Hopeless

Have you ever been without hope?  Maybe you know someone you know?  Today Psalm 88 makes me ask these questions.  The writer is clearly without hope.  Look at the descriptions of his current circumstances.

  • Full of troubles (v3)
  • Near Sheol (a dark place where the dead go) v3
  • No strength (v4)
  • Set loose among the dead (v5)
  • Forgotten by God (v5)
  • Cut off from God’s hand (v5)

Keep reading the Psalm.  There is more.  Clearly, the writer is in a place of hopelessness and despair.   He blames God.  Beginning with verse 6, he says You put me here.  You caused my friends to leave. You made me a horror.  I can hear the anguish in his voice as he cries out.

The anguish, however, is tempered.  In these grimmest of circumstances, there is a spark of hope.  It appears in verse 9. Every day, he says, I call upon you. I spread my hands to you.  These are not the words and actions of the hopeless.  These belong to the faithful.

The Psalmist knows the wonders of God and the praises that he deserves (v10).    He believes that God is righteous and worth being known (v11).  His words illustrate an understanding of  God’s grand design.

There is no knowing why this man was tortured in this way.  Why do any of us suffer?  Today, I sit, questioning if I will ever have to endure this kind of hardship. I pray fervently that God will spare me, and you, from such troubles.  Like the Psalmist, I ask for healing for all who are afflicted.  And, like the Psalmist, we have to wait and endure until there are answers.

Father God, while I hold my hands out to you, I pray for faith like this Psalmist.  In the midst of the struggle, he called on you.  While we can, let us see your wonder so that we can be in complete awe of you.  Allow us to experience your righteousness so that we can know your beauty.  Lord, please bury your promises deep within our hearts so that we can remember your hope when we most need it.  Imprint us with your love that will never leave us.  

Victory Again

Psalm 76

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things “ (Philippians 4:8).

I caught myself thinking of this verse today as I read through Psalm 76.  You see, all too often, I focus on the things gone wrong and my circumstances unrelenting. This continued focus on things gone wrong takes its toll.  It ruins just about everything.  There must be something to break the pattern.  Something to restore hope and peace.

Philippians 4:8 does that for me.  In fact, when I finally find the quiet place where I allow my head and my heart to return to God, I hear him.  I hear that still soft voice that is ever so refreshing.  With his reassurance, I am reminded of the good things he has done.  I also become aware of the good things he is doing.

When I see them, there is no containment.  My joy overflows.  In these moments, God’s majesty is revealed and I must celebrate it.  His power is portrayed, and I stand in awe of it.  In this place, with his power, everything is right.

David Refused To Be Cancelled

Psalms 64

We have all heard of the cancel culture.  Its desired effect is to eliminate opposing points of view.  It’s not accomplished with overt violence, but with secret plots.  Plots that use words as their swords and bitter arrows.  Words that are sharp enough to pierce and destroy.  The victims of the cancel culture cannot survive.

It appears that David experienced similar dangers.  He knew intimately the evil plots against him.  Being a wise man, he also knew the futility in fighting back.  At least, not in the way the world expects.  You see, fighting the cancel culture is like throwing gas on a fire, igniting flames that cannot be extinguished.  But, David chose the right weapon, prayer.

David’s prayer is simple, starting with a cry out to God to listen.  “Hear me,” and “protect me,” he pleads.  We would all have a similar cry.  There is, however, something about David’s prayer, that does not always exist in our own.  Confidence.  Beginning in verse 7, David fully experiences the power of God.  Ok, maybe not in circumstance, but definitely in spirit.  Truly, in verses 7-9, David is watching God claim victory over his enemies.

But God shoots his arrow at them;
they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
all who see them will wag their heads.
Then all mankind fears;
they tell what God has brought about
and ponder what he has done.

There is only one response, and David gets it right.  Praise and worship.  I can hear him shouting victory, at the top of his lungs.

 Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him!Let all the upright in heart exult!

Good news.  God protected and delivered him from his enemies.  God saved him.  And of course, God wants to save us too.  All we have to do is ask.

