A couple of weeks ago, I shared one of my favorite passages from the Psalms and how I am working on memorizing it. Another one I like and have committed to memory is Psalm 36:5-9 from the New Living Translation. It often comes to mind in the middle of the night when sleep is elusive. It’s comforting to remind myself through these verses of the greatness of God and his unfailing love.
For us humans, it’s all too easy to anthropomorphize God. (I love that word – not many fifteen letter words can be used in everyday conversations!) Having verses like these in the front of our minds bring us back to the magnificence of God and how much greater he is than us – truly “other” as some like to describe him.
We tend to think of his love as comparable to human love when verse five tells us it’s as vast as the heavens. His faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds, as opposed to ours, which changes with the wind. We don’t understand his righteousness, probably because we have none of our own, but his is like the mighty mountains. Perhaps his justice is even more difficult to comprehend, but we see here that it’s like the ocean depths: deep, mysterious and unfathomable to our petty minds.
Even if you aren’t a fan of poetry, after thousands of years, the psalmist’s poetic descriptions of the greatness of God are truly moving, revealing and awe-inspiring.
When I first started reading books by Dallas Willard, I came across his statement that he believed memorizing scripture is more important than quiet time. I remember being a bit surprised, as I had been led to believe (through my reading and attending conferences/retreats) quiet time is the most important part of nurturing a relationship with God. I was also resistant to do this, as I wasn’t sure it could be done, especially as he suggested memorizing not just single verses, but whole passages, such as Romans 5:1-8 and 8:1-15, 1 Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3:1-17. But he said our minds are made for it, God wants us to do it and he will help us. I guess that removes the “I’m too old (or too whatever) to do that” excuse.
I must admit I haven’t put as much effort into memorizing scripture as I would like, but I have given it a shot. I started with Colossians 3:1-17 and have found it encouraging and edifying. It also helps me focus on my word for the year (crucified). The passage begins by telling us to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is. Then we are told to set our minds on things above as well.
In our world where so many things vie for our attention and affection, reminding ourselves through this passage of Colossians to set our hearts and minds on God seems to be the best way to hold our treasure in the right place. Through memorization, our minds will always be brought back to the right focus, which will enable our hearts to follow.
I’ve been rediscovering the Psalms in The Passion Translation. It’s interesting how reading familiar parts of the Bible in different translations can make it seem so different – even new and exciting. The psalm I’ve been kind of fixated on lately is Psalm 18:1-3. I won’t cite it here but will let you read it* for yourself. I’m in the process of memorizing it for those times I either want to praise God or need to find my “mountain of hiding” and my “pathway of escape.”
David wrote this after being delivered from his enemies, including Saul, who wanted to kill him. I’m sure most of us aren’t being chased by people with swords, but we do have enemies and we sometimes need deliverance and a way out of our troubles. But the escape we make into the arms of God is not the same as most people today think of escaping. We are all familiar with those ways – things we turn to, hoping to dull the pain. All of these are temporary escapes and do nothing but give momentary relief and then plunge the person right back into reality, possibly even making it worse.
When God gives us his version of escape, we are often still in the midst of our troubles. The problem doesn’t go away. The pain doesn’t stop. The worry and anxiety are often still there. But God is also there. He is in the midst of it with us. He promises he will never let us go and will never let us go through our trials alone. As David said in verse three: “All I need to do is call to you, singing to you, the praiseworthy God. When I do, I’m safe and sound in you.” Even in the most difficult times of our lives, we can trust him to reach down into our darkness to rescue us, take us from the depths of despair (v. 16), hold on to us (v. 18) and bring us into a beautiful broad place (v. 19). He truly is the champion of our cause (v. 2).
*This is a slightly different version from the one in The Psalms, Poetry on Fire, 2014.
As beings with a human nature, we are all intimately acquainted with our old selves. If anyone needs a reminder, all they have to do is read Colossians 3, which paints a pretty good picture. Paul goes on to describe the new self in Christ, which is the direct opposite of the old self. He uses words like compassion, kindness, humility, patience and gentleness. I think we all know from experience it’s easier said than done to have these qualities.
