Archive for the 'Psalms' Category

Stars and Hair

New Day, December 8, 2015

“He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” Psalm 147:4

This morning’s astronomical center stage before the sunrise was a crisp, smiling, crescent moon brilliant co-star, Venus, both accompanied by a cast of luminaries quietly standing nearby. It was as though I could take a giant step and be on stage with them.

And yet they are so far away. Psalm 8 came to mind, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (3-4).

The holy distance and closeness of God stops us in our tracks. Theologians call this His transcendence and immanence. All at once He is immeasurable, inscrutable, and uncontainable, and still He cares about the number of hairs on our heads.

We long for and rejoice in and live for both.

Turkey Wisdom

“Come into his presence with thanksgiving” Psalm 95:2

Our affection for Thanksgiving is real. Lovingly called “Turkey Day,” we call each other “turkey” and make fun of one of the strangest animal faces God created. Imagine a close-up of an ugly turkey face and extra-long neck, and chuckle at the caption: “No matter what happens this month, at least you aren’t a turkey.”

Getting our perspective right is important especially if you are you are going through some troubled times and hope is in short supply. Picture a cartoon with a sad Mr. Turkey. He is asked, “What are you thankful for?” Answer: “Vegetarians.” No matter what anyone says you aren’t a turkey without a future if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Join me in some “Turkey Wisdom”—a small list of hugely important thanksgiving biblical theology.

First, there is the obvious but ever-important need for thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is a response to God for His goodness to us. The Psalmists talk a lot about God’s works on our behalf. For instance, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD…For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work” (Psalm 92:4). Trace thanks and thanksgiving through the Psalms and hear God’s story of deliverances, rescues, gifts, joys, and provisions just like yours. “Praise,” someone said, “is the occupation of the soul with God’s blessings.” Chew on that long and slow before the start of family, fun, and football on Thanksgiving. You’ll have a wonderful time of worship.

Second, and even deeper, thanksgiving recalls the nature-character-essence of God Himself. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving…For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:2-3).  An entire life of study could not exhaust the depth of who God is (Psalm 139:17-18). Yet to do so is our privilege, joy, and call. When your mind is most clear, I recommend Psalm 111. Circle the many descriptions of God.

Third, a lifestyle of thanksgiving is protection from idolatry. Yikes! I know you didn’t expect that so catch Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. Using Israel’s Old Testament history as a negative example for us, he says: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Do not be idolaters as some of them were…We must not put Christ to the test…nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer…Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” In the middle is grumbling, and grumbling is a spiritual big deal. It isn’t our human nature to do so; it is our sin nature in rebellion, worshipping the idol of self. Thanksgiving guards our hearts. The Father said, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” Psalm 50:23).

Christmas is pushing its way in prematurely, so this Thanksgiving won’t you open the door to thanksgiving with a full heart before you fill your empty stomach?

The Rhea Herald-News, Thanksgiving 2015

Goodbye Jericho

“Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them” Psalm 111:2

This column is dedicated to all who love animals but love Christ more.

Jericho died last week. Darn. The majority of his life he lived with our daughter but he made a deep imprint on all our family. In his memory, I am submitting the following column (revised) I wrote years ago.

He’s only been in trouble once. That was the time he devoured my wife’s holiday slippers. Turned into a slobbery colander, those warm respites from winter’s cold no longer supported vegetables or feet.

Jericho is our first dog, and was a present for our daughter’s nineteenth birthday. We are a little slow at our house. Do consider getting a dog if you don’t have one—and don’t worry too much about the carpet or slippers.

Jericho has smitten all our in-house and extended family. One excursion into the den of iniquity hasn’t diminished his acceptance. Systematically, one after another, we have embraced our canine kin. Even the owner of the slippers has been caught slipping food to him at inappropriate times…

His black, wet nose presses into our lap and begs for affection (and treats). He snuggles with us on the floor. Like helicopter blades at full throttle, Jericho dangerously wags his tail when we come home as if we’ve returned from war. He scores high as the companion dogs are supposed to be.

