They Really ARE Out to Get Me! (Psalm 7)

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” writes Joseph Heller in his classic 1961 novel “Catch-22.”

And David, the writer of this song, could be forgiven for being described as paranoid. Enemies were indeed out to get him. The superscription to the Psalm says that this related to a fellow named Cush – of the tribe of Benjamin – who was evidently leading the effort to harm David. This is certainly from the time of David’s life when Saul was out to capture him. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.

Have you ever lived through such a time – perhaps at your place of work – where there was someone who was intent on getting you and destroying you? It sadly happens all too often in a terribly sinful and fallen world. Right now, quickly, I can name two situations of folks I know who are facing this very real situation. Both are falsely accused in what is ridiculous fashion, yet fear abounds that a judge will not see the entire scenario accurately so as to render a just verdict.

With today’s devotional and reading, we begin with a new category of Psalms – the Lament. Up to this point over our three weeks, we have been reading and writing about the common category of the Praise Psalms.

Even our modern music contains a large percentage of songs that cry out from the soul about life’s sadness – of pain and relationships lost. Not all music is about love, romance, sunshine, happiness, parties and good times. We even have a genre of music called “the blues” and it has been said that King David was the first blues musician!

Actually, about 40% of the songs / Psalms in “God’s Playlist” of 150 tunes are Laments. And often, as in Psalm 7 today, the writer is pleading with God for justice to prevail when every appearance is that injustice is winning the day.

Psalm 7 

A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjamite.

Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

David says he is pursued, though not guilty in any way. If he is guilty, he basically says to God to go ahead and let his enemy prevail over him, and let he himself die if he is not affirming the truth.

Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands—if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe—then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;  let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.

David prays for God to rise up from inaction, and as the righteous judge to vindicate his cause in just action against his enemies.

Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. Let the Lord judge the peoples. Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.

David feels he is in good hands if he can be sure he is in God’s hands. He knows God is just and that he displays that justice every day. He believes God is ready with weapons at hand to vindicate his cause.

10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. 11 God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. 12 If he does not relent, hewill sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. 13 He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.

David expresses his confidence that God’s system of justice will ultimately prevail with the Lord turning the circumstances upside-down … that “what goes around, will come around.” The picture is of a person digging a hole and preparing a pit to surprisingly capture prey … or an unsuspecting enemy. But before it can find success, the fool falls into his own pit and becomes the victim in a place prepared for others.

14 Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads.

17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

Sometimes injustice will prevail in a sinful world. But if such is to happen to one of us as God’s children, it is not because he is unaware. It would not be because he does not care or in unable to do something about it. God will be just in the end; justice will prevail. You can take that to the bank … even if it really is true that someone is out to get you!

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7-11 Music? How About 4-26 Music? (Psalm 136)

There is a catch phrase going around the evangelical world amongst those who are critical of contemporary Christian music; they call it “7-11 music” … meaning by that, that the same seven words get repeated 11 times.

I guess this is supposed to come off as damningly cute. I guess the repeating of the same little ditty that is a chorus tacked on to many hymns is categorically different. Or, as I’ve answered these critics about contemporary repetition, “You mean like ‘Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me’?”

Before I lose the traditionalists or give the contemporarians a false sense of unbridled support, let me say two things …

First, I’m not against traditional music and hymns. I wish honestly the evangelical world had not changed. In almost every crowd of traditionalists pining the loss of hymnody, I’m the one person standing there with a classical music degree who had the most to lose. It certainly did not help my plans for a sacred music career to see choirs and orchestras and classical constructions get relegated to the dark recesses of the corner cabinets in the kitchen.

But music genres in the evangelical church did change. And the point is this: What they changed from is neither more right or wrong or better or worse than what they changed to. That tide goes the other direction as well.

And secondly, neither side can throw at the other such castigations as “7-11 music” or “silly hymn repetition” and do so from any spiritual high ground. Not without trashing Psalm 136 – our devotional for today. In this divinely inspired song of the Scriptures (which, by the way means it trumps both Isaac Watts and Michael W. Smith equally), the same four words repeat 26 times … if you miss the literary device, the words are “His love endures forever.”

