Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 180: Psalm 101, 102, 103 and 104

If anyone secretly says things against his neighbor, I will stop him (NCV, Psalm 101:5).

Every single one of us has been hurt by people talking about us. But if we were honest, we’d also have to admit that we’ve all said things we shouldn’t, often about people who weren’t there to defend themselves.

The first step to vanquishing gossip is to keep our mouths shut. Our mothers were right: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

But what should we do when a gossip tries to engage us in conversation about someone else? It takes two to gossip: one to speak, and another to listen. There are things we shouldn’t say, but there are also things we shouldn’t listen to.

What if someone tried to gossip, but no one would participate?

When someone tries to engage you in gossip, try active non-participation. Say, “Excuse me; Bill’s my friend, and that’s not something I want to hear. You shouldn’t talk to anyone else about this either, but if it’s something you feel strongly about, talk to Bill – just between the two of you.” Of course, there’s always the ever popular option of responding with Plan B: “Hey, when I talk to Bill later today I’ll be telling him everything you said” [12].

I’d be really surprised if you need to have that conversation with someone more than once. Of course it won’t stop them from talking about you.

Ask God to help you develop and implement a strategery to confront gossip.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 179: Psalm 97, 98, 99 and 100

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4).

Did you know that worship is God’s address? But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel (KJV, Psalm 22:3). The New American Standard Bible reads: Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Either way, this passage confirms that God lives in the praises of his people. If God seems distant, praise him and he is there.

If God’s address isn’t good enough, today’s reading contains a map to his house – like an early Iron Age GPS: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. No need to recalculate route here.

In Moses’ time, worshipers entered the tabernacle with a blood sacrifice. The bronze altar was directly in line between the entrance of the courtyard and the door to the Most Holy PlaceGod’s presence. There was no bypass, no detour.

Jesus became our once-and-for-all blood sacrifice – our access to God. Again, no bypass, no detour. It is through Christ that we offer our gifts of thanksgiving and praise. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name (Hebrews 13:15).

When was the last time you experienced God’s presence? When you can’t find God, worship, because worship is where God is.

Day 178: Psalm 93, 94, 95 and 96

The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved (NIV 1984, Psalm 93:1).

Geocentrists interpret this verse and others to suggest that the earth is at the center of the universe and does not move – neither does it rotate on its axis, nor does it revolve around the sun.

Though I crinkle my forehead at their scientific conclusions, I applaud their high view of humanity as God’s creation. If mankind truly is God’s crowning creation, why wouldn’t the earth be at the universe’s center with the sun revolving around it? …at least figuratively.

In Carl Sagan’s 1997 film Contact, astronomer Dr. Eleanor Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) recalls a conversation with her father. “Do you think there’s alien life in the universe?” His reply: “If there’s not, that’s an awful waste of space.” He might think a diamond engagement ring is an awful waste of money too. Whether there’s other life in the universe or not, I don’t know; although I’ll go on record as saying I really don’t think so. I think the stars in the heavens are a beautiful bauble created by a loving bridegroom as a gift to his bride (that’s us).

While I don’t think the earth is at the center of the universe or that it remains solidly planted in space, never moving or spinning, I rejoice that we are the center of God’s universe. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16).

How does it feel to be the center of God’s universe? How has God shown his love for you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 177: Psalm 89, 90, 91 and 92

Lord, you have been our home (NCV, Psalm 90:1).

Sometimes when my wife Janelle and I think about the challenges of ministry, the most difficult thing is that we don’t have any place to call home. Ministry has taken us to Kansas, Tennessee, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and most recently Oregon where we look forward to being for a long time.

And I understand; it’s not just pastors. Everyone knows we live in an increasingly mobile society. Lots of people feel the lack of roots that comes from living here today and somewhere else tomorrow.

My wife’s family still lives in the Kansas City area. She has her mom, a brother and two sisters, their spouses, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins all within the metro area. If I were pushed, I guess I’d say that Kansas City feels more like home to us than anywhere else. But we left Kansas City almost thirty years ago.

That’s why we take comfort in this passage: Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Before the mountains were born and before you created the earth and the world, you are God. You have always been, and you will always be (NCV, Psalm 90:1,2).

In an increasingly rootless society, no matter where we live, we can sink our roots down deep into Christ. How much stability can we have if our foundation is location, career or people? Everything changes… everything that is, except for God. That’s why God is our home.

