Friday, February 28, 2014

sheep taking selfies

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. 

Psalm 95:6-7

Worship is supposed to be a humble act. It draws attention to the greatness of God. It pulls the spotlight off of ourselves. More and more we need to live in this humble worship of a great and mighty God Who is our Maker.

Our culture pressures us to take credit for ourselves. We now live in the self-aggrandizing photo essay known as Facebook and Instagram. We have become a generation "sharing" selfies (there is so much irony in that concept... "Here, let me give you this self-photographed photo of me that I really like!) We encourage this self-promotion with "likes" and commentary. And all the while, maybe not deliberately, we create a way to pull the spotlight away from the majesty of the Almighty!

But we are sheep. Dumb sheep that must be led, cared for by God at every point, and loved by our Shepherd. We are in need of the humble, pastoral view of worship to pervade our thinking and stop our self-portrait loving madness. Let's stop being sheep taking selfies! Let's worship The Lord, our God, our Maker.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

insubstantial thoughts

He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge - the LORD - knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath. 

Psalm 94:10-11

Take the wisest, most industrious people of any generation and put them all together and their combined wisdom and intellect would not be more than few whisps of breath on a cold morning in comparison to the wisdom and knowledge of God. Einstein? ... an exhale. Mozart? ...a puff of carbon dioxide. Steve Jobs? ... a mere sigh. Gandhi? ...breath. Scientists on the Manhattan Project? The framers of the U.S. Constitution? Napoleon? Thomas Edison? Marie Curie? Marx? Bill Gates? Breath... all of them. Every one of them are just not even close to equaling the wisdom of the Almighty. Human knowledge is limited and always finite.

Ultimately, any philosophy or commitment to human reason for a life direction falls short. Our insight is always limited. Our capacities are finite. Yes, we can achieve amazing accomplishments that better lives, but none of them are as great as God is. He knows us, created us, sovereignly directs us, bestows abilities on us to do many things... sometimes amazing things in His image, and He is the judge of all people and the works that they do under His authority. It is best to live a life directed by God's wisdom, letting Him direct an intellect that can be motivated for His glory.


I know nothing without You. My intellect is finite, limited, and flawed. Yours is infinite, eternal, holy, and perfect. Teach me. Show me Your wisdom, today and always. I know that my thoughts are mere breath. But You have the words of eternal life. In You I trust. Use my intellect and my thoughts, the most essential thing that is me, for Your work!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

why I trust

Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore. 

Psalm 93:5

I have read

the words

You have said


meets with

what's trustworthy

holy truth tests

my life

puts troubles to rest

mightier than flood

waters roll

cleansed by holy blood

true to Your Word

in promises

that command me, Lord

I trust and obey

this truth

finding You at work today

so practical

is Your Word

not merely useful

truth for my deep need

I find

and worship You indeed

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

7 days a week

How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! 

Psalm 92:5

In the title of this psalm we are given the occassion for its use. It is a psalm for the Sabbath Day. It was meant to celebrate the day of rest that God commanded for His people. They ceased from all work in order to worship Him. And this song became part of that experience.

While ceasing from their work, the children of Israel sang of the works of The Lord. Taking a break, they broke into song. Resting in God became active celebration. They purposefully pondered the Person of their praise and prospered under God's provision. It was not that the Sabbath was a requirement solely by command, but rather that it was a reason to celebrate and to remember God's care for all seven days of the week.

God always does amazing things, but we may not always recognize Him. God's thoughts are important to us. It is crucial that we know Him. Sabbath was a time to read His Word, reflect on His Truth, and know the mind of God so that worship and direction could sustain spiritual maturity. Without sleep our health declines... our minds will slip. Without rest the strength of our bodies will fail. Without a quiet worship-filled break to rest and honor God, our souls will burn out.

O Lord,

Your ways are mighty. Your work is profound. You have saved me and You provide for me. And all that I have... family, home, friends, or the fellowship of Your Church... all of them are Your great work given by Your gracious and unfathomable wisdom. The depths of Your work and Your thoughts to me are beyond me still. Thank You, Lord!


Monday, February 24, 2014

No Fear. Trust.

