Psalm 113 and the “-ologies”



This Psalm is a reflection on the name of God (Yahweh) which is rendered LORD in most modern translations.


First I notice the variations on the phrase “Praise the Lord” which are all variations on the word Hallelujah (“praise Yahweh”).

  • Praise the Lord (hallelu jah)
  • Praise  (him) the servants of the LORD (hallelu abedey yahweh)
  • Praise the name of the LORD (hallelu eth shem yahweh)
  • Let the name of the LORD be blessed (yahi shem yahweh mebarak)
  • Praise to the name of the LORD (mehulal shem yahweh)

This reminds me of musical compositions that take a theme and vary it through the piece, both in classical music and jazz.  It seems a kind of memditation by repetitive variation.

Then I notice contrasts in categories of time, space, people.  So I made this outline.


These show the LORDS praiseworthiness in regards to

  • time (now and forever)
  • location (place of sun rising and setting)
  • the nations
  • the heavens (which the Lord has to stoop down to even see)
  • classes of people (Poor, princes, childless woman, mother)

It’s a bit ironic that in the tradition of the text, we change the actual NAME of the LORD to the word “LORD” so as not to break the commandment against taking the LORD’s name in vain.


Circular* Reasoning in John


The Johannine books (John; I,II, III John) share a number of characteristics in style.  This is why John the Apostle was held until modern times as the author of all of them.  Of course there are as many other theories as there are scholarly treatises on that.

I’ve been struggling in John’s Gospel with the discourse sections.  There are two that are fairly easy to track: John 3 with Nicodemus, and John 4 with the Woman of Samaria.  But the discourses in chapter 5 Miracle at Bethesda; Chapter 6, Feeding the 5000; Chapter 7, at the Festival of Booths; John 8; John 9 with the healing of the man born blind are all more difficult.

Even the discourse in chapter 4 is rambling – Jesus and the woman talk about water and worship and the holy spirit before all is done.

I’ve struggles to make sense of the shape of these discourses.  They seem to ramble or on occasions bounce between Jesus and some opponent or opponents.  So there is no neat or linear way to represent the discussion.  You know that outline method you learned in school? throw it out!

In desperation I went to my library.  There I found a book I had not spent much time with.  “John: Evangelist & Interpreter” by Stephen S. Smalley.  Smalley made some helpful observations. In the “first act” of John, there are a number of sign/miracles which are followed by discourses.  He describes their structure as being “spiral” in nature.

“John…structures his discourse material so as to advance his subject, almost in spiral fashion, through a series of dramatic disclosures towards a climax.” p. 147

So we have this: a sign/miracle followed by a discourse or disputation with Jesus and another party or parties. The theme of the discourse tends to be repeated in some way in each division in the discourse.

In John 9, the man blind from birth is healed by Jesus who anoints his eyes with mud and asks him to go and wash.

Then there these sub sections, each one except the concluding two repeating something about the man born blind: (p. 143)

  • v. 8-12 Man and Neighbors
  • v. 13-17 man and Pharisees
  • v. 18-23 Man’s parents  and “Jews” (i.e. Authorities)
  • v. 24-34 Man and “Jews”
  • v. 35-38 Jesus and Man
  • v. 39-41 Jesus and Pharisees

The last two parts leave to two conclusions: The man comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man and even worships him.  the Pharisees reject Jesus as a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath.

Through this we have woven themes of sin (was the man or his parents responsible for his blindness, Did Jesus sin by breaking the Sabbath, are the Pharisees sinners for rejecting Jesus?) and blindness (the man’s physical blindness which is cured, his spiritual insight. the Pharisees who see Jesus’ works but are blind to his light.)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind”  v. 39

*This is misnamed “circular reasoning” because a circle returns on itself. A spiral however is circular but it also moves from beginning to end.  One has to hang with all the turns and not get lost.

I am still figuring out how to preach such a passage.



scribe.2 This is from a talk given to a chaplains group.

Romans 12:2:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Since no one has used this verse, I thought I would!  The verse talks about transformation through the life of the mind.  Or maybe it is better to say the new life of the mind.  For this verse follows the previous which references the mercies of God.  We are not talking the power of positive thinking, or a mental exercise, but how God goes about making us over into the image of Christ.

