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.