Psalm 96:4-6 Why Do We Sing?

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;

He is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

But the LORD made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him;

Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of idols and no matter how many sermons I hear, I can’t wrap my head around it. I’m not a Buddhist nor have I ever been tempted to put my trust in good luck charms. I’m sure it is connected to the way I was raised which would be different in another culture.

However, I do know I’m tempted to put my trust, and sometimes my praise, on things other than God. When I have a financial need, I figure out how to access some money. If I don’t have money, I use my energy or intelligence to earn some money. If I have a health issue, I look to medicine. If I have an emotional issue, I look to family and friends or a counselor.

Heathens bow down to a stone idol that represents prosperity or family or health. I don’t have a stone representation of the things I put my trust in other than God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t.

Sometimes God feels far away, and I want a power source closer to me, or to use my own power. So…I turn to idols.

It’s been a miracle how long I have lived with incurable cancer. A few years back, the average time one lived after a BMT (bone marrow/stem cell transplant) without a relapse was 3.5 years; mine was over 7 years. Average life span was 7.5 years; I’m 12 and counting.

I take nutritional supplements, graciously given to me by a friend. At one point, she wanted me to come on her radio program and talk about the supplements and how they have extended my life. I prayed about it, but didn’t have peace. It felt like, to give the supplements credit for the extension of my life, would be discounting God’s grace. I couldn’t do it.

It’s so easy to look to what we see or who we see and give them credit for God’s grace. They have been the instrument from whom God’s grace was extended, but He is the giver of grace.

To him goes all glory and praise.

How has God extended grace in your life that you have been tempted to credit to others? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Psalm 96: 1-3 – Sing to the Lord

Sing to the LORD a new song;

Sing to the LORD, all the earth!

Sing to the Lord, bless his name;

Tell of his salvation day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

His marvelous works among all the peoples!

Ever notice how worship services usually begin with singing? I wonder if that deep tradition comes from this Psalm as it burst forth with song?

Three times it says, “Sing to the Lord.”

Why god wants our songs, I’m not sure. But music is magical, both to the singer and to the hearer. It combines creativity, beauty, information and emotion all in one package. It is spontaneous, yet calculated.

And even if you question the beauty as you listen to yourself sing, whatever comes out is from deep inside, from your very breath, breath and life given by God. It projects what is silent, hidden, through vocal chords that make it audible, understandable, and yes, beautiful.

We sing a “new song,” not just a remake of an old one. What God creates within us is totally new, with potential and opportunity, to do good when we, in our own power, could not.

And notice, we sing “to the Lord,” not to the congregation or those around us. We have an audience of very simply, one.

So, what do we sing about?

We bless his name. His name(s) represent who he is and how he presents himself to us. It speaks of our intimacy in that he is not a “force,” but a personality who feels and is able to respond with pleasure.

We tell of his salvation, eternally in the future, as well as day by day. He saves us from eternal damnation, but more than that, he saves us moment by moment, now, here on earth, by his presence with us in the midst of trials and sufferings.

We declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! At this point, we are his representatives, giving voice to his actions. Our scope is anyone who will listen, around the world. We are helping others to recognize that the sun that shines and the gift of life is not happenstance or an act of nature, but stem from the very nature of God.

I’d love to hear from you if you have a comment — What is your favorite song and why?

 

 

 

 

Psalm 11 – Mercy and Justice

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the LORD,

studied by all who delight in them.

Full of splendor and majesty is his work,

and his righteousness endures forever.

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and merciful.

He provides food for those who fear him;

he remembers his covenant forever.

He has shown his people the power of his works,

in giving them the inheritance of the nations

The works of his hands are faithful and just;

all his precepts are trustworthy;

They are established forever and ever,

to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

He sent redemption to his people;

he has commanded his covenant forever.

Holy and awesome is his name!

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

all who practice it have a good understanding,

his praise endures forever!

Another Psalm with amazing, hidden surprises and familiar verses! But the verses become even more rich when seen in context.

This morning, my mind focused on two phrases: “the LORD is gracious and merciful” and “the works of his hands are faithful and just.”

