Friday, May 30, 2014

He's got me surrounded!

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

Psalm 139:5

"God has got me completely surrounded." That is the observation that David goes to great lengths to make here. God is in the highest heaven and the lowest place on earth. He is in life and in death. He is on the land and the sea. He knows every person intimately because He built us all in our mother's wombs. There is no escaping the intimacy of God's knowledge and presence.

God is before me and behind me at all times. He is there in the gains and in the losses. He is there in the blessings and the difficulties. His hand is always on me. Real faith knows this and accepts the encouragement to never run from that truth.

The worst delusion I could believe then is that God does not exist. The second is that He does not care for me. No matter how else I may struggle... may misunderstand or may be misunderstood, I can always, always, ALWAYS trust in God's faithful, unfailing presence and care for me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

unselfish worship

I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. 

Psalm 138:2

God's steadfast love and faithfulness both rest upon His character and His Word. I can believe what scripture says because God has revealed it. He has exalted His Word. And I can trust God because His name is worthy of my praise. He is perfect and holy. In all things God is faithful and loving. It never leaves Him because He cannot change.

The worship God deserves from me comes about because of Who God is. If I only worship Him for what He has done, it is selfish worship with myself as the focus. I see this a lot in the church. Sometimes our praise and our songs reek of it. I know often mine does. I place myself first in such selfish thinking, only loving God if I got from Him what I wanted... if I feel he was doing something "beautiful" for me at the moment. God help me if I am going through a hard time! But when I worship God for His unfailing love and His holy Person, I am really worshiping God. The focus is off of my "best life now" and on the source of all my life and the God to whom I must bow down.

Rid of me, O Lord, any shred of selfish worship. Forgive my demands for a happy fun life with no thought of Your glory controlling my heart. Help me to see You in Your beauty and to love You first for Who You are. I need nothing else.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014


By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 

Psalm 137:1

This is NOT a hymn of joy. It is a dirge. It speaks of horrible losses, ridicule of an enemy and the sheer trauma of the Babylonian captivity in its first days. It is one of the few insights into the emotional and spiritual condition of the Jews who were taken as captives to Babylon after the siege of Jerusalem. They had survived having their homes ransacked, family members killed, culture absorbed, and their city destroyed. Marched to Babylon, they sat down at a river and wept bitter, painful tears as their captors ridiculed their suffering.

This psalm does not represent healthy spirituality. It is an accurate, bitter cry of resentment against enemies. Its imprecatory requests for God to brutalize Jerusalem's enemis is just unmitigated vengeance motivated by trauma and pain (Psalm 137:7-9). It makes the captives morally no better than the captors. As such even as it does give us understanding into the heart of trauma, it does NOT give us permission to hate. 

Life's losses can throw us onto a faithful God. Our pain, bitterness, broken and sinful spite, and all that accompany these things will still show through in us. Yet, God will be faithful.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

a song of God's faithful love

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; 

Psalm 136:3-4

Israel's history is defined by the faithful love of God. This psalm rehearses that faithful love. It is a testament to the powerful love and care that turned a promise to Abram the nomadic shepherd into a nation that God led out of slavery and into the promised land.

Israel began with a promise that only God could fulfill. And at every stage of Jewish history God has been at work. God saved the fledgling house of Jacob by making Joseph the prime minister of Egypt. GOd later led a nation out of Egyptian bondage by raising up Moses. His faithful love was shown in the very people of Israel.

Joshua led Israel to trust God Who miraculously led the nation to defeat the Canaanites and possess the land that was promised to the patriarchs. God blessed this nation by establishing a kingdom under David. And God is still steadfast in love because now through Jesus, the Son of David, His faithful love is now shown to the entire world.

And here is Jake Armerding's great rendition of this song (with Kevin Gosa on sax)

Friday, May 23, 2014

worth it?

Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages. For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants. 

