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 113 – There Is a Deliverer

Shout praises to the Lord!
Everyone who serves him,
    come and praise his name.

Let the name of the Lord
    be praised now and forever.
From dawn until sunset
    the name of the Lord
    deserves to be praised.
The Lord is far above
    all of the nations;
    he is more glorious
    than the heavens.

No one can compare
    with the Lord our God.
His throne is high above,
    and he looks down to see
    the heavens and the earth.
God lifts the poor and needy
    from dust and ashes,
    and he lets them take part
    in ruling his people.
When a wife has no children,
    he blesses her with some,
and she is happy.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (Contemporary English Version)

It is appropriate, as we approach the Nativity of our Lord in just a few days, that we acknowledge and celebrate Christ’s incarnation by using today’s psalm.

Believers everywhere serve a God who is attentive to humanity. Although high and transcendent above all creation, the Lord carefully observes the plight of people. And God determines to do something about it. God breaks into the human experience by becoming human.

In the New Testament, the Apostle John frames this movement from heaven to earth in this way:

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

This grand descending to earth plumbed the very depths and despair of humanity.

In the largest cities of the world, like Mexico City, Mexico and Manilla, Philippines, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live hundreds of families who have made this their home. 

Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive.  Few others tread where these families are.  Yet, there are Christian believers who make the journey and try to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to such a place.

As incredible and sad a situation that this is, it doesn’t compare to the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made. God became flesh, Christ descended to earth and came to the sin-soaked dump of this world – to us who were living on a heap of garbage – and entered our lives to save us from our wretched and pitiable condition.

God’s generosity in sending the Son was a gracious and cataclysmic entry to this earth on our behalf. It’s as if Jesus moved into the garbage dump and was born on the heap of waste so that God might be present with us.

Jesus did not just appear to be human, but actually became like us and lived with all the same things we face from day to day. He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites.  God is with us!

Jesus interacted with the families in the dump. God was coming to save the people.  he way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation – both through testifying to what God has done in Christ, and through being sent, we ourselves, as little incarnations of entering into people’s lives. 

We are like the moon, not producing light ourselves, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun so that the earth may know that Jesus is coming.

The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus became human and lived among us. 

May we believe.

May we know there is a Deliverer.

May we rejoice and be glad in this reality, and may it move us to be used of God to save those on the sin heap of this world.

May the poor and needy be lifted up.

May you have a blessed Christmas and enjoy peace with God and others in this next year.

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 113 – Shout Praises

“From Sunrise to Sunset Praise God” by Muha Rukab

Shout praises to the Lord!
Everyone who serves him,
    come and praise his name.

Let the name of the Lord
    be praised now and forever.
From dawn until sunset
    the name of the Lord
    deserves to be praised.
The Lord is far above
    all of the nations;
    he is more glorious
    than the heavens.

No one can compare
    with the Lord our God.
His throne is high above,
    and he looks down to see
    the heavens and the earth.
God lifts the poor and needy
    from dust and ashes,
    and he lets them take part
    in ruling his people.
When a wife has no children,
    he blesses her with some,
and she is happy.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (Contemporary English Version)

When my firstborn daughter was an infant, I was a busy seminarian as well as working a job. I had very little discretionary time on my hands. Yet, I could stand over the crib of my beautiful little bundle of a girl for long stretches of time without ever thinking about all my responsibilities. Whenever she awoke I spoke to her in that kind of baby talk that only a doting father can do. 

I imagine God looks at us in much the same way, as well as speaking and acting toward us in ways we can understand. Just as parents (hopefully) communicate on a level their kids can understand, so G-d condescends and stoops to our level in order to help us. 

The Lord is seated on high, looking down on the heavens and the earth. G-d looks at us with lovingkindness and seeks our best interests. The Lord notices the poor and acts justly on their behalf. G-d observes the needy and lifts them from their want to a place where they can thrive. The divine condescension of God is a beautiful thing because without it we would be like a helpless baby.

G-d, while being unknowable and unreachable in so many ways, has nevertheless communicated with humanity in a way people can understand and to which they can respond. The Lord has accommodated, or made allowance for, our language and general level of understanding.

The Lord, sovereign and high above us all, has chosen to stoop and coo over us here on earth. G-d’s love affectionately delights in us. The psalmist’s portrayal of G-d is not of some aloof Being who is bothered with humanity’s pestering. Rather, G-d sees, notices, and cares. We don’t need to do some sort of spiritual back flips to gain G-d’s attention. We already have it.

This psalm of praise to G-d celebrates how the Sovereign of the universe notices and acts. We are meant to remember the great deeds of G-d – both those things done in history, and the things done for us, personally. 

“Despite our earnest efforts, we couldn’t climb all the way up to God. So what did God do? In an amazing act of condescension, God climbed down to us and became one with us.”

Will Willimon

In Christianity, the concept of divine condescension and accommodation is given its supreme form in the person and work of Jesus Christ. By becoming human, Jesus accommodates himself to the human condition. Through his life, teaching, and ministry, Christ speaks as G-d, communicating sufficiently and effectively to humanity.

The redemptive events of Christ – his incarnation, holy life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification – are divine acts of grace, mercy, and love to all humanity. Praise and thanksgiving are the appropriate responses to such events done on our behalf.

This is one reason why the spiritual practice of journaling is such a good personal discipline because we then have a record of the ways in which G-d has acted on our behalf. When we look back and remember, we can praise the Lord all over again for lifting us from the ash heap. And this will fortify our spiritual mettle for the times when we need encouragement.

