Archive | November, 2013

Here’s the Deal

15 Nov

Psalm 108 is at first glance a praise hymn. However, by the time you get to the end of it, it sounds like the tribe of Israel’s request for God to win them victory for land and resources.

I wonder how often our praise to God ends up really being a request for something. I am not sure this is a bad thing . . . it’s a thing.

Here is where I am at today. I realize that if I think about me – my life, my circumstances, my work, my “whatever” – I get sad or discontented. Thinking about what could be, thinking about what isn’t. BUT, if I think about God and what God is able to do in my life, then happiness ensues. I find this interesting and consider the psalmist praise of God as a way life and hope a teachable moment.

1-2 I’m ready, God, so ready,
ready from head to toe.
Ready to sing,
ready to raise a God-song:
“Wake, soul! Wake, lute!
Wake up, you sleepyhead sun!”
3-6 I’m thanking you, God, out in the streets,
singing your praises in town and country.
The deeper your love, the higher it goes;
every cloud’s a flag to your faithfulness.
Soar high in the skies, O God!
Cover the whole earth with your glory!
And for the sake of the one you love so much,
reach down and help me—answer me!

Perhaps this is the true human state every morning – to wake each morning and cry out to God for help. The writer sees the beauty and hope of a new morning and depends on that power to make it through the day.

7-9 That’s when God spoke in holy splendor:
“Brimming over with joy,
I make a present of Shechem,
I hand out Succoth Valley as a gift.
Gilead’s in my pocket,
to say nothing of Manasseh.
Ephraim’s my hard hat,
Judah my hammer.
Moab’s a scrub bucket—
I mop the floor with Moab,
Spit on Edom,
rain fireworks all over Philistia.”

The writer uses the current relationships with the countries around them to talk about God’s power in those relationships. Moab and Edom do not come off well in this psalm.
But the question becomes, “Who will carry God into the places of our world?”
Of course, for the writer it is about tribal supremacy, but I think God still needs to be made real in our world for different reasons today.

10-11 Who will take me to the thick of the fight?
Who’ll show me the road to Edom?
You aren’t giving up on us, are you, God?
refusing to go out with our troops?
12-13 Give us help for the hard task;
human help is worthless.
In God we’ll do our very best;
he’ll flatten the opposition for good.

It is God who has the power to transform our minds and spirits and lives. It is God who can open us to opportunities and possibilities we could never imagine. It is in God that we can truly live and move and have our being.

A month of Thankfulness

6 Nov

I have declared November as a month of thankfulness in my church. It certainly goes along with the holiday that marks this month, but also with the sense of harvest and completion that the earth is experiencing during this time of year.

Psalm 107 goes well with the theme of thankfulness. As with the majority of the psalms, I can’t really remember ever reading it before. The psalm is one of thankfulness, in detail. It gives all kinds of situations that God has rescued the people from and voice to their gratitude for God’s faithfulness. Of course, the question for me is, “what is my story of rescue and gratitude?”

Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!
Tell how he freed you from oppression,
Then rounded you up from all over the place,
from the four winds, from the seven seas.

The first the sentences are like the beginning of a good essay. They tell you what is going to be explored in the whole psalm. “All of you have been set free by God in different ways, so tell the world.”

4-9 Some of you wandered for years in the desert,
looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst,
staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God.
He got you out in the nick of time;
He put your feet on a wonderful road
that took you straight to a good place to live.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
He poured great draughts of water down parched throats;
the starved and hungry got plenty to eat.

The first image is of the people of Israel in the wilderness. Yet, many of us walk in the wilderness of loneliness or pain or isolation. It is a place where we can not see the creative power of God to change our lives, where we are distracted and distressed by circumstances of our lives instead of encouraged and inspired by the source of our lives. The psalms assures the reader that God will put our feet on a wonderful road. It is God’s heart’s desire to give us a meaningful path in our lives.

10-16 Some of you were locked in a dark cell,
cruelly confined behind bars,
Punished for defying God’s Word,
for turning your back on the High God’s counsel—
A hard sentence, and your hearts so heavy,
and not a soul in sight to help.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He led you out of your dark, dark cell,
broke open the jail and led you out.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
He shattered the heavy jailhouse doors,
he snapped the prison bars like matchsticks!

The next set of people to be redeemed by God are those in prison. Of course, this image is not just for the thousand of men and women our of world who sit behind actual bars, but for those whose lives are held captive by so many different addictions. Those who surrender their lives to drugs, or alcohol, or even to video games, or computer pornography and are tell imprisoned by the addiction. For me, addiction is letting something else in our world take the place of God in our lives; that we feel incomplete without that thing, whatever it is.

The incredible truth of God is that as we lose ourselves in God, we find our genuine selves. So, the psalmist tells us that God can break open the jail which has imprisoned our live and set us free. God can snap the prison bars like matchsticks. God is amazing.

17-22 Some of you were sick because you’d lived a bad life,
your bodies feeling the effects of your sin;
You couldn’t stand the sight of food,
so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He spoke the word that healed you,
that pulled you back from the brink of death.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done—sing it out!

When the psalmist talks about those who are ill because of their bad living, they might have actually meant physical illness. Of course, these days we do not believe physical illness is a payment from God for our bad lives, yet, we can make ourselves ill. I know people who have literally worried themselves into unhealthy lives. Or have worked and worked and stressed until there is nothing about their daily life that is joyful or creative. The psalmist says that even those who have gotten to the place where death looks like a good alternative to life, God can make a way back to health. It is the creative, resurrection power of our Makers love that can bring health and wholeness to any life that will let God in.

23-32 Some of you set sail in big ships;
you put to sea to do business in faraway ports.
Out at sea you saw God in action,
saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean:
With a word he called up the wind—
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which end was up.
Then you called out to God in your desperate condition;
he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
put a muzzle on all the big waves.
And you were so glad when the storm died down,
and he led you safely back to harbor.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
Lift high your praises when the people assemble,
shout Hallelujah when the elders meet!

Finally, those who are caught in the crisis of life circumstances. I think of so many who have experienced the death of someone they love in a senseless act of gun violence and wonder how longer we will offer such free access to guns in our country. I think of those effect by traumatic weather events and wonder how longer we will act as if burning fossil fuels does not make a difference to our environment. I think of so many who are caught in the cross fire of political stupidity and wonder how long we will live with a system that is broken.

The psalmist brings hopes and says that those who are in desperate conditions will be cared for by God. God will quiet the howling winds to a whisper and muzzle the big waves. God will transform wasteland into fresh pools of water. Think of what a powerful image this was for people who lived in the desert. God will, can, is waiting to transform our lives.

33-41 God turned rivers into wasteland,
springs of water into sunbaked mud;
Luscious orchards became alkali flats
because of the evil of the people who lived there.
Then he changed wasteland into fresh pools of water,
arid earth into springs of water,
Brought in the hungry and settled them there;
they moved in—what a great place to live!
They sowed the fields, they planted vineyards,
they reaped a bountiful harvest.
He blessed them and they prospered greatly;
their herds of cattle never decreased.
But abuse and evil and trouble declined
as he heaped scorn on princes and sent them away.
He gave the poor a safe place to live,
treated their clans like well-cared-for sheep.

I pray you will feel the transforming power of God’s grace this day. I pray that even if you don’t feel like well-cared-for sheep, you will know by faith that God is loving you today.

42-43 Good people see this and are glad;
bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks.
If you are really wise, you’ll think this over—
it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love.

I pray this day you will be really wise and give thanks for God’s deep love.