The Cross—Psalm 22: A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise—A Psalm of David Rob
Father, I feel like David in that it seems there is a great distance between my cries for freedom and Your deliverance. I pray day and night and see no answer, yet You are my Father and the Father to all who trust and follow Your Son.
My earthly father did not know You until the end of his days, yet You showed him mercy. He was stunned at the end of his life with Your kindness toward him and trusted You upon his death bed. He cried out to You and You adopted him. Yes, I will praise You for Your faithfulness!
As Your follower, I have been a reproach to my earthly family and an oddity to my fellow man. Behind my back they mocked, “He got religion when he was a loser and is now a religious fanatic.” They may think what they wish. I believe they, too, would follow Jesus if they had seen what I have seen. And I pray that they would see You in my life and in the life of my fellow believers. I pray they might understand the degree to which they are losing out and discover with us just how much You delight in them.
I am persuaded that You have known me before the womb. Your eye was upon me and Your hand protected me in the midst of my profound ignorance and rebellion.
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
At one level, I know that You are not far from me when the pain in my body is intense, yet my fickle senses tempt me to think otherwise. Thoughts of abandonment try to bully me around. On some days they feel as though they might swallow me whole. Where is this pain leading me? How will I possibly keep it together if this continues? How will I cross the finish line if pain and pain meds reduce me to nothing? And then I recall:
You were poured out like water, and all Your bones were out of joint; Your heart became like wax; it was melted within You. Your strength was all dried up like a potsherd, and Your tongue cleaved to Your jaws; and You were laid in the dust of death. Dogs surrounded You; a band of evildoers encompassed You; they pierced Your hands and Your feet. You could count all Your bones. They stared at You; They divided Your garments among themselves, and for Your clothing they cast lots.
No, Lord, You are not far off; You are my help, hastening to my assistance. I have never experienced any temptation that You did not experience in full. You may deliver me by divine healing or the surgeon’s scalpel. Whatever You choose, save me from any result that would cause my life to detract from Your glory. In these weeks preceding my surgery, intervene as You please.
I aspire to proclaim the excellences of Your name to a skeptical world and church. I see that You and Paul the apostle envisioned a church that lights up the world. I see that we will all eventually stand in awe of You as history proves out that You never abandoned anyone who was afflicted nor desired to hide Your face from anyone.
I profess Your rights to rule in my life and in all creation. We will see the day when, like my father, the afflicted will be more than satisfied by Your kindness and mercy. We who could not keep our hearts alive in our own strength shall see that You will sustain our hearts forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive. Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
Father, I love You and thank You that You have never abandoned me. I am in awe of Your patience and kindness toward me. May this world see You through us who believe. May Your kingdom continue to come in increasing measure. Amen.
This morning something was wrong. My dog Millie knew it even before I did. As my eyes first came into focus, there she was staring at me with a sad appeal in her eyes. When I headed to the bathroom she was attached to my heels. “Good grief.” When I made my way to my truck, she was still clinging to me. She was NOT going to let me leave without her. “OKAY, WHATEVER! Get in the truck. Lay down, and shush!” At times this animal has seemed on the verge of speech. The UPS and Fed-X drivers are on a first name basis with her. Even when they aren’t delivering something to our house (which is rare) they pull into our driveway just to converse with her and give her treats. She knows how to work a yard.
As we were pulling out of our driveway, I got it. I knew what was bothering her. It was still dark outside at 7:00 A.M. and it was supposed to be light. Moreover, the sky flashed and boomed with great explosions. Her little dog heart knew intuitively that things were amiss. “Okay, Millie, I guess it’s you and me today girl.”
Recently I’ve been retreating to an upstairs loft I have in downtown Enid where I indulge, at least for a while, in the exquisite quiet if affords. There was a passage of Scripture I was considering this morning; it contained this verse:
The reproach of exile is a burden on them. (Zephaniah 3:18)
Apparently, today my teacher is a Golden Doodle. It dawned on me that it is dark out there in our culture as well and it is supposed to be light because its Creator, its ultimate Ruler is The Father of Lights.
