With The End In Sight

Psalm 71

Even when I am old and gray, O God, do not abandon me, until I tell the next generation about your strength, and those coming after me about your power.” (Psalm 71:18, NET) 

In 1836 Charles Simeon retired after fifty-four years of ministry at Holy Trinity, Cambridge. A friend, discovering that he was still rising at 4 a.m. to light his own fire and spend time alone with God, remonstrated, ‘Mr. Simeon, do you not think that, now you are retired, you might take things more easily?’ ‘What?’ replied the old man, ‘Shall I not now run with all my might when the winning-post is in sight!’ [1]

2020, or the year of COVID-19, challenges us. New information barrages us daily, sometimes hourly. As I write this public schools in this area are trying to make decisions while public health, state and federal officials change their counsel on a weekly basis. Parents are confused. Teachers and staff express concern. Students crave a return to normalcy. 

Psalm 71 is a backwards look at the constant presence of God over a long and challenging lifetime. The psalm is also forward look as the writer desires to communicate how God’s presence will shape an up and coming generation.

During these uncertain days the goal , the winning-post Charles Simeon refers to, is unchanged. The days God provides will be challenging. God’s uniqueness is unaltered. God’s standards are unchanged and God’s promises are undeniable. 

Who will tell the up and coming generation? 

[1] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 530). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

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Hurry Up!

Psalm 70

Much of our life seems to be lived in a hurry. Hurry Up! Our parents were regularly calling us to hurry up. As parents we call on our children to hurry up. At work our supervisors seem to be moving us along on this or that project by reminding us of deadlines. 

            What’s the hurry?

            For the psalmist, the urgency is in the real or perceived threat to life. Most of us have not been in a place where our very life was threatened. Yet most of us have been in a place when fullness of life felt threatened, when contentment was drowned out by enemies – both real and/or imagined.

            The urgency is real. Without God’s intervention none of us can survive, much less thrive. 

            The urgency is real. An honest assessment of our need  underlines the cry for help – “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, HCSB)

            The urgency is real, and so is the power of the One to whom we cry. 

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Getting Unstuck

Psalm 69

            Slowly wade into a lake, river, or creek. Feel the mud, slime, and goo between your toes. Yech!

Walk through a saturated field after a massive rain storm. Feel your boots sink into the muck. Yech! Take another step – right out of your boot or shoe! Oops. 

            The psalmist is beyond the point of no return. Stuck. Unable to move. Waters flowing around, threatening to overwhelm. There are some experiences we can’t adequately describe, yet we’ve experienced them. Being stuck. Feeling threatened. Overwhelmed by circumstances. Sensing we are about to go under for the last time. At times the people around us, once considered our friends, turn and attack for reasons unknown. 

            Often, as the panic builds, we struggle against the muck and mire. We exhaust our energy trying to break free. Crying out to God we wonder if He even hears. “I am exhausted from shouting for help; my throat is sore; my eyes grow tired of looking for my God.” (Psalm 69:3, NET) Crying out in fear, seeking divine vengeance, the psalmist is on the edge of total collapse. Can anyone save? Does God act? Though the psalm shares no details about deliverance, the plea for help ends in a chorus of praise.  

            Being stuck is simply part of being human. Experiencing deliverance rarely happens in the way we expect. Crying out to God can be wearying. Near the end of the prayer the psalmist expressed encouragement: “The poor in spirit see and are glad— Oh, you God-seekers, take heart!” (Psalm 69:32, The Message) 

            Take heart, you who are stuck: God hears, God acts, God saves. 

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Let God Arise

Psalm 68

Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: “Arise, Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered, and those who hate You flee from Your presence” (Numbers 10:35). No enemy could withstand the presence of God, as represented in the ark of the covenant.

As the presence of God led His people He made Himself known as a father to the fatherless, a protector of widows, One who set the solitary in a family, One who gives release to those in bondage. As God leads His people the very earth which He created responds to His stride with earthquakes, abundant rainfall, and restoration of land which the enemy had despoiled.

“Blessed be the Lord— day after day he carries us along.” (Psalm 68:19, The Message). As David brought the Ark into Jerusalem it was a celebration of God’s victorious presence in his own life. Enemies were defeated and obstacles were overcome. The procession of priests, Levites, singers, and others celebrating the coming home of the Ark was noted across the region.

