Christianity 201

June 14, 2019

Faith Enough to Trust

We’re back again with David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Grown-up Faith or Childlike Faith?

Reading: Psalm 78
(Verses 17-22)
But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is largely an indictment against the people of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious ways. As the psalmist says, They willfully put God to the test.

As a child I recall reading the entire book of Exodus and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people sure are dumb. How could they see God’s amazing miracles and then a few days later grumble, complain and doubt that the LORD would help them? These people are real losers!”

Then I grew up and had a family of my own. At times I saw amazing miracles and God’s supernatural provision. But guess what? When the next big difficulty arose, I found myself doubting that God would come through. I complained about the difficulty I was in and acted just like the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Oops! I thought I was different. I thought I was smarter than those spiritual dullards in the Old Testament. In reality my grownup faith was much weaker than my childhood faith. When real testing and temptation came, I was and still am, as susceptible to unbelief as any of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Faith is a gift from God—a wonder-filled gift that carries us through the hard times.

The indictment against Israel is that they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Do I truly believe in God and trust in his deliverance? Is my faith more than a creedal statement? Does it have legs and wings to carry me through the toughest situation? Often I am more like the rebellious children of Israel than I would like to admit. How about you?

Response: LORD God, I humbly ask you for the gift of faith—faith to sustain me through the tough times ahead. You are my help, my salvation and my deliverer. I praise you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you have grown-up faith or childlike faith? Which is better?

 

May 12, 2019

A Worship Sunday Trio

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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First, from the blog Alicia J’s Space, this repost of Psalm 112 in the CEV. (Click the link for the audio of the KJV.)

Psalm 112 Contemporary English Version (CEV)🕊

God Blesses His Worshipers🕊

112:1 Shout praises to the Lord!
    The Lord blesses everyone
    who worships him and gladly
    obeys his teachings.
Their descendants will have
    great power in the land,
    because the Lord blesses
    all who do right.
They will get rich and prosper
    and will always be remembered
    for their fairness.
They will be so kind
    and merciful and good,
that they will be a light
in the dark
    for others
    who do the right thing.

Life will go well for those
who freely lend
    and are honest in business.
They won’t ever be troubled,
    and the kind things they do
    will never be forgotten.
Bad news won’t bother them;
    they have decided
    to trust the Lord.
They are dependable
    and not afraid,
    and they will live to see
    their enemies defeated.
They will always be remembered
    and greatly praised,
    because they were kind
    and freely gave to the poor.
10 When evil people see this,
    they angrily bite their tongues
    and disappear.
They will never get
    what they really want.🕊


From the newsletter of popular Christian author Frank Viola, a reminder that we need to cleanse ourselves before we come to God in worship:

When Jesus seems distant

When Jesus seems distant, the antidote is not to run away from Him. Ignore Him. Or throw your hands up and decide to become a practical atheist.

It’s to act as if He’s near. That’s called faith. You can’t see Him, but you believe that He is with you (as He promised) and act accordingly.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

Now if you’re tolerating a particular sin in your life, drawing near to God means dealing with that sin and eliminating it from your life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve explained how elsewhere.)

This is how James puts it:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:8-10


In light of what Frank wrote, we end today’s trio of articles with this piece from John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.

Crucifying the Flesh

Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Observation:

In his defense of salvation by faith and not works, it was important to cite that salvation by faith is not a prescription for an unbridled lifestyle with a goal of fulfilling every base passion and desire.  Paul made a list of behaviors that are inconsistent with Kingdom living – sinful practices that his critics would identify easily from the Law of Moses.  And yet they were practices that they also indulged in, which Paul knew from his earlier life.

Contrasting those were the nine-fold fruits of the Holy Spirit.  They didn’t just contrast behavior – they contrasted behavior with attitude.  And then came the punch line above.  It is a crucifixion of passions and desires that the believer does.  THAT is the action that overcomes all the foul outworking of the flesh.  So sin is cut off at inception.  It is not allowed to fester into action since its core – the flesh, that which gratifies but does not satisfy – is to be nailed to the cross to die a slow death.

And a slow death it is, for long have people learned to lean into passions and desires, to coddle and entertain like toys.  These diversions are to be crucified by the believer, put on open display where they were formerly covered as they achieved their clandestine destruction.  This is the stuff of testimony, the glory of overcoming.  For God has so saved his children that they arm themselves with battle gear that they wield as guided tactically and strategically.  But the core work is that of replaced passion.

Application:

How does my group of flesh toys look on the cross?  Is it growing in number?  Am I leaving it there?  And it’s not just deeds I put up there, but the passions and desires that produced them.  Are those seen on the cross as well?  Have I crucified selfishness, malice, pride and anger?  Again, not just angry deeds, but anger.  I must concede it is an ongoing task.  Let me not be discouraged by the tense of the verb – “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified…” – for certainly there are passions and desires that are well-crucified and no longer reign in my heart.  And let me not lose heart in the battle against learned responses – for no one comes to Christ without a former straying from the truth.