I’d to talk about this with a few stories of how words can be transformative.

In high school I was not in the popular group, we called them “soshes”.  I was not in the smoker group, the shop guys or the jocks.  I was in a group of guys who ate lunch together every day at the same table in the cafeteria.  We did not really do anything all that well except to insult each other. This is a rather common form of male humor.  The point of which is not to be left without a response but to answer every sharp word-strike with a counter blow.  I was pretty good at this.

All this time I was coming to terms with my faith.  It was when I was a junior in high school that I prayed the prayer. I was at a Christian conference in Seattle, and while walking through he hallways of the basketball arena, I tried to imagined a conversation with Jesus.  The thing that struck me was that I had nothing to say – Nothing at all.   Something was wrong.  The speaker gave an invitation to receive Christ.  I took the chance.

Shortly after that I was reading in the book of Proverbs.  I came to this verse Proverbs 10:11:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence

Bam!  The verse, more or less, reached out and slapped me across the face.

I realized that my mouth was a fountain of insults, not of life.  So things started to change for my last year of high school. I discovered that I had been friends with these guys for years but did not know anything about them – one guy wanted to go into social work, another wanted to be a radio announcer.  When I quit insulting them I came to see them as pretty interesting guys

The next year I was at the U of Washington and involved with Inter Varsity.  At a conference we were supposed to use a paper bag to talk about what is the difference between what is on the inside and the outside.   From years of insults  I had learned to keep anything very important tucked deeply inside.  As I recall the speaker was making a point from the Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitude which says: Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The idea here is not so much spotlessness, but that the out ward and the inward correspond.  Blessed are those who are truly who they are on the inside and outside, who do not pretend to be something. This verse was added to the one before.

The book of James that has a lot to say about the tongue.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The tongue has power, would I use mine for good or evil?

Now that I work along truck drivers and construction workers, I see the pattern of communication that I was very much a part of back in high school.   I hope that by a few well spoken words, some of that also might be transformed.

A few years ago I began to get interested in Wisdom Literature in the Bible – these are books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job as well as certain literary forms such as parables and proverbs.  I came across the passage in Proverbs 6 that talks about adultery.  It dies not quote the 7th commandment.  It paints a work picture: Pv 6:27

Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?

Wisdom Literature is like the music of revelation in another key signature. It does not work so much from commands, but with comparisons.  It observes and puts things side by side for us to notice. The interesting thing is that it can get to some places where the Ten Commandments might not be well received – such as Progressive Madison.  These words tell us that playing around sexually is playing with fire.  These are a lot like James’ point that words themselves are playing with fire.

I believe in the transformative power of words.  Not a flood of them.  Not the same words for every audience.  But in terms of another proverbs, words that are well crafted to the situation:  Proverbs 25:11

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

In our work we often only get a few words to share. I believe that these can be transformative, because I believe in the power of the word.

1st Commandment


“To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart…to have a God, as you can well imagine, does not mean to grasp  him with your fingers, or to put him into a purse, or to shut him into a box.  Rather, you lay hold of God when your heart grasps him and clings to him.”

(Martin Luther, Book of Concord, quoted in Interpretation: The Ten Commandments, Miller, p. 19)

Deuteronomy 13

            Scholars agree that Deuteronomy 12 and 13 are applications of the 1st Commandment.  So we will take a look at Deuteronomy 13:1-4

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.  (ESV)

This chapter is a warning against false prophets.   What I want to focus on is a verse that adds to the positive description of the 1st Commandment, verse 4 has six expressions that define and clarify what it means to have no other God and to love God with all your heart, soul and strength.

You shall walk after the Lord your God.  So we start with our feet.  We can with our feet walk away from god.  We can walk in the wilderness with not plan or goal. Or we can walk after the Lord our God.  Our “walk” is the way in which we live. It is the direction and pattern of our lives.  So this means that God is the one who sets the direction and establishes the pattern of our lives.

You shall fear him.  We sometimes see fear when men or women encounter God or an angel of God. They fall to the ground, they withdraw from what seems terrifying, until the Lord says, “do not be afraid.” Synonyms for “fear” are revere respect.  You shall  fear, revere and respect the Lord.  Maybe we should think of this as our bended knees or if your knees are stiff, your bowed heads before the presence of God.

