God is near, so just trust him – Psalm 127

One does not much think of Solomon when pondering the writers of the Psalms. But here is a psalm of Solomon that has the sound and feel of the book of Ecclesiastes—a late-in-life reflection upon wise living.

Though Psalm 127 is only five verses in length, it talks about the big categories of all our lives: laboring for our daily needs, living in family life, and sleeping! That pretty much sums it up.

The point is this: God is nearby in everything that we do. All of life is dependent upon his blessing.

Psalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep well when I’m worried about something. Often it relates to church and church people and circumstances. For some reason, it will often hit me out of the blue about 3:00 in the morning that I have not seen someone in a while, and I begin to worry about them and what troubling thing might be oppressing them and taking them away from the church family. It is the dark side of being a shepherd. And I need to pause and settle myself in trusting God, because honestly there is nothing I can do about it in the wee hours of the morning.

Laboring and working in our own strength does not accomplish anything. Our need is to trust God for today and tomorrow.

There is a book called “Sleeping with Bread” by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. During the bombing raids of World War 2, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. Many were placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night, the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow. All is well.”

We have the bread of God’s Word and the promise of his presence. As we hold it in our hearts and minds, we are fed by the peace it gives that God is near in every circumstance. Our labors and worries are futile apart from God’s blessing and our daily trust in him.

3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

When I moved back East from my grad school years in Dallas (1983), my oldest son was a week short of his first birthday. We bought land within sight of the elementary school in the country township where I had grown up and began to build a house. My father-in-law and I did most of the work. It was a large house for a little family of three. My church people wondered why we wanted a place so big (2500 square feet, with four bedrooms). But then Benjamin was born the week we moved in, and 17 months later Aaron came along … three kids in 3.5 years. Two more came later – all boys, as you know. People stopped asking about the size of the house and began to ask about the size of the food budget.

Family is a blessing from God. In ancient culture, sons were a great blessing because of protection from enemies. There was the support that came along with it in civil proceedings. If I lived in those days and had a land dispute to be adjudicated at the city gate, there was an advantage I would have by showing up with five big boys surrounding me.

The point is this: God is necessary in all things of life for them to have blessing and value. Otherwise it is much in vain. The funny thing is that Solomon was something of a disaster at all of these elements of life. He depended upon riches and labor and the pleasures of a thousand wives, etc. But he had learned that all was in vain unless God was with it and blessing it.

It makes sense for us to listen to the wisest and most materially-blessed man of all time say that we need God’s blessing on anything to make it truly soul satisfying. But it is our nature to seek to hang onto it ourselves, to try to make it all work out in our own power and wisdom. It is our “family dysfunction” to attempt to make it happen ourselves, when rather we should see that trust in God, along with reasonable responsibility for the simple task immediately at hand, is what we need to find success for our labors and our lives.

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Legacy (Psalm 112)

Today’s Psalm 112 comes to me personally as both a thankful reflection upon the past and a life challenge for the purpose driving the remaining days of my life. It is the difference between living to gain, versus living to give. It is the difference between an absorbed focus upon self, or a determination to look to the needs of others.

My several readings of this Psalm brought back to my mind a flood of varied songs and biblical life maxims I heard from the earliest days of my childhood. The old hymn “Trust and Obey” went through the jukebox of my mind.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows, are for them who will trust and obey.”

And going back farther than that, to the earliest of childhood songs called “Jesus and Others and You – Joy” … where the words included: “J” is for Jesus for He has first place, “O” is for others you meet face to face, “Y” is for you, in whatever you do, Put yourself third and spell JOY.”

Trite, yes. But true? Yes, indeed.

Do you want to have success in life? Put God first by knowing, honoring and obeying his Word. Then make your life focus away from merely yourself and upon impacting the rising generations of your family and others – promoting the stuff of eternal value, and you cannot lose.

When I think back to the Christian people that I have known in family and churches over the years, the finest folks who come to mind have the common denominator of seeing their resources as God’s possession to be used in a wise stewardship as a blessing to others and the building of His kingdom, not their own. Often however, these folk’s own kingdoms were built along the way, and their families prospered also in generations of faith, service, and dependence upon God.

Tri-State is my second church as a Lead Pastor. Though very, very different in style of ministry, and people composition and history, both have adopted the same basic purpose statement: to love God, serve one another, and reach the world. TSF has added the valuable component of talking about generations … handing down the blessing of God’s truth to those coming along.

The reason this formula works is because of this timeless truth: Trust. When we really trust God, we are obeying; we are seeing all we have as from him; we are not fearing anything because we know it has all gone past God before whatever it is has gotten to us. Even the bad stuff of life we look to see how God will prosper for good in the lives of others, and likely by consequence in our own life as well.

