How To Live Well (Psalm 112:1-9)

By Stushie Art

Praise the Lord!
    Those who honor the Lord,
    who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!
Their descendants will be strong throughout the land.
    The offspring of those who do right will be blessed;
    wealth and riches will be in their houses.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
They shine in the dark for others who do right.
    They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous.
Those who lend generously are good people—
    as are those who conduct their affairs with justice.
Yes, these sorts of people will never be shaken;
    the righteous will be remembered forever!
They won’t be frightened at bad news.
    Their hearts are steady, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are firm; they aren’t afraid.
    In the end, they will witness their enemies’ defeat.
They give freely to those in need.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
    Their strength increases gloriously. (Common English Bible)

To live well is to obey well. Well, that’s a thought! And a deep subject it is.

It’s a matter of whether we’ll take our cues for living from S. Hiney Wells or his brother, Russ T. Wells.

S. Hiney tells us this:

“Listen, my friends, the Lord’s commands are not made for drudgery. They’re how to be happy in this here life. Obeying what God says leads to blessings of family, security, contentment, and peace. God’s never failed to keep bacon in my frying pan, folks to help me out in a pinch, and a heap of hope for when I’m lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.”

Russ T. tells us:

“Well, the world ain’t shiny at all. It’s all dark and covered in rust so thick you’d think nuthin’ good’s been used fer a coon’s age.”

S. Hiney responds: “Well, Russ T., there’s certainly a powerful lot of darkness everywhere; but that don’t mean there’s no light! Even a few little lightnin’ bugs helps us to see where we are in the night.”

Russ T. retorts: “Well, S. Hiney, them little bugs don’t help none when I’m brinin’ away in pickle barrel so full of vinegar that I don’t know whether I’m in the field or the henhouse.”

S. Hiney: “Well, now, fortunately we’ve got more than a few matches in our pockets. God’s own light shines so bright that it lights up the whole earth, a world-illuminating light that keeps every old fox away from the barn.”


Russ T.: “Well, that’d be mighty nice. But if that light’s so all-powerful, I ought to be able to see my hand in front of my face! All’s I see is a bunch o’ nasty weasels lurkin’ about, givin’ me a headache bigger than the Ozark Mountain Daredevils singin’ and playin’ on my tin roof while I’m tryin’ to sleep.”

S. Hiney: “Well, Russ T., I see it every time I lend money without any expectation of interest or return. I see it in my neighbor’s generous hand and sharing her prize winnin’ tomatoes and blue ribbon apple pies. And I mostly saw it with our dear mama’s teaching to “give until it’s gone, boys, not until it hurts,” rest her soul.

Russ T.: “I obeyed mama, bless her heart; she was one of the good ones. And I certainly didn’t wanna be on her bad side!”

S. Hiney: “Me, too. Her words of affirmation felt a lot better than those times when I was disobedient and found a willow switch on my behind! So, Russ T., were you happy listening to mama and doing what she said?”

Russ T.: “Well, now, I reckon I was. Things was a lot simpler and a lot less complicated when I listened to her. Whenever I didn’t, I felt like I was a polecat in the chicken house, like I didn’t much belong.”

S. Hiney: “My heart’s calculatin’ that your true love, the Lord God, is presently waitin’ on you to shake all that rust off so that he can give you a good shine on that soul of yours. But yer goin’ to have to listen, to obey what you hear, brother.”

Maybe because we tend to be all or nothing people, we often get hung up on either being perfect or being a failure. In reality, we are neither. We’re just simple folk trying to do our best in loving and serving the Lord with an obedient heart.

Christianity takes its cues in reading the psalms from Christ’s illumination. Jesus embodied the ideals of humanity, having neither material wealth nor actual physical descendants; yet he distributed gifts more generously than anyone ever did; and he has more spiritual progeny than anybody else.

Following in the way of Christ, we live in such a way that it is possible to be:

  • Poor and rich
  • Compassionate and competent
  • Gentle and shrewd
  • Gracious and tough
  • Giving and receiving
  • Faithful and doubting
  • Light and dark
  • Happy and sad
  • Vulnerable and powerful
  • Confident and scared
  • Brave and hesitant
  • Generous and just
  • Consistent and unpredictable
  • Mindful and forgetful
  • Weak and strong
  • Loving and questioning
  • Open to change and immovable

Living well means obeying well enough to see the best in others, seek the common good of everyone, and be resilient to deal with our personal foibles and the unforeseen pitfalls we sometimes experience.