Of course, loyalty is supposed to be a gift from man’s best friend but this may be in question, since Jericho seems to gravitate to the one who fed him last. The fact that he listens well and never talks back helps our family to overlook this one character flaw.

I am enamored with a dog and can’t imagine my world without him. Is our dog an appropriate delight? What does God think about animals?

Many animals serve creation’s purposes as we appropriately use them and have dominion over them. Animals often illustrate powerful truths, e.g., sheep (salvation) and goats (judgment). Interestingly, Jesus elevates them in importance, saying they remind us of God’s care (“Look at the birds of the air…”). And we dare not forget that Jesus Himself is the “Lion of Judah” and “Lamb of God.” Remember the household dog in Mark 7:27-28? Here the canine family companion is used illustratively in the healing of a daughter and the mother’s faith journey.

Of course, animals aren’t nearly as valuable as God’s highest creation—you—me! Here’s what strikes me the most: In light of these positive biblical purposes, animals are extraordinary gifts and reminders of the one Lamb of God! “All creation is made by Him and is for Him,” notes Colossians, and “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them.” Wonderfully, all creation and creatures point us to Jesus Christ our Creator and Savior.

These days, the slobbery slippers and vet bills are worth it!

The Herald-News, October 21, 2015

Ever Full of Sap and Green

Rhea Herald-News, September 2, 1015

They are ever full of sap and green.” Psalm 92:14

Have you wondered what you would actually say in the presence of royalty? Visit with me with Philip Newell. If the Father allows me to get old (er), I want to be like him.

Mr. Newell was ninety-six years old when he last closed his eyes on earth. The public knew him as a writer and the son of a famous Christian writer, William Newell. To our church family, we remember him shuffling down the center aisle at church to the first or second row where he could hear and see everything on Sunday mornings. Sundays—worship—mattered to him.

Privately, I went to visit him regularly at his assisted living residence. With a Bible in his lap, he received me as if I were a long-lost relative. He tired easily so our times together weren’t long. He often shared what he had been reading and I always asked if I could pray for him before leaving. But always—memorably and wonderfully—Mr. Newell, nearly breathless, always jumped in when I said “Amen” and prayed, quoting Scripture, and summoning God to watch over me and my family.

When he died, I was asked to speak at his funeral. My heart full, I could hardly speak.

I want you to remember Mr. Newell’s witness to the importance and joy of public and private worship. He was Psalm 92 personified, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD…How great are your works, O LORD…They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God…they are ever full of sap and green.”

Psalm 92 portrays the public side of worship—its glorious and life-giving benefits. It is the only psalm designated for the Sabbath. Since resurrection Sunday, the majority of followers of Christ recognize the first day of the week as the time for gathered worship. Worship was vitally important to the Jewish community and it is to Christ’s followers today. In the psalm, singing, thanksgiving, praising, music, gladness, and declaring the steadfast love of our Most High God are soul-nourishing experiences meant to be shared together each week before we scatter into the world.

Psalm 92 presents four privileges cultivated on Sunday that strengthen us for Mondays. Like breakfast, these are essential for spiritual health. The first is the vital meal of spiritual maturity. We “flourish…and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (v.12). Our life goal is to increasingly be like Christ. Like breakfast, Sundays are irreplaceable for maturity.

The other three honors seem obvious but are joyful parts of Sunday’s banquet. Faithfulness (v.13), commitment to service (v.14), and verbal declaration of the God’s righteousness and faithfulness (v.15) complete our feast. Slowly chew on these with Psalm 92 in your hands. Will you pray them for your church, pastor (s), and yourself?

Then we, too, can be like Philip Newell: “Ever full of sap and green.”

Show Stoppers

New Day, August 31, 2015

“Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever…to him who made…the moon and stars to rule over the night.”

Psalm 136:3, 7, 9

There were two show stoppers this morning while the sun yawned to wake up.