You shall keep his commandments.  We use our eyes to read the word of God, but we can see without seeing.  We need to see them as they are written and then keep them.  If we don’t keep them they will soon slip from our minds like the forgotten jokes and quotes of last week’s newspaper.  These are commands to keep.

You shall obey his voice.  So our ears hear the very voice of God.  We believe that the Bible is not only a historical record and a collection of great literature. Yes, we can start with that idea, but we soon come to realize that it contains the voice of the Living God and we need to obey them.  For us it is not in one ear and out the other. It is in the ear and down to the heart where decisions are made.

You shall serve him. The word for serve can mean to worship him.  We worship in church, and in private devotions, but we also worship him with any part  of our time or treasure that we give to him.

You shall cling to him.  This is the real definition.  We do not have faith when we stand far off with abstract knowledge. We have faith when we cling to him, as if we are holding on for dear life.   Cling to him the way a new born clings to his mother.  Like that newborn, we have no way to live without the strength of the mother and father.

Who is Looking for Jesus?


the Sermon for the Sunday following Christmas this year was a reflection on Isaiah 9:6

star  I want us to do a little work together today.  I have laid out in this Advent Season the significance of the names of Jesus given in Isaiah 9:6.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In Matthew 2 we find the story of how the Magi, also known as the Wise Men or the Three Kings came to worship Jesus.  (Mt 2:1-2)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

I want to put these two short passages together and ask a question. Who is looking for Jesus?

  1. Isaiah’s Description of Jesus

There are five parts to this description of Jesus that we have talked about.

            Government:  On him will rest the leadership for Government.  The promise is that we will one day live under the leadership of the Lord, here on the earth.

That is a future promise as far as world governments go. At various times people in this age have tried to combine their faith with civil government that has led to disaster.  The Roman Empire declared everyone a Christian at one point.  Believers at the time thought this was a great improvement over being persecuted. But really it just created a half-baked loaf.  People were Christian in name and maybe in how they treated their holidays, but they were not born again. Even today we have Christmas and Easter Christians, who live how they wish the rest of the time.  Medieval Europe, the State Churches of Europe and even the Puritans of New England had this idea.

Yet the spiritual government of Jesus has begun, though he Gospel.  He becomes our LORD, does he not?  We are made CITIZENS of the kingdom of God. 

Wonderful Counselor:  We saw that this meant that Jesus possesses wisdom to know what we need to do to move from Darkness to Light.  He is not just a source of come good advice. He is not just quotable, like a Yogi Berra of the Bible.  He is the source of supernatural wisdom. Wisdom from God.

Mighty God.  We saw that this meant that Jesus was able to defeat our enemies.  I am not talking about political enemies but spiritual enemies of darkness. He has defeated Sin by becoming the sacrifice for sin. He defeated death by going from the cross to the grave and back to life. He defeated the Devil by resisting all temptation and by striking a blow to the evil empire.

Everlasting Father reminds us of the committed love of the Lord. He not only can do what is needed, but he wants to do it.  He is willing and able.

Prince of Peace reminds us that the result of Jesus’ leadership in our lives is that we have peace. We have peace with God through the gospel we have inner peace as the shame and guilt of our lives is washed clean in the blood of the Lamb of God.  We have peace with others as we receive and give forgiveness.

In the time of Jesus, how many people were looking for him?  When he did miracles such as healing and feeding the crowds with bread and fish, they followed in a great crowd. Yet when they wanted to make him King he slipped away from them and returned to teaching the 12.

When he was crucified there were only 3 or 4 of his followers there. The rest were mockers or executioners, but all the crowds and most of the 12 were gone.

There was no real number until the Day of Pentecost when the church began with thousands of new believers.

In our day, how many people are looking for Jesus?

Well, we just had Christmas didn’t we. Didn’t the whole country look for Jesus?  Or maybe Santa Claus, or maybe for boxes under the tree?

Here is what I think.  There are people looking for what jesus has to offer.  There have been and there will always be those who are looking for good leaders, for wise counsel, for power to overcome, for love and for peace.  But most people do not look for the One who gives those.  We look in the wrong places.

