Psalm 68:24-35 – A Mighty God Who Rides the Skies

O God, your march of triumph is seen by all,
    the procession of God, my king, into his sanctuary.
The singers are in front, the musicians are behind,
    in between are the young women beating the tambourines.
“Praise God in the meeting of his people;
    praise the Lord, all you descendants of Jacob!”
First comes Benjamin, the smallest tribe,
    then the leaders of Judah with their group,
    followed by the leaders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Show your power, O God,
    the power you have used on our behalf
    from your Temple in Jerusalem,
    where kings bring gifts to you.
Rebuke Egypt, that wild animal in the reeds;
    rebuke the nations, that herd of bulls with their calves,
    until they all bow down and offer you their silver.
Scatter those people who love to make war!
Ambassadors will come from Egypt;
    the Ethiopians will raise their hands in prayer to God.

Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,
    sing praise to the Lord,
    to him who rides in the sky,
    the ancient sky.
Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.
Proclaim God’s power;
    his majesty is over Israel,
    his might is in the skies.
How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—
    the God of Israel!
He gives strength and power to his people.

Praise God! (Good News Translation)

The biblical psalms are uniform in praising God for God’s inherent character and for how that character acts in the world.

Since God is an infinitely immense Being, our human language cannot begin to adequately contain or describe such divinity. Yet, words are what we have for trying to communicate the attributes of such an incredible and awesome God.

This is why the use of metaphors is significant. Whenever we can picture something we are familiar with, then imaginatively place God alongside it, it helps give us at least a rudimentary idea and feeling of who this God is, what this God is all about.

To gain a glimpse of God’s majesty and sovereignty over the universe, we are invited to see with our spiritual eyes, God riding the sky; to hear with our spiritual ears the thunderous shout which roars and reverberates throughout the cosmos.

We are also invited to respond to what we see and hear by using our power of words and speech to proclaim God’s power. And that power is well beyond our ability to describe. With all of the powerful forces in this world, they are but a mere puff of breath to the God who reigns supreme over all powers, both in heaven and on earth. God’s power is a thunderous beauty. God’s splendor and strength rise larger than thunderheads.

Having grown up in Midwest America, I’ve seen my share of large thunderheads (massive cumulus clouds which form just before a storm), thunderstorms replete with bright lightning and noise so awesome it shakes the farmhouse, and tornados with such force that they rip the roof off a barn as if it were a Lego building.

And God is bigger than that – stronger, louder, and brighter.

The appropriate response to such a God is to make music for the one who strides the ancient skies in a heavenly chariot yet stoops to listen and care about puny humans.

The reasonable response to such a God is to listen to the divine voice thundering in the world and submit to the sound which seems like it might split the heavens open.

To gain a mere glimpse of God’s strength and power will inevitably result in a response of giving up our all to the Lord of the universe, everything we have, and all that we are.

To know, even a tiny smidgeon, of such a God will bring our own loud shouts of proclaiming God’s goodness, grace, and generosity to anyone who will listen to us.

To glimpse what the psalmist sees will consume us with awe, as we intuitively connect with the glory which is constantly streaming from heaven.

God shares divine strength with people. God doesn’t have to do that. The Lord has no obligation to do so. Yet, it happens, despite our fickle praise and inconsistent devotion.

So, let’s give our highest praise to the God of the psalms. Let’s imbibe of God’s thunderous presence among us.

Then, we will likely be happier than a gopher in soft dirt; or a butcher’s dog; or a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

Eternal Trinity – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – the awesome God whom I serve: The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you. A massive thunderhead is but a small cloud next to you, the Godhead, the incredible Three-in-One.

Through you, almighty Lord, I shall come to know myself and my world. And that knowledge is a mighty love for humanity which spans longer and higher than the universe itself. May the love, unity, harmony, community, goodness, and power which is always present within yourself, mighty God, be present with me, your servant.

For just a molecule of You is enough to power me for eternity. Amen.

*Above photo by Moritz Bu00f6ing on Pexels.com

A Big Glorious Vision of Worship

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NIV)

Uzziah was a king of Judah who reigned for fifty-two years. For most of his rule, he followed God faithfully. Under Uzziah the Jews had enjoyed the best political stability, economic security, and consistent worship of God since the days of King Solomon, hundreds of years before. 

Yet, if one were to look below the surface of Judah, it was also a time of spiritual complacency, apathy in worship, taking prosperity for granted, and self-centered – often oppressing others. The nation needed a fresh experience of God, and it came through the prophet Isaiah.

The essence of worship is a recognition and celebration of the triune God. Worship is a relational rhythm between God and humanity in which God self-reveals and people respond.

