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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for November, 2010

Of Trust and Freedom.

Galatians 4:21-31  Lamentations 3-4  Psalm 146

“Do not put your trust in . . . ” (Psalm 146:3). Princes. Mortals. Nations (Lamentations 4:17). Or the Law (Galatians 4) . . . Today’s readings speak of trust and freedom. And the consequences of trust misplaced. In whom — or what — do I trust? Where do you find your hope? And just how free are we? Really.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lamentations 3:22). Having experienced the failure of everything upon which he had counted for peace and happiness — leaders (4:13-16), allies (4:17), and his own goodness (3:42) — it is this that the poet calls to mind and clings to as his only remaining source of hope (v.21). And it is this same hope that the psalmist celebrates in Psalm 146 (v.5). Which is, at center, the point of Paul’s reflections on the inadequacies of the law (Galatians 4): Trusting in anything other than God — particularly our own ability to be “good” — is slavery. On the other hand . . .

“The Lord sets the prisoners free” (Psalm 146:7). And those who “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26), trusting in the promise of God’s steadfast love, are the true children of freedom (Galatians 4:28,31). Do you see it? Do you know the freedom of it? Or is your trust misplaced? You and I can never be “good” enough by our own efforts. And no person on earth will ever be faithful enough to guarantee our happiness. Only the Lord Jesus Christ sets prisoners free. May we place our trust in him alone. May we live as children of promise. And may we know true freedom. Amen.

“Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
to God in heaven.”
— Lamentations 3:40,41

The Lord Is . . .

Galatians 3:18-4:20  Lamentations 1-2  Psalm 145

“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 145:3). And that greatness is “unsearchable.” Or, as one translation has it, “there are no boundaries” to God’s greatness (The Message). And in today’s scripture texts we hear this not only in the song of praise, but also in the poetry of lament and the teaching of Paul. God is big. Great big. Borderless. And beyond packaging.

“The Lord is . . .” (Psalm 145:8).  Gracious . . . Merciful . . . Abounding in steadfast love. “Faithful in all his words” (v.13), “just in all his ways” (v.17), and “near to all who call on him” (v.18).  And to this voice the writer of  Lamentations adds, “The Lord is in the right” (1:18). And so much more . . . As the descriptions multiply and the adjectives pile up, our ability to put it all together fails . . . steadfast love and divine justice . . . the God who brings about the fall of Jerusalem is the Lord who “upholds all who are falling” (Psalm 145:14) . . . How inadequate are our words! How limited is our understanding! And how utterly useless are our attempts to neatly define God and keep our images of God within the boundary lines . . .

“There is no longer Jew or Greek . . .” (Galatians 3:28). Slave and free . . . Male and female . . . Divisions between those who are favored and those who are not . . . Such boundaries are gone in Christ Jesus . . . Imagine that. The Lord, evidently, is even bigger than our divisions. “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Well. What shall we do with that? Perhaps learn to live with it? Or, even, live it out? Wouldn’t that be something! O that we would allow ourselves to “come to know” the God who already knows us (Galatians 4:9)! O that we might live lives of  limitless praise as children of a borderless God! May it be so. Amen.

“My mouth will speak the praise of  the Lord,
and all flesh will bless God’s holy name forever and ever.”
— Psalm 145:21

Sign, Symbol, Promise.

Galatians 3:1-18   Jeremiah 51-52   Psalm 144

“O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them?” (Psalm 144:3). Today’s scriptures contain profound signs and symbols of the unmerited favor that God bestows on those who believe. Consider it . . . God’s promise to Abraham . . . the extension of the promise to the children of Abraham . . . the inclusion of “those who believe” as “descendants of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-9) . . . God “regarding” human beings. “Thinking” of us. “Reckoning” faith as righteousness. And “granting” promises. And none of it earned or merited . . . It is a story of amazing grace, symbolized powerfully in the concluding image in the book of Jeremiah:

“King Evil-merodach . . . showed favor to King Jehoiachin of Judah” (Jeremiah 52:31). And the nature of this favor? He brought him out of prison, spoke kindly to him, gave him a favored place at the dinner table, and provided him with a daily allowance! “As long as he lived” (Jeremiah 52:34). And not a bit of it was “earned.” From bondage to freedom . . . from prison to the King’s table . . . See this story for what it is: a sign and symbol of God’s promise fulfilled. For Jeremiah’s people, Jehoiachin’s release stood as a sign of Judah’s coming restoration. Yet, beyond this, it symbolizes the story of God with us . . .

