Saturday, May 30, 2009

Psalm 87

Home. One of my "homes" over the years was my grandfather's farm. My mom was literally born IN the house. When an old car died, grandpa would park them behind the barn. By the time I became a young man, a big tree grew out of the windows of an old Plymouth.

In today's Psalm, "7 the people ... sing, 'The source of my life is in Jerusalem.'" Like the old tree growing out of the Plymouth, I had some of my roots grounded on that old Ohio farm. But what if I said that the source of my life is there? Grandpa's been buried in the earth for about ten years now. A tornado has since demolished all but the old house. If I had determined that the source of my life was in that ground, then where would I be?

What does it mean when the people of God proclaim that the source of our life is in Jerusalem? Well, c
onsider the time when this Psalm was written. It was either written during the time of King David -- when God was showing up in mighty ways -- or it was written a few generations later by people who yearned for God to show up again. They weren't worshiping a particular patch of earth, they were celebrating a God who has, will, can, and does show up.

When it says, "2 [God] loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other city in Israel," more than any other city in the world, I don't think it means God loves area more or any people less. Rather, I think that God has declared Jerusalem as a place of intersection. God has proclaimed -- and subsequently shown -- that heaven and earth and the divine story will keep intersecting on this particular patch of ground.

We know that is true because when the Son of God came to this earth, more than half the Gospel occurred after "[Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). The place where the life of the Messiah would culminate was in "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it" (Luke 13:34 and Matthew 23:37 which continue with Jesus saying,) "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

Jerusalem also plays a crucial role in the final showdowns of Revelation, and even more important, Jerusalem is the Revelation 21 intersecting point for "1 a new heaven and a new earth." As John recorded, "2 [Then] I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them."

That's why the Psalmist cries, "7 The source of my life is in Jerusalem." It's not because God loves people more or less based on their proximity to this hillside town, it's that they were hungry for a point of intersection -- like Jerusalem -- with God. We want to claim the promise that "God himself will be with them ... indeed, with us.

Just as I look for points of intersection where I can feel the earthly ties of family like I once experienced them on my grandfather's farm. We are invited to look for points of intersection with God -- maybe even daily points of intersection. Fortunately, we don't have to go looking for distant city or a blessed patch of earthly ground. Jesus tells us -- Matthew 18:20 -- that wherever two or three are gathered in his name he is there among us.

Gathering in Jesus' name -- small groups, worship, prayers with a spouse or a friend -- that's holy ground.

Jesus, I give you thanks
for those Jerusalem moments in my life.
The times where I have gathered with others
in your name, and known your presence.
Draw me closer to those who love you
and in so doing, draw me closer to you.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Psalm 86

"I tend to work the nightshift." Those were the words of a man who said he stayed awake too many nights worrying. Those long nights, he said, were his laboratory. It was there he learned to trust all things to God.

Tonight, I too am working the nightshift. Five feet away is my wife who is peacefully asleep. Surgery for her went well today.

Therefore, the nightshift tonight (4:39am) is not worrying ... but thankgiving!

"10 [O Lord,] you are great and perform great miracles ... 12 With all my heart I will praise you ... I will give glory to your name forever."

That's the thanksgiving report from today's nightshift! Thank God for his graciousness. Thank YOU, dear friends in Christ, for your prayers ... and hugs ... and cards ... and flowers ... and food ... and heartfelt offers of support. And thanks be to God for the care of our surgeon. Yes, this night, the report is thanksgiving.

But tomorrow might be different, mightn't it?

Tomorrow, the pain medication may wear off and a new dose of reality may set it. Next month chemo may exact a steeper toll than even a surgery. Instead of "Thank you, Lord!" what can you imagine us crying on other nights?

+ 1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help.

+ 2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you.

+ 3 Be merciful, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly.

+ 4 Give me happiness, O Lord, for my life depends on you.

+ 6 Listen closely to my prayer, O LORD; hear my urgent cry.

+ 16 Look down and have mercy on me. Give strength to your servant ...