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Psalm 91:5-6

Faith that is strengthened in real relationship with an Almighty God cannot simultaneously live in fear of the things of this world. It knows a loving assurance in the trust placed in a sovereign, loving, and wise God. And it can lean back on Him as events around life keep the soul close to The Lord.

Faith exists at all times, not just when it is convenient, not for a show in public worship but in the depths of the thoughts of the inner person. That is why we can handle more than we realize we can. Arrows may fly by day, but God is our shield and refuge. Terrors may come at night, but God is our joy and our song. Pestilence stalks the darkness to strike without warning, yet God is a protector and our healer. Tragedy could strike in the middle of any day at any time, but faith will take us beyond it all. The threats are real, but the faith is too. The causes for fear may never go away, but neither will our God!

Faith that is real faith will be known in these ways. It will find love and relationship with God that is greater than any of our fears. It will trust. And none of those fears is greater than God. The sum of all fears cannot come close to the overwhelming peace of God that surpasses all understanding!

Friday, February 21, 2014

what really amazes me about God

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 

Psalm 90:2

This song proclaims the one unique reality of God that I find the most fascinating. It is His eternality. I can sort of fathom the eternal nature of God... in a way. When I think about my own soul continuing after death, I have no problem accepting that, even though I cannot really know it until it happens. There is a part of the soul that instinctively believes that it lives on. 

But the eternality of God is vastly different. I can accept entering life as a baby and living, then entering eternal life after death in this world. But God was never born. He always is. From everlasting past to an everlasting future He (present tense) IS God. That is where my mind starts grasping at and losing the threads of the thoughts about God's self-existence. I can run the time arrow forward from the present and sort of grasp an eternal future. But to do so while simultaneously running back in time FOREVER... whew! The mental exercise is amazingly mind-blowing! Theology gets psychodelic.

God's constant existence is unique. I believe it and I hold to it. It is revealed by Him for us to believe and to know. And in the hands of the great I Am (the always present One), my future is secure. The universe had its beginning in the word of God. A universe that is so big that we cannot fathom all of it was really just one of God's thoughts. Yet God always is. The very elements of the physical heavens and earth will one day be burned up and even remade. But God just... is... the unchanging, constant, consistent, loving Creator and Controller of forever past and present.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

praise... promise... purpose...

I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. 

Psalm 89:1

I will confidently declare

the praise of my God

from this day forward

for nothing can compare

to the joy of my God

and others need to know Him

when I sing His praise

my voice I will raise

and declare His salvation

to another generation

I claim promises so dear

from God's holy pages

that meet me now today

for His Word is crystal clear

same for all the ages

His truth will stay

when I believe the book

and the love that it took

to bring about our salvation

it passes to the next generation

I will now live

with clear and holy vision

of my great God's love

for my life I will give

to follow His mission

and glorify my Lord above

when I purpose with such passion

rejecting mere worldly fashion

I am centered on His salvation

for the good of my generation

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

from regions dark and deep

You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah 

Psalm 88:6-7

This song is classified as "an individual lament". That means that it details the soul troubles expressed by one person. It is a dark display of depression and difficulty. But when reading it, we must not focus solely on the painful descriptions that constitute the psalm's passionate prayer to God. After all, it is a cry to the "God of my salvation" (Psalm 88:1). As such there is a real faith, even as the fear and frustration pour out in this lament.

There are times when our souls struggle with God. Events are not always joyful. Sometimes it seems to us as if God is out to get us. Tragedy strikes us. We sin or are sinned against and our lives suddenly hurt. Or maybe we will suffer for doing the right thing. "In seasons of distress and grief..." we must make a practice of prayer... even if that prayer, like this psalm, is just spewing out the painful and hurting observations to God.

God can handle our feelings. He made us this way. He can understand our heartaches and troubles like nobody else. He knows when we are overwhelmed because circumstances do not surprise Him in the slightest. He brought them to us or in love allowed them as consequences so that our hearts would desire Him. There is no place so dark that His promises and presence cannot shine on us.