As cozy as my gig is here in this bastion of conservative America, my little human heart (the one created in God’s image) tells me that in a very true sense, we humans as a whole remain in exile. We are not home yet. The Kingdom has not fully arrived. Our deepest and most immediate problem is that this is not a burden to us on most days. Our affluence is sufficient to insulate us from the more grievous expressions of our captivity. Really, is capitalistic-derived comfort the ultimate byproduct of God’s will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven?
Our American commitment to the pursuit of freedom and personal happiness seems to blind us to what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. Somehow, as children of light, our vision must come into focus, seeing the roots of unrighteousness for what they are, acknowledging the profound degree to which humanity is enslaved, and then most importantly, entreating God to liberate all of creation into his Life.
What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God? What does it really mean to spend all that one has and purchase that field which conceals the priceless treasure? Is this our story? To begin with, I believe this kind of seeking is going to require, at the very least, an honest appraisal of how dark our society really is. I believe on that day, when the children of light comes to terms with the earth’s vacuum of light, the tides of the battle will shift. I believe this world’s rulers and principalities’ days will be numbered when the Body of Christ collectively says, “The reproach of our exile is a burden upon us.” Then, armed with a new kind of motivation, a different kind of praying will emerge, praying that has the character and the intentions of God at its core.
In The Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd Douglas, the story of the importunate widow is highlighted. Recall she is the one who relentlessly pursues a verdict in her favor from an utterly uncaring and unjust judge. The author hits upon the notion that to receive the desired outcome (in our case—The Kingdom of God) one must have bloody fists, resulting from relentless knocking at all times, never losing heart (Luke 18).
We receive the encouragement to do this from verses 7 and 8:
Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. (Luke 18:7-8)
Paul tells as much, too:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
As illogical as it may seem (God being sovereign as He is), asking and seeking are integral to the expansion of God’s kingdom. As inconvenient as it may be, our petitions are essential to the ongoing removal of our reproach. Until every tongue confesses and every knee bows, reproach remains; God is not finished setting captives free. May He grant us what we need to live and to pray as citizens of His Kingdom, indignant until his will on earth finds its fullest as-in-heaven expression.
However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
The God who created the universe and breathed us into existence does not need our prayers, as if these prayers are somehow what have been missing all along. Not at all. God invites us to participate in the Kingdom because it is a family business. He wants his heirs to take ownership and participate for the sake of their own joy. It is in this co laboring we come to know Him…and this is eternal life.
Father, as we pull out of the driveway, when we lay our heads down on our pillows, may we all get it. May we be bothered that darkness remains and that there is unwarranted reproach upon your name. Strengthen us to persevere as those who will seek your Kingdom, knowing the ambition originated with you and can only be sustained by you. May our hearts persevere until every tongue confesses that you are their Lord and willingly bows before you. Amen.
God’s Voice—Psalm 29
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
And strips the forests bare,
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:3-9)
Martin Scorsese’s most recent film takes its name, indirectly, from our theme this week: The Voice of God. It is called Silence, but to me it was like thunder. In fact it was deafening. The film effectively silences neat western constructs of the Gospel and the Great Commission. In Silence two young priests take off from Portugal with zeal to find their mentor, who has reportedly recanted while reaching out to the Japanese as a Catholic missionary. I will not ruin it by telling you the outcome, but I will warn you that it might be very hard for you to watch depending on your passionometer’s current reading.
Scorsese’s setting is the 17th century, but some things never change. In my hometown, a cadre of young zealots has its own God-construct underway. How did it get there? Its answer: God spoke it.
