Day 249: Ezekiel 32-33; How We Live and Die

While I don’t think it is the main part of our reading today, it certainly is a very prominent and important part of how we think about sin, forgiveness and righteousness when in comes to Christian Theology.  Most of the other writing that we read today is fairly familiar as it seems to be repeated prophecy or words of lament for Pharaoh, whom we spoke of yesterday.  But in the middle of chapter 33, after the Lord reiterated to Ezekiel his position as the watchman of Israel and all the comes along with that, God’s word on salvation, forgiveness, and righteousness comes screaming through the prophesies of judgment that surround it.  What does God say about this?  In so many words: “none of the good that you do can save you from your sinfulness.”

I know that this isn’t the only place in the Bible which the Lord reveals to us that there is nothing that we as humans can do to earn our own righteousness, but if I think about those that write about it in the New Testament, specifically Paul, I have to imagine that he is probably drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures which likely would include this.

The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 

Paul writes in Romans that “there is no one righteous, no not one,” this is the beginning of the Calvinistic thought of Total Depravity.  God says that when the wicked turn from their sin towards righteousness, they will live, but when a righteous person sins, by that they will die.  Whether or not you are a Calvinist, we understand that the human race is mired in sin and is, by its very nature, completely unable to not sin.  By Ezekiel’s own words, this means that we are going to die.  This is the prophecy that he delivers to Israel here.  No one can ride the coattails of another’s righteousness, nor can they trust their own righteousness for salvation.

There is nothing new in this statement though, despite the claim of injustice.  People could say, “How can God treat people this way?”  Yet it is not at all contrary to the nature of God who is Holy and wholly opposed to sin, Just, and the true measure of righteousness.  These words though, life so many of the words of the Old Testament also pave the way both for the need of Christ and the salvation by the grace that is offered to all through His blood on the cross.  It is clear here that there is no one that, on their own merit, will be able to escape the coming destruction and judgment.  God says, “O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”  Indeed this is true for us as it was true for Israel and every nation around Israel that faced the judgment of God.  Only through the blood of Jesus, having righteousness imputed upon us through our belief in Him can we receive the grace of God and be saved from our sinful ways.



Day 181: Psalms 145-150; The Great Doxology

A Doxology is a song of praise to God for His blessings.  Think of the familiar Doxology that you may have sung in Church before:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Worship Photo Credit: www.worshipunashamed.org/

Worship
Photo Credit: www.worshipunashamed.org

Today’s psalms are just that, a doxology.  In one church that I worked in, after we gave our offerings and tithes we all stood and sung the doxology, thanking God for the blessings that He has given us and committing them to the Lord.  It was always a moving experience and did a great job keeping in focus the truth of our giving: We do not give what is ours, we give back to God what was already His and was only entrusted to us.

Today we encounter a Doxology, or what I have deemed “the Great Doxology” in Scripture here at the end of our journey through the psalms.  We’ve spent nearly 1 full month on this book of the Bible combing through its great variety of emotions, teachings, prayers, songs, laments, praises, and so much more.  As we come to the end though, we have the opportunity to look back and see how great the whole of the book of Psalms is and what it indeed has taught us and modeled for us.  And now we have the opportunity to say thank you and to lift up praises to God.

Today (well tomorrow night actually), also marks the half way point in the year!  We’ve come a long ways and have seen the amazing story of God’s work in creation, in the nation of Israel, and in the teachings of His Word.  We have so much to celebrate today!  It is fitting that these psalms also fall on a Sunday (at least they did in 2013), and we have to opportunity to gather with God’s people to worship Him.  The words of the Psalms today fit the worship bill to the letter:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!

There are so many songs out there that draw their words from today’s 5 psalms.  One that comes to mind right now is “All Creatures of our God and King”  Take a moment to listen it.  We will close our section on the Psalms with the words of that song today.  I would encourage you to continue reading the psalms too.  I know its a lot of reading with all the other readings that we are doing and the reading of this blog as well.  But, remember as we started out the Psalms I talked about how N.T. Wright said that he reads 5 Psalms a day every day and just keeps repeating them?  He does this because he said that it has helped him learn how to pray, praise, lament, thank, trust, hope and worship the Lord through the words of Scripture.  This, he said, was an invaluable experience.  Maybe you can’t read 5 psalms a day… maybe you can only read 1 or 2… that’s ok!  I encourage you to continue doing that as often as you can!  Let the Word of God flow over you.  Let the Word of God read you… that you may find yourself and your story in it!

