Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Psalm 92

Hard times ... then glimpses of grace ... and victory ... and hope.

That's how I envision today's Psalm.

"11 Enemies" and "9 evildoers" reflect the hard times, but "12 with my own eyes I have seen the downfall of my enemies."

What's the fruit of victory and hope? "1 Sing ... 1 thanks[giving] ... 2 unfailing love ... 4 thrills [and chills] ... and 4 joy!"

Perspective is another fruit. After the victory, the Psalmist cheers, "15 The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him!" But what's the perspective before the victory?

How many of us suffer hard times, hard times, hard times, and see very little grace. It doesn't take too much imagination to know that some people's lives are filled with one enemy after another. Sometimes the enemies are people (think oppressive governments), sometimes the enemies are vile sins (torture and rape), sometimes the enemies are systemic (hunger in a world of plenty), sometimes the enemies are demonic (it wouldn't serve us well to miss the root cause of so much suffering).

What hope do such people have?

Some days their only hope is a bigger truth. If "15 there is nothing but goodness in [God]," then hope is a longer term perspective -- "7 although the wicked flourish like weeds, and evildoers blossom with success, there is only eternal destruction ahead of them."

Hope is not in the day to day.

Hope is at the finish line.

Hope is in the stories of others who've seen seasons of oppression and moments of hope ... and still somehow "1 sing praises."

None of us is alone in our trials. But we'll feel even more alone if we don't find some angle in which to gain a little more perspective on the God of grace and his "13 goodness."

Lord, I pray today in the midst of my trials.
"13 [T]ransplant [me] into [your] own house.":
Help me "13 flourish in the courts" of your hope
Give me perspective that surpasses circumstances.
Give me patience that transcends the suffering.
Give me a long-term trust that reminds me
of the finish line and of your eternal blessings,
instead of the momentary crises.
Indeed, help me "1 sing ... thank ...
4 thrill [and chill]...
[and discover your] 4 joy"
... daily!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Psalm 91

Nine years ago, a massive forest fire swept through the town I lived in. 400 of the 6000 homes in town were destroyed. Stress!That was one of the biggest consequences of the fire. Stress, stress, stress!

Everyone said, "Wasn't it wonderful that no one died in the fire?" It was a blessing, indeed. But the next year -- in a church that averaged three funerals a year -- we did a dozen funerals. And it wasn't until nine months out that I did a funeral for someone who was in their eighties instead of someone in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.

Stress, stress, stress. It pulls marriages apart, sends kids to counseling, plunges good people into depression, spurs addictions, and increases the rates of illness and death.

We noticed something in that town over the next few years. In general, the people who truly "1 live[d] in the shelter of the Most High [found] rest" in the days and months and years to come. In general, the people who did not have a vibrant faith, spent the next few years angry and bitter and looking for someone to sue.

Why do I bring this up? Because a few months ago the economy crashed, and there's been a lot of stress in our world lately, and it pulls marriages apart, sends kids to counseling, plunges good people into depression, spurs addictions, and increases the rates of illness and death.

Having faith doesn't make us immune to the trials of the world, but "1 t
hose who live in the shelter of the Most High [are more likely to] find rest in the shadow of the Almighty." Bad things happen to good people, but for those who choose God as their 1 refuge, ... 4 he will shield [them] with his wings." The "5 terrors of the night [and the] fear [of] dangers" is real, but "14 the Lord says ... 'I will protect those who trust in my name."

My two favorite words in this whole passage are two of the shortest -- "am" and "if." Verse 5 doesn't just say, "I trust in the Lord"; it says, "I am trusting him." "Am trusting!" It's active. It's daily. It's a conscious decision. Every moment something else says, "Trust in me." We want to trust in our money, our jobs, our spouse, the government, and social security. But "am trusting" is a conscious decision. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, I "am trusting" in the one who "15 will be with [us] in trouble, [who] will rescue [us] and [even] honor [us]."

My second favorite word is "if" -- "9 If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter." Again, our temptation is to focus on money, jobs, spouses, people, governments, and social security, and we put a few eggs in each of those baskets, including a few eggs with God. We spread our trust along with the risk. But God says essentially, put all your eggs here, trust only in me, because "9 if you" do, "4 he will shield you ... shelter you ... protect [and] rescue you," and in the end, he will "give [you his] salvation." This world will pass away. That promise won't. But we leave it all to chance and fallible human being if choose any path other than that "if."

