Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Category: commandments (page 1 of 4)

Change My Way of Thinking


way of thinking

“Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my good foot forward
And stop being influenced by fools”

On his Slow Train Coming album, Bob Dylan sang, “Gonna change my way of thinking.” (See BobDylan.com). He is talking about a change rooted in “a different set of rules” that take shape in him putting his best foot forward. These lines sound like they could be informed by the psalmist who is meditating upon Torah. Continue reading

Singing in the House of Sojourn


“Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my sojourning.” (Psalm 119:54)

My restless tongue intones the hope of home in the echo of the Psalms. Praise is the language of my people, my homeland, but I sojourn so far from home. I long for the land of harmony, but wander through valleys of dissonance. A wayward tongue blinds the eye to beauty, sounding complaint, frustration and disgust instead.

James writes that blessing and cursing gush from the same mouth. It ought not be, but is. I am an imperfect witness. Sometimes sounding praise, sometimes cursing the ground on which I stand.

Words pound the pavement with anger. News blares sounds of strife and struggle, neverending dispute. The unpeaceable kingdoms of this world sound the drums of dissatisfaction, distortion and destruction.

Oh, to speak one true word in a world where so many sounds collide and crash and dissipate. “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal,” writes Czeslaw Milosz. “Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”

He knows the chaos and nothingness of sound without fire, words without life, clouds without rain. So many words flash and fade, undoing the family, the community, the nation. The furies of strife usher a deluge of destruction.

When the Lord instructs, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5: 20), He guides in the way of Life. He also reveals the way of creation. His Torah undergirds the very structure of creation. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “The Torah determines both the essence and the existence of the universe.”

His words echo Wisdom’s voice in Proverbs 8,
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Bearing witness is not an arbitrary rule but the shape of this ordered world. All things bear witness. The grass, the trees, the sun and the stars all bear witness. Day after day, they silently proclaim the Glory of God. Even as the tree bears witness to God’s glory, it silently bears witness to itself. The Dogwood tree in front of my house reveals the wonder of a Dogwood. In silence, I behold a symphony of shape and color and motion through all seasons of the year. The Dogwood tree gives witness of itself while witnessing to the Glory of God at the same time. And it also silently witnesses to the creation around it.

To adapt the words of John Donne, the Dogwood is not “an island entire of itself.” This little tree lives in mutuality with the soil below and the air above. Even as I behold the Dogwood, I behold the fiery Cardinal alighting on it’s crooked limb. The limb provides a place for revealing the Cardinal in all it’s splendor. In some way, the Cardinal reveals the Dogwood even as the Dogwood reveals the Cardinal. The sun above gives witness to Dogwood and Cardinal since without the light, I could not behold the wonder of each. At some level, every particular thing in this vast creation is giving witness to the Glory of God, the glory of it’s own unique form, and the glory of the world around it.

Into the midst of this wordless pageant, a voice speaks. I am the articulate voice. You are the articulate voice. We alone echo the Voice of God by speaking and singing into this world of glory. The Psalmist tunes my tongue and my ear to the sound of a true word. Even as the Psalmist sings the statutes of God in the house of sojourning, he anticipates the One True Word Enfleshed.

Jesus, the Word become Flesh is the True Witness of the Father, the World, and the person. In Him and by His Spirit, I behold the fullness of glory. Even as Jesus reveals the Father, He reveals my call as True Witness. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). The music of creation pulses in my heart, as the Word shapes my lips into songs of praise.

We play the honored role as articulate witnesses. Life and death are in the power of our tongues (Proverbs 18:21). We are learning to become who we are by the wisdom of Christ. His Word shapes our ears, and eyes and tongues. Like the Psalmist, we learn to sing His Word in our house of sojourning. May Jesus, the Word made Flesh, make our flesh the echo His Word. May our frail and muttering tongues give witness to the glory of God, the wonder of His creation, and the beautiful beloved people who people this world.

“O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord praise him and magnify him for ever.”

* Image by Funchye on flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Knowledge as Call and Response


Last week, I wrote about “Bearing Witness” and described a range of witnesses that inform our knowing:  personal experience, the experience of others, the world around us, and the Triune God. I’d like to explore these further but from a different angle. I want to think about knowing through the lens of Torah. As a reminder, Torah means the instruction of the Lord (see Proverbs 1:1-17). It also refers to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Additionally, it refers to all of Scripture and to the teaching within the community of God’s people.

If I take Torah on it’s own terms, what might I discover in it about ways of human knowing? Let me briefly think “out loud” about that question. This is a quick list of ideas and is limited to my initial process of discovery. But it might help others think “out loud” with me.

