Praying through the Psalms

Praying through the Psalms

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How Will the World Know?

Psalm 82

A psalm of Asaph.

God presides in the great assembly;
    he renders judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you defend the unjust
    and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

One of the truest lithmus tests of any religion is how they treat the weak and the needy.  In some religions it is taught that the weak and needy have brought this on themselves. If only they believed in God more, they would get better.  In the caste system the family one is born into determines where they stand socially and economically.  The higher up the caste, the more favor you have materially and otherwise.  In a caste system, loosely speaking if you are poor you will always be poor.  You were born that way and will stay that way.  

One of the differences in Christianity, as opposed to other religions, is that Jesus emptied himself and became a servant as he came to earth.  He was born the son of a carpenter in a rural setting, not the place where most people would predict the Son of God would be born.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and it wasn't until he was 30 that his public ministry began.  

Jesus often taught about serving thet poor and those on the outside. One example is parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a man is robbed and left beaten on the side of the road. A priest and the Levite see the man and walk to the other side to avoid him. These were the Jewish leaders. But a Samaritan (Samaritans were hated by the Jews) stopped, bandaged up the man, and took to an inn, where he could recover. Jesus was teaching on "who is my neighbor" and this was the example he used to show what God's love looked like.  

In the New Testament letter of James it says, 

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Christians who follow Jesus need to follow him and empty themselves of pride seeing no one as beneath them. Jesus showed us that true religion is to do the things he did as he revealed God's love and mercy to the world. As the song goes, "They will no we are Christians by our love, by our love.  They will know we are Christians by our love!"


Friday, September 15, 2017

If You Would Only Listen to Me! - Psalm 81

Psalm 81
11 “But my people would not listen to me;
    Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
    to follow their own devices.
13 “If my people would only listen to me,
    if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
    and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
    and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
    with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Every parent has experienced the frustration of when their kids do not listen to them.  Though they know the best possible course for their children, the kids choose to go their own way for various reasaons.  Part of it is they are learning to make decisions and hopefully see the consequences.  This is part of the learning curve that every child and young person must go through.  The hope is that they will learn from their mistakes and learn to make better decisions.

The people of Israel were not unlike children.  God had delivered them from the bondage of the Egyptians, and provided for them miraculously as they wandered in the wildnerness. Yet, Israel still chose to go its own way. In their minds, they knew better.  In this case they trusted in other gods. So the passage says, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts!"  It's almost as if God is saying, "If you want to go it alone, fine with me.  I don't force anyone to follow me". God gave them over to the gods they wanted to trust in.  And they saw the bad results.

God deals with us the same today.  When we want to go our way and worship the gods of this world, "power, lust, greed, and self absorption", God says okay have it your way.  But you will see where those gods leave you. He says, "Some day I hope you will learn that I had the best for you, but you chose something else."  Verse 16 says,

 "16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
    with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

I'm sure we all have areas in our lives where we have trusted in other gods, and we still struggle with giving God these areas over to God every day.  This is the sinful nature tempting us to go back to worshipping something other than God. The root of the sinful nature is when we say and act on the notion, "I want when I want when I want it." They key point is that God wants to give us the best, as we worship him alone.

As you live out your day remember God really does want the best for you, but he also wants you to look to Him to provide you with it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Ultimate Restoration Project!

Psalm 80
Restore us, O God;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.
How long, Lord God Almighty,
    will your anger smolder
    against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
    you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision[b] to our neighbors,
    and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.

In Psalm 80 we see the phrase “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us that we may be saved.
“First there is the restoration or turning of the people of God, then there is the radiant face of God, shining in all the goodness of His presence. In those things combined we see the work of true revival happen.” (Charles Spurgeon)

The context was that the people of Israel were looking to God for deliverance from the Assyrians.  Like in yesterday’s psalm, God had poured out his anger on the people of God because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant he had made with Moses.  If they obeyed His commandments they would receive His blessing. If they disobeyed, God would withdraw His presence as a sign of judgment.

The psalmist prays for restoration.  Restoration is returning something to its previous condition.  We restore cars and antique furniture, and they become quite valuable again.  The psalmist wants to restore Israel to its previous relationship with God, where they were like a choice vine that provided for shade and shelter to all who dwelt in her midst. 

Finally, the process of restoration is God’s work. The phrase “make your face shine upon us”, comes from the Aaronic blessing, given to the Israelites in the desert.  

Specifically, God commanded Moses to have his brother Aaron bless the sons of Israel with these words in Numbers 6:24-26:

“The Lord bless you, and keep you;
25 The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
26 The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.’

The psalmist knew that if God made His face to shine on them, they would be restored and God would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  I wonder how many times we cry out to God and ask Him to restore us and make His face shine upon us.  The ultimate restoration project came when Jesus restored us to a right relationship with God.  In the garden, Adam and Eve walked with God and were unashamed. When they blatantly disobeyed God’s only command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they realized they were naked and hid in fear.  Jesus’ death on the cross for us restored us to have peace with God where we can walk in freedom not shame.

Where do you need to have God’s face shine on you? Where do you need to be restored?  Why not ask the only one who can do it!

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Long Lord? Will You Be Angry Forever?

Psalm 79 - A psalm of Asaph.
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple,
    they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have left the dead bodies of your servants
    as food for the birds of the sky,
    the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
They have poured out blood like water
    all around Jerusalem,
    and there is no one to bury the dead.
We are objects of contempt to our neighbors,
    of scorn and derision to those around us.
How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
    How long will your jealousy burn like fire?

