Christianity 201

July 10, 2021

Why Did David Run?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Ruth Wilkinson. Armed with a Samsung phone and a strong desire to delve deeper into the Psalms, she’s been making teaching videos for a small church about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. The one we’re featuring today is part five in a series.

It’s impossible to copy and paste from a video, so I’m hoping that all of you will click through and watch this in full. It runs about 11 minutes.

Teaching notes for the video:

LORD, how my enemies increase!
There are so many who attack me.
So many who talk about me, saying, “There is no help for him in God.”
Selah

But You, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.
In full voice I cry to Yahweh, and He answers me from His holy mountain.
Selah

I can lie down and sleep; I can wake again because Yahweh sustains me.
I do not fear the arrows that fly against me on every side.

Rise up, Yahweh! Save me, my God!
Oh, that you would strike my enemies on the jaw; that you would break the teeth of the wicked.
Oh, Yahweh–Salvation!
Oh, Yahweh–on Your people, Blessing!
Selah

__________

Psalm 3 written about arguably the worst day of David’s life.
-running from Absalom
—asked before… David is brave. David is strong. David is a fighter.
Then why did David run?

___________________________________

If I were making that movie…
**opening shots:
-messenger running up the hill, into the palace, shouting.
-out of breath, panting out his warning “Absalom is coming!”
-David, after the first shock, looking out the window of his palace, the hills beyond… Any sign yet?
-then down over the streets, the markets, the homes.
-women carrying water, the children playing and learning, the men working.
-what Absalom’s army will do to the city in order to get to David.

My movie…
-David walking fast, giving orders.
-first stunned silences, then moving on… explosion of organization…
-packing… rounding up kids… directing servants….
-what and who to leave behind.

My movie…
-overhead travelling shot…
-David at the head of the evacuation, leading his people through the city,
-still giving orders, making plans, staying at the front…
-guessing, maybe, that if Absalom might try to block the exit (David needs to be first to meet him.)
-guessing, maybe, that in the narrow streets of the city, his people are safest behind him.
-guessing, maybe, that most people didn’t know why the king is leaving, and it’s better that way.

-David leading his wives, children, servants and supporters, military forces to the gates, the way out.
-open space, wilderness, salt flats, Jordan River, a chance at survival.
-hoping Absalom doesn’t get there first.

My movie…
-David passing through the gate, looking around, walking to the last house on the edge of town and stopping. Stepping off the road.
-looking around for any sign of ambush, seeing nothing.
-gathering his courage, taking a deep breath and smiling as he waves on past–wives and children to keep on down the road.
-waving past his servants, his armed men – go – go – go –

-David waiting until the last straggler, last soldier has gone ahead, before he follows, watching over his shoulder.
-guessing, maybe, that once out of the city, Absalom is more likely to catch up from behind.
-David needs to be last in line to meet him.
_________________________

First time we meet David, he’s a shepherd. Called in by his dad from the fields with sling tucked into his belt, oil under his fingernails, dust in his hair, smelling like sheep.

Now years later, decades from those pastures,
—–King David, husband, father, soldier, killer David is still a shepherd.
Providing for his flock.

Why did David run? So that he would be followed.
Shepherd. Sheep knew his voice, and they followed.

Knew David would lead.
-Bringing up the rear when the rear is where the danger lies.
-Standing between them and the predator.
-Being the target. Being the bait.

________________________

My movie…
-David walking, weeping, barefoot, breathing in the dust raised by those who relied on him.
-down into the Kidron Valley – down away from the holy mountain, where God’s presence.
-up the Mount of Olives where once he had worshipped YHWH God, but where he cannot stop.
-again down and down and down into the dusk and the sunset, his mind full of words.
-until finally he has to pull himself together, walk back in among his people, and be their shepherd.

____________

My movie…
-closing scene for that day….
-stars in the sky, sound of the Jordan River, the comfort of the narrow green strip between the burning hot salt flats and the cool of the water; smells of food and a fire burning, encircled by exhausted people with just enough energy to eat, and to worry.

Out of the darkness
-David would walk into the crowd, through the circle of people who were here because of him, carrying his harp. and carrying his courage.
-He would stand where everyone could see him and he would sing.
-He would sing his fear – enemies, and what if God doesn’t help?
-He would sing his faith – His shield, his hope, and the voice that echoes still from that far-away high and holy place.
-He would sing in the knowledge that Absalom and his troops were in the city, taking over everything and everyone that David’s people had had to leave behind.
-He would sing his trust into the shaken hearts of those who trusted him…

“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again. Because YHWH sustains me.”

My movie…
-David the shepherd sings his exhausted flock to their rest.

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

Today we return to Brothers of the Book, written by writer, speaker, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Bill Hood. His thoughts this month have come from the Book of Psalms. Click the header below to read this and find other parts of the series.

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

This world is full of distractions that keep us focused on the meaningless and leave us too exhausted to focus on the eternal. We’ve got to turn off the noise.

I love gadgets; I always have. I guess I live in the right time for gadgets, don’t I? I walk around with two cell phones, each of which receives e-mails; one of them receives e-mails from about seven different addresses. I have a Bluetooth headset for each phone; in fact, one of them is a stereo headset for listening to music I have loaded up on my iPhone. We have two desktop computers, one is a Mac and the other a PC. I have a work laptop and a personal laptop. I have a cordless headset for my office line, along with a cordless handset. All of our phones in the house are cordless. We have five TVs in a household of three people.