Genesis, which literally means “beginning” opens the canon of instruction with a focus on the beginning of language, the beginning of the cosmos, the beginning of humans, the beginning of corruption in humans, and the beginning of family. Actually, there are many more stories of beginning in Genesis, but this gets us started. In Genesis, Torah places value upon knowing our beginning. Like the head of a spring, this beginning opens ideas that keep developing all throughout Scripture. Here are some of aspects of knowing that stand out to me:

a. Knowledge is formed in the midst of the world. The first words of Genesis point to God creating the heavens and the earth. Humans are created within this world. So we are live in the midst of the world we come to know. We learn within the limitations of time and space.

b. Knowledge points beyond the world. God creates man in his image and likeness. Though humans are created within the world, something about us images someone beyond the world. As images of God, we carry a sense of knowing something more than we know, something beyond. This knowing might be connected with the idea of “call and response.” The Lord calls us into being, and we respond.

c. Knowledge of creation is trustworthy. This story of origins differs with many creation stories in that the world is created intentionally , is good, and is created by the word of God. In other words, there is no “cosmic stuff” that preceded creation. The stars are created as stars. So a human can know them as stars as opposed to some illusion or shadow. Creation is not allegory, but material and real and particular.

d. Knowledge develops in discovery. In Genesis 1 and 2, we see the possibility for humans to grow in knowledge and for creation to develop and be discovered. Adam is called upon to name the animals. He observes, discovers and categorizes them by names. The animals have a specific reality outside his naming and yet, somehow his naming, his discovering points to something real about the animals. Additionally, as man engages the animals, he discovers something about himself: he is alone.

e. Knowledge and language are bound up together. God speaks creation. Language is not introduced as a development of man but as God’s mode of creating and communicating with man. Speaking and hearing become the primary way of knowing that develops all through Torah.

e. Knowledge develops in relationship. God creates a second human as a pair for Adam. Now Adam names the other human, but he also sings to her.* While words are at the heart of his knowing, Genesis points to a knowing beyond words. So learning in relation is rooted in language but also develops physically on multiple levels at once.

f. Knowledge has limits. In Genesis 2, man is free to discover all creation, but he is not to eat the fruit of one tree. This limitation indicates that he cannot know the tree by taste, by consuming it. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are seduced by serpent to eat the fruit. While the source of evil is not explained, we discover the impact of this knowledge corrupts other knowledge causing a breach between Adam and God as well as Adam and Eve.

g. Knowledge is corrupted at some level. The violation of Genesis 3 introduces the problem of knowledge that breaks relation which in turn corrupts knowing between persons. This type of knowledge ends in death: Cain kills Abel. This corrupting knowledge is not limited to an abstract idea level but is material, so it sows corruption at all levels of creation, leading the destruction of the world in the flood.

h. There is a connection between knowledge and love. Just as the corrupt knowledge separates and violates relational knowledge at some level, there is a knowledge that reverse this corruption. Deuteronomy will connect knowing Torah with loving God and man. In some sense, true knowing leads is expressed in love.

i. Knowledge is founded and shaped in family. In Genesis and throughout Torah, genealogies form a key aspect of instruction. Additionally, Deuteronomy instructs the parents to teach the children in a way that seems to echo the Lord instructing his people. Thus, the family is a fundamental place of knowing. This has a range of implications, but should always remind us of our need to learn from those around us. Family knowing seems to contrast with the knowing that splits family and moves toward isolation.

j. Knowledge is revealed. Just as humans learn in relation and by discovering the world around them, Torah also shows knowledge coming from outside the world. God speaks to Israel from Mt. Sinai. God speaks to Abraham, Izaak, Jacob and Joseph in dreams and encounters. This revealed knowledge appears to be like a parent correcting the child, clarifying, reordering, and leading the child forward. This type of knowing at times seems to look like letting go of our understanding. Abraham has to follow without knowing exactly where he is going. This knowing is a knowing rooted in trust. In Torah, this knowing is not against the knowing by discovery but does challenge the corrupting knowledge the separates, enslaves, destroys.

k. Knowledge is rehearsed through active remembering. Israel remembers the Word by enfleshing it in obedience. If Israel forgets the Word, she falls back into the corrupting, oppressing, destroying knowledge.

l. Knowledge flows from and forms the whole person. Knowledge cannot be isolated from the emotions, the body, and the community. Torah uses the language of heart as the center of the person and in some ways representative of the whole person. If the heart or the very essence of the person is corrupted, this shapes his words, actions, memories, and feeling. Ultimately, Torah points toward the hope of the Lord writing His Wisdom, His Knowledge, His vital life into the very heart of person.

* – This is if we except Genesis 2:23 as a song.

