Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – Remember the Wonderful

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones….

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes
    and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Every day I read in the psalms. There are two reasons I do this. First, the psalms are the church’s prayer book.  They are more than reading material; the psalms are meant and designed to be owned for us as prayers. And second, I need their reminders – a lot!

Remembering is a major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture. It is just part of the human condition, fallen and forgetful as we are, to lose sight of what has taken place in the past. Today’s psalm invites us to seek the Lord through remembering all the good and wonderful works he has done.

For Israel, remembering meant continually having Passover in front of them. God redeemed his people out of Egyptian slavery and into a good Promised Land. They were to never forget God’s miracle through the Red Sea, his protection over them from other nations, and his provision of food and necessities in the desert.

We are to remember because we are made in God’s image and likeness. God remembers. God has an ongoing reminder in his divine day timer: fulfill the promises I made; keep the covenant I initiated with the people, even when they’re stinkers and forget who I am.

God does not forget. God always keeps his promises. For the Christian, all God’s promises are remembered and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and ongoing presence and provision are given to us graciously and freely by the God who loves and cares for his people. For us, remembering means coming to the Lord’s Table, entering the once for all loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

One of the reasons I write and journal about my life and Scripture is to remember. Sometimes I forget. There are times when I am overwhelmed with life and it feels as if God has forgotten me. In such times, I look back into my journal and see what God has done. And I also peer into the psalms and see that God is active in his big world, always attentive to working what is just, right, and good in his people.

May your daily spiritual journey cause you to remember the Lord Jesus, to have him always before you.

“Now We Remain” by David Haas

We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then, by your cross, we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.

Something which we have known, something we’ve touched,

what we have seen with our eyes;

this we have heard; life-giving Word.

He chose to give of himself, become our bread.

Broken that we might live.

Love beyond love, pain for our pain.

We are the presence of God; this is our call.

Now to become bread and wine; food for the hungry, life for the weary,

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord.

Amen.

Psalm 114 – A Mighty God

Mono Crater by Chiura Obata
Painting by American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975)

God brought his people
out of Egypt,
that land
with a strange language.

When the sea looked at God,
it ran away,
and the Jordan River
flowed upstream.
The mountains and the hills
skipped around like goats.

Ask the sea why it ran away
or ask the Jordan
why it flowed upstream.
Ask the mountains and the hills
why they skipped like goats!

Earth, you will tremble,
when the Lord God of Jacob
comes near,
because he turns solid rock
into flowing streams
and pools of water. (CEV)

I’m a metaphor guy. I like word pictures, analogies, and illustrations. Maybe that’s one reason I resonate with the Old Testament. The Hebrew mind revels in story, symbol, similitude, and even the occasional sarcasm. The turn-of-phrase is something which connects well with me – which is why I like today’s psalm. The language is freighted with metonymy and personification.

This psalm is a poetic response to the Jewish Passover and exodus out of slavery to freedom. It is a brief song of thanksgiving which nicely recounts the Israelite experience from Egypt to the Promised Land. At the behest of a mighty God, the Red Sea parted when the people left Egypt, and the Jordan River stopped its flowing when the people entered the Promised Land.

It’s a whole lot more powerful to say, “When the sea looked at God, it ran away,” than it is to say, “The Red Sea parted.” God is so mighty, so powerful, so large and sovereign that we must use the full extent of language to even begin to describe his wonderful works. A big God with awesome capability needs some wordsmithing worthy of his greatness.

Not only does the sea flee from its place, the river turns back, the mountains and hills shake and skip. To try and somehow capture the immensity of God, the psalmist used language which communicates that even inanimate objects come alive and fulfill his divine bidding.

It is one thing to make a flat statement such as, “Put your trust in God,” and it is quite another matter to open up the tool of language and allow it to picture a divine Being so amazing that nothing nor anyone can possibly stand in his way. And this very same God works for us, not against us.

The Lord God almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has taken his formidable power and granted us a pinch of it – because that’s all we really need. Jesus, intimately familiar with his mighty heavenly Father, commented:

If your faith is as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Dig yourself up and plant yourself in the ocean!” And the tree will obey you. (Luke 17:6, ERV)

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. (Mark 11:23, NKJV)

All of creation conspires together to participate in the great liberating and saving acts of God for his people. And if that wasn’t enough, we have been given his Holy Spirit to be with us forever – uprooting trees and moving mountains to accomplish the good and loving plan of God here on earth as it is always done in heaven.

Mighty God you invite us to be with you, to have a place near you. Your presence is joy, light, and comfort. Your nearness is holy, awesome, and wonderful. In the play of sunlight through rainbows, in the sounds of music and laughter, in the beauty of creation and the taste of bread and wine, your presence is known. Your saving presence surrounds us, whether we are fearful or joyful, laughing or crying. You invite us, welcome us, forgive us and renew us with fresh hope and new life. You love us into your presence. We bless and thank you. We praise and adore you. We enjoy being with you, in the name, the spirit and the presence of Jesus. Amen

Exodus 3:16-25 – A Great Reversal

Moses and the Children of Israel by Richard McBee
“Moses and the Children of Israel” by Richard McBee

“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 

“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So, I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. 