It is timeless truth: we gain by giving, our “self” finds joy in focus upon others, and peace comes from every circumstance seen as in the hands of a faithful God and Father. That is a life of a legacy that can be passed along.

Psalm 112

1 Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands.

2 Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.

6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honor.

10 The wicked will see and be vexed, they will gnash their teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

 

God is all we have, and all we need – Psalm 73

(This devotional today is an article that I wrote in the late 90s for a magazine about a health crisis situation in our family in 1996.)

When your doctor takes it upon himself to personally call you first thing in the morning, you know it marks the beginning of a really bad day. “I hate making calls like this,” he began. “The X-rays picture a large abnormality in your son’s leg – possibly an aggressive benign tumor, but I must honestly tell you it looks to me like a malignancy called Ewing’s Sarcoma.”

How does one absorb such a call? You simply do not expect to hear such a thing about yourself, let alone your 14-year-old son. Just the day before, Nathan had begun his freshman year in high school. Having been homeschooled all his life, entering high school was to be the launch into a great new adventure.

An adventure, indeed! But not one of our choosing!

An occasional sharp pain in his leg and knee had consistently increased in intensity. Originally written off by the family physician as “typical growing pains,” successive tests tended toward a confirmation of the worst. The “C” word – “cancer” – crept almost innocently into the naturally flowing discussions of the specialists.

The most brutal test to observe was the bone scan. One of my elders – a nuclear medicine technologist – sat with us as the radiographic dye pulsated quickly through Nathan’s system. The problem area was painfully obvious on the screen. Even a three-year-old could have pointed to the large, bright, radiating spot of concern. My elder friend displayed a wonderful pastoral presence, but I noted how infrequently he looked at the screen, and how much he gazed distantly at the floor.

I pressed for numbers. I wanted to hear percentages and know what we were facing. “Only a biopsy will determine the nature of this with certainty,” they said. “But we feel there is sufficient clarity in the MRI and other tests to identify it as Ewing’s Sarcoma. We honestly don’t expect to hear something different.” Sounded like 99% to me!

I pressed for more numbers – survival rate figures. “About 50% survive past five years, some with amputations, and some able to salvage the leg.”  I secretly embarked on an Internet research crusade on the subject. The results were so discouraging that I chose to not tell my wife what I discovered, nor even that I had done it. I had reason for special concern for Diana. Just two weeks earlier, she sat with her sister as she died from cancer – leaving eight children behind.

Ewing’s is a rather rare form of cancer, and we were referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Regarded often as the foremost medical facility in the world, gaining an appointment is very difficult. We would have to wait a month – a month to live in a condition one author has aptly entitled, “God’s Waiting Room.”

Our family attempted to live a normal life as we waited. One night we attended the local minor league baseball game in our city – a favorite outing for us. There I saw a man whom I’d noticed at the ballpark practically every time we’d been there. He was a very loud, foul-speaking, verbally obnoxious person of about age 65; a man who had quite obviously lived a foolish life of hard drink and personal abuse. Yet there he stood, basically healthy, out in public enjoying a recreational event, while my eight nieces and nephews mourned the loss of their godly mother and my son wrestled with the issues of a deadly cancer. It didn’t just seem unfair; IT WAS UNFAIR!

I was driven into the Scriptures for any hint of perspective. My reading soon brought me to the 73rd Psalm, which served as the anchor for my soul in the weeks to follow.

The Psalmist wrestles with the age-old question of the prosperity of the wicked. He writes, “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills” (Ps. 73:4-5). This sure sounded like a description of the guy at the stadium! And the following verses roared even more graphically, “From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff and speak with malice. They say, `How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’” (Ps. 73:7,8,11)

The horrific injustices of this world may sometimes cause us to ponder the benefit of our efforts at righteous living. The Psalmist verbalized this sentiment by stating, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence (Ps. 73:13).” Why do we bother to live for God when the gunk of this world finds its way to our door as indiscriminately as to the home of our wicked neighbor? Do we, as Christians, possess any real advantage?

But suddenly in the Psalm, perspective comes crashing upon the scene. Yes, there does exist an advantage in being numbered among the people of God! In fact, the Psalm writer speaks of three great perspectives for those days when the inevitable sorrows of this world claim squatter’s rights on our turf of our soul.

  1. God is really, really good at keeping score!

The Psalmist says, “I entered the Sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.  You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you” (Ps. 73:18,19,27). The perspective is this: God is a good scorekeeper, and in the end the righteous always win.

Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers football coach, said, “Sometimes the clock runs out, but in the end, we will win.” Even championship teams suffer some regular-season defeats. The ultimate goal is to win the playoffs, and such becomes our guarantee as believers. That really is an incredible knowledge to possess! How much else in life are we able to know with such certainty? We know the final score before the game concludes, and we know we win and the wicked lose.

