Posts Tagged ‘trust’

PSALM 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
    on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

The counsel to “not put your trust in mortals” should not be heard as a justification of suspicion and mistrust. A better translation might read “don’t place all your hope in human beings who are naturally imperfect, passing away, and short-sighted” – else you’re just setting yourself up for abuse and disappointment.

To trust someone and to put your trust in them are two different things, the first meaning to depend on and risk confidence in another, while the second is putting in them all your hope for happiness, meaning in life, and personal fulfillment. The first is necessary for healthy relationships; the second is setup for disillusionment and bitterness. If you elevate another human being to the extent that they become your constant obsession and idealized picture of everything you hope for and long to be, you must expect (although, of course, you will refuse to accept) that your life will have a cyclical rise-and-fall effect, since every idol faithfully disappoints its worshiper.

For U.S. President Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.” That is to say, trust others as far as you need to (and that’s pretty far when you carefully consider) but don’t set yourself up for needless exploitation and ongoing injury. Put your trust, rather, in the God “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” Beneath and beyond, above and within all things is the One whose grace is ever sufficient to your deepest need.

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Release

Posted: August 14, 2018 in ContraVerse
Tags: , , ,

MARK 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

We recall that Jesus used different strategies in communicating his gospel, depending on what could motivate his audience to live more kindly toward others and more conscious of the longer view of things. Some were treasure-motivated: they were looking for happiness in what can be possessed.

Others were recognition-motivated: they were needing to know that their worth as persons was acknowledged and sustained in the pleased or envious approval of others (and God counts as an other as well, by the way).

And finally a small minority were what we might call fulfillment-motivated: these are not overly self-interested individuals, but are in fact progressing beyond the ego in giving themselves with full commitment to the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. They have grasped Jesus’ vision of the (future yet presently arriving) spiritual community of compassion, justice, peace, forgiveness, and inclusive love. And they work to see it fulfilled.

Although Jesus appears to play into the position-seeking ambitions of his disciples by telling them what they need to do in order to be first and greatest of all, what he does next opens the gate to higher awareness. He takes a child and places her in their midst. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” he says.

Children are not typically sought out for their appraisals on the adult world. They don’t have a grasp on the social game of titles and degrees and reputations and hierarchies. To welcome a child you must be able to put aside your need for reward and glory and be willing to come down to the level of simple innocence, into a vulnerable trust.

That’s where real life is found.

EPHESIANS 5:15-20

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

There must have been a problem with drinking in the Ephesian congregation, seeing as how the author singles out this vice from among all the others. ‘Don’t get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit,’ he admonishes. There is something about drunkenness, and about addiction in general, that makes it stand out in the list of harmful behaviors. Research into the so-called diseases of addiction has revealed that the ‘cure’ lies less in successfully breaking the habit, than in recovering a deep faith in reality as a whole – or perhaps discovering that faith for the first time.

What the addict first found in the seductive power of the addictive material was an experience of rush, exhilaration, and release from their usual inhibitions. The person psychology of the addict is characterized by high levels of anxiety, abnormally high in many cases but not in every case. In their attempts to cope with or defend themselves against this paralyzing insecurity, these individuals become as it were tense and ‘clenched’, emotionally as well as physically, which is typically displayed in nervous and compulsive behaviors. Use or performance of the addictive material releases the tension, opens up the constricted channels of energy, and makes the user feel free and alive.

Underlying the addiction itself, then, is an issue of spiritual concern. Anxiety arises when we feel isolated and estranged from the ‘will of God’ – or, in other words, from the deeper principles and gracious support of a holy presence.

2 SAMUEL 1:1, 17-27

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.

17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:

19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
    How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
    proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
    the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.

21 You mountains of Gilboa,
    let there be no dew or rain upon you,
    nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
    the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.

22 From the blood of the slain,
    from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    nor the sword of Saul return empty.

23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
    they were stronger than lions.

24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
    who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
    who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

25 How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26     I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
    your love to me was wonderful,
    passing the love of women.

27 How the mighty have fallen,
    and the weapons of war perished!

We might well wonder what David is up to here, mourning with such deep anguish the death of Saul and his son, Jonathan. Jonathan we can understand, for his friendship with David had been strong and bound with a vow of everlasting trust and honor. But Saul? Hadn’t this king been on David’s heels for months, seeking his life out of jealousy for David’s popularity and obvious talents?

A number of psalms were very possibly composed during the period that David was fleeing Saul’s wrath, and the desperate cry for shelter and salvation we hear in them leaves us somewhat dumbfounded that David could have had any affection left for Saul at all.

In the story of David’s call and rise to power, we encounter a constant refrain when it comes to his appraisal of Saul – still king but wholly obsessed with destroying this Chosen One who had been anointed by the judge and prophet Samuel to be his successor.

David has nothing but respect for the mad king, not for his personality and demeanor but for the fact that he was also God’s anointed. His belief in the sovereign will and providential plan of God was so deep as to inspire his loyalty to Saul, even though Saul was his greatest enemy. David knew that Saul had a place in God’s plan for Israel, and he treated him with the highest respect because he trusted so fully in God.

PSALM 9:9-20

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
    Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
    See what I suffer from those who hate me;
    you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14 so that I may recount all your praises,
    and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
    rejoice in your deliverance.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.