+ 17 Send me a sign of your favor ... O Lord, help and comfort me.

Throughout the Psalms, King David constantly oscilates between hope and fear ... trust and doubt ... pleading and thanksgiving. A directory of human emotions plays out on every page of the Psalms -- just like it plays out on every page of our lives. Today, for my family, the morning's concern has given way to this evening's thanksgiving. Tomorrow, our thanksgiving may just as likely give way to a new round of concerns.

And suddenly, I'm truly beginning to understand the full weight of Jesus words, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:34).

In fact, suddenly, I'm beginning to understand the full meaning of the verse right before that too: "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

When God is sought and when God is first ...

hope is mingled in with our fears ...
joy is sprinkled alongside our tears ...
love is stirred into our lonliness ...
healing battles earthly illness ...
light conquers darkness ...
forgiveness defeats sin ...
and life doesn't have to be
the sum of our worries.
Thank you God for the healing of today.
Please continue to pour upon us
hope and joy, healing and light.
And thank you, Lord, for dear friends in faith
to walk this journey with.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Psalm 85

At our house, we have a stack of blankets.

And one of the favorite things for each of us to do is curl up on the couch. Covered! Warm! Cozy!

Other than rhyming, "quilt" and "guilt" have nothing in common. But can't you imagine God laying a warm, comforting quilt over us when the Psalmist says, "2 You have forgiven the guilt of your people -- yes, you have covered all [my] sins." Covered! Forgiven! Quilt instead of guilt.

Indeed, when the Psalmist says, "1 you have poured out amazing blessings on your land," can't you almost imagine the aerial photos of the farms in summer. When God blesses the land, the fields are almost a patchwork quilt of different plants and different colors. Covered! Wrapped up in "1 amazing blessings."

At our house, we keep the thermostat low in the winter. Therefore, one of things that makes us cringe is when a corner of the blanket is pulled up and our toes are exposed. Life too has chilly times, and so we pray like the Psalmist. "Cover us back up" is really "4 t
urn to us again, O God of our salvation." And "warm us back up" is really "6 revive us again [and] 7 show us your unfailing love."

What happens when "10 unfailing love and truth me[e]t together"? What happens when "10 righteousness and peace kiss[]"? We are covered. "12 T
he Lord pours down his blessings [and] our land will yield its bountiful crops."

Gracious God, cover me with your quilt.
Cover me with forgiveness and "1 amazing blessings."
Let my love be unfailing. Let me seek always your truth.
And help my human efforts meet your love which is truly unfailing
and your truth which is life's only accurate guide.
Bless me with your kiss of righteousness and peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Psalm 84

I like the image of a huge, old temple. Great columns. Arching doorways ... but no doors.

No doors?

Can't you just imagine a temple so busy that there's never a chance to close the doors?!

But ... no closed doors presents just one problem: birds!
Arching doorways and no doors means "3 the swallow builds her nest ... at a place near [God's] altar."

How irreverent, right?

But only if you're legalistic. What if -- in the midst of your prayers in the temple -- you looked at the birds as a parable. Legalistic religion always teaches people to be afraid of God, but the song of these birds echoes Hebrews 4:16 -- "Let us therefore approach [God's] throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Jesus wound up putting it this way -- Matthew 6:26 -- "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

This is a Psalm of yearning: "2 I ... long[] to enter the courts of the Lord."

This is a Psalm of bold worship: "2 with my whole being" I will approach your throne of grace as "12 trust[ing]" as the birds.

This is a Psalm of joy: "2 I will shout joyfully to the living God."

Life is sometimes hard, but on the other side of "6 the Valley of Weeping," this worship "6 will become a place of refreshing springs where pools of blessing collect after the rains!"

Indeed, "10 a single day in [God's] courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!"

"5 Happy are those who are strong in [you, O] Lord ...
12 [H]appy are those who trust in you.
8 [Therefore,] hear my prayer.
11 [You are my] light and protector.
[You] give[ me] grace and glory.
No good thing will [you] withhold from those who do what is right."
Therefore, O Lord, I commit myself to your cause
and I humbly ask _______________________."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Psalm 83

Why do people pray?