From verses 12 through 17, we see what it’s supposed to look like, but how to accomplish putting on and then living out this new self? We need to go back to the beginning of Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Jesus said where your heart is your treasure will also be (Matthew 6:21). Paul seemed to be expanding this way beyond money and possessions to our whole attitude and focus in life. As we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is, our old selves with their low and base desires will continually fade into oblivion. As the old song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” goes, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus and set our hearts on things above, for we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. He is our resurrection and because he lives, we live in newness of life – as new creatures with a new self. Happy Easter!
How many choices do we make in a day? Hundreds, thousands? From getting out of bed, to what we eat for breakfast, to picking up our phones or our Bibles, everything in our entire day requires choices. Some of them are easy and need no thought, while some are more involved. Other choices happen by making no choice – we just put them off until it’s no longer necessary or we have a fire to put out.
The same is true of our thoughts. We can choose where our minds go, what we think about and dwell on. Making decisions regarding what to think about can be much more difficult than deciding what to eat or wear. Sometimes my mind goes where I don’t want it to, seemingly all by itself. And then I have a hard time reining in those thoughts and making my mind go in a different direction. I suppose we all suffer from lack of mental discipline in our instant-gratification, 24-hour information overload. We’ve been slowly acclimatized to shorter attention spans to the point we can’t read something if it’s more than a paragraph or even forty characters.
The crucified life is about the daily, hour by hour and even moment by moment choice to put off the old self with its practices, and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:6-7, NIV). Putting off the old self (we all have one) takes work. It’s a real battle and it goes on 24/7. How do we accomplish this? By choosing to redirect our thoughts toward Jesus. As I just read in a devotional, if it were easy, we wouldn’t need him. It might be the hardest thing we ever do, but if we don’t put in the effort, trusting and relying on the help and power of God, through the Holy Spirit, it won’t happen.
We have already been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) but like Paul, we die daily so we may live the resurrected life with Christ (Colossians 3:1; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:6).
When it comes to making choices in life, very few can be labeled as one and done. Life is full of change. I often tell myself not to get too comfortable with the way things are, as nothing ever stays the same. This has proved true since I can remember – moving, switching schools, going to college, moving again because the college closed, getting married, moving again and on and on. You probably have a similar story. When I was in college, a fellow student and good friend told me she had lived in the same house her whole life – the same house her parents and grandparents had lived in their whole lives. I had no idea anyone ever grew up like that.
It should come as no surprise then that the Christian life is also full of change. We’ve probably all heard God accepts us as we are but doesn’t want to leave us in that condition. Transformation is an important part of being connected to Christ. As we spend time with him and surrender to his love and care, we (hopefully) become more like him. Transformation is definitely not one and done. It’s not some grand gesture or defining moment, but a series of choices, involving awareness and discipline.
Each and every day, we must choose to stay connected to Jesus our Vine. It’s a choice to lay down our lives for him, to surrender our hearts and thoughts to his wisdom and love and to sit at his feet as his disciples and followers. I’m finding this involves even more than daily choices – many of the choices I need to make to stay close to Jesus are hour by hour and even moment by moment. This is especially true when it comes to controlling my tongue.
The transformed, crucified life is about change, choices and more change – all in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
I’m a big fan of Star Trek in all its iterations, which you know if you’ve been reading my articles and posts for any length of time. I guess I’m fascinated by space, the characters and the different life forms they encounter – all of it really. The parallels to God’s world are numerous and I believe can help us understand the things of God.
As I was pondering last week’s post on entwining our hearts with Jesus’ heart, the similarity of this and the Vulcan Mind Meld hit me. Entwining (to wind or twist together; interweave) our hearts with his seems a bit ethereal and hard to define, but comparing it to a mind meld, well I can get my mind around that!
A mind meld, according to the official Star Trek website, is “A touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge his or her mind with the essence of another’s mind purely by using specialized contact via fingertip-points ̶ on a humanoid, usually around the targeted partner’s skull temples. Hypnosis-like relaxation and a rhythmic verbal device, such as ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts’ are often useful.”
