A Verse for the Year

“Open my eyes, that I may behold
  Wonderful things from Your law.”
-Psalm 119:18 (NASB)

It’s January 1, and many of us are thinking about a plan for reading the Bible in the new year. Some try to read the entire Bible in that timeframe, others may expand it to two or even three years time. My own plan (D.V.) is to read a chapter from the Old Testament each day, starting in Genesis. I realize in doing so, it will probably take me about 2-1/2 years to get through the entire OT. I have found in the past that reading three or even four chapters at a time leaves little left over for reflection, so I’m slowing that down a bit. I think that’s ok? I plan to read through the New Testament this year as well, and also spend the year slowly working through Hebrews – “that most Old Testament of New Testament books”, as Alistair Begg has said.

In any case, that covers the “what” of my planned Bible reading for 2020. But what happens when the Bible is opened (or the YouVersion app comes up)? Psalm 119 is essentially a meditation on the Bible itself, and verse 18 I think is a good, short prayer prior to reading. So much of our Bible reading can be formulaic, and eyes can speed over the text without much thinking. This is especially true with familiar passages. I think the Psalmist’s prayer here can help to change that. To “behold wonderful things” implies more than a quick glance. It means we are looking to the Spirit to make the words real to us and then to embed them in us so we are changed and shaped by God’s will. This is not an easy process, and it’s difficult to want this in our fast-paced culture. But it’s necessary. My prayer for myself and for all who are taking this journey of Bible reading in 2020 is that this would be our daily goal.

Image via © 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at gmail.com] [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Reflecting on Psalm 6 – Part 2

On this last day of the year, I decided to take another run through Psalm 6. It’s interesting that unlike another of the penitential Psalms (51), where we are given the occasion as being David’s excursion with Bathsheba, we are not given similar information in Psalm 6. So we’re left to wonder what event(s) in David’s life prompted this prayer. It could have been his hidings from either King Saul or David’s own son, Absalom, or something completely different. In any case, David is facing conflict from outside and distress on the inside.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.”
– Psalm 6:2 (NASB)

The phrase “pining away” means weak or feeble. This Hebrew word is used just four times in the Old Testament. This is where David is now. His own sin, or the sin of others, has sapped his strength. To repeat, he explains “my bones are dismayed”. I feel in some small way I can relate to what David is feeling here. There are times that my own sin (and Satan’s reminders of it) have left me at the end of the day with “dismayed bones”, just wanting my brain to shut off. I’m exhausted from falling yet again, of being arrogant enough to feel as if I have become the first person to outsin God’s grace (what a feat!). I long for sleep to come quickly, to be “healed” – at least until the next morning when I have to face myself yet again. But when will the cycle end? Or better yet, “How long O LORD?” Warren Wiersbe notes that this phrase – How long? – is asked at least 16 times in the Psalms. And to this, Wiersbe says, “The answer to the question is, ‘I will discipline you until you learn the lesson I want you to learn and are equipped for the work I want you to do.””

I wonder how often we look at our predicament and wonder, “what lesson do You want me to learn here God?” I would guess that it’s much less than we wonder “how long will this predicament last?” Wiersbe’s comment is worth remembering. I’m also reminded of God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3 – “Where are you?” Perhaps that would clarify how the predicament came about?

Reflecting on Psalm 6 – Part 1

Embedded within the beloved Psalter are the penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). I have probably read Psalms 32 and 51 somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 times each – I look to them both so often to be reassured (and convicted) when battling sin. But today I felt especially led to Psalm 6, another of those written by David.

“O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your wrath”
-Psalm 6:1 (NASB)

I heard once that to refer to God as “Holy Father” encapsulizes how we are to approach Him when we have sinned. We acknowledge His holiness, obviously, but we also look to Him as our Father, and seeking to be treated still with love as a parent does when their own child has done wrong. What other hope do we have? David understood this, and opens his Psalm with this plea. Charles Spurgeon remarked that we also do so – “So may we pray that the chastisements of our gracious God, if they may not be entirely removed, may at least be sweetened by the consciousness that they are ‘not in anger, but in his dear covenant love.'” When we sin, the fellowship we have with our Father has been hindered, but the relationship has not been removed. The Psalmist expounds on this in another penitential Psalm (130:3) – “If You, [a]Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” So David is right to start here, as are we. 

As I look back on this year, I think that I have concentrated much more on God’s wrath and anger while battling sin, and less so on my standing with Him as His child. In his commentary on the Psalms, William Plumer explained that, “But any man may without qualification humbly ask to be dealt with as a child, not as a rebel.” Wise old saints like Spurgeon and Plumer said it well. Even more so did King David. I plan to look more at this Psalm later this week, but am thankful for the wisdom contained in its opening verse.

Romans 4:5

“Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle – incarnation. There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High. Pause Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified. Lo! what wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly.”

-Charles H. Spurgeon, from Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons

Above image from Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/illustrations/camels-desert-travel-sand-1150075/)

 

Isaiah 26:1

“There is a lesson for us, brethren, in times of fluctuation, of change of opinion, of shaking of institutions, and of new social, economical, and political questions, threatening day by day to reorganise society. ‘We have a strong city’; and whatever may come-and much destructive will come, and much that is venerable and antique, rooted in men’s prejudices, and having survived through and oppressed the centuries, will have to go; but God’s polity, His form of human society of which the perfect ideal and antitype, so to speak, lies concealed in the heavens, is everlasting.”