Worship is an experience of seeing and hearing divine revelation; repenting from wayward actions; and renewing missional service.

Worshiping the triune God ideally happens every day. It’s a lifestyle – not the result of one cleverly planned hour on Sunday. The people of Isaiah’s day were going through the ritual motions of worship without having their hearts in it. Worship was a kind of rabbit’s foot for them in which, if they had regular attendance within the temple, they believed they could do whatever they wanted with their lives outside the temple. 

As a result, the people did not see or hear God in their worship. Authentic worship of God does not have to do with the environment, the fellowship, or the music. True worship of the triune God is a heart desire to see and hear God. 

If worship does not happen in the sanctuary, that is because worship fails to occur daily life. Real worship is a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It experiences God’s revelation and changes our view of him. Bona fide worship leads to repentance and changes our view of self. True worship brings spiritual renewal and changes our view of mission and service.

Revelation: Worship Changes Our View of God

Isaiah saw a vision of God in the majestic divine throne room. It was a grand and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting. The train of God’s robe filled the temple. This is Isaiah’s way of saying the vision was incredibly large. If the train of his robe fills up the temple, then God is an immense Being. Gaining a vision of God’s hugeness is what causes our human problems to be seen as small. 

One time the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded the land and approached Jerusalem during the reign of Uzziah’s great grandson, Hezekiah. The Assyrians were the dreaded horde of the ancient world, and it seemed no one could withstand them. So, the people prayed:

King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king… So, the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. God took care of them on every side. (2 Chronicles 32:20-22, NIV)

Isaiah’s vision included seraphs – angels with the job description to glorify God with ceaseless praise. Their physical description symbolizes their function: covering their face symbolizes humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies it as holy ground; and flying symbolizes their work to do God’s will.

The seraphs have two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work. If this is any indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of adjusting to do to accommodate the worship of God.

The sound of worship that came from the seraphs was proclaiming God’s holiness. Isaiah’s view of God changed as a result. As he saw God’s glory, Isaiah saw God as much bigger than he had before. For example, European visitors who come to the United States sometimes have no frame of reference as to how spacious the geography of our country is.

Some have a notion they can make day trips to places like San Francisco, Houston, or New York City because where they live is much more geographically compact. But once they get here, they experience the land in all its glory, and they gain an appreciation for the bigness of America. We all need to experience God’s glory and see God’s holiness because it will cause us to repent of old ways of seeing.

Repentance: Worship Changes Our View of Self

Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of the holy God. Humans cannot see God’s glory without also seeing their sinful selves. Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession. Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God. Isaiah was unable to cleanse his own sin. Isaiah needed God to purge and purify his uncleanness. The New Testament says:

If we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:7, 9, CEB)

Seeing God completely unravels us, for we see our depravity for what it truly is:

  • When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord’s immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) 
  • When the Apostle John had a vision of Christ’s glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:12-17)
  • When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown. (Ezekiel 1:25-28)
  • Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, when seeing a vision of God’s glory, fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and his own human sinfulness. (Daniel 8:15-18)

There is wickedness and indifference in the world. People do not see God’s glory and holiness. Because, if they did, they would be totally undone and see the foulness and degradation of hate and injustice. They would turn from apathetic and complacent ways of living. The world and the church need a vision of a holy God that comes from meeting with God. Isaiah saw the Lord. And because he repented, he was then able to hear the voice of God.

Renewal: Worship Changes Our View of Service

God is calling us. God’s voice has gone out. If we do not hear it, it’s because we have not experienced God’s self-revealing and have not responded with repentance. Apart from worship, we are unable to hear God. While Isaiah was worshiping God, he saw, responded, and heard the Lord. The early church heard the voice of God to service and mission:

The church at Antioch had several prophets and teachers…. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit told them, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have chosen them.” Everyone prayed and fasted for a while longer. Next, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul to show that they had been appointed to do this work. Then everyone sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3, CEV)

Isaiah was willing. He didn’t ask any clarifying questions. He neither inquired what the mission would be nor questioned God as to the plan. Isaiah plainly said, “Here I am, send me.”  It was an unconditional response to hearing God. Isaiah made no deals with God, did not try and negotiate terms of service. Isaiah simply told God he was willing to be sent. 

Many people fill their lives with stuff and activity. And they are unable to hear the voice of God. There’s just too much noise drowning out God. We have uncritically, without any discernment through prayer and worship, filled our lives to overflowing with never-ending things to do. And we have even sanctified it and called it holy, as if God’s will for us is to be constantly on the go.