17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
    let the nations know that they are only human.

The lesson from the story of David and Goliath can be summed up in the maxim, “Put your trust in God, but still take careful aim.” God doesn’t hand us every success in life, but He has blessed us with a hearty stock of instincts, talents, and brains to make our way through. It’s easy to fall to either extreme, where we put it all in God’s hands and relinquish responsibility, or rely exclusively and often tragically on our own strength and ingenuity. It can take a Goliath-sized crisis in life to teach us that our confidence must rest in something greater than ourselves alone.

David’s request to God, to “let the nations know that they are only human,” reflects his own personal lessons in humility. When very young, he had found strength and courage in knowing that God was near. Later, having made a fantastic moral blunder in cultivating an adulterous affair and then arranging for the murder of his mistress’ husband, David had to face up to the fact of his own condemnable motives for power. And toward the end of his reign, on the run from his own son’s overthrow attempt on the throne, David realized once again that he was not invincible. Through it all, he learned to rely on God more deeply and to seek God earlier in his need rather than waiting until he was desperate.

Being “only human” is not a bad thing, but we need to remember that we are not God.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Further reflection on this story prompts an interesting question: If David was so confident that God was going to give Goliath into his hands there on the battlefield, why did he collect five stones into his leather bag rather than only one? We might think that, had he been fully trusting in God’s power, one smooth stone would be sufficient.

But let’s look at it again. Could it be another lesson of this story that God doesn’t do things for us but rather works through the instruments of our talent, skill, freedom, and intelligence to bring about the closest possible approximation to what He would do were He in absolute control?s This suggests the further idea that God may actually be dependent on this fallible and frequently disappointing mix of human capacities for the forward advance of creation and fulfillment.

However far we may personally be willing to go with this notion, we can’t deny that the Bible consistently upholds the human being as the primary agent through whom God accomplishes His will. The kingdom of God that was central to Jesus’ gospel is manifested wherever otherwise ordinary people rise above their natural impulses to achieve extraordinary things. Rather than burying their talents, they use them and let them be used by God for the greater good. And because his aim was not always right on target, David packed away a back-up supply of stones … just in case.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

King Saul is the important middleman in this story, since his temptation lies precisely in the promise of technology for defense and domination. As the first to Israel’s throne, Saul’s roots were firmly set in the rural and nomadic past, while his vision as her commander-in-chief could not ignore the fascinating prospects of a military-industrial future.

Saul’s struggle is clearly illustrated in his attempt to dress David up in the equipment of a soldier who might stand a chance against the giant. But finally, having been heaped with heavy gear, David complains with a remark that really amounts to a profound confession: “I can’t go this way! All this armor is covering up and encumbering what I really am inside.”

The apostle Paul would later warn the Christians in Rome not to “conform to this world,” which is another way of saying the same thing. Once you begin taking upon yourself layer on layer of what the world claims you need in order to be happy, successful, and the envy of your neighbors, the true center of who you are is gradually lost to view and you will likely wake up one day to the cold feeling of being a hollow person. Discovering, and then building into your life the disciplines for protecting the core consciousness of who and what you are, is one part of the path of salvation.

PSALM 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

How very good and pleasant indeed! And yet how rare and endangered true community can seem, especially so in times when our differences outnumber and threaten to overwhelm our agreements. In truth, even though genuine community is the ultimate aim of the evolutionary process itself, valid historical and present-day examples are fewer than we might think and its existence is much more vulnerable than we would wish. The destabilizing forces of egoism (individual selfish ambition) and tribalism (over-identifying with the group) are to some degree constantly present beneath the surface and interfering with its formation and health.

For the next several readings we will be reflecting on the elements of true community, those essential virtues that allow for the genesis and fulfillment of what Jesus called the reign (“kingdom”) of God. The first of these we will name trust, interpreted as the acknowledgment of dependence on realities and persons outside oneself, along with the willingness to adopt a belief in another’s dependability (trustworthiness). Making ourselves vulnerable is a function of how secure we feel in relationship, and also how trustworthy we feel ourselves to be. Our trust in others is a function of our willing and full release to the God of grace.

ISAIAH 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the sheet that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
    This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The prophet Isaiah lived in the eighth century BCE in the southern kingdom of Judah. During this time, the Assyrians were pressing down from the north, having invaded and dispersed the ten tribes of the north just a few months earlier. Judah’s king had been considering the political advantage of joining some of the emerging alliances among smaller kingdoms in their effort to fend off the armies of Assyria.  But Isaiah was critical of this idea, since it represented putting Judah’s trust and fate in the hands of foreign powers. What was needed, the prophet insisted, was for the king and his people to anchor their faith in God.

At this point, Isaiah held forth a vision of the future. A vision is a clear and compelling mental picture of an ideal future that inspires new values and pulls our behavior into alignment with higher aims. By definition a vision is idealistic, and yet the influence of a truly powerful and long-range vision lies in its ability to help us see beyond the limits and conclusions of our present world – that is, the world as presently arranged. Isaiah saw a time when his people would have enough food, be free of sorrow, and live forever in joyful celebration of  God’s sovereign grace and generous hand. For those who could believe it, the anxious threat of Assyria would not be the last word.