Praise

Psalm 145-150

aaron-photo

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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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)

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/)

Our Boundary Lines

boundarylinesWhen the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land after wandering for forty years, they had a big job to do. After taking possession of the land, they had to divide the land between the twelve tribes. Joshua was given this job, and you can find the boundary lines of each tribe in Joshua 16-21. These boundary lines were designed by God so that each tribe would have access to enough good land to survive. They were a provision from God as the Israelites settled into their new home.

Hundreds of years later, David talks about boundary lines in Psalm 16. He says,

“LORD, you are my portion

and my cup of blessing;

You hold my future.

The boundary lines

have fallen for me

In pleasant places;

Indeed, I have

A beautiful inheritance.” –vv. 5-6

The boundary lines David was talking about were not only boundary markers on the ground dictating the land he would inherit. These boundary lines concerned something far more important. These boundaries established a spiritual inheritance that we also receive, the Kingdom of God.

Hebrews 9:15 says, “Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Jesus is our mediator, so that we can receive our promised inheritance. The portion that we receive, our future and our inheritance, is the Kingdom of God. Indeed, our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places!

Like many of David’s psalms, his celebration of God does not end with a praise. David always includes action. If we continue to read through the rest of Psalm 16, we see the reflection of a heart change in David’s life. He praises God, because God counsels Him- through his meditation on God’s word, he reflects on how he can better live for God. Through David’s purposeful study of God’s word, he walks on the path of life, which leads to the Kingdom.

Often, we think about boundaries as hemming and restricting us. David rejoices because, though the law does give him restrictions on how to live, he sees that life with the law is pleasant. Our boundary lines are great not only in the future to come, but also this world now.

Let’s rejoice in our inheritance and follow David’s example of walking and reveling in God’s word and presence.

-Cayce Ballard

 

Photo Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B8CzfQUIcAAi1yT.jpg

The Other Christmas Story

Psalms 1-7

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Saturday, December 24

In our reading today, we enter into the book of Psalms.  To use an analogy, Psalms is probably like the collection of worship music that your worship team is using at church.  They were written to be set to music, have a variety of authors, covers a wide variety of themes and topics, and even have instructions to the “worship leader” as how (tempo, instruments, mood) many of these psalms should be played.  You will notice as you read throughout the book of Psalms there are lines, stanzas, and chapters that have found their way into the Christian worship (and even some secular music) of today.

One recurring topic, laced throughout the book of Psalms that fits our reading and the season, is the prophetic telling of a promised Messiah: his jubilant arrival, the long awaited Word of God becoming flesh.  The angels, the earth, the heavens, and every man had been created with a longing for this event and had waited its fulfillment (Colossians 1:15-20).  Sadly, much of the focus of this season has turned away from the telling of this story, and turned to other ones.  In many of the Christmas movies I know,  someone asks, “Who wants to hear the story of Christmas?”  The family patriarch takes a seat by the fire.  Children gather around at his feet.  Everyone quietly listens as the story begins.  “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…”  I sigh.  This is not the LIFE-ALTERING, SALVATION-BRINGING, PROPHECY-FULFILLING, HISTORY-CHANGING Christmas story I know, BUT there is a rivaling Christmas story that is equal, or even greater than the one we currently know about the humble beginnings of a baby in a manger. This story is made mention of in the Psalm 2:

“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.  I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” – Psalm 2:6-9

The first advent of Jesus Christ is the fulfilling of prophecy, but it is not complete; there is more to come.  There is a second advent of Christ.  He will come to earth not quietly in a manger, but as the King empowered by God Almighty.  EVERYONE will know of his arrival. To those who know Jesus, it will harken a time of great joy, restoration, and peace; however, the fulfillment is still not complete.

“Therefore, you kings, be wise;be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.  Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” – Psalm 2:10-12

 There is no justice in telling part of this.  For these wonderful things to occur sin, evil, and death must be destroyed, including those who do not give their lives to the King of Kings.  When all this has happened, the story is complete, and a new age and life begin.  If there is another story we tell at Christmas, let it be this one; the one that has power to bring everlasting joy, peace, salvation to all men.

-Aaron Winner