Archive | January, 2013

Maybe think about it another way. . .

29 Jan

I have been looking at Psalm 59 for a couple of days now.  I was thinking if I had anything to say about another psalm talking about “enemies”.

Then I thought about it differently.

One of the difficulties in my life is thoughts that sap my energy.  Not BIG, “Oh my Gosh” thoughts, just annoying, “life is hard” thoughts.  Things like, a friend in the hospital, a situation that did not work out as I thought it would, reports to be finished, uncertainty about what is up ahead in my life. . .

I realized that these energy sapping thoughts can be the enemy.  I don’t want to trivialize what happened to the writer of the psalm or their experience.  I think it is important to understand the actually dangers that God’s people faced.

Yet, this psalm is very personal. So, when I think about those who are personally against me, I think about how I often become my own worst enemy.  I truly want God to rescue me from mental energy spent on unhelpful stress.

1-2 My God! Rescue me from my enemies,
defend me from these mutineers.
Rescue me from their dirty tricks,
save me from their hit men.

Those thoughts really do gang up on me, hid from me to ambush me when I am not ready to defend myself.  Those thoughts can generate doubt and despair and God must battle them.

3-4 Desperadoes have ganged up on me,
they’re hiding in ambush for me.
I did nothing to deserve this, God,
crossed no one, wronged no one.
All the same, they’re after me,
determined to get me.

4-5 Wake up and see for yourself! You’re God,
God-of-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God!
Get on the job and take care of these pagans,
don’t be soft on these hard cases.

God is the one who must move into action against the unhelpful mental life that often becomes most powerful during those late evening hours.  Those mental loops run over and over again and sometimes it feels like they will never get caught.

6-7 They return when the sun goes down,
They howl like coyotes, ringing the city.
Then suddenly they’re all at the gate,
Snarling invective, drawn daggers in their teeth.
They think they’ll never get caught.

8-10 But you, God, break out laughing;
you treat the godless nations like jokes.
Strong God, I’m watching you do it,
I can always count on you.
God in dependable love shows up on time,
shows me my enemies in ruin.

It is God who can transform our thoughts.  And, my experience is, it is not quick work!  Again and again, we have to turn those thoughts over to God to be changed.

11-13 Don’t make quick work of them, God,
lest my people forget.
Bring them down in slow motion,
take them apart piece by piece.
Let all their mean-mouthed arrogance
catch up with them,
Catch them out and bring them down
—every muttered curse
—every barefaced lie.
Finish them off in fine style!
Finish them off for good!
Then all the world will see
that God rules well in Jacob,
everywhere that God’s in charge.

14-15 They return when the sun goes down,
They howl like coyotes, ringing the city.
They scavenge for bones,
And bite the hand that feeds them.

I need to remember that God has the power to transform; that it is only the present moment I can effect; that God will be with me through it all.  Yea!

It is God I trust.

16-17 And me? I’m singing your prowess,
shouting at cockcrow your largesse,
For you’ve been a safe place for me,
a good place to hide.
Strong God, I’m watching you do it,
I can always count on you—
God, my dependable love.

I pray you can find God’s dependable love in this day.  I pray you can let God reign in your thoughts to give you peace.

I know God can do it if I lean on God.

Congress in session

23 Jan

Psalm 58 is perfect for our political lives these days.  The writer is venting about those in power who are not caring for “the common good”.  The psalmist expressive anger will probably NOT help to “reach across the aisle”, but sometimes it is the way we feel about those who do not agree with our political views.

1-2 Is this any way to run a country?
Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,
behind closed doors you make deals with demons.

3-5 The wicked crawl from the wrong side of the cradle;
their first words out of the womb are lies.
Poison, lethal rattlesnake poison,
drips from their forked tongues—
Deaf to threats, deaf to charm,
decades of wax built up in their ears.

The description of the people is that they lie and do not listen is clear.  “Decades of wax built up in their ears”; what a great image.   It is those in power who have no integrity and are not responsive to the needs of the community that stand accused.  Often in our culture those who take political office use that power for their own purposes.