And why don't people pray?

There are usually three motives for people to pray:

+ duty -- "I ought to / need to"
+ desperation -- "I have nowhere else to turn"
+ and belief

Belief is the one I want to focus on. Faith, if you want to call it that. Confidence, though, is probably a better word.

Some people pray because they honestly believe that God can and will and wants to change their circumstances. Other people don't pray because in spite of believe "in" God, that don't really believe "that" God. Deep down, in spite of what they verbally profess, they don't really believe "that God" hears, "that God" answers, "that God" intervenes.

They believe God cares, but he's ultimately like the watchmaker who created the watch (created the world), wound it up, and set it running, but since then doesn't really interfere with it's day to day operations. He can. He has in the past. But for the most part, he just lets the watch run ... so why pray?

I bring that up because that's the exact opposite of what is happening in this Psalm ...

+ The Psalmist knows that God acts.
He's seen the enemies thwarted in ages past.
+ Now they rise up again ("3 They devise crafty schemes against your people. 5 They signed a treaty as allies against you.")
+ God is present and active and able to help ("9 Do to them as you did to the Midianites.")
+ But for some reason, God appears to be "1 sit[ting] idly by." Why?

It's that why that stalls even more prayers. God is able to help, so why not now? Why not me?

And there comes the need for faith again. Faith 101 is that God is. Faith 201 is that God is active and able. Faith 301 -- actually, faith in terms of graduate level studies -- is trusting in an active, able God, even when you can't understand the way he answers (or doesn't answer) prayer.

And so we turn to Faith 401. Prayer -- especially as it nears graduation -- is a multi-discipline course. It needs to be combined with history classes. History reveals that God has been faithful in the past. Prayer, therefore, believes that God IS being faithful in the present ... even when we don't see it.

Prayer also believes that it's okay to keep pestering God about our needs ... and reminding him of his faithfulness.

Prayer is persistence.

It is trusting so much that God is able and active that you're not going to stop until you see him act!

"1 O God ...
2 Don't you hear [my] tumult ...?"
Help me.
Heal me.
Guide me.
Set me free.
You know my deepest pray.
Let me see your glory.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Psalm 82

Have you seen the old movies?

A noble king dressed in red?

A towering throne made of gold?

Throngs of knights and noblemen fill a massive room? They line the edges of a marble floor. They form a gleaming pathway that leads straight to the foot of the king.

That's what I saw immediately when I read the first words of today's Psalm. And I thought,
"1 heaven's court" is the place where God reigns! Saints and angels line the marble pathway, and I'm being ushered forward. I'm about to get knighted."

Yes, that's a little proud and presumptuous, but that's the scene I playing in my mind like glorious old movie flickering in technicolor.

But then I remember other old movies. Sometimes knights and noblemen watch as the newest knight is ushered forward. Other times the royal court watches as criminals are marched up the same marble pathway in dark and heavy chains. From the very same chair, the very same king pronounces some noble and just and other guilty and condemned.

Therefore, it didn't take long for my joyful thoughts of "1 heaven's courts" to dissolve into stormy clouds of "1 judgment."
Soon other movies began to fill flicker through my mind. Have you seen the one where there's a nefarious plot against the good king ... an evil monarch seizes control and corruption reigns in every corner of every town?

Have you seen that movie? What is our obvious hope throughout the film? Justice! We want
evil to be deposed and the rightful king to return to the throne. We yearn for "1 judgment on the judges 2 [who] shower special favors on the wicked," right?

Because "all [of us] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:22), we chafe at the word "1 judgment." A natural part of us ought to worry about whether we'll cross that marble floor in heavy chains or in towering hope. When we bow before the throne will we be gloriously knighted or eternally condemned? Therefore, "judgment" is always an uncomfortable word.

But think of the alternative to a God who is just. Do you want a King who is ... C
orrupt? Fickle? Uncaring? Distant and detached?