Image by Massimo Valiani on Flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Reflections on the Shema

Hear O Israel

4Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [1]

Moses calls the people to attention with the words, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Ehad.” To this day, the Jewish people sing these words each day and especially each Shabbat. These words form the heart of Torah. When asked what is the most important  commandment of all, Jesus replies,

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [2]

This commandment stands at the heart of Jewish identity and Christian faith.

Christians tend to focus immediately upon the command to love God and love one another. But it is worth pausing before the opening words, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Ehad.” The statement is difficult to translate. Hebrew scholar JH. Tigay highlights the difficulty in translating the statement,

…the precise meaning of the Shema is uncertain. The four Hebrew words “YHVH ʾeloheinu YHVH ʾeḥad” literally mean “YHVH our God YHVH one.” Since Hebrew does not have a present-tense verb meaning “is” to link subject and predicate, the link must be supplied by the listener or reader. Where to do so depends on context and is sometimes uncertain. Grammatically, “YHVH our God YHVH one” could be rendered in several ways, such as (1) “YHVH is our God, YHVH alone”; (2) “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (lit., “YHVH our God, YHVH is one”); (3) “YHVH our God is one YHVH.”[3]

He concludes that “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” is probably our best translation since second phrase, is not focused on monotheism but on the exclusive relationship that the Lord has with his people. Thus, “the Lord alone” may be the best rendering.

Reflecting on this call to attention, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” I am struck by the command to hear, to listen. When God creates, he speaks. By his word, he commands the sun and moon and stars to exist. By his word, he commands, the waters to recede and make room for the land. By his command the world is created.

He speaks and the power of Pharaoh is broken over Israel. He calls his people out of Egypt and they come. Nothing can stop the power of his word. At Mt. Sinai, he calls his people, “Hear O Israel.” By his word, these former slaves of Egypt are formed into a community.

Israel is his covenantal name for Jacob. It is a name of promise. The Lord calls Jacob to be a prince of a royal people, set apart unto God. Now after hundreds of years in captivity, the word calls these descendants of Jacob, Israel: the beloved people of God.

We begin with the Lord calling his beloved people to himself. And immediately,  we hear his pledge of love and fidelity to his people. He redeemed them from Pharaoh, and he is leading them to a place of abundance, a wide open space of promised rest. By his word, he is forming them, shaping them into a holy people.

This formation is not an act of force that violates the human person, but rather it is a promise of covenantal relationship that will heal his people. He will bind himself to them, promising his faithful love and kindness. Covenantal commitment shapes the entire story of Scripture.

The call to attention is immediately followed by a repetition of the Lord’s covenant name, YHVH or Adonai (recognizing the holiness of the name, the Jews insert Adonai for the name YHWH). So in one statement, we hear an emphasis on covenant repeated three times: Israel, Adonai, Adonai.

The Creator of Israel is the Creator of the world, and though he is high and holy (over and above the creation), he is present in the midst of his people.

   15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
        who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
    “I dwell in the high and holy place,
        and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
    to revive the spirit of the lowly,
        and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15 ESV)

    17 The LORD your God is in your midst,
        a mighty one who will save;
    he will rejoice over you with gladness;
        he will quiet you by his love;
    he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)

He is not far off. He is not transcendent in a way that prevents him from being present to  his people. He is present in the midst of his people and his creation with love and joy and saving grace.

This Creator God who is also the Lord of Israel is also the Lord alone. He calls his people to exclusive relationship. He is not one of many lords that they might turn to for help. He is not the lord of a particular city or a particular mountain. Though he speaks to them from Sinai now, he will speak to them from the cloud and the fire in the desert. He will speak to them from the tent of meeting. He will speak to them from Mt Zion.

He demands an exclusive relationship with his people. Thus in the Shema, we hear the whole first command. In Deuteronomy 5, we hear an expanded narrative of the covenantal Lord.

“Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4 The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, 5 while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:
6 “ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me. [4]

Adonai, the Lord loves Israel. Calls Israel to himself. Redeems Israel from slavery. And calls Israel to an exclusive relationship: “No other gods.” All other gods (human lords and local deities) will enslave his people, dehumanize his people, and ultimately destroy his people. This initial command is not a petty human jealousy, it is the call of a true father to his beloved people. It is the call out of death (and powers that lead to death) and into life.

The true father calls his people. He is present in his call with real power that can lead his people out of slavery (Egypt) and into freedom (promised land). The command to love that immediately follows this call is a command to become images of himself. They are created in his image and in his likeness. Now he calls them (with real power) to become what they are created to be.

Only now can we begin to think about the obedience inherent in the command to love. This obedience is the response of a child to the loving father, and never a condition for the orphan to become a child.