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O praise Him alleluia
Thou burning sun with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heav’n along
O praise Him alleluia
Thou rising moon in praise rejoice
Ye lights of evening find a voice
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia

Let all things their Creator bless
And worship Him in humbleness
O praise Him alleluia
Praise praise the Father praise the Son
And praise the Spirit three in One
O praise Him O praise Him
Alleluia alleluia alleluia



Day 180: Psalms 139-144; Search My Heart

Today’s reading is a return to the laments of King David.  Though only one of them (Psalm 142) has a specific situation attached to it, they all exhibit the crying out of a person in distress.  One of my favorite Psalms of today is Psalm 139.  This Psalm is considered to be a Psalm of lament, but I see it as more than just lamenting in that as David cries out to the Lord he is also confessing his trust and belief in a God that is vastly more powerful and wise than the situation that he finds himself in now.  I invite you to re-read the words of this Psalm:

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

Check out the song Search My Heart from Hillsongs, based on this psalm.

We often find ourselves in situations that we cannot handle and do not see any way out of.  Sometimes we sin for reasons that we don’t understand at all.  This leads us deeper into a pit of despair and self-doubt.  Take comfort in knowing that God is greater than any situation that you will encounter.  Take comfort in knowing that God knows you heart.  He formed and created you.  He knew you before you even existed.  And, as Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Indeed He has provided a way for us in Jesus Christ, the true way out of sin and temptation.  That isn’t to say that life will be perfect here and now, but we can live in the assurance that our sins have been bought and paid for in Christ’s blood.  We know that we are not enduring anything that Christ hasn’t, and that His Spirit is with us each and every day strengthening and guiding us along the way.  And He will indeed lead us in the way everlasting!



Day 179: Psalms 132-138; The Great Hallel

Psalm 136 - The Great Hallel Photo Credit: hilldaleworship.blogspot.com

Psalm 136 – The Great Hallel
Photo Credit: hilldaleworship.blogspot.com

Today’s reading wraps up the Songs of Ascent and goes on to other psalms including Psalm 136 which is known as “The Great Hallel.”  This is a Psalm that would have been recited before the Passover meal in Hebrew culture.  I believe in many places they still do this today.  While I know that some of the names of the kings don’t necessarily mean anything to us in our current context, this psalm nonetheless tells the magnificent story of God’s action and how His love indeed endures forever.  Most of today’s post will be this Psalm, but I would encourage you to once again read it… and find your place in it.  There are surly things that don’t necessarily fit your life, but perhaps instead of striking down Og, king of Bashan, perhaps the Lord has helps you in your struggle with depression… or instead of bringing Israel out from Egypt, God has lead you through and out of a battle with addiction…  Maybe this psalm simply reminds you that God’s love and faithfulness are with us each and every day, even in the mundane details and seemingly endless amount of chores, laundry, and child rearing that you do faithfully day in and day out.

There are many ways that we too can find ourselves within the context of God’s story… what miraculous, or maybe not so miraculous yet still faithful things has God done in your life today?

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.
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;
to Him who by understanding made the Heavens,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;

to Him who made the great lights,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;

to Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and His host in the Red Sea,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
to Him who led His people through the wilderness,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;

to Him who struck down great kings,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and gave their land as a Heritage,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
a Heritage to Israel His servant,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.

It is He who remembered us in our low estate,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
He who gives food to all flesh,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of Heaven,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.



Day 178: Psalms 120-131; The Songs of Ascent

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Today’s psalms are part of a collection of psalms known as the “Pilgrim Psalms,” or as the they say in their titles, “song of ascents.”  They are also sometimes called Gradual Psalms or Songs of Degrees.  Many scholars believe these psalms were sung by the worshipers as they ascended up the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals which are recorded in Deuteronomy 16:16.   They may have also been sung by the kohanim (aka. the Korahites), who were the Temple priests, as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Its also possible that these songs were sung by the captives as they returned from Babylon to Israel!

While information like that is nice to know, I think it pales in comparison to what we get from these psalms today.  These songs were indeed used for preparing the people and their leaders for worship.  If you think back to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the whole purpose of worship was to come before God and be made new and clean once again.  This happened through sacrifice and, if it never happened at any other times in a year, it did happen on these three dates: The Passover (aka. The Feast of Unleavened Bread), The Feast of Weeks, and The Feast of Tabernacles.  Each of these feasts come with their own appropriate code of conduct, but all of them have one thing in common, a corporate re-orientation of the lives of those in the Israelite community; a remembrance of who they are and where they came from.  We can see this very clearly in the lines of these psalms:

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me…”

“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.”

