Archive | October, 2012

More Good Advice from the Psalms

29 Oct

OK, so this is really October 29.  I did the last one at night and this blog has never figured out the right time.

Now, on with Psalm 34.  As I read through this psalm I am amazed that early theologians and church leaders wanted to make strong lines of delineation between the covenant made with the Hebrew people and the writings that came out of the reform movement in Judaism begun by Jesus of Nazareth.   This psalm has the essential concepts of Christian thought that are important in my faith life.  As with many of the psalms, this one begins with praise.

“I bless God every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.

I live and breathe God;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:

Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.”

Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to begin everyday and to encourage others in their day.  To tell them if things aren’t going well (always a possibility) that we can rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

“God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.

When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.”

I love these types of psalms because they sound so much like my life.  Again the psalmist is telling us to never hide our feelings from God and that calling out to God in times of difficulty is a good thing.  Obviously, it is not unusual for God’s people to get into trouble and need God to find hope.  I particularly like the imagine in this next verse.

“God’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him.

Worship God if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.

10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry,
but God-seekers are full of God.”

I remember a friend who once talked to me about the importance is visualization.  She said during tough times, or when you were searching for healing – mental or physical – visualization could be a great tool.  So, next time you are feeling low imagine being surrounded by a circle of God’s angels.  Now angels is not something that is easy for me to visualize, but I can imagine good friends and the monks of my favorite monastery stand around me praying for me if life gets hard.  I remember when my Dad was in the hospital after his heart attack and going recovery from a very difficult surgery I posted my status on Facebook.  I remember it as being very simple, something like, “in the hospital praying for my Dad”.  I got comments from many friends saying they were praying for me too.  So, although I am not get with angels – this experience I can get on board with.

The psalmist continues with some good advice on being a follower of God.

“Come, children, listen closely;
I’ll give you a lesson in God worship.

12 Who out there has a lust for life?
Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty?

13 Guard your tongue from profanity,
and no more lying through your teeth.

14 Turn your back on sin; do something good.
Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!

15 God keeps an eye on his friends,
his ears pick up every moan and groan.

16 God won’t put up with rebels;
he’ll cull them from the pack.”

The advice from the psalmist has no real difference from this teachings of Jesus.  Of course, it is from this texts that Jesus learned and grew in God’s grace.  I like this psalm because as much as there is comfort for those who run to God for guidance and for shelter, there is a separation for those who place themselves in opposition to God’s ways.

The final verses of the psalm speak again of God’s rescue and care.  These verses remind me particularly of the hopes of the Christian way.

Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you.

18 If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.

19 Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, God is there every time.

20 He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.

21 The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.

22 God pays for each slave’s freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.

A thousand years before Jesus was done, and two thousand years before the advent of atonement theology; the psalmist articulates God’s redemption of those who are enslaved.  There is nothing new under the sun.  For me it is good to know that God has been understood as a God of saving grace since human beings have been describing what it is to be in relationship with God.

Blessings and peace upon this wet day brought to you by SANDY and climate change.

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Praise on a Sunday

29 Oct

“1-3 Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs!
Play his praise on a grand piano!
Invent your own new song to him;
give him a trumpet fanfare.

4-5 For God’s Word is solid to the core;
everything he makes is sound inside and out.
He loves it when everything fits,
when his world is in plumb-line true.
Earth is drenched
in God’s affectionate satisfaction.”

As I think about the “earth being drenched in God’s affectionate satisfaction”, I think about the rains the SANDY will bring.  I don’t think those who are in the midst of the storm are understanding our drenching this way.  But, what would it be like if we did?  What if we took the days that we are going to be immobilized by the storm and found ways to study, praise and open ourselves to God’s presence?

Well, the psalmist continues to talk about God’s creation of all that is and then considers human beings.

” From high in the skies God looks around,
he sees all Adam’s brood.
From where he sits
he overlooks all us earth-dwellers.
He has shaped each person in turn;
now he watches everything we do.

16-17 No king succeeds with a big army alone,
no warrior wins by brute strength.
Horsepower is not the answer;
no one gets by on muscle alone.”

The psalmist sees God’s creation of human beings, God’s watching human beings and God’s power being the real power in our world.  I wonder whether we real believe this anyone?  If we see the power of God to transform our lives; that is to change our understanding of ourselves and our world in relation to God, as the real power in our world.  Well, if we do, then we can praise God with the psalmist;

“Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him,
the ones who are looking for his love.
He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times;
in lean times he keeps body and soul together.

20-22 We’re depending on God;
he’s everything we need.
What’s more, our hearts brim with joy
since we’ve taken for our own his holy name.
Love us, God, with all you’ve got—
that’s what we’re depending on.”