What will you do when you’re in a pickle?

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Out of the Slimy Pit (Psalm 40:1-11)

He Lifted Me by Nate Owens

I put all my hope in the Lord.
    He leaned down to me;
    he listened to my cry for help.
He lifted me out of the pit of death,
    out of the mud and filth,
    and set my feet on solid rock.
        He steadied my legs.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise for our God.
Many people will learn of this and be amazed;
    they will trust the Lord.
Those who put their trust in the Lord,
    who pay no attention to the proud
    or to those who follow lies,
    are truly happy!

You, Lord my God!
    You’ve done so many things—
    your wonderful deeds and your plans for us—
        no one can compare with you!
    If I were to proclaim and talk about all of them,
        they would be too numerous to count!
You don’t relish sacrifices or offerings;
    you don’t require entirely burned offerings or compensation offerings—
    but you have given me ears!
So I said, “Here I come!
    I’m inscribed in the written scroll.
    I want to do your will, my God.
    Your Instruction is deep within me.”
I’ve told the good news of your righteousness
    in the great assembly.
    I didn’t hold anything back—
        as you well know, Lord!
I didn’t keep your righteousness only to myself.
    I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness
    from the great assembly.

So now you, Lord—
    don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.
Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me. (Common English Bible)

Every follower of the Lord has a powerful story of God’s grace in lifting them out of a slimy pit experience. 

We live in a profoundly broken world; and no one is exempt from its effects upon us. Whether physical problems, emotional trials, or relational hardships, there is always something going on in our lives – with the added pull toward trusting in things other than God. 

The temptation to say unjust words and do unjust actions is always over-promised and under-delivered. 

It’s easy to get sucked-in to poor decisions and be stuck in an empty hole with seemingly no way out. We often find ourselves slipping into a slimy pit because of our own bad decisions, as well as by no fault of our own. 

Living in a fallen world means that we inevitably experience troubles and hardships.

So, what do we do if we find ourselves in a slimy pit?

Look for Hope

David, the psalmist, waited patiently for the Lord. With great expectation, he fully anticipated God to act on his behalf. The sort of patience he practiced was an intense waiting – a waiting filled with longing and expectant hope, a patience that kept looking and praying and seeking.

The reason believers in Jesus keep hoping beyond hope is that we know that God is ultimately the One who delivers from the pit. 

But what if you have been looking for deliverance from the slimy pit experience and you have not seen it come to pass? 

Expectantly expect God to act. Wait patiently. Do not give up. Keep praying and watching. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, keep looking out the window, waiting for the son to return, and picture the deliverance coming – because our waiting is not in vain.

flickr.com/photos/joshtinpowers

The psalmist, David, was eventually delivered. The Lord leaned down to him. God listened and lifted him. The Lord God set him on a firm place to stand and put a new song in his mouth. 

This was not only a personal matter for David; it was also an occasion that other people needed to know about.

Look for God

We all must finally come to the end of ourselves and look up. Whenever the deliverance doesn’t come quickly, we may look to other people or things to give us the freedom we long for. It’s easy to become impatient and begin searching for answers in everything else but God. 

Yet, if we will let patient hope have its way, we are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

In all my years of churchgoing as a kid, I had never read my Bible. But God was gracious to me. I remembered all those sermons I heard about Jesus. I gained a newfound sense of my own inner darkness, as well as the desire to read God’s Word. And God saved me. 

My circumstances did not change, but I did. My loneliness turned to joy; my aimlessness turned into purpose; and my selfishness became a deep concern for others. My heart had been black, and what God did to change it was nothing less than miraculous.

Look Within

The person who looks for hope and seeks God is also a person who looks into their own heart and there finds the attitude which God will bless. 

Blessing does not come from great sacrifice, but by syncing one’s heart with the heart of God. 

The Lord cares little about how much money or stuff you have, or how many sacrifices were made for God; that’s because God wants your heart, your mind, your will, and your emotions. In other words, God wants you! 

And God desires you because the Lord made you with a heart that beats for the same things God cares about: justice, mercy, and humility.

If you and I will but look within at the very spirit God has put within us, we shall find resources beyond what we can ask or think.

Look to Bless Others

We possess more than a personal faith which is to benefit ourselves; we also have an equal responsibility to bless the community with our experiences of what God has done in our lives. 

The telling of stories about what God has done for us is a necessary part of building up the church and helping others move forward in faith, hope, and love.