I am guessing the writer (under inspiration of the Holy Spirit) wanted the main idea of God’s enduring love to be emphasized and remembered! Indeed! It is at the heart of the message about the relationship between God and Israel … and about God and His redeemed and chosen people of all time – that his covenant love (on a promise purchased and sealed with blood) is dependable for all time.

Among the themes in Psalm 136 which give testimony to God’s enduring love are these: He is the God above all Gods, he is the creator, he is the sustainer. He struck down the Egyptian oppressors of Israel and delivered his people through the Red Sea. God then sustained them through the wilderness while making them victors over powerful kings – giving those lands to his people as an inheritance. And beyond that, God remembers our “low estate” … that we are but flesh and blood, and He sustains his people as they trust in Him.

Wow!  His love endures forever … indeed!

As we leave the Praise Psalms after today (though we will see praise in many others we study this summer), let me make an additional word about praise and worship.

We are to be people of worship by our praise and adoration of God day in and day out of our lives in our personal relationship with him. But when we come together with others of the faith, we have an opportunity to kick that worship up a notch and do it together in a way you just can’t do it by yourself! Bam!

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, His love endures forever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them, His love endures forever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder, His love endures forever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness; His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.
18 and killed mighty kings—His love endures forever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites, His love endures forever.
20 and Og king of Bashan—His love endures forever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel. His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate, His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.

In Control – Past, Present, and Future – Psalm 135

Today and tomorrow we wrap up our three weeks of readings and writings on the category of Psalms that we call “Praise Psalms.”

In the winter of early 2013 at Tri-State Fellowship, we did a series of sermons and writings on the Book of Deuteronomy – called “Revive.”  I admit that I had some reservations about how that would go over with the congregation. It went well. But I mention it to say that it has struck me over and over how foundational that book is to understanding so much else that is written in the Scriptures. And we will see that again today.

This is again a song of praise to be sung by God’s own special people – those in covenant relationship with him, as it says today in verse 4 of Psalm 135: For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.”

In this Psalm at the beginning and end, the religious leadership in Israel is particularly called upon to set the example in singing God’s praise that rehearses His faithfulness to His people. In verses 1 and 2 – “…praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord…”  And then again in verse 19 the writer calls out specifically to the households of Aaron and Levi – the priestly order in Israel – to worship the Lord.

As we see in so many Psalms, the creation is written about as completely under the control of the Lord – again speaking of it as small relative to God. In an earlier Psalm, we saw where the seas were spoken of as contained in jars, and here the wind is presented as coming from a storehouse where God keeps it until he wants to use it.

And also again, as in so much of what we have read and written about in the past week, the history of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is remembered as praiseworthy – the signs and wonders performed by Moses, most especially the final curse of the death angel striking down the firstborn throughout the land.

It was one thing to be released from Egypt, yet quite another to take and sustain several million people on a journey through barren wilderness areas and hostile nations to enter an inhabited Promised Land filled with giant Canaanites. Two of the biggest, baddest, worstest guys are mentioned in this Psalm in verses 10 to 12, He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—11 Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan—12 and he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel.”

And finally, a God who did all of this is so praiseworthy relative to the dumb gods the peoples and nations around Israel worshipped. They were nothing but gold and silver who could not hear or speak or do anything worthwhile – and their followers were no different.

Think about what the masses of the people of our world worship – materials things, power, pleasure, etc. Can these “gods” control the forces of nature, affect the flow of history, or help anyone in the time of great personal need? In the final analysis, it makes great sense to worship and trust in God; so sing his praises.

Psalm 135

Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.

I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

He struck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals.
He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants.
10 He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—11 Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan—12 and he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel.

13 Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.
14 For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

19 All you Israelites, praise the Lord; house of Aaron, praise the Lord; 20 house of Levi, praise the Lord; you who fear him, praise the Lord.
21 Praise be to the Lord from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

This was their Independence Day (Psalm 114)

When you think of the grand events surrounding the American Revolution, certain primary scenes come prominently to mind: the ride of Paul Revere, Washington Crossing the Delaware, the winter at Valley Forge, and the Battle of Yorktown.

When the Jewish people reflected upon their Independence Day – which was the exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land – there were certain scenes that came to mind of God’s faithfulness and power: the Red Sea crossing, the water from the rock, crossing the Jordan River, and the Battle of Jericho.

