Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why I became a Christian

This is the transcript of a talk I gave shortly after I first became a Christian, in 2001, at the annual church camp of Darwin Baptist Church, which was my first church.

Before I share my testimony with you, I would like to first let you know that I was brought up in a Christian household, I attended church on Sundays and weekday bible studies. I even went on a short mission with YWAM to Indonesia when I was 17. Throughout all of my life, however, I was never certain of where I stood with God. I lacked any understanding of how my actions related to the concept of ‘sin’.
I would like to encourage anyone here who is not sure where they are at with God to listen very carefully to what I have to say.
When I became a teenager and young adult, I started ‘going out’ with guys. One thing led to another and at some stage I found that I had fallen into a sexual relationship with my current boyfriend. I won’t go into the reasons for my choice to have sex, but the results were pretty clear-cut. I knew that the Christian church teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But I had started doing it and was keeping on doing it. My shaky relationship with God was totally devastated because I refused to give up my sinful ways. I did not want to play by God’s rules, so I gradually pushed God out of my life so I would not be reminded of what the rules were.
While I was in my first years of teaching I read a lot of feminist literature, and became convinced that ‘women are equal to men’ – I still agree with this, although I would now add ‘equal but different’. It was through feminist literature, modern women’s magazines etc that I became convinced that it was possible to get life ‘right’ if I just found the perfect self-help method for me.
So I started reading more and I also came across literature on topics such as Feng Shui and Chinese Astrology. I was looking for a book on Feng Shui one day when I came across the Good Luck cart at Casuarina Shopping Square and decided to buy myself a ‘lucky charm’: a necklace with a figurine of a naked woman (a goddess who would watch over me). Pretty soon I was reading all the books I could on Goddess religions (that is, neo-pagan religions based on worship of ancient mythological goddesses such as the Egyptian Isis and the Roman Athene).
You might think that this was a pretty far cry from my Christian upbringing – and you would be right. But each step along the way was only a small one. And at each step, the devil was constantly using plausible arguments to convince me to go one step further.
So I started worshipping a moon goddess, and I also started researching Wicca (so-called modern-day white witchery). Pagans do not recognise the existence of the devil and when Christians and others call them ‘devil-worshippers’ the standard response is that they don’t even believe he exists. But as I stand before you now, I want to refute this argument totally. The moon goddess that I prayed to, each of the gods and goddesses that pagans pray to, they are all just demons that answer to Satan, whether the pagans know it or not.
As we were driving down here yesterday I saw a car with a purple sticker saying “Magic Happens” and I want to assure you that it does. But the power behind the magic is not some benevolent mother earth deity. It is indeed the Devil, answering prayers to him, which are uttered in the form of spells and incantations.
I came to a position in my belief where I decided that it did not really matter to whom I prayed. I considered all gods and goddesses merely facets of the one unknowable deity. I also held the belief that as long as I was ‘good’, I was not guilty of sin. The only problem was, since I had long ago thrown away the book of rules, I was using my own rusty conscience to set new ones, and I wasn’t very good at it.
It was at this time that I met Jeffrey and we fell in love. I knew that he was a Christian and we had already had several pretty heated arguments about my pagan beliefs. Because I wanted to stay in our relationship, we came to a compromise: that I would support and encourage Jeff in his Christian beliefs and allow our children to be brought up Christian so long as they were also taught that other people believed differently. And soon we decided to get married.
That agreement that I made with Jeff was all God’s work. God took that tiny little compromise and ran with it! Under the agreement to encourage Jeff, I felt it was my duty to make him go to church – since he’d been in the army he hadn’t been much, even though his beliefs were obviously very important to him. And of course the easiest way to get Jeff to church was to go with him! Then I thought it would be a good idea for Jeff to do an Alpha course, and once again the best way to get him to go was to go with him myself. I have to say, I am not normally that pushy. But I kept thinking “This was really part of our agreement” and God kept saying to me “You should go to!” Looking back now, I take encouragement from God’s willingness to take the smallest move on my part and build it up until I was running straight into His arms.
I still had a lot of stuff to work through with God. It helped that at Alpha it was a person on a TV set talking to me, and I couldn’t shout and get angry at him like I would have in a similar discussion with Jeff. It also helped that I was shy enough to sit and not say much for the first few weeks – to listen to what was being said without feeling a burning desire to develop a counter-argument.
It was only the third week of Alpha when I was faced with answers to questions that go way back to my experience as a teenager, when I was never sure of where I stood with God and whether I was a ‘real Christian’. I would like to read you two passages from the New Testament that uncontrovertibly answered this question for me. From the gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 12 (NRSV):
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
That “all” at the beginning of the verse is very important to me – I no longer am faced with the challenge of becoming the ‘perfect holy Christian’ because God is interested in adopting everybody!
From 1 John, chapter 5 verses 11-13 (NRSV):
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you might know that you have eternal life.
Once again, it is one word that makes all the difference to me: “know”. Now, it does not matter if I feel saved, if I feel holy, if I feel like a ‘real Christian’. Because I know it is true. I don’t have to wonder if I am redeemed any more: I KNOW THAT I AM!
So (on Ash Wednesday, 2001) I prayed to God asking forgiveness for my many sins – certain that He would forgive and forget. Soon after that, the Alpha course challenged Jeff and I to get serious about our prayer life, and we began to pray together each day. I tell you, there is nothing like praying with a partner regularly to strengthen you in your own individual prayer and in your reliance on God’s abundant love. We were also challenged to read the bible, something that I now do pretty much every day – and something that I never did as a teenager. This has strengthened my knowledge of Jesus and my thankfulness for his death on the cross immensely.
God has gradually begun to show me where I am off his path. As I read the bible, I find I am continually challenged about my own actions and thoughts, and how God might respond to them. God is continually saying to me “Look, you really could be doing better in this area of your life, Sharon”. But along with that God is also saying to me “Don’t worry, I will help you do better. And don’t worry if you sin again – you know that Jesus died to redeem any mistakes and bad choices that you might yet make”.
I have started reading Christian books, and thrown out all my books on Paganism. And it has been an immense encouragement to me. The biggest encouragement is this one last passage from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 17-18 (NRSV):
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
This is why I stand before you now: I know I am finally reconciled to God, thanks only to Jesus’ death on the cross. I pray that you are or will soon be reconciled to God also.

