Day 343: Philippians 1-4; True Joy

The book of Philippians is another one of the prison epistles (letters) that is written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.  This letter is often called Paul’s joy letter, because he expresses a great deal of joy amid all of the persecution and suffering that he is enduring.  He states that he is imprisoned for the Gospel, yet he takes great joy in it because it has served to advance the message of the Gospel into the Roman guards that have been around him.  I think it interesting that we often worry about “the right opportunity” to spread the message of Jesus Christ and talk about always being ready and aware of it, yet Paul’s example here is that every opportunity no matter how bad it seems, is the right opportunity to share the Gospel!

As I read this book today, I feel that there needs to be an explanation of what Paul means when he says “joy” or even “rejoice.”  Clearly Paul is not in the best of circumstances, and he really doesn’t have any reason to feel happy, upbeat, or anything of the sort.  In fact, his living conditions in a Roman prison, even under house arrest, would have been rather deplorable by today’s standards.  Yet Paul still says that he has joy in his suffering, and even that he “will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

So what is Paul some sort of super Christian or something like that?  I would say that we all hold Paul in pretty high esteem, but he is human like the rest of us, there is no doubt.  The different here is the idea of what joy really is.  We often equate happiness with joy, as if somehow they were the same thing, but they are not.  Happiness is something that we want.  We do things to make ourselves happy; purchase things, give things, create things, even play things all in an effort to make ourselves happy.  Happiness is an emotion, it depends on our circumstances, and is often fleeting.  We could spend our whole lives trying to find things, jobs, toys, and people to make us eternally happy and always end up disappointed.

Joy on the other hand comes only from Jesus Christ.  Joy runs deeper and is stronger becomes from a source outside of ourselves.  The introduction to Philippians in the NIV Life Application Study Bible says that “joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that He will be there no matter what.  Happiness depends on happenings, but Joy depends on Christ.”  This is why Paul can write from prison in such a joyful tone!  He knows that there is more to life than happiness, and that his circumstances here on earth, though difficult, do not compare and cannot change His identity in Christ Jesus.  Again, it is because of the joy that he has in Christ Jesus that he can write, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

More than this, Paul can say to the church in Philippi, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we have often talked about, living a Christian life in a Christ-like way isn’t a matter of rules and restriction but freedom from sin.  Because of what Christ has done for us we are free from the Law and from sin, and free to live for Christ.  This is why Paul writes these things.  Out of the joy that you have found in Christ Jesus, live in such a way that your life reflects this joy in every possible way… especially in the unity you have with other believers.  I wonder if people would walk into my church on a Sunday and wonder what in the world was going on because of all that joy that was flowing around that place.  I wonder if those that go to my church would, if the difficult times of life, know that they could find themselves in a place that, in the midst of their suffering and find those that would be willing to both support them in their sufferings and still uphold them with joy because of the hope that they have in Christ Jesus.  I wonder if this is something that is prominent in the greater Church today… or if we spend a lot of time walking around with our heads down because we’re not happy.

Brothers and Sisters we have a hope that is much greater than all the happiness this life has to offer, and we find it in Christ Jesus!

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.



Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Day 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 285: Matthew 18-20; Jesus Continues Teaching

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, which we will continue to read about and see in the next three Gospels, Jesus is continually teaching his disciples and the myriad of crowds that are following Him.  The subject of these teachings ranges across the spectrum of the human experience.  However, Jesus was not simply a man of many words, talking a good talk, but He is also one who walks the walk as well.  As we have continued to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus we have continued to talk about this in different ways as well.  Jesus’ teaching has a lot to do with actions and interactions, the way we are with those that are around us.  We, along with Jesus, have criticized the pharisees for their “works based righteousness” mentality, and we have seen very clearly what Jesus says about them and how that is related to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Sometimes I think that it seems like, and we interpret the teachings of Jesus in a very similar fashion to that of the pharisees.  Quite often in the contemporary church we hear sermons about how we need to try hard to be good so that God will be happy with us and bless us.  We are told that if we give enough money or if we do enough good deeds we will meet a certain quota of goodness and we will get rewarded.  Perhaps we even make it sound a bit more spiritual than this too.  We use words like “servant” and “humility” because they are words that we hear Jesus using in the Bible.  We are told that we need to follow Jesus’ example even unto death to do good things which will help God to be happy with us.  However, we are careful to avoid the phrase “righteousness” because we wouldn’t want people to think that they can make themselves righteous, we just basically insinuate it and push people to live up to an impossible ideal.