And so, in composing a song about this time and the Lord’s covenant love for the nation, it is no surprise that a quick eight-verse chorus would have these words and ideas …

Psalm 114

When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs.

Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs?

Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.

The first two verses talk about how Jacob (a.k.a. Israel – the father of the 12 tribes), comprising the two major sections later to be known as Israel and Judah … how at that time they became God’s special, covenant people. God entered into a unique relationship with them unlike anything else with anyone else.

In Exodus 19 on Mount Sinai, God said to Moses,This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:  ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Messing with Israel was like messing with the cubs of a momma bear – it just isn’t a smart or safe thing to do. (If you are an Iraqi, Syrian, or Palestinian militant reading this devotional, you should probably take heed.)

The song goes on to say in verses three and following that when Israel became God’s people of covenant, in fulfillment of promises made all of the way back to Abraham, even the creation had to get out of the way. The water would have to stand back from dry land in the Red Sea and Jordan River. The mountains and hills in places like Jericho and Ai had to obey God as if dancing sheep, and water would pour from solid rock.

God was in control; Israel was his covenant people. God is still in control; the church is his new covenant people – in the blood of Christ. And he is worthy of our trust and praise.

The “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Faith (Psalm 106)

I really like those State Farm commercials where a client is in trouble – he’s had an accident – and he begins to awkwardly sing “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…”  And poof! Up pops his agent to save the day and solve the crisis.

That is how many people relate with God. He is like a divine State Farm agent / insurance policy … who is expected to show up at the moment of crisis with a powerful and pleasant deliverance. And if God does not come through, for many people he is therefore a weak and ineffectual source of trust, obedience, and love.

The attitude is essentially one of pondering “What have you done for me lately?  Because, yes, it is great to have a life insurance policy that is simply out of this world, but where have you been while I have had all of these recent pains and problems?”

Today’s somewhat length Psalm 106 follows the history of yesterday’s previous Psalm, as it picks up with thoughts from Israel’s history in leaving Egypt and traveling to the threshold of the Promised Land.

The Psalm writer seems to have a very good macro view of the situation. Over and over, Israel had been unfaithful and failed to obey God, even in the wake of recent miracles that were amazing. And the writer knows he is identified with the nation, yet seeks also to be remembered in grace for his own attitude of seeing this history from God’s perspective as a faithful, covenant keeping God. He begins …

Psalm 106

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise?
Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

Next, the writer begins rehearsing some history by reflecting upon the exodus of the nation from Egypt.

I once heard an old story about a little boy who was reading his Bible on a streetcar while seated across from a skeptic. The little boy read about the how God opened up the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross on dry land, and he said, “Hallelujah, Amen!”

And the skeptic said, “What are you reading there young man?  Oh, I see it’s a Bible, and that is just a story book at best.”

But the boy said, “No, I just read where God opened up the waters of the Red Sea for Israel to escape from Egypt.”

The man said, “Be impressed if you want to. But that area is not really the Red Sea with deep waters, it is an area known as the Sea of Reeds – and the water is nothing more than a shallow swamp! Don’t be so easily impressed.”

The little boy went back to his Bible, and a minute later he shouted, “Hallelujah, Amen!” to which the skeptic said, “Now what are you reading?”

And the little boy shouted, “God just swallowed up the whole Egyptian army in several inches of water!”

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.
12 Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.

So, God saved the Israelites with an incredible miracle, but they quickly forgot it.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
14 In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test.
15 So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease among them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord.
17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan; it buried the company of Abiram.
18 Fire blazed among their followers; a flame consumed the wicked.

On multiple occasions in the desert, they rebelled against God’s leadership, and judgment fell upon some of the worst of the complainers. And then, while Moses was on the mountain getting the law from God, the people made a golden calf to worship …

19 At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
21 They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt,
22 miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 So he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.

After all that God had just done for them to deliver them from Egypt, they rebelled so significantly that Moses himself had to save the day for the people and the nation. Next, God led them right up to the very doorway of going into the Promised Land; but rather than trust the God of miracles, they believed the report of 10 of the 12 spies and rejected entering the land God was going to give to them…

24 Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord.
26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 make their descendants fall among the nations and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
29 they aroused the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds, and a plague broke out among them.
30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked.
31 This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.
32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them;
33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

34 They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the Lord was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance.
41 He gave them into the hands of the nations, and their foes ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them and subjected them to their power.
43 Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin.