Also, no one who would serve Christ in this world is immune from temptation.  Only let me identify such a lure by its core desire – what is it that would draw me down?  What is lacking?  What is being falsely promised?  Why is this passion so alluring to me?  Those questions deal less with the action of sin than they do with its intent.  For it is that intent that brings out the crucifying hammer in me.  Finding it, rooting it out, making its lies an open display.  THAT is the work of crucifying the flesh, for when I allow the Spirit I do that, it is a solid work of redemption.  May it be my regular and progressive spiritual exercise.

Prayer:

Father, it is your work of grace that brings me to awe and wonder.  Continue your work in me for I open myself to you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

December 12, 2018

Writing Out The Psalms in Your Own Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.  – Psalm 42:1 NIV

Today we’re returning to Aaron Smith, whose writing we featured here several years ago. His website is also the name of his new book, Cultural Savage. The publisher blurb describes it as “a collection of essays about mental illness and Christianity and where the two intersect. Sometimes they crash into each other, and other times they coexist peacefully. When the two collide, it manifests as the Church characterizing mental illness as a spiritual problem.

Have you ever written out a passage of scripture in your own words? It can be a tremendously helpful exercise, particularly as you question your own choices of interpretation and ask yourself, ‘Is that what the text actually says?’

In this exercise, Aaron also mentions Jesus, who the Psalmist did not know by name, though in the Messianic Psalms we have no doubt He was known prophetically.

Retelling Psalm 42

Something in me pants for you oh Jesus.
Somehow, just like a beast of the forest craving and clawing for water in the heat of drought, my innards thirst for you
the living God.

 So, someone, please tell me: when can I see this face of Jesus that I long for? Instead, I feast on tears, and sorrow fills my chest
as the refrain ” You have no God ” rings in my ears.

But I remember, even as my bone’s ache. 
I was with the congregation. Leading the music
bringing out songs of thankfulness for blessings 
and pure happiness at singing to you.

 So why, O heart, are you fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
Can I hope in Jesus? Can I again praise him?
Is Jesus my help? Is Jesus my God?

This restlessness brings remembrance though.
Remembrance for all the places you’ve led me, where we have walked.
Depth echo’s depth.
The echoes of wave after wave have swept me into the undertow.
See, love that can’t fail drips from Jesus’ hand
and songs carrying hope put me to sleep.

 Still, I say to this God, this foundation, this one stable thing in my life:
Why? Why? Why have you forgotten about me? Where are you?
Here I am weeping as I walk because all I see are injustices.
The rich getting richer, oppressing those under their feet.
And when I say God will overturn these tables, they laugh.
“Where’s your God? “

Oh, heart, why so fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
I will hope in Jesus, and I will again praise his justice.
He is the help of we the oppressed.
He is our God.
The living God.

 

November 22, 2018

Most Worthy of Praise (Psalm 96)

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the 33-minute sermon on which this article is based at this link.

What do we pursue with all our strength? What is of such great relevance to our lives that we invest heavily into it? Crime gives us an indication of what people pursue. The three big pursuits of crime are money, sex, and power. People go to great lengths for the sake of these three things. That might not describe us, but these three may point to things we invest heavily into, such as wealth and security, relationships and intimacy, validation and influence.

Of the roughly 19,000 people in our town, how many are pursuing wealth, relationships and influence? Of the roughly 19,000 people in our town, how many are pursuing God? How many see such a great relevance of God to their lives that they are investing in a relationship with Him?

Perhaps those who are pursuing other things are right? Perhaps wealth is more effective, human relationships are more important, and influence is more useful to daily life? Maybe security feels more necessary, intimacy more satisfying, and validation more important than figuring out the God question? As we consider Psalm 96, we quickly discover that the Psalmist could not agree:

Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods. Psalms 96:4 (NLT)

We might not think we have gods, but things like wealth, relationships, and influence become gods when they sit at the centre of our lives. The Psalmist would have us know that nothing we invest our lives in can compare to God.

The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens! Psalms 96:5

The Lord is the Creator. How can anything compare with that?! We are often made to feel that churches cannot compete with sports and entertainment for the attention of people. Maybe so, however, nothing can compare with God for importance to people. God is most worthy of praise! The Psalmist goes on:

6 Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and beauty fill his sanctuary.
7 O nations of the world, recognize the Lord;
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
8 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him. Psalms 96:6-9

God is most worthy of praise! Some would translate verse 9 with “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” While there are ugly sides to money, sex, and power, there is nothing ugly about God or His holiness.

The Psalmist continues,

10 Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
He will judge all peoples fairly.
11 Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
12 Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for he is coming!
He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with his truth. Psalms 96:10-13

God is the ruler who judges “all peoples fairly.” We can take note of the great joy evident in Creation at the thought of the coming king. God is a good king, the kind of king you long for. He is not the kind of king that causes you to run for hiding. God is not the kind of king whose presence you can’t stand the thought of. God is the kind of king you celebrate! God is most worthy of praise!

Thinking of the judgement of the coming king, those of us who are Christians might immediately jump to thinking of the final judgement at the arrival of Christ. The earlier singers of the Psalm would not have thought in those terms. They would have been thinking of freedom for their tiny nation from all their big oppressive enemies. God will judge their enemies “with his truth”. God is most worthy of praise!

