Psalm 145 – Some Solid Robust Theology

Psalm 145:14 by Jen Norton

I will praise you,
my God and King,
    and always honor your name.
I will praise you each day
    and always honor your name.
You are wonderful, Lord,
    and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
    than anyone can understand.

Each generation will announce
to the next
    your wonderful
    and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
    and your mighty miracles.
Everyone will talk about
    your fearsome deeds,
    and I will tell all nations
    how great you are.
They will celebrate and sing
    about your matchless mercy
    and your power to save.

You are merciful, Lord!
    You are kind and patient
    and always loving.
You are good to everyone,
    and you take care
    of all your creation.

All creation will thank you,
    and your loyal people
    will praise you.
They will tell about
    your marvelous kingdom
    and your power.
Then everyone will know about
    the mighty things you do
    and your glorious kingdom.
Your kingdom will never end,
    and you will rule forever.

Our Lord, you keep your word
    and do everything you say.
When someone stumbles or falls,
    you give a helping hand.
Everyone depends on you,
and when the time is right,
    you provide them with food.
By your own hand
    you satisfy
    the desires of all who live.

Our Lord, everything you do
    is kind and thoughtful,
    and you are near to everyone
    whose prayers are sincere.
You satisfy the desires
    of all your worshipers,
    and you come to save them
    when they ask for help.
You take care of everyone
who loves you,
    but you destroy the wicked.

I will praise you, Lord,
    and everyone will respect
    your holy name forever. (Contemporary English Version)

These days, everywhere I go there is high anxiety, even downright fear. In my city, the highest murder rate in its history marked the past year. In the hospital for which I am the chaplain, the coronavirus with all its deathly strains is bringing grief and bereavement to many families. Within many churches, their future viability is in question, and parishioners wonder about the future.

When there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, with apprehension and stress as the very air we breathe, there is an angle to the whole situation the psalmist wants us to consider. We are to give weight and consideration to some solid robust theology.

Everyone has a theology. All persons have some sort of understanding of a god, G-d, or no god at all. In the hard circumstances of life, it might seem as if our theology isn’t serving us well. We may feel as if G-d is aloof, distant, or just plain disinterested. So, let’s pay attention to the psalmist. Notice his theology….

The Lord saves… is merciful… powerful… kind… patient… loving… and good. G-d keeps divine promises… helps… gives… provides… protects… and is near to those who humbly seek the divine. In short, the Lord cares for all creation and all creatures, including you and me, and tackles injustice like a hefty linebacker on a string-bean running back.

Yes, G-d deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of the age is a very large deity who acts with good purpose.

Let this psalm (and the entire psalter) buoy you up with good solid theology because the Lord is righteous in all dealings and is present to all who call for help. G-d hears. G-d responds. Perhaps neither according to our idea of timeliness nor to our expectation. Yet, deliverance is at hand, even if it comes in a form different than we were anticipating.

I am taking time to read today’s psalm several times over, to let it awash my soul with significant doses of truth and mercy. There are simply times when all of us need to remember and be reminded that there is a G-d in heaven who is willing and able, as well as a friend close at hand. 

True human satisfaction does not come through personal ingenuity or accumulation of more knowledge or more stuff.  Rather, our deepest desires and needs are fulfilled in the G-d who cares.

Anxiety, stress, fear, and apprehension don’t simply melt away. We, like the psalmist, need to practice the active verbs within the text: I will praise you… I will always honor your name… I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and miracles… I will tell all nations how great you are… because the Lord saves and satisfies.

May that be your experience today, and every day.

Mighty G-d, you are both far and near, totally above us, yet close at hand.  Preserve me with your mighty power so that I might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. But in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Micah 5:2-5a – He Will Be Our Peace

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore, Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

 And he will be our peace. (New International Version)

An Awful Situation

In the prophet Micah’s day, there was no “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” After the reign of King Solomon, Israel was divided between north and south. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. 

In the eighth-century B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. They deported many of the Israelites and re-populated the cities with their own people.  This is why the Jews in Christ’s day looked down on Samaritans. They pejoratively viewed them as “half-breeds,” a mix of Jewish and Assyrian descent.

The Assyrian takeover of Israel not only left the northern kingdom in shambles; it had a huge impact on the southern kingdom of Judah. Even though Judah had not been conquered, they were still forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians. 