Friday, January 25, 2013

EJ100 #23 Micah 5:1-5

Today's Essential Jesus reading: Micah 5:1-5.

Micah was one of the minor prophets who prophesied to Judah, writing at a similar time to Isaiah. This passage is often read at public events at Christmas time.

Jerusalem is warned to gather together their troops [5:1a], because a siege is laid against the city. Assyrian troops came close to besieging Jerusalem in the time of Uzziah, but it wasn't until Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians came against Jerusalem that she was besieged for any length of time (and successfully) [2 Kings 24:10-11].

Israel's ruler was warned he would suffer blows [5:1b]. This indeed happened to King Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner into exile to Babylon [2 Kings 24:12].

The little town of Bethlehem (a.k.a. Bethlehem Ephrathah for long), however, was given good news by Micah. Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, the son of Jesse who had become king of Israel and whose dynasty ruled Judah. Out of this town (and thus from this lineage) would come one who would rule over Israel. But this particular ruler was different to the other kings of David's house. This ruler would be described as one
"whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." [Micah 5:2c]
Ancient origins for a future ruler is not merely another way of referring to the long-established Davidic dynasty. Rather, it is a pointer to the fact that this ruler would be something more than human: he would be everlasting, eternal, immortal.

Jesus Christ applied this verse to himself, when he claimed to be older than Abraham:
" 'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!' " [John 8:58]
Jesus completely shocked the Jews when he said this. They responded to him as a blasphemer, picking up stones to stone him [John 8:59].

With this statement Jesus was claiming not only to be immortal. He was also specifically claiming to be God himself, because Jesus deliberately and carefully framed his response to include the statement, "I am". Hebrew speakers would have recognised this phrase as the personal name of God first told to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" [Exodus 3:14], which is also rendered YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, or, in English Bibles, the LORD.

Jesus is the LORD God. They are one and the same.