“And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so, you will plunder the Egyptians.” (NIV) 

Moses spent forty years in the back side of the desert tending sheep. The first forty years were lived in the most powerful place on earth at the time, Egypt. Although Moses had a privileged position, he forsook his place to be in solidarity with the enslaved Israelites. With a skewed sense of timing and method, he slew a cruel Egyptian, and was forced to flee into the desert. 

The time eventually became ripe, and God was on the move. At eighty years old, God called Moses out of the desert and back to Egypt. The deliverance was going to be accomplished according to God’s designs and purposes, and not from the impetuous actions of a younger Moses. God knew exactly what he was doing and put Moses on a course which would strike at the heart of imperial Egypt and bring freedom to millions of slaves. 

Today’s story is laced thick with divine promises. After all, it is the promises of God which give people hope and a future. Referring to himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord connects the generations-long covenant promise to the Israelites and reminded them they are not forgotten. God’s covenant has neither disappeared nor changed; it still exists. While the Jews were languishing in slavery, God was not aloof but watching – carefully inspecting, caring, and paying close attention. 

The inheritance of the Promised Land was coming, and it would be realized. God affirmed the covenant, knowing the plans he has for them – plans to give them abundance and joy. And God knew full well that dislodging the Israelites from Egypt would take some work, since Pharaoh relied so heavily on slave labor to support his massive imperial state. 

You, like me, have likely noticed that God tends to move rather slow by our standards. We might question and wonder about so much injustice going unabated for so long. Yet, that is our perspective of things, not God’s. Whereas we often have our own self-interest at mind, the Lord has the concern of an entire world. God is patient and long-suffering, providing full opportunity for both individual and national repentance. The Lord is on the lookout for people to amend their errant ways and return to their true purpose for living. He only judges at the proper time. 

And when that time comes, look out! Nothing can stand in the way of God’s good plans for the earth. The ancient Egyptians had built an empire on the backs of slavery, and everything went into supporting the power and wealth of the state. God was not okay with this situation. As he had done many times before, the Lord would thoroughly dismantle and destroy the powerful system of oppression. God is the expert at flip-flopping the status of people – the slaves become free, and the free are bound; the hated become favored, and those who enjoyed all the perks of power and privilege become the despised. 

Embracing God’s upside-down kingdom means advocating for justice, righteousness, and holiness for all people, not just a select few whom I like. Jesus, over 1,500 years after Moses and the exodus from Egypt, had this to say: 

“Those who are last now will someday be first, and those who are first now will someday be last.” (Matthew 20:16, NCV) 

“Blessed are you who are poor, 
    for yours is the kingdom of God. 
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, 
    for you will be filled. 
“Blessed are you who weep now, 
    for you will laugh. 

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 

“But woe to you who are rich, 
    for you have received your consolation. 
“Woe to you who are full now, 
    for you will be hungry. 
“Woe to you who are laughing now, 
    for you will mourn and weep. 

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26, NRSV) 

And the Apostle Paul said to the Church: 

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NLT) 

The New Testament references are not meant to sanitize or put a positive spin on the very real suffering that so many people have endured both past and present. It is, however, meant to lift-up the reality that we have a sure and certain hope. Our trust in the promises and presence of God will eventually be realized and gives shape to how we live today in persistent prayers with patience and perseverance. 

So, may the Lord of all creation bless and protect you. May the Lord show you mercy and kindness in your affliction. And, may the Lord be good to you and give you peace. Amen. 

Psalm 124 – Our Help

Our Help

If the Lord hadn’t been for us—
let Israel now repeat!—
if the Lord hadn’t been for us,
when those people attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up whole
with their rage burning against us!
Then the waters would have drowned us;
the torrent would have come over our necks;
then the raging waters would have come over our necks!

Bless the Lord
because he didn’t hand us over
like food for our enemies’ teeth!
We escaped like a bird from the hunters’ trap;
the trap was broken so we escaped!

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth. (CEB)

“Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”  These are the words for which I begin nearly every worship service in church.  It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world.  When confronted with a new day, our attention needs some direction in the positive way of acknowledging God.

Our ultimate help is in the Lord.  Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our need for God.  The Lord is our most prescient support.  That virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; or, that deadline that has been looming over your head; these and all situations can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. That is, affirming the truth about God, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart.  For faith does not simply come because of signing off on a checklist of beliefs.  Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that he helps those who look to him.

There are a lot of things we do not know: what will happen tomorrow; how a situation will shake out in the end; whether a relationship will flower or wither; and, a million other things which can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. However, there is one sure truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us. God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

Indeed, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV)

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness.  I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just.  Amen.