These verses rehearse a whole list of “infamous moments” in Israel’s history of monumental lack of trust and obedience.

But over and over, the people would sing “the good neighbor song” and God would show up in power and grace and deliver them again…

44 Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry;
45 for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.
46 He caused all who held them captive to show them mercy.

47 Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.

48 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the Lord.

The Psalm writer wants to be bigger than the nation around him. He desired to see all of these circumstances from God’s perspective and acknowledge his great goodness and grace. He wanted to be different than the bulk of people around him.

And if you really trust God, if you really walk with him, if you trust him in the bad times as well as the good times … you too will stand out amongst even your peers in the church of Christ. So worship God at all times. Don’t be a “What have you done for me lately?” sort of Christian.

500 Years of Faithfulness to a Bunch of Nobodys – Psalm 105

Today’s reading in Psalm 105 – another of the many Praise Psalms – is 45 verses of Israel’s history covering 500 years.

Here is the main idea: God should be praised by his people because he has been faithful to them to make them a nation out of nothing but a promise to one man. The path to greatness and blessing among the nations of the earth was one that was as circuitous as it was unlikely … actually impossible, apart from God’s goodness.

The call of the Psalmist to praise the Lord is given in the first four verses …

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Whenever I talk of the Old Testament history of the Jewish people, I simply remind people to think, in big and round numbers, of Abraham as 2,000 BC, Moses as 1,500 BC, and David as 1,000 BC.  So this Psalm is written about 1,000 BC in David’s era and is looking back at the history of God’s faithfulness from 2,000-1,500 BC – from Abraham through Moses. So it begins with Abraham and God’s covenant promises to him and to his immediate descendents as the family / nation began to grow.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”

So God made a promise to Abraham that they would be a great nation inheriting a land of blessing, but it did not happen right away. They were just a growing family – Abraham with one son Isaac, and then his son Jacob (not Esau), who would have the many sons who would become the tribes of Israel. But even a couple of hundred years into the outworking of this promise, they were essentially nothing more than a Bedouin bunch of sheepherders with no land to call their own as a nation.

12 When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it,
13 they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another.
14 He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings:
15 “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

But God had a plan – an unlikely one – one that seemed to be evil, though God meant it for good and allowed it to unfold in dramatic fashion through one of the sons named Joseph. The older brothers were so annoyed with their impudent, daddy-pampered little brother that they concocted a story and sold him off as a slave. In God’s providential hand, Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became powerful in leading that nation through a terrible period of famine…

16 He called down famine on the land and destroyed all their supplies of food;
17 and he sent a man before them—Joseph, sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons,
19 till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the Lord proved him true.
20 The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples set him free.
21 He made him master of his household, ruler over all he possessed,
22 to instruct his princes as he pleased and teach his elders wisdom.

The famine not only affected the Egyptians, but also the family of Jacob in Palestine. God caused these circumstances to bring the family to Egypt where they were saved from starvation. Yet, over a relatively short period of time, as Joseph was forgotten and the Israelites began to multiply, they were enslaved by the Egyptian people to keep them under control …

23 Then Israel entered Egypt; Jacob resided as a foreigner in the land of Ham.
24 The Lord made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes,
25 whose hearts he turned to hate his people, to conspire against his servants.

After years of servitude, God called Moses and his brother Aaron to stand up to Pharaoh and seek an exit to the Promised Land. Through a series of signs and wonders performed by Moses, culminating in the death of the first-born throughout the land, the Israelites were allowed to leave.

26 He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen.
27 They performed his signs among them, his wonders in the land of Ham.
28 He sent darkness and made the land dark—for had they not rebelled against his words?
29 He turned their waters into blood, causing their fish to die.
30 Their land teemed with frogs, which went up into the bedrooms of their rulers.
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country.
32 He turned their rain into hail, with lightning throughout their land;
33 he struck down their vines and fig trees and shattered the trees of their country.
34 He spoke, and the locusts came, grasshoppers without number;
35 they ate up every green thing in their land, ate up the produce of their soil.
36 Then he struck down all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their manhood.

