Walking on Serpents: Psalm 91 and the Price of the Promise

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It is rather simple for skeptics of faith to play the ‘devils’ advocate’ when referring to Psalm 91.  The promises listed therein seem to make faith in God a “cure-all” for any possible malady; affliction or problem we could ever encounter.

It is these skeptics who can often wryly, even sneeringly, point to some natural disaster or chronic illness which befalls a person of faith and say:  “Won’t your “God” protect you?.  How is it He could have let this happen to you?”.

I am reminded of a lyric from a song by a British group, named (ironically, in this context), The Rolling Stones:

“I was driving home early Sunday morning through Bakersfield
Listening to gospel music on the colored radio station
And the preacher said, “You know you always have the
Lord by your side”
And I was so pleased to be informed of this, that I ran Twenty red lights in his honor….
Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord.”

The cynics and skeptics, these “devils’ advocates” demonstrate perfectly the mindset of Satan, when in the wilderness, he tempted Jesus to throw himself into an abyss, chiding him that any fear of the result would be contrary to the promises of Psalm 91. (Matthew 4:6)   But Jesus spurned his coaxings.  He would not throw himself into the abyss.heavenhellsign

And neither should we put God ‘to the test’ by “running twenty red lights”.

Why not?

Simply because, the promises God makes are to those who make their habitation with Him (v. 9), not those who would doubt Him or ‘test’ Him.  These, and their homes, shall no evil befall.  (v.10).   Habitation with the Lord will have the benefit of angels to lift us up so that we will not fall. (v.11; 12).

The angels will regard us, their charges, as children.  They will help us if we trip on the stones of sin or temptation.  They will gird us as we trample the Devil, whether manifested as a lion, or a serpent.  (v. 13)

If we know God by name; if we fix upon Him our love exclusively (v. 14); and, most importantly, if we call out to Him in a constant dialogue of prayer in times of trouble, He will deliver us.  He will be with us.  And He will answer our prayers.  (v.15)  Our lives will be long, however divided they may be between the ‘here and now’ and the ‘hereafter’.  We will know his salvation (v. 16) not by earning it; and certainly not by testing it;, but…. by acknowledging the essential fact of Grace:  The Passion of Christ…the denial to Jesus of protecting angels; of deliverance; of comfort; of protection from harm….  was Gods’ gift to those who would take refuge from their sinfulness in His habitation, and love Him in return for His proven love for us.  The promises of Psalm 91 are the reason Jesus went to the cross, and his resurrection was victory over sin; death and Satan.

Just as Jesus resisted the temptation of the serpent Satan, we must resist the temptations  posed upon us everyday by the lions of greed; fear; envy and pride.  And if we dwell in Love with God, and with one another, we can,…..and we will.

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Walking ‘Heart to Heart’: The Nature of Judgement (Romans 2: 12-16)

Romans 2: 12-16

Jesus lives in every heart.

He lives in the heart of the poet; the craftsman; the servant and, even the criminal.

That it is harder to find Jesus in the arid clay of a criminals’ heart than it is to find him in the softer loam of a poets’ heart in no way negates the fact that Jesus is in residence there.  Jesus is the ‘Nature Boy’ ‘who lives in each of us.  He is the soul of our conscience, the essence of our morality.

 

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Gentiles, who “do not have the (Mosaic) law” either acknowledge the Grace of God when they do “by nature” the things required by the law, or repudiate this Grace by judging others and being stubbornly unrepentant of their own shortcomings as sinners.  Jews, in the same manner, either abide by the the laws communicated by Moses, or repudiate them out of pride or other sinful acts.


Thus, the law and its’ final judgement is universal, and does not differ according to ones’ identity as a Jew or a Gentile.  Whether written on tablets of stone, or “written in their hearts”, adherence to basic precepts of loving God and loving our neighbors as fellow sinners will result in favor with God on the day of judgement.

That day is coming.  It is crucial that we understand the ‘nature ‘of this judgement.

God, though impartial, will not be wearing a blindfold on that day.  

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He will not be holding a balance scale aloft in his upraised arm.  He will not be weighing sins.  He will not be judging the extent to which those sins are counterbalanced by “good works”.  After all….we are all sinners to begin with.

He will simply look into the heart of each of us.  He will “judge the secrets of human hearts”.  If these ‘secrets’ demonstrate that our “conflicting thoughts” have resulted in remorse or shame for our transgressions, this remorse and shame will “defend” us.