The problem was exacerbated with the leadership of Judah seeking to maintain their power and lifestyle. They did not look to God for help and ignored the needs of the people. Judah’s leaders expected the poor common folk to shoulder the burden of the tribute to the Assyrians. In addition, thousands of refugees from Israel were flooding into Judah and Jerusalem. They had lost their homes, their land, and had nothing but their lives. So, the already scant resources in Judah were pushed to the brink.

Those in authority and power, the ones with resources to make a difference, didn’t. Instead, they took advantage of the situation by buying fields and land at a fraction of its worth because people were just trying to survive. In some cases, the leadership leveraged their power by simply pushing people off their own land and taking it over.

There Is Hope

Into this awful situation, Micah prophesied judgment to the leaders oppressing the people – and hope for the poor and the displaced. Micah said a new kind of leader will come – one with humble origins, like the common oppressed people of Judah. The refugees, the displaced farmers, and the poor will have a champion. He will feed them and shepherd them, leading them to green pastures. This leader will serve the people.

Christians discern Micah’s prophecy as speaking of Jesus – which is why we look at Scriptures like this one during the season of Advent. Just as the ancient Jews needed hope and the promise of a different ruler, so today we, too, need hope and the anticipation of security, peace, and goodwill.

Christ’s leadership and power is different than earthly politicians and officials. Over the centuries, Israel and Judah were so filled with bad kings and self-serving leadership, that Christ’s disciples could barely conceive of anything different. So, Jesus said to them: 

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)

A Shepherd Leader Is Coming  

The people of Micah’s day needed to see beyond their terrible circumstances and to realize hope – better days ahead with food, peace, and protection. We, too, feel the insecurity and the anxiety of living in today’s world. We want leaders to be wise and just toward the vulnerable, the poor, and the displaced. Yet, while we look to elections and politicians for hope, the prophet Micah is jumping up and down, pointing us to a different leader – a shepherd leader.

Micah says the shepherd leader will come from Bethlehem. When Micah gave his message, King David had been dead for nearly three-hundred years. The nation had strayed far from those days when David led the people with God’s covenant love and kindness. Yet, another shepherd leader is coming and will bring restoration, renewal, revival, and hope!

“Bethlehem” is two Hebrew words put together: beth is “house,” and, lechem is “bread.” Bethlehem means “house of bread.” God communicated to the people that the coming shepherd leader will provide food and care for them.

The Bread of Life

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He generously feeds us so that we will offer both physical and spiritual bread to others. Jesus satisfies all our hungers and cravings in this life. We may not wonder where our next meal is coming from, nor struggle with going to bed hungry. Yet, we hunger for security in our world, satisfaction in our daily activities, loved ones to know Jesus, and for peace. Our spiritual stomachs growl, hungering for spiritual food. Many are spiritually starving because they are searching for peace and goodwill in everyplace but Jesus.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:35-40, NIV)

Satisfaction, contentment, and peace have come from the most unlikely sources: Bethlehem and Nazareth. Can anything good come from villages in Judea that don’t even show up on most maps in the ancient world?  Peace, hope, and goodwill can and do come from the least expected places and people. 

Joni Eareckson Tada and Corrie Ten Boom are two women that changed their worlds, despite being ordinary people with weakness. The two of them once met many years ago. Joni remembers the encounter: 

“I relive each moment of my visit with Corrie after she was paralyzed by a stroke. Helpless, and for the most part dependent, I felt our mutual weakness. Yet I am certain neither of us had ever felt stronger. It makes me think of the Cross of Christ–a symbol of weakness and humiliation, yet at the same time, a symbol of victory and strength….  A wheelchair may confine a body that is wasting away. But no wheelchair can confine the soul that is inwardly renewed day by day. For paralyzed people can walk with the Lord. Speechless people can talk with the Almighty. Sightless people can see Jesus. Deaf people can hear the Word of God. And those like Corrie, their minds shadowy and obscure, can have the very mind of Christ.”

The Good Shepherd

Jesus Christ is our peace. He was not born in the halls of power, did not attend the best schools, or make lots of money. Nothing on his earthly resume was remarkable enough for anyone to seek him for any leadership position. And yet, Jesus stands and shepherds the flock in the strength of the Lord, providing everything we need. 