  1. When sorrows move in, God doesn’t move out!

The Psalm writer pens a second great perspective as he considers the nature of his relationship with God, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:23,24,26).

God pledges to us His constant presence, counsel and strength extending into eternity. The weight and pain of the sorrows we experience may seem to suggest that God has vacated and an ugly stranger taken up residence, but such is far from reality. Amidst such times of frail incapability, God often reveals his most real presence – at a time when there is absolutely nothing we can do but rest in Him.

  1. We just plain don’t have anyone else to turn to!

The pinnacle of the Psalm is scaled in verse 25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” The fact of the matter is that we ultimately have no other options as a refuge for inclement times. But the great truth is this: we don’t need anybody else! Doctors may help, loved ones may support, but only God will pour an eternal peace into our empty and hurting souls.

My month in God’s waiting room provided the opportunity to uniquely experience the reality of His sufficient peace. I also gained a new appreciation for the incredible blessing and assistance of the prayers of God’s people. Reports of prayer support came to us from as far as Kazakhstan. Heaven surely resonated with the supplications of friends and family.

The orthopedic specialist at Johns Hopkins looked at the various magnetic images and X-rays and said, “Could be Ewing’s Sarcoma – it would look like this. But let’s not cross that bridge until we have to.” “Too late,” I thought. I was already across that bridge and well up the other side! “My gut feeling is that this is an infection rather than cancer,” he said. “A biopsy will tell us immediately what we are dealing with. If it is cancer, we’ll close it up and come back to fight another day. If it is an infection, we’ll begin cleaning it out immediately.”

An excruciating pain wracked Nathan’s leg the last several days before surgery. But an hour after sending him off, the doctor announced it was indeed an infection. The news dropped us into a limp emotional heap. It caused great excitement and rejoicing for friends and family, and left our local medical community stunned. The hospital radiology technicians posted some of the images and ultimate results on a bulletin board with a label that said, “Can You Believe This?”

Some folks have suggested we were on the receiving end of a miracle. I don’t know. Such is surely possible. The worst thing that could be said is that we received a huge answer to prayer. The greatest knowledge, however, was the experience of knowing God’s sufficient grace in some very dark days of life. He is all we have, and He is all we need!

Psalm 73

A psalm of Asaph.

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

We Don’t Win Every Day (Psalm 34)

Several years ago there was a cover article in Time Magazine entitled, “Why we worry about the wrong things: the perils of risk.”

It would be a lot easier to enjoy your life if there weren’t so many things trying to kill you every day.

The problems start even before you’re fully awake. There’s the fall out of bed that kills 600 Americans each year. There’s the early-morning heart attack, which is 40 percent more common than those that strike later in the day.

There’s the fatal plunge down the stairs, the bite of sausage that gets lodged in your throat, the tumble on the slippery sidewalk as you leave the house, the high-speed automotive pinball game that is your daily commute.

Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we’d get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong.

We agonize over avian flu, which to date has killed precisely no one in the United States, but have to be cajoled into getting vaccinated for the common flu, which contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans each year.

We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn’t) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.

We pride ourselves on being the only species that understands the concept of risk, yet we have a confounding habit of worrying about mere possibilities while ignoring probabilities, building barricades against perceived dangers while leaving ourselves exposed to real ones.

All in all, we need to live as wisely as we know how, and trust God for the rest. The Scriptures contain quite a bit of material about how we as mankind need to be mindful of the provision and care of the Lord, and today we go to one of those places – Psalm 34.

Though there is a good bit to be distressed about in life, on the whole, there is more about which to be thankful. Now that is good; that is biblical perspective. Life here is always going to be a mixed bag of stuff on this side.

We live under the curse of sin, which makes our daily lives difficult and our bodies ultimately subject to the curse of death. Yet at the same time we live under the promise of God to meet our genuine needs. Not all our needs, as not every need will ever be met; but the biggest one will be – the redemption of our bodies at death.

As we look at Psalm 34, we see this same balance in the writing of David. He is resoundingly thankful, yet it is clear that his circumstances are far from perfect, as seen in the superscription …

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

This story is from 1 Samuel 21… That day, David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?

David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.

The Psalm is not teaching that this is the way to extricate yourself from a problem. Rather, it sets up the degree of problem David faced, and then he extols God as the real source of his deliverance. It sets up the fact that David was a guy facing real problems, and long odds… and out of that, he was able to praise God.

This poem of David (an acrostic) can be divided into two major sections…

  1. David’s TESTIMONY of Thanksgiving …1-10
  2. David’s TEACHING on the fear of God …11-22
  3. David’s Vow to bless the Lord at all times, 1-3

34:1 – I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

Notice this is “at all times” – not just when the circumstances are pleasant.