I pray in this day, you are feeling God loving you and knowing that it is the real power in our life to make your life whole and holy.

mental and spiritual health

27 Oct

Hello friends, sorry for my absence for a few days.  Of course the big reason is laziness, the other reason is “Downton Abbey”.  My parents and I have watched the first two seasons, supplied by the public library, and we are ready for the third season to begin January 2013.

So on with Psalms, and 32 is wonderful direction for mental and spiritual health.

“Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—
you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.

Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.”

This is one of my favorite things about my faith.  That each new morning I can wake up and talk to God about anything and begin again with new hope and new possibilities.  I don’t have to be bound by my mistakes or past stupidity, but I can work out a new plan of who I want to become with God’s grace.  The important dynamic the psalmist explains is that we have to be ready to tell God everything.

“When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.

The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.”

In this section of the psalm, the writer expresses how detrimental it is to hold our pain, or doubts, or hurts inside.  It is said that, what we hid inside of us has power over us.”  So, the psalmist expresses this mental health axiom in this part of the psalm.

“Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.”

I have felt this sense of freedom, have you?  I have often said that guilt is the most useless of emotions.  I believe it is good to realize when we have done something wrong; hurt someone by our actions, but we have to move on.  If we can learn from our mistakes, then guilt is more than useless; it holds us in a bad place, rather than moving us on to a good place.

“These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.

God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.”

As the psalmist says, prayer is the path.  Prayer is what will keep us safe and sane when the difficulties of life press in on us.  I love the imagine of who God is in verse 7.  It is this kind of relationship with God that keeps us spiritually healthy.

“Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:

“Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”

10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.

11 Celebrate God.
Sing together—everyone!
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!”

 

There is nothing else I can add to the psalmist words, except,”please keep safe and dry in the coming rains.”

Encouragement and Hope

24 Oct

Psalm 31 bring another song of encouragement.  The writer is leaning on God, in hopes that God will continue to find a path of life and hope for the psalmist.  I like all of the psalm so I will include all of it here and write commentary in between the paragraphs.

” I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
Don’t let me down!
Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
and please—no procrastination!
Your granite cave a hiding place,
your high cliff aerie a place of safety.

3-5 You’re my cave to hide in,
my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader,
be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands.
You won’t drop me,
you’ll never let me down.”

I like that the write is so straight forward with God.  There is complete trust in God’s faithful to care for the writer’s needs and protect and guide them.  I think this intimate relationship with God is what brings hope even in difficult circumstances.

“I hate all this silly religion,
but you, God, I trust.
I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
you saw my pain,
you disarmed my tormentors,
You didn’t leave me in their clutches
but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God—
I’m in deep, deep trouble again.
I’ve cried my eyes out;
I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
my years fade out in sighs.
My troubles have worn me out,
turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
I’m ridiculed by the neighbors.
My friends are horrified;
they cross the street to avoid me.
They want to blot me from memory,
forget me like a corpse in a grave,
discard me like a broken dish in the trash.
The street-talk gossip has me
“criminally insane”!
Behind locked doors they plot
how to ruin me for good.

14-18 Desperate, I throw myself on you:
you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
safe from the hands out to get me.
Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
I’ve given you plenty of notice.
Embarrass the wicked, stand them up,
leave them stupidly shaking their heads
as they drift down to hell.
Gag those loudmouthed liars
who heckle me, your follower, with jeers and catcalls.”

I love the reference to silly religions.  When I was a teen I had a book called, “How to be a Christian without being religious.  The emphasis was on a personal relationship with the living God, rather than focusing on all the human rules created in most religions.  Of course, it was also the ’70s and the ‘Jesus Movement’ was in full swing.  Yet, the idea of finding “The Way” has always appealed to me more than following the institutional church.  I know this will be no surprise to those who know me.

I also like this psalm because the writer talks about getting themselves into trouble one more time.  I always identify with someone who finds themselves in the midst of problems and seeks God to find peace and relief from those ‘heckle’ the followers of God.

“What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
You hide them safely away
from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
you silence the poisonous gossip.
Blessed God!
His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
you heard and listened.

23 Love God, all you saints;
God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
those arrogant enough to go it alone.

24 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

As I have been reading through and writing on the psalms, I have enjoyed the deep emotion of the psalmist.  I feel the writer has striped bare and opened themselves to God and each time they have found blessings.  I was listening to songs on the radio that conveyed this kind of passion as well.  For the first audience of the psalms, were these songs/psalms the ‘soundtrack of their lives’?  Just wondering.

My Story

19 Oct

I am amazed at how little I knew the psalm before beginning this blogging thing.  I love Psalm 30 and it reminds me of important parts of my journey of faith.

“I give you all the credit, God—
you got me out of that mess,
you didn’t let my foes gloat.

2-3 God, my God, I yelled for help
and you put me together.
God, you pulled me out of the grave,
gave me another chance at life
when I was down-and-out.

