O Lord, will you forget me forever?

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Psalm 13:1

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalms are often written in stanzas like this because they were originally songs. It’s unfortunate we’ve lost the music that went with them. Anyway, this psalm is attributed to King David and follows a familiar pattern for David.

First, he shares the fear and anxiety of his heart. There’s a desperation revealed here, especially in v.1 “Will you forget me forever?” Of course, this suggests that God has forgotten him for a time – or at least that’s how it seems to David. I expect this psalm was written after David had spent much time in prayer, crying out to God for relief, to no apparent avail.

I wish it weren’t so, but desperation is a part of life – even for Christians. I’ve known times when God seemed distant. Even non-existent. It’s so hard to be in a difficult situation and feel utterly alone. But it happens. My brain tells me that I’m never alone because the Lord Jesus promises to be with us always, but sometimes my heart doesn’t believe it. It’s an awful feeling. But then, as is often the case, David makes a turn at the end of the psalm.

5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

One of the marks of David’s life is a profound trust in the protection and provision of the Lord. Though he may have had doubts at the time of this psalm, his experience of God told him the truth. God would eventually save him from his enemies as he had done so many times before. And so David clung to that hope for all his worth.

Heavenly Father, fear is a terrible thing. In the midst of fear and anxiety we can come to doubt everything, including you. Most of us have things we cannot fix, cannot provide, cannot protect. And so once again we lay them before you. Give us grace to trust your faithfulness rather than succumb to our doubt. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Abraham the scam artist?

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Genesis 20:1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the region of the Negeb, and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While residing in Gerar as an alien, Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” And King Abimelech of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “You are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a married woman.”… So Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants and told them all these things; and the men were very much afraid. …14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, “My land is before you; settle where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Look, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; it is your exoneration before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

Abraham and Sarah are up to their old tricks telling people they are siblings instead of spouses. And as happened in Egypt, rather than being punished for their deception they are rewarded with property and riches. In modern jurisprudence I’m pretty sure this sort of deception would constitute a form of fraud. I’m not gonna sugar-coat it –  this is a scam! And in Abraham’s case it absolutely paid off. It stuns me how God chooses to be faithful to a shady character like Abraham. Just doesn’t seem right.

But then I start to think about my own shortcomings, which are many, and the truth hits me like a 2×4. The mercy God shows to Abraham is the same mercy he shows to me. It’s not right that I should be called child of the holy, living God. But that’s who I am because of Christ Jesus. And so I find my outrage turns to gratitude very quickly. Who am I to judge God for being merciful? If God were not so, I would stand condemned before him and have no hope in this life or the next.

Lord you are truly gracious and merciful. Give me grace to reflect your mercy to others. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The sin of “calling people out”…

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Matthew 7:“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

This can be a confusing passage because of the wide range of meanings of the word “judge” in English and Greek. Here’s what the N.I.B. Bible Commentary says:

“Matthew does assume that occasions occur within the community when ethical discernment and community discipline are called for (cf. 7:15–20; 18:15–20), but they must be made by those aware of their own failures and of God’s forgiveness.”

Unfortunately the modern Christian witness, from both the Christian right and Christian left, often involves self-righteous people vigorously confessing other peoples’ sins and shortcomings. Social media, in which the act of “calling people out” is a favorite past-time, is the worst. It involves an intense scrutiny on the words and actions of others – with little personal humility or confession of our own sins. Jesus warns that when we condition our minds to focus on the wrongs of others we risk of bringing judgment on ourselves.

Lord have mercy on us. Amen.

 

Negotiating with God…

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Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from (Abraham’s tent), and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

Here Abraham is negotiating with God regarding the planned destruction of the people living in the wicked city of Sodom. You may recall that Abraham’s nephew Lot settled in Sodom so Abraham has a personal interest in protecting Lot and his family – hence this exchange.

What I appreciate about this exchange is the fact that God was willing to respond to Abraham’s pleas and change his plans for Sodom accordingly. This sort of thing happens in other places in scripture as well. It encourages me to think that God may even listen to me as I pray. Our God is not a distant figure beyond our reach, but is near to us, listening to our pleas and perhaps even indulging our wishes. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Plans gone wrong…

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Genesis 16:3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her. 

In a recent blog post I mentioned Abram’s lack of scruples in dealing with the Egyptians and how God blessed him anyway. In the passage above, Abram’s wife Sarai comes off as petty and jealous, blaming others for the consequences of her own recommendations. Let’s face it, Abram and Sarai have serious issues. Yet, God remains faithful to the covenant he made with them and continues to claim them as his own. Moreover, Abram and Sarai never abandon their hope and expectation that God would eventually fulfill the promises made to them. This trust in the Lord, despite personal moral failings, is what the bible refers to as “righteousness”.

Lord Jesus, forgive us when we stumble and hold us close when we live into the painful consequences of our own plans. Amen.

Spontaneous gratitude…

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Genesis 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet (Abram) at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed (Abram) and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.”

Abram returned from victory in battle over the king of Sodom and a few other kings. You know what they say, “To the victor goes the spoils”. It would have been customary for Abram and those with him to have kept the people and property (valuables, slaves, livestock, and so forth) of the defeated kingdom for themselves. In our passage the king of Sodom asks for a concession – that Abram keep only the goods, but return the people. Abram says he will keep neither, and in fact will make an offering to God via the priest Melchizedek.

“And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything”

I believe this is the first instance in scripture where we see the practice of the tithe – returning to God 10%. What I appreciate about this story is how Abram offers to return 10% before he’s even asked. And there are no commandments or law of Moses yet so it’s not required or expected. To me it appears to be a spontaneous expression of Abram’s gratitude. I mean, let’s be honest. He’s an amazingly wealthy man and he owes it all to God, so he certainly has every right to be grateful – as do I. As do you. We may not be amazingly rich in terms of money, but we are incredibly fortunate and owe to our God a debt that can never be repaid.

I believe this is also the sort of thing the apostle Paul has in mind when he writes many centuries later, “God loves a cheerful giver”. In other words, God wants us to practice the tithe because it’s our privilege not because we have to. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

Rules or relationship?

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Genesis 13:14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD. 

Chapters 12 and 13 in Genesis are so interesting. A severe drought fell on the land of Canaan forcing Abram to take his family to Egypt. Once in Egypt Abram lied to Pharaoh saying his wife Sarai was his sister, not his wife. One would think Abram would lose favor from God because of his lying… but not so. Instead Abram leaves Egypt with more wealth than when he entered and promises from God that he and Sarai would have so many descendants they wouldn’t be able to count them all.

Why would God bring prosperity to such a flawed man as Abram? 

Abraham was a bit of a scoundrel, but there’s no doubt he placed his trust, his future, and that of his entire family in the hands of God. What I’m seeing in the Old Testament readings over the last couple of weeks is more clarity on what the Old Testament writers meant when they talked about “righteousness”. I’ve tended to think of righteousness as obeying the law, the rules, but people like Abram and King David regularly failed to follow the law – yet are considered righteous.

Seems to me “righteousness” is less about rules and more about relationship.

Both Abram and David have no illusions as to the source of their well-being, their blessing, their favor. It all comes from the Lord, not as a reward for good behavior, but as an expression of God’s love and grace. That’s a kind of righteousness that might just be possible for a sinner like me.