“Those who believe are blessed” (Galatians 3:9). By becoming children of promise. Not by blood, sweat, tears, or merit, but by the unearned favor of God, who sets us free, brings us to the table, and sustains us day-by-day. By grace. And how shall we respond? By believing. And demonstrating that belief by putting aside our prison clothes and living as children of promise. Sign and symbol. Gift and response. May we live by faith in this promise. Daily. Amen.

“So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes, and every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table.”
— Jeremiah 52:33

I Live by Faith.

Galatians 2    Jeremiah 49-50    Psalm 143

“And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). Faith in the Son of God. In today’s readings we receive the story in summary: “No one living is righteous” (Psalm 143:2), but, by faith in Jesus Christ, our strong Redeemer (Jeremiah 50:34) who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20), God pardons us and gives us life (Jeremiah 50:20; Galatians 2:16). This, beloved, is our story and song, thanks be to God!

“Who is the shepherd who can stand before me?” (Jeremiah 49:19; 50:44). And the answer is??? No shepherd. No king. No person . . . For “no one will be justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). Hear it in Jeremiah’s pronouncements of judgment and restoration. And in the psalmist’s heartfelt prayer. See it in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And Peter. There is no one who can enter the story or join the song on his or her own by their own efforts. We need a Redeemer who is strong enough to save us by giving his own life for us in steadfast love. And, by the grace of God (Galatians 2:21), we have such a redeemer. “The Lord of hosts is his name” (Jeremiah 50:34).

” . . . Through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Through faith in our redeemer, God’s own son, we are “justified.” Through faith in him, our thirst is quenched and our hunger is satisfied (Psalm 143:6; Jeremiah 50:19). Through faith in Christ alone we are saved and given life. It is the gift of “steadfast love” and a matter of trust (Psalm 143:8). We live by faith. That’s the story. Pure and simple. May we believe it. May we live it. Gratefully. Amen.

“I have been crucified with Christ;
and it is no longer I who live, but
it is Christ who lives in me.”
— Galatians 2:19,20

So Quickly . . .

Galatians 1    Jeremiah 47-48    Psalm 142

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you” (Galatians 1:6). In yesterday’s readings we heard that God is not slow; today we are called to consider that we can often be far too quick . . . Quick to turn away (Galatians 1:6) . . . Quick to transfer trust (Jeremiah 48:7) . . . Quick, dare I say it, to turn to complaint (Psalm 142). It is, quite honestly, astonishing to recognize how quickly we can desert the story of God and return to writing our own stories . . .

“Because you trusted in your strongholds and your treasures . . .” (Jeremiah 48:7). God’s word concerning Moab is a caution to us. In our “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), we can sometimes feel that we are without refuge and there is no one who cares (Psalm 142:4). And it is in those seasons when we are “brought very low” by the troubles we face (Psalm 142:6) that we are tempted to trust in our own efforts and resources for security and peace. “Build a wall!”  “Hide the candlesticks!” “Stuff the mattress!” The shift can be astonishingly swift . . .  I know it . . . and I suspect you do, too. But hear the word of the Lord:

“I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge'” (Psalm 142:5). No one and nothing else. Grace and peace come from God in Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3). And freedom from “the present evil age” is found only in trusting the one who gives himself on our behalf. This is the true and trustworthy story into which we are invited; and to turn from that story to write our own is an act of astonishing foolishness.  As we will soon read in the letter to the Galatians, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (5:1); so let us not return easily or quickly to trusting in ourselves and our own efforts, for that is the path of slavery and self-deception. May we never desert the one who is our true and eternal refuge. May we be quick to turn to God in every situation. And may we, in this way, stay in the story that is good news. Amen.

