Psalm 148 and All Creation Praising God

St-Francis-Stained-Glass-Window-880x550The last several psalms are called the Praises or Lauds. They all have the same theme–Praise the Lord–at the beginning and end of them. Psalm 148 goes beyond even people praising God to all creation praising God. St. Francis of Assisi wrote Canticle of the Sun in 1224 based upon this psalm, and the English hymn All Creatures of Our God and King was written, in turn, based on St. Francis’ poem. Psalm 148 is a delightful look at everything praising God for how great the Lord is:

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from heaven!
    Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
    Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
    All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
    Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because God gave the command and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
    God made a law that will not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
    stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
    fruit trees, and every single cedar!
10 Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
    you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
11 Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
    you princes and every single ruler on earth!
12 Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
    you who are old together with you who are young!

13 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because only God’s name is high over all.
    Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
14 God raised the strength of his people,
    the praise of all his faithful ones—
        that’s the Israelites,
        the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

 

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Psalm 137 and Despair and Rage

Destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

The psalms are raw in their emotions. When there is sorrow and anguish, we see it. When there is joy and happiness, we see it. And in Psalm 137 we see despair and rage:

Alongside Babylon’s streams,
    there we sat down,
    crying because we remembered Zion.
We hung our lyres up
    in the trees there
    because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
    our tormentors requested songs of joy:
    “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.
But how could we possibly sing
    the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

Jerusalem! If I forget you,
    let my strong hand wither!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
    if I don’t remember you,
    if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

Lord, remember what the Edomites did
        on Jerusalem’s dark day:
    “Rip it down, rip it down!
    All the way to its foundations!” they yelled.
Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,
    a blessing on the one who pays you back
    the very deed you did to us!
    A blessing on the one who seizes your children
    and smashes them against the rock!

Does this mean that the Bible advocates killing the children of enemies? Absolutely not. What this means is that the biblical writers have faithfully recorded what people actually felt and actually prayed at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the captivity in Babylon in 586 BC.

Our faith is not a sanitized faith. We have it in the midst of real-life struggles, tragedies, triumphs, and joys. And God is big enough to handle whatever we feel. Of course feelings like these, if they lead to actions like these, would be sin. Yet that does not negate the fact that sometimes we feel despair and rage.

If you are in a place of despair and rage in your life right now, follow the psalmist’s lead and cry out to God. But remember, the entire Bible is not contained within this one psalm. Neither should our prayers of anguish and anger and despair be left alone. If this is where you are in life right now, know that there is a reason Psalm 137 is surrounded by other psalms of praise and joy. God delivers, blesses, and vindicates us. Our part in this is to cry out to God and believe he will act. Read Psalms 136 and 138 and see the answers to Psalm 137.

Psalm 133 and Families

Family_Tree_With_Aunts_Uncles_CousinsIn this time of social shift and a change in the way we have understood the term family it is good to see what other cultures and times have understood of family:

Look at how good and pleasing it is
    when families live together as one!
It is like expensive oil poured over the head,
    running down onto the beard—
        Aaron’s beard!—
    which extended over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
    streaming down onto the mountains of Zion,
    because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing:
        everlasting life.

Family here is refers to all extended relationships (and potentially even the different tribes in Israel). This is not necessarily the American understanding of the nuclear family of father, mother, and children–although that is not excluded in this idea. The point is that our relationships, especially those closest to us, are important. When they are good, life goes so much better. When they are bad, no matter how successful we are, something is missing and there are problems.

If you have ruptures in your close relationships, you may want to seek to repair those problems. Seek to reconcile with others. If those others do not wish to repair the relationships, then you have done your part in trying to reconcile. For some family issues actual family counseling may be needed, as issues can be complex. For small issues, though, sometimes just reaching out to make contact can be the first step to a reconciled family.

Psalm 127 and Seeking God’s Will

church9There are two main ways churches make decisions: 1) they study an issue, figure out whether or not they have enough talent or resources to do it, decide to take on the task, and then ask God to bless their undertaking; or 2) they pray and ask God to reveal where he is already at work and how they can join him in his work.

Psalm 127 deals with the second option:

Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
    the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
    the guard on duty is pointless.
It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late,
    eating the bread of hard labor
    because God gives sleep to those he loves.

No doubt about it: children are a gift from the Lord;
    the fruit of the womb is a divine reward.
The children born when one is young
    are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.
The person who fills a quiver full with them is truly happy!
    They won’t be ashamed when arguing with their enemies in the gate.

Jesus said he would build his Church and the gates of hell would not be able to withstand it. We need to figure out where Jesus is working around us to build his Church and join him. It is not poor leadership to pray before making decisions. Rather, in the Church it is poor leadership to make decisions and then pray that God would bless them. This is because our one, true leader is Jesus. It is his house he is building. He just allows us to come along. Because it is his house, we need to seek his will, not ask him to bless our will.