If the earlier readers of this Psalm could see how much better the Creator was than all other gods they might worship, then in our day we can see even more clearly that God is most worthy of praise. We have an even better picture of God. We have even more reason to celebrate his presence. We have the benefit of God revealing himself in Jesus. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the once for all work of Christ in breaking the penalty of sin. We celebrate the ongoing work of the Spirit in breaking the power of sin. While rescue from oppression as spoken about in Psalm 96 is important, God goes further to rescue us from the worst oppressor there has ever been; the evil one himself.

We pursue so many things, investing in them with vigour and even excitement. They are not all bad things. However, we may not pursue God with as great a passion as we pursue these other things in life. I forget the exact words, but Timothy Keller tweeted something like “the things you daydream about, can become the things you worship.” It can be very subtle, but God slips from the centre, and good things take His place. However, the good things, no matter how good, are are never a substitute for God. Our Lord is “most worthy of praise!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT

August 11, 2018

The Psalms as Narrative

This one involves a lengthier introduction.

It started a few days ago when I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.'”

Unless it’s one of the Psalms which contains historical narrative such as #137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3a for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

…I personally don’t tend to think of the dramatic or narrative elements.

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.


Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

August 8, 2018

The Lord Cares for the Poor

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last year at this time, we introduced you to Neil White, a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. We returned for a visit only to find him in the middle of a series on Revelation. Rather than jump into one of those at random, we sourced this item from last summer. Click to read at source.

Psalm 41 The One Who Cares for the Poor

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

The final psalm in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins with a beatitude (Happy/blessed are…) just like the first psalm in this collection. Psalm 1 begins by stating “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the LORD” and now closing this section of the book of psalms we hear, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” The structure of the book of psalms wants to encourage us to hear the connection hear between a life that avoids the way of the wicked and delights in the law of the LORD with a life that considers the poor. Looking back at the previous forty psalms that comprise this first section of the psalter it becomes clear that one of the central messages is that God hears those who have been oppressed or isolated from their community and so the one who considers the poor models their path after the God who hears the cries of the poor and neglected of the world. This psalm begins with the one who considers the poor being able to count upon the LORD’s deliverance in their own time of trouble. A life that is blessed is one that in following the law of the LORD hears the way in which they are to be a community which cares for the weak, the widow, the orphan, the alien and all the others who are vulnerable in society.

The similarity between the beginning of this psalm and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 3 (or Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20) is just one of many places of resonance between the psalms and the message of Jesus. Jesus vision of the kingdom of God reflects the law of the LORD which imagines a society where the wicked no longer take advantage of the weak. The psalms, along with the law and prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul as well as the rest of the bible attempt to imagine for the world a different kind of community. I’m reminded of a story that the New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell shares about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel.

He asked his American student why the son who goes to a foreign country ends up starving and they almost all point to him squandering what he had, the son’s life was his own responsibility. When he had the opportunity to ask students in Russia the majority pointed to the reality that in the story there is a famine in the land, that the person’s peril was due to external conditions in the environment. Perhaps most interestingly for the reflection on this psalm was the answer he received when he was in Tanzania about why the son was in danger of starvation: “Because no one gave him anything to eat!” and they went on to explain that:

The boy was in a far country. Immigrants often lose their money. They don’t know how things work—they might spend all their money when they shouldn’t because they don’t know about the famines that come. People think they are fools just because they don’t know how to live in that country. But the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst. It is a lack of hospitality not to do so. This story, the Tanzanians told me, is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. (Powell, 2007, p. 27)

This is the type of society that this psalm attempts to help us imagine, a world where the poor are considered and cared for, but the psalmist doesn’t live in that world. Just because the poet believes that God delivers those who care for the vulnerable they also are honest that attempting to live righteously does not exclude them from the challenges of life or from feeling the exclusion that the poor often feel.

The poet spends most of this psalm reflection on how their own community was not a blessing to them in their time of trouble. The LORD sustains those who care for the poor on their sickbed, but now the psalmist community has only the LORD to call to for healing on their own sickbed. Perhaps their community believes that the illness is a judgment from God and therefore they are justified in their exclusion of this one. It may also be that the illness demonstrates the true nature of the community. The community seems to be a place where only those who can actively contribute are valued and where people are actively waiting on the death of the psalmist to inherit his property. At a time where the community was needed the most for the poet, they found themselves a member of an unjust society that does not consider the vulnerable and weak. The community of the speaker has become warped and close friendships revealed as fading and shallow. Yet, the LORD can bring the one who has a deadly thing fastened to him back to life.

Like in Psalm 38 the psalmist wrestles again with a connection between sin and sickness. On the one hand many modern Christians too quickly dismiss any connection when there are times when one suffers because of one’s own actions or choices. Yet, there are other times where both people too quickly and tightly assume a connection. As Rolf Jacobson shares from his own life:

Even modern agnostics or atheists prove themselves capable of making this assumption when they assume that a person’s poor health is automatically the result of poor lifestyle choices. In my own life, when I was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, a well-meaning but misguided neighbor remarked to my mother that it was a shame she had not been feeding her family the proper, high anti-oxidant diet, or her son would not have developed cancer. Besides being incredibly unhelpful, this comment was simply wrong—the type of cancer I had is not lifestyle dependent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 390)

Regardless of whether a person’s plight is caused by personal actions and choices or whether they simply find themselves among the weak, sick, injured, poor, or otherwise vulnerable the psalms imagine a community that can respond differently than what the writer of Psalm 41 discovers in their community.