-Alexander Maclaren,from Expositions of Holy Scripture, Isaiah and Jeremiah

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Darkness on the Edge of Town

 

 

“Well everybody’s got a secret, Sonny
Yeah something that they just can’t face
Some folks they spend their whole lives just trying to keep it
And they carry it with them, every step that they take…”

– Bruce Springsteen, from Darkness on the Edge of Town

He tried to hide for the better part of a year. The king, with a lustful glance, saw that glance progress rapidly to full-blown adultery, and then essentially what was murder of the woman’s husband. Finally, with the weight of what he had done overwhelming him, the king confessed to God what God already knew.

“Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.'”
– 2 Samuel 12:13 (NIV)

I’ve always found it baffling that King David, “a man after God’s own heart”, and one who wrote most of the book of Psalms, fell so dramatically in his life. When you read David’s Psalms, you know, instinctively, that this is a man who knew God, and knew Him intimately. But even the great king had something he just couldn’t face. The communion he enjoyed with God was badly damaged, and he knew it. And yet with all his knowledge, he still felt that just maybe he had kept it hidden from God.

I was reading Psalm 139 this morning, one of King David’s most well-loved Psalms. He explains how intimately God knows him, and had known him from before his birth. He then acknowledges that even in the bitter realization of his own sin, that God has seen deeper than David is capable of looking. There is nowhere David can turn from himself and escape the presence of God – “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7). David was a great sinner, but also a great repenter. God still loved him and restored him.

I’ve listened to Springsteen’s “Darkness…” hundreds of times over the years, and always find the above verses resonate with me the most. Just like King David, I have things that I just can’t face. And like an anchor, I still carry some with me, every step I take. Psalm 139 pushes me to let them go. God knows “when I sit and when I rise” (v. 2) and “before a word is on my tongue” He knows it completely (v. 4). Psalm 139 urges me to drop the act. What possibly can be hidden from God? Why would I want to? Those secrets, Sonny, have been left at the cross.

Above image by Peter Dargatz from Pixabay

Book Review: “The Example of Jesus”

The Example of Jesus is one in a series titled ‘The Jesus Library’. Written in 1985 by Michael Griffiths, Principal of London Bible College, it seeks to answer a variety of questions, the primary one being “How do we become genuinely conformed to Jesus’ image?”

Griffiths categorizes his 10 chapters under three headings – “The Basis for Imitating Jesus”, “The Ways of Jesus”, and “How We Can Be Like Jesus”. He begins by discussing teacher-discipleships in both the Greek (Plato & Socrates) and Jewish (Moses-Joshua, Elijah-Elisha, etc.) worlds and how the student would seek to imitate his teacher. More foundationally, the root of this comes from Genesis 1:26-27 and our being made in the image of God – naturally, imitation should follow. We see the greatest example of this in the person of Christ as the image of God (Hebrews 1:3) and will see it in those who are Christ followers ultimately, if only now faintly. As Griffiths puts it, “…fallen man once made in the image of God, but spoiled like a broken pot (Jer. 18:4), is now to be remade and restored after this new and perfect image of God in Christ. Isn’t that a most exciting statement?”

One of my favorite chapters was “The Colours of His Life”, one in which Griffiths readily admits “…is inevitably incomplete in describing the qualities found in Christ”, but yet gives beautiful examples of how Jesus showed us perfectly what the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 should ultimately look like. Qualities such as humility and obedience are difficult for many of us, but Griffiths takes the time to show how critical they are. Highlighting humility, he says, “Achieving it in practice means many internal struggles and repeated acts of self-humbling: to apologise, to make the first approach, to accept unkindness without murmuring and self-pity”. Another particularly convicting chapter was “The Example of Jesus in Prayer”. I find prayer to be such a challenge, especially doing it consistently. Griffiths seeks to help us by pointing to examples Jesus gave throughout the New Testament, with a special focus on Luke’s Gospel. What I found most interesting about this chapter was the connection Griffiths made between Jesus’ intercession for Peter and his remarkable turnaround from denying Jesus to the success of his preaching and ministry in Acts.

Throughout this book, Griffiths quotes from a wide variety of authors and make his claims based on Scripture. Griffiths sees no other way to know Christ intimately and follow Him rightly than by meeting Him in His Word:

“We must avoid vagueness and shapeless generalities at all cost. Through careful Bible study, we shall shape our ‘great expectations’ of what it means to become like him. If our concepts are amorphous, ill-defined and foggy in the extreme – then we shall only have the foggiest of notions of what God promises and what we are aiming at. True though it is, that now we see darkly as in one of those metal mirrors made in Corinth, we can gain a much greater definition from Scripture. We cannot plead ignorance with a dusty unopened Bible on our shelves.”

I am surprised Griffiths’ book is not more widely known. Although written over 30 years ago, it doesn’t feel the least bit dated. I would recommend this highly and consider it one of the best books on discipleship I’ve ever read. Wonderful!

Image from Henry Formby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons