Praise

Psalm 145-150

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Friday, January 20

A few years ago my wife and I went on a driving tour of Ireland.  We had the opportunity to see beautiful and wonderful things, many of them being the untouched creation of God.  Each morning we would leave our bed and breakfast early, then ride around and visit as many sites as we could fit in between dusk and dawn, making sure to get to our next bed and breakfast before the sun went down. Why? It was near impossible to navigate the streets and backroads of the smaller towns of Ireland in the evening.

 

It was the fourth or fifth night into our journey, and we were having an exceptionally hard time finding our resting place for the evening.  We were driving (unknowingly) in the wrong direction, as the sun was starting to set.  There was a faint mist in the air and mountains ahead.  I watched as the sky and mountains turned from shades of gray to the most vivid reds, purples, yellows, oranges, and more.  It is not hyperbole to say that it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life.  I was focused on how beautiful the sunset was, and I kept on oohing, awing, and driving in the wrong direction; however, my wife was focused on getting us safely to our destination, pouring through papers and maps.  I begged her to look up and take at look at the wondrous sight, but she wouldn’t have it; she told me to turn around (in the opposite direction of the sunset!) because we had made a wrong turn.  I turned around to avoid a fight (or more of one), but stopped when I saw a decent pull off.  I said, “You have to look at how beautiful the sunset is!”  We both got out of the car.  We oohed and awed together.  We snapped a photo or two that did not do the scene justice, and we drove off with a memory.

 

In that moment, I saw something that I wanted to give praise to.  I was amazed and astounded.  I thanked God, but that did not do it justice.  I had to share it.  I had to tell someone (now several someones) about it.  In fact, it was hard to think or speak of anything else.  C.S. Lewis says in Reflection on the Psalms ,

 

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation….It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with… Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

 

God has called us to enjoy His many wonderful attributes throughout the Psalms.  He is patient, kind, caring, merciful, just, faithful, and unrelenting.  While He is exalted in the highest heavens with knowledge too lofty to attain, He is a personal, close, and specific Father who gives us every opportunity to allow Him to work and act in our lives.  The highest of praise goes to an infinite God who has loved us so much! BUT, praise is far beyond acknowledgement.  Praise is an immersive experience. It may be great to see something praiseworthy, but to fully experience praise, we must share it.  Praise is not only see to see the sunset, it is to let others know and share in the moment.  When we experience His blessing, His healing, His power, His comfort, or His love, we cannot be silent or accept; we cannot let it go under the radar. We must let others know.  In this, we have then offered praise.

 

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; This splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart” Psalm 148:13-14.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” 150:6

-Aaron Winner

(Photo credit: Aaron Winner – most beautiful sunset)

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He Knows

Psalm 139 – 144

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Thursday, January 19

After 11 years of marriage, I feel like I know my wife pretty well.  I don’t just know her favorite movie, but I know when she will laugh in a couple dozen different films.  I don’t just know her favorite food, but I could sit down at a new restaurant with her, look at the menu, and tell you what she is going to order.  I don’t just know what annoys her, I could execute the annoyance with such precision that she would be sent into a full-blown rage within seconds.  I may know her better than she knows herself.  I do not only see her actions, but I know her potential.  I do not only know her answer, but understand her logic (well, most of the time).  When you love something or better yet, someone, deeply you take in as much knowledge as you can, so you can protect, please, and preserve it.

 

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14

 

However, my love pales in comparison to God’s love for her.  God has been with her since he was knitting her together with the yarn of amino acids in her mother’s womb.   When no one else saw her because she was a few multiplying cells, God already knew her name.  Before she had a form, God knew who she would be called to be, He had taken account of her life, and placed it in His plan.  His love does not end here.

 

He’s a loving God, wanting to know more about his creation,

who left His word for her, so He can have a conversation;

He sacrificed His Son for her, so she could have salvation.

When her actions don’t match her potential he perceives it,

And when she repents from her heart he will always believe it;

When she confesses her pain, He will hear and will grieve it.

He truly knows the things that are desires of her heart;

He hears her prayers and then His blessings impart;

Thoughts so high, love so deep, may it never depart.

 

“How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.” – Psalm 139:17-18

While we may have a friend, a parent, a child, a spouse, that loves us deeply, God’s loves goes deeper; it is timeless, unconditional, and infinitely-supplied (Rom 8:38-39).  This comes from Him perfectly forming us and His continued desire to know us.  EVERY child of God has been made through great care and knowledge, but also promised a specific and great love.  You are a priceless possession of a Great God and Loving Father.

-Aaron Winner

(photo credit: http://www.psalmsquotes.com/psalm-139-14.htm)

 

 

Perfect Harmony

Psalm 132-138

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Wednesday,  January 18

A conductor lifts her baton signifying music is only a breath or two away. Violins, violas, cellos, & basses simultaneously make a sound as their players move their bows side to side along each instruments’ strings.  Nothing is as pleasant as hearing the harmonious sound of an orchestra blending pitches, octaves, melodies, parts, becoming one unified thought and expression.  A euphonious sound appreciated by all in attendance: young, old, musically inclined, musically inept, and even those who would not admit they enjoy such things.

 

Unfortunately, the majority of my experience has been on the other side of this equation, having attended close to a dozen novice string concerts of first year players.  The conductor lifts her baton in the same manner,  but soon after comes a cacophony arising from the stage, sharply hitting my ear, and then a small chill goes up my spine.  The disunity and discord momentarily disconnect me; however,  I remain true to my reason for being there:  to support the ones I love, to offer encouragement, and provide helpful insight when the time comes.

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard, Flowing down Aaron’s beard, flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.  It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon,  flowing down the slopes of Zion. Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life. – Psalm 133, The Message

When harmony is mentioned in the Bible, it overwhelmingly speaks of our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are to love, value, encourage, and cherish each individual member. Every member has an ordained purpose.  Every member has a God-given spiritual gift.  Every member has been fearfully and wonderfully made to play their part in His song.  We may know this full and well, but it really only takes a handful of minutes on social media, conversation at a meal after a church service, or a decision made at a board meeting to reveal disunity that still exists in the body.  Our sinful nature wants us to have our way, obtain all power, and to defeat those who oppose us.  God wants us to know His way, utilize His power, and to fight our battles for us.

With a unified purpose in God, we are no longer made to COMPETE with one another, but we are made to COMPLETE one another.  We must never forget we share the same Heavenly Father who has purposefully brought us together (1 Cor 12:12-13).  We must always do our best to love, support, encourage, and train our brothers and sisters to fulfill their vital part in body and song (Romans 14:19).  We must find and repair the discord, and keep from creating more, so we are all on the same page (Matthew 18:15-17). An orchestra filled with musicians trying to be heard, competing sections, or playing different pieces simultaneously, is one that will not be listened to.   The joy and attraction of harmony lives in playing our part, lifting praise as one voice, one song, to our One God.

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! – Romans 15:3-6, The Message

-Aaron Winner

(photo credit: http://hiswordinpictures.blogspot.com/2015/03/psalm-1331.html)

Victory Set in Motion

Psalm 120 – 131

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Tuesday, January 17

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author responsible for the conversion of C.S. Lewis, insisted that his series, The Lord of the Rings, was not a direct metaphor or allegory of the Christian message, yet this series is steeped in Tolkien’s faith. It reminds me of a popular phrase where I’m from, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”  When you are living for Christ, everything you touch becomes infused with your faith.

 

One such example that parallels Christian faith and hope, is from the second book in the trilogy, The Two Towers.  Go ahead and push up your glasses; indulge me. It’s about to get a little nerdy.

 

Near the climax of the story, the humans and elves are defending a last-resort fortress, Helm’s Deep.  The orcs, which greatly outnumber their foes, have come to take the fortress in the night.  They advance and breach the stronghold.  It is only a matter of time before all is lost. At the moment when defeat is certain for the human-elf alliance, those who remain are reminded of a promise made by a wizard friend, Gandalf, “Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.”  As the sun rises over the mountain top, it reveals that Gandalf has literally “called in the cavalry,” assembling the Riders of Rohan.  Using the dawn’s blinding light to their advantage, they charge down from the mountain, break the enemy ranks, and leave the orcs to retreat.  Gandalf’s perfect planning was the difference in tragedy or triumph..

 

I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word. I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn. – Psalm 130:5-6

 

Norman Vincent Peale, minister and author of “The Power of Positive Thinking”, states that God answers prayers three ways: “yes, no, and wait a while”.  “Yes,” is obviously the easiest answer to hear.  We immediately receive the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4) and celebrate.  “No,” is difficult to hear, but it brings closure.  Knowing a door is closed, helps us move in a different direction (2 Samuel 12:13-22). However, “wait,” is the toughest of the three.  “Wait,” means you must stay in the heat of battle (Exodus 17:8-12). “Wait,” means you must hold the enemy at bay (1 Corinthians 10:13). “Wait” means you must maintain tremendous trust, complete courage, and unfaltering faith to set aside what you want NOW, because God has a perfect time, one MUCH better than NOW, to fulfill His promise to you.

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! – Psalm 121:1-2

Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. -Psalm 124: 6-8

And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!  What joy! – Psalm 126:2-3

Whether it is college, career, children, or commitment that you are waiting upon, God is actively working on “amazing things,” preparing to fulfill and complete those who are willing to persevere (James 1:2-4). In the dead of night, when the odds are stacked against you, faithfully fight and look to the Lord and His promises for your help. He will soon overwhelm you with the victory that has long been set in motion.

-Aaron Winner

(Photo credit: http://markryman.com/BLOG/2013/11/03/a-fortune-of-joy/         Original photo by YousefTOmar)

A to Z

Psalm 119

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Monday, January 16

If you live in the United States, you are subject to millions of laws.  There are so many laws at the federal level, that it would take lifetimes to count them all. There are possibly 20,000 regulations placed upon gun ownership.  The Internal Revenue Code is over 7,500 pages long.  There are over 300,000 expressions of criminal offenses you could possibly commit.  All of these numbers do not include the laws you must abide by at the state or local levels.  I do not tell you all of this to make you rummage through law books before every action, so you will fearfully stay at home (there might be a law against that, too), or even as some kind of backhanded political statement, but to make the simple point — even when you want to follow the law, it can be hard when there are so many.

 

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.  Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart — they do no wrong but follow his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.” – Psalm 119:1-4

 

“How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word.” – Psalm 119:8

 

Psalm 119 is a reflection on the following: the laws, statutes,  precepts, and words given by God to men through an acrostic.  What is an acrostic?  You have most likely done something similar with your name at some point in your school career:

 

Artistic

Ambitious

Relaxed

Objective

Nearsighted

 

The first letter of each word spell out the theme of discussion.  By using the Hebrew Alphabet to begin each stanza, David, our author, literally covers everything from “A” to “Z” (or “Aleph” to “Taw”) to thoroughly tell about the favor or folly that comes from obeying / disobey God’s commandments.  The ABC’s of living a life for God is closely clinging to His commands – all 600+ of them given in the Torah that make up the Levitical Law? For David, yes.  Thankfully, Jesus Christ simplified the commandments to two guiding principles that encompass them all:

“‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

Does reducing these many laws to two make it easier to live within the law? Absolutely not.  There are no longer loopholes, gaps, or technicalities to exploit which are the reasons for chastisement of religious leaders in the time of Jesus and the ever-increasing amount of laws today.  These two laws encompass every part of our lives. A-to-Z. From Actions with our enemies to the Zeal which we have for His kingdom, these laws apply.  When we commit to following His law, we have blessing, direction, fulfillment, and hope.  Is it an easier life? No. Is it a better life? Absolutely, yes.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:  I will obey your righteous regulations.” – Psalm 119:105-106

-Aaron Winner

Few Words

Psalm 116 – 118

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Sunday, January 15

Every Tuesday that school meets, I get the opportunity to musically accompany a student who leads a song for our school’s Fellowship of Christian Students.  This takes some minor coordination, as a student sends me an email at some point during the week to make sure that I am familiar with the song he/she wants to sing, and he/she might arrange a quick practice if need be.  There is really nothing special about these emails.  More times than not, all the information is in the subject line, and there is no actual message.  One such email came not long ago:

 

Subject: Singing good good father on Tuesday

Message:<none>

At first glance this is far from spectacular.  In fact, it is an English teacher’s nightmare.  Lack of punctuation, capitalization, or salutation, yet this may have been the most powerful prose that has ever been written by one of my students.  These six words have a concealed connotation that are revealed with a reflection on the text.

 

To say it mildly, this school year had been a bumpy one for the sender of this email.  Along with the many other complications that come from being in middle school, this student had faced many a giant outside the school walls.  Two months prior, she had suddenly lost a very close grandmother to an unexpected illness.  Then, it was only a month later when her grandfather decided he could no longer deal with the tremendous vacancy left by his wife; he took his own life.  This left the student floundering, dealing with depression and her own darkening desires, all while trying to do drama-and-hormone-filled middle school as a typical preteen.

 

I was moved, because out of all the songs she could have picked….this one.  Not a song asking God to give her comfort.  Not a song asking God to give her strength.  Not a song asking God to give her peace, joy, lift the burden, make it go away, overcome, change, deliver, or go before her.  Not a song asking God to give her anything she did not already have.  Only the reflection upon a few simple words about who he is, and his undeniable, unfaltering, unconcealed relationship with us, that will, in turn, bring all of those things and more.

 

“You’re a Good, Good Father, it’s who You are

And I’m loved by You, it’s who I am”

“You are perfect in all of your ways to us”

 

In today’s reading we experience an equally brief but equally powerful message.  Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter of the Bible.  Depending upon your translation, it is simply twenty words or so.

Upon glancing over it, you have undoubtedly read similar words in other Psalms, and it would be easy to breeze by and never notice its power-packed message:

 

“Praise the Lord, all you nations,

Praise Him, all you people of the earth.

For his unfailing love for us is powerful

The Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.

Praise the Lord!”

 

These words were written well before the act of Jesus Christ became our propitiation, yet we are promised partakers in his love and faithfulness.  A love and faithfulness that has been and is working for ALL (not Israel, or even Christians)  but ALL people of ALL nations at ALL times.  Only reflecting upon a few words dramatically affects the reading of this passage. These words, which possibly  sound repetitive, general, or generic after reading through the Psalms, are chosen specifically to show that He is and has been working specifically, powerfully, and faithfully in your life much longer than we could have ever expected or known.

-Aaron Winner

“You’re a Good, Good Father”, “Praise the Lord”

(Photo credit: https://dailyverses.net/psalms/116/1-2/kjv)

Not to Us

Psalm 109-115

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Saturday, January 14

This weekend, I am playing in the band at reFUEL. I love praising God through music and have been doing that for most of my life. One amazing artist of Christian music is Chris Tomlin, and a few years ago he put out the song called “Not To Us.” (check it out here https://youtu.be/8m0LowihOXY) The first line of the song is “Not to us, but to your name, be the glory.” If you are reading along, you know that Chris Tomlin pulled that song right out of psalm 115:1.
In Psalm 115, the psalmist declares “Not to us, Yahweh, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your faithful love, because of Your truth.” The psalmist invokes the name of God and says “give Your name glory”. The name of God is so cool. YHWH(pronounced Yahweh), the actual name of God, is related to the Hebrew word for “to be” and means something like “the self-existing one, the one who has life.” YHWH God is the only one who exists not because of anything else but only because of himself. No other being has that power. Only one person is God. Therefore, because God is the only one who is God, because of his faithful love and his truth (115:1), the psalmists says “to your name give glory.” Which is why he says “not to us, because we are not God, but only to you give glory.”
The psalmist also says other things shouldn’t receive glory, honor or praise. They shouldn’t be for idols. (115:4-8) There are still idols today; money, sex, power, pleasure. These idols are worthless things, pointless things, death-giving things. These things shouldn’t receive our glory or our honor or our praise. More importantly, we shouldn’t give ourself glory. The psalmist gave a hard statement when he says “not to us, Yahweh, not to us”. The psalmist recognizes that we are not worthy of this glory or honor or praise, but only God is.
This week, live in the truth that God is the only one worthy of worship. Say with the psalmist “not to me, not to my pleasures, not to my bank account, not to my idols, but only to YHWH our God, will I give glory.”
-Jake Ballard
(From a fellow participant at reFUEL – Thank You, Jake for your ministry in music and word!  You are a blessing!)