March 5, 2023

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

    whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—

    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me

    to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes

    who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble

    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted

    above the enemies who surround me;

at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;

    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;

    be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, I will seek.

Do not hide your face from me,

    do not turn your servant away in anger;

    you have been my helper.

Do not reject me or forsake me,

    God my Savior.

Though my father and mother forsake me,

    the Lord will receive me.

Teach me your way, Lord;

    lead me in a straight path

    because of my oppressors.

Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,

    for false witnesses rise up against me,

    spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord.

Unfortunately, I didn't have much time for blogging this week, so I'll leave you with a quick thought on Psalm 27. Yesterday I noticed that David references confidence twice in the psalm. As I have been preparing to head to Wheaton College for a week of class, I have had those moments of nerves and anxiety about what people will think of me and wanting to be evaluated well. Without a proper perspective, I can follow those temptations down trails of worry and fear. With a proper perspective - God called me to this program and has provided for me to be there; our professor is fantastic and committed to our learning and growth; the women in Propel 7 are the bee's knees and love me as much as I love them - I can have confidence.

It struck me that the confidence David advocates for isn't in his ability to muster up more faith or courage, but instead in focusing on the Lord, his provision, his presence, his power, his mercy, and his present and future promises. What a relief! My takeaway from Psalm 27, which I pass along to you for your edification as well, is this:

The opposite of fear is not faith;

it is confidence in the object of our faith!

Breathe today, child of God! He is faithful and near. In defiance of your fears and whatever or whoever assails you, speak truth about your Father, remember his deeds, wait for him and take heart. In David's words, "Seek his face!" God is not waiting for you to muster up faith and courage; he's offering you rest in him.

Shalom, this Sabbath day!

February 25, 2023

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I have been reading three psalms a week and sharing them on those social media platforms, typically on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  This past Thursday, I shared briefly about how we could use Psalm 23 as a prayer of confession and gave an example of what that might look like with verse one.  Today in a departure from my usual commentary, I invite you to join me in prayer as I work through the whole psalm to lead us in confession.  Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust and comfort; working through it as a prayer of confession, I believe, will increase our confidence and security in our Good Shepherd.  I'm going to speak in the first person so we can each read it for ourselves.  Rejoice to know that others will be agreeing with you in prayer as they too read and confess.

Join me in prayer.

Good Shepherd, have mercy on me, a sinner, for trying to be my own shepherd and for claiming credit for what your hand has provided. I'm sorry. Restore to me the joy of dwelling in your fold as your sheep. I give you thanks for my dependence and your supreme dependability.

Good Shepherd, have mercy on me, a sinner, for not receiving the rest and refreshment you offer to my body and soul by not sleeping enough, rushing around in busyness trying to prove myself, hanging on to worry and fear, and forgetting your promises and provision.  I'm sorry.  Restore to me the joy of surrendering to how you created me to need physical and spiritual rest.  I give you thanks that you offer me rest. 

Good Shepherd, have mercy on me, a sinner, for looking around when I am walking through difficult times and determining that the problems exceed your ability to protect and deliver.  Forgive me for putting you in a box, thinking you have abandoned me, and/or fearing the dark rather than remembering I am a child of Light, a sheep in your fold.  I'm sorry.  Restore to me the joy of knowing you have not left me nor that you will forsake me. I give you thanks for always being with me and the reminder that I'm only passing through the valley, it is not the end of the story.

Good Shepherd, have mercy on me, a sinner, for looking around at the good that seems to be happening to others, maybe even people who are against me, and missing the table you've prepared before me and that I am your chosen and beloved child.  Your blessings overflow to me in your pasture, but I look over the wall and think that grass is definitely greener.  I'm sorry.  Restore to me the joy of seeing your gifts and anointing for all that they are, expressions of your love for me. I give you thanks for how much you love and the lengths you go to to prove it to me.