Someday, we must give an account of our lives. God will ask why we did not take a risk, get involved, and go out into the world with a deep sense of mission. Too many people will say, “I never heard the call!” Yet, God was calling. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” says the triune God.

Conclusion

God’s glory was revealed to Isaiah. Isaiah responded to that vision with confession and repentance. This brought a renewed sense of mission to his life. Isaiah was then able to hear God’s voice calling him to service. It is not our ability God cares about. Because God can equip anybody for any type of work. Instead, it is our availability God cares about.

We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God. The obstacles to visioning God’s glory and hearing God’s voice are legion: inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation; no mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations; lack of availability to the ways of Jesus; little sleep; unhealthy habits; a dull spiritual sense; lack of personal and divine awareness; a paucity of spiritual practices and disciplines; and a failure to be able to experience a vision of God.

God has graciously revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Trinity is not so much a doctrine to believe as it is a powerful reality to live into. If we see and hear God today it will cause us to repent and be renewed in mission and service.

*Above painting of the prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall, 1968

Psalm 29 – The Power of Words

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!
(New Revised Standard Version)

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in the Midwest of America, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I said to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

Yet, there is even more going on in today’s psalm than a reminder of God’s glory and power over all creation. God’s very voice is the source of all the power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

The way God gives is through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses us creatures through language. Out of all creation, humans are the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

People, then, are capable of speech. Even more, we as people with the ability of language have the capacity to form our own generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.

“Life and death lie in the power of language.”

Helen Keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

It is necessary for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others.

It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future. 

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God than us bigger people. Kids effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’”

Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create and recreate with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Mighty God, King all powerful, I am overwhelmed before such awesome majesty, and my response to your voice is reverent worship through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 115 – The Living God Is Both Far and Near

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens;
    he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
    so are all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.

The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
    he will bless the house of Israel;
    he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
    both small and great.

May the Lord give you increase,
    both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
    but the earth he has given to human beings.
The dead do not praise the Lord,
    nor do any that go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
(New Revised Standard Version)

Theology 101 Syllabus:

  • The earth belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity stewards the earth, not depletes it.
  • Glory belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity gives glory, not seeks glory.
  • God is mindful of us with blessing, not cursing.
  • Humanity is mindful of God with praise, not idolatry.
  • God is eternal, not finite, alive, and not dead.
  • Humanity is finite, not infinite. Dead people don’t steward the earth and give glory and praise to God. Mortal humans have a privilege and responsibility on this earth while they are still alive.

Any questions?

When it comes to knowing God, we learn as much or more about Divine attributes and actions in the psalms as anywhere else in Holy Scripture. This is one reason why the Lectionary has a psalm for every day – and why the same psalm is repeated three days in a row. It is the consistent, repeated, and continual reading and recitation of the psalms which provides us with the robust theology we need for practical daily living.

God speaks. Idols do not. We have the privilege of God’s Word. There are no words from idols. People become like the objects of their worship. Worshiping a mute inanimate object leads to being silent on the great problems and issues of our day. Idol worship has nothing substantive to offer. It’s worthless.

Conversely, the worship of God (a deity who has words for the immense needs of the world) brings a sense and application of humility, justice, and mercy to the very real and present situations surrounding us.

“The believer trusts in the name of the Lord to show steadfast love – to put love where love is not.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

Evil will not be perpetrated with impunity. That is, the person of violent speech and/or actions will not be able to victimize continually and without consequence. Their wicked words and deeds are held accountable by a God who cares about such things. An idol is unable to hear the cries of victims. And an idol is neither able to proclaim justice nor words of assurance. Idolatry has no ability to stop the ravaging of the earth and its people.

The Lord is both far and near – far enough and high enough to see the big picture and act accordingly – yet near enough to bring true comfort and solace. I was once speaking with a friend about this, discussing the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God. He listened and then said, “So, it sounds like God is a loving hard-ass!” Well, yes. Not quite the way I would frame it, but he certainly picked up on the spirit of what I was saying.

It is important to hold together and maintain both God’s intimacy and distance. Because they each work together to provide the worshiper with what is needed. The Lord both infinitely observes from afar as well as gets his hands dirty working on behalf of finite humanity. This is the view of God the psalms give us. A God who cares in the total sense of the word – caring with comforting words and confident action.

A vision of God in the psalms inevitably leads to prayer, trust, praise, and worship. The Lord might be invisible, yet the evidence of this immense deity is everywhere in the blessings we have, both big and small. Deep within our personhood is firm epistemic proof that we belong to God.

May the Lord who created heaven and earth give you divine blessing.

May all people everywhere praise the Lord now and forevermore! Amen.