Psalm 150 – Praising God

Psalm 150 by Hope G. Smith

Shout praises to the Lord!
    Praise God in his temple.
    Praise him in heaven,
    his mighty fortress.
Praise our God!
    His deeds are wonderful,
    too marvelous to describe.

Praise God with trumpets
    and all kinds of harps.
Praise him with tambourines
    and dancing,
    with stringed instruments
    and woodwinds.
Praise God with cymbals,
    with clashing cymbals.
Let every living creature
praise the Lord.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (CEV)

There is a time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and there is a time for jubilant shouts of praise. The biblical psalms mirror the full range of human emotion. Having moved through the ups and downs of doubt, curiosity, anger, lament, and trust, it is appropriate that the psalter ends with lots of joyful noise.

I grew up in a generation where children were expected to be quiet in church. Not surprisingly, as a child, I found the church worship service on Sunday to be the most boring hour of my week. After a Saturday of morning cartoons, sugary cereal, All-Star Wrestling, and playing outside in the dirt with my brother, Sunday morning was typically a big letdown.

All I have to say about that, and about cranky old women shushing kids in church, is that the adults somehow forgot to read Psalm 150. Maybe if us big people were better about encouraging our little people to dance in the aisles, blow a kazoo as loud as they can, and freely give a shout to the Lord, then perhaps there would be a lot fewer defections from church worship services.

“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 Haddon Spurgeon

But don’t think I’m advocating going all out noise, all the time. Just as it is neither necessary nor appropriate to always shout everything you say, and skip everywhere you go, so the worship of God needs to encompass the broad scope of the human condition. Silence, meditation, and stillness have their important place. In a desire to make church fun, some Christians have created imbalanced experiences of only victory in Jesus.

One of the reasons I follow the Christian Year with its liturgical movements is that it holds and maintains the balance of worship and the theological tension of both crucifixion and resurrection. We need healthy rhythms of sorrow and joy, stillness and movement, quietness and shouting.

The Church is currently in the Christian season of Eastertide. It is a focused time of celebration – which is why we have biblical sections in this time of year like Psalm 150. This is the appropriate time to lift loud praise to God for the risen Christ and celebrate salvation and new life in Jesus.

I’m not really a numbers kind of guy, yet its easy to notice the word “praise” occurs 10 times in a psalm of just 6 verses. And 7 musical instruments are mentioned. Methinks we’re supposed to not miss something here.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

hebrews 13:15, NIv

Praise is to happen in heaven and earth, in all creation, out in the world as well as inside the walls of the church building. It is to be done with voice, dance, drums, horns, woodwinds, and stringed instruments. Because God has done wonderful and marvelous acts throughout the earth, people are to respond with profuse gratitude expressed with lots of emotion.

Just so you know, that means sourpuss Christians who wrongheadedly believe human feelings ought to be stuffed and suppressed, need some remedial theological education about who God is and exactly what he expects from people. Somebody, please dispense the laxative of Psalm 150 to loosen their spiritual constipation!

God gave us our breath, and we are to use it for praise. If we see the entire book of Psalms as a life, then it is fitting the final psalm ends with sanguine praise. Indeed, when a person is at end of life, do they have reason to praise? A life of walking with God through thick and thin will inevitably end with recounting the ways in which the Lord has shown up and delivered. They want musical praise filling their last days and minutes.

That is exactly what Duke Ellington did in the twilight of his life. On January 19, 1968, Ellington performed a concert of sacred music at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City. Among the original songs he performed and later recorded was his musical interpretation of Psalm 150. He called it “Praise God and Dance.”

Duke Ellington said that this praise music, and the two other albums of sacred music he recorded, were “the most important thing I have ever done.” When Ellington performed “Praise God and Dance” at the ancient Church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, the congregation spontaneously burst into the aisles with dancing and singing.

The whole person is to be involved in praise – mind, body, emotions, and spirit – because God is Lord of all of us, not just the spiritual dimension.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98:4-6, NRSV)

I will bless you every day. I will praise your name forever and always. The Lord is great and so worthy of praise! God’s greatness can’t be grasped. (Psalm 145:2-3, CEB)

Praise the Lord! My whole being, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, NCV)

Shout praises to the Lord! Our God is kind, and it is right and good to sing praises to him. (Psalm 147:1, CEV)

Amen.

Psalm 107:1-16 – The Necessity of Telling Our Secrets

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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 wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
    until they reached an inhabited town.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
    and the hungry he fills with good things.

Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
    prisoners in misery and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
    and broke their bonds asunder.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he shatters the doors of bronze,
    and cuts in two the bars of iron. (NRSV)

The psalmist calls upon others to give thanks to the good Lord who shows enduring love to people. The psalmist furthermore exhorts those who have been redeemed to say so, to declare God’s praises for delivering them from trouble. 

Whatever the circumstances and however difficult the experiences may have been, the believer is not to remain in silence but is to publicly thank God.

Speaking our spiritual stories to others is important for those who share them, and for those who listen, so that the community of the redeemed will be strengthened in their faith and emboldened to share with others. Far too many Christians are reticent to talk about what God has done or is doing in their lives. Shame, embarrassment, or a host of other reasons might prevent us from being vulnerable enough to let others in on God’s deep work within us. But the psalmist does not let us off the hook, even if we feel we are not articulate or are too afraid to speak.

We all likely have had the privilege of hearing another person share their heart and experience of hardship and God’s deliverance. It was uplifting, encouraging, and helpful. So, let’s not keep our stories to ourselves. Stories are meant to be told, not hidden. 

Bringing to light our faith journey is healing for all, as well as declaring the light of Jesus to the world.