Lord, all of us have stress.
I give you mine. I hand it over.
Starting now, no more "ifs,"
I "am trusting" in you.
But Lord, help me! I can't do it alone!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Psalm 90

What is the difference between a house and a home?

A house is wood and nails. A home is wood and nails AND family and memories.

"Home is where the heart is," as the old saying goes. Therefore, when we pray, "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" we are saying that we entrust our hearts to God. Just like we recline and rest in our home, we are saying that we find rest and peace in the presence of the Lord. In his kitchens, we are nourished. In his gardens, we are blessed. In his presence, we are whole.

As children, home is a place of comfort and protection. But as children, it is also a place of teaching. No wonder the child of God who wrote this Psalm prayed, "12 Teach us ..." Indeed, "12 Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom."

Good parents also discipline, and the Psalmist reflects that too. Like the mother who seems to have eyes in the back of her head, "8 You spread out our sins before you, [O Lord,] ... you see them all. 7 We wither beneath your anger." Though all of us surely and often prayed that we'd never get caught, getting caught and withering beneath a good parent's discipline is actually -- if we're honest -- what helped us grow.

"1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" The first word that struck me was obviously the nurturing of "home." But another series of words also strikes me in that verse -- "through all the generations." In one sense, "through all the generations" reflects the sweep of time that is in God's hands -- "2 Before the mountains were created ... you are God. [You] are without beginning or end. [And at our end,] you turn [us fragile and temporary] people back to dust."

From God's side, "through all the generations" is but a moment and a twinkling of an eye. "4 For you, a thousand years are as yesterday!"

But let's talk about our side. "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" But what about in this generation? In every generation, faith in God is in jeopardy. In every generation, people choose to follow themselves or the ways of the world. In every generation, people want their ears tickled, their consciences placates, and their selfish desires met. "10 Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble." Pain and trouble and blaming God for pain and trouble cause millions in every generation to doubt and slip.

Think of it: We make our homes on this earth. We give our hearts to the ways of the world. We reject pain and suffering and discipline. Therefore, the church is always one generation away from extinction.

Therefore, when the Psalmist prays, "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home," he's really prompting a question: "Is God your home ... today?"

As children, we like to turn to the Lord for comfort, but do we turn to him for discipline? A good parent loves ... and challenges ... and teaches ... and encourages ... and judges ... and nurtures ... and protects ... and pushes. Do we let God be our Father ... or not? Indeed, is God your home ... today?

Lord be my home.
Do not let be comfortable anywhere else
but in your hands.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Psalm 89

Long Psalm. Two parts ... plus what I'd call an unexpected ending.

The first part is praise. "1 I will sing of the ... mercies of the Lord forever!" is the most famous refrain. Those words, in fact, are the basis for a famous '80s praise song. Praise song, indeed! "5 All heaven will praise your miracles ... 6 for who ... can compare with the Lord? 7 [Even] the highest angelic powers stand in awe of God ..."

But the heart of this Psalm is this wonderful beatitude:
"15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship." True worship is truly stirred by a joyful call and holy desire. And the fruit is happiness, blessedness, "7 awe," and joy.

I want those words -- happiness, worship, and joy -- therefore, the question that needs to be my constant companion is: How do I weave these blessings more fully into my life?!

The second part of this Psalm is the celebration of the reign of King David.
"19 [God has] selected him from the common people to be king ... 20 anointed him with holy oil ... 21 and ... ma[d]e him strong." God in his grace "25 extend[ed David's] rule from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the east." And the joyful question is: Which came first: David's joyful cry, "26 You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation" and then God's blessing ... or ... God's blessing and then David's cry? Like the chicken and the egg, it doesn't really matter does it? God's blessing and David's praise were intimately intertwined.

The key phrase for me in this second section is in verse 24: "[David, King David] will rise to power because of me." "Because of God" ... that's it! Happiness, worship, joy, and blessing are the hearts of sections one and two because "15 happy are those" -- including you me and David -- "who hear the joyful call to worship."

And then comes part three. Then comes the surprise.
Then comes the opposite of happy blessings -- "38 ang[er]," "39 renounce[ment]," "40 ruins," "41 mock[ing]," "45 disgrace[]," and "47 futil[ity]."