First, there was the nearly full, waning gibbous moon, high in the western sky, encircled by a thin, transparent collage of clouds. Radiant and quiet, it would have been such a loss to miss it if I only focused on the eastern sky while I waited for sunrise.

In the full range of the visible heavens there was a second joy. Just above the waking sun in the east there was Venus, the main morning star and the brightest of planets. In September, Venus and Mars appear before dawn with bright Jupiter appearing in mid-month below Venus and Mars. Jupiter will shine more brilliantly than any star. It’s the second-brightest planet after Venus.

I am curious: Did the Psalmist differentiate between stars and planets?

Did you know the “morning star” is used of both Satan and Christ? Satan was once the most stunning of angels until his fall (Isaiah 14). Christ is THE “bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16). In the New Jerusalem, capital city of our final eternal home (the new heavens and earth), “They will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…” (Revelation 22:5).

What an stupendous morning to give thanks for the gifts of God in the sky, His steadfast love, and the Christ who is the greatest of all lights!

Dead or Alive

“Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” Psalm 119:107

 There is a lot to be said about what we have now when compared to where we have been.

I am slow-walking through Psalm 119 this month. With a cup of coffee in hand, one morning this week I waited for enough light to read and, instead, prayed the psalmist’s heart: “I love your word, O LORD” (v. 97). Father, may my heart have the joy of the psalmist for the Word of God—even more than a stunning early morning sunrise (v. 111).

Sunrises change each day; the Word of God stands forever. Life circumstances can change every hour; God’s Word and His steadfast love speak—sing—everlasting life every minute (v. 88). The psalmist asks for life “according to your word.” Here are some thrilling, thanks-inviting, worship-compelling words God has said about life in the Word of God.

  • Jesus Christ is the only true way to eternal life. Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6-7).
  •  We are now dead to self—crucified with Christ—and can really live because Christ is in us—now. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
  •  We are no longer chained by hopeless death but have begun eternal life—now: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
  •  Christ is everything. Life is Christ-centered and to die right now is to our advantage: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
  •  Jesus is an available safe, comforting, guiding, protecting shepherd for we who are His sheep—now and forever. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
  • God’s love is all around, in, and through life: “In your steadfast love give me life” (Psalm 199:88).

Certainly, there are passages that speak to the tough, sacrificial side of life with Christ. And daily, a gray day has serious temptations to a unscriptural thought, e.g., “Just pull the blanket over my head and go back to sleep.” Yet, God’s Word invites me: Get up for “This is the day [life] the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Father and Giver of life, there are many competitors to the life You offer through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please help me to single-mindedly chase after Him with a heart for the One who is our life.

NOW

New Day, August 14, 2015

“…give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” Psalm 119:107

I am slow-walking through Psalm 119 this month. While sitting in the dark with a cup of coffee, waiting for enough light to read I prayed the Psalmist’s heart: “I love your word, O LORD” (v. 97). The early morning joy of a sunrise is only exceeded by the anticipation of the Word of God (v. 111).

Sunrises change each day; the Word of God, teaching us and guiding us each day does not. Life circumstances are altered sometimes every hour; God and His steadfast love undergird every minute.

The Psalmist asks for life “according to your word.” My databank quickly thanked Yahweh for “life” thoughts:

  1. Jesus Christ is the only way to life and the only true life (John 14:6);
  2. We are now dead to self—crucified with Christ—and can continue to and really live because Christ is in us—now (Galatians 2:20);
  3. Once dead and bound to sin’s penalty and power and presence, in Christ we are no longer chained by its hopeless death but have begun eternal life—now (John 5:24);
  4. Christ is everything. Life is Christ and to die right now is to our advantage (Philippians 1:21);
  5. Jesus is an available safe, comforting, guiding, protecting shepherd for we who are His sheep—now and forever (John 10:9-10).

Today’s gray sunrise does not diminish the smallest bit of reality and certainty of life today and, soon, in Christ’s presence!