Israel will be abandoned until she who is in labour bears a son (Mary, bearing Jesus; but also figuratively the Jewish nation bearing the Messiah) [5:3a]. Also, Israel will be abandoned until
"the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites." [5:3b]
How can a person who is an Israelites have brothers who are separated from the Israelites? Such a prophecy may relate to the exile, and indicate a bringing in of the Diaspora Jews. But it also relates to the Gentile Christians who would join Jewish Christians and become united into one Church, because
"... in Christ you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [Galatians 3:26-28]
"This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." [Ephesians 3:6]
It is not unreasonable to interpret Micah's words with this second meaning. Gentiles return to God, joining the Israelites, when they become believers in and followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself let his disciples know that he had come not just for the Jews but also for others who would recognise him. Using the metaphor of a shepherd caring for his sheep (which I explained in yesterday's post), Jesus said:
" 'I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them in also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.' " [John 10:16]
Jesus is the shepherd who will rule over God's people, the true Israel.

Micah described Jesus, saying,
"He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach the ends of the earth." [Micah 5:4]
Jesus stood and shepherded his flock as he preached on a mountain so that his disciples might know how to live [Matthew 5-7]. Jesus stood and shepherded his flock in the strength of the LORD his God when he prayed at Gethsemane 'Yet not as I will, but as you will' [Matthew 26:39] and then went to the cross. Jesus stood and shepherded his flock in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God when he ascended to heaven to the right hand of God the Father to intercede for us [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2].

Because Jesus has fulfilled Micah's prophecy, I know that I will live securely in the promises of God, for Jesus' greatness will reach the furthest extents of the earth [Micah 5:4]. This is comforting. This knowledge brings me peace. Jesus "will be [my] peace" [Micah 5:5].

>What do you need reassurance and security for today?

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
Jesus is eternal and yet he still cares for ephemeral little me!

LORD Jesus,
You were here before the world began.
Your origins are "of ancient times".
And yet you care for me.
Such a mystery!
Thank you for your grace and love.
Thank you for noticing me and caring for me.
Thank you for shepherding me.

Next reading: Zechariah 9:9-17.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

EJ100 #22 Jeremiah 23:1-8

Today's Essential Jesus reading: Jeremiah 23:1-8.

Jeremiah is one of the "Major Prophets" because the book with his name is one of the three longest prophetic books. Jeremiah lived, prophesied and wrote before, during and after the final exile of the kingdom of Judah to Babylon.

Shepherds look after sheep. Good shepherds tend to their sheep, shearing them at appropriate times of year, weaning the lambs when they are of a proper age, docking their tails so they don't get fly-struck. A good shepherd will know how to calm his sheep down when they are frantic. A good shepherd will not scatter his sheep; but will send his sheepdog out to round them up, bringing them together as a single flock so they are safe.

However, it is important to understand that Jeremiah wasn't talking about real shepherds when he wrote these verses. He was using the idea of shepherds as a metaphor for someone else. Jeremiah was writing about the political and religious leaders of God's people. When he said they were destroying and scattering the sheep of the LORD's pasture, Jeremiah was talking about what Judah's leaders were doing to the people who were under their care and leadership.
The man in this photo is a "shepherd", or, in more modern parlance, a sheep farmer. But he is also a shepherd in the sense that Jeremiah was writing about. He is an elder in our church, one of the shepherds whom God has placed over his church to tend them [Jeremiah 23:4]. He works hard to ensure that the people in our church are taught God's word faithfully and that they are cared for physically and emotionally as well as spiritually.

God began placing these shepherds over his sheep when Jesus trained his disciples. In particular, we can observe the process of God placing Simon Peter over his sheep as a shepherd in John 21:15-17. Three times Jesus told Peter to look after the people of God's kingdom:
"Feed my lambs." [John 21:15]
"Take care of my sheep." [John 21:16]
"Feed my sheep." [John 21:17]
Jesus was serious about his choice of Peter and his appointing him to the role of shepherd over God's flock, who would one day be known as Christians. Today, we call such shepherds pastors, elders, ministers, bishops, priests ... though whatever we call them, they still have fundamentally the same role: to look after the spiritual welfare of Christians.

But we need to take this prophecy of Jeremiah one step further and see that Jeremiah was not just talking about "shepherds" in the plural. He was talking about one Shepherd, the "righteous Branch" in accordance with God's promise to David [23:5a], the King who reigns with wisdom, justice and righteousness [23:5b], who saved Israel (the True Israel, God's people, now the Church) [23:6a]. This Shepherd is called "the LORD" (Yahweh) [23:6b]. This Shepherd is "Our Righteous Saviour" [23:6b].

This Shepherd is Jesus Christ [John 10:11, 14].