The best gift I ever got my wife was one of those single serving coffee makers where you put a little sealed package in the thing and it pops out the perfect cup of coffee quicker than I can fill a cup at the refrigerator’s filtered water dispenser. We have two Kindle e-readers, two iPads, and I have a hand held electronic organizer, or three, lying around here somewhere. We have a portable DVD player we can take in the car with us on long trips away from our other three DVD players in the house. I have an old but still powerful stereo system to which I have the Bonus Room TV hooked up. I could go on and on but I’m getting tired of the game.

You know what all of that stuff is? Distraction. I was talking with a brother in Christ Wednesday night about the fact that kids today talk through texting. The telephone is so “last century”. Texting is the thing. We went on to talk about how things were when we were kids; you were really upscale if your house had a microwave or a VCR. It’s funny; I’m all “gadgeted” out and I’m complaining about the kids these days. Go figure.

I didn’t give much thought to all of my gadgets or the distractions they provide until I read today’s Bible verses. They are so powerful in their praise. I become almost breathless as I contemplate the truth of these praises. I wonder; why does God’s greatness only seem to strike me when I take a moment to read His Word? Listen to this:

Psalm 61:1-8 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

Does your soul thirst for God? Do you remember Him on your bed and meditate on Him in the watches of the night? Do you know what image came to me as I read that? I pictured David lying out in the fields with his sheep; he was a shepherd as a youth. Laying there with no TV or books or DVDs or CDs or Nintendos or cell phones; what did he have to occupy his mind? He had God. What do you and I have to occupy our minds? TV, books, DVDs, CDs, Xbox, and cell phones.

I drop into bed at night, exhausted from all the noise, in a pitch-dark room, and drop off to sleep, only to get up and start rushing first thing in the morning. David fell asleep under the stars with no sound of traffic or electronic clatter in the background. He could feel the grass beneath him and see the stars above him and God was self-evident in His majesty. Laying there, enveloped in the awesome reality of His power, how could David not meditate on God?

I don’t think I do enough of that, and I wonder if you’re in the same boat. The wonders of this age are significant but they are nothing compared to a solid, moment by moment relationship with the Father God. They are nothing compared to meditating on Him. I think we miss a lot of what God has for us simply because we are too busy with stuff and things. All that glitters is not gold, and this is never more true than when we compare the wonders of this world with the wonders of God.

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but guys, we need to start turning off the noise and distractions. We have got to make time for ourselves. Surprised you there didn’t I? You probably thought I would have said we needed to make time for God. I almost did, but that would have been incorrect. God doesn’t need time with us; we need time with Him. It starts with this time we take every day to read the Bible, but it needs to be more than that. We need to spend time with Him in Prayer. We need to meditate on His Word, and on His character, and upon His ways. We need to lie down at night and meditate on Him in the watches of the night. To do this we are going to have to turn off the noise.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

April 14, 2021

Thinking About “Heart”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of several years, we’re paying a return visit to the devotional blog Get Along With God. These are excerpts from two different authors, Martha and John, which appeared on consecutive days dealing with heart. Today you need to click the individual titles to read the articles in full.

Blessed are those who keep his statutes
    and seek him with all their heart (Ps. 119 2)

I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands. (10)

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I have set my heart on your laws. (30)

I have sought your face with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to your promise. (58)

Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart. (111)

What It Means to Keep Your Heart

Living from Your Heart

…I’m drinking Psalm 119 and marking every mention of heart with a red pen. How rich this psalmist’s interaction with God! Raw and wide are his requests. High and low, he ranges all heights and every depth. The love between the man and his God is flowing, and he is free to an amazing degree. Free to feel and need. Free to pray outlandishly. Willing to express all the stormy desperation of his heart and unashamed passion for God.

Verse 81: “My soul languishes for Your salvation.”

The whole Psalm is the testimony of a wide-open heart to the wide-open Lord of All, sovereign and beautiful! The writer’s honesty moves from agony to ecstasy, from complaint to decision, from reality to worship. His love is for the Person of God, so his passion for the will of God makes him a beggar.

“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (verse 20).

Consequences of Denying Your Heart

I once sat with a friend in the hospital. He was there for heart problems. I said to him, “You refuse to live from your heart in naked honesty and so your heart is hurting (actually dying) from being denied and suppressed. Your heart was made to live, feel, soar and hurt. You won’t let your heart function as it was created. You will not start from that unmanageable heart. You choose to be religiously safe instead of spiritually abandoned. So your heart is damaged by your own rejection of your dangerous self. You are afraid of your own heart.”

(See my audio series, “The Heart of the Matter,” for more on living from the heart.)

If your heart belongs to God fully, in all its wild wandering, as John said in his post, then you are truly His. You only belong to God if you have given Him your entire heart – good, bad, shocking. To keep your heart doesn’t mean to suppress it, but to live in such heart transparency that you KNOW your real emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Then you can direct your heart to God and your choices turn the vast vessel of your inner man straight into the heart of God.

