Better for our kids than Disneyland
Psalm 48: Then you can tell the next generation.
This Psalm is one in praise of the City of God, Jerusalem. This, I’m told, is a place where worship abounds, and with good reason. Within its walls is the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth. This city is protected by the Lord even when powerful enemies come to destroy it. Every time the song writer looks at Jerusalem, Zion, he’s overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Then he suggests a specific course of action. He says people ought to carefully measure the city and count its towers. He wants them to make careful record of everything about this City of God. Why? So they can recount it all to their children. In other words, it isn’t enough for them to simply rejoice in the here and now in all God has done for them; they’re to record it all and then tell their children and grandchildren about it. We Christians have our own stories of God’s grace in our lives and churches, our families and our nation. It’s good for us to rejoice when God delivers us from some near disaster. However, we need to be more on purpose in passing our stories along. Surely with all the technology available I can make a video or record a mp3 in which I tell the whole story, detail by detail. Of course, beyond that, we need to have such conversations with our kids. For instance maybe on vacation we can make a stop at the church where we attended as children and, there, in the sanctuary, tell our kids about what happened and why. It may not be the same as Disneyland, and it doesn’t have to replace such a destination, but it just might have a greater impact on our kids than we realize.
Take Away: Tell your story to your kids, and tell it often.
Looking to the Lord in the midst of the storm
Psalm 42: Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.
When Peter walks on the water he does just fine until his attention is drawn away from the Lord and onto the storm. It’s then that he begins to sink. Hundreds of years before that, the sons of Korah write this Psalm dealing with the same issue. As is abundantly clear with the drowning Peter, they don’t suggest that God’s people go about pretending all is well. We’re to admit that we’re down in the dumps and maybe even feeling neglected by God, about to be crushed. The solution they give us is the very same thing we learn from Peter’s unforgettable experience on and then in the water: we’re to fix our eyes on the One who loves us and promises to be with us. Toward the back of our Bibles we find the writer of Hebrews telling us, again, to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Since we find this truth here in the Psalms, and then see it powerfully illustrated by Peter in the gospels, and then are taught the same truth again in the book of Hebrews you’d think that we’d have such a firm grasp on it that it would be part of our spiritual DNA. However, this lesson has to not only be learned, but then relearned; again and again. I think I forget it because I tend to attempt to be self-sufficient. I want the Lord to be impressed with me, so I try to handle it myself. Or, the problem is that I’m so “now oriented” that I can’t see the bigger picture of God’s faithful provision for me even in the storms of life. Either way, the answer is given here. When I look to the Lord, even in the harshness of life, in the words of Korah’s sons, “soon I’ll be praising again.”
Take Away: If we “fix our eyes” on anyone or anything aside from the Lord we’ll end up being let down and disappointed.
The God of justice
Psalm 35: Punch these bullies in the nose
This Psalm is one of David’s Psalms of complaint. All David wants to do is serve the Lord. However, his enemies are making fun of him and taking advantage of every downturn in his life. David asks the Lord to act on his behalf and foil the plans of his enemies and ruin the fun they’re having at his expense. When all is said and done, David wants to hear his friends say, “see, everything works together for good for David, the servant of God.” Modern Christians are somewhat uncomfortable with David’s attitude toward his enemies. We know that the One we follow taught us to turn the other cheek. It’s probably reasonable that we filter our reading of Psalms of complaint through the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it’s helpful to view David’s desires for his enemies in the broadest possible terms. In other words, we may not join David in hoping God will strike down our enemies but we can join him in longing for the day when God sets all wrongs right. God is love, and he is also just. When we experience injustice not only in our lives, but in the lives of others it’s acceptable for us to look forward to the time when God gives those bullies a punch in the nose!
Take Away: The day is, indeed, coming when the Lord will set every wrong right.
How wonderful to be the people of God
Psalm 33: Blessed is the country with God for God; blessed are the people he’s put in his will.
Our Western culture thinks in terms of the individual. The Psalmist, though, has no such view of the world. He sees God as a national God and his nation as a people of God. In that relationship Israel, he says, is especially blessed. Their military wins major battles, not because of their strength, but because God picks them to be his people and is watching over them. His nation depends on that relationship (and later on will take that relationship for granted – leading to their destruction). Still, it’s a dependable relationship that makes Israel a special nation on the face of the earth. I know that people like to use this verse to call America to God, promising that if the nation comes to the Lord that it will be blessed in all kinds of ways. No doubt, the great need of my nation is to come to God. Still, there’s a big difference between being a nation that chooses God and being a nation chosen by God.
Take Away: How blessed to be the people of the Lord!
Highs and lows and in-betweens
Psalm 30: I can’t keep quiet about you.
It’ll come as a surprise to no one, but I confess that I’m no David. He lives larger than life. I have the idea he’s more passionate over his breakfast each morning than I am over the biggest events in my life. When David’s up, he’s really up, filled with joy and praises and song. That’s not me. The top of his roller coaster ride is far above mine! I confess that I sometimes envy those “Davids” in my life, so full of life and passion. On the other hand, when David is down, he’s really down! He doesn’t stop at being somewhat discouraged, instead, he feels absolutely abandoned. He isn’t just frustrated; instead, he’s filled with despair. The bottom of the roller coaster ride for people with the “David personality” is far below mine and when I see them down there in so much pain I confess that I feel a little superior, or at least a bit glad that I’m not like that. The neat thing is that God made both of us and he sees something of himself in each of us. I have a long way to go, but in my personality, and in others who are wired like me, there’s just a hint of God as the “solid Rock,” our “firm foundation.” Then, when I am around a “David” I see something of God’s passion and zest. Of course in God we see it all without the flaws that are associated with the human versions, then in Jesus we see humanity perfected, just as God intended in the first place. It occurs to me that one purpose of the Psalms is to let people like me hitch a ride with people like David. I won’t make it to the top with him and I won’t have to ride with him to the bottom, but I might be stretched just a little. That’s a good thing.
