Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 – The Steadfast Love of God

20160703_130850

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south….

Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (NRSV)

I’ve always found it a bit curious that there are people who continually equate the God of the Old Testament as nothing but a vengeful and wrathful God.  Certainly, there are passages dealing with God’s anger and his action out of that anger.  Yet, everything God does is from a place of love.  He has never been okay with sin because it damages and destroys people.

Which is why, when people are in need and they cry out to the Lord, he is there for them.  Far more prevalent is the reality that the Old Testament is populated with references to God’s “steadfast love.”  This is God’s covenant-keeping love.  It is the kind of love that holds on and doesn’t let go.  It’s the type of love that is gracious, merciful, and kind.  It is the love the has compassion on the needy and does something about their plight.

In our psalm for today, even when there were people sick and in distress because of their own doing, their own sin, God saved them from their plight.  That’s what God does – he is the expert on deliverance.  God doesn’t shake his finger at us when we screw up and realize our fault; instead, he shows steadfast love.  God doesn’t tell us “I told you so” or “that’s what you get for sinning.”  Nope.  God delivers, and he does it because of his steadfast love.

That’s why people all over the world have learned to sing the praises of the God of the Bible.  It’s why folks from every walk of life and every kind of society have found God as the great lover of humanity.  Their overflowing response to such a loving God is singing, praising, thanking, and offering their lives to him.

If you or someone you know struggles with seeing God as capricious, indifferent, or angry, then I strongly urge you to take in a steady and daily diet of the psalms over the course of the next month.  I think you need an intervention of the God of the Psalms.  Reading 5 psalms per day gets you through all 150 of them in a month.  More than that, pray the psalms.  Allow them to give you a new perspective on the world, your relationships, and yourself.

God of all that is good, your steadfast love has been shown to millions who find in you the desire of their hearts.  May I see your overflowing goodness, your steadfast love, and your infinite mercy operating in this broken world and in my needy heart; through your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever.  Amen.

Psalm 84

20180307_175305

Psalm 84:10, Contemporary English Version

Every now and then I like taking a psalm and doing my own loose contemporary translation of the text (fyi – I’ve had training in the Hebrew language, so this isn’t weird for me, or for you!).  I find this exercise to be exhilarating and helpful for my own soul.  I hope you find this to be useful for you, as well.  The psalmist is talking about the temple.  But I’ve updated it for the Christian who enjoys fellowship with God in the many places where He can be found.  I encourage you to read it over once, then carefully read it again, prayerfully.  Do it both times out loud.  The psalms are meant to be prayed, and they are meant to be said aloud with flavor!

How lovely are all the places where you dwell,
powerful and mighty God of the numerous heavenly forces!

The depths of my soul long, even yearn,
for the intimate backyard gatherings where Yahweh dwells.
My heart and my body, my whole self
shout out loud for joy to the living God!

Yes, the lowly insignificant mother sparrow has also found a home with God;
the swallow has, too, found herself a homey nest
where she can lay her young beside your divine activity,
Large Lord of the numerous heavenly forces, my king, my God,

    You are so big that the lowliest of creatures find shelter in You!
Those who live within Your sacred space are truly happy;
they can’t stop praising you constantly and incessantly!

Those who put their energy in you are truly content;
a one-way road to You is in their hearts.
As they walk through all kinds of dry hard circumstances
they end up making them like a spring of living water.
Yes, even problems become like a gentle rain of blessing.
The biggest of dilemmas become manageable,
as they see the supremacy of God in it all.
Mighty Lord God of the numerous heavenly forces,
hear my prayer to you;
listen closely, O ancient God of my spiritual ancestors!

You are our great protective shield, God;
pay close attention to your chosen one!

Better is one single solitary day in your backyard gathering
than a ba-jillion of days anywhere else!
I would prefer to park cars out in the front yard of my God’s house
than live comfortably in the palatial hangouts of the ungodly!
The Lord is like the brightness of a warm summer day,

and even the suntan lotion protecting me; He’s all that!
God is full of crazy grace and unspeakable glory.
The Lord gives— and doesn’t withhold — good things
to those who walk with integrity of heart before Him.
Powerful Lord of the numerous heavenly forces,
those who trust in you are truly giddy with joy!

Psalm 117

            God’s faithfulness never ends.  Let that statement from the psalmist sink in and ruminate on it for a bit.  What does it mean?  How does it work itself out?  Is God faithful to me?  As a pastor, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things that I see people encounter is wondering if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives.  Sometimes we have all the faith in the world for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives – but when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing.  We wonder if anything can really change.
 
            God is good for his promises.  He will accomplish all that he has said he will do.  It certainly might seem like he is taking his time and is terribly slow in moving on our behalf.  Yet, it shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.  God does not just work in other countries with mass conversions; he does not only grow his church in other geographical locales; and, he does not limit himself to establishing his kingdom in receptive areas.  God can and does work everywhere and will show up in your life and your church, just like he has been doing for ages in all places in all times.
 
            Perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what he is going to do.  That is, don’t just wait for him to do something astounding.  Look for it and give thanks ahead of time for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that God will do in Christ through the power of his Holy Spirit.  It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend.  How will you trust him today?
 