The fact is that an evil king has grabbed the throne. Sin is a pretender king, and everyday it seeks to rule the world and govern our hearts. We ought to cheer constantly -- and pray continually (1 Thes 5:17) -- for the God who is just to ascend to the throne in every heart and be given more honor in our broken world. But we "5 are [still] in darkness [and] the whole world is [still] shaken to the core."

Now we know how the movie ends.

Evil nailed the Good King to the cross. Fortunately, t
he Good King has escaped the chains of imprisonment and death. In one sense, the Good King is already and absolutely on the throne. As long as the Good King is alive, there is no other king! But sin still pretends. And until the "clouds [are] rolled back like a scroll" and the end-of-the-movie credits roll, we're part of an ongoing movie where corruption still pretends to the throne. Will we side with the Good King and justice ... or with the sin and corruption?

We're still writing that script.

Gracious Lord,
help me turn away from sin
and turn toward you and life,
and help me be an instrument of your kingdom
by "3 uphold[ing] the rights of the oppressed and the destitute
rather than "2 shower[ing] special favors on the wicked?"
"8 Rise up, O God, and judge the earth."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Psalm 81

I thought for a moment, "How easy!"

I thought for a moment that this was a "1 sing - sing - 2 sing! - beat - the - tambourine - play - the - - lyre - and - 3 sound - the - trumpet" - kind - of - Psalm.

I thought for a moment that this was a "5 when - [God] - attacked - Egypt - [and] - set - us - free" - kind - of - Psalm.

I thought for a moment that this was a listen - for - the - still - small - "5 voice - that - said - 6 'Now - I - will - relieve - your - shoulder - of - its - burden - 7 You - cried - to - me - in - trouble - and - I - saved - you'" - kind - of - Psalm.

It thought, indeed, that this was a sing - saved - relieved - free - victory - Psalm.

But no ... it was ultimately a "8 Listen - to - me - O - my - people - while - I - give - you - stern - warnings" - kind - of - Psalm. It is a "12 blind - stubborn - living - according - to - [your] - own - desires" - kind - of - reminder. It is the oft repeated and fervent call from heaven that "8 Y
ou - must - never - have - a - foreign - god."

Don't you hate it when a perfectly good victory Psalm suddenly turns into a "8 stern - warnings" - Psalm?

Except, what are the stern warnings designed to do? Give us continual victory! "8 [F]oreign god[s]" will inevitably enslave us." Selfishness -- "12 living according to [our] own desires" -- is ultimately as frail as human life. (Think about it, how many tens and hundreds of generations have risen and fallen since the time of David.) "12 Blind[ness]" will leave us tripping, falling, and dying in a hole. "12 Stubbor[ness]" is going our own way, instead of being led by the God who sees the paths of eternity -- the paths that lead to life and the paths that lead to destruction.

This is, indeed, a celebration Psalm. There is a way out of bondage and a freedom from selfishness. There is path that leads to life, and there is a place set for us at the great feast, and there is a great God who says, "16 I [want to] feed you with the best of foods ... 10 Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things."

God fill me,
because I want to sing
more and more!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Psalm 80

In the translation I'm using -- NLT -- the word "vine" is used 28 times.

It is used most famously in John where Jesus says, "15:5 "Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who [abide] in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."

It is used most frequently -- ten times -- in Ezekial: "17:7 the vine sent its roots and branches out toward [essentially another god, another king, another country, another priority] for water. 8 The vine did this even though it was already planted in good soil and had plenty of water so it could grow into a splendid vine and produce rich leaves and luscious fruit."

It is used most illuminatingly in today's Psalm too. Throughout the latter part of this Psalm, the vine is used again and again as a powerful symbol.

1) It is a symbol of God's care: "8 You brought us from Egypt as though we were a tender vine; you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land. 9 You cleared the ground for us, and we took root and filled the land."

2) It is a symbol of Israel's success when they were following God, abiding in his love: "10 The mountains were covered with our shade; the mighty cedars were covered with our branches. 11 We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea, our limbs east to the Euphrates River.