God has given my husband Jeffrey the honour of serving him by serving God's people as a pastor in a small country church. Jeff is one of the "shepherds" whom God has placed over his "sheep".

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
Jesus is the One Righteous Saviour, Yahweh, my good Shepherd, who loves me and cares for me and laid down his life for me.

Please help Jeffrey
as he pastors the flock
you have placed in his care.
Please help him to understand
the issues these people face,
to teach them well
through his sermons,
to disciple them carefully
one-to-one and in groups and families,
to comprehend their needs,
whether physical, emotional or spiritual,
and to feed them
with the sustenance provided in your Word.
Please help me
to help and support Jeffrey
in all these matters
with a cheerful heart
and a respectful countenance.

Tomorrow's reading: Micah 5:1-5.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

EJ100 #21 Genesis 12:1-9

Today's Essential Jesus reading: Genesis 12:1-9.

This is a pivotal passage in the Old Testament, where God calls the first of his people (Abram, later a.k.a. Abraham) and makes direct promises to him and his offspring about blessing that will come to and through them.

This passage is short and sweet, and for many Bible readers, especially those who have done any sort of Bible Overview study or course, very familiar. Genesis chapter 12 opens with what is known as the Abrahamic Covenant, the first of the great promises in the Bible that point to Jesus, who was the final, fullest means of the blessing Abraham was promised:
"The LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.' " [Genesis 12:1-3]
Note that "the LORD had said to Abram ...": this is a flashback passage, describing events that may have occurred before Abram left Ur with his father Terah and temporarily settled in Harran, before moving on to Canaan [Genesis 11:31; 12:4]. It may have been while Abram was in Harran that the LORD showed Abram the land as he promised in 12:1, but at the time of the initial promise, Abram had to trust God to show him what land he would be taken to by the LORD.

The Abrahamic Covenant was repeated with slight amplifications in Genesis 15, when Abraham was told he would have a son from his own flesh and blood and offspring (descendants) as numerous as the stars. He was also warned that, though his descendants would be slaves in a country not their own for 400 years, after that time they would be given the land between the Egyptian delta and the Euphrates river, after the sin of the present inhabitants of the land had reached its full measure.

The Abrahamic promise was again repeated and expanded in Genesis 17, when Abram, whose name meant "exalted father", was given the new name Abraham ("father of many"). Abraham would be the father of many nations, a promise that was fulfilled through his sons Ishmael and Isaac and his sons through his second wife Keturah. But the son of the promise would come through Abraham's wife Sarai, now renamed Sarah, and kings would be among her descendants (Saul, David, Solomon ...). Directions for circumcision as a seal of the covenant were given.

But if we turn back to Genesis 12, we see that the very next verse after the promise is described tells us Abram's response: "So Abram went, as the LORD had told him" [12:4]. Abram was obedient to God's instruction, even before the later clarifications were revealed to him. Abram, Sarai, Abram's nephew Lot and all their household "set out for the land of Canaan" [12:5b]. This time, they didn't just set out as they had with Terah leading the family, "they arrived there" [12:5c]. Hooray!

Once Abram was actually in the land that God wanted to give to his descendants, he again heard from God. At the great tree of Moreh, at Shechem, Abram built an altar to God in memory of this event. It was there that God told Abram, "To your offspring I will give this land" [12:7]. The next few verses describe Abram's explorations of the land God had promised him, as he travels past Bethel, east toward Ai [12:8], and then south to the Negev [12:9]. At last the specific site to which God was drawing Abram had been reached and recognised.

As I read my Bible each day I am challenged over and over again with God's voice instructing me in the way he wants me to go. This passage is a reminder that it is important not just to hear God's voice, not just to begin to obey God, but also to carry through my obedience to the end. It is vital to press on toward the goal of total obedience to God until I have won the prize for which God calls me heavenward in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14].

> In what area of your obedience to Christ have you been slipping in recent days? Of what do you need to repent? How will you press onward?

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
I love and worship Jesus because he is the cause of all and every blessing in my life.

Thank you Jesus,
for the many blessings you have given me by your Holy Spirit:
I have faith in your sacrifice on the cross;
I have a husband who loves you and strives to serve you by pastoring your flock;
I have four delightful and yet also frustrating children with whom to share and demonstrate the gospel of your love;
I have a joyous task of teaching other women from your word in the Bible study groups that will start up again soon.
Thank you for these blessings and opportunities.