Psalm 135:13-14

As hard as it is to always see the truth of the promise in verse fourteen, I accept it. The reality is that God's people are often maligned and hated for only the reason that they love God and show it to the world. And the promise here is that they will be vindicated despite this.

God's servants are often misunderstood. In some parts of the world they are put in prison or killed. And yet the promise is that God will have compassion upon them. I know firsthand that a big price of God's service is being judged and misunderstood unfairly. It is expected that this would occur from those who are outside the church. It hurts most when it is mainly experienced inside the church. Strangely enough, there are times when I have felt more respect as a pastor from unbelievers than from some believers.

Yet the gospel and God's greatness is worth that kind of sacrifice and pain. It compels believers to obey and trust God in a greater way. God is bigger than our limited experiences. His compassion will vindicate His people, His promises, and His person. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014


May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth! 

Psalm 134:3

This prayer of blessing (part of the group of psalms known as "psalms of ascent") was an anticipation of the outcome of worship. As pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem for feasts they sang these songs. And they anticipated a blessing from God in their coming worship at His temple. They envisioned The Lord of heaven and earth blessing them from His temple in Zion as they worshiped Him.

It makes me think about the attitude that I bring with me to my worship. Whether it is in the quiet of the morning or in the "crowd" on Sunday at church, do I really anticipate blessing from God in my worship?

Lord, I seek Your face so that I might again know Your joy. I need You. I cannot live without Your blessing. And I must be seeking that with all the fervor and desperation of a hungry stranger begging bread! Fill my soul with Your greatness! Amen

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 

Psalm 133:1

Standing together

we worship The Lord

lifting His praises

following His word

Singing together

our voices we raise

offering our songs

in grateful praise

Praying together

bowed in submission

to our loving Lord

offering our petition

Enjoying together

the God Who made us one

with Him & each other

we rejoice in the Son

Serving together

following Jesus' command

preaching the gospel

making disciples in each land

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

a desired dwelling place

For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: "This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it."

Psalm 132:13-14

The Lord chose to be with Israel in a visible way through the temple worship in Jerusalem. In that sense He chose Zion as a resting place. Until that time, the worship of GOd had been mobile, conducted in a portable sanctuary in the tent of meeting known as the tabernacle.

But David had a vision for a permanent temple for worshipping Yahweh on Zion in Jerusalem. He drew up the plans. Solomon built the magnificent structure. It was a wonder of the ancient world. And God blessed the commitment with a promise to forever rest there.

Of course, this doesn't in any way diminish God's universal presence. There is today no temple on Zion. But God's promise is to "be there" still, even as He is everywhere. And He still deserves all the best that we can give Him in our worship. We must give Him His holy desire.

Monday, May 19, 2014

humility, contentment, & hope

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. 

Psalm 131:1

This is a song about contentment. In verse two David says he is content in God's presence like a small child is content in the presence of his mother (Ps 131:2). He has weaned himself away from incessantly demanding answers and things from God and instead just rests in the presence of God.

This all began with an attitude of humility willing to let God handle the unknown. David did not demand from God what he did not know. He chose to let those deeper mysteries remain with God and in God's timing. David realized his limitations and leaned on God.

This contentment was David's hope. From it he calls all of Israel to always hope in God (Psalm 131:3). David had learned humility, simple joy in trusting God rather than demanding from God, and he called others to know the confident hope of a contented son.

Friday, May 16, 2014

reasons for hope

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 

Psalm 130:7

Those who know God are never without hope. God's love is shown to us daily through our redemption. There is always before us the living hope in Christ that keeps us trusting Him despite the uncertainties that surround us. There is always hope, because there is always God. What a blessing to never take for granted.

This encourages me in a season where I am tempted to lose perspective on that hope. Life changes are hard both personally and among people that I love. I am pressed in by change everywhere I look right now... and it is not all change that I would say I wanted. Yet I know that the steadfast love of The Lord has not changed. My life changes. People change. Institutions change. Things break and decay and fall down. God is still steadfast in His love and His plentious mercies in redemption are unchanging!