The psalmist asks to be able to ‘repay’ those who have not acted as a supportive community in their plight and unfortunately in English we lose the double meaning of this phrase. On the one had the psalmist does desire that their health would be restored so that those waiting on their death to claim their payment from their property would have no inheritance because the psalmist continues to live. But the word translated to repay comes from the noun shalom and has the connotation of making complete, restoring, to recompense or reward. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 200) The poet may also be pointing to being a person who can demonstrate what a righteous life looks like by in the future caring for those who failed to care for them in the present.

The LORD has cared for the one who has cared for the poor. The righteous one can point to their own life as a witness to the LORD’s action on their behalf. Even when their community failed them God proved to be faithful. And they end this psalm and this portion of the psalter with a blessing to the God who has avoided the way of the wicked, who has delighted in the law of the LORD, and who has cared for the poor.

 

December 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s article is best read at the author’s site because it contains a video of a different type of congregational singing which may or may not work depending on your system. But I encourage you to read this there on the off chance that it plays for you, which it did for me one time. The author is Kyle Borg who is a pastor in Winchester, KS in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the website is Gentle Reformation. Click the title below to read it there. There’s also an introduction which you need to read at that site as well.

What Then Shall We Sing About

God wants us to sing about depression. Yes, even believers get depressed and the Psalms give us songs to sing in the blackness and ache of depression, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5) and, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:3-5).

God wants us to sing about persecution. Jesus warned that in the world we will have many troubles and the Psalms give us words to express the troubles that come for bearing the name of Christ, “For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me with cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies(Psalm 69:1-4).

God wants us to sing about children. Though many view children as an inconvenience in our culture, God delights in opening the womb and the Psalms instruct us to sing of their blessedness, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

God wants us to sing about death. Often death is viewed as an almost taboo topic and yet the Psalms give us language to sing not only of its dark reality but of our confidence in the midst of it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

God wants us to sing about sleep. The rest that is given to us is traced even to the gifts of God, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8), and “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest; eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

God wants us to sing about atheism. The Psalms show us, in singing, how to interpret the world and its systems around us, even the system of unbelief, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

God wants us to sing about prosperity. The Psalms demonstrate to us that God cares not only for our souls but also our physical well-being and blesses us in this manner, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!(Psalm 144:12-15).

God wants us to sing about enemies. It’s probably hard for the Western and contemporary church that has experienced little by way of outward and physical oppression to comprehend the way the Psalms invite us to sing over our enemies. But the Psalms are filled with warlike victory anthems, “I pursued by enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets(Psalm 18:37-42).

God wants us to sing about missions. The scope of the gospel isn’t confined to the borders of any nation or people group. The knowledge of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries and we are to sing of the advance of the gospel to foreign lands and foreign people, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth(Psalm 67:1-4).

God wants us to sing about alcohol. The Psalms celebrate that it is God who waters the earth causing vines to grow which produce wine to cheer the heart even of the afflicted, “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:13-15).

God wants us to sing about sin. Not only are we to sing about sin’s pardon and forgiveness but the Psalms often emphasize the great danger that accompanies sin. We are to sing out these warnings and cautions, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealous with their idols. When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:58-59), and “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).

God wants us to sing about hell. Frightening, terrifying, and sorrowful as the topic is — to bear the unmitigated wrath of God is unimaginable — yet the Psalms direct us to sing even of this, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), and “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15).

In the Psalms we sing of protecting the poor (Psalm 15:5), angels (Psalm 91:11-12, 104:4), political upheaval (Psalm 2:1-4, 135:8-12), frustrations (Psalm 73:1-3), history (Psalm 95:8, 106:32), the birthing of animals (Psalm 29:9), the keeping of vows (Psalm 76:11, 116:14), the failure of friendship (Psalm 55:14), family relationships (Psalm 128:3), false gods (Psalm 135:15-18), and so much more. These are some of the things that fill the content of the very songs that the Holy Spirit has given to the church… And he himself has approved these things to be expressed through the gift of singing in order to impress them upon our minds, provoke the emotions of our hearts, and activate the deepest recesses of our memories as our tongues are loosened to sing the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

October 15, 2017

Sunday Worship

A few years ago we were reading Psalm 106. You know that one. The one where the Israelites are reminded of all the times they screwed up as a nation. The times they forgot their God. Then it suddenly occurs to me. This is a PSALM. They SANG THIS. This was one of their WORSHIP SONGS. As in, “Take your hymnbook and turn to number 106.” How do you SING stuff that is so self deprecating? Definitely a minor key.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

7 When our fathers were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his counsel.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wasteland they put God to the test.

15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease upon them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.