Tomorrow's reading: Jeremiah 23:1-8.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

EJ100 #20 Psalm 118:1-29

Today's reading: Psalm 118:1-29.

Another psalm from the fifth book of psalms, this is a psalm of public praise and personal confidence in the LORD's salvation.

One factoid I have read about Psalm 118 is that it is the middle chapter of the entire Bible; the chapter before it is the shortest psalm and the chapter after it is the longest psalm. I only found that out in one of those bulk email pps files, so don't sue me if I'm wrong, but it gives me a good reason to delve a little deeper into understanding the literary centre of the Bible.

Let Israel (all God's people) say: "His love endures forever." [118:2]
Let the house of Aaron (all God's pastors, bishops, elders, deacons) say: "His love endures forever." [118:3]
Let those who fear the LORD (all Christians) say: "His love endures forever." [118:4]

The following list [Psalm 118:5-14] gives us confidence to acknowledge with the psalmist, "The LORD's love endures forever.":
  • When I felt shut in, I cried out to the LORD and he brought me to open spaces.
  • The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid of mere mortals.
  • The LORD is with me; he is my helper and grants me triumph over my enemies.
  • It is better to look for safety with the LORD than to trust in people to save you.
  • It is better to look for safety with the LORD than to trust in princes to save you.
  • People from all nations approached me, but in the LORD's name I defeated them.
  • They swarmed around me, but they were consumed in the name of the LORD.
  • I was pushed back and nearly fell but the LORD helped me.
  • The LORD is my strength, my defense, my salvation.
Psalm 118:22 says,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone."
Jesus and Peter both quoted this verse, describing Jesus as the stone the builders rejected [Jesus: Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Peter, in speech and in writing: Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7]. The "builders" who rejected Jesus were those, such as many of the Pharisees, who thought they were building God's people (at that time, the Jews), but who were rejecting God's right hand working salvation, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 118:26 is familiar from the New Testament quotations also. It reads:
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD."
These words were what the people cried aloud as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a day Christians now celebrate as Palm Sunday, an event recorded in all four gospels [Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13]. This fits with the following verses of Psalm 118, which mention people coming to "join in the festal procession" "with boughs in hand" [118:27].

On a less cheerful note, this verse was also quoted by Jesus to condemn the Pharisees and teachers of the law and the people of Jerusalem who rejected him [Matthew 23:39; Luke 13:35]. As Luke recorded Jesus' words:
"Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
One of the less obvious connections between this psalm and the gospel of Jesus Christ is found in the words of 118:19-20:
"Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter."
Jesus taught his disciples that it was very difficult for "the rich" to enter the kingdom of God. Impossible, actually! As absurd as a ponderous camel fitting through the tiny hole for thread on a needle. His disciples wondered therefore who it was who could possibly be saved.

"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," Jesus reminded his disciples [Matthew 19:26; see also Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27]. It is God who opens the gates of the kingdom of God to those who are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. No merit of our own may win us entrance, but with God's blessing, it is possible to enter God's kingdom.

The opening and closing lines of this psalm bring to mind the song "Forever" by Chris Tomlin. This is why I shall "sing praise", as Tomlin puts it [118:5-14]:
  • When I felt shut in in the city, I cried out to the LORD and he brought me to the open space of Cranbrook.
  • The LORD is with Samuel and through prayer he is learning not to be afraid of the dark.
  • The LORD is with us, helping us to triumph over the wiles of the devil who would rather stifle our ministry.
  • The LORD has given me refuge; it is better to trust in Jesus than to trust in gurus or life coaches.
  • The LORD has given me safety; it is better to trust in Jesus than to trust in celebrities or politicians.
  • People from all directions pester and provoke me, but in the LORD's name I contend with their false accusations.
  • They ridiculed and mocked me, but they will face God's judgement, not mine.
  • I felt overcome like I had no strength left to stand against their persecution, but the LORD helped me stand firm in my faith.
  • The LORD gives me strength, he defends me, he saves me.
Lots of reasons to praise God today!

> Which of the verses of Psalm 118 illuminate how God is working in your life?

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
Jesus has opened the gate of the righteous to me so that I may enter into his kingdom.

Thank you Jesus
for all you have done for me
especially all the precious blessings you have granted to me
in the last week when I have felt so troubled.

Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 12:1-9.