I imagine that in the time of the psalmist that political dishonesty was a levels far beyond what we have ever experienced.  Yet, in the scripture, there is a call for honesty and integrity for those who rule the people.

6-9 God, smash their teeth to bits,
leave them toothless tigers.
Let their lives be buckets of water spilled,
all that’s left, a damp stain in the sand.
Let them be trampled grass
worn smooth by the traffic.
Let them dissolve into snail slime,
be a miscarried fetus that never sees sunlight.
Before what they cook up is half-done, God,
throw it out with the garbage!

10-11 The righteous will call up their friends
when they see the wicked get their reward,
Serve up their blood in goblets
as they toast one another,
Everyone cheering, “It’s worth it to play by the rules!
God’s handing out trophies and tending the earth!”

As we have experienced the smooth continuation of power for our country, we can give thanks to our faithful God.  Even through the decisions made in the political realm of our lives might not be to our liking, we can voice our concerns, we can gather others to change systems we believe need changing, we can openly worship God in whatever way speaks to us.

I encourage you to give a prayer of thanks today.  Our system of government is far from prefect, but we have the power to change our lives and lives of those whom God cares for deeply.

Psalms and Hymns

22 Jan

As I read over Psalm 57, a song from my Youth Choir days came into head.

Days of my youth were difficult at times and I remember the idea of running to God to be hidden under God’s wing.  The writer of this psalm tells of this same desire to escape the pain of life.  It is God we can run to, it is God we can trust.  This psalm is just eleven verses, so enjoy.

1-3 Be good to me, God—and now!
I’ve run to you for dear life.
I’m hiding out under your wings
until the hurricane blows over.
I call out to High God,
the God who holds me together.
He sends orders from heaven and saves me,
he humiliates those who kick me around.
God delivers generous love,
he makes good on his word.

I find myself in a pride of lions
who are wild for a taste of human flesh;
Their teeth are lances and arrows,
their tongues are sharp daggers.

Soar high in the skies, O God!
Cover the whole earth with your glory!

They booby-trapped my path;
I thought I was dead and done for.
They dug a mantrap to catch me,
and fell in headlong themselves.

7-8 I’m ready, God, so ready,
ready from head to toe,
Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune:
“Wake up, soul!
Wake up, harp! wake up, lute!
Wake up, you sleepyhead sun!”

9-10 I’m thanking you, God, out loud in the streets,
singing your praises in town and country.
The deeper your love, the higher it goes;
every cloud is a flag to your faithfulness.

11 Soar high in the skies, O God!
Cover the whole earth with your glory!

Did you like the line about having a mantrap dug to catch the writer?  I wonder if it is different than a womantrap?

I want to include the song I remember from my Youth Choir days.  It is actually in the United Methodist Hymnal and was written by Charles Wesley (you can’t get more Methodist than that.)

 

Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

2.
Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah! leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head
with the shadow of thy wing.

There are two more verses to this hymn, but these are the two verses that still stick in my head.  Like I said, those teen years were tough and it helped me to know that God was always there to hold me up.  I think during those hard years that I leaned so heavily on God that when life was hard in subsequent years it didn’t seem so bad.

God is always that ready to hold you and hide you in God’s wings.  I think also knowing that I am deeply loved by God is the truth that holds me up each day.

I’m still here

18 Jan

I can’t believe how long it has been since I have written on my blog.  Life has been busy.  I have painted my room and got a new bed.  Dad has had a “routine check” with most of his doctors.  If I can get a picture to attach to my post, I’ll show you my room (it is painted in a nice soft green).

So, on with the psalms.  Psalm 56 finds the writer upset by those who are pursuing them and asking God for help.

1-4 Take my side, God—I’m getting kicked around,
stomped on every day.
Not a day goes by
but somebody beats me up;
They make it their duty
to beat me up.
When I get really afraid
I come to you in trust.
I’m proud to praise God;
fearless now, I trust in God.
What can mere mortals do?

5-6 They don’t let up—
they smear my reputation
and huddle to plot my collapse.
They gang up,
sneak together through the alleys
To take me by surprise,
wait their chance to get me.