Good Shepherd, have mercy on me, a sinner, for forgetting that you pursue me and have good prepared for me, perhaps even assuming that I don't deserve your affection or that I need to earn it. Forgive me for denying - by how I live - that I have a future with you and an all-day-every-day hope in Christ, that what I see is not what evermore will be and that my now and forever are as secure as Jesus is alive. I'm sorry. Restore to me the joy of the day I first believed, knew I was yours, received the Spirit, and was enveloped in your love. I give you thanks that I dwell in your presence now and eternally.
My Shepherd, I love you! King Jesus, I surrender to your shepherding. Thank you for Holy Spirit within to cheer and guide in this journey.  Help me to trust and honor you; thank you for always gently guiding me back.

February 19, 2023

Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

May he send you help from the sanctuary

    and grant you support from Zion.

May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.

May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.

May we shout for joy over your victory

    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:

    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.

He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary

    with the victorious power of his right hand.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They are brought to their knees and fall,

    but we rise up and stand firm.

Lord, give victory to the king!

    Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20 is a kingship psalm. It's probably not one we will memorize or see on a bookmark. (Psalm 23 is coming up soon!) The more natural choice for this weeks blost would have been Psalm 19. It's great! But I chose 20 because it got me thinking about King David, his role and the role of the kings in Israel, God's people, and all of us being under the authority and care of Jehovah.

I picture this is a prayer being spoken over troops as they are being sent out to battle against one of the neighboring peoples. David, up above them in some way, speaking blessings over them, "May God ..." He is entrusting his men to the Lord and reminding them who is really in charge of the people, their protection, and the land. Then he moves on to his personal confidence that God will give him victory because he is the Lord's anointed. This is not arrogance. David is confident and settled in the calling God has on his life as the anointed King of Israel. He knows the one in whom he trusts and from whom the victory must come. He also knows that the battles aren't about him or Israel, but about the Lord and his soverignty. (Keep in mind that when Israel went into battle apart from the Lord's leading, they were routed!)

This psalm reminds us as twenty-first century readers that God is still sovereign over all nations and all lands. He is in his "heavenly sanctuary" still hearing our prayers and still as trustworthy to be faithful to his promises as he was with Israel and her King.

As you worship this week, whether this morning in a church building or later in the week when you're out and about, rejoice in the Lord that he has drawn you away from trusting in whatever your heart is tempted to trust for victory, to trusting in the name of the Lord your God. In fact, here's an idea for an exercise: You might not be a warrior going off to batte, but in your field and community what are you tempted to trust in other than the Lord? Often I am convinced if I can just put together the best routine and schedule, all will be well. My gods are my accomplishments and ability to be in control. I could rephrase that verse Some trust in calendars and some in atomic habits, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Sounds silly, but it's the truth. (And, of course, the baseline is me trusting in myself. Lord, have mercy!)

If you belong to Christ, (God's ultimate anointed one), you too have been chosen and called to be part of God's people. Contrary to public opinion, we are not warriors that need to take back anything for God; that wasn't Israel's task either. They were called to love and obey the Lord, becuase he loved them and rescued them from Egypt, and by being his they would be a light to the nations. We are as dependent as the troops of Israel on God's rescue and direction in our lives as individuals and the Church. And we are just as prone to idol worship as the people of Israel. (Check out I Cor 10:11-13.)

May the Lord use Psalm 20 to minister to us this day, brining conviction of sin and confidence in his love and care for his Church. The Lord gave victory to the King of kings, Jesus! He answers us when we call! Like David, we can rise up and stand firm in him, with humble rejoicing, confident prayers, and hopeful anticipation of his continued victory over sin and death, in our individual lives and in all creation.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  
Ephesians 6:12

Only the Lord can come out on top agains such foes! We surrender to him; he fights our enemies. He has secured the victory and is securing it. What a God!


February 12, 2023

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

This is a beautiful psalm of trust.  David speaks of God's attributes as a refuge and provider and names the many good things God has provided and will provide for him because he belongs to God.  I feel like it wouldn't hurt to memorize this one!