When overwhelmed, we should pray. When hurting beyond words we should share the pain with God. When we feel abandoned by God, we are not. He is as close as our prayer and He knows our hurting hearts.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

glorious things of Thee are spoken

Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah 

Psalm 87:3

John Newton, former slave-trader who never got over the immensity of God's grace in Christ, mused on this psalm and wrought this stately hymn. I am particularly impressed with the final verse and the lasting pleasures of God that it celebrates:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
he whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for his own abode;
on the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation's walls surrounded,
thou may'st smile at all thy foes.

See! the streams of living waters,
spring forth from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint, when such a river
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the Giver,
never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hovering,
see the cloud and fire appear
for a glory and a covering,
showing that the Lord is near.
Thus they march, their pillar leading,
light by night, and shade by day;
daily on the manna feeding
which he gives them when they pray.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
washed in the Redeemer's blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
makes them kings and priests to God.
'Tis his love his people raises
over self to reign as kings:
and as priests, his solemn praises
each for a thank-offering brings.

Savior, if of Zion's city,
I through grace a member am,
let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name.
Fading is the worldling's pleasure,
all his boasted pomp and show;
solid joys and lasting treasure
none but Zion's children know.

Monday, February 17, 2014

a united heart

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 

Psalm 86:11-12

This prayer of David's to unite his divided heart is timely. It shows me that the tendency of the human heart is to struggle in holy devotion. Really, we probably all need to pray this prayer very regularly. I know I do. Sin confuses what should be simple. If I look to myself or to a crazily complex society, I will further be divided. We live in a world where even the simplest things that God has made have shattered like crystal shards at the hands of clumsy sinners. Spirituality (whatever that nebulous concept means at any one time to each individual) has replaced Christian faith as a descriptor of religious significance even among Christians. It has become the way to seek God.

Our world muddies what God made clear. Facebook now offers fifty confused gender choices for what God made binary: "Male and Female". Personal identities in crisis should break my heart. It shows me how badly people need God to unite human hearts and bring personal clarity. How the gospel needs to burden us to see God reconcile and rebuild broken people!

I want my whole heart drawn to The Lord. I want to be united with the guiding purpose of glorifying God so that His purposes guide my choices, my conversations, and my concerns for all people... even the broken ones who cannot define the simplest things about who they are. In love, I want God to reach out to shattered lives through me. And so I ask God for a united heart and His love for His creation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

the divine kiss

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 

Psalm 85:10-11

In God are found all the perfections of character that I need to know. The poetry of this psalm is superb. It brings together all these diverse elements of God's character in striking ways. It makes me see again the goodness of God, particularly as they are known in Jesus.

God's faithfulness and His relentless love have met in Jesus. They are there in the person of my Savior Who is both the Great Shepherd and the Great Savior Who gave his life for His sheep. And there is not a flaw in the prefect Son of God.

And in my Lord all that is right has met together with the peace of God. Righteousness kisses peace in the love of Christ, even in the hardest part of His redemptive sacrifice. At the cross God's righteous demands were paid for so that His hand could give me peace.

From earth the faithful, true, and holy Son of God hung suspended on the cross. And from heaven righteousness rains down to all who will die with Jesus to self and believe upon Him, accepting His sacrifice. Isn't the gospel the most beautiful love there is?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

WORSHIP: priorities & perspective

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 

Psalm 84:10

The real worship of God is found not in our church service attendance or in an adherance to a rigid program of personal discipline. We can and often should do those things, but they can become legalistic snares to the soul, keeping it from true worship if matters of the heart are not attended to first. What is shown to us by the words of this psalm is that worship is about priorities and perspective.

The heart that adores The Lord and seeks God above all else will worship The Lord in nearly every experience. Real worship is about a passion that desires God above all else in this life. It brings that passion to everything so that desiring God is a joy that pervades everything. I should find my heart engaged with God as I sip my breakfast coffee AND as I drift off to sleep each night. That makes "a day in His courts" a real experience that is better than anything else that I know.

That also brings a proper perspective to all that I do. Nothing done with a worshipful heart is merely mundane. Focusing on God helps bring power and purpose to even the task of opening the gate for another person. It enlightens and enobles the humblist of chores. It strengthens service. We don't do it for mere men but for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It transforms a doorman into a diplomat!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. 