By the time Israel was allowed to go from Egypt, the Egyptians were so glad to see them go because of the power of God and the curses that had befallen them, they basically said, “Look, here is gold and silver … just hit the road Jack, and don’t you come no more, no more, no more, no more…”

37 He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered.
38 Egypt was glad when they left, because dread of Israel had fallen on them.

This was the Independence Day for the Israelites; they were now a nation. But they needed to travel to the Promised Land. And God led them with a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. He miraculously fed them.

39 He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night.
40 They asked, and he brought them quail; he fed them well with the bread of heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed like a river in the desert.

All of this blessing and provision by God was because of his promise to one man – Abraham. And nations would fall before them, all because of God’s provision. God gave Israel the blessings that others had worked for in the inheritance of a good land.

42 For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham.
43 He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
44 he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—
45 that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. 

Praise the Lord.

When you put it all together in one chapter or psalm, God’s faithfulness piles up as a lot of miraculous stuff – things that could not have happened without him. Yet at certain points along this path, many might have wondered, “Where is God and his promises right now?”

Surely Joseph wondered that in an Egyptian prison. Surely generations of Israelite slaves wondered that while doing the laundry, mucking the stalls, and building patios and decks for their masters.

God is big; he has a plan; it is being worked out. Sometimes we’re getting the inheritance; sometimes we’re in the slave market. In modern lingo, sometimes we’re the wind shield, and sometimes we’re the bug. But God is faithful.

 

The Theme Verse of Tri-State Fellowship (Psalm 145)

Actually, at Tri-State Fellowship we do not have an officially voted-upon theme verse for the church. But if we did, I would choose verse 4 from our Psalm today, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.”  I used it just this past Sunday at the infant dedication of my grandson Everett – speaking of the generations in our family that date back to the foundation of the Swiss Reformation that have commended God’s goodness and faithfulness down through the centuries.

Discipling generations is the theme and vision of TSF. We desire to be a church of old and young, serving one another and growing together in commending God’s faithfulness both within the walls and beyond to the community.

Along with being in the category of a Praise Psalm (and being the only one of entire 150 that even states this in the superscription), this Ps. 145 is also an acrostic – meaning that each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet… sorta like the 1949 Perry Como song “‘A’ you’re adorable, ‘B’ you’re so beautiful, ‘C’ you’re a cutie full of charm” … well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but only 21 verses here … verse 13 makes up for it with a doubling of letters and phrases.

In a sense, what this entire Psalm boils down to is one big, simple idea: God has a long track record of goodness and faithfulness. EVERYTHING else comes and goes and is transitory.

We tend to settle from time to time upon other things for our satisfaction in life: another person, material gains, success, acclaim. But all of that passes away, as do we. What remains is God and his faithfulness.

Life is not that complicated when you consider the truths spoken of in this Psalm. God is good, he is faithful, he always has been and always will be, and trusting in Him is the one lesson we need to learn and apply.

As we plug into God, what we get in return is “satisfaction” (verse 16) and “fulfillment” (verse 19). Isn’t that what you want? Are you finding it somewhere else or in something else? If so, friend, it does not last.

Psalm 145

A psalm of praise… of David.

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Taking Problems Straight to the Top – Psalm 33

It was almost 18 years ago now that our oldest son at age 14 was diagnosed locally with what was an apparent life-threatening condition – presumed to be cancer. We were sent to Johns Hopkins and to a specialist there. (It turned out to be a bone marrow infection instead, but was an exceedingly rare medical event.)

On the day of our first appointment, we were at the check-in window and must have been wearing on our faces the concerns that were tearing us apart within. The rather elderly lady behind the counter looked at Diana and said, “Honey, yo baby gonna be awright cause you be at da Johns Hopkins Hospital an dat doctor be the best they is!”

When you have a medical crisis, or any other big deal going on in your life, you want to be in the very best and most capable hands possible.

At Hopkins, we fell into the hands of a doctor who sensed immediately that the problem was not likely what we were told, but was rather a lesser, though still serious condition – yet was something he was familiar with from his vast experience.

Years later, when our next son Ben almost cut his arm off with a chain saw, the doctor at UMD Shock/Trauma who literally pieced him back together was famous around the world for having done a total face transplant … being highly skilled from military experiences of putting soldiers back together in Afghanistan.

