is what marks the community of Jesus, i.e., those who follow Jesus.

Of course it's a following that is by faith. But it is given focus that is distinctive. And that gives room for a far greater vision of the gospel than what is ordinarily understood among us. It's no less than the gospel of God's kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and brought in with his incarnation and mission. And it concerns God's end goal: making all things new through his Son- Jesus. We who have put our faith in Jesus are to be living for that goal. To follow Jesus is to be devoted in our lives to "the Jesus Creed". And in so doing we will be involved in what God is doing in the world today.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

It takes a community

Jesus came with a new way. Certainly a new way to be human. A new way to be Israel. A new covenant. The goal is nothing less than a new creation, replacing the old (2 Corinthians 5:17).

What that looks like now is a community. I call that the community of Jesus. Or you can call it the community of faith. It consists of all who name the name of Jesus as Lord and who gather together and then go out- as his body.

It takes nothing less than a community to proclaim Jesus and God's kingdom come in him. Jesus started this, in fulfillment of Scripture (Matthew 5:17-20). We as his body here on earth continue that work that is based in him and his unique work for us (Acts).

This blog will be an attempt to major on this in different ways. Some of it will be reflections on different matters that may seem in themselves to not be related to the theme of this blog. But actually all things are related, even if only to point out that there is room for enjoying God's creation as the unique person you and I are.

So let's think together. In all of this I pray that we can really be bringing more of a sense of community to our world, the community of Jesus.