[1] Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Dt 6:4–5). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 12:29–31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Tigay, J. H. (1996). Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah commentary (438–439). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Dt 5:1–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The Future of Progress

Reacting to the unbridled modern confidence in progress, G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” He realized that real progress is not simply a temporal assurance as though the future hold unlimited promise for progress. The proper question is, “Progress toward what?” Where are we headed?

If I am moving closer and closer to an oncoming train, am I making “progress?” Chesterton viewed this unreflected confidence in the abstract spirit of the age as a bit absurd, he said, “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” And then, “The modern world is a crowd of very rapid racing cars all brought to a standstill and stuck in a block of traffic.” Recently a friend recommend I read last December’s, The Economist; where sounding very much like G.K. Chesterton, they published an article asking, “Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished?

The article weaves Imre Madach’s “The Tragedy of Man” (1861) throughout. Madach tells an industrial age version of “Paradise Lost.” Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Adam is not repentant. He glories in his power and free from God’s rules, proclaims his dream of human progress and achievement. Lucifer lulls him to sleep and then leads Adam through a series of future epochs. The Economist summaries,

Adam gets the chance to see how much of Eden he will “regain”. He starts in Ancient Egypt and travels in time through 11 tableaux, ending in the icebound twilight of humanity. It is a cautionary tale. Adam glories in the Egyptian pyramids, but he discovers that they are built on the misery of slaves. So he rejects slavery and instead advances to Greek democracy. But when the Athenians condemn a hero, much as they condemned Socrates, Adam forsakes democracy and moves on to harmless, worldly pleasure. Sated and miserable in hedonistic Rome, he looks to the chivalry of the knights crusader. Yet each new reforming principle crumbles before him. Adam replaces 17th-century Prague’s courtly hypocrisy with the rights of man. When equality curdles into Terror under Robespierre, he embraces individual liberty—which is in turn corrupted on the money-grabbing streets of Georgian London. In the future a scientific Utopia has Michelangelo making chair-legs and Plato herding cows, because art and philosophy have no utility. At the end of time, having encountered the savage man who has no guiding principle except violence, Adam is downcast—and understandably so. Suicidal, he pleads with Lucifer: “Let me see no more of my harsh fate: this useless struggle.”

With this backdrop, we now visit the perplexing history of progress in the modern world. “Optimists in the Enlightenment and the 19th century came to believe that the mass of humanity could one day lead happy and worthy lives here on Earth. Like Madach’s Adam, they were bursting with ideas for how the world might become a better place.”

The Economist explores the troubled history of the word and idea of “progress” since its flowering in the 17th century. Some of the various approaches to progress include an accounting model, a scientific model, and a business model.

Accounting – Progress by the book
The libertarians Julian Simon and Stephen Moore wrote an extensive study arguing that “It’s Getting Better All the Time.” While they amass statistics highlighting amazing improvements in most living conditions , they ignore increased government oppression in the 20th century. They demonstrate a significant improvement in health and wealth but the numbers do not voice greater contentment, more happiness, a deeper sense of responsibility. They also fail to take into account the dangers as a result of progress like nuclear cataclysm, environmental destruction, or the decline in moral power as demonstrated in Alisdair MacIntyre’s work on moral philosophy.

Science – Discovery with a Hint of Alchemy
While science has transformed our modern world and made possible many of advancements in health and wealth that Simon and Moore document, we cannot ignore the power science wields to change and possibly even destroy the world. The Economist summarizes:

Modern science is full of examples of technologies that can be used for ill as well as good. Think of nuclear power—and of nuclear weapons; of biotechnology—and of biological contamination. Or think, less apocalyptically, of information technology and of electronic surveillance. History is full of useful technologies that have done harm, intentionally or not. Electricity is a modern wonder, but power stations have burnt too much CO2-producing coal. The internet has spread knowledge and understanding, but it has also spread crime and pornography. German chemistry produced aspirin and fertiliser, but it also filled Nazi gas chambers with Cyclon B.

Economics – The End of the Rainbow
There is a bit of irony in this section since The Economist virtue of its name is commited to strong business and a healthy economy. “Yet even the stolidest defenders of capitalism would, by and large, agree that its tendency to form cartels, shuffle off the costs of pollution and collapse under the weight of its own financial inventiveness needs to be constrained by laws designed to channel its energy to the general good.”

Free markets may have delivered economic prosperity but they can’t deliver inner peace, true joy, and an assured future growth. If the natural resources are completely depleted, we may hand our children an ugly world with even uglier social problems haunting them and their descendents.

A Vision of Moral Progress
In the end, we are presented with a possible approach for progress rooted in moral sensibility coupled the junior partner of democratic governance. Citing Susan Neiman, The Economist proposes that there are ways of thinking about morality that are not trapped in power games or institution bigotry. “Ms Neiman asks people to reject the false choice between Utopia and degeneracy. Moral progress, she writes, is neither guaranteed nor is it hopeless. Instead, it is up to us.”