At the writing of this psalm, David needs (as many of the psalms have demonstrated through Psalm 16) protection from his enemies.  King Saul wants him dead.  But he knows that he is God's anointed, chosen to be the next king of Israel.  This psalm is an expression of trust in him and in praise of who God is and what he does and will do.  Knowing God has and will keep him safe, is his portion and his cup, and is always present with him not only gives David personal confidence and security; it impacts how he relates to others, to idols, even to death.  And the tone of the psalm is joy and praise.  David delights in God's people, forsakes all other gods, and proclaims that it is God who has set him up, continues to direct him, and will keep him from being shaken.

Because of all of the truth he knows about God, David also responds from within his very being, trusting the Lord with his death as much as his life.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure.

In fact, without knowing it (I assume) his subsequent words are picked up by the apostles in Acts as prophesy of how God did not let Jesus' body see decay but raised him from the dead!

David responds to knowledge of and relationship with God in his living and being.  On display for us here is a picture of the shalom that God established for the world at creation, and that all of creation presently longs to have restored.  Shalom is not a simple absence-of-war peace, but rather a flourishing and well-being to the core for all of creation and for each individual.  We find it only in God and surrender to his authority and care.  David says it this way:

I say to the LORD, "You are my LORD;
apart from you I have no good thing.

Friends, we walk with, know, and have been chosen, redeemed, adopted, and made righteous by the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David!  Shalom, though not yet in its fullness on earth, is ours in Christ!  To me, the only logical question in response to reading a psalm like this is

Will we join David in expressing trust in God today?

Will we let our hearts be glad in God, despite enemy assault; will we declare the praises of God who has called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light; will we walk in the paths of life he has shown us; will we praise him with our words and in relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith? 

Oh, let's!  We belong to God!

Turning our minds and hearts back to what is true, then saying it out loud, truly will make our hearts glad and loosen our tongues to rejoice.  It doesn't mean the hard will go away automatically or perhaps ever in this life, but we know our Creator-King God knows and is in it with us with the love and power each situation requires.

The boundary lines have fallen for [us] in pleasant places;
surely, [we] have a delightful inheritance.

My dear siblings in Christ, God is keeping us safe.  He is our refuge.  He is our portion.  He is our cup.  
We have a delightful inheritance.  God is faithful to his people in life and in death.  Let us join our brother, King David, and keep our eyes always on the Lord. 


February 4, 2023

Psalm 15

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
    Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
    who does what is righteous,
    who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
    who does no wrong to a neighbor,
    and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
    but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
    and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
    who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
    will never be shaken.

Psalm 15 doesn't fit into any of the common psalm categories: hymn of praise, lament, or thanksgiving.  Though it's not listed as a "wisdom" psalm as such in the books I have for reference, for me it makes me think of Proverbs more than Psalms.  It is instruction in answer to two big questions.  I don't know if these questions are being asked in the same way now.  I think we ask them in this form: "Am I enough?"  We want to know that we are okay.

I'm not sure that this psalm offers much comfort.  Or does it?

First, some history:  In David's time, God dwelled in the holy of holies in the tabernacle that he gave explicit instructions to build.  Later, when David took the throne, he would centralize both the government and religious life of Israel in Jerusalem by bringing the ark of the covenant there to be settled.  His son would construct the more permanent temple.  The holy of holies was open only once a year for the high priest to enter and offer sacrifices for the people for atonement (Leviticus 16).  The high priest had to be cleansed and purified according to the word of the Lord before presenting sacrifice on behalf of the people.  It was serious business to come into the presence of the Lord.  David knew this.

In answer to his own questions, then, David goes on to describe the type of person who can live in God's sacred tent and holy mountain: a righteous one.  If you read Psalm 14, this is intriguing, because he blatantly says in Psalm 14, "there is no one who does good." (Paul picks this idea up in Romans 3, as well.)  Nevertheless, David, knowing the law, is able to pen these words about how the Lord has laid out instructions for the righteous life he desires.