“God, You are awe-inspiring in Your sanctuaries. The God of Israel gives power and strength to His people. May God be praised!” (Psalm 68:35, HCSB) Prior to Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father the followers of Jesus wanted to know if that event signaled the coming of God’s kingdom in power. Jesus’ answer reminds His followers that there are some pieces of God’s plan yet unknown. What we do know is that as God is present He does give power and strength.

As God arises, let us celebrate His provision. Let us mark His activity in the midst of enemy territory with trust as He carries us along and testimony as we proclaim His activity.

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Never Failing Promises

Psalm 67

“ (insert state/county/city name) Sees Largest Increase in Covid Cases.” This headline assaults us every day. No wonder many of us are afraid. Will I contract COVID? My entire family is in one or more risk categories – will one of them be exposed to the virus? What happens if the virus attacks?

            Centuries ago an old couple named Abram and Sarai worried about their legacy. They had no children of their own. God, whom Abram had followed had led to a far away land of promise. Yet,they had no children who could inherit the land. Perhaps, during a sleepless nights, God spoke: “As for Me, My covenant is with you: you will become the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you … And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4–8, HCSB)

            Centuries later Moses and Aaron stood before Abraham’s offspring and prayed this blessing: “May Yahweh bless you and protect you; may Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may Yahweh look with favor on you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26, HCSB)

            Again centuries pass and the hymn writer/psalmist writes: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor Selah” (Psalm 67:1, HCSB) From eternity to eternity God’s promises are the same.

            The challenges are never-ending. Pandemics, economic crashes, personal crises of all types test us regularly. God will fulfill His promises. Let fear be replaced with assurance. Experience God’s blessing.

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Seeing and Hearing

Psalm 66        

            A recent Facebook post has been circulating asking people to describe you in one word. It is an interesting question – by reading your social media posts, by observing your life via electronic means how would people describe you?

Come and See – (vs 5)

            Most of us have a strong urge to be seen only at our best. We take care how we look so we can display our best selves. The writer’s invitation, though, asks observers to note God’s protection through challenging circumstances.

For you, O God, tested us; you purified us like refined silver. You led us into a trap; you caused us to suffer. You allowed men to ride over our heads; we passed through fire and water, but you brought us out into a wide open place.” (Psalm 66:10–12, NET)

           Why would anyone invite outsiders to observe us as we experience suffering, oppression, and immediate danger? What would others see? The writer invites observation not that we might express pity or sympathy but praise (see vs 12).

Come and Listen – (vs 16)

            Perhaps we should ask how people would describe you by the words you use? The writer asks us to listen as he/she describes what God has done. If people listened to your prayer what would they learn of God? What would they learn of you? The psalm ends with an offering of praise for God’s always listening ear and His unending love expressed in His protection and provision for our lives.

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Sticks and Stones

Psalm 64

            “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Simply, patently untrue. Everyone has been stung by the words of an enemy, or worse, the careless words of a friend. Words hurt. As the psalmist honestly admits, words can be like swords that maim and arrows that penetrate (vs 3).

            Our first instinct is to speak words back to the one who has injured us. Perhaps we can inflict greater pain that we are experiencing. Maybe that will lessen the sting. By replying we can ignore our pain, at least for the moment.

            David offers a better response. First, cry out to God. Acknowledge the hurt and pain that has been inflicted. Let God know of the terror that words create.

            Then, wait. Yes, wait. Don’t respond. Don’t fire back. Don’t retaliate. Have you noticed that wars of words typically escalate far beyond the original circumstance? So, wait.

            Finally, trust that God will respond. We want to see the enemy cringe in pain, suffer from the wounds. We may never see God’s reply (vs 7). However, God responds. “The acts of God are sudden …, not necessarily immediate, but while they wait in his protection those who are ‘right with him’ have a joy independent of worldly fortune.”[1]

            Words can hurt. Words can wound. God will demonstrate His righteousness, even if we never see His response. Cry out to God when you are wounded. Let God respond. God heals. God reveals His righteousness in His time and according to His nature.

[1] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 525). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

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Can’t Get No Satisfaction?

Psalm 63

When I’m riding in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no
No, no, no
Hey, hey, hey
That’s what I say
I can’t get no satisfaction –

55 years have passed since Mick Jagger recorded that song. Musical styles have changed but many of today’s lyrics sound a similar theme.