Where’s your home? What does it mean to say God is your home?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 176: Psalm 85, 86, 87 and 88

Great is your love toward me (Psalm 86:13).

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me (NIV 1984, vv. 11-13).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). John writes: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Nothing but love will produce lasting change in the heart. Cash payments won’t do it. Keeping a list of rules and regulations won’t do it. Threats of eternal damnation won’t do it.

The psalmist asks God to teach him his way that he might walk in obedience – not out of obligation, not from hope of reward, and not out of fear – but out of the dawning realization of God’s love for him. Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. Translation: Give me perfect love for you that I may give you the respect and obedience your name deserves. Why? Because great is your love for me.

Only love begets love. And we don’t initiate it; God does. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

What wondrous love is this!

How have you experienced God’s wondrous love this week?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 175: Psalm 81, 82, 83 and 84

I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket . . . But my people would not listen to me (Psalm 81:6,11).

This is a sad psalm where the writer voices the sentiments of Yahweh. These few verses thumbnail the entire Israeli experience: slavery, exodus, wilderness, choice, failure, consequence. In the days before their river crossing into Canaan, Moses gave his farewell address, admonishing the people to choose wisely. Their choice could be summarized as: Choose Yahweh or choose the gods of Canaan.

On the game show Let’s Make a Deal (NBC/ABC 1963-1976 – not to mention its current incarnation on CBS with Wayne Brady), host Monty Hall tempted contestants to trade the prize in their hands for an unknown prize behind Door #3. Once they made their deal, the door was opened and the result of their choice was displayed for all to see.

Likewise, time after time the Israelites rejected the prize they had (Yahweh), trying to trade up by choosing Door #3 (foreign gods).

Although they made a big show of affirming their fidelity to Yahweh, in reality, at almost every turn they went the wrong way and followed false gods. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts (v. 12). In other words: You get to choose, but you have to live with the consequences.

Have you ever been warned about the consequences of making a wrong choice, and made the wrong choice anyway? What did you learn?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 174: Psalm 77, 78, 79 and 80

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago (Psalm 77:11).

Here we have the prayer of a man struggling with faith. He wants to hold on in trust, but pain and doubt chip away at his confidence, and he wonders if God will ever deliver him. When the heavens appear silent and no relief is in sight, he launches a faith resuscitation effort. I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . . I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds (vv.11,12).

Nothing bolsters faith like rehearsing all the times God came through for us in the past. And the writer doesn’t limit his recall to events in his own lifetime; he engages his generational memory and takes it back all the way to Israel in Egypt: Your path led through the sea… (v. 19).

When you’re struggling with doubt, take a walk down memory lane. Relive the times you saw no way out, yet hung on to find God faithful. Recall stories from your childhood, told by parents and grandparents, and other older saints who could also testify to God’s mercy and grace. Read the Bible: When I am afraid, I will trust in you (NIV 1984, Psalm 56:3).

The same God who has answered prayer since the beginning of time is answering prayer still. He hasn’t run out of mercy. There’s a new supply of compassion and faithfulness to meet every sunrise (Lamentations 3:22,23).

Recall a time God came through for you. What do you need today?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 173: Psalm 73, 74, 75 and 76

Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them! (Psalm 74:11).

This psalm was likely written in the confused time after the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. They smashed all the carved paneling . . . they burned your sanctuary to the ground (vv.6,7). The psalmist asks the question of God: What’s it going to take to get your attention? If the destruction of your temple doesn’t wake you from your slumber, what will?

There are times we get to the end of our rope, thinking, God has got to do something now, only to be met with silence. It feels like we are completely alone. Sometimes the rope breaks and we still don’t hear from God. What’s with that?

We just plod along, forcing ourselves to place one foot in front of the other, until finally we’ve reached a safe place. And then somehow we recognize that God has been with us all along. Even when it seemed we had been abandoned, God was doing his very best work on our behalf.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

One of the hardest things in the world is trusting God when we don’t understand what he’s up to.

Have you ever given up on God, only to find he was there all the time? Are you waiting for him now? Ask for patience and for trust. Chin up.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 172: Psalm 69, 70, 71 and 72

The desert tribes will bow before him. . . . All kings will bow down to him (NIV 1984, Psalm 72:9,11).