That’s David’s secret. He lived from his own crude heart. His writings prove it. He sought the heart of God because he was himself a man of heart. And despite his failings, this is how God proudly speaks of David, as the ‘man after God’s own heart.’ The man in pursuit of God’s heart – not blessings, prosperity, acclaim. Heart into heart.

This is the process of the Psalmist of 119. He is ‘keeping his heart with all diligence’ by coming fully under the Light that exposes him to himself, and such reality propels him to fierce and holy prayer! Because the writer is in stark honesty, and ‘speaks and thinks the truth in his heart,’ ‘he dwells [permanently] on Your holy hill’ (Psalm 15 AMP). He enjoys a true love affair with God, relishing God’s love and enjoying it. His cleanness of heart finds a genuine union with God.

I love the prayer at end of John’s post. It gives a practical help to what might seem to some just an emotional fit. I want to repeat it here:

“Father, I am filled with ______, and I offer it to You in worship. My ______ holds claim on my heart, now I give it to You as something I have treasured. ______ held captive my heart, and prevented my heart being wholly Yours. Now I give You my ______, and the trust it held in my heart that You may dwell in and fellowship with me there. My heart is Yours!”

Tough Living in this World with a Heart!

My Achilles Heel

…I was just talking about the heart the other day to a friend. We were talking about it as it related to AI (artificial intelligence). I was saying that if they created a robot that was indistinguishable from a human, I would have a difficult time not having my heart engaged. They brilliantly said, “This is why Satan so easily can dupe us.” Our blessing and curse is that we have the Achilles’ heel of a heart. It’s both our strength and our weakness. And I find it very difficult, actually impossible, to not have it pricked quite regularly. I hurt when people are ugly, I grieve when another is in pain, and I rage when people are awful. It’s tough to live in this world with a heart.

But here is the truth about that statement: as a Christian, I am not given the opportunity to do otherwise. Born-again believers have to live open-hearted, as my friend told me just today. And I wholeheartedly agree. We, His children, have to walk in the world He died for with our hearts open—hearts that bleed, hurt and feel just as He Himself did when He walked on this earth. Though His allegiance was the Will of the Father, His heart was touched by our humanity.

He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He Himself is subject to weakness.
Hebrews 5:2 NKJV

Carry With Me MY Heart

Yes, He asks us to share in His suffering as a part of fellowship with Him. Imagine, He yearns for me to share His burden for humanity. Not in human goodness, which there is none, but in true compassion that only comes from the Spirit of the Living God.

How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by His resurrection: now I long to share His sufferings, even to die as He died, so that I may perhaps attain as He did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10 Phillips

…My human compassion has only pity or some self-focused affinity with her pain, but Jesus knows her heart and is able to actually effect change in her life. Though I once had a high opinion of my compassion, I now see that our High Priest is the only one who can selflessly be touched by our infirmity.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 BRG

February 19, 2021

Hope in Psalm 146

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In 2016 and 2017 we featured the writing of gardener and author Shelley Cramm who writes at Garden in Delight. She is the General Editor of the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible. She lives in Texas — “the same latitude as Israel and the Bible lands” — and while you can read this devotional here, I encourage you to click the header which follows and read the full devotional (with pictures) and thereby send her some warm love at a time when Texas has been through a tough weather period.

Find Garden Hope in Psalm 146

Our journey to find garden hope begins in Psalm 146—in hopeless places. These Words lead us into life’s deepest sorrows, the painful, woeful conditions that rub raw the very knowing of who we are and what we hold onto. Let the Gardener-Lord meet us in somber, despairing depths with the resounding reality that personal traumas are precisely where God brings His blessing of hope.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146:5-10 NIV

Oppressed — those living and working in unjust situations, treated unfairly, given no dignity.

Hungry — desperate to eat, no money for food, no energy to sauté even dandelion greens, cut off from the bounty of the earth, deprivation creating constant, haunting tension.

Prisoner — confined rightfully or not, held on hard surfaces by hardened hearts, dull and dismal.

Blind — without privilege to the great joys in pleasing sights, colors, forms and dimensions, whether found in the environment or found in the heart, for spiritual blindness is the worst.

Fallen — stumbled, staggering, strength stolen, physically faltering; robbed of stamina, taken out of the fight.

Foreigner — surrounded in strangeness, missing clues and connection to culture, disoriented, isolated by the inside jokes of idiom.

Fatherless — missing validation, reassurance, direction, help and belonging to someone as their most precious gem.

Widow — a half with a hole, a stem without its roots, a gardener without a garden, suffering a severance tearing through the heart.

Find Garden Hope

Who can endure downtrodden existence with uplifted spirit? Those who hope in the Lord. How does one endure death and dead-end ways all around them without dying themselves? By the blessing of hope in the Lord.