  1. Evidence

Leaders:  think about all the places people look for leaders.

In politics we look for someone who can be a president.  What does that take? Experience, vision, skills to communicate, money, and it often helps to be good looking.  We look for someone who can inspire, unite, make wise choices, and remain popular while making difficult decisions.  We want peace – not just no wars, but a just and fair society with good jobs and healthy places to live for young and old alike.

We also look to celebrities and sports figures.  There are debates all the time over who the best Quarterback in football is, or who was the best hitter in baseball.

But who among these people can achieve peace on earth?  The problem that every leader faces is that all people are flawed.  The leaders are flawed and the people they lead are flawed.  How can all these flaws achieve peace?

They can’t but we still hope. Sometimes we get good leaders – say the presidents who made it onto Mt. Rushmore. But by leader worship we have also gotten dictators and villains.

Wisdom – we look a lot of places to decide what is wise.  There is a constant growing body of knowledge on all things.   We know more about outer space and about subatomic particles that we did 10 or 40 years ago.  The same can be said for all fields of knowledge.  It is so vast that any one person can only know a small amount well.  We can not a little about a lot and a lot about a little.

We have the internet. I remember reading about how the internet will bring social equality and peace.  It was social media that contributed to the “Arab Spring” a few years ago, when dictators were removed.  However, they have been replaced by civil wars.

Where do we find the answer to human happiness?  In my lifetime the answer to the need for happiness was supposed to be solved by these: Progress, Affluence, Drugs, Medicine, Cars, Trains, Music, a return to Nature, a return to the City, drop out, drop acid, get involved, shop local, be a world citizen.  As these trends come and go, it does not matter much that they contradict, we have become very interested in the next thing that will fix all things.

Power – We are the most powerful nation on the earth, if you measure based on the economy or on military power.  Yet the position that is Second in Line to the President, the Speaker of the House, was almost no filled.  No one wanted the Job. No one could keep the job.  Now Paul Ryan has the job, and he admitted that it will most likely be his last job in politics.

Power is hard to gain in a democracy.  Power is oppressive in a dictatorship.  We want a strong leader but we don’t want him or her to have too much power.

Belonging – we are a very mobile and segmented country.  Years ago when we traveled by horse and spoke by word of mouth, and the printed word was advanced technology, people belonged to small towns or neighborhoods.  People belonged to churches where they knew other people for years at a time.

Today we belong to Facebook groups and we connect with people like ourselves who think and listen to and read what we do.  We belong less.

Families continue to fracture.  Business, education and even the church have gotten to be bigger and more impersonal.

One of the things that still binds us is sports – the Packers and the Badgers.  Go Pack Go!  But mostly we watch the game with only a few others.  Few of us go to any of the games.

Peace – clearly we do not have peace.  We are wealthy and we are powerful.  Yet we are troubled by ISIS – did you know about ISIS last year?  We are troubled by mass violence in our own cities – The Boston Marathon Bombing, School shootings, Santa Barbara, Fort Hood, etc.

What I want to show by this is that people are looking all the time for the things that Christ has to give.  The five things found in Isaiah 9:6 are desired by everyone.  You do not have to be religious or idealistic or young to want things like peace and belonging.

If you have a need you have to find where to meet that need.

Here is where the miss happens.  In the world people are searching for the things that Jesus has to offer, but they are not looking for Jesus.

This is human nature.  This is why Psalm 53 and Romans 3 says that No One Looks for God.

But God looks for us.  The question is not: Who is looking for Jesus? It is:

III. Jesus is looking for us.

Son: The most famous verse in the bible is John 3:16.  It does not say, “For the world was so eager to know god that they looked everywhere to find him.”

It says that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to us.

If there is to be any finding of what is lost, it is not us who find God. It is God the father who finds us by sending his son.

Jesus went from city to city and town to town to preach, teach and heal.  He was out in the open. He gave reasons to believe – both by being the fulfillment of God’s promises, and by performing signs and wonders. Finally, referring to the Cross, Jesus said:

“… when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

            Father: Paul speaking to philosophers in Athens spoke of how all humanity came from one source.  And that God arranges things so that people move here and there and nations rise and fall. All this is done, “so that we might seek him.”   Acts 17:26-27

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him

IF there is to be finding of what is lost, it is not us who think about finding God, but God the Father who arranges the world so that we get the idea to look for him.