What I like about this psalm is that the writer looks to God for hope and defense.  Even though the psalmist feels persecuted they do look to avenge their own reputation.  Trust is placed in God to care for the difficulties of living with other human beings who are sometime ‘not nice’.   The psalmist does give advice about what God should do with ‘those people.’

Pay them back in evil!
Get angry, God!
Down with these people!

This passage about God’s total awareness of our life struggles with particularly poignant.  Think about what it means that God has kept track of all our tears and all our pain.  Perhaps the next time you are in that place of tears and pain you can imagine God standing with you; holding you through the brokenness of life.

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

If my enemies run away,
turn tail when I yell at them,
Then I’ll know
that God is on my side.

The writer ends, as most psalms do, with a shout out to God.  This praise of God brings in to perspective the vast difference between a God of is there for us and human beings who can often choose badly in life.  It is God who has the real power, healing, strength and hope of our lives.  I believe that, if God and I are in a good place, then the rest of my life will be OK.  Praising God is the best.

10-11 I’m proud to praise God,
proud to praise God.
Fearless now, I trust in God;
what can mere mortals do to me?

12-13 God, you did everything you promised,
and I’m thanking you with all my heart.
You pulled me from the brink of death,
my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.
Now I stroll at leisure with God
in the sunlit fields of life.

I hope you can find something to praise God for today.  If it is tough to praise God today, I pray you can feel the presence of God which is always there to count each tear.IMG_20130114_200036

When a friend betrays

5 Jan

Psalm 55 expresses pain that we have not seen in the earlier psalms.   The writes is appealing to God because they are under a slanderous attack from a friend.  The writer appeals with passion for God’s help.

1-3 Open your ears, God, to my prayer;
don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking.
Come close and whisper your answer.
I really need you.
I shudder at the mean voice,
quail before the evil eye,
As they pile on the guilt,
stockpile angry slander.

4-8 My insides are turned inside out;
specters of death have me down.
I shake with fear,
I shudder from head to foot.
“Who will give me wings,” I ask—
“wings like a dove?”
Get me out of here on dove wings;
I want some peace and quiet.
I want a walk in the country,
I want a cabin in the woods.
I’m desperate for a change
from rage and stormy weather.

As the writer calls for God’s decisive action, they talk about the division that have been created in the city.  I think about local church were people have chosen sides and divided church.  These divisions cause conflict, stress, and draw focus away from the grace of God.

9-11 Come down hard, Lord—slit their tongues.
I’m appalled how they’ve split the city
Into rival gangs
prowling the alleys
Day and night spoiling for a fight,
trash piled in the streets,
Even shopkeepers gouging and cheating
in broad daylight.

12-14 This isn’t the neighborhood bully
mocking me—I could take that.
This isn’t a foreign devil spitting
invective—I could tune that out.
It’s you! We grew up together!
You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.

It is difficult to be betrayed by anyone, but how much harder it is to be deceived by someone close to you.  Can you understand the deep emotion of this psalm as the writer lives the pain abandonment.

15 Haul my betrayers off alive to hell—let them
experience the horror, let them
feel every desolate detail of a damned life.

16-19 I call to God;
God will help me.
At dusk, dawn, and noon I sigh
deep sighs—he hears, he rescues.
My life is well and whole, secure
in the middle of danger
Even while thousands
are lined up against me.
God hears it all, and from his judge’s bench
puts them in their place.
But, set in their ways, they won’t change;
they pay him no mind.

The answer for the writer is the answer for all of us.  To call on God.  To look to God for judgement and know that it is God’s job to “put them in their place.”  Even though the writer has no hope that ones who have caused damage will listen to God, it does not stop the writer from believing in God’s power.

20-21 And this, my best friend, betrayed his best friends;
his life betrayed his word.
All my life I’ve been charmed by his speech,
never dreaming he’d turn on me.
His words, which were music to my ears,
turned to daggers in my heart.

22-23 Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders—
he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out.
He’ll never let good people
topple into ruin.
But you, God, will throw the others
into a muddy bog,
Cut the lifespan of assassins
and traitors in half.

And I trust in you.”