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;

Earth's joys grow dim, it's glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see --

O Thou Who changest not, abide with me."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

affliction's song

The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked. 

Psalm 129:4

This song is the cry of a soul afflicted by the evil actions of others. It is a sad but true fact of life that this sort of thing is a daily reality. People sin against us. They can be cruel, heartless and completely evil to us. But we have a resource and refuge. We can cry out to God.

When people are bad to us, God is still good. He can deliver us. He can free us. He can cut the cords even when we are being bound by the hatred of another person's actions.

The African-American church was born out of the evils of American slavery. It arose in affliction. Yet even today, worship in an African-American church is lively and free! The cords were cut by God's goodness and still show that freedom a century and a half later. God sets the captives free; God rewards the righteous because He is righteous.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

4 blessings

The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel! 

Psalm 128:5-6

There are four distinct blessings for the worshiper of The Lord. The first is that God would bless through worship. The "souvenir" of a trip to Jerusalem to worship at the temple was the real blessing of God upon the worshiper.

The second blessing was for Jerusalem itself to prosper, thus ensuring a lifetime of secure worship there. It is the blessing of continuous worship.

The third blessing was for a long life and a full family. It is the request to see healthy grandchildren and to know full circle the blessings of God in another generation.

The fourth and final blessing in Psalm 128 is for the peace of the nation. This is not so much a national security prayer as it is a hope for the true peace of God to pervade hearts and lives that obey The Lord and love His law.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

the family & worship

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 

Psalm 127:1

Two things stand out about this psalm. First, as a song of ascents it was meant to be memorized and sung by Israelite families as they pilgrimaged to Jerusalem for feast days. This explains the family perspective of this psalm, particularly its celebration of children and family in verses three through five. I envision parents singing this song with children in tow. Probably entire inter-generational extended families travelled together, singing of the blessings of family, children, and God's goodness to them.

Secondly, it was penned by Solomon. As such, it would have been a "new song" in its day. It must have been composed early in the history of the Temple then, showing us the "family-centeredness" of Israel's early Temple worship traditions. To worship God then is a family activity meant to bring all generations together before The Lord.

Monday, May 12, 2014

top ten: praise for great things

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 

Psalm 126:3

God's work, His care and His provision for us, is a source of unending joy. God is good and His love for us is always on display in the reality of the gospel. Jesus has provided eternal life AND abundant life. There is joy in knowing what God has done has forever changed us. And we are glad to be the recipients of God's good grace!

My "short list" of the great thing God has done for me:

1) He led my parents to Christ when I was 7 years of age.

2) He led me to understand and believe the gospel at that same time.

3) He surrounded me with solid gospel preaching and loving Christian influence.

4) He taught me through key relationships with other Christians.

5) He gave me a great Christian wife.

6) He blessed me with loving children.

7) He led me to serve in awesome ministry!

8) He gave me the chance to work among Christian leaders with integrity who challenge me to lead correctly and for the glory of God.

9) I am blessed to be able to provide for my family during difficult economic uncertainties.

10) I could add to this list substantially because God's goodness is profoundly abundant!

Friday, May 9, 2014


As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. 

Psalm 125:2

I love the majesty and security of this poetic picture. I am a mountain man living in a semi-contented exile in the prairie lands! When I can spend time in the high countries, I can relate to this vivid imagery. Now I know that Judea is not the Rockies, but mountains are mountains, no matter how tall.

So as Israel marched up to Zion for feast days, approaching the high hills surrounding Jerusalem must have immediately incited hope of the worship that awaited them at the temple there. The mountains brought hope and security.

And God so surrounds His people. Hope in Christ is always around me. It is as close as the reading of God's Word. It is as dear as a favorite memory of a pleasant journey. It is as beautiful as a mountainous panorama.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! 