What does it mean for God to be gracious and merciful?

How are his hands faithful and just?

As this Psalm says, he is gracious and merciful by:

  • Providing food — as Christians, we used to have the habit of praying before meals, thanking God for our food. Just like Israelites, we have become more self-sufficient, removed from our food source, feeling like we earned the money and bought food ourselves. We’ve lost the fear of being plagued by famine or blessing of rains. God graciously and mercifully has placed us individually in a location of plenty.
  • Remembering his covenant forever — He never forgets his covenant of eternal salvation, his promise of endless days for us in his presence. We may wander here on earth because of sin, but if we accept his salvation, we will know his presence forever; not because we have earned it, but because of his grace and mercy.
  • Showing the power of his works — Not only do we have eternal salvation after death, we also have salvation in the midst of life on earth. We have the ability to call on his name and see his power. Nations rise and fall. We personally experience healings, emotionally and physically. We have his presence in our lives, a miracle in itself. Most of all, we have God working within us, changing us from the inside out, causing new desires that amaze us and others.
  • Giving the inheritance of the nations — In speaking to Israel, God gave them international power. The US has been similarly blessed. Although we don’t capture land, we have influence we use to help nations be independent. We enjoy respect around the world. Democracy is sought after by almost all people. Economies rise and fall with Wall Street. It’s a great blessing, as well as responsibility. Because of sin in our nation, it’s only because of his grace and mercy we sit in such high standing.

So what are the works of his hands? How is he faithful and just?

  • First, we can take him at his word. He means what he says. His words are not to be taken lightly. We have the tendency to focus on the negative because of fear, the things I would be judged on because he is just. But he is also faithful in his love and mercy. The key is finding the balance.
  • His word is “established forever” — it doesn’t change with the times. I hear of so many kids who want to throw over the faith of their parents because of all the new things they are learning about life, independence, and the power they feel with self-determination. But you know what? Many come back to their faith. They realize with maturity and wisdom that the principles remain true and the power to live the principles are in one place — the triune God. Nations will rise and fall, cultures will change, but God’s word, and the truths that are in it, will remain for eternity. Years ago someone told me only 3 things are eternal: God, His Word, and the souls of men.
  • Performed with faithfulness and uprightness — God’s word is not just to be heard, but performed. That’s us folks! God’s word is faithful and just, but it is just words without being lived out in flesh. We are called to be faithful and just as we use God’s word in our own lives, modeling what that looks like to others.

The Psalm ends with , “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice it have a good understanding, his praise endures forever!”

How do we gain wisdom and understanding? It’s by reflecting, although sometimes dimly, the image of God.

We know God is gracious and merciful. How am I gracious and merciful?

We know his hands are faithful and just. How do I balance faithfulness and justice in my life?

Psalm 109 – Really Mad

Ever been really, really mad. Circumstances or people were just not cooperating. Explosion is all you’re feeling. Bad words come to mind. Bad actions.

I’ve been there, just fuming, pissed off as some would say.

And so was David, which makes me feel so good! (I’m sorry, David, to rejoice in your weakness!) A “man after God’s own heart” had problems with anger. But because he was a godly man, he also shows me how to resolve it in a way I can relate.

Verse 1 begs, “Be not silent, O God of my praise!” I couldn’t help but think that God was silent because he knows David wants to do all the talking/shouting. David’s really not actually talking to God, but at God. He spews for 20 verses of what he thinks about the person/circumstances and what God needs to do about it.

He starts by giving the guts of the situation: someone(s) is lying about him, defaming him, betraying him. It hurts.

Then he expresses his wish list of what should happen to the person. It’s filled with “let him” and “may he” and what follows one isn’t pretty. His curses extend not only to the person who betrayed him, but the wife and children. David wants them all punished and damned eternally.

Then he calms down just a little bit, just like we do, after a rant. The focus switches from what he wants to happen to that person to his own feelings, how deeply it hurt. I do that when I’m ranting, and it’s good for me to get in touch with what’s happening inside of myself. Sometimes it results in more ranting (verses 19 & 20 revert back to the “may”) but I do get closer to a more centered feeling.

