Monthly Archives: May 2018

Righteousness and Justice

Meditations on the Psalms

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

David pleads with God to answer his prayer. Before singing about God’s answer, He identifies God’s righteousness, an attribute integral to His eternal character. God is just and righteousness. Not only is God righteous but He is the One who makes the Psalmist righteous. David never says he is righteous in his own right, by his own thinking and deeds, but that God has righteousness placed upon him, covering him. He is the God of my righteousness.

Answer means to hear and respond, to testify verbally by speaking out loud. It is the same word used in Psalm 3. “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4 ESV). To callmeans to cry out, to proclaim, emotionally ask loudly, especially for help. So, the Psalmist seeks God in prayer, loudly and forthrightly, imploring God to respond favorably. He knows God hears and that His response is righteous.

God speaks about righteousness in the Psalms. He first declares a separation of the righteous from the wicked. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5-6 ESV). Those who are righteous are those who do not rebel against Him. They are citizens of His kingdom, who do not follow the ways of the wicked, sinful, scoffers but are identified with the One Blessed Man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Only God will make a sinful person righteous through Christ.

What is righteousness as an attribute and quality of God? The attributes of God are eternal characteristics of His divine being, which cannot be separated from Him, which works in conjunction with all of the other attributes. Righteousness implies there is in place a moral law, followed to the letter. God’s moral law does not reside outside of Himself but is a fundamental part of His eternal being. His creation, those created in His image and those created with an ability to intellectually and emotionally know His moral standard, follow that law. God’s moral law is a true law, a fixed statute or rule that must be followed. Breaking a moral law, unlike a physical or natural law, is possible, but has eternally damning consequences. Those creatures created with the nature of adhering to God’s moral law bend and break themselves when they violate His eternal standard found in His eternal being.

Righteousness is only one side of the coin. On the other side is the word justice. In the Hebrew and Greek, the word used for righteous also mean justice. Though the theological concepts are related and may be viewed as essentially the same, they have slightly differing applications. God is righteous and just, but He is also true and good and holy. His essential attribute of righteousness and justice cannot be divorced from His equally essential attributes of truth and goodness and holiness. God declares a person righteous when they meet, continue to meet, have always met, the just requirements of His moral law.

Righteousness is the measure God uses to evaluate and judge those who adhere and keep His moral law. Those who live according to the moral law of God are declared righteous. Those who rebel against God break His moral law and are declared unrighteous. Then God judges both, separating one from the other by separating those who rebel from Him.

Moses sings about God after leading the people to the border of the Promised Land. God is their immovable and unbreakable foundation because of His divine immutable attributes. “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 ESV). God is just and will do nothing which violates His eternal character. So also, Abraham appeals to God’s justice, knowing intimately He will not inflict His wrath on those who have done nothing to deserve punishment.

 “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death 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?” (Genesis 18:23-25 ESV)

It is with confidence the Psalmist declares His trust in the God of my righteousness!  Being identified with God means He is declared by God to have fulfilled all of the requirements of the moral law of God completely and wholly. He is righteous and just because God is righteous and just.

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Languages

A Bit of Biography

I have lived on three continents. Dad was in the Air Force and we moved every 12 to 18 months. We were stationed in three countries in Europe, over a six-year period of time. We lived in Germany, Belgium and Holland with a two-year stint at Mather in Sacramento, California. I studied four languages growing up, including German, Spanish and French, never making it out of the first level of each. Only the English  language seemed to stick. My brother, on the other hand, was a linguist and, by the time he died, was fluent in seven languages, including French and Welsh.

I have a theory about why he could easily pick up a language and I did not. John and I were born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He arrived on the scene 17 months before me. Growing up for a time in Brazil, we had a Brazilian nanny, Lena, who spoke Portuguese, while our parents spoke English. He was a little over two years old when we moved back to the States. I was six months old. At two he was speaking English and Portuguese. We landed in New Orleans and stayed in Texas (pronounced “Tegsuss” if you live in certain parts of the state) for a while. We went from a bilingual household to a household dominated by a Southern accent. My parents still spoke English but all my relatives spoke Southern. John lapped it up. I was confused. Try digesting, at six months old, English and Portuguese and then switching to English with a Southern accent. Babies are sponges, learning how to speak and understand from those around them. I am assuming I was confused, finally settling into the sounds of English.