The phrase that Eguene Peterson paraphrases ‘pulled me out of the grave’. is translated, ‘redeemed my life from the pit’ in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible.  I tell you this in order to tell you of an experience that has stayed with me for a couple of decades.  I was working on an Emmaus weekend – this is a Spiritual Life Retreat for adults – the youth version is called Chrysalis.  One of the clergy women who was working on the weekend with me asked me why I talked so freely about my faith in God.  My response was, “because he redeemed my life from the pit.”  It was a psalm phrase I had learned recently, and it fit my life perfectly.

My life was a mess of teenage intensity and isolation.  When I committed my life to God it began a journey that has given my life meaning and direction and peace.  So, this psalm speaks to me very personally.  So. . .

 “All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God!
Thank him to his face!
He gets angry once in a while, but across
a lifetime there is only love.
The nights of crying your eyes out
give way to days of laughter.”

I have felt that love over a life time.   I have known that nights of tears, but the days of laughter have lasted much longer.  It is to God’s grace that I attribute the joy and peace in my life.  As the writer ends this psalm by saying,

“You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.”

I add my Amen.  I pray you find this same joy in your life.

A Day to Praise

17 Oct

Yesterday was Dad’s 86th birthday and today we are celebrating with a special dinner and lemon meringue pie.  So, it is a great day to look at Psalm 29.  A psalm of praise.

“Bravo, God, bravo!
Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before the glory,
in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
Dress your best to honor him!

God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.

God’s thunder tympanic,
God’s thunder symphonic.

God’s thunder smashes cedars,
God topples the northern cedars.

The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,
The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.

7-8 God’s thunder spits fire.
God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.

God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”

10 Above the floodwaters is God’s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.

11 God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.

I decided to include all of the psalm because it isn’t very long and all the images are intertwined.  The writer uses the experience of nature, particularly that of water to see the power of God.  There was a day almost 20 years ago when I stood on the porch when a really strong storm was approaching the area. First the winds came through bending the branches of the trees and rattling the leaves.  Then the rain came down in sheets and quickly flooded the street.  It was amazing the change the occurred in a short time.  I can imagine the psalmist seeing that kind of storm arise and feeling the power of God within it.

For me, the question is what language or what image would I use to describe the wonder of God?  Where do you see the wonder, or power, or grace of God in your day?  What song can you sing to tell about the nature of God to others?  For me, it is always a great day when I can see the beauty of God’s creative nature.  Today it was the multi-colored leaves of wonderful oak tree.  This time of year always reminds me of the diversity and extravagant beauty of God.

I hope you find something to praise today.

Another Day, Another Psalm

15 Oct

 

I know myself fairly well and I know that I tend to only look at the bright side – I am a self-avowed Pollyanna.  I kinda like the approach to life, but I know that I do not always see the negative side of people, or notice when people are working at things that are not good or healthy for themselves or other people.  However, the psalmist does not have this problem.

The psalmist begins by calling on God:

“Don’t turn a deaf ear
when I call you, God.
If all I get from you is
deafening silence,
I’d be better off
in the Black Hole.

 I’m letting you know what I need,
calling out for help
And lifting my arms
toward your inner sanctum.”

The psalmist is calling out to God because they want to make sure God know they are not like others who are deceitful in their lives.

“Don’t shove me into the same jail cell with those crooks,

With those who are
full-time employees of evil.
They talk a good line of “peace,”
then moonlight for the Devil.

Pay them back for what they’ve done,
for how bad they’ve been.
Pay them back for their long hours
in the Devil’s workshop;
Then cap it with a huge bonus.

 Because they have no idea how God works
or what he is up to,
God will smash them to smithereens
and walk away from the ruins.”

I think we probably all know people who say one thing to us and then later say something completely different; maybe even speaking badly about us.  Or people seem to work at causing problems wherever they go.  The psalmist is asking God to pay back those who have worked “in the Devil’s workshop.”  Now as I confessed, I rarely think about those who are working it ways that are not helpful to other or are destructive in what they say or do.  But in one way I think this psalm is correct in that these people will find themselves destroyed.  Personally, I don’t think God does this, but they do it to themselves.  It is my experience that people who work from negative energy, trying to destroy others, will eventually have the pain they cause fall back on themselves.  I don’t think we need to look for God to smash them to smithereens, they are doing enough destruction that it will fall back on them.

For me, I try to remember just to talk to God about it – kinda like the psalmist.  And in all circumstances to praise God and try to look through each situation from a God view.

“Blessed be God—
he heard me praying.
He proved he’s on my side;
I’ve thrown my lot in with him.

Now I’m jumping for joy,
and shouting and singing my thanks to him.

 God is all strength for his people,
ample refuge for his chosen leader;
Save your people
and bless your heritage.
Care for them;
carry them like a good shepherd.”

I hope you find blessings in your day