But whatever the problem in our lives, we have as a resource the person who is at the very top of it all – the Creator God. And these Praise Psalms that we are beginning our summer series by studying proclaim this very theme. The guy who made it all can be depended upon to sustain it all and be faithful to His own in the midst of any crisis.

In Psalm 33 today, the writer calls upon God’s people to sing his praise because he is dependable in accord with his covenant love and faithfulness.

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

As the song moves into more of the lyrics and verses, it expands upon this idea of God’s dependence by giving three reasons to worship and trust God. First, we can trust him because he is more powerful than his creation – after all, he made it!

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

The biblical teaching as to how God spoke the world into existence will forever be ingrained in my mind with the title tune from our church kids musical program from this past spring – “Creation Sensation” – with the song “Something out of Nothing.”  I’m sure our children will go the rest of their lives with the same experience – and that is the value of music as an educational tool.

The Psalm speaks of the immensity of water on the earth. We moderns know how small the earth is relative to the vast reaches of space, and the ancients understood that to some degree. But when they thought of things that were huge, the most common picture was of mountains and seas. The mountains spoke of majesty and firmness, while the seas were unpredictably powerful and often fearful – certainly beyond human control. But the picture of the writer in verse seven is how God can take the waters of the earth and bottle them up, almost like in a collection of a few jars.

Secondly, we can trust God because He is the Lord over history and all nations and peoples.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

God has a plan for the ages that he is working out in his own wisdom. This gives a context to history and a calm vision about the future, even while living in a turbulent world.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.

Naturally this speaks of God’s special plans with and through the nation of Israel, expressed in the Abrahamic Covenant – where promises were made to that Patriarch of personal, national, and universal blessings (the latter fulfilled in Christ).

13 From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; 14 from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. 16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

God is connected to the affairs of the world. He knows what the heart condition of the people of his creation is – and apart from him, it is oft focused on self.

There is no power above God, and there is no validity ultimately to the belief of man that he who has the largest army with the most tools is the most powerful.

And thirdly, we can trust God because He is faithful in his love to those who honor Him.

The final verses take on a decidedly personal twist that brings it home to the individual worshipper, small as he is in a vast universe.

18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

These last verses turn the focus from God’s actual activity to man’s response. Why worship? Because no other gods are worthy of this level of devotion. If God was not wholly worthy of our attention, then Christianity would make no sense or—at best—be reduced to the level of a hobby. But if God is everything He says He is, then this faith demands my all.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

There is no reason to fear an out-of-control world – of natural forces, or the evil forces of man, for God’s eyes are on you. His heart is to deliver you because of this covenant love. And he is at the top of it all, since he made it all.

Power and Peace, Two Sides of the Same Coin (Psalm 29)

Imagine it is three millennia from now into the future and you are living somewhere in Asia in a culture far advanced from our own time. And you then and there read the following 3,000-year-old American poem:

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!

What would that mean to you? Would you be able to understand the imagery upon the first reading of it – having never been to America? You would likely need to do some historical research to learn that this famous song was speaking of the vast great plains covered in fields of wheat, the purple glow of the Rocky Mountains at sundown, and the big sky country of the vast open expanses of the USA.

Likewise with our reading for today in Psalm 29, we need to understand the poetic and geographic references of this 3,000-year-old song written by David.

After calling even the heavenly beings to praise God for his glory and strength, David begins in verse three to talk about a powerful display of nature – a large storm that has blown from the Mediterranean Sea into the coastline and interior of the modern day country of Lebanon.

The song pictures the Creator God as the powerful voice in the storm – with the noise of the thunder and the energy of the lightening… calling it “powerful” and “majestic.”

We know even within the last week in our region of the powerful nature of storms and the results that leave us in awe of the fury of nature. I often bike on the C&O Canal and Potomac River, where massive trees are the common scene. After certain large storms over the years, I have been amazed to see even massive trees twisted and shredded as if but tiny sticks.

lebanese-cedar-2

Cedars in Lebanon

In verse five it says, “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.”  The most impressive trees in the ancient world of Palestine grew in the forests of Lebanon. They were huge cedar trees! In the Old Testament it says that King Hiram of Tyre sent wood from these trees to Solomon for construction of the temple in Jerusalem.