Psalm 126 and The Passion of Conversion

d2236-psalm-126-5-6People who have been Christian for a while tend to lose the passion they had at first. This passion is even found among those who have grown up in the Church but had that “heart warming experience” where faith became real and Christianity went from being a religion to being a relationship with God. Yet for these people as well, that passion can cool off over time. This is why Psalm 126 is a great reminder for us:

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
    it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them!”
Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
    like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
    crying and carrying their seed,
    come home with joyful shouts,
    carrying bales of grain!

We look back to see what God has done in the past for us, and then we are reminded for what we need to pray in the present. May we all never lose the passion we had at conversion or heart warming experience. And if we do lose it, may we cry out to the Lord to possess it once again just as the psalmist did.

Psalm 122 and Joy for Worship

14199643181_6570109d31_bMany times Christians subtly think that worship in church is an optional add-on to the faith. They have a personal relationship with Jesus, grow in grace, and do not necessarily need to be in church with other people. The problem with this idea is that Jesus founded a Church, not a group of individual believers. Something different happens when the people of God gather together to worship and praise God together.

As well, we are reminded that we should “Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Peter wrote this to Christians. This means that as individuals we can be picked off. But remember, as Jesus said to Peter, “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church. Together we can storm the strongholds of evil.

The next time you feel like worship and church is an add-on to your faith, remember these things and read Psalm 122 before you leave for church (our Jerusalem):

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let’s go to the Lord’s house!”
Now our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is built like a city
    joined together in unity.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the Lord’s tribes!
It is the law for Israel
    to give thanks there to the Lord’s name,
    because the thrones of justice are there—
    the thrones of the house of David!

Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
    “Let those who love you have rest.
    Let there be peace on your walls;
    let there be rest on your fortifications.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
For the sake of the Lord our God’s house
    I will pray for your good.

Psalm 107 and the Many Ways of God

group-of-peopleGod connects with people in many different ways, and God uses the best means for a certain person’s situation to work in someone’s life. This goes for those who are already in Christ, growing in grace, and those who are not yet Christian, those whom God is seeking. Psalm 107 shows four different ways God seeks people in order to redeem them. They are separated into four categories–those who have wandered and gotten lost, those who are depressed, those who have sinned, and those who were going about their lives without thought to God:

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
        because his faithful love lasts forever!”
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
    the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
    the ones God gathered from various countries,
    from east and west, north and south.

Some of the redeemed had wandered into the desert, into the wasteland.
    They couldn’t find their way to a city or town.
They were hungry and thirsty;
    their lives were slipping away.
So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God delivered them from their desperate circumstances.
    God led them straight to human habitation.
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people,
    because God satisfied the one who was parched with thirst,
    and he filled up the hungry with good things!

10 Some of the redeemed had been sitting in darkness and deep gloom;
    they were prisoners suffering in chains
11     because they had disobeyed God’s instructions
    and rejected the Most High’s plans.
12 So God humbled them with hard work.
    They stumbled, and there was no one to help them.
13 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
14 God brought them out from the darkness and deep gloom;
    he shattered their chains.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people,
16     because God has shattered bronze doors
    and split iron bars in two!

17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
    They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
    they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
    he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
    and declare what God has donein songs of joy!

23 Some of the redeemed had gone out on the ocean in ships,
    making their living on the high seas.
24 They saw what the Lord had made;
    they saw his wondrous works in the depths of the sea.
25 God spoke and stirred up a storm
    that brought the waves up high.
26 The waves went as high as the sky;
    they crashed down to the depths.
The sailors’ courage melted at this terrible situation.
27     They staggered and stumbled around like they were drunk.
    None of their skill was of any help.
28 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances.
29 God quieted the storm to a whisper;
    the sea’s waves were hushed.
30 So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down;
    then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
32 Let them exalt God in the congregation of the people
    and praise God in the assembly of the elders.

33 God turns rivers into desert,
    watery springs into thirsty ground,
34     fruitful land into unproductive dirt,
        when its inhabitants are wicked.
35 But God can also turn the desert into watery pools,
    thirsty ground into watery springs,
36     where he settles the hungry.
They even build a city and live there!
37     They plant fields and vineyards
    and obtain a fruitful harvest.
38 God blesses them, and they become many.
    God won’t even let their cattle diminish.
39 But when they do diminish—
    when they’re brought down by oppression, trouble, and grief—
40     God pours contempt on their leaders,
        making them wander aimlessly in the wastelands.
41 But God raises the needy from their suffering;
    he makes their families as numerous as sheep!

42 Those who do right see it and celebrate,
    but every wicked person shuts their mouth.
43 Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things,
    carefully considering the Lord’s faithful love.

God will come to each of us in ways that are tailored to our lives and our circumstances. This is good news. It is also a subtle reminder to those of us who are in Christ already that a one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism or discipleship will not always work. We need to get to know the other people around us and see them as people, not projects. Then real relationships will begin and God can work in all of our lives.