Our faith in Jesus transfers God’s righteousness to us and he now declares us flawless in his eyes.[a] This means we can now enjoy true and lasting peace[b] with God, all because of what our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, has done for us. Our faith guarantees us permanent access into this marvelous kindness[c] that has given us a perfect relationship with God. What incredible joy bursts forth within us as we keep on celebrating our hope of experiencing God’s glory!
But that’s not all! Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy,[d] because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us![e]

Romans 5:1-5 TPT

With God, hope flourishes in suffering with perseverance and character, and a growing embrace of God’s love and marvelous kindness, poured out long ago and constantly.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:5 NIV


Linger in these Hope-Full passages:
Psalm 146:1-10, Psalm 25:1-5, Isaiah 35:1-7 , Romans 5:1-5


NIV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.®
TPT denotes Scripture quotations taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com
Footnotes:
a.Romans 5:1 Or “having already been declared righteous.” What bliss! We are declared righteous in the eyes of the Holy God. This is the wonder of grace!
b.Romans 5:1 Or “Let us enjoy peace with God.” The Greek word for peace is eirene and can also mean “to join” (as in a dove-tail joint). We have entered into the union of our lives with God’s peace and enjoy lasting friendship with God. The Hebrew word is shalom, which means abundant peace and well-being.
c.Romans 5:2 Or “grace.”
d.Romans 5:5 Or “This hope does not put one to shame.”
e.Romans 5:5 Or “was given to us.”

January 18, 2021

The Heavens are Telling

Don’t you wonder why
The stars are in the sky?
They’re telling you and I
Of the glory of God

And every flower and tree
Is there for folks to see
So that there no doubt can be
Of the glory of God

So let the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Do the same thing for Thee
And a witness be
To the glory of God
To the glory of God

In my younger days, I could name four different songs that were all based on Psalm 19, and as I consider it now, I can think of a few others which have lines which allude to it. There is something to be said for the theory that scripture verses are trending for a few decades and then are replaced by others. These days there is much repetition of

  • Be still and know
  • “For I know the plans I have for you”
  • I can do all things

Readers here will recognize that while these verses have brought much comfort to many people, each has a very specific context which is either not known or ignored by most of the people doing the quoting. (I may claim to be able to all things, but I can’t fly an airplane, dismantle a bomb, or perform brain surgery. I can’t even get the jar of apricot jam open, and I need to ask my wife for help finding the last place the roll of packing tape was cut.)

On the other hand, rediscovering a passage of scripture which had fallen off your radar is somewhat akin to meeting up with an old friend. (I don’t remember the title of the song I quoted above, but feel free to leave its name in the comments.)

Psalm 19 begins:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat. (NLT)

David wrote this one, and in these first six verses he’s talking about what theologians call the general revelation of God. This is the evidence of God’s being in nature, what scientists who are Christians call the unveiling of intelligent design in the universe. And it’s a non-stop broadcast; verse 2 (NASB) says “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” and this giving of speech is anthropomorphizing either the heavens and skies, or the entire general revelation itself.

Have you ever had a friend who looked at a beautiful scene and said, “It speaks to me.” Well according to verse 2, it really does!

The general revelation can introduce someone to deism, but of course Jesus is not named. Is it sufficient for someone unevangelized to respond to; someone who has never heard the name of Jesus? Objectively, I want to say no, there is no salvation apart from His name, but there have been a few anecdotal accounts of people who decided that not only did there need to be a God behind the skies and heavens, but that this God would want to make himself known; and then they started connecting the dots. These are however, the exception, not the rule; but never rule out anything in terms of God’s ability to get through to human hearts.

The rest of the Psalm — and you could easily try to argue this is a mash-up of two Psalms — concerns God’s law.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, Your servant is warned by them;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep Your servant back from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be innocent,
And I will be blameless of great wrongdoing.
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (NLT)

Look at the words used: Law, precepts, commandment. It echoes the conveniently numbered Psalm 119. (I don’t want go down the rabbit trail of verse and chapter numbering — a system which sometimes breaks up our reading and can be more harmful than helpful — but there are some interesting things which occur as you study the Bible. I remember in our youth group looking at the interesting collection of “3:16” verse which one finds, but I wouldn’t look to start a new church based such numerical anomalies.)

David loves God’s precepts. He’s got them on his fridge, in posters and plaques on his wall, on bumper stickers on his car.

David loves the law. It’s as simple as that. We groan inwardly when the speaker says, “Turn with me to the book of Leviticus;” but not so David. When I did a consecutive reading of scripture a few years back and came to Leviticus, I remember very specifically praying that God would help me to see the reasoning behind the rules; an understanding of the purpose behind the many intricate details by which Israel would form a distinct identity and be set apart from neighboring nations.

It’s like David is saying, ‘I love traffic lights. I love speed limits.’ (One wonders if in our day he would say, ‘I love having to wear a mask. I love social distancing.’ If he felt that all these things were for our good, he might indeed say those things.) (Please don’t comment on this paragraph. Thank you.)

Then there what I see as a benediction for readers like us. I’ve already shown it here as the translation I used included it with the previous verse, but it could also stand alone.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (v14, NIV)

While David ends with this, I’ve used it before as part of prayer of invocation at the start of a worship service, or at the beginning of a sermon. You can use this personally as you start your day; as you go into your school or workplace; as you prepare for a Zoom meeting with family members; or as you are about to type that reply on Facebook or Twitter!

I’ll leave us with the first part of the verse in The Voice Bible:

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval

 

December 8, 2020

In God’s Eyes, We Are Always Poor and Needy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. Since we last connected, David has released Psalms 365, a daily devotional. (I love the title!) See below for details. For more about his ministry, http://www.davidkitz.ca/. Click the header below to read this one at source and see the original photograph he paired with today’s thoughts.

