Which Comes First?

gatesSunday my pastor, Mike Erre, discussed a study of the book of Psalms by Walter Bruegemann in which he categorized the various psalms in three groups: Orientation, Disorientation, or Reorientation.

The Orientation psalms view the world based on an orientation toward God. They praise Him all-out. They speak of His mercy, His wonders, His glory. There are no shadows in those psalms. Psalm 100 would be an example of an orientation psalm, I believe.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

They “express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues.” They “give expression . . . to the reality that God is trustworthy and reliable.” (Quotes from Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann).

As you might guess, then, the Disorientation psalms view the world as broken. They are the psalms that Job might have written at his lowest point. They could be considered laments. They mourn for what is lost and plead for God to hear and answer. And then they end. Psalm 88 is an example of a Disorientation psalm.

Then come the Reorientation psalms. These are songs that begin with questions, with a focus on the broken world, and then reach a turning point in which the psalmist sees the world more completely because he’s now taking God into account. Psalm 73 is a good example of a Reorientation psalm:

When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. (vv 16-17)

The Reorientation psalms seem clearly to begin with a problem–affliction by enemies or an observation of the prosperity of the wicked or an unanswered prayer. As the psalmist cries out to God, he finds the answer to his situation in God.

But what about the Orientation and Disorientation psalms–which comes first? The implication from what Pastor Mike said is that Orientation came first, then “reality” set in–or at least hardship did. All is well, so people praise God unreservedly. Then all hell breaks loose and people lament. At some point there’s a realignment of perspective that takes into consideration both the greatness of God and the disappointments of life.

But must it be so? Why couldn’t the order be Disorientation, brought on by the Fall, Reorientation, when the truth of God sinks in, and Orientation, when all is seen as under His sovereign ordering, so praise is not dependent upon circumstances in the least.

I’m mindful of this because of something I read this week by literary agent Lee Hough who has been battling cancer for a year or more. As he awaits to learn the effect of the latest treatments, he wrote in part

So, again, the cancer is back. Now what?

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is good.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is faithful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is merciful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is loving.

His life has been disoriented, but his faith is firmly oriented. What private laments did he and his wife express? I couldn’t say. God has been the hero of Lee’s story since he first began writing about his experience with cancer.

It is in reading his praise of God, his unswerving trust in God, his undiminished confidence in God’s character that my faith grows. Obviously, Lee did not write out of a naive trust in God when all was bright and sunny, with his future here on earth looking rosy. He wrote from the unknown, from the valley of the shadow, caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He wrote as one “going, not knowing.”

And his words make me think of Paul’s:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

It seems to me, the clearer we see God–when we no longer put our eyes on the enemies chasing us or the friends betraying us or the cancer, the famine, the lost income, or the prosperous cheats–when we see God without distractions because we know nothing can separate us from His love, I think our praise will be like Orientation psalms, like the praise of the angels around God’s throne. The more nearly we understand Him, the more clearly we’ll sing His praise–not because of ignorance of suffering or out of naiveté. Rather, because of an awareness of suffering and evil, knowing that God is greater than all of it. Therein lines the purest praise, I think.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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treasureWho wouldn’t love to find a hidden treasure? I grew up reading stories about treasure–buried by pirates or discovered by teenage sleuths. Often a map showed the way.

The Bible has lots to say about treasure and is, in essence, the map showing the way to the treasure of which it speaks. Of course, too many of us misunderstand what “treasure” means in the Biblical context. My pastor gave a helpful definition on Sunday: treasure is whatever we value, prioritize, or order our lives around.

So the man in the parable who found a great pearl, then went and sold all he had to buy the field in which he found it, valued that pearl above all else. The Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to find the lost lamb, valued the lost above all else. [As an aside, how great a picture is that of God pursuing us lost sinners?]

Jesus gave some clear instruction about our treasure:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)

Quite apparently, Jesus was contrasting treasure that is perishable with that which is imperishable. Our treasure trove, He says, should not be stuffed with valuables that don’t last but with those that do.

Interestingly, just before Jesus gave this treasure admonition, He taught about “religious activity”–giving to the poor, praying, fasting. In each instance, He says, don’t do what you do to be noticed by others. Then He launches in on a discourse about treasure.

I conclude that the accolades of men should be racked up with perishable treasure. But so should the money kind of treasure. A few verses later, Jesus states clearly, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24b).

My guess is, the preoccupation with acquiring treasure–earthly or heavenly–derails us from doing what Jesus commanded toward the end of His sermon. Our preoccupation isn’t to be about us. It’s to be about God and the things of God.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)

Too often we read that verse and immediately ask, What things is Jesus promising us? Well, He isn’t promising us anything. He’s speaking to those who seek first His kingdom and righteousness. By asking, what is Jesus promising, it seems to me we automatically rule ourselves out of the promise.

If we’re seeking after His kingdom and righteousness, we’ll come to that verse and say, How am I to seek after His kingdom and righteousness? What does that look like in my life? Where do I sign up? When can I get started?

The treasure, I suggest, is buried in the answers to those questions.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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Telling People They’re Good

Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post today over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books–and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, I ran a writing challenge, and one of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time–rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invectives back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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A Choice Keeper Nugget

I’ve really appreciated my church’s missions pastor, Dan Crane, who has stepped in to shoulder the bulk of the preaching while we searched for our next senior pastor. Pastor Dan has a real knack for seeing the way Scripture passages divide in an organized way or how they relate to one another.

So too, this Sunday when he preached from the end of Ephesians 3. As he reminded us, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters giving us the truth about our position in Christ and what that means for us.

He then noted some particulars Paul presented for praying for others. Good stuff.

The nugget, though, came right at the end. Paul closes this section with a wonderful statement of praise:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Dan’s point regarding these verses? High theology leads to high doxology. Now that’s a keeper.

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments Off on A Choice Keeper Nugget  
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