This psalm is written after the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. God had allowed this foreign power to invade the land and even desecrate the holy temple.  It is a grisly scene.  Bodies are left outside to rot and be food for the birds and animals.  On top of this, they are the “laughing stock” of their neighbors.  I’m sure they are saying things like, “Where is your God now?”  “I guess your God is not very powerful!”

Finally, the psalmist wonders how long will this suffering last? He acknowledges that the people deserve punishment, but he wonders when God will relent.  Is there a limit to the amount judgment the people of Israel are going to get?  And what about the Babylonians? Will they pay for their iniquity of their sin and their defilement of the temple?

He closes by asking for the forgiveness of his people by saying,

 Help us, God our Savior,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins
    for your name’s sake.

This prayer is very prophetic.  In it, we see God’s eventual deliverance of His people for His name sake.  God delivered us from our sin by sending Jesus to pay for our sins.  Our enemy, the devil, had defiled the temple and sought to kill God’s elect.  But for the glory of His name, God sent His only Son and for His sake forgives us all of our sin. While the people of God in the Old Testament waited a long time for God to deliver them, at just the right time God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world but save it. What the psalmist how longed for had finally come for him and for us!  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

90% of Life is "Showing Up"!

Psalm 78
My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
    and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
    to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
    even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.

This psalm repeats a theme that we hear a lot in the psalms, which is to remember the things we have heard and known from our ancestors.  History repeats itself, and the psalmist wants the people of God to remember the mighty acts of God in the past.  Importantly he says that they needed to teach their children, so that they would know them and teach their children.
As they remembered what God had done in the past, they could trust him in the future by keeping his commands.  Of course they could break God’s commands, but they would then be reminded what happened to their forefathers as a result of their disobedience. 

As a pastor, I have often heard the phrase, “the church is one generation away from extinction”.  While that may be a little extreme, it does point to the fact that unless we are passing on faith to our children, we endanger the future of the church and its mission to make disciples of all nations.  Discipleship has always been intentional and no less so with discipling the next generation.  Much like any discipleship process, it is highly relational. 

The saying, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is especially true for young people.  It is easier to decry our youth and their behavior, then take the time to get to know them on their level.  Just today our youth director drove a half an hour to watch my son’s football game.  That mean a lot to us and my son.  It reminded me that, “90% of life is showing up.”  Reaching the next generation for Christ is not an idea, or a plan, it is a lifestyle created by people who actually care for the future leaders of the church. 

So here is a question for you if you have any concerns about the future of the church?  How are you involved in the lives of young people?  If you are not, ask your pastor how you can be?  Or, go to a game or a dance recital and cheer someone on!  When kids see how much you care, they will be more interested in what you know!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Does God Ever Forget About Us?

Psalm 77
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.
I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

One of the things I love about the psalms is how real they are.  The psalmists often speak out of a deep anguish in their hearts, usually resulting from feeling that in some way God has left them.   In this case, the psalmist was wearied from crying out to God, and this lasted well into the night without any reprieve.  Usually when we cry out to God, at the very least we feel His peace and His presence, even though our circumstances may not change.  But in this case the psalmist was left asking questions like:

Has God rejected him forever?  Has He run out of mercy?  Will He show favor again?  Is this a result of His anger?

The psalmist is stuck in a place we might call, “the dark night of the soul”.  He knows God to be faithful, yet He is not experiencing any relief from his sense of abandonment.  Worst of all, he wonders if he has been cut off from God’s unfailing love and mercy.   Then, the psalmist shifts to recalling God’s acts of deliverance in the past.  He remembers the great miracle of God parting the Red Sea to deliver his ancestors from the Egyptians. 

As New Testament Christians, we may have circumstances or things that happen to us that may prompt similar doubts and questions.  When things happen that we didn’t ask for, or things that don’t happen when we ask for them, we wonder if we have lost favor with God.  As believers in Jesus, we look back to the saving act of Jesus going to the cross for us.  When we wonder if God is with us, we remember Jesus’ suffering and dying on the cross as God’s proof of His unconditional love for us.  

Importantly, in the Words of Institution during Holy Communion we say, “Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, take and eat this is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In Holy Communion, we remember what God has done for us, and experience His real presence in our hearts and lives.    

While there may be times we cry out to God, we can know God will never leave us or forsake.  He has given us the Holy Spirit as a sign of His presence and a deposit guaranteeing our future inheritance.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

God Doesn't Mess Around!

Psalm 76
It is you alone who are to be feared.
    Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
    and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.
10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
    and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

This psalm celebrates the great victory of God on behalf of His people.  While God sometimes allowed evil rulers to prosper, he also judged him with His wrath honoring His promise to His chosen people.  He praises the God who can completely defeat any human enemy easily.  All of Creation is used by God when He unleashes His righteous judgment.  The earth quakes and the mountains tremble at his rebuke.   

We don’t often uplift this side of God of God’s character, who judges evil in His time.  Though God is kind and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, there is a time when God judges.  This should cause all people to fear God, but it often doesn’t.   The bible teaches us one day God will judge the living and the dead. In the New Testament God judged sin in a different way.  God judged Jesus as he was led to the cross.  Though Jesus was without sin, He took on the sin of all humankind. God judged him who knew no sin, to be sin for our sake and for our salvation.  The punishment we deserved fell upon Him. 

It is easy for us to get comfortable with the judgment that Jesus took on our behalf. It can cause us to take our sin lightly.  We can get so used to the God of forgiveness and mercy, that we forget the God who judges sin severely.  As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” 

The very essence of living the Christian life is living a life of freedom.  We have been set free from sin, so therefore we have been released from its bondage.  As we truly understand the depth of God’s grace we cannot help but want to live a life of thanksgiving for all God has done for us in Christ!