This psalm was possibly written for Solomon’s coronation and then used in future coronation celebrations. It blesses the king’s reign with majesty, longevity, power and justice. Some scholars have asserted that the exaggerated language reflects expectations of a messianic king [11].

The desert tribes will bow before him. . . . All kings will bow down to him. Even though separated by verse ten, this is almost certainly a case of parallelism, an ancient literary device used in Hebrew poetry, which compares or contrasts two thoughts.

In this case the contrast clarifies a truth. In the first line, the word translated as bow is the Hebrew kara (kaw RAH). In the second line the word is shachach (shaw KAWH). The words carry two different connotations. Shachach implies the kings of the earth bow out of reverence and respect. This is the word used for bowing in worship. Kara is the word one would use to describe a defeated foe bowing with his conqueror’s boot on his neck – gritting his teeth, but bowing just the same. No reverence, respect or worship there.

God exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:9,10).

When you bow, is it prompted by a spirit of worship or defeat? What’s the difference?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day 171: Psalm 65, 66, 67 and 68

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:5,6).

In the days around Fathers Day my thoughts turn to those who have lost their dads, or even worse, those who never had a proper father figure in their lives. I wrote on Day 161 about my dad and how his life was completely changed (for the better) in the years between when my siblings were born and when I was born. The Dad I grew up with was a different Dad than the one they knew in their early years.

I imagine first century Christians must have taken comfort in these verses. A commitment to follow Christ often brought with it expulsion from one’s family. What did Jesus say? Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

Today’s verse reminds us that God fills the holes in our lives. If someone never had a good dad, or if his father passed away before he was ready to say, Goodbye, God is there to fill that empty space. If a woman has no husband, for whatever reason, whether he left, or died, or she has just never married, God is there for her, ready to come to her defense and supply her needs. God even has a family ready and waiting for the orphan and the lonely. In love he has predestined us for adoption (Ephesians 1:4,5). The church is our new family, the new children for the people of God.

When we feel lost, there is a people and place for us.

Consider what being part of God’s family means.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Day 170: Psalm 61, 62, 63 and 64

You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name (Psalm 61:5).

Our heritage is something that has been passed down from preceding generations. One definition simply puts it: something that can be inherited [10]. This brings to mind two questions: What can those who fear God inherit that others cannot? What can those who fear God pass along to their children that others cannot?

From my parents I inherited a love for the church. It has always had and will always have a special place in my heart and in my priorities. I also have a love for older saints. I see in them a devotion to God and a spiritual maturity born of faithfulness in adversity. These are things to which I aspire.

What can I pass along to my children? Hopefully the same things. I also want my kids to utilize the brains God gave them to ask hard questions while keeping their minds open that they might discern truth. I want them to know that despite difficult times God has always been faithful to me, and that they can count on him too.

But this verse is more about what we receive as children of God than about what we receive from our parents. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Assuming the premise that God keeps his promises, what do you have coming to you? Thank him in advance.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 169: Psalm 57, 58, 59 and 60

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed (Psalm 57:1).

During the summer of 2010, oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon well. For months it seemed the oil would never stop. What started as a personal catastrophe for the families of the eleven men killed in the explosion now ranks as the world’s worst man-made environmental disaster ever.

Disasters come in different forms. In addition to environmental disasters – both man-made and natural – there are international conflicts, financial blow-ups, relationship meltdowns and the list goes on. Illness and injury, violence and crime; none of us escapes disaster at some time or other in our lives.

David experienced more than his share of hurt. As a young man, his king put a price on his head, forcing him to seek refuge among his enemies. Losing a battle with lust led to adultery and murder. His son, motivated by resentment, seized David’s throne forcing him to run for his life yet again. His daughter was raped, his son was murdered, and another son died from illness in early childhood.

No doubt you’ve known disaster in your life too: investments crashing, retirement plans losing their value, children making bad choices, crime, accidents, or bad news from your doctor.

Today’s reading holds two relevant promises: 1) During dark times we have a refuge; and 2) the disaster – whatever it is – will pass.

Do you need a refuge? Cry out for God’s help.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 168: Psalm 53, 54, 55 and 56

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend (Psalm 55:12,13).

One can feel the sense of betrayal in this psalm of David. In his song Why?, Michael Card makes the observation: Only a friend can betray a friend / A stranger has nothing to gain / And only a friend comes close enough / To ever cause so much pain [8].