Putty Knives and Big Brushes

New Day, August 4, 2015

“…in his temple all cry, “Glory!” Psalm 29:9

 

I did a one day, take-a-painting-home class in the technique of Bob Ross painting. Do you remember Bob Ross? Now gone, he was the hippie-looking painter with the soft voice who used sophisticated putty knifes and big brushes to paint remarkable paintings.

We had a Bob Ross early sunrise yesterday, complete with layers of rich, full colors gently stroked with a large brush to take away the sharp edges, blend the colors, and overlap the striations together.

Today’s morning wake-up started more subtly, including the moon. Last week’s Blue Moon has traveled on. Oh how incredibly large and bright and in-our-face-full it was. This morning the moon stands far away, less obvious, but still reflecting God’s glory in quieter ways. Its purpose is not only fulfilled in grandeur but in quietness, too. Can we accept this about us?

God’s multiplicity in glorious displays is a chorus of praise, pursuing us to shout glory! Try it.

Blue Moon

“He made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalm 104:19

 Yes, “Blue Moon” is the name of an old song. It was also a celestial event last week on July 31st. Did you see it? A Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month. Unfortunately, it only happens once every three years. It appears blue only when light particles so color the atmosphere.

Perhaps the moon that night was more striking because it was a cloudless night sky. Just above the horizon, Cheryl and I stood in the driveway and gazed amazed—and we were nearly blinded by its brilliance.

For over a year I have made it a point to search the Scriptures most early mornings, specifically enjoying and praying through passages about celestial and creation wonders. Sometimes, I write about it on a blog: https://indestructiblelife.wordpress.com. The moon has been a sweet surprise. Unaffected by the clamor of city streets, families hustling to get ready for school and work, or sleepy heads hitting the snooze, the moon often stands by smiling, watching the sun wake up.

With the recent excitement about new and enhanced pictures of Pluto and the discovery of a distant planet “Earth 2.0,” our Blue Moon was a welcome pat-on-the-back for the sun’s cousin. Sadly, the moon is too familiar and forgotten. Without ice mountains or rings of frozen crystals it seems boring at first glance—that is, until we hear what Scripture has said about the moon.

  • Job described the moon as “moving in spendlor” (31:6). I see and like that a lot.
  • The moon humbles us and Psalm 8:3 describes its creation: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place…” Rather than diminishing us, the Psalm–and moon—elevate our significance.
  • Psalm 89:36-37 notes, “…the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” I’m increasingly thinking about it as a teacher about God and His work.
  • There is danger in it as a celestial seduction: “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them…” (Deuteronomy 4:19). I saw evidence of this happening at a Mayan ruin where spiritual seekers go for annual festivals of worship. I wonder: Are we tempted to dangerously devote ourselves to God’s creatures or creation?
  • Psalm 104:19 notes God “made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalm 136:9 states, “…the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;”

It’s stunning: In love, God gave the moon to fulfill His purposes for earth, to witness to His love, and to woo us to Himself! We’ll have to wait until January 2018 to experience a Blue Moon again. We don’t have to wait to worship the moon’s Maker and Sustainer.

How about now?

Pluto Knows

New Day, July 24, 2015

“Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and earth?” Psalm 113:5

There is no ordinary sunrise and sunset. There is no end in our discovery of Yahweh’s greatness.

Today’s single, eastern cloud absorbed all the color and intensity and joy the sun dared release on a soggy east Tennessee sunrise. It was a gray cloud, irregular in shape, highlighted in pink, then for a moment in dazzling orange, then intense yellow. The reflection of God’s glory increasingly became brilliant and blinding.

There is none to compare to Yahweh, who “looks far down on the heavens (the heavens!) and earth.” This is a poignant thought in light of this week’s spectacular pictures of Pluto. Poor Pluto has been dethroned from her status as our farthest planet and reflector of the glory of God at the edge of our solar system. Still, Pluto knows…

Psalm 113, having awakened us with weighty thoughts of our God, ends with God’s consoling compassion, caring for those He has made. He is holy, righteous, just, sovereign and loving all at once.

“O come, let us adore him…”



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