Verse 21 is the breakthrough. In the midst of ranting, he knows the only person who can fix it, the person he came to in verse 1, but couldn’t be quiet long enough to listen. I always look for the “but” in Psalms. It tells me a change is coming, a new way of thinking.

God is the only one who can fix it.

Why would he fix it?

Because of his steadfast love for David. Because he is powerful enough to fix it.

Humbled, David sounds very different in next verses. He’s needy; his heart is stricken. He’s honest about his feelings, his desperation. He can hardly stand in the midst of his feelings.

He cries out for help, and asks for his salvation. He can’t resist still telling God what to do, but it’s more reasonable now, wrapped in who God is. It’s focused on God having revenge for his honor, not David having revenge for David’s honor.

And David ends giving thanks to God, because of the assurance he now feels. He’s let it all out, even sinned himself, expressing his hate for his betrayer. But God can take it. He loves us with his steadfast love, good, bad and ugly.

And God is still the same. He will do what he feels is right in the situation. Even if someone is cursing us, God’s blessing is bigger than the curse.

We don’t know what happened after David wrote this Psalm, but in my “holy” imagination, I picture him getting up off of his knees, looking around at his tent, strapping on his armor and going out and doing what needed to be done that day.

When God and I fight through my anger and I’m done ranting and return to him, I can do the same. I strap on my spiritual armor and become obedient. When I began my rant, I couldn’t do anything as upset as I was. But now, I can…

Because of his steadfast love.

I’d love to hear from you — how do you work your way through anger? Feel free to comment!

Psalm 113 Just Answer the Question!

Who is like the Lord our God

Who is seated on high,

Who looks far down

On the heavens and the earth?

Sometimes I read scripture and it seems so easy. Sometimes it’s hard. This is one of those passages that only took seconds, nano seconds, to reach into my heart. Life, all I’m going through at the moment, all boils down to one simple question:

Who is like the LORD our God?

From my perspective, life can be a mess. I’m just one person in a messed up world. I can’t control my president, or foreign nations, or even my bank account. I can’t change how life ebbs and flows. This last year I’ve learned once again, I can’t control life and death.

But from God’s perspective, it’s totally different. I’m sure he looks down and sees that life is a mess. There are billions of people living in this messed up world, and he sees each one of them. He gives them free choice to mess it up even more. He even gives my president free choice to listen to him or make his own decisions. He watches us as life ebbs and flows, to see if we will turn to him in good times and bad, enjoying life, grieving death.

He is God, and he controls anything he desires. He controls the moon and the stars, the waves, and people. But he has set us all here with the freedom to make choices, the most important one, the choice to choose to worship him.

It all looks different from his perspective, from his character. He’s a god of love and wants nothing more than people to respond to him. He’s a god of justice who uses circumstances to show us our need for him. He’s a god of righteousness who cannot, will not, have sin in his eternal kingdom. He’s a god of mercy, who know how much we can take and how deeply we need forgiveness

As he looks down at me, at my life, I wonder what he sees?

Recently I watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean – stunning! I wonder what it looked like from his direction, as he painted it over the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans, as it stretched around the world. It’s a different perspective.

It’s a simple question, who is like our God?

Psalms 85 — Out of Confusion…

I was a little confused when I began reading Psalms 85. It talks about how God was favorable to the land, etc. and then asks God to restore them and not be angry…

There must have been something going on sons of Korah’s brain. Maybe the first part is the memory of when God blessed; the second part the reality of what they are living through?

Trying to blend the beauty of the past with the pain of the present leads to a series of questions:

  • How long? (It feels like forever, there is no end as this goes on for generations!)
  • Will you? (Is it your will to revive us?)

It reminds me of the parents of prodigals I pray with. They pray salvation for their kids, remembering when they were children, walking in the Lord, holding them in their arms. Yet now they are now in a living hell, facing addictions and rejection.