According to William Shakespeare, it was Julius Caesar who asked, “Et tu Brute?” [9]. It’s only with our friends – people whom we love and who are supposed to love us – that we are this vulnerable. Letting one’s guard down sets us up for heartache. But that’s not the end of the story. That vulnerability (and the trust it fosters) is the essence of relationship. We cannot experience love without taking the risk that we might get hurt.

God himself has experienced that hurt. Jesus was betrayed by both Judas and Peter. And how many times has God been betrayed by me? How many times should God have been able to count on my commitment, only to catch a glimpse of my back as I walked away?

But then love isn’t love if it’s on a leash… unless of course you’re taking your Beagle for a walk.

When were you last betrayed? When were you last the betrayer?

Is there a betrayal which needs your forgiveness? Is there a betrayal for which you need forgiven?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 167: Psalm 49, 50, 51 and 52

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:14,15).

Through the psalmist, God outlines the standard form of worship: burnt offerings of bulls and goats. Then he reveals the worship he prefers: 1) be thankful and demonstrate gratitude; 2) keep your promises; and 3) call upon me when you’re in trouble (vv. 14,15).

How often are we reminded that proper prayer proceeds with worship before going on to a shopping list of needs and concerns? And that’s important. John Stott writes: “It is always wise, before we pray, to spend time deliberately recalling who [God] is. Only then shall we come to our loving Father in heaven with appropriate humility, devotion and confidence” [7]. In other words, beginning with worship and a recounting of God’s name and character emboldens us to approach the throne of grace with a right heart and an expectant attitude.

But here we find straight from God’s heart that complete worship includes thankfulness, integrity (obedience) and dependence. We know from Samuel: To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), so the first two elements we understand. But the psalmist writes that even our requests in prayer are received as worship. We should never be ashamed of presenting our needs before our loving heavenly Father. There is something about acknowledging our dependence on God that puts us in the right posture to receive.

For what do you need to ask God’s help today? Make it an act of worship.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 166: Psalm 45, 46, 47 and 48

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

There is nothing more difficult than being still. Most of us are more Martha than Mary. Too often, in order to quiet my body, I engage my brain with a book, music or television (although one could make the argument that watching television does anything but engage the brain). The point is that I even sabotage the quietness with noise… if not externally, then internally. Thoughts start racing through my head: what’s coming up next at church, worries, things I should be doing, pressures. That’s not being still.

In the 2010 Columbia Pictures remake of the Karate Kid, Dre (the Karate Kid portrayed by Jaden Smith) and his mom relocate to China for her work. Dre is bullied by local teens (who would do well to read Psalm 41), which leads to Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) taking him under his wing to teach him Kung Fu (yes, Kung Fu; not Karate). On one occasion Dre and Mr. Han are talking. Mr. Han tells Dre to be still. Dre says he doesn’t want to do nothing. Mr. Han replies, “There is a big difference between being still and doing nothing.”

Being still is intentionally stepping away from the hustle and bustle of everyday activities without replacing it with other forms of noise; not to empty ourselves, but to engage and be engaged by the heart of God. It is in being still that the full awareness of God’s power and majesty, as well as his love and care, can be ours. In short, this is the way we can know God.

When was the last time you were truly still before the Lord? “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 165: Psalm 41, 42, 43 and 44

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak (Psalm 41:1).

Some people are weak, some are strong. Some people are poor while others are wealthy. Some don’t have enough to eat while others enjoy plenty. Some people struggle at math while for others it’s a breeze. Some fall to addictions while others celebrate sobriety. Some people have holes in their clothes and others run out of closet space for clothes they don’t even wear anymore.

The psalmist doesn’t refute the idea that the weak live among us. He doesn’t denigrate those who need help. The focus of this writing is not some sweeping social reform to eradicate poverty or disease. It seems to be a given that for now the weak, as well as the poor, will always be among us. David’s focus is on how we respond to those in need.

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak. Or we could say, It is the moral responsibility of the strong to care for the weak… the “haves” for the “have nots” [6].

I’ve always tried to teach my kids: A real man does not bully (or take advantage of) those weaker than himself; he protects them and treats them with dignity… always. Those with plenty should do more than just say, There but for the grace of God…; they should share. Those for whom things come easy should help those who struggle. The sober should help those who want to be. Do we build bigger closets or clothe the naked?

How would God have you show regard for the weak?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 114: Psalm 37, 38, 39 and 40

The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming (Psalm 37:13).