3) It is also a symbol of the need for tender-hearted gardener ... and it reminds us what happens when the gardener takes away his hand of protection: "12 Why," asks the Psalmist, "12 why have you broken down our walls so that all who pass may steal our fruit?"
Why? Perhaps another prophet answers the question -- Hosea 10 -- "1 How prosperous Israel is – a luxuriant vine loaded with fruit! But the more wealth the people got, the more they poured it on the altars of their foreign gods."

Think for a moment of the life cycle of a long-living plant. There are good years and bad years. There is sun and rain. There are caterpillars and drought. What do we need? A tender-hearted gardener. The history of Israel reminds us 1) that God cares. It reminds us 2) that when we abide in his love, we will flourish. And it reminds us 3) of what happens when we chase away the gardeners hand of protection.

Have you ever seen a tiny child chase away their parent's protection? "Do it m'self," is the toddling refrain. And so the parent steps back, knowing the perils, but always ready to catch them when they fall.

This Psalm isn't about a vine, it's about our need to quit chasing away our Father in heaven. It's about our need -- through the ups and down and successes and especially the perils of life -- to keep looking for God's nurturing hand. It's about our need to quit turning to other kings, other gods, other priorities. It's about our need to quit
relying on ourselves and abide more fully in the care of the constant gardener.

The theme of this Psalm -- and it says it at the beginning and at the end -- is "3 and 19 Turn us again to yourself ... Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved."

Tender Gardener, Gracious God,
in the good years, prune my pride,
and in the seasons of drought,
help me know that when
I "5 drink tears by the bucketful,"
it's those tears -- and your grace --
that will heal the parched ground.
You are with me always.
Help me abide with you ... always ...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Psalm 79

"8 Let your tenderhearted mercies
quickly meet our needs ..."

I love this prayer.

In fact, this whole verse is the prayer I need to pray today.

You've probably heard me or others suggest the ACTS model for prayer -- Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (which is a fancy word that simply means "our prayer requests").

These eight words are the bookends to that ACTS model for prayer. Isn't it adoration, trust, and love when we pray to and trust in the God of "8 tenderhearted mercies"? And when we pray "8 quickly meet our needs," isn't that supplication?

This verse also includes confession -- "8 do not hold us guilty for our former sins!" I said moments ago that I need this prayer today. I hunger for God's tenderhearted mercies. I want him to quickly meet my needs and swiftly answer my petitions. But do you know what I also need? I also need to confess. How dare I think I can request God's blessings when I approach him with an impure heart.

Like every human being there are things I've done and plenty I've left undone. Like every human I've sinned against him in thought, word, and deed. Relinquishing my pride. Turning away from the sins that I excuse. Confession before supplication.

What are the "needs" that

you desire God to "meet" today?

Make a list.

But before praying that list,

spend a while confessing your sins.

And then spend a while

adoring our God of "tenderhearted mercies."

If you get to your list, fine.

If not, God knows the list anyway.

What he desires most is your

repentance and your love.

P.S. I couldn't completely resist the history in this Psalm. This is another "psalm of Asaph," and it causes me to ask the question again: Who is Asaph?

As we've discussed in previous weeks, Asaph was a priest and a contemporary of David ... AND ... the descendents of Asaph continued to serve in the temple for many generations. Therefore, did Asaph write this in the time of David or did those who followed in his line write it in much later generations?

Why does this matter? Because of how specific this Psalm is regarding the destruction of Jerusalem. If the original Asaph wrote about "1 pagan nations ... ma[king] Jerusalem a heap of ruin [and] 3 blood ... flow[ing] like water," then this Psalm is prophecy. However, if Asaph's descendents wrote it four hundred years later in the time of Babylonian invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem, then it's history.

Does it matter whether it's history or prophecy? In one sense, no. Whether the prayer is prophetic or historical, there are times when the enemy is at my door and I can pray along with whichever Asaph this was for God's "8 tenderhearted mercies."

