Psalm 148 – Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from heaven!
    Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
    Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
    All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
    Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because God gave the command and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
    God made a law that will not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
    stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
    fruit trees, and every single cedar!
Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
    you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
    you princes and every single ruler on earth!
Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
    you who are old together with you who are young!

Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
    because only God’s name is high over all.
    Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
God raised the strength of his people,
    the praise of all his faithful ones—
        that’s the Israelites,
        the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord! (Common English Bible)

This is the Christmas season. We are in the third day of the twelve days of Christmas. This time on the Church Calendar gives focus to declare, along with the angels and all of God’s creation, Glory to God in the highest! Praise the Lord! 

Everything in all creation points to a Creator who cares for us. These days between December 25 and January 5 are to be a great celebration because King Jesus has come and is the rightful Sovereign over all creation. We are meant to grasp the meaning of Christ’s incarnation – affirming the identity of Jesus as both full human and fully divine. 

Beginning with Christ’s birth, we enter a reflection on the meaning of Christ’s life and prepare for the journey toward the cross and the empty tomb.

Today, however, we simply praise the Lord along with all creation – which is what the psalmist calls us to do.  The entire universe is called to praise the Lord. Everything points to a God who is worthy to be praised.

Let’s assume the distance between the earth and the sun (92 million miles) was reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper. If that’s the case, then the distance between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of papers 70 feet high. And the diameter of the galaxy would be a stack of papers 310 miles high. Our galaxy is just a speck of dust in the universe, yet Jesus holds the universe together by the word of his power.

We serve a big God who is worthy to be praised, not only out there in the universe but here on earth. The psalmist calls the earth to echo the adoration of God – fish, animals, birds, even trees, as well as people. Indeed, even the rocks will cry out if people fail to.

Research in the field of bioacoustics has revealed that every day we are surrounded by millions of ultrasonic songs. For example, the electron shell of the carbon atom produces the same harmonic scale as a Gregorian chant. Whale songs can travel thousands of miles underwater. Meadowlarks have a range of three hundred notes. Supersensitive sound instruments have discovered that even earthworms make faint staccato sounds!

Arnold Summerfield, a German physicist, and pianist observed that a single hydrogen atom, which emits one hundred frequencies, is more musical than a grand piano, which only emits eighty-eight frequencies.

“If we had better hearing, and could discern the singing of sea birds, the rhythmic drumming of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of flies hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.”

Lewis Thomas

Praise the Lord. We have a vision in today’s psalm of all creation praising God as one great big choir. Praise is to occur with both words and actions. With words, praise is an expression of gratitude for God’s attributes.  With actions, praise is a posture of submission and an acknowledgement of dependence. Therefore, through testimony, we declare what God has done in our lives and how the Lord is worthy to be praised and obeyed.

With an emphasis on praise in a season dedicated to joy, it is compassionate to also recognize that for many people Christmas is difficult.  Loneliness, thin finances, unemployment, illness, strained relationships, and bittersweet memories can all be a discouraging contrast to the celebration going on around them.

Praise, however, is not just for the joyful; it can happen no matter the circumstances because the Christian’s happiness is not dependent upon positive situations but rather upon the person and work of Jesus. It may not be easy to find our voice of praise along with everyone else, but we are not alone. We can choose to join with all creation to praise the name of the Lord. 

One woman shared this during a Christmas season, six weeks after a spine surgery:

“I am thankful for a chance to get out of the house. Of course, my walker was with me.  I am amazed how quickly folks move over, slow down, and give me space when I am out with that thing….  At church it feels like I am parting the Red Sea! The reason I hate the walker is because it says to the whole world, ‘Hey, I’m broken!’  I realize we all have areas that we are broken, most of them we can hide or cover up. Why are we so ashamed to confess the truth? Who really has it all together? I know we love our privacy and shun pity. However, I have been shown so much grace, kindness, and compassion as I push this piece of aluminum around that I hope this experience continues to change me for the better. I hope in the future I will be sensitive to those who are broken on the inside as well as the outside. May the love of Christ give me eyes to see people as he does, precious and accepted, just as they are.”