18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.

19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.

20 They exchanged their Glory
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,

22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.

25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the desert,

27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

29 they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;

33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips. [c]

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,

35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.

36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.

37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.

38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.

39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.

41 He handed them over to the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.

42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.

43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

Okay, I left out a few of the good verses. But even so…

We always want our songs to be happy.  The modern church doesn’t do lament well. What if Western Christians had a song that was the modern equivalent to this?  In her review at Thinking Out Loud of The Ben Ripple my wife wrote:

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

In a review of a new NLT edition that contains a section of laments, I quoted the authors:

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

In 2012 at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looked at our propensity to edit the Psalms of Lament to suit our purposes in a piece about Sanitizing the Wilderness:

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments…

…It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

Instead, in Psalm 106, we have true scripture, but the part of it that we tend to ignore or forget. But in its own way, this too is worship.


We also looked at Psalm 106 in a June, 2012 article, God Keeps Putting Up With Us.

April 19, 2017

Building from the Materials God Provides

Psalm 104:14 NRSV:

 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website, Theology of Work. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; feel free to click back and forth. (Suggestion: With most PCs, right-click and select “Open in New Tab.” This allows you to go back and forth more easily.)

Human creativity with God (Psalm 104)

From the beginning, God intended human work as a form of creativity under or alongside God’s own creativity (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:5, 15-18). Human work is meant to fulfill God’s creative intent, bring each person into relationship with other people and with God, and glorify God. Psalm 104 gives a delightful depiction of this creative partnership. It begins with a broad canvas of the glory of God’s creation (Psalms 104:1-9). This leads naturally to God’s active work in sustaining the world of animals, birds and sea creatures (Ps.104:10-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 25). God provides richly for human beings as well (Ps. 104:13-15, 23). God’s work makes possible the fruitfulness of nature and humanity. “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Ps. 104:13).

The work of humans is to build further, using what God gives. We have to gather and use the plants. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to cultivate” (Ps. 104: 14, alternate reading from NRSV footnote f). We make the wine and bread and extract the oil from the plants God causes to grow (Ps. 104:15). God provides so richly, in part, by populating his creation with people who labor six days a week. Thus, while this psalm speaks of all creatures looking to God for food, and God opening his hand to supply it (Ps. 104:27-28), people still have to work hard to process and use God’s good gifts. Psalm 104 goes so far as to name some of the tools used for the work of God’s world—tents, garments, beams, fire, ships (Ps. 104:1, 2, 3, 4, 26, respectively). Intriguingly, the Psalm happily ascribes use of such tools to God himself, as well as to human beings. We work with God, and God’s ample provision comes in part through human effort.

Even so, remember that we are the junior partners in creation with God. In keeping with Genesis, human beings are the last creatures mentioned in Psalm 104. But in distinction from Genesis, we come on the scene here with little fanfare. We are just one more of God’s creatures, going about their business alongside the cattle, birds, wild goats, coneys, and lions (Ps. 104:14-23). Each has its proper activity—for humans it is work and labor until the evening—but underneath every activity, it is God who provides all that is needed (Ps. 104:21). Psalm 104 reminds us that God has done his work supremely well. In him our work may be done supremely well also, if only we work humbly in the strength his Spirit supplies, cultivating the beautiful world in which he has placed us by his grace.


© 2014 by the Theology of Work Project, Inc.; used by permission
Unless otherwise noted, the Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.


Read another devotion from the same source: God’s Guidance in Our Work: Psalm 25


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!


Introducing EMU Music. “Emu is a collaborative ministry focused on contemporary, Biblical, Christ-centered music in church. Founded in Sydney, Australia, and now operating throughout the world…” This is the 2nd most-viewed (in the last year) video on their YouTube channel:

This is their highest viewed song in the same period:

 

 

January 30, 2016

Psalms Provide Keys to Longed-For Happiness in Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Devotionals at C201 are usually either (a) original or (b) drawn from more recent writings of authors we’ve used before or (c) drawn from leads or running down various ‘rabbit trails’ of good devotional articles. Sometimes in running the trails there are some interesting discoveries. Today we introduce you to Alfred D. Byrd of Lexington, KY who has about a dozen-and-a-half blogs devoted to his various interests which include writing, microbiology, Christian theology, ancient history, American history, science fiction and horror!

In January he kicked off Happiness in the Psalms, a new blog devoted to the places in the Psalms where the writer provides us with an understanding of what it takes to be happy. (In your older Bibles, the word blessed might be used instead.) Happiness is something everyone longs for.

In selecting today’s reading, I read almost half of the devotions archived and I would encourage you to click the title below, and the select other readings from the margin on the left of his blog.

#6 The Right Confidence

Happy is the one who puts one’s confidence in the LORD and does not look for guidance to proud persons or those who turn aside to lies.

— Psalm 40:4

The road to happiness runs through trusting others. Seeking happiness, you must know whom you may trust, and whom you may not.

The Psalmist points out two categories of persons who will make you unhappy if you trust them. The first category consists of the proud, who, the Psalmist implies, will lead you astray from happiness.