However, in another sense, it really does matter. This issue is: Do I put God in a box ... or not? Do I say he could show Asaph (and us) a glimspe of our future ... or not? Do I say I demand that every answer be logical ... or do I permit a little faith ... and wonder ... and trust ... and hope?

Just so you know, here's my clue to when this was written. It comes from the first verse of another psalm of Asaph -- Psalm 76. Asaph says, "God is well known in Judah; his name is great in Israel." It's a simple phrase that apparently doesn't mean much ... until we realize that if these Psalms of Asaph were historical -- rather than prophetic -- then at the time of the Babylonian invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem, Israel would have already been defeated by the Assyrians one hundred years earlier.

Think about what that means.

God's name wouldn't have been viewed as great in Israel anymore ... because Israel simply didn't exist! Indeed, by the time of the Babylonian invasion, the people in those former territories of Israel had fully turned to other gods. But look even further, God's name hadn't been great in the northern kingdom Israel from the time the kingdoms of Israel and Judah unzipped. In fact, according to I and II Kings, about the last time God's name was great in the northern territories of Israel was when David was king of Israel. Which was when? At the same time the original Asaph was a priest!

To me, that says, let's allow a God of prophecy. Let's allow a little wonder. Let's bow before the power. And let us pray to our great God, "8 [may your] tenderhearted mercies quickly meet our needs ..."

What are the "needs" that

you desire God to "meet" today?

Make a list.

But before praying that list,

spend a while confessing your sins.

And then spend a while

adoring our God of "tenderhearted mercies."

If you get to your list, fine.

If not, God knows the list anyway.

What he desires most is your

repentance and your love.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Psalm 78

This Psalm is history, so why does the Psalmist call it a "2 parable"?

How are true life "3 stories we have heard and know [and] 4 truths [we need to] tell the next generation" a parable rather than historical data?

A simple definition of a parable is a story with a point. The point of Psalm 78 -- and the reason that we remember God's history with us? "7 So each generation can set its hope anew on God." The point? So that we "8 will not be like [our] ancestors -- stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God."

Let me quickly trace the logic of this Psalm to illustrate the point ...

1) What God did: "13 He divided the sea ... 15 He split open the rocks in the wilderness to give them plenty of water

2) What we did: "17 Yet [we] kept on with their sin, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. 18 [We] willfully tested God in their hearts."

The words in brackets there should obviously be "they," but we're liable to miss the point if we don't make it "we"!

So notice the pattern ...

+ 1) What God did: God saved.
+ 2) What we did: We rebelled.
+ 1) What God did: God saved again. "21 He was angry ... 23 But [in his grace -- I'm adding the main point] he commanded the skies to open ... 24 and ... gave them bread from heaven."
+ 2) What we did: We rebelled again. "29 The people ate their fill. He gave them what they wanted. 32 But in spite of this, the people kept on sinning. They refused to believe in his miracles."

You've heard of the Texas Two-Step? This is the Hebrew Two-Step. Actually this is what? We're replacing "they" with "we." Therefore, the question is: How often is this your two-step and mine?

I'm not much of a dancer. Sometimes you do 1-2 and then 1-2 and then you take a side step. Repentance -- literally turning away from our sin and turning toward God -- is the occasional, wonderful, and necessary side step. The Psalm says, "34 [some]
finally sought him. They repented and turned to God. 35 [We] remembered that God was [our] rock, that [our] redeemer was the Most High. 36 But ..." Didn't you know that word was coming? It's ...

+ Step 1 -- God saves.
+ Step 2 -- We rebel.
+ Step 1 -- God saves.
+ Step 2 -- We rebel.

+ SIDE STEP -- We repent.
+ And promenade right back to Step 2 -- We rebel.

The "but" goes like this: "36
they followed him only with their words; they lied to him with their tongues. 37 Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant. 38 Yet" -- back to ...

+ Step 1 -- God saves -- "38 [The Lord] was merciful and forgave their sins and didn't destroy them all."
+ "40 Oh, how often they rebelled against him in the desert ..." Step 2, step 2, step 2.
+ "41 Again and again they tested God's patience and frustrated the Holy One of Israel." Step 2, step 2, step 2.