This psalm begins with the admonition: Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong (v. 1). The context of this statement is that sometimes it looks like those who care nothing for God or God’s people go on their merry way with no consequences. They hurt us to help themselves, like we’re just rungs on their ladder to the top. Rather than suffer payback for their cruelness and greed, it seems like they are rewarded with long life and prosperity.

Do not fret because of those who are evil. Thank God that even though evil people may do me harm, I have a promise: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). The overweening theme of my life has become: God is for us.

This psalm also contains a warning: Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil (vv. 7,8). The psalmist writes that when we get preoccupied with why others – any others – have it so good when we struggle to get by, we are asking for trouble.

You shall not covet . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17).

Wanting what someone else has shows disdain for all that God has given us. Besides, such an attitude shows a serious case of shortsightedness: Their day is coming… and so is ours.

Is there anything for which you’ve neglected to say, “Thank you,” to your Provider?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 163: Psalm 33, 34, 35 and 36

Look for peace and work for it (NCV, Psalm 34:14).

Jesus said: Blessed are the peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). Both of these passages teach us that, as God’s children (those who would carry on the family business, so to speak), we have a responsibility to actively pursue peace. Peace never comes by following the path of least resistance.

The Psalmist writes that we are to look for peace. Believe that peace is a possibility. Don’t assume that violence is inevitable, or that healing cannot happen. Give peace the benefit of the doubt.

He goes on the say we must work for it. Don’t just hope for it; roll up your sleeves and get involved. And if at first you don’t succeed, don’t run home with your tail between your legs; try again. Work for it.

The antithesis of this peacemaker ethic is hiding behind my right to not get involved. That’s what the priest and the Levite did when they happened upon a crime victim in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Samaritan, on the other hand, got involved and did what he could to heal the ravages of violence. He didn’t end a war or free a nation; he just helped another human being.

We may not be Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Jesus Christ, but it would be a shame to neglect what we can do just because of what we cannot. Each of us has a role to play. Our part may not make the evening news (that’s something old people used to watch before the Internet), but we can be sure it will make a difference.

Where would God have you get involved in the pursuit of peace?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day 162: Psalm 29, 30, 31 and 32

Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm 32:2).

Deceit (dih SEET) n. 1) The art or practice of deceiving; concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading [5].

Why is there no deceit in the spirit of this man whose sin the Lord does not count against him? Why does he not feel the need to hide who he is, or at least bend the truth to make himself look better?

There are two reasons we might pretend to be someone we’re not: 1) We are not secure in God’s love and acceptance; or 2) we are not secure in our friends’ love and acceptance.

The believer in Christ who has received God’s grace need never be insecure. He has been accepted not on the basis of his performance, but because of God’s great love. On the other hand, friends sometimes do judge us not only by our present performance, but often by our past performance as well. The person who is truly confident in God’s love need not put on a mask for her friends. Her transparency, and assurance of God’s forgiveness, may be the very thing God uses to make them aware of their own need for grace.

Does someone need your acceptance?

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7).

What does it mean that God loves you just the way you are, whether you ever change or not?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 161: Psalms 25, 26, 27 and 28

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me (Psalm 27:10).

My father committed his life to Christ when I was three weeks old. That day marked the end of being controlled by addictions to alcohol, tobacco and gambling. He never touched any of them again – he was miraculously changed… literally. My brother and sister, who are 10 and 12 years older than me, grew up with the old Dad; I grew up with the new one. The new Dad was a different person, and a different parent.

Not everyone has the benefit of being raised by loving parents. The Bible’s emphasis on God as father is lost on them, because they haven’t experienced what a father is supposed to be. Many adult children have stood next to open graves conflicted about how to mourn the loss of a parent who never acted like a parent. They are often counseled to mourn the relationship they should have had, but was for them denied.

We may not have had Fred MacMurray (My Three SonsABC/CBS 1960-1972) for a dad, but hopefully we have enough exposure to healthy family relationships to understand the concept of parental love. The psalmist is saying that even if the people who love him most were to turn their backs on him, as unlikely as that might be, he knows God will always be there for him.

Did your parents model God’s love to you? Do you model it for your kids? If you didn’t grow up with a healthy model of parental love, ask God to be your Father, and teach you how to father your children.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 160: Psalm 21, 22, 23 and 24

He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help (NIV 1984, Psalm 22:24).