This is the best, contrived excuse I have thought of for my lack of foreign language skills and it took me years to think up and refine. The real reason, as a second born, was my laziness. Not all second born children are lazy. Children are lazy when it comes to work and highly energetic when it comes to play. Most of the time, I didn’t want to be where we were, surrounded by people speaking a strange language. I grew to hate moving. I hated leaving my friends. Since I didn’t want to be in Germany, Belgium or Holland (or New York, for that matter, which has its own peculiar accent) I certainly wasn’t going to learn the language.

John was fluent in seven languages. I’m barely able to spell in English. He wanted to learn Hottentot and would walk around the house clicking and clucking and speaking in tongues. He taught himself Latin, Hebrew and Greek and thought in those languages. I found him annoying at times. We were brothers and I know he often didn’t like me, either.

The upshot is that my degrees required a certain level of knowledge in some ancient languages, Greek and Hebrew, with a smattering of Aramaic. I know a little Greek and a little Hebrew. One owns a delicatessen and the other a haberdashery. (An old joke stolen from one of my New Testament Professors.) Actually, one is a Librarian and the other is a retired Rocket Scientist. When it comes to languages, I rely on others and on Biblical authorities to help me understand the words and phrases from Scripture. This is where it would be nice if God endowed me with the gift of glossalalia, speaking in tongues, especially in Greek and Hebrew. That’s not how He does things. Learning a language is memory work, a difficult concept for a nominally, academically lazy person. John may have had a gift of speaking other languages but he still had to work at honing his skills.

An Introduction to Psalm 4

Meditations on the Psalms

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David. (Psalm 4:1 ESV)

David sings a song of joy to his relationship with God. His intent was to teach God’s people this Psalm to worship God, for the great things He had done. David wrote this song for the choirmaster, the Chief Musician, tasked with the responsibility of teaching others to sing in their worship. David’s song of worship is accompanied by stringed instruments.

From the morning, when David first arises and calls on the Name of the LORD, to the evening, as he prepares to sleep, David shows his confidence and trust in God. He knows God will answer him, though he is surrounded by many enemies, though his days are filled with stress and the command decisions of leadership. He also knows God will protect him from his enemies, giving him a peace to sleep while in the world and in God’s secure presence.

Though written by David, this Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus Christ, revealing the thinking of Jesus’ heart as He lives in a world in rebellion against God. Jesus knew God would listen to Him and answer Him when He called. Though surrounded by those who wished Him dead, and plotted to murder Him, His work and words reflect His complete trust in God.

We will examine the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in relation to this Psalm. I am not suggesting this Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus’ acts and words found in this Gospel story but that some of the circumstances found in that story fit the words of this Psalm.

It is important we know the context of the story of the raising of Lazarus. John, the disciple, tells us this story beginning in John 11:1. However, the words, teachings and actions of Jesus, of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, and the response of the religious leaders who mapped out the premeditated murder of Jesus and of Lazarus, moves through John 12:50.

Though David wrote this Psalm almost a thousand years before Jesus’ birth, Jesus lived it out.

Peter, an Apostle

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Jesus is a real person and real people encountered Him. The full humanity of those who live in far-away places or long-ago times is often lost on those currently living. Most people are so involved in their lives they do not think or visualize that the names they read in Scripture are attached to a person who lived and breathed, who ate and slept, who felt emotions like love and happiness. Real people saw Jesus and walked with Him, ate with Him, listened to Him. They were His friends and enemies. They watched Him work and heal. They heard Him teach, rebuke and lead. Many either loved Him deeply or hated Him passionately. Many went about their business, seemingly unaffected by His presence. Yet, everyone was and has been affected by Him.

Jesus taught pointed lessons, through word and action, building into the lives of those who are His, qualities and characteristics God’s children throughout history could see and emulate.  Jesus confronted people who fought against him, those who rejected and finally murdered Him.