I Am Poor and Needy

Reading: Psalm 86
A prayer of David.
(Verses 1-7)
Hear me, LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, L
ORD
;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me (NIV).*

Reflection
What posture or position do you take when you pray? Do you kneel, stand or lie prostrate? Do you bow your head, or raise your head and look heavenward? Do you fold your hands or raise them to God?

The Bible describes people taking various positions or postures in prayer. We cannot be certain of the physical position that David took when he prayed the words of Psalm 86. But we can be sure of this. In his heart David assumed a position of humility. His opening statement reveals a man with a humble heart.

Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

David spent about forty years as the King of Israel. Though his early years were a struggle for survival against the murderous schemes of King Saul, David’s later years were blessed by victory and prosperity. But here in this psalm David calls himself poor and needy. He exemplifies for us the first of Jesus’ Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

In God’s eyes we are always poor and needy. Though I may have billions of dollars, what is my piddling prosperity in the sight of the owner and Creator of the universe? Can that money buy me an hour in heaven? Can it buy me immortality? Of course it can’t. Despite his vast wealth, Apple founder Steve Jobs was unable to buy a longer life. In the end, like King David, Jobs found he was helpless, poor and needy.

In light of this truth—in the light of eternity—let us come—poor beggars that we are to the mercy seat of God. There we can lay our burdens down. There we can humbly bring our petitions. There we can meet with Jesus.  

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect ( 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Response: LORD God, I confess I am poor and needy. My future, my whole life is in your hands. I do not own my next breath. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Amen.

Your Turn: Pride and prayer don’t fit well together. What positions do you take when you pray?

* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

Some good news: The first volume of Psalms 365: Develop a Life of Worship and Prayer by award-winning author David Kitz will be published in December, 2020, by Elk Lake Publishing. Two additional volumes will follow in 2021 to complete the three volume set of devotions from the Psalms.

September 21, 2020

The Psalms as History Book

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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A couple of times I’ve mentioned the “Rivers of Babylon” passage, Psalm 137.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

In one of our very first articles here in 2010, I wrote that this was the equivalent of saying,

“C’mon. Sing us one of your camp songs. Sing us some Chris Tomlin. Let’s hear some classic Maranatha! Music choruses. How about some Hillsong? Anyone from England know any Graham Kendrick?”

Of course the key application for us today is “But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” And indeed, 2020 has been like dwelling in a strange and foreign land.

I noted that in Psalm 137, we’re provided with some background information not available anywhere else in the scriptures. At this point, the Psalms, while not a historical book, lapses into history.”

…I was reminded of this last week when David Regier (@davidpaulregier) wrote on Twitter,

“If we want a Christian perspective about how to look at history, a good place to start is by learning to sing Psalm 106.”

He’s in the middle of a project creating metrical Psalms (hymns based on Psalms with a rhythmic and melodic structure.)

It’s not just history, but it’s also commentary on that history,

Many times He would deliver them;
They, however, were rebellious in their counsel,
And so sank down in their iniquity.
— Psalm 106:43

The Message renders this as,

Over and over God rescued them, but they never learned—
until finally their sins destroyed them.

The Voice Bible has a shade of meaning for the second line which is somewhat different, but note that italicized lines in The Voice have been added to supplement the original text.

He delivered them over and over again;
    however, they were slow to learn and deliberately rebelled.
    Their sins humbled them and nearly destroyed them.

…I decided we would do well today to take David Regier’s advice, and the rest of today’s devotional is in fact the text of Psalm 106. I’ve chosen the New Living Translation, courtesy of Bible Gateway.  (Click here for NIV.)

Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea[b] to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.
16 The people in the camp were jealous of Moses
    and envious of Aaron, the Lord’s holy priest.
17 Because of this, the earth opened up;
    it swallowed Dathan
    and buried Abiram and the other rebels.
18 Fire fell upon their followers;
    a flame consumed the wicked.

19 The people made a calf at Mount Sinai[c];
    they bowed before an image made of gold.
20 They traded their glorious God
    for a statue of a grass-eating bull.
21 They forgot God, their savior,
    who had done such great things in Egypt—
22 such wonderful things in the land of Ham,
    such awesome deeds at the Red Sea.
23 So he declared he would destroy them.
    But Moses, his chosen one, stepped between the Lord and the people.
    He begged him to turn from his anger and not destroy them.

24 The people refused to enter the pleasant land,
    for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them.
25 Instead, they grumbled in their tents
    and refused to obey the Lord.
26 Therefore, he solemnly swore
    that he would kill them in the wilderness,
27 that he would scatter their descendants[d] among the nations,
    exiling them to distant lands.

28 Then our ancestors joined in the worship of Baal at Peor;
    they even ate sacrifices offered to the dead!
29 They angered the Lord with all these things,
    so a plague broke out among them.
30 But Phinehas had the courage to intervene,
    and the plague was stopped.
31 So he has been regarded as a righteous man
    ever since that time.

32 At Meribah, too, they angered the Lord,
    causing Moses serious trouble.
33 They made Moses angry,[e]
    and he spoke foolishly.