I wonder if David wrote Psalm 20 before or after he wrote Psalm 22.

This psalm of David betrays a time when his suffering was all but unbearable. He is confused why God does not seem to be present, let alone come to his rescue. Verse 24 is the resolution for the lament that begins, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v. 1). We know that Jesus identified with this psalm as it provided a voice to his cry on the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV 1984, Matthew 27:46).

Loneliness is the essence of suffering. When we are hurting to the depths of our soul, we cannot help but feel like we are walking that path alone. And yet, even when it appears God is deaf and blind, we can draw strength from the knowledge that he hears and he sees.

It should be remembered that David did make it through his time of suffering and loneliness. His kingdom was established/restored [4]. And so did Jesus. The first rays of sunlight on the third day revealed the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

God is not unaware of or unmoved by your suffering; it pierces his heart.

During those times in your life when it seemed God had abandoned you, how did things work out? Don’t give up. Everything will be okay.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 159: Psalm 17, 18, 19 and 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress (Psalm 20:1).

Let me share with you the lyrics to a simple worship song I wrote some years back based on Psalm 20.

“Benediction (Psalm 20)”

May you hear the voice of God
When you find yourself in trouble
May his sanctuary rest where you are
May the mighty name of God
Rise up to protect you
May he give you the desires of your heart
And when all your plans succeed
We will shout for joy
At your song of victory

© 1994 Tim Irwin

I wrote this thinking of a friend of mine who was going through a dark time in his marriage. To make a long story short, his wife left – taking the kids of course – and he was understandably broken.

It would be a nice fairytale ending if I could write his wife came back and their home was restored, but that’s not the way things worked out. Sometime after she married someone else, he was introduced to a beautiful, godly woman, and the two fell in love and built a new home together, founded on Christ.

Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Meditate on Psalm 20.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 158: Psalm 13, 14, 15 and 16

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? . . . Those . . . who keep their promises even when it hurts (NLT, Psalm 15:4).

Ever heard one of these? Hey, I was just going to call you! Or, I’ll feed it and take care of it – you’ll never even know we have a dog! Or, We’ll play catch tomorrow. Or, No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat. Or, We’ll do lunch.

Would you believe it if someone said any of these things to you? Have you ever made one of these promises and not really meant it? Paul wrote: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:14).

We say things like, Cross my heart and hope to die. Or, On the eyes of my sainted mother. Do those words make us more likely to tell the truth? [1]. John Stott writes: “Swearing is really a pathetic confession of our own dishonesty” [2]. The reason we have to swear oaths is our tendency to lie.

We shouldn’t need to sign our name, pinky swear or provide collateral. Our lives should be enough to make people confident that what they hear from us is the truth.

The NIV contains the words unfaithful, faithless, or some version of not faithful 68 times, always referring to humanity – never to God. Isn’t it good to know that God keeps his promises? The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:13).

Can you commit to always tell the truth? If not, why? Ask God why you might find it difficult to be truthful.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 157: Psalm 9, 10, 11 and 12

[The wicked] freely strut about when what is vile is honored among the human race (Psalm 12:8).

Regarding sin’s downward spiral, Paul concludes: Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:32).

Have you noticed how our heroes have changed? The TV shows of my youth included Saturday afternoon westerns featuring Roy Rogers wearing a white hat and crusading for justice; Marcus Welby, who was not only a brilliant physician, but a good man; the town of Mayfield, home to Ward and June Cleaver and their boys Wally and Theodore. They were good kids even though the Beaver had a knack for getting into trouble.

Were those shows to be remade today, Roy Rogers would be running from his past, Dr. Welby would be addicted to painkillers, and Leave It to Beaver would be retitled: The Adventures of Eddie Haskell.

There actually might be something healthy about realizing our heroes are just regular men, women and children with all the faults and shortcomings inherent to fallen humanity. People, even good people, can get hurt falling from pedestals.

At the same time, are we living in a time when what is vile is honored among men? If we are, things may not be that different than they’ve always been. Apparently, 3,000 years ago the psalmist was experiencing the same thing.

How can we encourage noble behavior from our children when their heroes do not?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 156: Psalm 5, 6, 7 and 8

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (NIV 1984, Psalm 8:4).

Years ago, a man with whom I was in a discussion said, rather snobbishly: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” And I thought: How sad for you.