The psalmist proclaimed his testimony in the great assembly, that is, publicly. This isn’t about standing behind a microphone in front of lots of people; it’s about being so touched by God that we cannot keep our mouths shut about the Lord’s deliverance on our behalf.

So, let’s not shelve the idea of giving testimony to others as if it were only for pastors, missionaries, or other very religious people. 

When a person decides to play hockey in -20 degrees below zero weather, we might think that person is a little crazy;  but, hey, we reason, if they love hockey that much, more power to them. 

We must not think about Christianity in the same way, that if a person is passionate about Jesus and desires to tell others about what God has done for them, more power to them; just don’t expect me to go out in the cold and do that because it isn’t my thing. 

Christianity is a life, not a hobby; it’s about humble service, and not a means to look respectable; it cannot be reduced to a few practices, such as church attendance or putting money in an offering plate.

Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus. Try looking at marriage as simply showing up for supper and paying the bills and see how far that gets you.

Look to Get Lost to Get Found

We may become obsessed with getting out of our slimy pit of illness, infirmity, pain, adversity, hardship, or discord. If that happens, we will likely lose our proper focus.

Instead, get lost in the wonder of God. The Lord does wondrous things when we are immersed in God’s wonders.

“Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me will find true life.” Jesus (Matthew 16:25, ERV)

New life comes from a change of heart, not a change of circumstances. Wherever there is a firm reliance on God; a glad obedience to God; and a readiness to give testimony to God’s actions, then we are living into the spirit of today’s psalm.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace. Amen.

A God Worth Exploring (Psalm 89:5-37)

God! Let the cosmos praise your wonderful ways,
    the choir of holy angels sing anthems to your faithful ways!
Search high and low, scan skies and land,
    you’ll find nothing and no one quite like God.
The holy angels are in awe before him;
    he looms immense and august over everyone around him.
God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who is like you,
    powerful and faithful from every angle?
You put the arrogant ocean in its place
    and calm its waves when they turn unruly.
You gave that old hag Egypt the back of your hand,
    you brushed off your enemies with a flick of your wrist.
You own the cosmos—you made everything in it,
    everything from atom to archangel.
You positioned the North and South Poles;
    the mountains Tabor and Hermon sing duets to you.
With your well-muscled arm and your grip of steel—
    nobody messes with you!
The Right and Justice are the roots of your rule;
    Love and Truth are its fruits.
Blessed are the people who know the passwords of praise,
    who shout on parade in the bright presence of God.
Delighted, they dance all day long; they know
    who you are, what you do—they can’t keep it quiet!
Your vibrant beauty has gotten inside us—
    you’ve been so good to us! We’re walking on air!
All we are and have we owe to God,
    Holy God of Israel, our King!

A long time ago you spoke in a vision,
    you spoke to your faithful beloved:
“I’ve crowned a hero,
    I chose the best I could find;
I found David, my servant,
    poured holy oil on his head,
And I’ll keep my hand steadily on him,
    yes, I’ll stick with him through thick and thin.
No enemy will get the best of him,
    no scoundrel will do him in.
I’ll weed out all who oppose him,
    I’ll clean out all who hate him.
I’m with him for good and I’ll love him forever;
    I’ve set him on high—he’s riding high!
I’ve put Ocean in his one hand, River in the other;
    he’ll call out, ‘Oh, my Father—my God, my Rock of Salvation!’
Yes, I’m setting him apart as the First of the royal line,
    High King over all of earth’s kings.
I’ll preserve him eternally in my love,
    I’ll faithfully do all I so solemnly promised.
I’ll guarantee his family tree
    and underwrite his rule.
If his children refuse to do what I tell them,
    if they refuse to walk in the way I show them,
If they spit on the directions I give them
    and tear up the rules I post for them—
I’ll rub their faces in the dirt of their rebellion
    and make them face the music.
But I’ll never throw them out,
    never abandon or disown them.
Do you think I’d withdraw my holy promise?
    or take back words I’d already spoken?
I’ve given my word, my whole and holy word;
    do you think I would lie to David?
His family tree is here for good,
    his sovereignty as sure as the sun,
Dependable as the phases of the moon,
    inescapable as weather.” (The Message)

Christ the Redeemer photo by John Dalkin

The Lord’s in it for the long haul.

Yahweh’s faithfulness never wavers nor diminishes over time; it’s always there, always operative.

The angels in heaven know it. All creation knows it.

Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, and most certainly ironically, much of humanity doesn’t know it. They’re late to the celebration party. Like clueless ants on the sidewalk of life, they fail to look up and observe the big picture of the universe – as if the busywork they’re doing is all there is to living.

Silly us.

When push comes to shove, the only thing we puny people really want is someone who will love us for who we are. We just need someone who will have our back, all the time, and always be there for us, no matter what.

So (in the face of a faithful, loving, and caring holy Being) why do we act as if there’s no one home in heaven? Why does such a large chunk of humanity simply dismiss God as some antiquated idea from pre-modern people who didn’t understand the things we now know?

Aside from those questions being not much more than hubris, it assumes ancient people were downright stupid – except for maybe Plato or Cicero, bless their hearts. Yet even those guys knew better than to ground their ethics – not to mention their lives – in something and someone higher and bigger than themselves.

I tend to think that it all comes down to a matter of listening – of which we people have proven to be, at best, rather dull about; and, at worst, completely tone deaf to the continual voice of the universe.

Because if we would but just stop our ant-like busy-bodying for but a minute and listen, we would discover a constant cacophony of voices lifting praises to a Creator for whom they owe their very existence to.

The bald fact of the matter is that there are presently, right now this very moment, and every minute 24/7, a vast choir of angels offering praise to their Sovereign.

We would hear the ocean churning it’s affirmation that there is One greater than it’s own mighty waves; and the mountains and volcanoes rumbling their collective recognition that someone greater than their great chains of rock makes their very presence possible.

We could begin to hear the voices of history proclaim that there is an invisible force much stronger than the visible forces we believe to be so powerful.

Most important, we can hear the voice of the Lord – not with our actual physical ears – but with the spiritual ears which so many forget they even possess.

If we would get our heads out of the metaphorical sands of skepticism, we might begin to acknowledge and appreciate the voices of others for whom we have suppressed for too long: Native Americans; Australian Aboriginals; indigenous African spirituality; and any society with an historic and robust theology different from our own.

Both the cosmos way out there, as well as the children next door, discern and know what others do not: There is a God in heaven; and that God is deserving of praise – not the weird God you might think you know who is capricious and fickle – but the Lord who is more dependable than the most faithful friend you’ve ever had.

That’s a God worth exploring.

The Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How of Praise (Psalm 148)

By Stushie Art

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for he commanded, and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
    he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
    old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his faithful,
    for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord! (New Revised Standard Version)

By Stushie Art

Everything in all creation points to a Creator who cares for us. The 12 days of Christmas (December 25–January 5) are a great celebration. King Jesus has come; he is the rightful Sovereign over all creation. Believers recognize Christ’s incarnation – affirming the identity of Jesus as both full human and fully divine. 

Worshipers praise the Lord. It’s in our spiritual DNA to give adoration, praise, and honor to God. Today’s Psalm is not only meant for good times; it’s also for the despondent, difficult, and downright hard times. There’s always an open season on praising the Lord, no matter what’s going on in and around us. 

Psalm 148 helps to re-orient us around praise to God, instead of remaining stuck in being disoriented.  Whether in good times or bad, we praise the Lord. 

Who should praise the Lord?

Everyone. Everything. 

God has created and continues to impact every nook and cranny of creation. Therefore, the entire universe – every creature and all humanity – acknowledge the Lord with praise. 

The outer reaches of the universe, on everything out there which we cannot even see, praise the Lord. 

The earth and everything in it praise the Lord. 

The forces of nature praise the Lord. 

The landscape, the flora and fauna, animals and humans, together with all creation, praise the Lord. 

Young people, old people, men and women – no matter who they are or where they come from – praise the Lord. 

The proper purpose of everything and everyone that exists is giving adoration and praise to God.

In the Ancient Near East, the sun, moon, and stars were considered gods by the various people groups. This Psalm was, therefore, more than a summons to praise – this was a call to recognize the One true God as the sovereign and the rightful ruler of all. Thus, the ancient peoples understood this psalm as a claim that their gods must bow to Israel’s God.

What is praise to the Lord?

Praise to the Lord is a recognition that God deserves praise from everyone and everything. Praise is physical posture and a heart stance of bowing, yielding, and submitting to God. “Praise the Lord” in the Hebrew language is “hallelujah.” And “hallelujah literally means “to raise the hands.”

We are told 10 times in the 14 verses of Psalm 148 to praise the Lord, that is, to raise our hands. It’s a symbol of submission and joy. To have open hands lifted toward heaven conveys our obedience and commitment to God. 