Properly to interpret the Psalmist’s teaching, you should know that Scripture sees two kinds of pride, a right kind and a wrong. The right kind is rooted in a realistic appraisal of who you are in relation to others and to God. This kind of pride expresses itself through proper care for your body, your belongings, and your relationships, and through proper development of your abilities. This kind of pride in itself helps lead you to happiness.

The proud persons against whom the Psalmist warns us express the wrong kind of pride. This is a selfish, self-centered pride that falsely inflates the self-image of the person possessed by it. It leads that person to regard him- or herself more highly than he or she ought to in respect of others and of God. It leads the falsely proud person to value possessions over sharing, domination over friendship, and instant gratification over long-term well-being. Such a person, seeing you only as a means to an end, will ignore your need for happiness in favor of his or her distorted view of his or her own happiness.

False pride is based on a false assessment of who one is. It is no wonder, then, that the Psalmist follows mention of the proud with mention of the second category of those who will make you unhappy if you trust them, those who turn aside to lies. The person possessed by false pride is out of touch with reality. He or she is living a lie and must rely on lies to get from you what he or she wants. If you follow a person who has turned aside to lies, you yourself will turn aside from the way that leads to true happiness.

That way lies in putting your confidence in the LORD. He is the Source of truth, which alone can lead you to true happiness. He, the Creator of all things, is not consumed with the need to possess them, but shares them freely with His creatures. He, Who is both unimaginably far above and inexpressibly close to us, does not remain on His throne in the heavens, but comes down to us and lives among us to be closer to us than our own earthly relatives and friends are. He, Who is eternal, gives us rewards that are everlasting.

Only turning from false pride and lies to confidence in the LORD can give us true happiness.

February 22, 2015

The Bible on Depression

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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During Sundays in February we’ve been visiting the blog Christian Fellowship Devotions.  Archives at the blog go back to 1996, and today I want to link you to their topical index.

For our final Sunday with them, I wanted to use an older item by Janice that deals with a topic I know is very real to many of you.  (I think by NNAS she is referring to the updated New American Standard.) Click the title below to read at source.

depression

Passages about Depression

Depression — it’s something many of us struggle with — yes, even Christians. Being depressed does not mean you are “not a good Christian.” In fact, some of the “heroes of our faith” went through periods of what used to be called “melancholy.” Sometimes depression is a result of sin, but at other times, it is as Christian psychiatrist Frank Meier says, simply “…the result of life stresses.” Here is a bit of what God’s word has to say about it.

Biblical Examples of Depression

Neh 1:3-4 (NNAS) They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Psa 13:1-3 (NNAS) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.

Psa 102:9-11 (NNAS) For I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of Your indignation and Your wrath, For You have lifted me up and cast me away.My days are like a lengthened shadow, And I wither away like grass.

Prov 14:13 (NNAS) Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.

What We Are to Do About Depression?

We should follow Nehemiah’s and the Psalmist’s examples, pouring our hearts out to God:

Neh 1:6-7 (NNAS) Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

James 4:8-10 (NNAS) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Find things to be thankful for, even in the most painful times. God will honor that.

1 Th 5:18 (NNAS) In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Share with a trustworthy friend. Let him minister to you.

Rom 12:15 (NNAS) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

February 9, 2015

When Your World Collapses

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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You may have noticed that we tend not to use devotional material here that begins in personal anecdotes and stories. We tend to go straight to the hardcover exposition of the day’s passage or theme. But in this devotion, writer Katherine Harms interweaves her journey with Psalm 62 in a way that helps us relate to what the Psalmist is writing. Click the title below to read at her blog, Living on Tilt.

Stop and Think About the Bible

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

One day at 4:30PM my supervisor asked me to join her in her office. I sat down expecting an extra work assignment, because two days before she had told me my productivity statistics were the highest on the team. On this day, however, she laid me off. She held me in the office till all the other employees had left. Then she told me to clean out my desk and take my belongings home. Budget cuts. I was a great employee. Blah Blah. There are rules. Blah Blah. Last in, first out. I could not verbalize my need with the eloquence of the psalmist, but I knew what he meant.

Have you ever felt as if your heart were pouring out through deep wounds inflicted by unexpected disaster? Have you ever felt that you were melting away in fear of the future? What did you do? How does the psalmist face his debacle?

Before the psalmist reached this depth, he knew that anything was possible. Life threw him curve balls, just like my experience. He got ready ahead of time:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 62:5

How can the psalmist be so sure he can expect God in his hour of need?

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Psalm 62:6-7

I would have felt pretty sure of things before my supervisor spoke with me. I would have said that God is my rock, but when the bottom fell out of my world, I felt shaken, not like being on a rock at all. How does the psalmist remind me that I can still trust the Lord?

I have returned to the starting point. When trouble shakes our foundations, we may feel as if we are in a swirling storm. We need to go back to the sure rock, the refuge, the place where we can hide and heal.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

What will you do when you feel that your very roots are being pulled up by disaster? What will you do when the air you breathe is being sucked out of you by the vacuum you feel in your future?

My network was failing me. I even failed myself. I had believed that it was enough to give quality and quantity to my work. I could assure my own future. It was all in my own hands.