Monday, January 21, 2013

EJ100 #19 Psalm 110:1-7

Today's reading: Psalm 110:1-7.

This psalm is found in the fifth and last book of the psalms; it takes a positive prophetic tone.

The first verse of this psalm is quoted directly three times in the New Testament, and alluded to very obviously in another place. Jesus, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews draw out several implications from this verse:

[Luke 20:41-44] Jesus quotes 110:1 to show the people that the Christ cannot be David's direct son (ie, cannot be Solomon); by inference, the Christ is David's Son by being of his bloodline, yet also being greater than David.

[Acts 2:34-36] Peter says David's Lord ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, unlike David, who did not ascend to heaven; therefore the people present are to understand that "God has made this Jesus ... both Lord and Christ."

[Hebrews 1:13] God did not say he would raise up an angel to sit at his right hand and have his enemies prostrated below an angel; rather, it was Jesus the Christ who God so raised up.

[Hebrews 10:12-14] Describes the actions of the one priest who waits for the fulfillment of the second half of this verse, having already taken part in the first:
"But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." [Hebrews 10:12-14] 
Jesus is the Christ who was foreshadowed in this psalm.

The author of Hebrews was obviously familiar with psalm 110, because he directly quotes it again (twice!) later in his letter [Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6 and 7:17]. This verse refers to Melchizedek, king of Salem in the time of Abraham.

Who was Melchizedek? I'll let the author of Hebrews provide that information as well, although he was originally written about in the book of Genesis [Genesis 14:18].
"This Melchizedek was king of Salem [later Jerusalem] and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means 'king of righteousness'; then also, 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace.' Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life [according to what we know from the Genesis record], like the Son of God he remains a priest forever." [Hebrews 7:1-3]
The writer goes on to say that Melchizedek was certainly greater than Abraham and Levi. He gives three evidences: Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of his plunder just as the Israelites tithe to the Levitical priests, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Levi had yet to be born.

Perfection could not be obtained through the religious acts of the Levitical priesthood. Otherwise there would have been no need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek rather than that of Aaron.

The letter to the Hebrews informs us:
  • Jesus was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 5:10].
  • Jesus has entered the inner (temple) sanctuary on our behalf; he has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 6:20].
  • Jesus has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation regarding his ancestry, but "on the basis of the power of an indestructible life" [Hebrews 7:16].
Jesus is the high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (rather than the Aaronic priesthood) who was foreshadowed in this psalm.

Psalm 110:3 says, "Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendour, your young men will come to you..." That's a big challenge to me. Am I willing to go into battle under the standard of Jesus Christ?

Paul writes about fighting a spiritual war against forces which are not human but spiritual in nature - including the devil himself [Ephesians 6:10-12]. Am I ready for this battle, arrayed in the holy splendour of the battle armour Paul describes in Ephesians 6:13-18?

> Are you ready for this battle? How will you prepare?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians describing the weapons with which I fight this spiritual battle against the devil's schemes:
"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." [2 Corinthians 10:3-5]
The last verse from the above passage has been my favourite verse for a long time, one which I return to again and again. I remind myself that I am called to a life that serves the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Jesus has given me the power, through his Holy Spirit who dwells within me, to demolish strongholds and arguments and pretensions that are antagonistic to that truth. Bring on the power, Jesus!

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
Jesus is not a short-term solution. He is my high priest forever, who has completed his sacrificial act and now sits (rests) at the right hand (the position of 2IC authority), awaiting the completion of the Father's plan to submit everything to him.

Lord Jesus,
I submit myself to you.
I ask that you use me,
through your divine power,
to break down
strongly held wrong beliefs about you,
to debate and render defunct
the arguments of those who defy you,
to expose and destroy
any pretensions of truth that undermine the Truth,
as ever you give me opportunity.

Tomorrow's reading: Psalm 118:1-29.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

EJ100 #18 Psalm 69:1-36

Sorry for the gap of a week since the last Essential Jesus post. Hectic holidays have interrupted, to my own detriment.

Today's Essential Jesus reading: Psalm 69:1-36.

This psalm of petition, imprecation and praise is at the end of Book II of the psalms, which focuses on God's solution for his people, God's king.