Peter, one of the apostles, and the author of two epistles in the New Testament, was taught and disciplined by Jesus. Trials and testing are the most effective means God uses to build into Christians the character of the citizen of His kingdom. Peter had a wild and aggressive personality God tamed before his death. He was impulsive, jumping into circumstances without understanding the consequences of his actions. God changed Peter, building discipline and Godliness into his life.  The words in his epistles come from the indwelling of the Spirit and personal experience with the Son of God.

What do we know about Peter? We know he was married. Before Peter was called by Jesus and began following Him, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (see Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:29-30; Luke 4:38).His wife was with him during his ministry years after Jesus’ ascension (1 Corinthians 9:5). We know he was a fisherman who worked the Sea of Galilee and partnered with his brother Andrew, and James and John Zebedee, who also would become apostles (see Matthew 4:18; Luke 5:1-7; John 21:3). He was called by various names including Simon Barjona and Cephas (see Matthew 16:16-19; Mark 3:16; John 1:42, 1 Corinthians 9:5

Peter was a disciple of Jesus, someone who followed Him and learned from Him. He became and apostle, chosen by Jesus after a night of prayer.  Apostle means delegate, messenger, one chosen and sent out with a specific message. Many people followed Christ during His earthly ministry. Jesus chose twelve men to receive specific instruction and direction in preaching the gospel.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16 ESV; see also Matthew 10:2; 16:18-19; Mark 3:16; Acts 1:13.)

As a disciple and apostle of Christ he Peter was commissioned to take the gospel to his own people, the Jews, while Paul carried the gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). During Peter’s ministry, after Jesus’, ascension, he faced hostility and persecution by the Jews and those opposed to the message of Jesus. He was imprisoned and beaten after his encounter with the same high priest who had Jesus murdered (see Acts 5:17-42). He had a vision which disrupted the traditional Jewish understanding of clean and unclean, learning that God had also chosen the Gentiles for citizenship in His kingdom (see Acts 10:1-48). Again, he was imprisoned and scheduled for execution by Herod, who had already killed James, the brother of John (see Acts 12:1-19). But, he was miraculously released from prison by an angel without the knowledge of any of the guards.

He was martyred, probably with Paul, in Rome during the time of Nero. There is no Biblical evidence showing the deaths of either man. Extrabiblical evidence, specifically Origen, suggests Peter was crucified upside down at his own request because he felt himself unworthy of dying like Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark, though written by John Mark, who was not an eye witness of the life of Christ, used Peter as his source of information. As a man who followed, helped and even interpreted for Peter, an eye-witness of Jesus and one of the inner circle of disciples, Mark’s gospel carries both the integrity of an eyewitness and the teachings of one of Jesus’ Apostles. In addition, Peter penned two epistles, entitled First and Second Peter. As an eye witness Peter is an important and critical observer of the teachings of Christ for those who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Six Months

It has been six months since I went in for a stress test which led to coronary by-pass surgery. During the first month and a half of recuperation I spend time writing about the traumatic experience of being cut open and getting used to a scar on my chest. It was hard to write because my ability to concentrate and write was compromised by the drugs I was taking. One of the drugs was a Beta Blocker, which suppresses adrenaline. People need adrenaline to help them react to daily events. While the drug helped keep my blood pressure low so my heart could heal, some of the side effects were confusion, lack of focus and depression. I’m a Librarian and have to be able to focus. I have to be able to think and concentrate. I stopped taking the drug after about 7 weeks, with my doctors understanding.  My concentration and memory are still affected by the trauma of the surgery.

After a month and a half, I started exercising more, building up to walking several miles a day and riding my bicycle. They were easy rides. The biggest concern was falling off a bicycle, which could do some major damage to my chest which was already healing from surgery. I did not feel dizzy, another possible side effect of the drugs. Every drug they prescribed was designed to either lower my blood-pressure or my cholesterol. I discovered the best way to lower blood pressure was through exercise, combined with a different, less fatty and sugary diet. Where my blood pressure was 140+ over 90+ it is now averaging 110 over 65. In the evening, after a full day at work or riding, my blood pressure is averaging about 95 over 75.