Verse one speaks of God’s glory being manifested in creation: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. My deist friend would most likely have been quite comfortable with this portrait of God, but no doubt stopped reading before verse four.

Deism is the belief in a detached creator God who has set the world to run on its own, much like a watchmaker engineering a watch which he then winds up and lets go unattended. God exists but he has no involvement or interaction with creation. There’s nothing personal or intimate about the deist God.

Theism (for our discussion Christian Theism) teaches that not only did God create the universe, but that he is still intimately and personally involved with people.

The Psalmist here acknowledges not only man’s smallness compared to the vastness of the heavens and earth God has created, but also draws attention to the truth that God takes special notice of humanity… his crowning creation.

This highlights God’s transcendence – his otherness (he is above and separate from the created order, which is the hallmark of deism) – and his immanence (the idea that God is close to and involved with his creation which is where deism and theism part company).

Thinking of God’s attentiveness to his creation always takes me back to the story of Hagar in the desert when she spoke to God: You are the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13).

What is man that you are mindful of him? The writer is literally declaring that God’s mind is filled with thoughts of and care for you.

How does it make you feel to know that you are on God’s mind?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 155: Psalm 1, 2, 3 and 4

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (NIV 1984, Psalm 1:2).

Meditating on God’s Word is not reading it, memorizing it, or even studying it. It’s chewing on it, turning it over in the mind, allowing it to percolate and become part of us.

St. Benedict (AD 480-547) is credited with giving us the meditative practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina begins with a slow, purposeful reading (lectio) of the Word combined with an attitude of attentiveness (careful listening) to God’s voice. We progress to meditating on the Word (meditatio ), which is a pondering and simmering time. From there we transition to prayer (oratio), centered in what we have been reading and what God has been speaking. This is followed with the final segment of lectio divina, contemplation (contemplatio), in which we joyfully rest in the presence of God.

On what are you meditating? Scott Wenig writes that the mind wanders every seven seconds [1]. When idling at a red light, standing over a sink full of dishes, or sitting at your desk, where does your mind go? Answer that and you’ll know what you’re meditating on.

It is in meditating on the law, God’s Word, that it really becomes a part of us.

Where does your mind go when it wanders?

What does God want to say to you through his Word?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 154: Job 40, 41 and 42

If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! (Job 41:8).

In the final chapters of Job, after Job has pleaded his case and his friends have arrogantly and at the same time na├»vely spoken for God, God speaks. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? (38:4). Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? (38:22). Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? (38:32). Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1). Does the eagle soar at your command? (39: 27).

And Job admits he is no match for the Lord God Almighty (40:4).

God then proceeds to illustrate further his own glory and majesty by pointing to some of his creations that man cannot tame: Look at the behemoth (maybe an elephant; possibly the hippopotamus), which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox (40:15). Can you pull in the leviathan (some posit this is the crocodile, others the whale) with a fishhook? (41:10).

You gotta laugh at this imagery: If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Though never backing away from his claims of innocence, about this time I’m sure Job was thinking to himself: I challenged God once and I’ll never do that again either!

Have you ever made a hasty and foolish challenge only to think better of it after it was too late? If you’ve been wrestling with God, is it time to say “Uncle”?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 153: Job 37, 38 and 39

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? (NIV 1984, Job 38:2).

How often do we… let me start over; how often do I presume to speak for God? This is a danger to which pastors are especially prone. In today’s world, the closest thing to the Thus saith the Lord of the Old Testament prophets is the Sunday morning message preached from pulpits all over the world.

We attend school to ensure we are interpreting the Scriptures correctly, and speak with confidence that we are representing God accurately. Yet at the same time, we must be careful to leave our dogmatism at home, for we are human and our understanding of God’s Word and God’s ways are dynamic (at least it should be), shifting over time as we grow deeper in knowledge and deeper in relationship with our Creator.

When Jesus said, It is written… (Matthew 4:4), he left it at that. But on other occasions he said, You have heard that it was said . . . But I tell you… (5:21,22). He spoke with an innate authority (which we will never have), refuting the law’s popular interpretation yet never refuting Scripture itself.

Rather than darkening God’s counsel by presuming to speak for him with words without knowledge, we must be careful rather to let the voice of God speak for itself through a correct and responsible interpretation of the scriptural text.

Do you speak for God, or do you allow God to speak for himself? Who’s better at it?