34 Israel failed to destroy the nations in the land,
    as the Lord had commanded them.
35 Instead, they mingled among the pagans
    and adopted their evil customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
    which led to their downfall.
37 They even sacrificed their sons
    and their daughters to the demons.
38 They shed innocent blood,
    the blood of their sons and daughters.
By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan,
    they polluted the land with murder.
39 They defiled themselves by their evil deeds,
    and their love of idols was adultery in the Lord’s sight.

40 That is why the Lord’s anger burned against his people,
    and he abhorred his own special possession.
41 He handed them over to pagan nations,
    and they were ruled by those who hated them.
42 Their enemies crushed them
    and brought them under their cruel power.
43 Again and again he rescued them,
    but they chose to rebel against him,
    and they were finally destroyed by their sin.
44 Even so, he pitied them in their distress
    and listened to their cries.
45 He remembered his covenant with them
    and relented because of his unfailing love.
46 He even caused their captors
    to treat them with kindness.

47 Save us, O Lord our God!
    Gather us back from among the nations,
so we can thank your holy name
    and rejoice and praise you.

48 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who lives from everlasting to everlasting!
Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the Lord!


Footnotes:

  1. 106:7 Hebrew at the sea, the sea of reeds.
  2. 106:9 Hebrew sea of reeds; also in 106:22.
  3. 106:19 Hebrew at Horeb, another name for Sinai.
  4. 106:27 As in Syriac version; Hebrew reads he would cause their descendants to fall.
  5. 106:33 Hebrew They embittered his spirit.

 

 

 

August 25, 2020

The One Who Saves the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the days we introduce you to outside sources here, I sometimes find a blog or website which is so good, and so similar to what we do in terms of depth, article length, daily content, etc.; that I wonder how we never discovered it before! I want to introduce you today to Virginia pastor Chuck Griffin who is the LifeTalk editor of Methodist Life. Click the header below to read today’s devotional. If you decide to read some other recent articles — which is encouraged — use this devotional link and be sure to click the link for the scripture readings as they’re often not showing. Again, I highly recommend this one!

Prayer of Ascent

I try not to dwell on Covid-19 day after day in these devotionals. The pandemic is serious and it is often on our minds, but I hope to keep the message of Jesus Christ ahead of all other messages, regardless of our circumstances.

If you follow the daily lectionary, however, you might notice that the readings for [last] Tuesday and Wednesday use the same psalm reading, Psalm 130. I’m hoping we can join together and pray this psalm over three days as a cry for relief from this disease.

Covid-19 is not as devastating as many plagues and famines experienced through history, but its effects are certainly bad enough, and it is wise to root ourselves in the same prayerful attitude as our spiritual ancestors.

As you read through this psalm, along with a little commentary I’m providing, hold in your hearts a request for a miracle. We seek a powerful, global sign from God as Covid-19 is driven out of our lives globally.

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

The psalm’s heading places us on a spiritual journey. I know we have work, school, doctors’ appointments and such—even with our world partially shut down, we remain such busy people. But can we adopt the pilgrim mindset for just a few days? Can we make our own ascent toward a holy place, toward a shared memory of Christ on the cross?

All three days, let’s take a few extra moments to settle into a time of quiet, saying to ourselves, “Right now, even if it’s only in my imagination, I’m going up to see the one who saves the world.”

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

This is a fervent petition, one lifted by a broken people, a people who have seen the troubling effects of their own sins and the broad effects of sin on the world. As we pray, we should be like the Canaanite woman in Sunday’s Gospel reading, desperately persistent, trusting that the tiniest crumbs of grace will make all the difference.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

As Christians, we have a particular understanding of how this forgiveness is granted. See that cross; see the weight of the world’s sins on Christ’s shoulders. The record of our sins is expunged, and we undeservedly are found to be holy and worthy of eternal life with God. The stone is rolled away from the tomb, the resurrection is proof! Sin and death are defeated! Finding ourselves in a renewed relationship with God, we know all kinds of restoration are possible now.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

Knowing what has been done for us, we should experience a deep longing for the Lord. In his word, recorded in his Scripture, we are able to discern right from wrong, and we simultaneously begin to see a bare outline of what a remarkable experience it must be to live in the full light of God.

Let’s root our longing for healing from Covid-19 in that deeper longing to be in the full presence of the risen Savior. And let us trust that dawn is coming—that the long night will end.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

Lord, Covid-19 is a sign of the world’s brokenness. As you drive it away, may we also see a clear sign of your unfailing love and your desire for our redemption, and may we have the courage to declare what we see. Amen.

July 1, 2020

Holiday Sadness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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July 1st is Canada Day and in the U.S., July 4th is… well, it’s better known simply as “The 4th of July.” (Independence Day to be precise.)

Many times people feel very lonely and even severely depressed on holidays, especially when they (a) have no one to share the time with (b) many shops and restaurants are closed, and (c) they don’t have the distractions of their job. That last one hits some people especially hard. It can be especially devastating to be alone on a day when people are celebrating groups.

Of course, this year, many people are not celebrating in groups. The worldwide pandemic has suspended many holiday celebrations. Here in Canada, just about everything connected to Canada Day is cancelled for this year, though I suspect that in the U.S., 4th of July celebrations will go ahead in some jurisdictions.

