Month: July 2012

Turning away reproach (Psalm 119:39)

Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good
(Psalm 119:39 ESV).

What do you dread?  Getting fired?  Speaking in public?  The psalmist fears reproach.

I’m in Kentucky right now to pick up some furniture from my dad and see my mom one last time.  Her Alzheimer’s is advanced and she probably won’t survive much longer.  My son Noah joined me.  Dad, Noah and I went for a workout at my dad’s tennis club yesterday.  After returning to my dad’s house, I couldn’t find my iPod which had been in my pocket.  I thought, “It must have fallen out of my pocket.”  Noah suggested I double-check my pockets.  No iPod.  We looked in the car.  No iPod.  We called the tennis club and they looked around.  No iPod.  We needed to head out to dinner asap, so I needed to take a quick shower.  As I lifted up my sweaty, stinky t-shirt what did I find clipped to the top of my shorts?  My iPod.  Whoops.

I dread Alzheimer’s.

So far, no one has reproached me for “losing” my iPod, but I’m sure my family will tease me about it.  Just as there are things I can do that might delay the inevitable onslaught of Alzheimer’s (getting exercise, taking fish oil, eating blueberries–I draw the line at doing crosswords), the psalmist focuses on the goodness of God’s laws to avoid reproach.

It’s not clear from this verse how the goodness of God’s rules will prevent the reproach that the psalmist dreads, but he clearly perceives that a connection between the two.  Remembering that God’s rules are good will somehow protect reproach.

I describe the goodness of God’s laws in more depth in chapter six of God Behaving Badly, but I’ll review briefly here.

What’s God’s first rule?  Be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  In other words, “Have a lot of sex.”

What’s God’s second rule?  Eat freely of every tree in the garden (Gen. 2:16).  In other words, “Eat a lot of food.”

The Bible begins by describing the amazing goodness of God’s rules.  God wants to bless people with good things and his laws make that clear.

How do you think the goodness of God’s rules protect us from reproach? 

Even more Shameless Marketing for God Behaving Badly

It’s been awhile since I’ve done shameless marketing for my book God Behaving Badly.  Even though no one has been complaining, I know you’ve missed it.  Here are 4 random bits of GBB news.

1) In a little over a year since its original printing, GBB has been reprinted 5 more times.  Somebody has been buying books.  If that’s you, thank you.  If that’s not you, why not?

2) The May 2, 2012 edition of Christian Century includes Bestsellers by Publisher (I think you’ll need a subscription to see Bestsellers) and GBB was #3 for IVP.  This was pointed out to me by Lisa Lamb’s mom (my sister-in-law’s mother, so my mother-in-law-in-law?)

3) For a few hours on Monday, used copies of GBB were selling for $17.51 on Amazon, almost $3 more than the price for new copies (if I were clever, I would have come up with a plan to make money on that).  As of today, the used price has come down to $8.99, which is still not bad for a book that typically retails for about $10.  People apparently want to hold onto their books.  My brother Rich thinks that’s because they are so rare, they are becoming collectors’ items.  Any ideas why Amazon’s price has been $15 for the past couple of weeks?  It was about $10 for a long time.

4) The Spring 2012 Enrichment Magazine included a book review of GBB (to see book reviews you’ll need a subscription): “I highly recommend this book to students, laypeople and pastors as an excellent introduction to how to understand the Old Testament portrait of God in light of questions raised by new atheists and struggling Christians” (George P. Wood).  If I didn’t already have 40 copies on my living room floor, I’d be tempted to buy one.

Other shameless marketing suggestions? 

Seeking Confirmation (Psalm 119:38)

Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared
(Psalm 119:38 ESV).

While most verses in Psalm 119 mention keeping, observing or delighting in God’s laws, this verse doesn’t really fit the formula.  The psalmist here requests that God’s promise (presumably to the psalmist) is confirmed.

One could argue that the psalmist is doubting God’s word.  The divine promise has clearly already been given.  Why then does God need to confirm his promise?  Can’t the psalmist simply believe?  Shouldn’t God’s promise be sufficient?  What is this doing in the Bible?