Psalm 124:7

Psalm 124 celebrates deliverance. It is a song that knows oppression and attack from an enemy. But it reaches a joyful refrain when God delivers out of the teeth of the enemy. The trap that was set was horribly ineffective. God delivered in such a way that snares are broken and the escape was easy with Him.

A quick observation is that God still allowed the attacks and the traps. He did not take away the enemy, just the effectiveness of the attacks. God's people still felt the fear. God's people still had to trust in God. God's people still prayed.

This is one reason why I believe prayer is very important for me today. God does not take away opposition. He simply empowers us to withstand it and His truth will never be defeated even as it is attacked regularly. He will lead us out and we can escape by His grace. Even death is an escape from the snare! But we must pray precisely because the attack is real, even if nobody has ever succeeded in working against a sovereign God.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cue Bill Maher

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

Psalm 123:3-4

This prayer is still very appropriate in an age when New Atheists now wildly attack Christianity with all the subtlety of a mixed martial arts cage fighter. It's Thunderdome in the religious arena. And contempt for faith is a new kind of cool in this world.

This is scorn for God and contempt for His rule. And God will easily fend for Himself quite nicely, thank you. But we His people should pray for His strength, protection, and grace to permeate our interactions with those who oppose Him. Why? Because He will use us to make His case!

We are still the means God chooses to spread the message of salvation and love to the world. Even those who oppose God are people for whom Christ willingly and lovingly suffered. We may wind up doing the same for His sake. Jesus promised His disciples they would be persecuted. It's OK. God is in control. He is easily winning. No atheist attack alarms Him or ever diminishes His authority. The fighters are swinging at air. But He will have mercy on us when we are held in contempt for being His people.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

worship... together

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" 

Psalm 122:1

Standing in the "tent of meeting"

sharing hearts, with happy greeting

we sing and pray

and bless the day

we gather to worship The Lord.

Joy in our hearts resounding

praises and songs among us sounding

we praise His name...

we share God's fame...

together in the house of The Lord.

Encouragement spoken from God's word

as directions is given from our Lord;

covenanting together as one

we live to see His kingdom come

glorifying our sovereign Lord.

Leaving assembly from where we gathered

into the world the gospel is scattered

in personal lives changed by gospel's grace

we serve God beyond the gathering place

together each one of us serving The Lord.

Monday, May 5, 2014

anticipating worship

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 

Psalm 121:1-2

This is a "song of ascents". It was meant to be sung by worshipers as they made the trek to Jerusalem in order to worship at the temple. The city is built on a raised hill, so to go to Jerusalem was something of an upwards hike. The pilgrims looked to the hills of Judea as they journeyed. And even in the city, worshipers ascended the Temple Mount to worship.

To "look to the hills" was to anticipate worship. It was a way to long for God's presence and activity. To look for God's help by lifting eyes to the hills was a kind of prayer. And this psalm gives the built in answer to that prayer.

What the pilgrims sang about in anticipation of entering the temple was meeting with God Himself, Creator of all. The worship anticipaed an encounter with the mighty Creator God. The song hopes for just such a moment with the Almighty. It is real, and very powerful worship. And I can know it every time I open God's Word, let His Spirit speak to me in its understanding, go to God in prayer, and let Him transform me by doing what His Word says.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

culture of lies

In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. 

Psalm 120:1-2

The damage done by liars is profound. In a universe governed by a holy, true God Who cannot lie, the existence of even one falsehood is an affront. And people lie all the time. The effect of compounded lies upon lies is staggeringly intense.

Lies exist for many reasons... none of them good reasons. We think we can protect ourselves by deceit. We often lie to keep from admitting a sin or a weakness. We lie to impress others. We lie to keep ourselves comfortable. All of those kinds of lies show our lack of faith in God.

The prayer to be delivered from lies and deceit is still daily prayed. We cannot act like God's children and lie. And we are left to navigate a world built on lies. We NEED God and His truth in order to successfully live beyond the distress our lying culture brings to us with every encounter.