Obviously communicating with God, learning his mind and becoming like him is vastly different from a mind meld, but sharing our thoughts and having the same mind (Philippians 2:5) is something we can do through the Holy Spirit. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, turn our thoughts to him constantly throughout the day, even moment by moment, and trust him with our deepest, inner selves, our minds will be merged with the essence of his mind – a Jesus Mind Meld if you will. Live long and prosper.
The past year-plus has had a lot of us in a waiting period. We are waiting for lockdowns to end. We are waiting to see our friends and relatives. We are waiting to go on that trip or to a conference. We may be waiting to get the vaccine or maybe waiting for enough to get it so we won’t have to (so many varying opinions about this). In short, we are waiting for things to get back to “normal.” Some have used this time to do chores they’ve put off; some are learning new things, baking bread, clearing out old clothes and junk. Some might be merely waiting, twiddling their thumbs and wondering what’s going on.
Waiting isn’t always a bad thing, though it can be difficult. Sometimes it’s not easy to be patient, especially when we are waiting for something we really want, need or feel passionately about. As King David discovered, changing our focus can help. “Here’s what I’ve learned through it all: Don’t give up; don’t be impatient; be entwined as one with the Lord. Be brave and courageous, and never lose hope. Yes, keep on waiting – for he will never disappoint you!” (Psalm 27:14, TPT).
In Psalm 25:5, David wrote: “Escort me along the way, take me by the hand and teach me, for you are the God of my increasing salvation; I have wrapped my heart into yours” (TPT). The footnote in Poetry on Fire, The Psalms, adds: “The Hebrew word most commonly translated as wait (wait upon the Lord) is qavah, which also means to tie together by twisting, or entwine, or wrap tightly. This is a beautiful concept of waiting upon God, not as something passive, but entwining our hearts with him and his purposes.” No matter what you and I may be waiting for, let’s make sure we also wait on the Lord. Entwine your heart with his and let him take you by the hand and teach you. Doing this will turn the waiting into a productive and even wonderful time with the Lord.
“We’re doing everything humanly possible.” We sometimes hear this statement during medical crises or natural disasters and sometimes it’s true. Other times it might mean we don’t know what else to do or our resources are stretched to the limit. Granted, we can get a lot done when we put our heads together and work hard, but human strength, ingenuity and ability can get us only so far.
The other problem with trying to do everything humanly possible is we often don’t reach that goal. We don’t always try as hard as we can; we become discouraged and give up, escaping into self-pity or mindless pursuits (Netflix, anyone?). I’m sure you know where this is going.
We don’t have to solely rely on our human power, although as Dallas Willard says, God has given us our bodies as our own personal power packs, through which we interact with our world and bring about our wills. I’m thankful for my power pack, as it enables me to do things like bake bread, ride my bike and fulfill my responsibilities. But my power pack only works at its peak when plugged into the “power pack” of God. Out of his life inherent he gave us life and our bodies.
For those of us who entrust our lives to him, he augments our human efforts with his unlimited power, accomplishing things we could never do on our own or even imagine. We aren’t stuck doing only as much as humanly possible, however strong or feeble our efforts may be, if we let our weakness become his strength and work in the power and might of Christ.
Sometimes when we hear about bad acts of people, we can wonder what got into them. I like to watch crime solving shows and I often think, what’s wrong with that person? How could he or she do something so evil and heinous? James had an explanation in chapter 4, verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you” (NIV)?
It’s exactly our desires we do battle with when we die to self. Our desires are what we nail to the cross when we live the crucified life. Joseph Stowell, in a little book titled Simply Jesus, Experiencing the One Your Heart Longs For, wrote a good corollary to James’ statement. He said, “In the end, most sin is about enhancing or preserving your life, reputation, pleasure, prosperity, or safety. If life is about you, sin will come easily.” Our innate desire to save ourselves is what causes all our problems.
I’m pretty sure all or at least most of the time I’ve been in trouble either with my words or my actions, it’s been because I’ve been trying to enhance or preserve some aspect of my self. I could add protecting or defending as well and this comes naturally to all of us. It’s when, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we die to the need to preserve ourselves that we become truly alive. We become more fully human too, in the way Jesus was the best and most genuinely human. In Christ, we don’t have to let our desires control – and possibly ruin – our lives.