January 2018 began the second half of my convalescence, a three-month period before returning to work. During that time, I worked on regaining my focus and concentration and started writing on the Psalms. Writing was hard but I built a consistent time every morning and was able to record my meditations on Psalms 1 through 3. These are the Meditation on the Psalmsstudies I’ve been posting for the last few months. I had spent a year trying to memorize the Psalms before the surgery and was fairly successful. After the surgery, my memory of the Psalms all but evaporated. It was a struggle to recall what I had committed to memory. It is still a struggle and a frustration.

My intent with the meditation posts was to help me understand Jesus Christ and to point those who read them to Him. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the study is that the Psalms, at least the ones I have studied and thought about, point to Christ and express His innermost self. We do not get much of His emotion and thinking about His mission in the Gospels. Nor does He reveal many of His reactions and understandings about why He came as a Man to redeem those who are His. Since all Scripture is written by Him, about Him and His relationship with those created in His image, the Psalms naturally express His heart.

It is not my intent to make these writings about me. Even though the blog is given my name, at least in theory, it is not about me. These writings are the discoveries I am finding and thinking through about my relationship with the One who redeemed me.

A couple of questions arise which I have been trying to ignore for a long time. Why should anyone read what I have written if they do not know me? Should not my thoughts and writing stand-alone without the extra arrogant baggage of my selfishness and self-centeredness? If I am expressing truth about God and His Word, led by the Holy Spirit, then it should not be about me but about Him. If the integrity of my life is not known, how should the integrity of my words and thinking stand? My thinking has been philosophically altruistic. I want people to read what I write because I believe God has given me something to say about Him and His Son. I also want readers to challenge my thinking. But thinking is only part of the whole person. Another part is the emotional side of humanity. People need to know what I am feeling and how I am acting, not just what I think.

I am changing the structure and delivery of this blog starting with this post. At least I am going to try. Hopefully, I will post three times a week. I will continue to post my meditations on the Psalms, but not every post. I am also going to start a study on 1 Peter. I have an M. A. in Theology. I wrote two major papers in graduate school on 1 Peter. The first was a long paper on the terms alienand strangerfound in Peter’s letter. The second was a thesis entitled Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake: A Formal Theological Concept in the First Epistle on Peter. I am not going to bore you with academic writing. First Peter left a deep impression on my heart and my thinking and I need to express those thoughts and feelings. Finally, I am going to write brief posts about me and my life growing up, my current occupation and some of the events which God used to shape me for Him. I am a Librarian and I hope to shatter any stereotypes held by whomever wants to read. The struggle is going to be keeping the attention off of me and on Christ while talking about me. Every experience I have had and will have, whether I was aware or not, has drawn me closer to God.

Thanks for listening and reading my ramble.

Gerry

Salvation

Meditations on the Psalms

Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:8 ESV)

He who has been praying about His circumstance and passion now turns His attention to those for whom He has worked and taught and bled and died. He has asked God to save Him from those who murdered Him. He died and was resurrected. Through His agony and distress those who are His are irrevocably drawn into His kingdom. Those who identify with Him are so connected, not because of anything they have done, but everything He has done. Still, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven has the responsibility to obey God This is why they were created. Working for God by those redeemed by Jesus carries no merit but does result in eternal blessing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are decreed and determined by God from eternity, from before the space-time creation of the universe and before Adam and Eve rebelled. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21 ESV). Jesus prayed for those who are His before His passion, declaring His eternal purpose in bringing them to Him. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24 ESV).

Jesus is our salvation. Salvation means deliverance, victory, welfare and prosperity. God’s blessing, His gift of peace with Him, is given to those who are His through the blood of Christ, the mercy seat, which hides the sin of the people from His sight. It is not that Christians stop sinning but that, because Christ took upon Himself the judgment of and sentence for our sin, they are declared righteous before God. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

Our obedience to God is demanded and expected and carries no merit. We cannot work for that which God gives freely through Christ. Our freedom in Christ is not shown through the lazy and irresponsible thinking of our hearts and actions in the world but through steadfast devotion and obedience to Him who gives salvation. There are at least four things we must believe and do.

We must truthfully admit our rebellion against God, that sin is real and turns truth on its head, demanding a lie be acted upon as truth. We are the wicked and ungodly people who are trained and teach others to hate God as described in Psalm 1. Not, only are we commanded to admit sin, we are commanded to acknowledge God as Creator, the One who sustains creation, who gives us purpose and who is the governor of creation. He is God and there is no other and we are designed to serve and worship only Him. Thus, sin is walking away from God.