Take Away: There’s something of the Lord in every positive personality type.
The favorite Psalm
Psalm 23: God, my shepherd!
Some portions of the Bible are like the peaks of a great mountain range. It’s all awesome, but there are passages that take our breath away. There are the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer; in fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount. Then there’s John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. Also, there’s the great Hymn of Creation of the opening pages of our Bibles. And there’s the 23rd Psalm. Here we find such beauty and such comfort and encouragement that we return again and again, especially in times of pain or fear or grief. I’m reminded today that David wrote it as God, the Holy Spirit, carried him along. The words are those of an experienced shepherd. The concepts are inspired by the Lord. This favorite Psalm is, then, the result of a cooperative effort between God and man. This mountain peak Psalm is not simply a product of David’s creativity and it’s not the result of the Lord acting unilaterally as he did in Creation (in other words it isn’t a result of “God said ‘let there be a Psalm’ and there was a Psalm!”). As surprising as it is, the Almighty forms a partnership with a man and the result is Psalm 23. In this I see not only how God desires to work in this world, but also the great potential in such a partnership. As I cooperate with God in my life he works with me to bring about wonderful results. What happens may not be exquisite poetry like Psalm 23, but it will be something of value to the Lord and to me.
Take Away: It’s an unlikely and wonderful partnership – the Lord working with, in, and through human beings.
Seeing God, everywhere
Psalm 19: God’s glory is on tour in the skies.
God speaks to us in various ways. When I hear the phrase: “God’s Word” I always assume that it’s the Bible that’s being talked about. David, who thought of the written word of God as the Torah, reminds me that “God’s Word” is much more than written words making up a leather-bound book or a rare and valuable scroll. He says that Creation, itself, is the “Word of God.” Whether I am watching the sunrise or a starlit nighttime sky I’m reading God’s message of love and goodwill to me and to all human beings. These things, David says, are roadmaps to God…roadmaps with easy to follow directions. Of course, beyond the written Word, or the Word displayed in Creation, is the Living Word of God: God the Son, Jesus. David only has a dim, distant knowledge of the Word in the Flesh. Still, even lacking that, he keeps seeing God everywhere he looks. In all of life, God is speaking; I just need to learn to listen on a broader scale that I might more fully hear his message to me.
Take Away: If we pay attention we’ll hear from God in a wonderful variety of ways.
No wonder we’re so happy!
Psalm 16: I’m happy from the inside out.
David’s testimony in Psalm 16 is absolutely inspiring. He makes the decision to run to God, making him Lord of his life and when he does this all the puzzle pieces of his life fall into place. Because of his trust in God he’s drawn to the best friends he could ever have. As he chooses the Lord he’s pleasantly surprised that before he ever picked God that God picked him! Now, day and night, his life confirms his decision and, when the end comes, he knows that his decision to serve the Lord will go with him into the world to come. It sounds almost too good to be true. Know what? It is true: every word of it. It’s no wonder David has a smile on his face! I guess that’s the reason Christians are so joyful too. After all, our story is every bit as victorious as is David’s. In fact, we know more about it than he does. We have (in Paul Harvey’s words) “the rest of the story.” We know about the Incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. What’s that? You don’t think Christians are all that joyful? Well, shame on them…on us…on me!
Take Away: The people of the Lord have every reason to rejoice.
Balancing the books
Psalm 10: God’s grace and order wins.
As did Job, the Psalmist considers the inequities of life. The wicked say, “God is dead” and continue down their evil paths. The Psalmist seeks God, knowing God is just and tries to understand how a just God can allow injustice to continue. He concludes that he hasn’t seen the end of it all yet. Sooner or later (and he hopes it’s sooner) God’s going to make things right. When he does, he says, the “orphans get parents” and the “homeless get homes.” That doesn’t mean I become a fatalist who makes no effort to right the wrongs in this world, but it does mean that I don’t get overwhelmed by it all and give up in despair. My best efforts will make a difference in the lives of those I minister to in the Name of the Lord, but a day is coming when the Lord will square every account. God will balance the books.
Take Away: The Lord has the last word in human affairs.
Psalm 8: Why do you bother with us?
In all of life there’s a need for balance and in Psalm 8 we’re given a nice example of this. On one hand, I’m a mere speck in the Universe, practically invisible in comparison to God’s wondrous Creation. Honestly, sometimes I get this and sometimes I don’t. Rick Warren starts his famous Purpose Driven Life book with the words, “It’s not about you” and I can read that and respond, “Yes, I know!” Other times I get caught seeing things only from my tiny perspective: “Why are they singing that song again? I don’t like it nearly as much as I like the others. Let’s sing some southern gospel, that’s my kind of music!” At times like that it doesn’t hurt for me to remember that the worship service isn’t really designed for me in the first place. Still, I know I can go too far with this humility stuff. Back in the Stone Age of my childhood church kids were taught to say, “God didn’t make any junk.” I’m valued by the Lord. Still, once in a while it’s a good idea for me to look around and realize that everything isn’t in orbit around me after all and to join David in humbly asking the Almighty, “Why do you bother with ” me at all?
Take Away: It really isn’t all about me – or you!