Ebenezer means "stone of help," and was the name of a monument raised by the prophet Samuel, saying, "Thus far has the Lord helped us." (1 Sam. 7:12) The hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing includes the line, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come." Through God's grace you and I have made it to today. Our job is to praise God for getting us here and trust him to bring us through tomorrow.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Melting the Mountains

Psalm 97:1, 5-6  "The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice... The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory."

Ever since I was young I always enjoyed the hymn, "This is My Father's World."  It's a bouncy tune [I'm displaying my ignorance of music by using a term so non-technical as "bouncy"] with vivid imagery and a hopeful, positive quality.  But it dawned on my today that the concluding line is from a psalm that portrays God as anything but, well, bouncy.  "God reigns; let the earth be glad," the concluding line of the hymn, is indeed the first line of Psalm 97.  And though the psalm tells us to rejoice, it goes on to present horrifying imagery:
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
   righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
   and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
   the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
   before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
   and all peoples see his glory. 
Theologically uninformed people often go around talking about "the God of the Old Testament," as if that God were indeed a different one than the God of Jesus and Christianity.  In fact, one of the Church's earliest heretics, the second-century bishop Marcion, taught basically this exact same thing -- that the Old Testament was about one God, and the New Testament was about another.  We know (or should know) that this is not the case.  But it is still hard to reconcile the imagery of these verses with our view of a gentle God, such as the hymn itself praises:
This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise.
But look again, after the destructive language of Psalm 97 -- mountains melting like wax, foes consumed by fire -- we see the hope:
Zion hears and rejoices
   and the villages of Judah are glad
   because of your judgments, LORD.
For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth;
   you are exalted far above all gods...
Light shines on the righteous
   and joy on the upright in heart. 
One can't help but be reminded of Jesus' words in Luke 21, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." This psalm is eschatological, it has to do with the end of time and judgment, whether a literal end of time or a moment of redemption for the people or Israel.  Either way, the psalm is to be seen as one of hope, that even when things are at their worst for the people of God, we can remember that God always has the last word, and he is powerful enough to handle anything that comes against us.  If mountains can't stand in his way, if his lightening lights up the world, then when he is on our side, what can come against us in the long run?

And as bouncy as the hymn may sound, it concludes with the very same message, because Jew or Christian, Old Testament or New, the One God rules heaven and earth, and of that we can rejoice indeed:
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Overcome the World

John 16:33b  "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

The more I look at this verse the more I think, really, is there any greater understatement in the Bible than the words, "In this world you will have trouble"?  Yet this understatement is immediately followed by an overstatement: "I have overcome the world."

"I have overcome the world."  What a claim.  What a comfort.  If we can truly believe it, it can make all the difference.

The last few months I've been reminded over and over again of the lines from a Fleetwood Mac song:

Can the child within my heart rise above?
And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I suppose the [eventual] encroachment of 40 makes such lines more poignant.  Nevertheless, we all ask these sort of questions at all manner of times in our lives.  At any age, in any situation, as we face the troubles this world has in store, we want to know, can I handle it?  How can I handle it?  How can I navigate the waters and deal with the changing seasons?  Where will I get the wisdom?  Where will I get the strength?

The answer to the questions posed by the Landslide lyrics is, no.  You can't do it.  Or more to the point, you can't do it alone.  You can try, and you can try really hard, but on your own you don't have the wisdom or the strength to make it through.  It takes something bigger than you are.  It takes the one who overcame this world.

I have always loved Paul's encouragement that we are "more than conquerors," a phrase that reminds us that in Christ we can do more than conquer; we can transcend.  Imagine that: we have the power at our disposal not just to beat the enemy, but to live above him and do so for eternity. 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
Just attempt to fathom that list of "neither...nors":
height...depth....anything else in all creation
None of this will separate us from God's love in Christ.  None of it.  Nothing can.  There is nothing between us and God unless we allow it to step in the way.  But we don't have to allow it. We're more than conquerors.  We can transcend anything this world has to throw at us and still find the one who made us and saves us.  It's mind-bending.

Paul also points out, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  Well, who can?  What can?  Sure, things appear to come against us all the time, but what are these things in the scope of eternity?  What can we not overcome through God's power working for us?  We have the complete storehouse of supply at our disposal.  The God who made the world, who sacrificed his son, will surely provide what we need.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Do we have an answer?  No.  As long as we believe at all we need to also recognize that through faith, through trust, we have access to all the power of the universe, and the worries and cares and wants and needs of this sad and sorry little world are really nothing in our sight.  We are above it all.  We are more than conquerors.

But we are only more than conquerors because first, he ovecame the world.  Through his victory we also have the victory.  Claim your victory.  And praise God you can.