We are commanded to repent, which is turning away from sin in the thinking of our hearts and actions. Repentance demands we understand the truth of sin and then its consequences, which is separation from God for eternity and existence without that which sustains life. Knowing the magnitude of the consequences of sin, coupled with the drawing of God toward Himself, is enough for those who are His to hate sin because He hates sin. Repentance is turning away from sin.

Faith is turning toward God. Those who repent, who turn away from sin, must turn toward that which is not sin. Faith is the intellectual believing of the evidence of God’s work, the emotional trusting of Him who alone is able to deliver upon His promises, and the willful obedience to His commands. Faith involves the whole person. Remove an element, or make one element of more importance than the others, and faith ceases. This is only a brief summary of faith.

Even though obedience is part of faith it also is the fourth element of salvation. Those who sin, walking away from God, who then turn away from sin in repentance, who turn toward God in faith, must now walk toward God. Jesus calls walking toward God to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). This is not the simple obedience of faith, which is necessary, but the driven, insatiable delight to know God intimately. Instead of rote behavior, the obedient person abandons themselves to God, ceases living for the world and sets their eyes, and the thinking of their hearts, upon serving God in eternity, beginning now.

Those who are God’s are identified with Jesus Christ, His blessed Man, the Son, the King of kings, the One who gave Himself. Where He is, we are.

Stricken

Meditations on the Psalms

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.(Psalm 3:7 ESV)

God develops a number of motifs in the Psalms. One of the patterns He gives in the first three Psalms is judgment of the wicked. Those who actively rebel against Him will experience the fury of His righteous decision.

Psalm 1 tells us the wicked fail in their rebellion. None of their works or words last “but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4 ESV). They will not stand before God when He sentences them but will be separated from the righteous (see Psalm 1:5) and will ultimately perish(Psalm 1:6). They will not disappear into nothingness but will continue to exist for eternity outside of God’s presence, never receiving that which sustains spiritual life.

Psalm 2 gives the evidence of the rebellion of the people and those who teach, train and lead the rebellion. When God gives Jesus, the Son (Psalm 2:7) ownership of creation, He will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9 ESV). People are to serve Jesus with fear and trembling. If they do not they will perish (Psalm 2:12). This word perishis the same word in both Psalm 1 and here. God speaks twice because He has firmly decided what will occur.

In Psalm 3 Jesus prays to His Father about His passion and the agony of being subject to the wrath and hatred of a people He created in His image for relationship with Him. He loves these people. They hate Him and want Him dead, so they murder Him. They justify their murderous intent by providing false evidence against Him while ignoring the truth of His life, words and works.

During the inquisition of Jesus before the High Priest, He faced questioning about His disciples and His teaching. Note that the position of High Priest at that time was shared by Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas (see John 18:13). Traditionally, there was only one High Priest. Caiaphas was the designated High Priest while Annas was the acting head of the religion, having been High Priest and most probably refusing to relinquish control to his son-in-law. Annas touted tradition and law while ignoring tradition and law. It was Annas who first questioned Jesus and responded to His answers.

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20-23 ESV)

Jesus answered truthfully and was struck on the face. Annas, and the guards he controlled, mocked Jesus. They had no intention of looking critically or objectively at the evidence. They wanted Him dead and were willing to sacrifice their integrity and their relationship with God to murder Him.

Those who struck Jesus on the cheek, mocking Him and refusing to examine the evidence, speaking against Him and training others to do the same, will themselves be struck on the cheek. To strike is to hit, beat, slay and kill. Those who condemned Jesus are His enemies, both individual and personal opponents and corporate or national adversaries. They stand resolute against Him in every way conceivable. But God does not speak of His rendered judgment only once. This is a parallel statement because He will surely make it happen. He will break the teeth of those who speak against His Son. To break means to crush, to violently destroy, maim, cripple and rupture. Their words and actions, the thinking of their hearts, will condemn them, used as evidence and testimony against them when they stand before God’s judgment.

Yes, they murdered Jesus. But He rose from the dead and is now the prosecutions expert and only witness against all who rebel against God.