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.” (John 10:14-17, NIV)

Through Jesus there is peace – financial peace, emotional peace, relational peace, social peace, and spiritual peace. Jesus is the One who brings a full-orbed wholeness and wellness to our lives, no matter the situation. Jesus is the shepherd leader who brings peace amidst any and every situation this world throws at us.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11, NIV)

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in a similar situation as Micah:

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered…. They will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16, NIV)

Conclusion

There is something yet we must do. Jesus said:

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…. The person who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:29, 51-59, NIV)

We are to ingest Jesus. We must be filled with him. Jesus comes into the very depths of our lives to nourish us. Jesus is our food and drink, our peace, our shepherd, and our king. Believing in Jesus is not simply a matter of agreeing with him or being his fan. Faith in Christ means to give our lives to him. The greatest Christmas gift we can give this season is the gift of our lives to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.

Blessed Lord Jesus, many have strayed far from your flock – taking matters into their own hands and doing things their own way. Many have let their love grow cold and have chosen to feed in pastures that will never satiate their hunger. May they believe that you died on the cross for all the messed up things done, and good things left undone without you.  You rose from death to give them life. Please forgive us all, change our lives, and show us how to know you. Amen.

Psalm 63 – I Will

You are my God. I worship you.
    In my heart, I long for you,
    as I would long for a stream
    in a scorching desert.

I have seen your power
and your glory
    in the place of worship.
Your love means more
than life to me,
    and I praise you.
As long as I live,
    I will pray to you.
I will sing joyful praises
and be filled with excitement
    like a guest at a banquet.

I think about you
    before I go to sleep,
    and my thoughts turn to you
    during the night.
You have helped me,
    and I sing happy songs
    in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you,
    and your powerful arm
    supports me.

All who want to kill me
    will end up in the ground.
Swords will run them through,
    and wild dogs will eat them.

Because of you, our God,
    the king will celebrate
with your faithful followers,
    but liars will be silent. (Contemporary English Version)

Regulars to this blog know that I believe the Old Testament Psalms to be a vast untapped resource of devotion and prayer for many Christians. The biblical psalms provide believers with words for prayer, song, and thought so that we might remain close and connected to the Lord.

I Will Worship

Worship involves gratitude to God for God’s inherent love; and praise to God for divine works done in the world.

God’s people, gathered together for worship, affords a wonderful opportunity to express gratitude and praise, as well as listen to the stories of others who have experienced the gracious works of God in their lives.

Therefore, both personal and corporate worship is needed. Personal worship, even if engaged daily, will inevitably lead to a truncated understanding of God and God’s Law without corporate worship – because we need the encouragement and the accountability of others for mature spiritual growth. In addition, to only participate in corporate worship, without attending to daily personal worship, leads to a bifurcation between Sunday and our Monday-Friday workaday existence.

Worship isn’t so much an event, as it is a life. So, it makes sense to have healthy rhythms of personal and corporate worship which enable us to glorify God in our neighborhoods, families, workplaces, and faith communities.

I Will Pray

In those dark times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; in every season of our lives the psalms help give voice to our relationship with the God of all creation.

Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent intent. David prayerfully expressed his yearning, desire, and hope to connect with God and be guided by the Lord, step by step. David praised God in an awkward and adverse circumstance, longing to be satisfied with spiritual food and drink.

I Will Sing

Just as we are to pray the psalms, we are to also speak the psalms out loud with singing. The Psalter Hymnal of old, as well as many contemporary praise and worship songs, are words from the psalms, meant to help, encourage, and give voice to our own current experiences.  

Inspired by the psalms, take a few minutes today to sing and/or listen to songs such as, “God You Are My God” by Michael W. Smith, or check out a compilation of music from the psalms, like, “The Psalms Project,” which aims to put all 150 psalms to music. Maybe even craft your own tune to today’s psalm and sing it to the Lord.

I Will Think

Specifically, the psalmist mentions thinking about the Lord before retiring for sleep, as well as turning to God when awake during the night.

In today’s modern (and postmodern) society, anxiety and racing thoughts are ubiquitous – the result of overthinking and fixating on particular troubling thoughts. Contemplating God through reflecting on the psalms can be a way of taming the out-of-control thinking, while positively engrafting sound theology into the inner workings of our brains.

There’s a reason why the daily lectionary has a reading from the psalms every day. It is one of the best sources for practical spirituality and heartfelt worship, as well as transforming the way we think.

I Will Stay Close

Whatever we do, whatever we say, and wherever we go, let the psalms help form and shape within you a profound spirituality which helps foster a deeper connection with the God we long to know more and more. 

May our celebrations be raucous and robust because the God of the psalms has showed up and given grace and mercy to our troubling circumstances.

Soli Deo Gloria

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.