Author Frederick Buechner wrote a book several years ago entitled, “Telling Secrets.” Buechner tells of his own experience of keeping some stories inside and never letting them see the light of day. One of those stories was growing up with an alcoholic father and all the other stories that went along with that singular story. It was only in finally telling the family secret of alcoholism that he discovered a better path forward to healing and blessing. He writes:

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets, too, because it makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own.”

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it, the chances are you will recognize that, in many ways, it is also your story. It is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”

Shame is like a vampire. It lives in the shadows, thirsting for and feeding upon secrets.

But when our stories are told and see the light of day, the vampire of shame is destroyed by the bright rays of truth and vulnerability. We then become open to genuine relationships without propping up a false self to pose for others. We place ourselves in a position to receive and give love. In short, we can meaningfully connect with both God and others because we found our voice and told our story.

Great God of deliverance, I praise you that I have a story to tell of your grace and faithfulness. Help me to tell of your mercy in my life so that the name of Jesus will be exalted, and that your people might be built up in the faith.  Amen.

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

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, continually perturbed and upset, exasperated with us stupid little sinful people. Certainly, there are sections in Scripture dealing with God’s wrath and the divine action spurred from not being okay with injustice running amok on the earth. 

Everything God does comes from a place of love.

The Lord has never been okay with sin because it damages and destroys people who are meant for better things. Which is why, when people are in need and cry out to the Lord, God is there for them. 

Far more prevalent is the reality that the Old Testament is thickly 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 tirelessly gracious, merciful, and kind. It is the love that has compassion on the needy and mercifully does something about their plight.

In today’s psalm, even when there were people sick and in distress because of their own doing, their own sin, and their own fault, God saved them from their mess. That, my friend, is precisely what God does – expertly delivers people with care and precision. 

So then, we truly need to get some robust theology to overwhelm and break those old nasty ideas about a fickle God who shakes his finger at us when we screw up and gives a big disappointed *sigh* over our dumb decisions. Just as the psalms steadily and persistently portray to us a God of abiding love, they also equally tell us of a God who is “slow to anger,” not going off the handle quickly. (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8)

Know deep in your soul that God shows steadfast love. 

God doesn’t tell us “I told you so” or “that’s what you get for sinning,” like some obnoxious and overzealous schoolgirl. Nope. God delivers and does it because of steadfast love. It flat out gives God pleasure to save and redeem wayward folk.

That’s why I believe people all over the world have learned to sing the praises of the God of the Bible. It’s why persons from every walk of life and every culture 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 the great Lover of their souls.

If you or someone you know struggles with seeing God as capricious, indifferent, or angry, then I strongly urge a steady and daily diet of the psalms over the course of the next month. Call it an intervention of psalms. Reading just five psalms per day gets you through all one-hundred fifty of them in a month. More than that, pray the psalms. Allow them to give you a new perspective on the world, relationships, and self.

“God’s love is like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire. You don’t have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you.”

Desmond Tutu

This prolific reading of the psalms is not some new or weird thing. It has been around for an awfully long time. The daily recitation of the entire Book of Psalms was an early monastic custom, especially among the Desert Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries. By the time Saint Benedict came along with his Rule for monks (c.515 C.E.) many communities had settled on the weekly praying of the entire Psalter. As good old Benedict said, praying less than a full psalter a week betrays “extreme indolence and lack of devotion.”

That might seem over the top to modern readers, yet the big idea is that once the steadfast love of God from the psalms gets into your spiritual bloodstream, the praying and singing of the psalms becomes a delight. I can testify to that. Seems I cannot ever get enough of the psalms. Which really means I love the steadfast love of God!

The Psalms are, I believe, the fulcrum of the Holy Scriptures. They recite and reflect upon the historical acts of God in the Old Testament. They tell of the Lord’s continuing covenantal care for people. The Psalms express the full gamut of human emotion and spiritual devotion of the people of God. Reciting the Psalms aloud frequently puts us in good company with our spiritual ancestors in the faith.

So, what the heck are you waiting for? Go ahead. Read and recite today’s psalm over again and again. Let them do their gracious work in your spirit.

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 – The Joy of Worship

Every now and then I like taking a psalm and doing my own loose contemporary translation of the text (just so you know, 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. 

Today’s psalm talks about the temple. I have contemporized it for the Christian who enjoys fellowship with God in the many places where the Lord 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.
    Immense 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 genuinely 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 billion days anywhere else!
I would prefer to park cars out in the front yard of 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; God is 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 beside him.
Powerful Lord of the numerous heavenly forces,
    those who trust in you are truly giddy with joy!

Divine presence makes all the difference in the world. To be with God, to sense the Lord’s company, and to enjoy Divine favor brings deep satisfaction and contentment within a world of great dissatisfaction and discontent.

True beauty is found with the Author of the beautiful. Love motivates the pilgrimage toward God. The non-judgmental presence of the Lord provides us with a place of security, peace, and rest. Indeed, the nearness of God changes everything. It transforms our present circumstances from drudgery and despondency to opportunities for God to show up and show off divine power.

God, the heavenly king, and commander of heavenly forces chooses to dwell among us. The Lord’s ear is attentive to each person. The connection between God and God’s people is inseparable. This, then, is the very place where trust is engendered. Placing faith in a God who cares, listens, and acts blesses everyone.

Today, God abides with us because of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus. God’s presence has the effect of bringing people together and calming all fears. God’s eye is on the sparrow, which means the Lord is always watching with care and concern for all creation, especially humanity.

Almighty God, merciful heavenly Father, we give you humble thanks for all your goodness, kindness, and steadfast love to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. Above all, we are grateful for your immeasurable love shown through the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Give us such an awareness of your divine presence, that with truly thankful hearts our lives might be an offering of praise in both speech and action. We trust you, gracious God, and give ourselves to your service. We choose to walk with you in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory forever. Amen.

His Eye Is On the Sparrow, sung by Selah