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

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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!)

Don’t Just Skip It

Psalm 106-108

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Friday, January 13

It’s amazing, when you love a book or a movie how much you can pour over it to soak it all in. In nerd culture, of which I am most decidedly a part, people discuss and debate and argue over things we find in the stuff we like. There are always questions as a matter of taste (changing something from book to movie form and how books have a 99.999% chance of being better). In the universes we love, there are strange theories. (Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars is a Sith Lord, or so some people say). There are even theories for Children’s Films (I personally believe that the Troll’s cursed Prince Hans into his betrayal of Anna in Disney’s Frozen.) While you may think these are dumb or take them super serious, they all hold something in common. The people who make up fan theories have poured over the source material so they don’t miss anything.
It’s hard to do this when we are reading through the Bible in a year, but the same thing happens in Scripture. When you know a general idea of the whole story, little details pop up that are fascinating. Notice that the children of the cursed Ham happen to be Egypt, a nation of oppressors, and Canaan, the ones God commanded the Israelites to kill. (Gen. 11) Today’s reading does the same thing. These verses are Psalm 108:7-9. I know I have tended to read them like this: “I will divide up [bad person/place], I will apportion [bad place]… Judah [I know that good place] is my scepter, [bad place?] is my wash basin.” You get the idea. But that is a sad way to read it. Don’t miss what God is trying to tell us.
—Shechem was a terrible man who did a terrible thing to a woman in Israel. (Gen. 34) God gave victory to the sons of Jacob over Shechem. God is saying I will divide up and give to my holy ones the land/wealth of the evil.
— The people of Succoth did not help Gideon, the valiant warrior of God. God gave victory to Gideon in multiple ways, one being humiliating the princes of Succoth and killing the men of their towns. (Judges 8) God will grant victory to his people over their enemies.
— By referencing Manasseh, Ephraim and Judah, God is saying that Both the Northern and the South Kingdoms are his. If David wrote this psalm, then it is a condemnation on the Northern tribes for breaking away from the rulers in Judah.
— Moab tried to stop Israel from dwelling in the Land God had promised to them and God struck them down. Edom also refused to allow Israelites to travel through their land.
— The Philistines (descendants of Egypt, according to Gen. 10) were what seems to be the arch-rivals of Israel’s claim on their ancient Land.
Just getting a small amount of information opens up so much about the text of the Bible. The truth is that it is good to read fast and cover a lot of material, but it is also good to read slowly and deeply and soak it in. Don’t let one overshadow the other, because if you read a lot it will help you read deeply. So, the next time you come to a list of names, or a bunch of cities, or weird visions, DON’T SKIP IT. Who knows what God expects you to find?
-Jake Ballard
(Photo credit: http://www.psalmsquotes.com/psalm-107-14-quote.htm)

He’s Not Abstract

Psalms 103-105

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Thursday, January 12

If you attend a church (and I encourage you to do so), you probably hear prayer requests and prayers. Sometimes, in the interest of time, I have been known to say prayers and thank God abstractly for “all the good you have done” or “for another day of life” or something along those lines. In many worship services, the songs we sing tend to reinforce that kind of language as we talk to God. As kids we learn “Jesus Loves Me” and “Zacchaeus”, but these songs, while teaching us Bible stories and abstract truths, don’t make life real.
The psalmists don’t let things stay in the level of the abstract. They would think the way we think about theology is rather silly. We use big words like “omnipotent” (all-powerful) or “omni-benevolent” (all-good) to refer to God. The authors of psalms 103-105 are focused on the tangible ways God is working in the world, the concrete way he interacted, is interacting and will interact in creation. When you read psalm 104, the created order that is being displayed there is beautiful. It is a different look at creation, one that is intimate and yet shows God working in creation. He gives water even to a wild donkey. The dangerous and powerful leviathan is a work of God. The creation of trees and valleys all point to the wonder of the Almighty. Psalm 105 tells the work of God in the covenant people of Israel. The psalmist retells (probably with music) the great movement of God with Israel. The Exodus is such a significant moment, because God defeated the gods of the most powerful empire and proved that God is the only true God. He saved Israel and led them through the desert. In psalm 103, the author (David?) is speaking to his own soul when he says “He forgives all your sin”(3) and “he satisfies you with goodness” (5). The author is declaring his own story, that God saves him and gives him good things. Even though we are sinners, God takes care of us and makes sure we have all that we need.
The point is that when we praise God, there are times to tell of his “omni-“ qualities and there is a time to get down and talk about what he did. For me, God not only gives me love, but he has given me a wife that makes me laugh and makes my heart sing because she is wonderful in every way. He has given me a daughter that is fun, joyful and sweet. God gives me hope, and He assures me that though I have lost loved ones, that there will come a day that I will see them again. I praise God not just because he is loving or hope-giving in some abstract way, but because in my life and in the world God has clearly shown that he cares. He is a God that moves in concrete ways.
Live it Out Challenge: After you read the psalms, think of 7 concrete and specific ways God has worked in your life. Don’t make them abstract (“He loves me”) but make them concrete (“He has given me a wife and a daughter that mirror His love”). Make them about you, and take your time. Work and meditate on them all day if you need to.
-Jake Ballard
(Photo credit: http://www.spiritradio.ie/the-word-for-tuesday-psalm-1032/)