What does it take for ‘satisfaction?’

David, a musician as well as shepherd, warrior, and eventually king expressed his desire for satisfaction with these words: “God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. So I gaze on You in the sanctuary to see Your strength and Your glory.” (Psalm 63:1–2, HCSB)

In David’s song he not only shares his longing for satisfaction, he identifies a real source of satisfaction. Many are seeking some sort of spark to ignite their seemingly mundane and ordinary lives. Listen to David’s assurance: “You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips. When I think of You as I lie on my bed, I meditate on You during the night watches” (Psalm 63:5–6, HCSB).

At the end of the day what truly satisfies can only be found outside ourselves. The land in which we live is dry – figuratively as well as physically (Oregon continues to experience drought like conditions). The satisfaction for which we seek is not found in an ocasional rainfall, nor is it found in the ways of the world. Real satisfaction is ours as we remember God’s goodness, meditate on His graciousness, and hold tightly to His good promises.

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Too. Many. Words.

Psalm 62

            While our son was in school one common remark from almost every teacher went like this: ‘A pleasure to have in class. Spends too much time talking.’ Our son was a great student, and still loves to talk! (Love you, son!)

            The New English Translation of the phrase “For God alone I patiently wait…” includes this note:  Heb “only for God [is] there silence [to] my soul.”[1] That phrase intrigues me. What if, instead of pouring out word after word, phrase after phrase, we learned to sit silently in the presence of God?

            Years ago in my seminary training I was introduced to the writings of Richard Foster. These words I read so many years ago still linger in my mind:

To still the activity of the flesh so that the activity of the Holy Spirit dominates the way we live will affect and inform public worship. Sometimes it will take the form of absolute silence. Certainly it is more fitting to come in reverential silence and awe before the Holy One of eternity than to rush into his Presence with hearts and minds askew and tongues full of words.[2]

            In my journey through the Psalms I often find the words I need to express my inner turmoil to God. I wonder, though, if more often than not, God wants me to be silent instead of full of words. Like a student in a classroom who may miss important information from the teacher/professor because of his/her many words (even those whispered conversations), perhaps I’ve missed what God was truly up to.

            David, to whom the Psalm is ascribed, had time for silence. Years as a shepherd, alone with his father’s sheep. Years spent in the wilderness evading the death wish of his father-in-law. Time spent fleeing from his son, Absalom, who sought to seize the kingdom for himself.

            These past few months of ‘social distancing’ should have provided ample time for silence. However, I have found other distractions. The meetings that used to fill my days and nights were easily replaced by social media feeds and online conversations.

            Would you think me strange if I wished for more silence? Too. Many. Words.

[1] https://netbible.org/bible/Psalms+62; accessed on 6/8/20.

[2] Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth (p. 167). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Psalm 61

            Homeless. One can be homeless even while have necessary shelter. One can be homeless even surrounded by family and friends. To be homeless can be a spiritual malady. As David, king of Israel, was forced to flee for his life from his son Absalom. From east of the Jordan River, forced from his own land, David was ‘homeless.’

            “Hear my cry…from the end of the earth I call to You” (vs 1,2). Though David had travelled a few miles from Jerusalem, he felt as though he had arrived at the ‘end of the earth.’

            “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I…” (vs 2). David found a physical place of refuge as he fled from his son. David needed more than just a place to hide. David needed a confidence that can only come with a profound sense of God’s presence. A ‘rock’ often suggests a fortification that cannot be destroyed, impenetrable by the enemy. David needed more than just a place to lay his head. David needed a place to rest his heart.

            The last stanza of the Psalm (vs 6-8) is celebratory. David’s prayer changes tone. Having found a ‘home’ for his heart in the presence and purpose of God David could once again celebrate all that God had done in establishing his line of succession.

            Recent events have created a sense of homelessness for many. Protests unsettling cities around the county. Covid-19 numbers are growing in some areas, decreasing in others. Unemployment hangs over our economy as a dark cloud. The ‘home’ where we once felt comfortable is now a little unsettling. The ‘home’ we thought was secure appears to be less so.

            Come home – not to the way life used to be, but to the promise of God’s protection even when the world around us seems to collapse. Come home – wherever you are is never too far for God to reach.

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