My Initial Responses
While this article doesn’t fully answer Chesterton’s critique of the lack of a specific goal for progress, I think it does point us toward a conversation where those goals might be elucidated. Neiman’s language of moral sensibility is appealing though not having read her, I am not clear the path where she uncovers these moral senses, but I am attracted enough to learn more. It makes me think of C.S. Lewis’s language of moral imagination.

As a person who has been called by Jesus Christ, I look toward the person of Jesus Christ as a starting place for thinking about moral sensibility. Now some might suggest that this is immediately a closed-minded, bigoted response to this call for a “universal moral sensibility.” But as Chesterton points out some where, (and I am loosely quoting from memory) you can’t turn right and left at the same time. The act of turning right eliminates the left turn. The decision to speak of moral sensibility immediately changes the question from the universal to the particular. The real question is whose particular moral sensibility.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, I encounter a moral sensibility that fulfills the Ten Commandments including the Law and the Prophets. I can engage someone with a different foundation for moral sensibility. I simply make my starting point for moral imagining clear. It is not my own sense of morality (which is often deluded and corrupted) but the Ten Commandments fully enfleshed in Jesus that serves as a starting point for me to think more deeply about moral imaging and the future of progress.

3rd Commandments

The Good Shepherd (Ravenna)

The Good Shepherd (Ravenna)

If you haven’t guessed, I’m working my way through each of the 10 Commandments and meditating upon the glory that I believe is revealed and guarded in the command. This is not comprehensive but thoughts that come to mind after spending the last 18 months reflecting on these grand and wondrous Words.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Deut. 5:11)

Blessed be the our Lord Creator and Ruler of all times, all places, and all peoples. We bow our knees and confess, “Jesus is Lord, Jesus is King, Jesus is Savior.” We confess Jesus as the name above every name. We lift our voices to the Lamb of God who is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and power and wisdom.

We rejoice that the Father in heaven has adopted into the family of God through our Lord Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for sealing us with the Spirit of Truth, who teaches us to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Not simply with our mouths but with our lives. The word of truth articulated and translated in our tongues, in our hearts, in our hands and in our feet.

We rejoice King Jesus in your righteous rule. We didn’t know what greatness was, we didn’t know what glory was, we didn’t know what beauty was, until you came. You revealed the rule of the Father in the heart of a servant. Clothed in glory and dwelling in unapproachable light, you precede all things, all thoughts, all referents. No idea, no concept, no word can contain you, the Lord of Glory.

And yet.

Instead of grasping for glory and power and honor (which are all yours), you let go and humiliated Yourself before all creation and entered into creation as Word made Flesh; as servant; as criminal; as the cursed scapegoat of all our violence, all our cruelty, all our pain, all our brokenness, all our sin. You carried all of the darkness and pain and evil of the world upon yourself.

In dying, you poured out your body, your love, your life into the Father’s hand who raised you up by His Spirit and exalted you above every name. We glorify this name. We honor this name. We bow before this name. We swear fealty to this name.

We confess this name by Your Holy Spirit.

By the great and wondrous Grace of Your Spirit, we’ve been caught up in your Righteous Rule and we rejoice. We’ve been taken up to the throne. We’ve been set in a family: the family of God. We’ve been made kings and priests of our Lord Jesus, the King of all Kings.

May our words and our hands and our feet and our hearts become an anthem of praise and glory and honor unto the true King, the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2nd Commandment as Praise

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deut 5:8-10)

We sing your praise most glorious Lord and Creator of all things in heaven above, on earth beneath and in the water beneath the earth. By your great and gracious word, you’ve taught us that all things were created in and through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice Father that you created all things in and through Your Son Jesus by the power of your Spirit.

And even as we are in awe of the wonders of this world, we know and reaffirm that all things that exists exist because they were created in and through Jesus. So in and through all things do we lift up holy praise to the Lord Jesus Christ who chose to enter into His Creation, and fully reveal the Father. And we realize that no image in creation can be worship and glorified outside of you. For you alone are worthy all praise and honor and glory and wisdom.

Jesus, the true image, the express image, the icon of God. For in Jesus, we behold the Father by the Spirit. And we are changed. The glory of the Son changes us into His Image that we might become the image of God for which we were created.

We rejoice in this world of splendor. We rejoice in the stars and sun and moon. We rejoice in the lush world of plants and trees and rocks and hills. We rejoice in the birds in the air, the squirrels and rabbits and every living thing. We stand in awe of the majesty of the soaring eagle and the boundless energy of the newborn puppy. We rejoice in the streams and rivers and ocean. In the fish of the deep sea and the myriad of other living things that teem beneath the surface.