I notice that the promoters of this event are in their thirties and forties. Yes. I vividly remember those years. It was a season of zeal for sure. Passion was in my bones. (Something else is there now—I’m pretty sure.) I recall attending the late Bill Bright’s Prayer and Fasting Events in Kansas City and Los Angeles. My co-zealot and I even sought out Azusa Street—the birthplace of modern Pentecostal revivalism. I can tell you after my forty day fast (which I presumed was integral to God’s plans), I was truly ready to see Jesus do something big; I was also truly ready—as soon as possible—to devour either a Whopper or a Big Mac.
What’s a boy to do though with all that passion? At the very least we translate it into expectations. After all, if Paul (a guy who had seen Jesus) is on record that God desires that all men be saved and that he wants to do exceedingly above and beyond our grandest expectations, how shall we govern our longings and calibrate our expectations? Given the incalculable height and depth of God’s love, is there really any ceiling? Rescuing an errant priest or spearheading the next great awakening seems quite doable given God’s greatness and our zeal to see God be who we want him to be and do what we want him to do.
The movie Silence was a poignant and brutally painful reminder that God is a mystery, which not only strips the forests bare, but will also strip the soul bare of its neat and tidy religious constructs. That is likely why Job was included in the scriptures, so that we would not speculate from afar about God and his ways.
My 30 and 40-year-old friends and family cannot help but think I’m jaded about the supernatural and their coming revival. They would be right, at least as far as it has to do with my role as a catalyst towards those ends. I pray as fervently today for seismic outcomes as ever. The scope of my prayer is actually as large as it has ever been. The folly, to me, is the expectation that these grand events will prosper in proportion to my contribution or that of the local revival committee.
The thing that we zealots do not hear in the midst of our passion is just how much, due to our own hurts and needs, we confuse our voice and the voice of others with God’s. For me to confront my young friends would be unwelcome and probably unprofitable. Within the mystery of God, passion, zeal, tears, and screams are not wasted. In fact, they are probably essential. They are like the steam coming off the refining pot where the dross is being skimmed away and pure faith, with its enviable award, is being perfected. So, while we are asking, “How long oh Lord”, we shall still:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Father, while I am sobered by the possible depths of my delusions, I am, at the same time, comforted that Jesus is an exact representation of your nature. In Christ, I never saw anything that would make me cower beneath his glory and strength. I never saw anything that would cause me to fear the splendor of his holiness. That I might rest my head upon the chest of my God is my comfort and my glory. Amen.
If I were to harvest the spiritual sentiment of the devout during the short span of my life as a follower of Jesus Christ, it might be captured by this notion: “Oh Lord, I want to be near to you. Draw me nearer Oh Lord.” Would they find comfort in King David’s words?
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5)
So the hungry, devout soul who wants to experience God’s nearness now has some tools in its hands if it can avoid fibs, get its heart pure, and keep its hands out of trouble. David seems to be promising righteousness and blessing to those who follow this script. David was devout in his context—the law-based monarchy of ancient Israel. However, I believe David’s council is unfit for followers of Jesus under a radically different and improved covenant. Even so, David may still assist us in his reference to the ancient gates.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:7-10)
I’m not actually sure which gates David is referring to, but the most ancient one that comes to my mind is the one that exists between unspoiled Eden and Satan-ruled earth.
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
Even Joni Mitchell expressed our longing for reentrance in her 1970 cultural anthem Woodstock: “We are stardust / Billion year old carbon / We are golden / Caught in the devil’s bargain / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.”
I don’t believe we can help Joni or the dreamers of any age by suggesting a course of self styled righteousness as a key to this ancient door. I believe that key has already been given to us in Jesus Christ, who is the Tree of Life. For those who have believed in him, Jesus, the King of Glory, has unlocked that ancient portal on our behalf, has come into our hearts, and has astonishingly made them his residence. We are now, individually and collectively, the temple of God on earth.
Sadly, even we believers continue in our dirges, lamenting the absence of God’s presence in our lives and in the affairs of man in our generation. Granted, longing is native to sojourners in a foreign land, but I wonder how much satisfaction and peace yet awaits the Church as she learns to actually rest in that presence of God she has even now as her new-creation inheritance.