If you are single and you think marriage is the cure for this, think again. My wife and I have gone through many stages in our marriage where we did not have any other couple that we, as the kids would say, hang with. This can be especially frustrating if you were hoping someone could join on the holidays to help with a particular project. Holidays simply reinforce that state of social affairs, where you have no one to call on to assist with a particular need. Of course, in marriage, you’ve got each other; and Biblically speaking that is one of the main purposes/benefits of marriage, but married couples will tell you that sometimes that isn’t enough.

But in that last sentence, I could have easily have typed, ‘Of course as Christians we’ve got the Lord…’ and that reality is one we can easily overlook.

The Psalmist understood this; Psalm 73: 25 says

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Some might argue that the key to this verse is “in heaven;” that Asaph is comparing the God of Israel to other gods. But I believe he is also contrasting “friends on earth” to having a “friend in heaven.”

A similar passage is in John 6:68, when Jesus has asked the disciples if they wish to leave

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Cynics would say that Peter is simply saying he has no other options, almost implying that he might leave if something better came along.

But time will prove the prophetic nature of his statement. Jesus remains faithful to Peter even when Peter doesn’t remain faithful to Jesus. Peter messes up but Jesus restores him. Truly, this is a friend who stays closer than a brother. Ultimately he is willing to die for his friendship with Jesus.

For some, my reference to marriage pales in comparison to an estranged relationship with a parent, or those who are true orphans, or those whose parents are no longer living. In Psalm 27:10 (NLT) we read:

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.

Again in the Psalms, in 68:5-6 (NIV) we read:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families
    he leads out the prisoners with singing;
    but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Or perhaps you had a sibling; a brother or sister to whom you were so close. Proverbs 18:24 (NASB) reads,

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

It’s interesting to note that there is a problem that can occur on the opposite end of the spectrum when you have “too many friends.” (Maybe we should be careful what we ask for!)

That’s the kind of companion you have in Christ, even on a holiday when waves of depression roll in…

…Having said all this, the scriptures directly confront the reality of loneliness. In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”

When you find yourself — and the holidays can magnify this situation — in a period of your life where you feel you have no friends, you can

  1. Ask God to send people into your life
  2. Put yourself in situations where meeting people happens naturally, organically.
  3. Try to do everything you can to be the type of person people would want to count as a friend.

On this last point, my parents would often quote this, though I don’t know the source;

He has friends who shows himself friendly.

So do what only you can do, but then rest in the knowledge that God is your refuge, your helper and your friend.

 

June 24, 2020

Help for the Journey

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.121.1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

We’re often hear of people being told told that they need to “shelter in place.” David Jeremiah’s newest book, Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble (W Publishing Group) is a very timely reminder of where our refuge ought to be. This book is an amended, updated version of When Your World Falls Apart. Today’s devotional appeared in a slightly longer form at the website Devotions Daily at the link in the title which follows:

Lord — Help!

by David Jeremiah

Life often catches us short. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves needing help, but we all need all the help we can get, especially in times of crisis. We all need grace — grace that’s more than sufficient.

So many of the psalms are written for pilgrims needing help on the path of life. As we read Psalm 121, we can hear the psalmist crying out,

Lord, I need supplies for my journey. I need help. I need guidance. I’ve lost my way. Can’t You show me the right way to go? Can’t You meet my needs?

…In spite of all the perils we encounter, the mountainous crags and the desert wastelands, we can trust the Lord. Yes, He is awesome and we feel small and insignificant, but the psalmist assures us that God bridges the gap. He is never too great to care; we are never too small for His caring. The psalm reflects on a God who soothes us in our anxiety and watches over us as a shepherd with his sheep…

God’s Word reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land whose roads are filled with hazards. The road is long, weary, and dangerous. It winds through veils of tears and acres of muck and mire; but the long and winding road finally comes to the City of God, the place of joy and feasting. Simply stated, that’s the biblical view of life in the world.

…The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121:1). He has prepared for his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem. As he enters the road, he takes a moment to gaze up to the horizon. He thinks of the miles ahead, the twists and turns and surprises, the old friends and new ones whose acquaintances he will make. He thinks of the dust and the heat, the darkness and the thirsty miles. He admires the graceful line where the mountains embrace the sky.

Listen to Isaiah 55:12:

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.

Psalm 125:1–2 captures the same idea:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the mountains as a place of blessing, but we know all too well that mountains can also be a place of danger. Rarely does a winter go by that we don’t hear of someone being lost in the mountain terrain. The snow cover cuts off the navigation of outdoorsmen, who cannot retrace their steps out of the wilderness.

In ancient times, mountains were sites of danger and hardship. Their rocks and caves hid wild animals and blood- thirsty bandits. Pagan cultures built their temples in the mountains. Godly pilgrims found a sense of majesty in the high country, but they also found a sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. It was a place of fear and of hope, of danger and of salvation. The Lord God could be sought there, but pagan gods were enshrined there as well.

The psalmist must have thought of these things, reflecting on the many meanings of mountains. He gazed upward at the outset of the journey and said, “I will look to the hills.”


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble by David Jeremiah Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 16, 2020

The Power of Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We return today to 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 toured across Canada and into the US with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Today’s article is part one of a three part series based on Psalm 33. I’ve linked parts two and three at the end of this piece. If you click the title below, you’ll also see some of David’s photography. These articles are publishing in book form later in the year. Follow his blog for details.