I would summarize the verses by saying the one whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous is driven by a purity of heart and motive that come from submission to the greatest commandment and the second that is like it (Matthew 22:36-40).  They have an integration of faith and life that sets them on a solid foundation.  The specifics include controlled speech, relating to others kindly, opposition to evil, being a person of their word and integrity, just, generous, and honest.

An honest reflection will highlight that no human lives up to this ideal.  Like David said in Psalm 14, no one does good.  Well, all of us do some good, but none of us is one hundred percent consistent in our righteousness enough to be confident to "dwell in [God's] sacred tent."

Is there any comfort in this psalm, then?

Yes!  We can be encouraged in two ways: our reconciliation to God in Christ and God's promise to carry to completion what he starts.

Jesus lived the kind of life described here.  He came to do so, in fact, that he could be the sacrifice to open up the holy of holies to all people.  He was unshakable in his love for God and neighbor. But more than being an example or a martyr, he is the way, truth, and life.  This week in a separate Bible study for our Sunday School class, I was floored by the truth that I have been reconciled to God through Christ.  We were once alienated or enemies of God, but through faith in Jesus we are restored to God as sons and daughters.  Thus, we can love God and love our neighbor as he intended all along.

That hits on the second idea that God carries to completion what he begins.  In Christ, as new creations, we can set out on the paths of righteousness God has laid out for us, not in pride or fear, but in peace, contentment, and joy.  Secure as God's own children, knowing he has promised to transform us into Jesus' likeness, we can forsake our former idols and habits and boldly walk in faith as people of justice, righteousness, and integrity.  In that space, we are on solid ground.  ("Shaken" there at the end of the psalm can be translated "stand firm forever" or "moved.")

God's story is all about recreating the way to be with his people.  From the fall in Genesis 3, the reconciliation story unfolds according to God's timing and plan.  He knows none of us is righteous, yet he made a way that we can be, so we can be with him again in his presence as he was with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Nailing the righteous life is not the end goal, being with our God is.  In this present time, we can enjoy growing in righteousness through relationship with our Creator-King - planting our feet on the solid ground of his love and his word.  Thus we will become ministers of reconciliation in a world that desperately needs just that.

So back to our modern version of David's opening question: "Am I enough?"  I think the Bible tells us we're asking the wrong question. God simply invites us to believe that he is enough and to trust his way for us is best.  We have immense value and worth as God's image-bearers in creation.  By sending his son, Jesus, God showed us just how much he loves us and how much he wants to rescue us from the fear that we're not enough.  Further, he has given us his Spirit; the God who once dwelt only in the holy of holies takes up residence in our hearts.  Wow, doesn't that make you want to praise him?

May his blessings flow to you as you worship and rest this weekend.

January 29, 2023

Psalm 12

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
    those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
    they flatter with their lips
    but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
    and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
    “By our tongues we will prevail;
    our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord.
    “I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
    like silver purified in a crucible,
    like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
    and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
    when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Here we find another lament of David.  He looks around and says what I have often heard said these days, though the language is perhaps a bit different.  "Why is there so much evil?"  "Why doesn't anyone follow God anymore?"  "Things have never been this bad."

But David turns to the Lord and opens with "Help!"  Did you know that is one of the best prayers?  That one word communicates so much: surrender and faith.  It says, "Hey, Lord, I know you're the only hope in this situation."  It looks in the right direction for hope and assistance.  Don't ever feel ashamed or afraid to simply say to your loving heavenly Faith and Creator-King, "Help!"

In the pattern of a lament, after issuing his complaint/plea-for-help combo, David expresses confidence in God to shut down the proud and boastful.  Then there's the stanza where God speaks.  It is almost like, mid-prayer, David turns to God's word for language to express his confidence that God is going to answer his plea for help.  God will arise!  His word (promises) will be fulfilled!

David closes with a word of praise to God, the one who keeps the needy safe and protects the vulnerable from the wicked, even if it seems like at the moment they are prevailing.

