Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 31-36 and James 1-3

Psalm 31 – “O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. Save me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe. You are my rock and my fortress” (31:1-3).

 “You see my suffering; you know my trouble .  . . Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in trouble; my eyes are tired from so much crying; I am completely worn out. I am exhausted by sorrow, and weeping has shortened my life. I am weak from all my troubles; even my bones are wasting away” (31:7-10).
“But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands” (31:14-15).

“Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love” (31:21).

Psalm 32 – “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!” (32:1). Confessing ones sins to God deeply and sincerely is important.

“The Lord says, ‘I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you” (32:8). The wicked continue to suffer “but those who trust in the Lord are protected by his constant love” (32:10).

Psalm 33 – “All you that are righteous, shout for joy for what the Lord has done” (33:1). Give thanks to the Lord and sing to Him for His words are true and his works dependable.

“The Lord loves what is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth. The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs” (33:5-7).

“The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken” (33:10-11).

“The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do” (33:13-15).

“Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory – for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love . . . We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield” (33:17-20).

“Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone” (33:22).

Psalm 34 – “I will always thank the Lord; I will never stop praising him” (34:1). This will be a comfort to all who are oppressed. He can free us from all our fears.

“The helpless call to him, and he answers; he saves them from all their troubles” (34:6).

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! (34:8).

Strength and wiliness do not get you this help, this joy in living. He urges the young to learn this: “Come, my young friends, and listen to me, and I will teach you to honor the Lord. Would you like to enjoy life? . . .Turn away from evil and do good; strive for peace with all your heart” (34:12-14).

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (34:18).

Those who do evil will be soon forgotten [unless they are the very devil – Hitler]. The good are not without suffering but the Lord will “preserve them” (34:20).

Psalm 35 – David is here begging the Lord to “fight against those who fight against me! Take your shield and armor and come to my rescue” (35:1-2). They try to destroy him, but they will be caught in their own traps.

He expresses such love for the Lord and for His protection; but it isn’t just the King who is protected. He “protects the weak from the strong, the poor from the oppressor” (35:10).

“Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good. I am sick with despair” (35:11-12). But even these people, he feels for. “[W]hen they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered” (35:13).

“I am attacked by people I don’t even know; they slander me constantly. They mock me and call me names; they snarl at me. How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing” Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions” (35:15-17). I hear Martin Luther King, Jr. in these words. “Do not stay silent. Do not abandon me now, O Lord. Wake up! Rise to my defense! Take up my case, my God and my Lord” (35:22-23). We sometimes distance ourselves from the words of the psalms that hope for the defeat of the enemy. I know I do. But here, hearing the resonance these words had for those who fought so hard for civil rights, I do kind of rejoice that we DO consider those who opposed them as “humiliated and disgraced” (35:26), and it doesn’t seem bad at all.

Psalm 36 – This is a beautiful one. “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are” (36:1-2). They have no place for God because they raise themselves up too much.

But what is greater than the Lord and His Love: “Lord, your constant love reaches the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the skies. Your righteousness is towering like the mountains; your justice is like the depths of the sea. People and animals are in your care” {36:5-6).

We find protection “under the shadow of your wings” (36:7).

“You are the source of all life, and because of your light we see the light” (36:9).

Introduction to the Epistle of James: Raymond Brown notes that the identity of the author is not certain. He calls himself simply “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” But there were a number of men named James associated with the early Church:
-       James “the Great” – the brother of John and son of Zebedee; he died in the early 40s.
-       James “of Alphaeus” - we know nothing about him.
-       James, the “brother” of Jesus (Mark 6:3); he did not travel with the disciples but the “risen Jesus appeared to him (1 Cor 15:7 and Hebrews 7) and he became leader of the Jerusalem Church. On the issue of whether this James was a true brother – bringing into question the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity, Brown notes that Tertullian and Protestants generally accept that he was a younger brother of Jesus. But the countervailing view – that he was the son of Joseph by a prior marriage – was current in the early 2nd century and was maintained by most Eastern Christians.

The author of the epistle sided with Paul in saying Gentiles did not have to be circumcised, but in other ways he held to very traditional forms of Jewish piety. The letter follows the mindset of the Wisdom literature – focused on practical morality. There is in this letter little that is theoretical. The author focuses on practical things – caring for the needy, DOING rather than believing.

I appreciate James’ focus on dividing oneself from the pursuits and pleasures of “the world”. I think this kind of discernment – what is of God and what is really “of the world” was something very important and something Christians today have largely lost track of.

James 1 – He addresses his letter to the “twelve tribes of the Dispersion” - Christians who have been scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world - on how to deal with the  many trials they have been faced with. He tells them to “try to treat [these trials] as a happy privilege; you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing” (1:2-4)

You must ask for wisdom “with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea when the wind drives. That sort of person, in two minds, wavering between going different ways, bust not expect that the Lord will give him anything” (1:7-8).

Worrying about wealth or rank is not what we are about “because riches last no longer than the flowers in the grass; the scorching sun comes up, and the grass withers, the flower falls; what looked so beautiful now disappears” (1:10).

What we need to desire is the ability to stand firm: “Happy the man who stands firm when trials come. He has proved himself, and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (1:12)

The idea that God sends the temptation is also an idea we must avoid. God “does not tempt anybody. Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire” (1:13). Desire is a passion that “gives birth to sin and when sin is fully grown, it too has a child, and the child is death” (1:14-15).

“Make not mistake about this, my dear brothers: it is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change” (1:16-17).

“God’s righteousness is never served by anger” (1:20). We must listen to the word within us and obey it – “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves” (1:22). 

“[T]he man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit—not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice—will be happy in all that he does” (1:25).

To be religious means coming to the aid of those in need and “keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world” (1:27).

James 2 – Christians must not legitimize class differences by treating the rich and poor differently. The rich are usually the ones behind persecutions – not the poor. The point is, distinctions of class are not appropriate in Christian settings. As regards our compliance with the law, “the merciful need have no fear of judgment” (2:13).
And on the question of whether “faith” or “works” are more important, James clearly comes down on the side of good works. Faith without good deeds is dead (1:18).  Like Abraham, you must put your faith into the deeds you do. Even demons “have faith” in the existence of God – they fear him but do not obey him. You cannot separate the flesh from the spirit.

James 3 – Only a few are capable of being teachers of the faith. They are small in number but very important and shall be judged more stringently. Like the tongue, which is very small, but has influence beyond its size, the learned and wise among us, while few, have a great impact.

Those who are learned among us should show it by the lives they lead. They should not sow jealousy or disharmony. The wisdom from above “makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate” (3:17).

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