You created us with five senses to experience and enjoy the heavens above, the earth below and the sea beneath the earth. We rejoice in the soft scent of mountain laurel and in the drunken winds that carry the aroma of honeysuckle. We delight in the pungent taste fresh tomatoes, the fiery flavor of salsa and the sweet intoxication of chocolate cake.

Thank for the gift of music that washes over our ears with joyous melodies and the bittersweet songs of love and life. To behold the brilliant colors of flowers and fish and birds, fills us with joy and awe. And gazing upon the streams of gold and pink and blue and yellow in the setting sun bring rapturous delight.

We are grateful for soothing feel of warm water and the cool breeze across our skin. What a gift is the embrace of friends and lovers and the healing touch of one person to another.

Thank you Lord for this world of physical experiences, this world of beauty, this world of breathtaking sights and heart-shaking sounds.

In all these wonders, glory: the glory of the Lord shining out from the vast and bountiful world. Everywhere we turn, we are overawed by you Oh Lord and the glory of Your creation.

And the greatest glory of this earth is the man and woman created to bear and reveal your image and glory. In every relation Lord, we rejoice in you.

In watching the father instructing his children or the mother caring for their needs, we rejoice in your constant and unfailing care. We rejoice in Your Spirit that teaches and guides us in the way of truth. In beholding the loving bond of brothers and sisters, we rejoice in you Lord Jesus who is the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

In the love of a man and a women, we rejoice Lord Jesus in your love for your people and by Your Spirit, raising us up together with you and the Father in a communion of love. You have loved and have loved and have loved your people. And you great and wondrous love extends from to generation to generation to generation. We rest in your faithful love, and we rejoice in this world of wonder you’ve given us as home.

1st Commandment as Praise

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Deut 4:6-7

Thank you Father for rescuing us from the house of slavery. In your great and wondrous grace, you’ve adopted us into your family. You’ve rescued us from the folly of our own foolishness. We were taken captive by our own lusts and desires. We not only turned away from you but we turned away from one another. Our selfish desires led us astray and we fell captive to unforgiveness, self-pity, inglorious imagination. Seeking to be wise we became fools and worship created things and people instead of worshipping you, the Creator of all things.

In our despair and confusion, you remembered us. In our state of war against you and your kingdom, you loved us. Like the only true Father, you came to us in our confusion and rebellion, and you rescued us.

You’ve led us forward into the wideness of your grace, and we are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by your unstoppable love. Overwhelmed by your songs of deliverance. Overwhelmed by the joy of your salvation.

You’ve freed us from the tents of wickedness and welcomed us into the house of the righteous where we feast upon you and your goodness. As the only good and gracious Father, you shower us with ever good thing and all we can do is rejoice. Thank you oh great and gracious Father. May your Spirit teach us to sing anthems of praise to your name. Blessed the Lord, God Almighty, Our Father and Protector and Provider and Royal King both now and forever. We rest in Your embrace.

Deuteronomy 4:1 – Law and Grace

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Israel stands at the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will leave them and Joshua will take charge as they cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. On the eve of this historic conquest, Moses delivers a sermon on God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

He has been calling to mind their journey after receiving the Law at Mt. Horeb and journeying toward the Promised Land. While their parents didn’t trust YHWH’s command (and died in the wilderness), the children have been brought back to the place of promise with the same command to go in and possess the land.

As Moses recounts God’s victories on behalf of His people, He reminds them of the foundation of their commission: observance of the Law.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Each word in this verse opens in summary a vision of how Moses and Israel understood their calling under the Law. As I reflect on these words, I hear insight into how Christian may understand our calling in light of the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.

Now – In light of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His promises, let us trust and obey His words. As I meditate on that transition word, “Now,” I can’t help but hearing Paul’s word, “Now.”

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2b

Paul has been talking about the great reconciling power of God’s grace in the midst of our human weakness. Now he exhorts the Corinthians to live as God has called them and empowered them to live in holiness and separation from the idolatries in the world around us.

Through Scripture we see images of people living and walking outside the fullness of God’s power and grace. I think of Zacheus, living of the exorbitant overcharges he places upon the people. Jesus comes to dine with Him, and the “Now” happens.

In the “now,” Jesus calls. “Come out and lived in the freedom and fullness I have prepared for you.” This now, is the now of Spirit calling me forth into a new way, a new path, a new life. This now is the now that proceeds out from the “fullness of time.”

O Israel – Moses calls out to the elect named by God. While Jacob is named by his mother, God calls him Israel. He is a given a new name and raised into the status of royalty and promise by God’s grace and goodnness.