I turned to friends, but there was no help for me. I had built a career and earned every penny of my wages. Last in. First out.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
Psalm 62:9-10

When my world turned upside down and dumped me on the street, I had nothing. Unemployment in my county was 18%. All the sure things in my life were falling apart. I had only one assurance.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

Have you experienced complete collapse? Have you watched all the supports fall apart? What did you do? What will you do?

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

June 18, 2014

Loricas: Genuine Prayers or Magical Chants?

Just when you think you know everything — no, I’m not being serious — you discover words and phrases that have been heretofore foreign to your Christian experience, and then face the task of deciding whether you are comfortable with incorporating them into your personal theology or Christian worldview.

This week I encountered a blogger who we have featured here before using the term lorica. A quick trip to Wikipedia offered this:

In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is a prayer recited for protection. The Latin word lorica originally meant “armor” or “breastplate.” Both meanings come together in the practice of placing verbal inscriptions on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, who might recite them before going into battle.

Notable loricas include Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride, which in its English translation provides the text for the hymn Be Thou My Vision, the Lorica of Laidcenn and the Lorica of Saint Patrick, which begins

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Okay. So far so good. After all the Bible offers many “prayers for protection” many of which are Psalms:

Ps. 17:1 Lord, hear a just cause;
pay attention to my cry;
listen to my prayer—
from lips free of deceit. (HCSB)

Ps. 64:1 Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity (KJV)

Ps. 140:1 Save me, Lord, from evildoers;
    keep me safe from violent people.
They are always plotting evil,
    always stirring up quarrels  (NIV)

Ps. 54:1 Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!
    Defend me with your might.
Listen to my prayer, O God.
    Pay attention to my plea.
For strangers are attacking me;
    violent people are trying to kill me.
    They care nothing for God. (NLT)

So these texts might fit the definition of a lorica.

However, what concerned me greatly was that the Wikipedia entry was disambiguated (in other words distinguished from other uses of the word) this way: “Lorica (incantation).”

That’s scary. Dictionary.com defines an incantation as:

1. the chanting or uttering of words purporting to have magical power.
2. the formula employed; a spell or charm.
3. magical ceremonies.
4. magic; sorcery.
5. repetitious wordiness used to conceal a lack of content; obfuscation: Her prose too often resorts to incantation.

Even before I saw the last definition, I was reminded of this verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches:

Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

The problem here is that those who practice these repeated prayers believe the source of help lies in the repetition of the words themselves, not in a trust in the one to whom before the request is laid.

Many things might come to mind here, and perhaps the most obvious would be the Roman Catholic teaching that when praying the Rosary, or when carrying out penance for a confessed sin, one needs to repeat the “Our Father” several times and the “Hail Mary” many times. Over and over again.

On one of the Catholic cable channels, there are half-hour blocks consisting entirely of nuns and priests leading people in a constant repetition of the prayer to Mary. (That it is a prayer to Mary is a subject that will have to wait for another day.) Honestly, it’s neither great theology or great television.

But we do this as Evangelicals and Protestants as well; investing ourselves in the believe that our help is found in the prayer, when our help is found in God.  (I’m not talking here about the times when you are interceding in the middle of a serious or urgent situation; in those times, our focus is on little else, and so we feel we must apply ourselves to pleading with God.)

So what do we do with the idea of loricas? I think it’s a rather gray area. We don’t need believe in the prayer itself, or give special significance to special prayer forms, we simply need to bring our concerns before our Heavenly Father.

I John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.  (NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2013

Reasons to Praise God

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Today’s thoughts are from the blog Filled with God’s Fulness by a writer who simply goes by the name Gracious. In reading this in preparation, the thought occurred to me that I have fallen out of the habit of simply offering praise to God that is not motivated by circumstances; simply taking time to express something back to God that goes beyond the emotions of a specific moment.  Click here to read this at source.

Why You Must Praise God

If we are to praise God effectively, we must know and have a reason for doing so. The popular saying goes: ‘where purpose in not known, abuse is inevitable’.

When we don’t know why we must praise God despite our prevalent challenges, it is possible that we might abuse such virtue, express ingratitude and become unappreciative.

Let us learn more reasons we must praise God so we can do it confidently and effectively.

1. Praise God for who He is. Psalm 48:1 He is God, the maker of all things. He is our father and friend. He is our sustainer- He sustains us even when we have nothing to rely on. He is the ultimate and final authority over our lives. It doesn’t matter who said nor did anything to us- God is the final authority over that situation.

He is God, He is not a man. He doesn’t change.

He is ever faithful. He is the, I AM.

2. Praise Glorifies God. When you praise God, you glorify Him. Psalm 50:23  Do you want to see God’s glory? Praise Him!

3. God commands Praise. Romans 12:1 All through the Scriptures we see different commands as regarding our praise and worship to God. ‘Praise God, Make known His praise, offer and give yourself to God.’

4. Praise God for all His benefits. Psalm 103:2. His grace, infinite love, mercies, protection, provision, health, redemption, family, life, job, home- all His benefits to you and those you love.