It reminds me of a friend, struggling with cancer, remembering the ministry she used to have, people she could pour her life into. Now pain and exhaustion, day after day, keeps her immobile. She is growing faint.

Then…

“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak.”

The moment of clarity.

I need to be quiet and quit fluttering around in my head and heart. Remember how he said, “Be still and know that I am God.” In good times or bad, this is all I need.

Why? Because he is God, my LORD, and he will speak.

“For he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” As I hear from the Lord (reading his word; being still), I experience peace. I have the strength to not turn back to the folly of not believing that he loves me, protects me, is here with me in my life.

“Surely his salvation is near…Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; Righteousness and peace kiss each other… Yes, the Lord will give what is good…”

Just listen.

Psalm 131 – I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;

My eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

Too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with its mother;

Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD

From this time forth and forevermore.

What a short, impactful psalm! I’ve heard of “one point sermons” and how some ridicule them as too simple, and yet their impact can be greater than seven points that vie for attention.

Let’s start first with his condition. His heart was not lifted up. In other words, he was not feeling on top of the world. Maybe he was a little emotionally down. Maybe he was just humbled. He was certainly feeling his humanity. I can relate.

He’s not trying to be a god. He realizes the world with all its complexity is out of his reach. For those of us who are trying to control the world around us, it’s a good thing to remember.

And all those questions beyond our reach about the mercy and judgment of God? Those are ok for us not to know the answer. Why some live and some die? Again, it’s ok for us not to know. Why does God allow evil in our life and in the lives of others?

Instead, we need to calm our soul. Take a deep breath. It’s an act of our will to not be anxious about things beyond our grasp. I’ve certainly had to do this with my cancer. Others have had to do it with their career or relationships. We can’t control life, nature or God.

Then there is a great description — a weaned child with his mother. I’ve been there, seeing the terror in a child’s eyes while being denied the breast, grabbing and trusting with all their body while I prepared something for them to eat.

Life-giving substance is so close. All we need to do is grab a tit. But it feels removed from us, out of reach, denied.

It’s time to quit trusting the tit, and trust the mother who provides for us.

She will continue to provide. She’s not going to let us starve. But we don’t know the ways of the kitchen, or even if there is something out there that will take meet of our needs. All we know is what we used to do is no longer working.

We need to trust. We need to calm our soul. God will provided in ways we know not of.

Being weaned is one of our first experiences with patience, with trust. We learned to calm our soul, the bottle is coming. But every once in a while, we forget how to do it. We get so frantic about the situation we are in, we forget we have a provider who never leaves us, who loves us more than we can comprehend.

Oh soul, be calm. God is here, from this time forth and forevermore.

(Let me know if you are reading this, or did I loose you my time of silence?!?)

I’m Back!

It’s been almost two years since I posted, since Jason, our son-in-law got sick. Going through cancer with him took me off-line with my blogging, and in some ways, with my heart. There was so much to do, so many feelings, I didn’t blog.

And with his passing, I had reasons to delay:

  • We’re still grieving.
  • I got trapped in patterns while care-giving Jason; I’m not sure I want to give them up.
  • Just trying to catch up on life!
  • I’ve wanted to re-design the website.
  • I’ve wanted to complete a book I started. Bottom line: What are my priorities?

I still don’t have answers, but today I decided to start posting again. After all, I have to begin somewhere. It’s not that I haven’t written. I’ve been going through Psalms, rich in emotion and meaning, writing observations.

So what’s my hang-up? It’s my desire to do things “perfectly.” It’s the “expectations” I put on myself. They say you need to post 2-3 times weekly, so I wonder, Will I be faithful? Did anyone miss me? Can I still communicate well, to the heart?

I need encouragement. I’ve gotten a little from family and friends, but nothing made me push the button. But today, I realized I write not because of family and friends. I write because I’m suppose to write. I cannot not write.

When I first started blogging, I didn’t tell anyone my blog address. I wanted my thoughts to be between me and God, not others. I also wanted to develop faithfulness. By blogging, I felt it was “out there” but still private.

Along the way, I realized my thoughts could be helpful to others. In fact, I began to feel it was wrong to not put things in cyberspace so that others could learn or be encouraged by whatever I am going through.