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 If, however,  our “conflicting thoughts” are those of pride, envy or of deeming our transgressions as somehow justified by a sense of entitlement due to rank, or even of ‘good works’, this pride will “accuse” us.

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Thus, the source of our salvation will not be the amount; the gravity; or even the depravity of our sins.  The source of our salvation will be our acknowledgement of Jesus in our hearts and of our sense of morality.  That we regret our lives, however sinful, shows our understanding not of ‘morals’, (for morals may differ), but of a“morality” which must have come from  an ultimate law-giver, and which could not have come from genetics; education; chance; or even evolution.

That we all have a visceral sense of what we ‘ought’ or ‘ought not’ to have done with our lives is, to me, the ultimate and incontrovertible proof that God exists;  that his Son lives in us; and that the Holy Spirit is His ‘spark’ in all of us.

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Walking Into The Light….An Easter Reflection On The Dichotomy of ‘Death’

“Don’t be afraid your life will end…be afraid that it will never begin!”…….(Anonymous)

This Easter will doubtless be like almost all Easters before it…..a special day for the devout who may enjoy a breakfast at church before Mass….a day of  egg hunts; chocolate bunnies and gladiator movies for the the children of the secular.  Feasts of ham; hard-boiled eggs and yellow bread with crusts of gold will sate the hunger of the devout and secular alike.  To many, perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this ‘holiday’ is that, though it always falls on a ‘Sunday’, there is never an employer-sanctioned Saturday and/or Monday off from work in recognition of it.

Perhaps this is fitting….an unintentional sacrifice of “time off” from work in recognition of Lenten forbearance.  That grocers and clothiers; vendors of ham and of chocolate; and twice-a-year church attendees all alter their marketing; inventory; and Sunday morning habits, all attest to a ‘special’ nature to this glorious day.  Not even Christmas; Hanukkah (or even ‘Festivus’)…can match the glory the import, or indeed……the message of Easter.

This day commemorates a singular message:   The ‘Lamb of God’, having suffered and died for our sin, was resurrected and rose to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  As God made flesh, he bore the burden of all our sins, and asks nothing in return save, perhaps, that we love each other and share a Grace we can never earn or merit.  Most would agree that seems an excellent bargain……yet, how many of us afford more than ‘lip service’ of an occasional contribution to a charity or a periodic visit to church?

Whether we attend like clockwork or visit twice a year in newly purchased finery of raiment, do we really understand or comprehend the true meaning of this Grace?   That churches of today are increasingly (and, unfortunately, out of necessity) the loci of daycare centers; polling places; and branches of  the criminal justice system via community service sentences is, though admirable, problematic in that the most elementary and basic message of faith is obscured.  That is, the church as a forum for witnessing our acknowledgment of Grace and professing our faith that, as sinners all, we need His guidance to remind us of the attainability of eternal life.

Yes, the message of Easter is that eternal life is accessible only via the portal of death.  For those who acknowledge the Grace of God and confess the human frailty of their envies; their lusts; their prejudices and their sloth…indeed, of the inherence of sin in being human, will, in their final hour, welcome the coming of the light rather than”rage against the dying of the light”.

This light is there for us, not just on Sundays, but every day.  

It is where any individual, troubled by the lot of the world around him or her, can contemplate the burdens and pressures of everyday life and pray for the help and guidance of He who knows our shortcomings but loves us nonetheless.   Such contemplation often can help us realize that, as humans, the nature and magnitude of our sinfulness can grow exponentially via the lens of temporal societal pressure, and this growth can make the burden of these sins  too onerous to bear, too large or bulky to address, …….too cumbersome to lock away in any crate.

And to many, whose faith is insufficient to bear the strain on their back of the “crosses they bear”, there may come a time when a problem; a dilemma; or an offense they perceive as breaking the “camels’ back” can capsize what little spirit they have left.

It is to these of us that the Easter message is most important.   For, in the end, we all of us need to help each other realize and to witness that, through the Grace of Our Lord, we are not human beings having (or feigning) a ‘spiritual’ experience, but spiritual beings, who, like Jesus. in his walk up to Calvary, are struggling through a human experience…..which, with faith, will open the portal to life eternal. 

   Let us glorify His sacrifice by witnessing his message that true life for all of us, is…….yet to come.