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!”

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

The Psalms of Ascent: A Call to Prayer Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

The Psalms of Ascent:
A Call to Prayer
Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

These psalms, as is true with many of the other psalms, make me think a lot about my own orientation and that of the Church as well.  Do we come into church on any given Sunday expecting to encounter God?  Do we take time to prepare ourselves for worship?  Do we recognize who God is and who we are?  Do we feel like we even need God’s help?  Is this really the first time we have thought about God since last Sunday?  These are difficult questions to ask not because the answers are difficult to find, but because the truth of the answers is difficult to swallow.

Today’s psalms are short and quick to read.  They run the gambit of praise, thanksgiving, lament, hope, trust, and just about any emotion you can think of.  The page(s) that they are on are good to keep bookmarked or dogeared in your Bible and the psalms contained therein are good reminders of the right orientation for our lives.  Like a compass always pointing north, these Psalms (and the whole Bible really) point us directly in the direction of God… a reminder that I’m sure we need on a daily basis.



Day 177: Psalm 119; The "Great" Psalm

Today we come to the longest chapter of the Bible, the greatest psalm of the psalms, and what could arguably be called the best acrostic of all time: Psalm 119.  This psalm is considered a wisdom psalm, mostly because the wisdom psalms are really all encompassing.  There are elements of teaching, praise, thanksgiving, lament, petition, and history in this psalm, all wound together in an acrostic poem.  Sadly, this psalm is written anonymously so there is on one that we can credit it too… which I think might be the point really in that the focus is truly and completely on God in all of this.

Psalm 119:34

Psalm 119:34

As I read through this psalm I kind of envision the psalmist sitting out under a tree on a nice warm summer day thinking about all the ways that he/she has been blessed.  The writer was jotting down a bunch of things and started putting them in an acrostic poem and before you know it, psalm 119 was born.  Of course I cannot independently verify this but the acrostic style kind of reminds me of a child’s thanksgiving day project or something.  When I was young I could always remember the thanksgiving day children’s sermon; it was always the same.  We wrote the word ‘thanksgiving’ on a whiteboard and then we wrote down things that we were thankful for.  Other times I remember writing an acrostic poem that used all the letters of my name or something.  It is something that I remember doing occasionally as a child.

I wonder though how often I would do… or actually do in my early adult life though.  Do I take the time to thank God for all the things that He has given me?  Am I conscious of the many blessings that God has given me and do I praise Him for them?  Have I actually taken the time to do that in my life lately?  Sadly… I have to answer ‘no.’  I could blame time, busyness, work, school, or a myriad of other things as the reasons why I don’t spend time thinking and thanking about how abundantly blessed I am, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t happen on a regular basis if at all.

While my words here really wouldn’t do anything to improve this already great psalm, I think the challenge that has been uncovered is clear: We need to take time to be thankful and give God honor and praise for all the blessings that He has given us.  I challenge you, whoever and wherever you are to take time to do this and, in honor of Psalm 119, do it in an acrostic form.  Whether you use the letters of your name or the alphabet, take the time to name the blessings in your life and thank God for them.



Day 176: Psalms 116-118; The Egyptian Hallel

The three psalms that we are reading today are part of a 6 psalm unit known as “The Egyptian Hallel.”  A Hallel is considered to be a portion of a Jewish worship service that take place during their times of festivals.  It consists of psalms 113-118, which are spoken, prayed, or chanted aloud as a unit as part of the morning prayer service.  Typically, this would happen especially around the time of the Passover, when the people of God remember their time in bondage and the freedom that has been given to them by the power of God.  And this is really what these do, give honor and glory to God for His amazing work!

You really can’t just read the psalms from today without including psalms 113-115 as well.  They really are a unit, a single entity; they could be one long psalm.  In many ways, these psalms tell the story of God’s faithfulness, providence, and power when He remembered Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt and freed them from the oppression that they had suffered for so many years.  I would encourage you to read through all 6 of these psalms together and take time to reflect on and remember the story of God’s amazing work in Exodus.

We know too that this story is not just something that happened in the past, but it is indeed the story of our lives as well.  You and I and every human on this earth have been born into the bondage of sin.  Yet God didn’t leave us there either just as He didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt.  God sent His Son Jesus as a direct assault on sin, our abusive master, and freed us from it through His death on the cross.  We had been slaves… now we are free by the blood of Jesus!  This Egyptian Hallel is our song of praise as well!  Take time to read them… to reflect on them… and to find yourself in them.  Maybe they will give you the words to say to express your thanks and praise to God as well!