Imagine that step 2 is dancing downhill. They're about to fall off the edge of the cliff. And then what did they do? "42 They forgot" and "43 they forgot [some more]." So what is the next step in this dance? Step 2 again. "57 They turned back and were as faithless as their parents had been. 58 They ... buil[t] altars to other gods."

Actually that's not what it says. It says, "58 They made God angry by building altars to other gods." If the human side step is repentance, God's side step is "justice." I almost wrote "anger," but God is not an angry God. He is a just God. And what does holiness, purity, and justice demand? Think about it this way ... If a man rapes and sodomizes a child in your neighborhood, what is the proper response? Outrage. We lack a heart and a conscience if our sense of purity and justice are not appalled. God is holy and perfect and pure. When we sin, he is "hurt." I almost wrote "outraged" and "appalled," but who can blame him for being "58 angry" after he has given us grace after grace? Who could blame him for the following verbs -- "60 he abandoned," "61 he allowed," "62 he gave his people over."

The side step of God is to sometimes "61 allow[]." He allows our world to reap the consequences of our sins. So the dance goes like this ... and make sure you pay attention to the final step -- the one that completes the can.

+ Step 1 -- God saves.
+ Step 2 -- We rebel.
+ Step 1 -- God saves.
+ Step 2 -- We rebel.
+ SIDE STEP -- We repent.
+ And promenade back to Step 2 -- We rebel.
+ SIDE STEP -- God in his justice "allows."

+ And promenade back to Step 1 -- God saves -- "65
Then the Lord rose up as though waking from sleep ... 66 He routed his enemies and sent them to eternal shame. 68 He chose ... the tribe of Judah ... which he loved. 69 [H]e built his towering sanctuary ... 71 He took David from tending the ewes and lambs and made him the shepherd of Jacob's descendants – God's own people, Israel. 72 He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands."

Now turn that into a prayer, with one very important difference at the end!

+ Step 1 -- God saves -- Thank you, God, for _________

+ Step 2 -- We rebel. -- I confess my sin __________

+ Step 1 -- God saves. -- Thank you, God, for ________

+ Step 2 -- We rebel. -- I confess my sin __________

+ SIDE STEP -- We repent. -- I not only confess, but I pray that you we remold me and reshape me and restore me and forever heal me. Today, I pledge to turn my back on __________ and turn toward you.

+ And promenade back to Step 2 -- We rebel. -- I confess that I am destined to sin again, so I will steel myself. I will seek to build a wall around the sin that I keep chasing, and I will ask you to guard the gates.

+ SIDE STEP -- God in his justice "allows." -- I will forgive you for the hard things in my life that keep me from trusting you. Wait. "Forgive you" is nearly a blasphemous statement, and yet it's true. I blame you for the things I don't understand when its really the fault of sin. Therefore, when I say, "I will forgive you," what I really mean is that I will accept your judgment and celebrate your holiness. I will try to align my heart with your justice and quit seeing things from my own self-interested perspective. I will search for your grace and your guiding hand in every circumstance.

+ And promenade back to Step 1 -- God saves -- "65 Then the Lord rose up as though waking from sleep ... 66 He routed [the] enemies [to the life he intends] and sent them to eternal shame. 68 He chose [you and me] wh[om] he loved. 69 [H]e built his towering sanctuary. [It was a cross that stretched to the heavens.] 71 He [brought to us a new shepherd, Jesus Christ] and made him the shepherd of Jacob's descendants – God's own people, Israel. 72 He cared for [us] with a true heart and le[ads] [us] with skillful hands."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Psalm 77

I heard of a man once who said that he frequently "worked the nightshift."

And he wasn’t talking about his job.

He was talking about worrying. All night long. He could have been reciting this Psalm, "I moan," verse 3, "[I am] overwhelmed ... [I] long[] for [your] help[, O God]."

"You [w]on’t let me sleep," he cries out to the heavens in verse 4. "I am too distressed even to pray," he cries. "5 I think of the good old days ... 6 when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul ... . 7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? 8 Is his ... love gone for [eternity]? 9 Has God ... slammed the door on his compassion?" Have you ever worked the nightshift too?