That, my friends, is the reasonable and logical end of praising the Lord – to connect what God has done and is doing with what God can do through us with praise. By simply being who we are created to be, we praise the Lord along with all creation. When people in God’s image, reflect that image in how we talk and how we live, we participate with the universe in declaring God is good. 

Praise is the glue that binds us together. Let us praise the name of the Lord.

Let the church praise the Lord! 

Let leaders everywhere praise the Lord! 

Let healthcare workers and first responders praise the Lord! 

Let salespersons and factory workers praise the Lord!  

Let law enforcement, lawyers, and judges praise the Lord!

Let the trees, mountains, and all living things praise the Lord!  

Let engineers and educators praise the Lord!  

Let the little children praise the Lord! 

Let clerks and cashiers, waiters and waitresses, janitors and housekeepers praise the Lord! 

Let the lost and the lonely praise the Lord along with the happy and satisfied!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Whether you are bursting to proclaim it, or struggle to say it and live it, praise the Lord along with everything in the universe because we serve a God who keeps us close to heart.

So, what do you have to praise the Lord for today? How do you express your praise, both personally and publicly? Where is your favorite place to praise the Lord? When does praise to God come easily for you, and when it is difficult? Who do you like praising the Lord with?

May your life become an embodiment of praise to the God who is worthy to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Amen.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b – God Is Bigger Than Our Fears

Psalm 104:3 by J. Michael Orr

I praise you, Lord God,
    with all my heart.
You are glorious and majestic,
dressed in royal robes
    and surrounded by light.
You spread out the sky
    like a tent,
    and you built your home
    over the mighty ocean.
The clouds are your chariot
    with the wind as its wings.
The winds are your messengers,
    and flames of fire
    are your servants.

You built foundations
for the earth,
    and it
    will never be shaken.
You covered the earth
with the ocean
    that rose
    above the mountains.
Then your voice thundered!
And the water flowed
    down the mountains
    and through the valleys
    to the place you prepared.
Now you have set boundaries,
    so that the water will never
    flood the earth again….

Our Lord, by your wisdom
    you made so many things;
    the whole earth is covered
    with your living creatures….
With all my heart
I praise you, Lord!
    I praise you! (Contemporary English Version)

The world is a gift from God.

When God created the heavens and the earth, Adam and Eve, the first humans, were the apex of God’s creative activity. Their charge, as people created in the image of God, was to steward the earth. And that mandate is still in effect. We are to take good care of this creation we inhabit.

However, due to the fall of humanity, there has always been a bent toward exploiting the earth for our own purposes, rather than carefully maintaining it. Wherever we see abuse of both land and lives, behind it is the fear of not having enough and not being safe enough. Our anxiety gets the best of us.

It seems to me that creation care must begin with ourselves. The lack of self-care inevitably works itself out by neither caring for other creatures nor creation. We need to acknowledge our fears and address them. Then, place those fears in the shining light of our Creator’s glory.

My kids grew up in the ‘90s watching Veggie Tales. The tunes were catchy and full of some solid truth about God. One of their favorites was “God is Bigger.” Here is the chorus:

God is bigger than the boogie man.
He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he’s watching out for you and me.

Today’s Psalm expresses the bigness of God – clothed with splendor and majesty, covered with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Indeed, God is big – bigger than anything and everything. The Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation, and always does what is right, just, and fair. God sees all and watches over the earth.

Sometimes we get lost in our situations, problems, and screw-ups. We get stuck in our anxiety and fears. We view them as larger than life and can become so overwhelmed and burdened with our inabilities, weaknesses, and lack of handling things well, that we lose sight of the reality that God is bigger than it all. 

Instead of fear and anxiety ruling the day, we can allow sound theology to purge the worry and trouble from our minds and hearts. Using today’s psalm to pray and praise God is a foundational way of beginning to put into perspective the issues and problems of our lives.