A Psalm of Contrasts

As per the usual in wisdom literature, God's steadfast faithfulness and power to protect his people and triumph over evil are set in contrast to the pride and dishonesty of "the wicked" - those who refuse to acknowledge God.  Another comparison is presented between their words and God's.  The speech of these unfaithful and unloyal humans is at best unreliable, at worst harmful.  God's word, however, is as trustworthy and pure as can be.  Human tongues wag in confidence their plans will come to pass and nothing can stop them.  But the Lord arises, able to make his word come to pass.

It is worth the time to present a final contrast that may not be as obvious, but I find most personally convicting.  The last line of the Psalm reads, "when what is vile is honored by the human race."  To read that word in the context of this psalm, vile can be understood as lying, deceitfulness, boasting, pride, and plundering the vulnerable.  If I were asked, outside of reading this psalm, what I'd put in the vile category, none of these things would make my list.  I'd be thinking of gross, deviant behaviors that make the daily news and leave us thinking, "Thank goodness I'm not like that!"  But lying, deceit, pride, boasting, benefiting from the plunder of the poor?  Well, I can be like that!  In contrast, we find the faithful - loyal to God and fellow humans - who humbly turn to God, trust in his protection and power, and strive to help the poor and needy.

Good News!

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who put their faith in him have a door opened to freedom from wickedness (dependence on self) and unto faithfulness (humble surrender to God).  God takes hard hearts, prone to lies, flattery, and deception, and gives hearts of flesh in return, hearts soft toward him and toward our neighbor.  The self-preservation-at-any-cost way of living is replaced by a hopeful, faithful, peaceful existence grounded in the love of our powerful and loving Creator-King who sees the poor and needy and is risen.

I am humbled by a psalm like this.  On my own, without the Lord's intervention in my life, I was in the group David talks about in verse one.  But he has intervened and given me faith and his Spirit.  I am no longer at the mercy of my pride and desires!  Nor are you if you have put your trust in Jesus.  Yes, temptation will come - we are not yet in the new earth - but sin's power over us is no more.  We belong to the Lord and are part of his family!

People will fail us.  We will disappoint ourselves.  But "the words of the Lord are flawless."  Indeed, what he says he will do.  Consider the contrasts in this psalm and, as you meditate on the gospel today, rejoice!  When you were poor and needy, the Lord came to your aid.  Jesus' work is complete and he will return.

When we are tempted to join in David's lament,"Lord, no one is faithful anymore! Evil is winning!" may the Spirit quickly come to our aid, reminding us of God's triumph over evil, his good and true promises, and his love and power at work in his Church (us!) and in the world.  Further, may the Lord guide us into his way for us today and in the coming days, showing us when and where we can be part of his "arising" to the aid of the poor and needy.


January 22, 2023

Psalm 8

Photo by <a href="">Khamkéo Vilaysing</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

David praises Jehovah (LORD), whose name is majestic in the earth because he created it all, including the heavens.  Further, David is in awe of how his Lord ordered creation such that humankind would be positioned its stewards.  Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise.  Indeed this one sounds more like what we sing on a Sunday morning than the lament in Psalm 6 that we looked at last week!

As I read this I thought that perhaps David wrote this at night.  He doesn't mention the sun, only the moon and stars.  I imagine, in an era without the light pollution we enjoy today, him standing out in a field and beholding the expanse above him.  (Note in the psalm that "heavens" is a reference to the sky, not heaven as a place where God dwells.)  What does he see?  Probably something like the photo above.  So.  Many.  Stars.  The experience, even without all the knowledge we presently have about how immense the universe is, makes him wonder at how small he is.  He says, "You have set your glory in the heavens."  Glory refers here to splendor, the grandeur of an imposing form or appearance.  Jehovah's glory is displayed in creation, especially that vastness of the sky!  David recognizes his comparable smallness and worships his Jehovah's majestic name.