I love the imagine of piling our troubles on God’s shoulders.  God will carry our load and make sure we do not fall.  As I have said before, I really don’t think God needs to “throw the others into a muddy bog”.  I think their own inauthentic and unfaithful lives will destroy them more effectively than anything else.

It is God I always trust.  Even when life is not like I planned . .  even when those I thought I could count on aren’t . . . even when I am in uncharted territory. .  I will trust in God.  Peace.

 

God is on your side

4 Jan

Well, just a few days in to the new year, and I missed a day.  Yesterday was a long one.  I am having a great time being in ministry again.  The church I am serving is has been though some hard times.  I think of them as I read the psalm of the day – Psalm 54.

The writer beings with appeal to God for help.  I know a lot of my days have started this way.  We all have a need for God to help out of messes that confound out lives.

1-2 God, for your sake, help me!
Use your influence to clear me.
Listen, God—I’m desperate.
Don’t be too busy to hear me.

The writer is having trouble with a killer.  This has never been my problem.  However, I have had people carry mean stories about me, or be angry with a decision I made, or just have people who make it unpleasant to be around.

Outlaws are out to get me,
hit men are trying to kill me.
Nothing will stop them;
God means nothing to them.

The writer affirms that even we feel life is out to get us, God is right there ready to help.  God will give us the path to walk through the difficult times, away from those who could hurt us, and towards a God-filled future.

4-5 Oh, look! God’s right here helping!

    God’s on my side,
Evil is looping back on my enemies.
Don’t let up! Finish them off!

Our response to God guiding is worship.  Our response to the gift of each new day is worship.  Our response to being human and knowing our creator is worship.  We are creature given breath, so we can sing to God.

6-7 I’m ready now to worship, so ready.
I thank you, God—you’re so good.
You got me out of every scrape,
and I saw my enemies get it.

I pray you enjoy the gift of this day.  I pray you can find a way to worship God and sing aloud some good praise.  As I said in church on Sunday, “Give God a shout out!”

God is looking for a few good people

2 Jan

Have I told you lately how much I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the scripture.  Psalm 53 is awesome.  I hope it gets creative brain going and thinking about who we are as people on the planet and as God’s people.  The first verses express wonderfully the reality that there are always those who will say that God is dead.

1-2 Bilious and bloated, they gas,
“God is gone.”
It’s poison gas—
they foul themselves, they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.
God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

I love the line that says God is looking for someone who is not stupid.  God is looking for people who are activity looking for the presence of God.  Of course, God is still looking for those people.

The next verses are a little depressing.  It says that God cannot find faithful people.  Even though I don’t think that is true, I do like the image of verse 3 – “useless, unshepherded sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd.”  Sometimes I feel like this is a great description of the church.  There are faith community who do not want to do the hard work of spiritual disciplines which helps us to live our obedience to God.  But only want to drop in and have a ‘meaningful’ experience for an hour on Sunday morning.

He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow the one.

The psalmist has harsh words for the people pretending to be the Shepherd.  The line, “treating people like a fast-food meal over which they are too busy to pray.” is incredible.  I think it will bounce around in my brain for days to come.

Don’t they know anything,
all these impostors?
Don’t they know
they can’t get away with this,
Treating people like a fast-food meal
over which they’re too busy to pray?

The ending of the psalm, as always, expresses the triumph of God over the impostors.  I think the punishment of the impostors is that they will have to live the life that they have created – “a nightmare they can’t wake up from.”

Night is coming for them, and nightmare—
a nightmare they’ll never wake up from.
God will make hash of these squatters,
send them packing for good.

The hope that it offered by the psalmist is the same refrain that comes from all the prophets.  Those who “turn-around” will find joy.  It is the turning around, the turning back to the way of God that brings life.  How often do we think that we a plunking OK and there is really no reason to change our lives.  Are we willing to settle for an OK? Are we willing settle for being our own inadequate shepherd, rather than following the real Shepherd?

Is there anyone around to save Israel?
God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
turned-around Israel sings laughter.

My prayer is that you will be one of the ones turning around and find yourself skipping rope and singing with laughter.