This psalm moves through five main arguments:

  1. 69:1-4 The psalmist prays for God to save him from his depression, which is described.
  2. 69:5-12 The psalmist admits his guilt and describes the situation which led to his depression.
  3. 69:13-18 The psalmist petitions God to rescue him, relying upon God's good and great love.
  4. 69:19-28 The psalmist again describes the disgrace he is subject to and calls down God's wrath upon those who have persecuted him.
  5. 69:29-36 The psalmist determines to praise and glorify God and trust in his salvation.

Jesus fulfilled three prophetic passages from this psalm, as well as the psalm's description of persecution as a whole.

1. In verse 8, the psalmist describes David's problems with his sons and their fights for the succession:
"I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother's children." [69:8]
This verse also prefigures Jesus' separation from his family for the sake of his ministry. Jesus said, " 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' " [Matthew 12:48; see also Mark 3:33], when he was asked to interrupt teaching his disciples to respond to Mary, James and Jude.

2. Verse 9 probably originally related to David's obsessive collection of materials ready for his son Solomon to build the temple, and his stymied desire to build it himself:
"for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." [69:9]
However, John applies this verse as an explanation for Jesus' action in driving out the sheep, cattle, money changers and dove-sellers from the temple early in his ministry.
"His disciples remembered that it is written: 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'" [John 2:17]
Jesus was consumed with zeal that the LORD's temple should not be profaned by the presence of milling animals gathered to be sold for sacrifices. (It is likely that this was a separate event to Jesus' clearing of the temple near the end of his ministry, recorded quite differently in the Synoptic gospels [Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11L15-17; and Luke 19:45-46].)

3. All four of the gospels recount Jesus being given vinegar for his thirst while he was on the cross [Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; and John 19:29]. This event was prophesied in the psalmist's words:

"They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst." [69:21]


This psalm uses the metaphor of drowning to describe a depressive state which results from scorn and shame.
"Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold." [69:1-2a]
It is ironic, really, that I have spent the past three weeks training for my Bronze Medallion lifesaving certificate, yet I can empathise totally with the idea of feeling like life's events are overwhelming. This past week I have napped almost every afternoon because I was exhausted. Yet I have woken in the middle of each night and found myself running through a To Do list of urgent tasks that need to be completed. I have had to ask God's help with each of these tasks, repeatedly, until it felt like I was worn out calling for help [69:3]. God has given me the help I have needed, but until the tasks have been done I have definitely felt weighed down.

I can also relate to the psalmist's words in verse 29:
"Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none." [69:29]
Sometimes, being a "pastor's wife" and mother to the "pastor's kids" is a very hard job. When my kids misbehave on a grocery shopping trip, or play a bit rough at the local pool, I feel shamed in people's judgement of me as their mother. I feel judged - and found wanting - every time my children won't sit still in the church service or are sent back from Sunday school because they are a distraction to the other kids. I hate the fact that zeal for the LORD's temple (passion for service of God in pastoral ministry) means that Jeff and I are not always sitting together with our kids in the pews (because we are preaching/leading singing/teaching Sunday school), and our kids have lacked the parental involvement that might have helped them to learn to sit still and quiet in church at a younger age (or not!!).

I remember something I read once, about how even God's first children disobeyed him (that's Adam and Eve), and I wonder how people expect me to do any better. But of course, that's not what people "scorn" me for. They look upon me with scorn because I am not a better mother than every other mother they have ever known, and remember those other mothers and children with rose-tinted glasses, refusing to recall the numerous incidents when other children misbehaved. Or at least, that is how it can feel to me when I fall into the "miry depths" of worrying about other people's judgement.

It helps to know that I'm in good company with the psalmist - and Jesus - here.

One of the biggest struggles of being part of a pastor's family is feeling like everyone is watching me, waiting for me to fail, criticising me - and judging Jesus guilty of the failures they see in me. That's why I need to pray verses 5-6 of this psalm:
"You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you.
Lord, the LORD Almighty,
may those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me." [69:5-6]
> Can you relate to the psalmist's words? How can you paraphrase them to pray them yourself?

Why do I love and worship Jesus?
Because he knows how I feel when I tell him "I feel like I'm treading deep water here and I can't keep my head up much longer."

You, God, know my foolishness and failures,
you see my guilt even when I won't admit it to myself or others.
Lord, you are the LORD Almighty,
may every Christian
not be disgraced because of my failures;
God of Israel,
may those who are looking to find Jesus
not be embarrassed because of my faults.

Monday's reading: Psalm 110:1-7.