When do we praise the Lord?

Praising the Lord and lifting the hands, is not only to occur in church or worship setting; praise happens everywhere.

We lift our arms in reverent submission at our workplaces when we land a client or have a good day; and when cranky and critical people demean us. Praising the Lord isn’t limited to good circumstances.

We raise our hands and praise the Lord when our neighbors care about us and look out for us, as well as when they make noise and irritate us with their less than kept up yards and houses. Yielding to God’s purposes for our lives is not dependent upon whether we have good neighbors or not. 

We praise the Lord and raise our hands when our marriages are life-giving and thriving, as well as when our relationship with our spouse is dry, dull, and going nowhere. It’s always open season on praising the Lord and reflecting his image through love. 

By Stushie Art

We praise the Lord for our kids, not only when they do what’s right; but also when they’re complete stinkers and drive us nuts. We are to use our hands for praise and enact obedience, and not for violence through finger pointing or physical punishment.

In adversity, we praise the Lord because it gives us a chance to put our faith into action. In times when someone is being insensitive and callous, it provides the opportunity to praise the Lord and love them because God loves us.

At all times, in all places, in every circumstance, and with each situation we raise our hands in hallelujah to Jesus for saving us from our misguided ways and bringing us back into fellowship with God. 

Lift your hands, always! And when, like Moses, we can no longer lift them, let others help hold them up we so that we can keep praising God. (Exodus 17:11-12)

Why praise the Lord?

Because God created everything and everyone. 

The Lord designed every living thing and fashioned a man and a woman in the divine image as the pinnacle of creative work. 

Adam and Eve walked with God and had perfect praise of the Lord and fellowship with each other. Yet, tragedy happened. The people God formed were deceived into thinking that the Lord was holding out on them by not letting them eat from a certain tree in the garden. So, they disobeyed, ate the fruit, and so plunged the world into darkness.

However, God did not turn away from humanity. Holy Scripture is the revelation of a God who goes out of the way to do whatever it takes to reclaim people back to fellowship so that they can fulfill their original design to praise the Lord. 

The height of God’s love is sending the Son, the Lord Jesus. God became one of us so that he could save us from ourselves. 

Whenever we have exhausted all the avenues this world has to offer in bringing fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace to our lives – there stands Jesus, crucified, risen, ascended, and waiting with open arms for you and me to lift our hands and see that he has the only way for us to live. 

The reason you have felt for so long that you are a square peg in a round hole is that your life is meant to praise the Lord. You are not meant to fit into the world; you are meant for God.

Where do we praise the Lord?

From the heavens and the earth. From everywhere in all creation, and from everyone as creatures, there is to be praise to the Lord.

Humanity is one part of a big grand chorus of praise that arises from all creation. Some of the psalmist’s pairings of praise are quite informative. 

The sun that praises God during the daytime and the moon that offers its praise at night, reminds us that God’s praise is never silenced. 

The highest heavens and waters above the sky, along with the earth and what’s under its waters, helps us recall that God’s creation, from top to bottom, praises the Lord. 

The mountains and hills, with creatures and flying birds on them and circling them, communicates to us that both the noticeable and scarcely noticeable offer their praises to our God and King.

All creation burps out their praise – which means that some folk really are dumber than rocks because even the rocks know enough to praise the Lord. 

We praise the Lord – outdoors, indoors, at home, at work, in the neighborhood, with family, church, from every place there is to be a lifting of the hands to God.

How do we praise the Lord?

Of course, we raise our hands in adoration for the God who gives us life and watches over us in such a way that not a hair on our heads can fall apart from the divine will. 

We praise the Lord by being the people God created us to be – walking in fellowship with the Lord and enjoying the divine/human relationship forever.

No matter our current situation, every day and every situation is a summons to praise the Lord. God’s claim upon our lives leads us toward raising our hands to heaven. 

The person who praises God is marked by a deep humility of understanding that they are not God; expressive gratitude for God’s actions; patient confidence in God’s promises; and a sense of unity, participating in harmony with God, others, and all creation in praising the Lord!

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
He is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears Your likeness.

We praise You for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers and herbs.

We praise You for those who pardon,
or who for love of You bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You they will be crowned.

We praise You for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

We praise and bless You Lord,
give You thanks,
and humbly serve You. Amen.

 – A canticle of praise from St. Francis of Assisi