The sons of Israel or the children of Israel grow up as a blessed people who will fulfill the call upon Abraham to bring God’s blessing to the whole earth.

To hear the name Israel is to hear the blessing of God. In Jesus, this blessing is fulfilled. And now all who are in Christ Jesus, hear the blessed name of Israel, called out to be God’s blessing for the whole earth. Paul writes:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-5

Listen – In the middle of His sermon, Moses says, “Listen.” Makes me think of the preacher who pauses and says, “Listen up people.” Or more directly, it makes me think of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Truly, Truly I say to you.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “Now you better make a note of this. I am getting ready to say something that is deep truth and I want to make sure you remember and heed it.

As Moses calls us to “listen,” we lean in for a word from the throne of God. We hear a word that defines out mission and action in this world.

Statutes and Judgments – The two corresponding Hebrew words are khuqqim and mishpatim. These two words appears again and again when Moses is preaching about the Law.

The first word, khuqqim, is related to the idea of inscribing or carving. While Moses dictated the whole Law for the people, he received the “10 Words” inscribed by God’s hand. The fact that these words are inscribed in stone seems to give them a significance that no other words in Scripture have—except one.

There is a glory surrounding the giving of the 10 Word. Such glory that Moses has to cover his face. When I hear verses about God setting our feet on the rock, I think there is a connection with this stone. To stand on the 10 Words is to stand on the unchanging words and commands of God.

In the New Testament, the glory of the stone inscribed with words is surpassed by an even greater glory: the heart that is inscribed with the Word. Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the stone for now the 10 Words are united in a single Word made flesh.

This word completes, fulfills and reveals the Law. Jesus leaves us with a promise that we will be united with Him by the Holy Spirit. Paul continues Jesus’ theme in Romans by writing about how we are united with Christ in death and resurrection. Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about the glory of the Law in stone is now surpassed by a glory of the Law in flesh: not simply Jesus’ flesh, but our flesh.

The Spirit is writing the Law in our hearts, and we are moving from “glory to glory.” Eventually, we will see the image face to face:

7 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The other Hebrew word used for the Law here is mishpatim. This word has to do with the ability to judge. James Jordan understands wisdom as the ability to judge between good and evil. We see Solomon practicing wisdom in judging between two prostitutes with similar stories. He speaks and by the power of his word, reveals the liar (thus judging between good and evil).

This power to judge is directly tied to ruling. If we cannot judge, we will be like the simpleton who cannot distinguish between the house of lady wisdom whose house leads to life (Proverbs 4, 8 and 9) and the foolish woman whose house leads to death (Proverbs 4, 5, and 7).

There is a path that leads to the house of lady wisdom and a path that leads to the house of the foolish woman (Proverbs 4:18-19). One leads into the full light of day and the other stumbles further and further into darkness.

We see Israel walking into the light of day from David to Solomon’s rule and stumbling into darkness from Solomon to Zedekiah’s rule (although some kings in between do walk in light, the overall movement of the nation is a descent into darkness).

As I begin to wrap around this idea of rule and wisdom and the path of wisdom vs. the path of foolishness, I can see references to the law throughout the Psalms and prophets and more. There are multiple a references to walking in the path, I will show you the way,” do not turn to the left or right, the road to righteousness, the path of holiness, standing on the rock, and so on. I would suggest all these references are rooted in observance to the Law (meditation upon and obedience to the commandments).

Just a reminder, we do not simply go back to Deuteronomy 5 to meditate upon the Law. We have hear the same rhythms in Matthew 5 and other sermons by Jesus as well as the letters from Paul and others. These are not a bunch of regulations we post. Rather, we ruminate and reflect on them. We walk according to them. The Spirit teaches us them.

We enter into the heart of them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In some ways, the New Testament is an extended reflection upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ and through His cross, and how it now is revealed in the midst of His people and in the midst of the world.

Live, and go in and possess the land – Moses ties the Law directly to the action of entering, possessing and living in the land. The Law is the wisdom that gives Israel boldness to enter the Land (because the covenant-making YHWH stands behind it with promises of a His faithfulness).

Observance of the Law is connected with Israel’s fear of God. As they walk in the fear of God, other nations fear them. For they bear the name and the power of YHWH (who makes mountains melt and by a single word causes the earth to melt).

Observance of the Law is essential for Israel to dwell in the fullness of God’s provision as they live in the land. In other places, Moses will predict that in prosperity, Israel will forget the source of blessing and quit observing the Law. This forgetfulness will cause God to forget them, thus allowing their enemies to overtake them.

Paul quite possibly gives us a poetic reinterpretation of this phrase by quoting a poet of his day. In his sermon to the idolatrous philosophers, Paul says “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the source of our courage and power and prosperity. We are blessed in Him and live in Him and live to glorify Him in all things.