The blessed King David faced two humiliations in life. Both of them were caused by sin. (See if either of these describe the greatest hurts and humiliations in your life.)

The first sin was his own. Don't David's adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murderous tactics he employed to cover it up deserve a little "38 ang[er]" and "45 disgrace[]". Sometimes, we bring "40 ruin[]" on ourselves.

The second was the sin of another.
In David's case, David's own son, Absalom, rebelled against him. The great king had to flee his own city. In the end, Absalom is caught and killed by David's general, but there is no victory or rejoicing in the face of sin and rebellion. There's only a tears, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I could have died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son."

God blesses. Sin kills. That's the reality of our world. And in the end, I hear this as the point of this Psalm: "15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship," and cursed are those who give in to the siren call of sin.

Lord, draw me from sin
and draw me to you.
Help worship be
the joy of my heart.

Psalm 88

"My life is full of troubles, and death draws near."

That's verse 3.

More importantly, both halves of that verse are all too frequent cries in our world today.

I heard a wonderful scholar recently talking about "3 li[ves] full of trouble" and the "problem" of evil. Doubters and skeptics throw the problem of evil at believers like they're throwing down a trump card. "If your God is a just God and all-powerful God, how can there be evil. Ta-DAH!" And Christians all too often go on the defensive, trying to justify "the problem of evil."

"Why?" asks this man of faith. It's Christians who do have clear answers to the evil in this world, and the world and its philosophies that really have no answer. We ought to be saying, "I'd be glad to explain. But first, let's hear you explain evil within your worldly, philosophical framework."

Scratch them very deep, and the dominant philosophies of the world say that "man is essentially good." "Fine," we ought to say, "Turn on the news. Where do the daily, horrible, violent, abusive, and corrupt headlines come from?" "Individuals are basically good," will come the answer, "but systems and cultures (and religions) are bad." "Fine," we ought to say again, "but who makes up the systems and cultures and religions? People! From us flows all kinds of corruption!"

Our answer is simpler and clearer and explains the world much better: "people sin." Think about it ... each day's unpleasant headlines come from what? People. And sin.

The world doesn't want to hear about sin. The world wants to justify itself by saying "I am 'basically good'; therefore, I can do what I want." The celebrating the self leads to a blaming of systems and cultures ... and eventually God himself. Therefore, if "3 my life is full of troubles, and death draws near," the rational, worldly solution is to blame God.

Ultimately, it's a hopeless ideology ... and yet it's so pervasive of a worldview that we're all conditioned to buy into it a little bit.

Fortunately, the Psalmist doesn't.

Yes, he is hurting badly. He feels "4 dismissed" and "5 abandoned." He'll even throw much of his frustration straight at feet of God -- "7 your anger lies heavy on me" and "6 you have thrust me down to the lowest pit." But what is he really saying when he says, "15 I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors"? Isn't he saying, "I stand helpless before YOU"? Isn't that a statement of faith ... even in the face of life's trials.

As a pastor, I watch that every day. People stand before a grave. On the one hand they're crying "9 [O Lord,] my eyes are blinded by my tears. 2 Listen to my cry [because] 15 I stand helpless and desperate before [You]." On the other hand, they sing praises of hope along with Job: "19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives ... 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God."

This psalm is a prayer of both frustration ... and faith.

It's a prayer that acknowledges that there is sin and hurt and tragedy in this world.
And yet, it's a prayer that celebrates that on the other side of feelings of forsakeness (see verse 5) and in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death (see verses 6, 10, and 11), there is God's enduring "5 care," "10 miracles," "11 faithfulness," "12 righteousness," and "11 unfailing love."

It's a prayer that responds forcefully to the problem of evil. When "3 life is full of troubles and death draws near" -- and it will -- we can turn to the philosophies of the world (which can only blame and can ultimately offer nothing more than an acknowledgement of troubles and the reality of death), or we can turn to God who hated sin enough that he sent his only son to die to conquer it and promises an eternal solution on the other side of death.

Gracious heavenly father,
full of "10 miracles," "5 care,"
"11 faithfulness," and "11 unfailing love,"
I ask the question along with the psalmist:
"10 do the dead get up and praise you?"
My answer / my prayer is this:
"Let me not be dead like the world
and let me simply praise you.
Help me find the answers to life
-- abundant life -- within you.