34:2 – My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

34:3 – Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

  1. David’s Experience, 4-6

34:4 – I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 – Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This is written in a tense called the gnomic aorist, which simply means that it speaks of something that gives the summation of a common story – like a moral of a fable … a general truth you can count upon.

34:6 – This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

  1. David’s Exhortation to Others, 7-10

34:7 – The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Here you have a picture of a military encampment with a guard around it; the wise person stays within the perimeter.

34:8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

34:9 – Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.

Here is the real answer, the real deliverance, to fear the Lord… which means to honor, respect, and fully trust God. This will be the theme he develops in the 2nd half of the Psalm, but first an illustration from David

34:10 – The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

The actual text indicates that the lions are “young lions,” as compared to an old one. An elderly lion is often stuck with a carcass someone else has caught, but the young lions are healthy, fully sufficient in themselves. They are the King of the Beasts – at the top of the food chain, but even they go to bed hungry sometimes. But God’s provision is better than this.

David’s Teaching of the Fear of the Lord… 11-22

Introduction to his lesson… 11-12

34:11-12 – Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

Three Basic Principles of Successful Living… 13-14

34:13 – keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

1 – Control your tongue, because trouble devolves more often from what we say versus what we do.

34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

2 – Do what is right – oh wow, deep stuff!

3 – Pursue peace (The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace). How do you hate a peacemaker?

The Contrast between the Way of the Wicked, and the Way of the Righteous …15-21

34:15-21 – The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

The Final Conclusion … verse 22

34:22 The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.4th and inches

Yes, God redeems his servants; we win in the end. We don’t win every day, nor on every play in the game of life.

To use a football illustration, we expect life to be like the guy who runs the ball back on the opening kickoff – behind a wall of blockers, never touched. But life is more like an 8-minute long sustained drive – full of hard tackles, running plays into the heart of the defensive line, face mask penalties that don’t get called, and 4th-down-and-15-yards-to-go plays.

This is all so basic, but is the challenge of the sort we often forget. We are creatures = dependent; God is the creator = provider. We should therefore trust Him in thanks and honor Him with our obedience. That is the way to be blessed.

Persecution of Israel – Some Things Never Change (Psalm 129)

I am going to be really honest with you here and hope you find it encouraging. I read through this Psalm today and thought to myself, “What am I going to write about that? I barely know what it is talking about.” I had to research this one a bit.

First of all, the superscription says that it is “A song of ascents.” This refers to the Psalms from 120 through 134 that were sung by pilgrim worshippers as they came to Jerusalem for various feasts (ascending to the city which sits high from any direction and approach).view-of-jerusalem-007

In broad terms there are two main ideas: First, the writer declares that God has saved Israel from various oppressors, and secondly, he prays that those who persecuted the nation would be put to shame.

Let’s look at the first section:

Psalm 129

A song of ascents.

1 “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,” let Israel say;
2 “they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long.
4 But the Lord is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

There are some people that I know who have had sorrows and challenges throughout their lives. And Israel as a nation is personified in the opening verses in such a way. There was never a time where they were not pursued and afflicted by nations around them. From the exodus out of Egypt, to the conquest of the Promised Land, to the ongoing battles with the Philistines and all the “-ites” around them … Israel was continuously pressed. BUT, God had not allowed any of those nations to fully conquer them or have a victory over them.

The picture in verses three and four appears to be of a person who has been flogged with cords upon the back … a person who has been beaten and scourged, but not killed. And indeed, the righteous God had set them free from this ill treatment.

And now comes a prayer …

5 May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow;
7 a reaper cannot fill his hands with it, nor one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say to them, “The blessing of the Lord be on you; we bless you in the name of the Lord.”

The writer asks God (verse 5) to turn to shame all those who hate Zion – the city of God.

The visual in verses 6-7 is a picture as to how seeds blown through the air would find root and begin to grow on the roofs of ancient houses. However, in this setting there would be no depth of soil and the plant would wither and die before it was of any value for reaping. And so the prayer was that those who hated Zion would find that their efforts were short-lived and fruitless.

The final verse speaks of how those who hate Zion and the Lord’s people were not worthy of the customary greeting of a blessing upon them in the name of the Lord. In Eastern cultures, even to this day, it is rather rude to not greet someone with a blessing; but these enemies deserved to be ignored because of their hatred.

By way of application for us today, there is the broad, overarching truth that God is faithful to His own people in any era or dispensation; and God will not allow injustice to prevail ultimately. Though there may be suffering along the way, in the end God and His people triumph.

But beyond this, the reading and understanding of this Psalm makes me reflect upon much that is happening in the geo-political world today. Israel has been much in the news in the past week, often being condemned and criticized for their aggressive responses to attacks upon the Jewish State.