Then he moves on to consider that, despite his physical insignificance in comparison to the heavens, Jehovah created all things with an order, within which human beings were the crowning achievement of creation, placed on earth to tend to all Jehovah created.  What a calling!  God is so big, His creation so glorious, and still, God is "mindful" of his image-bearers and "made them rulers over the works of [his] hands."

The hierarchy is clear.  The Creator is on top.  We live and rule in dependence on and in submission to Jehovah.  Yet David communicates in his praise that it is not a hierarchy of fear, but of love.  In the poetic style of the ancient Hebrews, couplets that emphasize an image or idea, we see the mindfulness of God described as care for human beings.

You know, I have no idea how creation happened at the scientific level.  People seem to like to argue about that.  With this psalm, however, let's leave all those details aside and imagine ourselves standing with David out in the dark on a plain or at the top of a mountain beholding the clear night sky in all of its glory.  We are tempted to stop there, simply amazed at what was created.  Then the Spirit reminds us not to stop there with our adoration, but to turn our thoughts to the one who is greater than creation, Jehovah the Creator.

We hold our breath a moment when we remember he calls us his own beloved children through his Son Jesus.  The one who made and placed every blessed star in the heavens knows our names, set us on his earth to steward everything he created, and knit us together to reflect his image in the world.

As we exhale we join David and whisper or shout,

"Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

January 14, 2023

Psalm 6

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
    Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
    they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Before this Psalm, there are musical instructions: "with stringed instruments."  I kinda giggled to myself thinking about what it would be like if our music team led us in a song with these lyrics on Sunday morning.  Not your typical praise chorus.

And yet,

how many Sunday mornings do we roll into church and could easily answer, "I am worn out from my groaning," if we were to answer honestly when asked how we were doing?

Allow me to state the obvious: Psalm 6 is a psalm of lament.

I don't know what tradition you were raised in or what your perspective of contemporary Christianity is if you weren't, but I know that I came out of my upbringing thinking that a Jesus follower had to be like Joy from the movie Inside Out(She's the one with her arms outstretched in the picture above.)  I remember a praise lyric, "I'm inside, outside, upside, downside, happy all the time!"  And there are a lot of verses about God giving us joy: the joy of the Lord is our strength; it's a fruit of the Spirit; heck, we're even supposed to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.  A passage like Psalm 6 can leave you wondering.  Was David not as fantastic of a God-follower as we've been told, too emotional or whiny?  Is Pixar better at acknowledging our humanity than the Bible?!  Or are the psalms of lament included in the canon of Scripture to teach us about the nature of God, how we can relate to Him, and a rebuke of Christians-must-be-pretutally-happy- robots -people message?

Let's see!

What's the main idea of Psalm 6?

When approaching the Word, we always want to begin by considering what it has to tell us about God.  The Bible is, after all, a book of revelation about him, that we may know him and respond to his invitation to relationship with him.  Psalms of lament have some or all of these elements, with the bold being the most common: invocation, plea for help, complaint, confession, cursing enemies, confidence in God, and a hymn or blessing to close.  In Psalm 6 we find an invocation, plea, complaint, and confidence in God.  Considering the genre and what it has to tell us about God, the main idea of psalm 6 is when we find ourselves in dire straights, running to God and declaring what is true about the situation, our feelings, and His character is the faithful move, because it expresses our trust in his love, strength, and sovereignty.

Do you see how David does this?  He doesn't shy away from brutal honesty, and in the first verses one gets the impression that he's maybe a little concerned about this blunt approach.  He's like, "Hey God, um, yeah, like, don't wipe me out, have mercy on me.  Your anointed King is not at his best right now."  But given how the Lord has guided, protected, and preserved his life so far, David knows that it is okay to come as he is.  Things are just plain hard!  He is literally dealing with enemies who want him to fail or, worse, die.

"How long, Lord, how long?" is not an unreasonable question from the man who knows he's to be Israel's next king.  God made the promise, but the road has been rocky!