Psalm 83:16

In Your judgment

may hearts turn to You

and may mercy

grant repentance to

sinful people needing grace

Let justice flow

throughout the land

may sin be vanquished

by Your hand

so we'll seek Your face

Guilt for sin and

shame for our disgrace

would be good things if

they turned us to Your face

forgiving and creating life anew

Sometimes hard judgment

must turn us to The Lord

difficult times will teach us

to follow His Word

so we do what God wants us to do

May we know humility

and let us feel shame

to lead to holiness

and the knowledge of Your name

Our hope is in You, Lord

A people stubborn

in sinful ways

will be found troubled, stumbling,

dying all their days

until revived by Spirit's Word

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

leaders & "lords"

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 82:3-4

These verses show us what kind of societal impact God expects those in positions of power to employ. Let me dispense of the controversy of this psalm quickly. Psalm 82:1 pictures God poetically sitting in the "midst of the gods" exercising His sovereign rule. The little "g" gods are not polytheistic beings... they are instead human rulers. It is a hebraism to call them "gods". Jesus held this view and even quoted this psalm this way (see John 10:34-35). We have the exact same convention in English calling God "The Lord" and also in old monarchist terms referring to human leaders as "lords". Great Britain still has the House of Lords as a form of human government.

The real issue at hand in the psalm is just how human "lords" ought to rule over others. Human government tends toward corruption, injustice, and partiality due to our innate wickedness (Psalm 82:2). Hence the command of God for those people with the power to change things to really care about justice for the weakest members of society. God wants people to help the weak and to care for orphans. He wants us to guard the just and the right treatment for the poor and for the sick. He wants us to rescue those suffering at the bottom of human misery. He wants us to love His justice and act accordingly. In short, God wants human governments to act like Him with justice, mercy, and grace.

It is tragic that most Christians have given this passion for the poor and those in the worst suffering over to people who may not care for the neediest among us with Christ's compassion. The church must recapture that call to bring the gospel and the love of God to the lowliest. And we must insist for it in human governments around the world, expecting God's standards for our leaders and "lords".

Monday, February 10, 2014

history as worship

¨I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.¨ Selah 

Psalm 81:6-7

In this psalm of praise, God recounts the history that He has with Israel. This was the people that He had called out of Egypt, delivering them from the oppression of slavery. He took the heavy burdens off their shoulders in response to their cries for salvation. The God Who thunders in the storm blew away the armies of Egypt. He powerfully saved His people.

Yet early on in their walk with God they tested Him as He forced them to trust Him. At the bittter waters of Meribah they disbelieved. Even Moses failed there by striking the rock in disobedience to God. How could they doubt the God Who had parted the sea and Who visibly led them by fire and cloud? Faith is fragile when not held close to the heart, and time and again more Meribah moments came until God had to discipline them in the exile. From there a new devotion was secured. Not until they were distressed again in a foreign land did they fully appreciate the salvation of their God.

From this history I am called to look at my heart. Where am I in my devotion to the God of my salvation? Do I put Him to the test? Do I complain about His good graces? Does one difficult circumstance throw me into doubt?  I am instructed to not forget the freedom that Christ has given me, how the burden is off my shoulder by the cross that He carred and the basket was snatched from my fingers by His nail-scarred hands!


Friday, February 7, 2014


Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 

Psalm 80:7

This refrain is repeated three times in this psalm (Ps 80:3, 7, 19). It is a prayer repeated for emphasis as Asaph processes the pain of the remnant of Israel's people and remembers her past with God.

The psalm starts with an appeal to the God of Israel, focusing on the unique relationship that God has alone in covenant with His people (Ps 80:1-3). It then moves on to how God had rightly judged them for their lack of obedience to that covenant, focusing on the ridicule that Israel faced from the surrounding nations in the humility of the aftermath of Babylon's sack of Jerusalem (Ps 80:4-7). It is a somber and clear stating of the facts.

Then the bulk of the psalm paints a word picture common in the Old Testament to describe God's sovereign care for Israel: the nation is His vineyard. The poetry recounts Israel's founding as a vine brought out of Egypt and planted by God. He cultivated it until it thrived to shade mountains and stretch from the Sea to the River. Yet now it had been trambled and burned. The final call is for God to restore the glory and vitality of His people again (Ps 80:8-19).