I believe that an accurate understanding of the Scriptures teaches that God has a future for the nation of Israel in the end times. As a country and a people, there is nothing like it in all the world in terms of endurance over centuries and millennia. Other nations and ethnicities have come and gone, but Israel remains, and so it shall because of God’s promises that date back to even Abraham—4,000 years ago.

A prominent American figure in political dialogue (who shares our biblical worldview and Scriptural interpretation) spoke of the difficulties facing Israel, saying this past week:

This week, Israel finally had enough of the terrorist strikes against their civilian population and launched a ground campaign into Gaza, the hell hole of Hamas. Twice Hamas violated a cease fire agreement and continued to launch rockets over 80% of the Israeli population. …  Hamas is a terrorist organization, not a legitimate government.

Israeli PM Netanyahu bluntly explained the difference between the so-called “2 sides.” It is indeed a tragedy that several hundred residents of Gaza have been killed. It’s an even greater tragedy that the savages who operate Hamas use innocent people as human shields to protect their weapons. None of those Palestinians would have died if Hamas didn’t insist on acting like vicious mad dogs intent on making mayhem.

And please don’t buy the lie that if Israel would give up some more land, it would be okay. Israel lives on 1/6 of 1% of the amount of land possessed by Arabs and Muslims. There are 300 million Middle Eastern Muslims and Arabs to only 5.5 million Israeli Jews. The idiotic proposal to give away more Israeli land is to assume that if you let the mad dog get closer to your face, the less likely they are to bite.

Israel has a legitimate right to the land and a legitimate right to defend itself. It is the only Middle Eastern country that gives women full rights; the only one who outlaws honor killings of women; it’s built 6 universities, 20 community colleges, and 166 clinics for Palestinians between 1979 and 2006. Israel accommodates 15 different religions. How many Christians, Hindus, or Buddhists are free to worship in Pakistan, Iran or Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Gaza?

The entire content of this piece may be found HERE.

God’s people in the world – be it his covenant people, or the people of the new covenant – are going to be hated and persecuted. But God will never allow evil to prevail in the end.

The Rejected Stone (Psalm 118)

Let’s play an association game. I will mention an occasion, and you quickly think about what song/hymn immediately comes to mind. First – Christmas Eve. Secondly – Easter Sunday. Third – Thanksgiving Day.

The first is the easiest. I will bet that almost all of you answered “Silent Night.” For Easter Sunday there are maybe a couple tunes, though I would think that “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” would be a most common answer. For Thanksgiving it might be “Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” or possibly “We Gather Together.”

We immediately associate certain songs with specific events. And Psalm 118 was like that for the Jewish people. It is the final of the Hallel Psalms – those from 113-118. These were Psalms sung at the great annual festivals in Israel – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. During the Passover celebration, Psalms 113-114 would be sung before the meal, with 115-118 after it. You may recall how Jesus and the Disciples sang a hymn at the last supper in the upper room before going out, and it was probably this Psalm 118.

As a musician, I would really like to have heard what the melody sounded like. There are a variety of themes and cadences of style in the Psalm. It would seem to me that it would have required quite a variety to make the words, themes, and moods work out.

The opening verses have a repetition and theme on the steadfast love of God, that returns at the end. There are sections that speak of God’s victory for the nation over all the nations – quoting even from the Exodus. And there are passages that are familiar to us from our knowledge of the New Testament. Verse 26 – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” was of course being sung by the throngs of people upon the occasion of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

But let me single out one other phrase that is quoted in all four gospels as well as in Acts. And that is from verse 22 – “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Jesus is recorded in each gospel account as asking, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  Matthew 21:42

The illustration is of the construction of a stone building. The stone masons likely have a wide variety of raw materials around them to choose from, particularly for selecting the most important stone of all—the cornerstone. And when it is all finished, there would still be stones laying around that were not included in the structure… they were rejected.

The point of the illustration is that the Jewish leaders (as the stone masons) rejected the most important stone (Christ), but that God had rectified the situation by exalting Jesus to his proper position as the foundation of God’s house. And this is the message being delivered soon after the resurrection and in the early days of the church by Peter and John before the Jewish council (Acts 4:10-12)…

“Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. ‘He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone.’ And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

As we know all too well from our culture and world today, Jesus is rejected. Christians this day will give their lives in places like Iraq and other countries around the world, and there is little outcry against this. Faith will again today be mocked in our own country.

But there is no salvation in any other name or belief. The song says so; the song is God’s Word … from His playlist.

Psalm 118

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

2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.”

5 When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.
6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.

8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
11 They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
12 They swarmed around me like bees, but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.