Jesus Christ in now our life. We have been grafted back into The Tree of Life. This is a present-tense kingdom reality. However, the Tree’s sap does not flow well when we live as if that Tree is still guarded by cherubim and flaming sword, attempting to secure our righteousness with mere discipline. It is true:
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? (Psalm 24:1-3)
It is not those who simply master a circumspect life. I am not immune from longing nor above exercising discipline (it is a fruit of the Spirit), but I elect to transfer as much of my angst as I can into prayer: that the Church would in fact demonstrate God’s glory to all who recognize they were initially golden—created in God’s image, yet disfigured in the Adamic devil bargain. Oh that the Church might demonstrate to the world what life lived out of The Tree of Life actually looks like. Thy will be done, oh Lord, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus has in fact gotten us back into the garden. Paul knew this.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)
Christ lives in us. The King has reentered through the ancient gate into the temple. His glory is now present in us. In Christ, the new exodus is underway; the new creation has begun and his long awaited glory will one day be manifested in a people living out of the reality that Christ is their life. As I have said before, the kingdom has come and is coming.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
There is a tension in me I pray will not dissipate, and it has its roots in this verse. It has to do with my desire that others might see the goodness of God. My strain has to do with the fact that men seem to carry on nicely without giving God a second thought. You might ask, “What do you care about their attitude toward God?” My answer: the scriptures have equipped me with a vision that places these people in great peril. I am not at ease with this, and I pray that I never shall be. But what am I supposed to do with this tension?
This evening will give me some release. Today is Valentines Day, but the Cummins use it as an excuse to gather our family in Christ around us. Our community of friends (which we think of as the Church) includes siblings from a dozen different denominations. It probably won’t catch on, but I would like to reclaim this occasion as Bride of Christ Day—a day where we acknowledge that we, who have been joined one-to-another in Christ, are the same community that was birthed in Acts 2. As a steward of God’s grace I would like for our gathering to convey to all the right personalities that the Church is neither a physical location nor an event. The Church is a family of holy and blameless children who are making their way together through this life as a bold statement of who God is and what he is like. This remains the kingdom mission of the original church. Paul put in nicely:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8-12
Daneille and I came to Christ in the awakening known as The Jesus Movement. Our earliest days as a married couple were lived in a community of believers who held many of their earthly goods in common. We did not own a building. We did not have a pastor, per se. (However, even though they were not crowned with that title or compensated for their gifting, there were many pastors among us.) These believers were the spiritual aunts and uncles to our children. We educated our kids together and chose to work along side each other in a handful of vocations. Our gatherings often included teaching, but they almost always incorporated food and music. For us, church was never an institution. It was always family.
That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:21
If the church is to ever live out the unity Jesus has called her to, she will have to reclaim and celebrate the irreducible minimums of New Testament life. Luke nailed four of them in one verse: “They all gave full attention to; 1) the teaching of the apostles and to; 2) the common life, to; 3) the breaking of bread and; 4) the prayers” (Acts 2:42 N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Translation).
This evening, much like the communion we read of in Corinthians, believers will gather in Jesus’ name. We will share a nice meal, wine, conversation, and a concert with Bob Bennett, whom I have dubbed the Troubadour Laureate of the Jesus Movement. As blameless children, we will innocently and boldly flaunt our liberty to all the spiritual principalities and powers that oppose Christ’s Kingdom—as well as to all the earthly institutions that want to promote His Kingdom.
Father, be gracious to us for we ache for your rule. Make our souls be glad! For you, Lord, are good; You are ready to forgive and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call on you. Give ear, O Lord, to our prayer, and give heed to the voice of our supplications. For you are great and do wondrous deeds. You alone are God! Teach us your way, O Lord. We will walk in your truth. Unite our hearts to love and fear your name. We will give thanks to you with all our hearts and will glorify your name. Amen.