The Earth Cries Out

Psalms 96-102

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Wednesday, January 11

The Appalachians are amazing. I grew up in the foothills of the Smokies and the Blue Ridge. On a clear day at the top of the hill you could see gracefully rolling mountains in the distance. If you live near the Rockies or even parts of Alaska, mountains in your imagination peak and may be white tipped year-round. However, in the imagination of a southern boy of the Carolinas, mountains are tree-covered rolling and majestic mountains. These are old and they feel even grander because of their age. I remember a time when I went hiking with some friends in the eastern mountains of North Carolina. We got to the top of the hike, and we could see the road cutting through the valley. The cars were smaller than toys; buildings, houses or stores were miniatures too small for a child and people were indistinguishable. However, the path they cut through the valley was noticeable. This was humanity’s doing.
The mountains, however, were the work of God. For miles, the green mountains, the golden-red sunset, the crisp, clean air, were the blessings and handiwork of a loving and caring God. And the mountains let you know it. The mountains “shout together for joy.” (98:8) The Psalmist knows well that creation praises it’s creator. When the author says “sing to the LORD, all the earth”(96:1) I have tended to read that one small phrase as a command to all the people. But just as importantly, he is telling ALL of creation to sing praises to God. The trees and the forest (96:12) resound with the praises of God, when they are displaying majesty in fall or even in the depth of winter when they are barren. The sunset over the mountain, or the sunrise over the ocean displaying the play of colors that God desires we all see in creation. (Or, on the more western states, the sunset over the coast.) Sometimes the glory God displays in the created world is not beautiful but terrifying. Darkness, like the inky blackness of night; fire burning up his foes; lightning striking the ground with thunder exploding and roaring all around, all these show the greatness of God.
In other places, it seems that creation because of it’s nature and the fact that it is nature, cannot help but show the glory of the God who created it. Jesus says that if those who were praising him (to the glory of the Father) were kept silent, that “the stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) But your worship isn’t. You must choose who you will worship. The author of these psalms we read show that God alone is worthy of worship and the created world, worshipped by other people in their world, worships YHWH. May we shout with joy along with the forest, the trees, the mountains, the rivers, the heavens, the depths, and all the earth. “Be glad in Yahweh, you righteous ones, and praise His holy name.” (97:12)
– Jake Ballard
(Photo credit: https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-96-1_Inspirational_Image/)

Your Mind = Blown

Psalms 90-95

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Tuesday, January 10

The universe is big. REALLY big. You know it and I know it, but I don’t usually stop and think about just how big it all is. I am not a whiz when it comes to science, but some scientists estimate that there is roughly 440 sextillion kilometers of space. I can’t even get my head around that number. When have we ever had to use sextillion to describe anything else? And this is all part of our observable universe, because we can’t see past a certain point for a variety of reasons. Therefore it is possible that the universe is INFINITE. Whoa. And if you really want to have your mind blown, in mathematics, we can learn that there are different sets or levels of infinity, meaning that some infinities are bigger than other infinities.
Now, if you are like me, you may need to take a moment to clear your head of all that big-ness. It is a lot to take in.
In the Ancient World of the Psalms, people thought of the world differently. The idea of an infinite universe would have been completely unthinkable. I won’t digress into their actual way of thinking about the world, but they thought space was limited to Earth. However, they had no such notion about TIME. Time, for the authors of the Psalms, was something that goes back forever and goes forward forever. Time is what the Earth will always experience and go through, and since Earth will experience it, so will people.
Psalm 90 is a big reminder that people are mortal, or that people are born, they live and they die. We all go through that process. Nobody that is can skip any portion. People “return to dust”, recalling the opening chapters of Genesis. The author uses a number of images to express what people are like; grass (90:5-6), a sigh or tale that is told (9). We are all a mist or a shadow, to use other metaphors in scripture. And the author even gives a longer estimate of life, because he says that we receive 70 or 80 years! But that is nothing in comparison to the world, to the sun, the moon and the stars.
And least of all to God. God is eternal; God does not suffer from the passage of time, God does not experience time as humans do, and some Christian thinkers even say that God is outside of time. The eternality of God is in beautiful contrast to the mortality of humanity. YHWH is God before the mountains were born or he gave birth to the world, from “eternity to eternity”.(90:1-2) A thousand years are like a day to the Almighty. (90:4) Just as your days pass by quickly, so do thousands of years for God, because he literally has all the time in the world.
Because of this we should rejoice! Not because we only have to endure a few decades of doldrums, but because we are connected to the God who reigns forever. Psalm 93 says “Your throne has been established from the beginning; You are from eternity.” God is praised for being the King, and the King forever. God’s holiness and beauty will be established for all the days to come (93:5). With all this in mind, it is understandable why the authors of the psalms would cry out “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. 7 For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep under His care.” How amazing is it that the eternal, all-powerful, King of the Universe would want to be our shepherd. Let that truth sink in, and when it will, it will blow. your. mind.
-Pastor Jake Ballard
(Photo credit: http://hiswordinpictures.blogspot.com/2014/10/psalm-904.html)