Made by the Word of the LORD

Reading: Psalm 33
(Verses 6-9)
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the L
ORD;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm
(NIV).*

Reflection
Have you ever considered the creative power of words? Words change the world. They bring order out of chaos. Words shine the light of day into the darkness of this world. From the very beginning words have been imbued with divine power. The psalmist reminds us, By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”

But it’s not only God’s words that have this vast power. Our words—human words, whether spoken written or thought have enormous power too. Adam’s first job assignment was to speak words—to name the animals. Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals (Genesis 2: 19-20).

Strangely, God didn’t do what every parent does. He didn’t tell Adam what the animals were called. Adam told God their names. By so doing, God vested mankind with the power of language. Life is what we call it. Our words describe the world and give meaning to it.

Through our words we bring order and make sense of the world around us. As a writer I am continually processing and attempting to make sense of this chaotic thing called life. I do it with words. From the beginning of time, by divine command that’s what we are called to do. We are to speak order into chaos— speak accuracy and clarity into this world’s muddled reality.

With our words we shine the light of truth onto a situation. With words we write laws, administer justice and design government. With words we woo and romance and vow our love to one another. Our words create imaginary realms into which we can travel—words that transport. With our words we have the power to elevate the human spirit, or crush someone to the point of suicide.

Finally, there is something innately prophetic about our words. What we think, speak and write is potent. It has within in it the latent ability to become reality. Therefore, we need to guard our lips. See James 3:1-12. The psalmist reminds us not only of the power of the word of the LORD, but also our own words. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Response: LORD God, help me give careful consideration to my words. Today, may my words, whether written or spoken, be a creative force for good in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Your Turn: How has God used your words for good lately? Are your words bringing life and order out of chaos?

* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

This post by award-winning author David Kitz will be published in book format later in 2020 by Elk Lake Publishing under the title 365 Days through the Psalms.


April 30, 2020

An Angry Prayer (Psalm 139)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

Psalm 139:19 NRSV

Well that does not sound very Christian, does it? What happened to love your neighbours? What happened to love your enemies? What about forgiveness? What about the fruit of the Spirit, namely love, peace, kindness, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Nope, none of that seems to be here in the Psalmist’s mind. Rather, “kill the wicked.”

Is a Jesus follower supposed to just ignore verses such as these? Indeed, I sometimes read Psalm 139 at the hospital bedside, as most of Psalm 139 is very uplifting. Sometimes I forgot to end with verse 18 and carry on with “kill the wicked. . . ” It seems very jarring at the bedside of an ill person. It seems very jarring here in this otherwise beautiful Psalm. However, while “hate filled” verses such as these can feel very out of place in our lives, in fact they can be very helpful in our present circumstance. They are in the Christian Scriptures, and for good reason.

We can first recognize what this prayer is not. It is not a prayer for God to take out the people I don’t like. It is not a prayer of revenge upon people that have hurt me.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

Psalms 139:19 NRSV

The wicked are defined here not as people who have hurt me, but people who destroy other people as a way of life. This is a prayer for God to intervene and stop the destruction in the lives of the innocent. The bloodthirsty are further described as

those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Psalms 139:20 NRSV

The “bloodthirsty” pay no attention to God, or God’s way of doing things. Having no regard for God, they have neither regard for people created in the image of God, nor regard for the laws which protect those people.

This prayer can help us pray today. In some ways we, at least in Canada, live in a very different world than the Psalmist. While disregard for God may be common among Canadians, an influential heritage of Christian ethics mixed with good doses of reason means that most Canadians could not be described as “bloodthirsty.” We do not fear for our lives near as much as the people did when Psalm 139 was written. Except perhaps we do.

While Canadians are not bloodthirsty, COVID-19 is. While Canadians are not terribly destructive, cancer is. While Canadians are generally nice people, there is nothing nice about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any other disease we can think of. If we are not being overly theological about it, Canadians are generally “good” people. There is nothing good about oppression and injustice. The Psalmist’s prayer can give expression to our desire for God to intervene and destroy all these bloodthirsty things in people’s lives. O that you would destroy CVOD-19, O God. We can pray for miraculous interventions. We can pray for perseverance and success for those who are working towards vaccines, cures, and justice. It is not wrong to nurture hatred for destructive elements in people’s lives.

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

Psalms 139:21-22 NRSV

The Psalmist’s angry prayer is not a prayer for getting revenge, like the prayer I might pray upon the kids that picked on me in grade 6, as much as I might like that. This is not a way to opt out of the difficult journey of forgiveness. This is not an excuse to avoid the difficult journey of growing in love, of picking up one’s cross and following Jesus who from the cross did not pray “O that you would kill the wicked, O God,” but “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Rather, this is a prayer for justice and mercy. Do our hearts yearn for justice and mercy for all people, across all peoples? Then we will want all people to be freed from oppression and injustice. We will want all people to be freed from disease and illness. We will want all people to have equal access to cures, treatments and vaccines. We will pray for what we want. We may even pray an angry prayer. Perhaps we who are Canadian Christians have been to nice in our prayers.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada (rather obvious in today’s reading) who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone.

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

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