You see immigrants and refugees in the news. Have you thought about how many immigrants and refugees of past ages also came to know God because of their wanderings?

The Day of Pentecost happened when a crowd from all over the Roman Empire was in Jerusalem.  For all sorts of reasons, Jewish people had been scattered all over the world. Then they met Jesus in the preaching of Peter. Then, they returned to where they had been.  There the seed of the Gospel grew.

Spirit:  In the upper room, on the night before he was betrayed, Jesus began to teach intensively about the Holy Spirit.  He said that the Spirit will get the attention of the world.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world about sin and righteousness and judgment….He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you…”

I heard a church planting couple speak a number of years ago. They were going to start a church outside of Chicago in a new community.  They began by meeting people in a variety of ways, including knocking on doors.  Their idea was not to persuade people to believe in Jesus. Their idea was to see who God had already prepared, who were ready for a message about Jesus or were looking for a church.

This is our job.  We cannot persuade. We can get people interested in a spectacle. We could have Santa Claus or a Living Nativity, or a Christmas Lottery or a great concert.  But those things at their best can only gather a crowd.

What we need to do is Pray and Look.  We need to pray for our seeking neighbors. That they will learn that what they seek can only really be found in the Gift of God.  We need to look. Who is really looking? In whom has God placed a fire of curiosity?  This is our mission field.

“Social Work” in the Book of Acts

I think of fire on Pentecost and Preaching when I think of the Book of Acts. But it has occurred to me just now …


That there is a lot of social work as well

  • Acts 3 – Healing a Lame Beggar (v. 6) and other miracles of healing scattered throughout the book.)
  • Acts 4 – Sharing Possessions (v. 35) associated with good reputation and growth.
  • Acts 6 – Sharing food with Widows (v. 1-4) as a normal activity of the church.
  • Acts 9 – Dorcas helping the poor (v. 32, 39) creating great loyalty.
  • Acts 10 – Cornelius’ kindness (v. 2, 38) showing his seeker status, and a description of Jesus’ ministry.
  • Acts 27 – 28 Shipwreck and Rescue (v. 28:2) by strangers.

Maybe you can think of others?

Recapitulation – Hosea 11:1

candleIt is not so strange really that I was not able to find a Christmas song or even a poem on the connection between Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15.  The escape to Egypt is not usually a feature in our Christmas celebrations. the nature of the fulfillment is a challenge.  Hosea speaks of the nation and Matthew speaks of Jesus – how can that be a fulfillment?  It is because Jesus life is a sort of recapitulation of the History of Redemption.  There was a first Adam and a Second (Romans 5), there were shepherds and the Shepherd, there were kings and the King.  The temptation of Jesus was in the desert just like the testings of Israel (Matthew 4).  So I put together this piece called:


Adam, born of dust and Breath

            Jesus, of Mary and the Spirit.

Adam brought death.

            Jesus bought life.

 Building a tower to the stars

            Nations began to babble.

Abraham counted the stars

            And blessed the nations.

A star pointed the way.  

             From Babel to Bethlehem.

 A shepherd became king

            faced a giant with a sling.

He built a nation like no other

            And taught us to sing.

Shepherds came to see

            A Shepherd among sheep.

He is King and Lamb

            Who rules by love and word.

 Abraham’s kin found refuge

            Then slavery in Egypt

Moses brought a staff

            To lead them to a new land

Jesus in danger

            escaped to Egypt.

Israel and the Son

            Called out of Egypt.

 Lambs and bulls slain

            To atone for men

Until a Lamb was slain

            For all of them.

They made a tent that led

            Through the lands ahead.

The Word came with glory

            That dwelt in a tent of flesh.

 What happened before,

            Has happened again.

First early then late

            Events recapitulate.

Darkness will end

            In the glory of the One.


David Carlson – 12/11/2014

Accommodation – James McCosh


I have written last time about the strategy of Opposition as shown in the example of Charles Hodge in his book, What is Darwinism?”