Sadly, this is so completely contrary to the teachings and actions of Jesus in His life, and this infringes on and violates so many doctrines that if it were closely examined, the Christian faith would fall apart.  We, like the disciples and the people of Israel, are called by God not of our own merit, elected by Him and predestined to be believers in Jesus Christ (which is where we are different than the Jews).  We believe that we are sinners, sinful by nature and that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves to redemption.  Yet we live as though we have to do everything right to earn our salvation for ourselves.  We teach others as if this is the reality of our life and faith too.  Friends, these things are mutually exclusive.  What is the difference?  The place that our heart is in.

As believers we are indeed called to “life a life worthy of the calling we have received.”  However, the purpose of living this life is not out of necessity for righteousness or out of some quest to make ourselves perfect, but out of gratitude for the grace that is shown us.  This is the true calling of Israel and it is the true calling of the people of God.  We were chosen when we deserved not to be!  We have been redeemed through no work of our own!  We have been shown abundant grace and mercy, redemption in the face of sin and condemnation!  We have been blessed to be a blessing; given light for a dark world!  Knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, how can we not live a life of love and gratitude?  What’s the difference?  Where our heart is!  When our hearts are focused on God, all the things that Jesus teaches about here like forgiveness, having a servant’s heart, loving one another, mercy, grace, and even healing all flow out of us naturally.  Ultimately though it is about the heart, it flows out of our hearts and lives not as an attempt at righteousness, but because we have already been made righteous.



Day 238: Lamentations 3-5; Hope for Restoration

As we come to the final writings of Jeremiah, I think it is important for us to see where Jeremiah places his hope.  As we talked about yesterday, it is important for us to place our hope in God when we are faced with times of struggle and trial, when our live seems to be left in ruins.  Whatever it is that we have endured, we must continue to bring it before the Lord and allow our grief and struggle to be laid at His feet.  Jeremiah follows this path of Lament, crying out over the devastation that he has witnessed.

However, he doesn’t just stop his prayer or questioning of God at complaining and crying our over all that has happened.  Like Job, David, and many others before him, Jeremiah continues on in his prayer to speak of the righteousness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God.  He acknowledges that the people of God needed this and that the Lord was right and just in His actions.  It is for the people of God that these things have been done, even though they hurt now they will lead to great things.  Jeremiah points out that the people need to examine their hearts and their ways as they go through this time, to see what God is doing within them.

It doesn’t stop there either though.  Jeremiah says that the people need to lift up praise and thanksgiving to the Lord in this time.  Even in the midst of all these struggles, the Lord has been good to them and continues to be faithful to them as well.  We often have the tendency too see only the negative things in our lives, the struggles and trials that take place day in and day out.  When we do this, we fail to look at the rest of life.  If we are only focused on the 5% of things that are difficult and terrible, we are neglecting the other 95% of our lives where God continues to be faithful and bless us.

Jeremiah doesn’t stop there either though.  Again, like Job, David, and so many others, Jeremiah prays for restoration.  It isn’t bad for us to ask God to put things back together for us.  I think that this is a very important part of this prayer and a great way to end this section of the writings of Jeremiah.  Reread chapter 5 and see the words that Jeremiah uses.  He asks God to remember all these things, to see the plight that has come upon His people, and to bring about restoration to them.  I think it is interesting that Jeremiah also asks God to return the people to “the days of old.”  Something tells me God chuckled a little bit when He heard Jeremiah say that.  It wasn’t to how things used to be that God was going to bring His people to, it was to a new day, a glorious day, when all things would be made right and restored!  This is the day that God is working toward in us as well.  When we face times of testing and we wish that things were just put back to the way they were, remember that God is working in us and doing a new thing within us, shaping and sculpting us as a potter shapes a new clay pot.  It takes a lot of work, but eventually we will be made into the image of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us each and every day.



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 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.