This powerful storm moves over the mountains in that region, making them almost leap from the power of it all. And finally the desert of Kadesh is rocked by the energy of this fierce display of nature.

God is the creator over all of this; therefore HE is more powerful than this natural fury. Such a storm, and floods that may follow, are just about the biggest/baddest thing imaginable – with nothing able to stand in its path.

So what circumstance in your life do you need God to prove to be powerful? Can the God who is bigger than the storm do it? Why of course!

Beyond that, there is a flip side to the power, and that is the peace that is the by-product of the power … as the Psalm finishes, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

That is good stuff! But how does it play out in life? Let’s think of a big, hairy, audacious problem – let’s say a horrific cancer diagnosis. Now, let’s put God’s power alongside it. What is bigger? And with that answer, what is the by-product? It is a blessing of peace.

This stuff works.

Psalm 29

A psalm of David.

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion <this is Mount Herman> like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaksand strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

The World and The Word (Psalm 19)

The atheist thinks we who are believers are crazy for believing in something we cannot see, whereas people of faith think atheists are crazy for not believing in something they can see!

The Bible calls them a fool, so I’ll go with that and agree (Psalm 14:1 – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”).  But let me just as quickly remind us all again of that passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 that we referenced just yesterday – talking about those God has chosen and called out of the world and into faith, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” 

The evidences for God and his revelation are broken into two categories: natural revelation and special revelation. Our Psalm today has both in one package: verses 1-6 speak of the value of general revelation in the beauty, order and immensity of creation, whereas verses 7-14 talk about God’s special revelation in the law given us in the written Word of God.

This first section of Psalm 19, along with passages like Romans 1:20, present the idea that man should look at the world around him, especially the daily march of the sun across the sky and the beauty and vast order of the universe, and conclude that there must be a God behind such a magnificent display. The old illustration of this is that of a clockmaker: that the complexity of the mechanism argues that something of that nature demands the reality of a creator behind it … as it could not “evolve” into such a thing on its own.

Natural revelation was an easy sell for me. As I shared in church this past week, I was a geeky sort of kid when it came to astronomy and science, researching how to build my own telescope as about a 10 or 11-year-old out of components purchased through a magazine’s advertising. It all worked; and to the annoyance of my mother, I would set alarms to get up at 4:00 in the morning to go outside in the dark to see some celestial event that could only be seen at that hour. And all of this served me well to supplement the Scriptural teaching component around me that indeed there was an awesome God who made the incredible sights I witnessed night after night.

The display of the Creator God’s work is a daily event. It is seen in the daytime by the sun, and in the evening by the moon and the stars. No, these objects don’t speak audibly, but they “speak” by their presence that indeed a God is behind it all – the same God that is intuitively felt and known by everyone, no matter how much they deny it.

I have often said that I never, ever had to explain or define God to my boys when they were young. It is known “in the heart.” Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy all needed some details from scratch. Everyone knows of and senses there is a God, whether they were ever told anything about him or not. The other three characters would never be conceived of by a child apart from being told about them in some detail.

The emphasis in this Psalm of the sun as an object of creation is no coincidence. For many pagan religions, their god (or one of their gods) was the sun. But in reality, the sun is a witness to the creator God. And nobody is exempt from experiencing the sun and its witness. Even the blind man could feel its life-giving warmth.

But what value is general revelation? In a summary statement: General (or natural) revelation is sufficient to condemn a man but insufficient to save him. It argues for the reality of a divine creator of whom the creature should seek as his God. But special revelation about God’s redemptive plan that culminates in the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is necessary for an eternal relationship with the Heavenly Father.

Thankfully we have in the written Word of God a complete record of God’s plan from eternity past to eternity future. And these Scriptures contain also all we need to know to live well – and as David says in this Psalm, they are more precious than gold and sweeter than honey, making us wise and guiding over lives.

So, as the calendar goes by and as you see the beauty of creation, reflect always upon the Creator who made such a display for you to be drawn to him. And as you’ve come to know him, grow more deeply in love with the One who loved you so much – to give you both the beauty of general revelation, and a divine calling of opening your eyes to the truth of his special revelation in his written Word.

PSALM 14

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voicegoes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.