While we might be uncomfortable with a demand for confirmation from God, the Bible isn’t.  Other people of faith in the Old Testament seek similar confirmations.  The ESV and NAS include a note here with a reference to 2 Samuel 7:25, where David prays that YHWH confirm the promise given of an “eternal” dynastic lineage.  The connection is interesting.  Is David behind the request for confirmation in 119:38?  Who can say?  Psalm 119 mentions no one in the heading.  But whether Psalm 119:38 should be linked to David or not, in both texts a person of faith seeks divine confirmation and it seems to be OK.

When he was childless Abraham sought confirmation for the promise of offspring and God repeatedly gave him confirmation with visual reminders of dust, sand and stars (Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 22:17).

Even in the midst of what may appear to be doubt, the psalmist stays engaged with YHWH in the quest for confirmation.  The psalmist seems to know that it’s OK to seek confirmation directly from God.

The psalmist also knows his place relative to God–as God’s servant.  In addition to this verse, the psalmist calls himself “your servant” twelve other places in the psalm (119:17, 23, 49, 65, 76, 82, 122, 124, 125, 135, 140, 176).  (In his prayer of 2 Samuel, David also frequently referred to himself as “your servant”; 2 Sam. 7:20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 29).

God as we wait for you to come through on what you’ve promised give us patience, faith and confirmation. 

How does promise confirmation lead to fear of God?  Any thoughts? 

Apologies for skipping a week of blogging on Psalm 119 last Sunday.  I couldn’t make it happen, so I decided to cut myself a little slack. 

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Long-term friendship

I’ve moved too much.

1) From Lexington, KY, to Downers Grove, IL (age 1).
2) From Downers Grove, to Ames, IA (age 5).
3) From Ames to Bowie, MD (age 13).
4) From Bowie back to Ames (age 14).
5) From Ames to Stanford, CA (age 18).
6) From Stanford to Claremont, CA (age 24).
7) From Claremont to Redlands, CA (age 29).
8) From Redlands to Philadelphia, PA (age 30).
9) From Philadelphia to Pasadena, CA (age 35).
10) From Pasadena to Oxford, UK (age 38).
11) From Oxford to Hatfield, PA (age 44).

All of these moves were over 300 miles, many of them were literally cross-country, or even overseas.  (I’m not counting moves across town.)  Moves #7-#11 included my family.

The cost of all these moves is long-term friendship.  All friends are precious, but there’s a depth that comes from knowing someone for decades.  I’ve never lived in the same place continuously for a decade.

It’s great to visit California.  We’ve gone to the beach.  My family went to Disneyland (I was teaching).  We visited the Monterey Aquarium on Saturday.  Yesterday we hit the big sites of San Francisco, walking the Golden Gate Bridge (the bridge, the view, the sky, the ocean were all spectacular!), driving down Lombard Street, climbing up Coit Tower, eating at Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf.

But the best part about being in CA has been seeing long-term friends, people who I’ve known for multiple decades.  My friend John, who I’ve known for over 40 years.  He can share more embarrassing stories about me than perhaps anyone on the planet (fortunately, he shows great discretion).

I’ve known my friend Alex for over 30 years.  I preached at his church Sunday.

We spent Saturday night at Mark and Gayll’s in San Jose.  Gayll was Shannon’s roommate at UC Santa Cruz in 1980.  Shannon preached at their church Sunday.

Over the weekend we laughed a lot with Alex and his wife Susan (who I’ve only known for over 20 years) and with Mark and Gayll.  Typically, when we hang out with friends, our boys do their own thing, but our friends were so entertaining, they stuck around.  After the weekend, our sons said, “We should hang out with your friends more often.”  Amen to that.

During my vacation my blogging has become less consistent.  I know, organized bloggers plan ahead and write blogs in advance.  Yes, well, I’m not that organized.  I’ll post again on Psalm 119 next Monday–I’m flying from SFO to PHL on Sunday and I don’t write blogs well while flying.  If you’ve visited my site frequently expecting new material, I apologize.

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