Confident living, and mitigating our fears, cannot simply be mentally or emotionally stirred up. Confidence needs a foundation, a basis in truth and reality. The believer’s assurance comes from the firm ground of God’s character and competence. Trust is born when we have a vision of a Divine Being, large and filling the universe with grace and justice.

Tending to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health begins with a sense of divine largeness. Initiative and assertiveness can be freely exercised when we are secure and non-anxious because of God’s immense presence.

Caring for creation, and enjoying our great big world, is the logical action of being peacefully connected to the Creator of it all. We are all bound together as creatures and creation. We’re all made up of the same stuff.

Everything in the universe, including creatures and creation, share 97% percent of the same kind of atoms.

The crucial elements for life on Earth – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur – are all found in abundance across the stars of our galaxy.

Our differences make us unique. Our similarities connect us. And we are inextricably connected to every atom in this universe. Just as we carry the DNA of our ancestors within our biological bodies, so we are all holding the same elements of the physical creation.

The ultimate connection, from a Christian perspective, is that Jesus holds it all together – thus making him the supreme Connector.

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15-18, CEB)

Christ is our connection to all things, reconciling us to our fellow creatures, creation, and the Creator. All the bigness of God lives in Jesus. In the face of the Lord, all fears melt away.

Almighty God, you are mighty big! My problems are really small as I glimpse your sheer immensity. Lord God, you are very great! I bless your holy name. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen.

Genesis 1:1-19 – It Is So, and It is Good

Day When God Created the Flowers by Unknown artist

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So, God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (NRSV)

There is so much which could be said about the opening of Holy Scripture, the first verses of the Old Testament book of Genesis. And much already has been said. I merely want to make one observation of the text and discuss its significant import for us….

God already had within himself everything needed to create.

“Duh,” you might say, “It’s God.” Yes, and we need to unpack what that means. I will phrase it a different way….

God called forth that which is already there.

The opening statement of Genesis is there to communicate a wonderful reality – that the Lord brought order from chaos. God took what was potential and actualized it. And the Lord gave us understanding through creation to discern what is happening….

Seeds are amazing. They have the potential to totally transform from tiny objects to large plants. Perhaps we take seeds for granted because we see the evidence of them everywhere. Yet, like God at creation, a seed already has within itself everything it needs to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce fruit. The end process of the seed’s maturation looks nothing like when it started as a tiny little kernel.

The seed simply needs to be called forth with the conditions of good soil and proper amounts of sunshine and water. The seed lacks nothing inherent to its very being. It already has everything it needs within itself.

We are creatures, called forth from the earth by God. Each one of us, no matter who we are, where we have come from, whether male or female, rich or poor, black or white, introvert or extrovert, happy or depressed, privileged or underprivileged, already have everything we need within ourselves to grow, thrive, mature, and flourish in this world. In other words, we lack nothing. We are not flawed. We are enough.

We are already spiritual. Our spirituality is as much a part of our DNA as our biological self. We just need the proper conditions to grow.

Sometimes when I meet a person for the first time and it is discovered I’m a pastor and a chaplain, they immediately believe that what I do is put religion into folks – as if people lack something that I must give them.

However, just the opposite is true of what I really do. I simply call forth the spiritual nature which is already present in a person. Many individuals are not aware of who they are, unaware of the magnanimous spirit which resides within them, a resilient and loving spirit which is there to support them just as much as their literal physical spine.

“If you treat people as they appear to be, you make them worse than they are. But if you treat another as if he already were what he potentially could be, you make him what he should be.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Let there be people who see beyond the five senses and embrace the sixth sense of knowing the inherent worth and majesty of humanity.

Let there be those who discern the potential of chaotic minds and hearts to become calm and rightly ordered around the love of God.

Let there be believers who embody light in all their relational dealings and are unafraid to face the darkness within.

Let there be compassionate ones who awash others with living water.

Let there be leaders who patiently and tediously tend to the garden of people’s souls, providing the proper conditions for spiritual growth and maturation.

Let us all call forth the good in one another, for God created and called us, “good.”

And that is our name: “Good.”

Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.