15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16 The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

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

Let Me Tell You What God Has Done For Me! (Psalm 66)

I would certainly think that most of you have seen the commercial that has been on for quite a number of years now that features a guy who is really excited about his new basement. He is so happy that he attempts to get a whole variety of people to look at it – beginning with the mailman, then with a woman named “Jill” who is jogging down the street, and finally with his next door neighbor as they are both cutting grass on riding mowers.

The writer in Psalm 66 that we look at today sort of reminds of this commercial guy in terms of his enthusiasm. The Psalmist wants everyone to see and hear how great God has been and how thankful the writer is for the deliverance and subsequent blessings he has received.

Verses 1-12 talk about God’s goodness to the nation, and then verses 13-20 turn to a personal expression of thanksgiving and praise.

As we have seen in our devotional series over and over, the big event in Israel’s history that spoke of the power of God over the nations was the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. And especially recalled from that event was the opening of the sea in order that the nation may pass through.

If you were from another nation at that time, and you heard and knew of this sort of power of the God of Israel, it was a frightening prospect to come up against these people. And the writer says that the nations should indeed (as in verse 3) “cringe” before God and acknowledge his grandeur.

But God’s love and care for the nation was not limited to just doing great things for Israel because of his covenant love, God also disciplined them upon their times of failure to trust and obey. But in the end, he was always faithful, and the writer was excited to talk about what could be seen in that history and relationship between the Lord and his chosen people.

But the Psalm takes a turn at verse 13 and become more reflexive and personal, as the writer recalls an event (specifically unknown) where he was in a very bad place. He cried to the Lord in that condition and made vows as to what he would do upon his rescue.

And sure enough, God was faithful and came through for the writer; and in response, he was going to fulfill his vows. In fact, he essentially says that even if he were to offer every type of animal commonly used in the sacrificial system, it would still be insufficient to express his gratitude and praise.

So are you thankful and excited about anything good that God has done in your life? Do you really desire everyone around you to know how God has blessed you and helped you through some difficulty or severe problem? I am pretty sure it would not hurt us as a church to be a bit more expressive together about our thanksgiving and praise.

Psalm 66

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”

5 Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!
6 He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations—let not the rebellious rise up against him.

8 Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.

13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you—
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.

18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!

Pursued and Depressed … but “I trust in the Lord” (Psalm 31)

Not many of us can relate to someone conspiring to take our life away from us. But this was a very real experience for the writer of our Psalm today. David had enemies that pursued him, threw swords at him, shot arrows to kill him, and otherwise conspired to put him into a premature grave.

I can only imagine how stressful and depressing it would be to know you have more than a few people who desire to see you assume room temperature. I doubt that the guards around King David were exactly any sort of equivalent to the modern-day U.S. Secret Service guarding the President and other important officials.

Again, remember that our summer study of God’s Playlist is a look into a songbook. And this song of thanksgiving is a tune about how the composer dealt with the stresses of being pursued and plotted against … he trusted ultimately in the Lord. Verses of this Psalm were familiar to, and quoted by, both Jonah and Jeremiah. And of course, we all are familiar with Jesus Christ uttering the words of verse five, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

In various genres of music, there are those songs that have a mellow verse or stanza that sings of a difficulty or pain, only to have the chorus brighten quickly into an upbeat tune which rejoices in a bigger perspective that makes everything alright. This Psalm 31 is of a similar construction. There are two verses/stanzas that speak of stress and the severity of problems (1-5; 9-13), only to be followed by two joyfully confident choruses (6-8; 14-24) with the key phrase, “But I trust in the Lord.”

No, we can’t relate in any personal way to people seeking our lives. But probably most all of us can relate to those times when during our work careers, conflicts and personalities, or a whole host of other troubling circumstances worked against us … resulting in people who conspired quietly (if not obviously) to put us in a bad light toward the goal of us being removed or replaced. Most of us can relate to times where by either evil intention or ignorant misunderstanding, others said and reported things about us that were not true. And maybe the most hurtful of all is to see people with whom we were very close at one time, when seeing us in the crosshairs and walking the plank, walk away from us with few words … they’re just gone and don’t want to be associated any longer. Ugh, that hurts.

David knew all of this is abundance. And likewise, when these cycles of life come around to us, we need to get to the same place and disposition as David. In difficult times, I have had to calm myself with these perspectives and words such as are in this song: “I will trust in you, my God” … “I know my times are in Your hands” … “I will run into the shelter of Your presence” … “I know You will preserve me if I am true to You.”

It really works.

Psalm 31

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.

9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!”  They conspire against me and plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

19 How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues.

21 Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!”  Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.

The Heavy Weight of Thanksgiving Compared to All Else (Psalm 30)

Today we begin to look at a series of Psalms of Thanksgiving. These are songs of gratitude by worshippers who are thankful for one of a variety of answers to prayer for deliverance, victory, restoration, healing, etc.