LORD God of your fathers – Moses reminds the people that the source of the Law is not some oppressing dictator, but the covenant-making God who remembers His promises. LORD or YHWH is a covenant name for God, which connects with His faithfulness to the promise. The Creator God made a promise and cut a covenant with father Abraham. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac and then again with Jacob. Now as the children of Israel look at how the Creator God did in fact remember his promises to the ancestors, they can call Him YHWH for he has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness again and again.

We are brought into this family of Abraham through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus answer’s YHWH’s faithfulness to man by becoming the man who is completely faithful to YHWH. In Jesus, we enter into this circle of covenant faithful love. In Jesus, we enjoy the fruist and healing blessings associated with the covenant, and in Jesus we are transformed by the Spirit in the covenant faithful people, revealing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This fruit reveals the fulfillment of the Law in us by the power of the Spirit.

Giving You – The land that Israel will soon possess does not come through their own efforts, their own righteousness or their own prowess. It comes as pure gift.

While they must possess and follow the prescribed ways of possessing each area, they are simply obeying the Father who is giving them the gift.

For those who think grace suddenly appears in the New Testament as opposed to the Law in the Old Testament, they should go back and reread the Old (especially Deuteronomy). As we read and reflect on the rhythm of the Law, we realize it is gift. It is grace.

It is grace stretching and reaching forward. To what? To the fulfillment. When Jesus comes, he fulfills the striving and longing of law. This law is incomplete until it is fully enfleshed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Law

Some folks have requested that I write a few more posts about the “10 Commandments” or “10 Words.” I think once you begin to see the rhythm of the commands, you can see how a variety of images in the Scripture continue pointing back to these essential commands. As a quick reminder, when I talk about the 10 Commandments, I am in one sense referring to the whole of the Law.

I see two extreme responses to the Law based on Paul’s letters that I think are not helpful. There is a tendency to read Paul as rejecting the commandments. As a result, some people suggest that as people under grace the Law has passed away. Thus we disregard the Law. Other people decide that Paul is wrong and reject Paul instead. I’ve seen several strange websites that try to reduce or eliminate Paul’s inspired writings. Both of these extremes are problematic.

This is a problem because the commandments do not pass away. Jesus references them and says that He has come to fulfill the law. The commands are still present in the New Jerusalem and lawbreakers cannot enter the city.

So how do we deal with Paul’s references to the Law? Now I am not going to delve into a deeply technical response here. Rather, just consider the letters by Paul. In almost all the letters, Paul includes an ethical component where he gives guidelines for behavior. These guidelines offer direction in marriage, the community, the government and more.

So to think that Paul is saying there are no correct behaviors is absurd. He continually writes about how to behave and even offers strict penalties for the man whose sinful sexual activity is being condoned in the church. It is unquestionable that Paul has expectations about how we act and treat one another.

At the same time, He offers a theology of justification and sanctification rooted in the cross of Christ. Paul realizes that the sacrificial system in Judaism was pointing toward a fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The action of God in the cross ripples out in many directions across space and time.

The cross fulfills and/or transforms the sacrificial system, which ripples out in ways that transforms the application of the Law. The rituals have no power outside of Christ Jesus (either before or after the cross). Paul is very clear that once the cross fulfills the Law, circumcision is fulfilled in the heart. And that one could be circumcised in the flesh while not really being circumcised if their heart remains unchanged.

Who better to write on the Law that a Pharisee of Pharisees? When creating and calling Paul from the womb, YHWH raises up the greatest of Pharisees. Just as John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Paul becomes the greatest interpreter of the Law, because by God’s grace He realizes and reveals that Jesus Christ is the heart of the Law. And once Jesus is revealed, the Law cannot be understood or interpreted outside of Jesus.

If we can begin to grasp this, then we can begin to see that Paul is not at odds with the Law but he is at odds with a legal system that is rooted in human behavior outside of God’s redeeming action. The legal customs offer no redemption and no power. To practice outside the light of Christ is to waste your time with dead rituals. In Christ, the relational laws do not change but the way ritual laws (from Sabbath to circumcision) do change.

This doesn’t mean we ignore them. We must wrestle with the text. We must listen to the Spirit of the text. As the Lord gives wisdom, we begin to understand how Sabbath, circumcision, unclean and clean laws, and so on are expressed in the community of faith. James Jordan has wrestled deeply with these questions and has certainly been helpful for me as I think about what some people call the “ceremonial law.”

With that little intro about the heart of the Law (Jesus) and the constancy of the Law, I will proceed to write a few posts on how I see references to the Law showing up all through the Psalms and other passages in Scripture.

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