“You are my strength when I am weak,
you are the treasure that I seek,
you are my all in all.”
— “All in All,” Dennis Jernigan

The Lord Is Not Slow

2 Peter 3    Jeremiah 45-46    Psalm 141

“The Lord is not slow . . .” (2 Peter 3:9). In today’s readings, we hear the psalmist plead, “O Lord; come quickly to me” (Psalm 141:1), and we find God promising, yet again, to an insolent people, “I am going to save you” (Jeremiah 46:27). But what are we to do when the Lord doesn’t “come quickly” and expected salvation is delayed? What are we to think about God and God’s promises? And how are we to live with, and in, the “in-between” time? It is to such questions as these that 2 Peter 3 attends . . .

“Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). There are many responses available to us when God fails to meet our expectations concerning time and timeliness. We can conclude that God is slow . . . or unresponsive . . . or, even, not real. We can scoff, “Where is the promise of the Lord’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:4) . . . We can despair . . . Or we can choose to trust God’s providence, plan, and patience. Is God slow? Or deliberate? Unresponsive? Or patient? Well. The apostle would have us remember, first, that God is above and beyond time; not subject to the “tick, tick, tick” of the clock, and certainly not limited by it (v.8). What’s more, God’s deepest desire and greatest goal is that “all come to repentance” (v.9), and if this requires what we would call “delay,” then God says, “so be it!” But what are we to do in the meantime?! What, indeed . . .

“Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting . . .” (2 Peter 3:14). Lead lives “of holiness and godliness” (v.11), and “strive to be found by him in peace, without spot or blemish” (v.14). And continue to call upon the Lord, asking for help and strength in doing so (Psalm 141:3,4). And, critically, “have no fear,” for God is with you (Jeremiah 46:28); even when you doubt it is so . . . The call is to active, intentional, hope-filled waiting with God’s “big picture” of salvation in mind. The Lord will come. Right “on time.” And “like a thief” (2 Peter 3:10). And every single one of God’s promises will be fulfilled (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). In the meantime, let us live as those who also want “all to come to repentance.” Let us work toward that end. And, beloved of God, let us give thanks for the patience of our Lord. Amen.

“Wait for the Lord,
whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord,
keep watch, take heart.”
— A Sung Prayer of the Taize Community

My Strong Deliverer

2 Peter 2    Jeremiah 43-44    Psalm 140

“O Lord, my Lord, my strong deliverer” (Psalm 140:7). There is, as the scriptures remind us this day, a critical distinction to be made between freedom promised (2 Peter 2:19) and freedom delivered (Psalm 140:12). What’s more, while it is often our pride that leads us to blur this distinction and twist the truth (Jeremiah 43:2; 2 Peter 2:10), the result is always the same: loss of freedom, for “people are slaves to whatever masters them” (2 Peter 2:19). Consider the struggle between true and false freedom . . .

“We are not going to listen to you” (Jeremiah 44:16). So spoke the men and women of Judah as they boldly declared their independence from the Lord and his prophet. And their reasoning involved a willful and instructive twist: Their recent troubles, they determined, were not the result of their disobedience to God (as Jeremiah had said). No. In their opinions, it could all be traced back to when they “stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven” (v.18). And, on the basis of that twisted interpretation, they declared that freedom would be found not in obedience to God, but in declaring their independence from God (v.17). In so doing, they were, in the words of 2 Peter, falling prey to “destructive opinions” and denying “the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). There is, according to God’s word, only one way to steer clear of the proud independence that poses as true freedom . . .

“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my God; give ear to the voice of my supplications'” (Psalm 140:6). Humility and trust. As opposed to being “insolent” and “willful” (Jeremiah 43:2; 2 Peter 2:10). I cannot save myself. And my proud attempts at independence simply end in slavery to other masters (2 Peter 2:19). True freedom is found in obeying God and trusting the Lord to deliver, protect, and guard me (Psalm 140); the Lord, who “knows how to rescue the godly from trial” (2 Peter 2:9). Who are you trusting for your freedom? Yourself? Or God? There is only one strong deliverer. May we always trust the Master who bought us. Amen.

“I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy,
and executes justice for the poor.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to his name;
the upright shall live in your presence.”
— Psalm 140:12,13

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