This post is about a position I call Accommodation.  This is the idea (to which Hodge also agreed to a lesser extent) that we have to accommodate our reading of scripture to incorporate what we learn from science. The basis of this is the idea that God is the Author both of Scripture and of Nature, and that in the end those two forms of revelation will not be in conflict.

One widely accepted example is that of Astronomy.  Though the Bible, like everyday language, reads as if the sun rises and sets, we know from science, that the earth is in motion around the sun, and the sun is also in motion in our galaxy, which itself is in motion.  We have accommodated our views to further evidence.

I have collected some interesting quotes by McCosh here. McCosh Quotes

From Christianity and Positivism, 1871, p. 6,7

“On the one hand, our scientific men are not, as scientific men, qualified to find out and to estimate the theological bearings of the laws which they have discovered.  For if there be a religious, there may also be an irreligious bias…The laws of the physical world are to be determined by scientific men, proceeding in the way of a careful induction of fasts; and, so far as they follow their method, I have the most implicit faith in them, and I have the most perfect confidence that the truth which they discover will not run counter to any other truth.  But then they pass beyond their own magic circle, they become weak as other men. I do not commit to them – I reserve for myself – the right of interpreting the religious bearings of those laws which they disclose to our wondering eyes.”

The message from the series is here: Accommodation

Converting the Preacher – Acts 17

athens.smIn a series on the speeches in Acts, we came to Paul in Athens.  A lot has been written on this and much of it is quite good.  Here is the insight for the day.

Paul the evangelist had to be converted.

When he arrived in Athens, Paul’s first response was anger.

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

He deep in his soul detested idolatry.  As a son of the Covenant, he know the command of God against idolatry.  He knew the history of his people with idolatry and the dislocations that it brought. He was actually part of the diaspora, having been raised in Tarsus, outside of the land of promise.  He knew the immorality often associated with idol worship, from drunkenness to human sacrifice.  So seeing a city filled with shrines to the deities on the nations, he had a visceral reaction.

Yet, when he got to speak, as is recorded in v. 22ff, what was his source of anger, became his bridge to common ground.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…

Paul was not a finger pointer like some outdoor preachers. His method was to reason in the synagogue from scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, and to reason in the marketplace that Jesus is the Christ.  He took as his starting point the very thing about Athens that would cause him to churn with anger.

You might wonder how you could accomplish this trick.  Perhaps you are incensed at the others on a social question such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, or economic policy.  Those “others” on the issue get your blood to boil.

Can you, like Paul, listen, observe and see how to find common ground?

23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…

Paul did not convert to idol worship or to the tolerance of it. But he brought himself to see that the Athenians, in their own way, were seekers of God, and were open to what they did not know (v. 21, 22).  It was a conversion of attitude.  It was a conversion from “us vs. them” to “we all are seekers…”

Serendipity in Psalm 119

serendipityPsalm 119 is an acrostic poem, with an 8 verse section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Of course the ABC of this is lost in translation.  The very nature of an acrostic poem makes it complete – it goes from A to Z  (aleph to taw). It is also somewhat randomly organized, each section speaks to the overall theme, but not in a progressive way.  So it is like the randomness of the later parts of the book of Proverbs.

However, in preparing for a prayer group which is studying a book on praying with the scriptures, I fell across the following observation.

The first unit – Psalm 119:1-8 is a celebration of the Goal of walking blamelessly with God.  It begins with a double beatitude.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

 who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous rules.
I will keep your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

The next section is about method – we walk blamelessly by keeping the Torah.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

One does get the impression from Psalm 119 that this is all rather easy.  Simply guard, keep, meditate and delight in the law of God.  So where is the acknowledgement that we are flawed people who do not find keeping the rules all that easy?  In the book on prayer, that I mentioned before, the last section of Psalm 119 is quoted.  It is an aid to prayers of confession.

Notice how this sections acknowledges need .

Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
    for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
    for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
    for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
    and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
    and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
    for I do not forget your commandments.

How interesting, the psalm starts with a double Beatitude about keeping the Law and ends with a confession of need.  Often the beginning and the end of a thing are where the crucial messages lie.  the beginning of Psalm 119 rightly directs us to the wisdom and purity of the Law.  The end of Psalm 119 rightly shows us the need for the grace of God – for forgiveness, for rescue and for the ability to follow again.