 

            Faithful God, I praise you for what you will do in my life this season.  Thanks for the answers to prayer that will come.  I give you gratitude for the people you will deliver from sin, darkness, addiction, disease, and suffering and the new spirit you will give to me and many others in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord!
He has worked miracles,
and with his own powerful arm,
he has won the victory.
The Lord has shown the nations
that he has the power to save
and to bring justice.
God has been faithful
in his love for Israel,
and his saving power is seen
everywhere on earth.
Tell everyone on this earth
to sing happy songs
in praise of the Lord.
Make music for him on harps.
Play beautiful melodies!
Sound the trumpets and horns
and celebrate with joyful songs
for our Lord and King!
Command the ocean to roar
with all of its creatures,
and the earth to shout
with all of its people.
Order the rivers
to clap their hands,
and all of the hills
to sing together.
Let them worship the Lord!
He is coming to judge
everyone on the earth,
and he will be honest
and fair. (Contemporary English Version)
 
            I hope you don’t miss the point of the psalm:  sing to the Lord a new song.  Yes a “new” song.  Other than the fact we ought to bring fresh music to our worship of God, this is a summons to get an original voice.  Instead of going down the same ruts in our speaking and living, being attentive to God’s mighty deeds helps us break out into new vistas of living.  This attention to God’s works through a new song becomes so invigorating that everyone and everything on earth is encouraged to join into the imaginative expression of praise.
 
            We are to praise God in this present time because of what he has done in the past, always looking to the future when he will come again.  If we don’t make the effort to offer praise that is fresh, creative, and thoughtful for our present time, then we ought not to be surprised when a watching world gives a shoulder-shrugging “meh” to our tepid singing.  And if such vibrant praise seems foreign, then the time is past due for a renewed focus on the works of God in history because he really has done miraculous things for us.
 

 

            Mighty God, your holy arm of power has done incredible works in history.  What is more, you have done influential works in my life, especially through deliverance from evil and transformation of heart.  For this, and much more, I praise the gracious and wonderful name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-19

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
17 Our Lord, everything you do
is kind and thoughtful,
18     and you are near to everyone
whose prayers are sincere.
19 You satisfy the desires
of all your worshipers,
and you come to save them
when they ask for help 
(Contemporary English Version).
 
            Wherever I go and whomever I speak with as I move about my congregation and community, there is a great deal of anxiety, even fear, about what will happen in our nation.  Certainly, our political process of the past year along with its spirited dialogue has spawned much apprehension of the future.  And, yet, there is this angle of the psalmist to consider.  We are to think about and carefully consider some solid robust theology.
 
            God provides.  He protects.  The Lord’s presence is continually with his people.  God is good for his promises.  He deals with injustice.  Yes, our God deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of a puny human election of candidates is a very large deity who does his own election based in his good pleasure and purpose.
 
            In these next days, I encourage you to read this psalm again and again.  Internalize it, and let its message and theology seep into the pores of your soul so that by next week your confidence will not be in the ups or downs of your candidate and political platform, but in the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
 

 

            Mighty God, along with the psalmist I will always honor and praise your holy name.  You are far greater than I can even think or imagine.  Let my trust in you be a strong ballast in the days and years to come, both for me and for the next generations of those who believe in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Luke 1:46-55

 
 
            I like it that the lectionary has a traditional Christmas text in the daily readings at this time of year.  We are now in the post-Pentecost season of “Proper Time,” that is, it is the proper season of all Christians to avail themselves of the gift of the Holy Spirit through sharing the gospel, proclaiming the grace of God, and declaring the great things God has done and is doing.
 
            Mary’s song of praise, having grasped the reality that she is pregnant with the Messiah, affirms that “God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.  He always shows mercy to everyone who worships him.”  It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith.  Mary doesn’t complain or fret; she praises God and is clear-headed about his gracious nature.
 
            God is full of grace, mercy, and power to those who are powerless and in need of help.  It’s what he does.  He’s got this.  Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately as churches, used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done, rather than bemoaning all that isn’t right, we would realize the blessing of the Lord.  Take some time today to journal the ways in which God has been good to you this week, and praise him for each act of mercy.  Mary didn’t succumb to learned helplessness, but had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.
 

 

            Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Psalm 104:24-35

            All of creation depends on each part in a complex ecosystem which is alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature.  And all of this creation depends completely on the hand of God that formed it.  Without God, there would be no living holistic creation working together to flourish over the earth.  Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of his powerful Spirit.
 
            This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus.  Just as we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God; just as we are to listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; we are to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit of God filling us, guiding us, and empowering us for love and service in the name of Jesus Christ.
 
            In our fast paced society of fast food, fast cars, fast service, and fast everything, there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down in order to listen to God’s Spirit speaking.  Today when you eat your meals, take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite.  Carve out some time to walk the dog, and do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you.  Hear it all giving praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with his glory.  For, if we do not hear God speaking it is because we are not listening.
 

 

            Mighty God, I join with all creation to sing your praises and give adoration to the Name of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself for me through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.