Keeping a gratitude journal and writing each day about at least one way the Lord has acted on your behalf, can bring encouragement, transformation, and joy to your life. I suggest you write for your own eyes only. This is between you and G-d. Therefore, you need not be concerned for correct spelling and grammar. It doesn’t even need to be legible, as long as you can read your own writing!

“Praise is the rehearsal of our eternal song. By grace we learn to sing, and in glory we continue to sing. What will some of you do when you get to heaven, if you go on grumbling all the way? Do not hope to get to heaven in that style. But now begin to bless the name of the Lord.”

Charles Spurgeon

What’s more, shouting our praises is not only appropriate but encouraged – even commanded. Shouting is both cathartic and fun. It builds emotional resilience and spiritual strength. Coupled with writing, shouting our praises has the effect of bringing spiritual growth and maturity to our lives.

We, of course, want to avoid shouting at others. Yet, we can take advantage of shouting while driving alone, out in the woods by ourselves, or even into a pillow. This isn’t weird. Shouting goes appropriately with praise and celebration.

In fact, it would be weird if there were no shouting. Try telling a sports fan watching their favorite team that they aren’t supposed to shout. Or just see what happens when a woman longing for children becomes pregnant for the first time.

Emotional expressions are expected whenever G-d shows up and accomplishes great deeds for us. To not do so is a sign of having spiders in your heart and garlic in your soul. It’s not right.

What are you thankful for today? Is there something in this day for which to praise the Lord, whether big or small? Will you give yourself permission to shout?

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, the beauty of this world, the wonder of life, and the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts and leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on your mercy and grace.

Above all, we thank you for your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, the truth of his Word, the example of his life; his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; his dying, through which he overcame death; and his rising to life again, in which we are raised to new life. Grant us the gift of your Spirit so that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, we may give thanks to you in and for all things. Amen.

Psalm 111 – Praise

painting by P.J. Bruzzi

Shout praises to the Lord!
    With all my heart
I will thank the Lord
    when his people meet.
The Lord has done
    many wonderful things!
Everyone who is pleased
with God’s marvelous deeds
    will keep them in mind.
Everything the Lord does
    is glorious and majestic,
    and his power to bring justice
    will never end.

The Lord God is famous
for his wonderful deeds,
    and he is kind and merciful.
He gives food to his worshipers
    and always keeps his agreement
    with them.
He has shown his mighty power
    to his people
    and has given them the lands
    of other nations.

God is always honest and fair,
    and his laws can be trusted.
    They are true and right
    and will stand forever.
God rescued his people,
    and he will never break
his agreement with them.
    He is fearsome and holy.

Respect and obey the Lord!
This is the first step
    to wisdom and good sense.
    God will always be respected. (Contemporary English Version)

Sometimes we forget. Difficult challenges, heavy stress, or daunting responsibilities might become the focus of our lives to such a degree that we lose sight of the big picture. Today’s psalm helps us to back up the truck and take a sweeping panoramic view. The backdrop to all those concerns we presently experience is a Divine Being who is unfazed by any trouble. In other words, God’s got this.

The basis for this settled faith is a realization of who God is and what God has done.

Whereas change and loss is a reality all people must navigate, it is a comfort to know there are some things which never change. God is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God’s character is always right, just, and good. And God makes good on all promises.

Throughout the psalter, there are admonitions to praise the Lord. I personally do not believe the reason for this is because God requires adoration, like some self-centered narcissist. No, I think it has to do with God knowing we have a need to praise.

Our brains are complex organs. There is a lot we don’t know about it. Yet, what we now know is that things like gratitude, adoration, beauty, affirmation, and praise changes our brain chemistry in a healthy way.

Yes, praising the Lord perfectly syncs with our brains in such a way as to cause mental health.

People’s lives are improved when we are attentive to God’s law, God’s promises, and God’s works. Attention to these will surely result in praise. Everything God has created is good. All creation bears witness to the beauty and majesty of its Creator.

Believers throughout the millennia are a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to the veracity of God’s benevolent and gracious deeds. And together with them, we anticipate with confident faith the culmination of God’s promises when Jesus returns. This is basic Christian theology – and it is theology which is robustly sustains us through any type of trouble.

People need to delight in what is good, right, just, and beautiful.

Our brains are designed for it. The acknowledgment of the good is a sacred conduit which links us to the Designer of all that is good. Enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship with friends, participation in family life, and worshiping together with believers who share our most cherished spiritual values, is a gift from a benevolent God. It is worthy of offering praise.

God feeds us in many ways – with both physical and spiritual food. Pausing for gratefulness and thanksgiving is an appropriate and mentally healthy way of responding to the gift of nourishment. And acknowledging that all God’s commands and laws are trustworthy, through lifting prayers of gratitude for such a rich bounty of spiritual food, moves us into a healthy groove of wellness.

All of this healthy living is the way of wisdom. Attention to God and God’s Word is the starting place for a wise way of being in the world. The biblical psalms are much like a tutor which teaches us the best paths to walk in our daily life.

When we take the narrow road of righteousness, we discover the gifts of understanding informed by wisdom, self-control established through sage counsel, and knowledge guided by love.

The activity which bookends and binds such gifts together is praise to the Lord. Praise is what opens us up to the possibilities of life as it is meant to be lived. To press the transformation and enjoyment even deeper, believers shout their praise with raucous noise.

For true spirituality is not always staid and silent. It is also boisterous and loud.

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.