Sometimes when our lives are broken, a season in which our hearts cry out for restoration is what we must know. It is what God wants of us in that season. The heart that looks for God to restore and to rebuild has real hope and strength. It is drawn to God and He will not let such cries go unheeded by His love.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake! 

Psalm 79:8-9

in the rubble and ruin

we wander dazed

wondering why such

destruction conveys

what we have done

ignoring The Lord

and how this crisis

was part of His Word

in the wake of judgment

our eyes were opened by tears

questions come quickly, like:

"Why'd we forget Yahweh?"

"Didn't we understand the Law?"

"How could we have forsaken God's way?"

as the mind reels and shakes

the heart's hopes are spent

in the stark realization

"We need to repent."

in the aftermath

we confront results of our worst fears

prayers begging forgiveness

shoot fervant to the sky

grieved by our guilt

recommitted we draw nigh

longing for salvation

to come to us when low

we wait for deliverance

holding truth that we know

when sins are judged and we return

forgiveness is found in a God Who hears

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

a holy history

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 

Psalm 78:5-7

Israel was tasked with a generational commission. Each succeeding generation needed to pass on the story of a sacred history so that a new generation might rightly worship God. It was a holy history... a sacred story recounting God's love and work among them. It was what it meant to worship God, to pass down to the next generation a personal and vibrant faith. It was vital to the continuance of the nation.

So the 78th psalm exists as an epic recounting of God's care of Israel. It recounts the birth of the nation. It records the miraculous work of God among them. It rejoices in God's protection, care, and love for His people. It rehearses the holy history so that another generation might know God and be warned about the consequences of forgetting Him. And it came to be part of the nation's songbook as the Jews languished in exile. They needed the story to sustain them and to encourage the new generation who never knew anything other than the exile.

I benefit from its reading. The sacred story continued past exile to restoration and eventually to the coming of a Savior Who made history meaningful by His death and resurrection. The story continues in the gospel... and I must share its testimony so that the work of the holy history may continue.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

what to do when depressed

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 

Psalm 77:11-12

Again I am struck by the wisdom and spiritual insight of Asaph. This is more than likely also another post-exilic psalm. It opens on a pained and troubled soul. There is no rest. Sleep evades the psalmist. Hard questions keep him up at night and well up from the turmoil within his soul: "Will God always be distant? Has His love ceased? Why is He angry all the time? When will things get better or should I just live with the fact things are bad all the time?" In short: this is spiritual depression and it is an awful pain-filled experience.

When Asaph was overwhelmed with these feelings and questions, he knew he had to make a conscious choice of personal spiritual action in order to regain control. He chose to remember God's past goodness to Israel, even in the midst of personal suffering. He made the decision to recall. His choice was not to let his feelings carry him, but instead to remember and rehearse how good God had been. This is the key to moving beyond depression. He used God's grace in the past to interpret his present so that he could find hope for his future.

I believe Asaph's method of handling depression is instructive to me. There are times when I feel like things are not going well... where everything is collapsing and I am powerless. I might feel like God is distant and uncaring. And in those moments I will choose to remember God for the perspective that I need.

Monday, February 3, 2014

judgment to save

From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. Selah 

Psalm 76:8-9

The attitude being described here is worship in reverential awe. The entirety of Psalm 76 sings of God's protection of His people. It worships The Lord for His power. It warns those who would be the enemies of God to reconsider their positions because of God's mighty power and His care for His people.

God's power is greater than mankind's power. Even as I write this, the Midwest is being warned of a major winter storm bearing down on the area. We can prepare for it, but we cannot stop it. The natural world which God made and put into motion is greater than us and God still uses it to establish His power and call us to consider our own weakness. The heavens are still the Lord's.

And when God brings an outcome, it is in keeping with His heart and His character. Judgment does not happen for judgment's sake alone, but also to assist "the humble of the earth". God brings justice to all. We try to do that with difficulty in society. God does it perfectly and should be loved and worshiped as a result.