Praise Him for all the benefits and display of love you have enjoyed.

5. Praise Him for His Goodness and for His works. Psalm 107:21. If the Lord has been good, kind faithful and loving to you in any way, then you owe Him your praise.

6. Praise Him for His mighty acts. Psalm 150:2. Praise Him for all His acts of love, redemption plan and mercy. Praise Him for all the miracles, healings, deliverances, divine provision, and protection and any other act you have experienced personally and have seen in the lives of other believers.

7. God is worthy of our Praise. 2 Samuel 22:4, Revelation 4:11. Even if you do not have anything physical or tangible thing to praise God for, He would still deserve your undivided praise and worship even till the next age.

God has given us all things He owns, all that He is, Himself and all things that pertains to life and godliness.

You know the saying: ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion’? But we are neither dogs nor dead lions. We are God’s most treasured and priced creature. He put all that He is and had to make us.

For the fact that we are alive and have everything working well alone, He deserves our highest praise. Whatever our situation is or challenge we face, as long as it has not taken our lives or robbed us our salvation; then God deserves our highest praise.

8. Praise magnifies God.

9. Praise is proper and comely.

10 God dwells in our praise

11. Praise generates power.Praise moves God to begin to act on our behalf. Praise provokes prophecy, Psalm 89:3-5. God speaks more often when we praise Him than He does in prayer.

12. Praise brings our heart desires. Psalm 37:4. Praising God is one way we can receive immediate and instant answer to long years of prayer.

Worshiping God produces more effective and instant results, and solution to problems.

There are various instances of miracles, healing and met expectations in the Bible that occurred as a result of worship and praise. We can see it in Mark 7:24-26, John 11:32-34, and John 6:11.

13. Praise precedes victory. In 2 Chronicles 20:1-29, we see practically how God used the praise of His people to procure victory against the Moabites and Ammonites. Do you want victory over the battles in your life? Praise God.

SO, my Friend, what reasons do you have to praise God? Praise Him, and praise Him NOW!!!

Here’s another article from the same blog: Five Good Ways to Praise the Lord (Some of you might #4 a bit of a stretch!!)

November 13, 2013

To The Chief Musician

Although many of the Bible’s books are poetic in nature, you don’t see a proportionate number of contemporary writers using that form. But there are a few Christian blogs devoted to poetry. Yesterday, I discovered CHRISTian Poetry by Deborah Ann.  Here’s a sample:

Did You?

Did you feel the Lord’s hand,
in your life today
did you feel Him gently
nudging you His way?

Did you feel His tender touch,
in your soul today
did you notice Him tenderly
guiding you His way?

Did you feel the Lord’s breath,
in your ear today
did you hear Him softly
calling you His way?

Did you feel the Lord’s love,
in your heart today
did you sense Him quietly
beckoning you His way?

Did you feel the Lord,
in your life today
did you know He wants you
to always feel this way?

At the end of a long day, I found that poem to be quite challenging. Poetry has a potential that prose does not. But in our society, we don’t have a lot of poets, what we have instead is songwriters. They are our modern poets. But despite the evocative nature of music, we often minimize its power.

The Bible’s best known book of poetry is Psalms, but we forget that Psalms is really a book of song lyrics; the songs were sung and in some cases the title of the song tells us a tune name. It would be interesting to know what those tunes were, but perhaps its for the best that we cannot force the Psalms to be associated with a particular musical genre.

Many of the Psalms were written by David. His songwriting career got off to a slow start, performing before an audience of one, i.e. Saul.

I Sam 16:14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil[a] spirit from the Lord tormented him.

15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”

19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

But perhaps the best worship we can offer today is when it is performed before an audience of One, i.e. the Lord.

Of this passage, Matthew Henry writes:

…Only his instrumental music with his harp is mentioned, but it should seem, by the account Josephus gives, that he added vocal music to it, and sung hymns, probably divine hymns, songs of praise, to his harp. David’s music was Saul’s physic.

[1.] Music has a natural tendency to compose and exhilarate the mind, when it is disturbed and saddened. Elisha used it for the calming of his spirits, 2 Kgs. 3:15. On some it has a greater influence and effect than on others, and, probably, Saul was one of those. Not that it charmed the evil spirit, but it made his spirit sedate, and allayed those tumults of the animal spirits by which the devil had advantage against him… Music cannot work upon the devil, but it may shut up the passages by which he has access to the mind.

[2.] David’s music was extraordinary, and in mercy to him, that he might gain a reputation at court, as one that had the Lord with him. God made his performances in music more successful, in this case, than those of others would have been. Saul found, even after he had conceived an enmity to David, that no one else could do him the same service (1 Sam. 19:9, 10), which was a great aggravation of his outrage against him. It is a pity that music, which may be so serviceable to the good temper of the mind, should ever be abused by any to the support of vanity and luxury, and made an occasion of drawing the heart away from God and serious things: if this be to any the effect of it, it drives away the good Spirit, not the evil spirit.

The second point reminds us that the powerful potential of music and poetry can be used for things that are spiritual profitable, and things that are spiritually harmful.

We have to decide what we allow to shape us.

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