In America, we have come to have a traditional day set aside to ponder that for which we have to be thankful. This originated from a series of these days that were set aside during the Civil War. Imagine that – in the midst of the most grueling time in our nation’s history, there was a sense of need to express gratitude to God.

We may not always feel that our circumstances lead toward much of an attitude for thanks, as in the midst of pain and suffering our minds are turned away from that which we possess as God’s blessings and grace. But when objectively measured, away from the immediate context of pain, the scales will always show that the blessings outweigh the sorrows.

Really? How can that be? There are people—even those who name the Lord—who seem to suffer pain upon pain.

Life itself is a blessing. God could have justly judged our original parents in the Garden and none of us would have ever existed. Our very lives are due to God’s grace. Beyond that, on the other end of life, we have the great and sure promise of the redemption of our earthly bodies for an eternal one that shall live forever in God’s presence. So, how many sorrows does it take to outweigh these truths?

God has blessed us all, and when we acknowledge such, we in turn bless God. And that is easy to understand and imagine. He delights in our gratitude and praise.

I’ll let the guilty go nameless here, relative to which of my five boys I’m speaking of … and at this point, this is a humorous family story. This particular child on one of his birthdays—I would guess around age six or seven—was opening his presents. He quickly went from one to another and seemed displeased, disappointed, and bored with what he was getting. The attitude was so bad that we took his presents away from him at the end of the day, and he didn’t get them back until Christmas! It was a lesson learned.

Another of our boys was always so excited and thankful about anything that we gave him. He saw nothing but the good in it and could not contain his excitement and gratitude—which overflowed out of him with smiles, hugs, and thanks. I remember one time when seeking out a possible medical remedy for a problem he was facing, the doctor asked the question, “What do you most like about this boy?” And without any hesitation my wife and I were able to immediately answer about what a wonderful attitude of gratitude he had about anything given him or done for him.

If we as earthly parents were annoyed on one occasion but blessed on the other, how much more would God not be likewise in light of His incredible and abundant grace in our lives?

And this is the picture we see today in Psalm 30. We see a song of David where he reflects upon tough times and God’s deliverance. Though there was difficulty—even God’s anger and discipline—the grace and mercy of God far outweighed it. God’s blessings were bigger and better than the pain.

David expresses in this Psalm that his deliverance had the benefit that he could again be a worshipper of God who expresses his gratitude for others to hear.

I doubt that my life is too very different from most of you. I would think that, like me, you all can recall some occasions in your life where a set of circumstances or events could have led to your demise. But God delivered you, and it gives you a sense of renewed gratitude for that salvation.Logan Circle

In college, I was one day out for a long run with some other athletes through the city of Philadelphia, and we were almost back at the school—crossing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at Logan Circle, if you know the city (picture the movie “Rocky”). The traffic there goes clockwise around a circle, and not thinking clearly of that pattern, I instinctively looked to the left from which, of course, nothing was coming. Not thinking and not looking to the right, I stepped off the curb in front of a SEPTA city transit bus going clockwise around the circle. One of the others grabbed my hood and pulled me back just in time. It was a very close call.septa bus

Just less than a year ago, my pulmonary emboli could have had a terminal result. About 20% do not survive what happened that evening. I did not even know I was in a dangerous health situation until it was all over and I was told how God was good to me!

Those are just two examples. There have been others; there have been some I likely don’t even know about how God delivered.

And though I have some complaints, irritations, fears, feelings of injustice, etc., I do understand (though not every moment of every day!) that my reasons for gratitude far outweigh any of these bumps and bruises upon the highway of life.

Psalm 30

A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.

1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.

4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
7 Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

8 To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”

11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Trust, Disability, and the Cult of Normalcy (Psalm 115)

I currently know several young couples who are expecting a child.  For some it’s their very first—for others, the latest model in the assembly line.  While some prefer to know the sex, others prefer the element of surprise.  But all of them say essentially the same thing: “As long as it’s healthy.”

But there are countless young couples whose children don’t fit traditional definitions of “healthy.”  Autism, Down’s syndrome, Sickle Cell anemia—these represent just a few conditions that one can be born into, and endure a lifetime.

Today we’re talking about how to trust God when confronted with the reality of disability and illness.  This subject, of course, extends beyond the boundaries of childbirth, but into the various infirmities that come our way—whether it be cancer, disease, or debilitating forms of depression.  While there may be seasons of life that bring more suffering than others, what holds the above conditions together is their durative character, their tendency to not shape not just our lives, but those around us.

