Christianity 201

October 18, 2020

Living in a Time of Un-Civil War

Today we return again to The Serener Bright, and writer Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. Click the title below to read this at source; it’s a most timely article.

Psalm 39: Passing Guests

Psalm 39 is a psalm for a digital age, the context that Alan Hirsch calls an “un-civil war.” For many of us, we’ve been knee-deep in the comments section or in a discussion on a social media thread and felt our face getting hot, our blood beginning to boil, and our fingers set the cursor into motion with words that (hopefully) would soon be deleted or filed in a drafts folder never to see the light of day. The Psalmist writes:

I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse, my heart became hot within me. When I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue
:
(vv.1-3)

David is clearly in no emotional state to be responding to his neighbors. Any words that he offers are going to be from the dizzying frenzy of fight or flight and if his words are any indicator, flight is not on the menu. But notice, David doesn’t internalize all this strife and absurdity and then finally boil over, spewing hot lava on anyone who happens to be in the vicinity. Rather, David’s words are directed towards God:

Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days;
Let me know know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Selah
Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.
(vv. 4-6)

David’s frustrations, his agony, his anger are all due to the people he faces every day. Yet his words turn a different direction, looking past the veil of flesh and blood to the unseen world of the divine. David channels his angst into a plea not for vengeance or vindication, but an awareness of just how fleeting his life is. Ultimately, David knows that it is God with whom he must deal.

In the presence of real wickedness (v. 2) and real indignation, David is undone not by his own righteousness but by the weight of the hand of God pressing at the places of vitriol within his own heart.


“You chastise morals in punishment for sin, consuming like a month what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath” (v. 11)

Somehow in the throes of this moment, David finds himself in the court but he is not simply the plaintiff, the victim, he is in the docket himself. The judge has reserved his questioning not for his opponents but for him. And David begs God to turn away his piercing gaze:

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Turn your gaze way from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” (vv. `12-13)

It may seem strange. A psalm which begins with David confidently strolling into the courtroom ends with him pleading for just a moment’s reprieve of mercy. But this is often where God meets us in our anger, at the cutting edge of justified rage and the desire to belittle, to treat others with contempt, and—as Jesus will later make explicit—to kill. God is not blind to the the injustice that David endures but he is also not blinded to the reactions of David’s heart.

It’s often the moments where are most right that we are most vulnerable. God will not leave us to wallow in our vitriol, even towards the wicked, because our hearts are too valuable for him to ever look away from. Psalm 39 beckons us back to ultimate reality, it is God that we must face. Even in judgment, the Lord turning his face to us is a blessing of unrelenting commitment. He will not leave us as a passing guest but comes and makes his home with us. Selah.


Bonus links:

Today I want to share with you two videos which have been on my screen this week.

The first is John Walton speaking to students and faculty at Wheaton College on his reading of the Old Testament. 30 minutes. Click this link.

The second is also from Wheaton College’s YouTube page and contains a message from N.T. Wright on “The Good Life in Uncertain Times” followed by Q&A. 53 minutes. Click this link.

February 19, 2011

Sometimes When Giving, We Receive Even More

This week we’re catching up with some devotional bloggers we met up with this past summer.  Jennifer Slattery shares a personal story with a narrative that many readers here have experienced in similar but different ways.  This appeared on her blog under the title, The Beauty of the Broken.

I was eight, maybe nine, and on my way to school when I noticed a woman taking her trash to the curb. She held the black bag in one hand and a walking stick in the other, scanning the ground with her “eyes” as she went. I ran to her side, ready to rescue this blind lady, little did I know that God had sent her that day to help me.

She smiled at me and nodded, then humbly allowed me to carry her trash to the curb. It wasn’t until a few days later when I was sitting at the breakfast bar in her kitchen that I realized the humbled love she showed to me that morning. As I watched her answer her phone, make popcorn in the micro (for me) and flitter around her kitchen with more ease than a sighted woman, I was slightly embarrassed by my offer to “help” her only days before. She let me help her not because she needed it, but because doing so would form a connection–a point of contact.

Before long, I was at her house nearly every day. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. I do remember the popcorn, and the tremendous joy that filled her home. I remember watching her husband and son very closely, curious by their rather silly antics and the ease with which they interacted. But what I remember most was the overwhelming sense of being loved and accepted as day after day Mr. and Mrs. Neighborhood (my name for her and her husband) showed me love.

She died a few years later, not knowing how the story would end–not knowing the chain of events her allowing me to carry her garbage started, not knowing the impact those afternoons had on me. She didn’t understand fully until she got to heaven, and although I don’t believe God caused her blindness, (it was the result of a stroke), I know He used  it to bring her and I together. And through her, I got a taste of the love of Christ.

I wonder if she were standing on the edge of eternity, able to see into the abyss, and asked to choose between her sight or my salvation, I wonder what she would have chosen. Actually, I know what she would have chosen. She showed me daily.

But even now, Mrs. Neighborhood’s story doesn’t end. Every time I write, every time I pray, every time I cuddle up with my daughter, a Bible spread between us, we are seeing the fruits of her service (and other amazing women God placed in my path as I was growing up.)

And it all started because she let a little girl help her.

I thought of her this morning during church as I read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7

1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Her visits with me were not without results. The results just wouldn’t be seen until many years later, long after she’d passed. And she wasn’t concerned with the praise of men. To the contrary, she humbled herself and allowed a young child to help her.

Her life was the very first domino in a beautifully intertwined display, except the story really began long before then, with another domino set in motion in her life, and the domino set in motion in the life that loved on her. Each life, each domino, was but a tiny, yet powerful, part of a glorious, life-saving story that will one-day unfold before us. When we stand in God’s presence, surrounded by an innumerable family of believers, each one but another domino that set into motion another chain, everything will all make sense and all we’ll be able to say is, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelations 7:12 NIV)

~Jennifer Slattery