I believe it's important at this juncture to share a theme I see emerging from Psalms.  Like in Psalm 1, we saw the contrast between the righteous and the wicked (those who trust God and those who do not), there is another major contrast presented, God and humankind.  God is a self-sufficient, powerful, eternal, holy, merciful refuge.  Humans are dependent, weak, finite, and very much in need of refuge.

In our psalm here we see how David is worn out, beaten down, and defeated.  He needs God to intervene, so he turns to Him.  Even in his grief, David recites what is true: God hears his prayers; his enemies will be defeated (God promised); he will know God's comfort; this weeping isn't the end of the story.

David, in lament, runs to his only true refuge, the very source of his hope.

What's this got to do with worship?

Friends, we are in the same boat as David.  Yes, we live after the death and resurrection of Jesus and have the Spirit, but we still wait His second coming, the new heaven and the new earth, the end-end of all sorrow and grief.  Groaning is part of this present season.  David shows us how we can groan faithfully with hope.  We can come to our loving heavenly Father and say, "How long, Lord, how long?" and we can repeat to ourselves and one another the truth that a day is coming when all of God's enemies and the sin that entangles us will be vanquished once and for all.

Reading the Bible and considering the timeline of God with His people reveals two things:
  1. God keeps His promises.
  2. God, in wisdom, works in His time.
The second one is hard.  I would hurry things along, especially the painful stuff!  But I wonder what I would miss about living by faith, hope, and love if life was always Easy St.?

Oh boy, one final really important thing we learn as we read God's Word to us!

**God is present with His people.**

God wants to be with us and went as far as sending His own Son to die for us so that we can live with Him eternally.  Can you believe it?!   Our Creator-King, whom we have offended with our constant efforts to be our own god, loves us and wants to be with us forever.  He wants to restore and renew us so we can look like Him!

A passage like Psalm 6 reminds us of our desperate need of a delivering and merciful God. 
Psalm 6 teaches us that authentic coming to Him doesn't have to clean up; He comforts and leads us in our sorrow. 
Psalm 6 also shows us how to live faithfully while in distress: weep because it is hard; pray because He hears; look forward to His promises because He is faithful.

Have you ever noticed how many hymns end with a verse of anticipation of Christ's return?  That keeps everything into perspective, just like the psalms of lament closing with words of confidence in God and a blessing of His name.  There's a plan for the end of all this madness.  Someone is overseeing it all and He's good and able.  There is hope because God is, sees, loves, and has a plan!

Tomorrow is Sunday.  May the Lord meet you in worship, whether you are bursting at the seems with joy this weekend or you're "worn out from groaning" like David was. God with with us when our hearts are light, when they are aching, and everything in between.  He delights that we come to Him, no matter what Inside Out character we resemble at the moment!

Lord, help us by your Spirit to be faithful to you in the waiting; it is hard and you know our fragility.
Thank you that your Word teaches us that we can come to you authentically, that you are aware of our trials and tribulations, and that you have a plan to make all things new.
You are present.  All glory to your name.

January 6, 2023

Psalm 1

 Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leave does not wither --
    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

The word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

The psalm above is the opening psalm of Psalms.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the compilers of the book put it together with intention.  We can thus assume that this first poetic prayer sets the tone for the book.  In fact, as I have been reading the first three psalms over and over this week, I have been impressed by how all three prepare the reader for what is to come: the first lays out a contrast between ways of living; the second extolls God's authority, sovereignty, and power; the third demonstrates living righteously by crying out to and depending on the God introduced in psalm two.  But today we focus on Psalm 1.

What is the main idea of this psalm?

Without understanding the main idea, we run the risk of missing what the psalmist is trying to say or, worse, misinterpreting or misapplying the Scripture.  Consider this sobering thought in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, (p218, emphasis mine):

Decontextualizing any part of a psalm is to betray the psalimst, and will often lead to wrong conclusions.  Whenever one takes even a part of a piece of literature and uses it wrongly, and especially with poetry(!), that literature will be unable to do what it was intended to do, and so God's purposes in inspring it are thwarted.
That made me pause the first time I read it!  How important it is to treat the Word of God with proper respect and honor.  That reminds me of Psalm 1 a little!