Today, my thoughts are no different. What I write is between me and God. But I’m also aware that others are listening, and it’s a good thing.

So—I’m re-launching my blog. Right now it’s on our ministry site. Later I hope to develop my own site. But this is good enough, even if it’s not “perfect!”

Maggie

I’m No Gardener

IMG_1948_2 copyI’m no gardener.

It’s always been a desire of mine to be able to have a garden. I remember my early years and my mothers patch behind the garage. I was especially impressed by the row of corn, probably because it was so tall while I was so little.

Later, she grew strawberries by the side of the garage. I was fascinated by watching them blossom and then turn bright red and juicy. The rabbits loved them also.

Growing up in the city, I loved the concept of farming, living off the land. I read books about 4-H and fantasized about raising animals. I even pretended my bike was a horse, a blue roan, naming it “Sky Blue.”

I choose a college in the middle of the state, farm country. I listened to crop reports on the news. I remember being at a frat party in a corn field. While others were drinking, I wandered into the field, envisioning the feeling of owning land.

But our vocation was not conducive to gardening. Each summer we had a summer assignment and/or a month-long conference. We visited supporters of the ministry and admired their gardens, even ate their apple pie. In California and Florida I planted fruit trees, but we moved a lot and others enjoyed the fruit.

So in semi-retirement, while fighting cancer, I’ve wanted a garden. It’s difficult to get on hands and knees, so I’ve opted for pots on the railings and a raised bed. What have I learned?

You have to commit to planting seeds.

I can hear you groaning, “Duh?” and I confess, it seems obvious. Desire alone doesn’t get you there. Buying equipment doesn’t get you there.

I’ve been pretty much a failure in planting the seeds. I bought a fail-proof table-top greenhouse but they never made it from seedlings to full-grown plants. It’s been hard to figure out seasons in Florida, with winter being summer and summer just being hot. I bought potted plants and they died. The only plant I’ve had success is peppers — and I don’t like hot food. But they have gone crazy!

I’m sure there are some lessons in all this. I’d love to hear what you think…and would be glad to take some advice. (Please comment)

Introverts Unite

2011-5-22 Great WallI recently read an article from The Huffington Post 11/07/2014 entitled: 10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With The World. It reminded me that so much of what I do is perfectly normal for an introvert, while it doesn’t feel normal when I’m out in the world. I thought others might relate…and the rest might understand introverts a little bit better.

1 – They withdraw in crowds. First, a definition is helpful: “Shyness is about fear of social judgment…Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation.” I’m not sure I am as shy as I am introverted. Social situation can overstimulate me rather than make me feel comfortable.

2 – Small talk stresses them out, while deeper conversations make them feel alive. So true for me! And if I don’t think it’s going to get deeper, I move on.

3 – They succeed on stage — just not in the chit-chat afterwards. “At least half of people who speak for a living are introverted in nature,” according to Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D.” Interesting…

 4 – They get distracted easily, but rarely feel bored. Again, so true for me! If there is a lot going on, it’s hard to focus, but if it’s quiet, I can achieve much.

 5 – They are naturally drawn to more creative, detail-oriented and solitary careers. So how does me as a part of an evangelistic organization that talks to strangers fit? It’s all about deeper conversations.

 6 – When surrounded by people, they locate themselves close to an exit. How do they know me so well? I hate to feel trapped and will even retreat to a bathroom if necessary just to feel alone in my own space!

 7 – They think before they speak. Sometimes it’s hard for me to contribute to a conversation with 2 or more extroverts. By the time I think of what is worthy to say, the extraverts have moved on to the next topic!

8 – They don’t take on the mood of their environment like extraverts do. I can be sad when others are happy and visa versa. At times, that is socially awkward.

 9 – They physically can’t stand talking on the phone. Roger, do you hear that one? Do they know your wife or not!?!

 10 – They literally shut down when it’s time to be alone. “Solitude matters, and for some people, it is the air that they breathe.” – Susan Cain

Additional thoughts? What’s true for you?