PSALM 116-118 are psalms of thanksgiving and praise to God for His work in the lives of His people.  These psalms were written anonymously, are clearly didactic in nature, and are actually part of a unit of psalms from 113-118.  Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible and the shortest psalm.  Psalm 118 is also a messianic psalm with prophetic overtones.



Day 175: Psalms 109-115; Great Are the Lord's Works!

I’ll admit that as I’m writing this, the news is on in the background, and I’m hearing about all sorts of things that are going on in Grand Rapids, in West Michigan, in America, and around the world.  The thing about the news that is too often true, is that it is the bad things that make the most news.  Just as I’m listening this evening, the headlines are about a person that got hit by a car, the coming trial of George Zimmerman, the continuing scandals in the U.S. government, and more on the situation in Syria.  I guess I just don’t understand why this is the news that we want to hear.  If one was to simply watch the news all day, or even once a day, I can’t imagine how cynical and depressed they would be, if that was the picture of the world that was given.

But as I contrast this primarily negative view of the world with what we read today in the Psalms, we really get different and sometimes opposing views of the world.  The news media would have us believe that things are going crazy in the world, the everything is out of control and that no one is safe ever.  Obviously, they are decidedly secular in their views; hence the endless stream of bad news.  Yet the Psalms that we read today and have been reading for the past several days communicate to us a wholly different worldview, one in which God is in control and is working towards the restoration of the world.

It can be very depressing to listen to the news, to look out into the world, to see the brokenness that is around us.  Even Jesus knew this as He was talking to His disciples on the night before He was to be crucified.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

The next time you hear something from the news about all of the bad that is going on, remember that we believe that God has been working and will continue to work to bring restoration to the world.  And we can know this because of what we have seen Him do in the past… which is recounted for us in Psalm 111!

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever!

PSALM 109 is a prayer of lament written by David.  This psalm has many imprecatory qualities, as David talks about evil men and his enemies, but there is a clear turn towards hope, praise, and thanksgiving about halfway through the psalm.

PSALM 110 is a royal psalm written by David that is both prophetic and Messianic in nature.  This Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 5-7 as the writer portrays Jesus as the “great high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

PSALM 111 is a song of praise and thanksgiving that was written anonymously.  This psalm is also didactic in nature.

PSALM 112 is a wisdom psalm that was also written anonymously.  This psalm too is didactic and is also intercessional in nature.

PSALM 113 is a song of praise that was written anonymously.  This psalm is an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.

PSALM 114 is also a song of praise that was written anonymously.  This psalm is also an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.

PSALM 115 is a song of praise that also was written anonymously.  This psalm too is an Egyptian Hallel, a song sung during Passover season.



Day 174: Psalms 106-108; Give Thanks to the Lord, for He is good…

As we move into book 5 of the Psalms, we really get into some of the well known praise psalms.  These psalms have inspired a great many songs throughout even more generations since they were first written!  While we often put the greatest emphasis on the reading of the Word of God, and I wouldn’t deny the importance of this, it seems also important for us to sing the Word of God.  Songs and music touch us in ways that are much different and often times much deeper than a lecture or sermon.  Music, melody, and lyrics stick with us and its so great to have the Word of God in our heads each and every day!  If this happens in the form of song, then fantastic!  These songs, from a variety of different backgrounds and generations, are all inspired by different parts of Psalm 106-108… I hope that they can speak to you today!

PSALM 106-108 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving for God’s great works, steadfast love, and abounding grace.  Each is very didactic in nature as they describe the many reasons for offering praise and thanksgiving to God  Psalm 106 and 107 are written anonymously while psalm 108 is attributed to King David and is considered by some to be a psalm of ascent.



Day 173: Psalms 103-105; How Great is Our God

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

These are fitting words for the psalms that we read through today!  All three are psalms of praise that tell of the many acts and words of the Lord and all three proclaim His glory and splendor!  I don’t honestly think that there is a lot to be added to these Psalms… I think that they are best re-read over and over.  I would encourage you to do that today!  Take time to read these Psalms at least two more times.  As you do this, take time to think back over the past 6 months… over all that we have read and encountered in the Scriptures.  Do you remember the times that the psalmist is talking about?  Take some more time to think about the things in your life… how have you seen God at work in your day to day walk?

PSALM 103-105 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are written anonymously.  Each is didactic in nature, with psalm 105 actually being more of a historical account of God’s amazing works in redemptive history.  Though all three reference times past, they can also draw our attention to God’s work in the present and in our own lives as well.