In this psalm, we find the main idea in the major contrast that is presented between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked; the former is laid out by God and the other is not.  Using the imagery of a flourishing tree in contrast to chaff that gets blown away, the way of God is presented as fruitful and lasting while the way without him as unproductive and finite.  The focus is on these two ways of living; one is under God's direction and wisdom, the other not.  It's not about individuals and whether or not they are good or bad.  The central theme of the psalm is the two ways of living.  Will we take God's wise way or will we go on our foolish own?

Remembering we are dealing with poetry, not prose, commands, or narrative helps us to keep the words of the psalm and our hearts in check.  So when we read lines like "whatever they do prospers," we know it's not a promise for following a formula.  Even the Bible highlights that bad things happen to good people and vice-versa!  Nor can we get puffed up and think, "At least I'm not like the wicked," because we know darn well that we aren't as righteous as the righteousness described in the opening verses.

Considering Psalm 1 within the full counsel of the Bible is helpful at this point.  This two-ways message is reiterated over and over again throughout the Bible.  God created us to be with him.  The story of the Bible is his unfolding plan to be with his people again as he was with Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis 1 and 2.  Part of that plan was the provision of the law, to show his people what his way looks like and that they could be a light to the nations by living it.  To be frank, the law devastatingly (to human pride) revealed that there was no hope for them to walk in that way without complete dependence on the giver of the law.  The point was not to get the list of rules, obey them perfectly, and prove their worth to the Lord.  The point was to worship and fall into step with the way of the One who gave the law, that they might know the flourishing of a tree planted by streams of water that is fruitful and unwithering.  The coming of Christ to fulfill the law and be the way is the climax of the story.

About Worship

I woke up thinking about how to close these blog posts this year.  In the opening post I mentioned that the primary purpose of the psalms is liturgical, to guide us in worship.  Let's consider Psalm 1 from that perspective then.  Psalm 1 is not an us versus them psalm.  Psalm 1 is not a "live this way and you're guaranteed a prosperous earthly life" psalm.  Psalm 1 is not about instilling fear of a capricious God who will blow you away if you don't get it "right."

Psalm 1 certainly humbles us to the dust; we know we are incapable of constant meditation on the Scriptures and that our delight in God cannot be sustained by our own willpower.  Yet Psalm 1 also lifts up our heads; the Creator-King God loves us so much he shows us the way that we might enjoy the blessing of walking in it with him, now and eternally!  Psalm 1 is an invitation.  Psalm 1 is a gift.

You know how it opens "Blessed is ...?"  Well, I read once in reference to the beatitudes that it could be translated as congratulations!  "Congratulations to the one who walks in God's way!"   It's a way of joy, peace, hope, and flourishing.  Happy is the one who finds it, indeed.

To bring this ancient psalm into the present, lest we ever be tempted to pat ourselves on the back for being "righteous," our worship is reoriented when we remember that it was because God loved us and while we were still sinners that Christ - the Way, the Truth, and the Life - died for us to set us free from sin and send the Spirit to enable us to walk in His way.*  As it was for David, it is for us; to be a person after God's heart is a work He initiates, directs, and sustains.  All glory belongs to God!

Praise the Lord, Christian.  Worship him with wonder and delight!

If you believe, that was his work.
        If you walk in his way, that's his provision and protection.
                If you count yourself among the righteous, that is all to his credit.

Without the God who reveals the two ways, we're blind.  But when we hear about Him, learn of His way, and take Him at his word, He gives us hope, makes us righteous, and walks with us in His way.

The goal is not righteous living for righteous living's sake.  The end is our Creator-King Himself, who watches over His children on their way, helping them bear fruit as they abide in Him, and keeping their leaves green as they stay close to the river of life.

Enjoy Him and walking in His way!  And, while you're at it, why not invite a friend to join you?


*I realize I'm assuming some knowledge here, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!