Mind you, I write this as a 30-something single man; I’ve never really endured life with an autistic son or daughter, never directly faced any long-term illness.  But I also know that the Bible makes no promises of smooth sailing for any of us—the book of Ecclesiastes ends with the author admitting that at his age, he often wakes up wishing he hadn’t.  Live long enough, and you’ll feel the same.

All the more frustrating is the sense that no one understands.  Other parents with their (ahem) “normal” children could never understand the nuances of dealing with a son or daughter with disability.  No one could understand how daily rituals become battlegrounds when fighting cancer, disease, or depression.  And although we worship a powerful God, it’s actually relatively rare that He would reverse these infirmities.

TO YOUR NAME

Psalm 115 is what’s known as a “communal trust psalm,” meaning it moves from an individual psalm of trust to a community’s promise to trust in God.  The original author is unknown, as is its circumstance.  But perhaps that helps its message seem all the more timeless.

The psalm opens with familiar words:

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

In his commentary on psalms, Derek Kidner lists the many historic individuals who quoted these lines following a personal victory—such as William Wilberforce when the bill passed abolishing the slave trade.  What is “glory?”  If you recall from a previous post, the word “glory” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “weight” or “significance.”  To give God glory means to reveal His significance—even in times of difficulty.  This is why Pastor John Piper could write a popular article called “Don’t waste your cancer.”  Why?  Because if our goal is joy and not merely earthly happiness, then even disability, disease, and death can be opportunities to reveal God’s significance.

IDOLATRY OF NORMALCY

The next verses deal with the reaction of others to the same situation:

Why should the nations say,  “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.

They have mouths,  but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

In Israel’s day, the nation turned to the makeshift gods of other religions as a source of comfort and protection.  But while the idols may look different, we are just as guilty.  An “idol” is anything you look to for security, comfort, and protection apart from God.  And when confronted with disability and disease, it’s only natural to look with longing eyes at images of “health” and “normalcy.”  In a famous article “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” David Powlison observes that the surest indicator is the way that our emotions become entangled with these idols.  Lust, yearning, fear of losing control—these are all examples of hidden idolatry.  Mind you, we need not heap more grief and blame on those struggling to deal with situations of disability; all of us are guilty of this at some point or another.  But my larger point is that our world largely places enormous value on being “normal.”

In an article for the Baylor University ethics journal, Thomas E. Reynolds writes of what he calls the “cult of normalcy.”  According to Reynolds, the cult of normalcy arises when we see a healthy, able-bodied individual, and assume that all people should possess the same faculties.  But we know from experience that this is not so.  And, ironically, in a society that values “tolerance” and the embracing of “diversity,” we have little room for those who deviate from social or medical norms.  So much so that it’s not unusual for parents to be pressured to terminate their pregnancies if prenatal screenings reveal such things as Down’s syndrome.  But Reynolds writes:

“Against the cult of normalcy, disability foregrounds vulnerability as a fundamental condition of sharing life together.  It reminds us that wholeness is not self-sufficiency, but the genuine communion that results from sharing our vulnerable humanity with one another in light of God’s grace.”  (Thomas E. Reynolds, “The Cult of Normalcy”)

Therefore to repent of the idol of normalcy means recognizing the ways that God remains at work even in a life that has been so radically altered.

OUR HELP AND SHIELD

The psalm returns focus to God:

Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.

10 house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.

11  You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.

12  The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13  he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.

14  May the Lord give you increase, you and your children!

15  May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

16  The heavens are the Lord‘s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.

17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.

18  But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!

In other words, the psalm hopes that God would exchange suffering for blessing.  Granted, we are never actually promised lives of blessing, but the larger point is that God can be counted on in times of great grief.

In the gospel of John, Jesus’ close friend Lazarus dies.  When Jesus arrives at his home, He is greeted by throngs of mourners, and even some individuals who blame Jesus for Lazarus’ death: “if you had been here,” Lazarus’ sister said, “my brother would not have died.”  But Jesus, His eyes brimming with tears, surveys the scene only to respond: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  And Jesus proves His point by bringing Lazarus back from the dead.

What’s happening here?  It’s easy to get distracted by the “creatureliness” of the human condition.  Friends and loved ones may furrow their brows at the outbursts of an autistic child, or the webbing of tubes and wires that monitor and sustain a loved one while in the oncology ward.  Survivors may live with a complex regimen of medication that they live with the rest of their natural life.  Jesus is saying—then and now—You’re focusing on all the wrong things.  Don’t look at those things; look at me.  You want life?  I am life.  You want health restored?  I am the resurrection. 

And the most miraculous thing of all is that through Jesus, God entered into the human story so that He could identify with our every struggle, to die a death that we deserved, and then rise to life again to show us that there is a brighter future regardless of our present.  And so we can sing a song of trust—not because we sugar-coat the cares of our present, but because we know that they point us toward something greater to come.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.