At any given time, it seems like I know one or two or three people who are waiting for laboratory test results. In the light of day, they can usually summon rational thoughts and bravely trust that all things will eventually work together for good for those who love God (see Romans 8:28). But in the dark of night, fears seem to crawl like monsters beneath a four-year-old’s bed.

Therefore, it’s never bad advice to borrow a familiar refrain from The Sound of Music. In the midst of a storm and a moment of worry, the von Trapp children were urged to call to mind a few of their favorite things. However, rather than thinking about "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens," the Psalmist invites us to "11 recall all [that] you have done, O Lord."

When he says, "11 I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. 12 They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them," the Psalmist is showing us a wonderful antidote to worry. For the people of Israel, the remembrance that frequently reconstructed a semblance of boldness in them was, "when the Red Sea saw you, O God," verse 16, "its waters ... trembled." What’s the remembrance of God’s presence in your life that reinvigorates your hopes and dreams. What’s the reflect that reminds you to cry, "You were with me before, O God. Therefore, I trust that you will be with me again. So ... now I lay me down to sleep ..."

It’s human to worry. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again. But this Psalm reminds us that we don’t have to be alone in the dark because "God is light and in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).

"You were with me before, O God.
Therefore, I trust that you will be with me again.
So now I lay me down to sleep ..."
Indeed, O God, I offer before you right now
what I would like to put to rest in my life ...

Psalm 76

When was the last time you stood in pure awe?

When was the last time you cried something like: "4 [God,] you are glorious and more majestic than the everlasting mountains"?

Early this morning I read about a fighter pilot in Vietnam who narrowly avoided a surface to air missile. His plane was heavily damaged, and he barely flew his wounded bird back to base. Twenty-four years old, he said his life changed that day.

Gone, he says, was the lie of invincibility.

When we're young, the temptation is to think that WE ARE "4 more majestic than the everlasting mountains." Now ... we probably wouldn't use those exact words -- we're not nearly that vain -- nevertheless, haven't you seen glimpses of that prideful, youthful naivety in yourself or in others?

And pride isn't just reserved for the days of our youth, is it?

Whenever we look to ourselves to determine right and wrong -- instead of looking to God -- we're buying into the lie of the serpent in the garden who essentially said, "
Open your eyes and be like God."

Pride! It's the lie of hell.

The lie of invincibility spiraled downward for that pilot faster than his wounded plane spun for a few moments toward the ground. And his life was changed.
Instead of eternally relying on himself ... or the power of the Air Force ... or the temptations of the earth, this pilot had to become the co-pilot, and let a new captain rule his life. He said that just as Jesus violently cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, he needed to let Jesus radically make over his heart.

Once he was a spiritually wounded pilot. In a flash as bright and sudden as an exploding missile he was suddenly a spiritually healed man. Healed? Yes, he no longer believed the lie. Indeed, now he was suddenly free to see God in his life ... and truly worship.

Most of us -- even good church-goers -- still harbor pieces of the lie in some back corner of our heart. For most of us, there's a piece of our lives for which we're not quite ready to give up control.

As your heart listens to the following phrases from today's Psalm, I invite you to surrender one of the lies -- and some of the pride -- that exalt "me, myself, and my opinions," rather than cause us to bow down and worship an awesome God.

Oh God, your "1 name is great."
You break "3 the arrows of the enemy."
"4 You are ... more majestic than the everlasting mountains
[and] 10 human opposition only enhances your glory."
"9 You ... judge those who do evil;
[and] rescue the oppressed."

Help us remember, O Lord,
that "5 before us" is "the sleep of death."
but before you, "6 horses and chariots
[and tanks and missiles] st[an]d still."
You ought to be "7 greatly feared,"
and we ought to say, "7 Who can stand before you"?
Humble me, O Lord.
Cleanse my heart like you cleansed the temple.
Help me bow before you and worship you always.