Psalm 59 Shelly Thomas

A few weeks ago I was in a bit of a funk and struggling to get out of it. I was stuck in my head and letting my thoughts get the best of me. It was a Sunday morning and I was up earlier than usual. Everyone else was still asleep. I slipped on my shoes and headed out the door for a walk around our neighborhood. No music, no podcast, no phone call. Just me and God. The neighborhood is the typical Bloomington/Normal subdivision that is confusing and winding to strangers but one I could walk in my sleep. The sun was out and the breeze was gentle with hopes of Spring. Towards the end of my walk, I came upon a line of trees. I have driven past these trees daily for the past 20 years but they caught my attention on this particular day. They are enormous evergreens (or something similar) that tower over the houses. The ground underneath was covered in pine needles and the sun was shining through the tops of the trees. Standing underneath them I didn’t feel like I was in a subdivision, but rather deep in the woods somewhere. It was peaceful and beautiful and I could have sat and enjoyed it longer if it wasn’t someone else’s yard. Just having that brief time outside with God made my day different. It didn’t solve any problems but it changed my perspective and I came home feeling thankful and full.

While my walk was silent, I wasn’t walking alone. God was walking with me, speaking to my soul through His creation. He has never failed to show up when I have been willing to invite Him into my mess. It may not be exact answers to specific questions, but instead a reminder to keep trusting Him. Just when I think I’m learning to trust Him well, He gives me another opportunity to trust Him all over again. He is our refuge and our place of safety. I pray you find that in Him today too.

Psalm 59:16-17

But as for me, I will sing about your power. I will shout with joy each morning because of your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety in the day of distress.
O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me, unfailing love. NLT

Shelly Thomas

Refuge Found

Psalm 52

We all need refuge.  It’s a wonderful place.  Calm, quiet, and peaceful.  In our refuge, we are reminded of our hope and our renewed hope leads to strength.  This is what we thirst for.  And make no mistake, we will find it.  The question is, will it be worth it?

There is no better way to say it than Psalm 52:7, which reads “see the man who would not make God his refuge but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction.”  Wait, what?  You mean that the refuge I have been seeking and building and longing for and chasing after might lead to my own destruction?  Absolutely, says David.

With that understanding comes new responsibility.  We must determine where it is that we are seeking refuge.  For some, it may be obvious while the rest of us have worked hard to cover our tracks.  For example, do you remember the Bible verse about money being evil?  It’s 1 Timothy 6:10 and says “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.”  If you are like me, you’ve found ways to reinterpret this verse.  Now, we soften it.  Instead of relating money to evil, we relate money to good by saying “money is good for the good it can do.”  Wow, that’s brilliant.  Suddenly, I feel good about money again.  I want to go make more and do some good!   Refuge found.

There is no end to my deceptive heart (Jeremiah 17:9).  If I am to be true to myself and real to God, I must subject my thoughts and actions to Him.  This is done by subjecting them to Scripture, through prayer, and the Church – the community of believers.  There is no other way to find it.  Refuge found.

Clap Your Hands

Today’s reading is Psalm 47. It is impossible for me to read the first verse without singing an old church song in my head.

“Clap your hands all ye people,
shout unto God with a voice of triumph! clap your hands all ye people,
shout unto God with a voice of praise! Hosanna! Hosanna!
Shout unto God with a voice of triumph! Praise Him, Praise Him!
Shout unto God with a voice of Praise!”

This was a song we sang at church when we were young. It was more about going faster and faster each time and I think there were hand motions involved. I hope some of you are singing it now.
I was feeling very thankful and even hopeful today as I walked in 52-degree weather and sunshine! So much has happened in the past few weeks as we continue to move closer to a sense of normalcy in the midst of this pandemic. School is moving forward, our kids are playing sports, vaccinations are rolling out, cases are down, and the sun is shining! I haven’t felt hopeful for a while so today was a welcome change. While I want things to continue in a positive direction I am also very aware that they could change in an instant. My prayer is that I will remember that my hope is not based on anything in this world, but on Jesus Christ. If my hope is based on the trajectory of this pandemic or anything of this world, I will likely suffer disappointment. God is my hope and my constant. For this I am so thankful! The things of this world will fade, but He remains.

How do you express your thankfulness to God? Regardless of how you express your thankfulness, God will receive it. He knows where you have been and where you are going. He knows the struggles you will have tomorrow and next week. Nothing escapes Him. He is worthy of our praise!

Today, thank God for all the ways He has shown up for you in the past year. My list started yesterday with the sunshine and I was amazed at all the things He brought to my mind.

Psalm 47:7 “For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm!”.

Shelly Thomas

Victory Dance

Psalm 40

“The apostle, Paul, feels himself unable to celebrate, in a proper  manner, the goodness of God, and desires that the contemplation of it   would occupy the minds of men till they are entirely lost in   admiration.”

Those words were written by John Calvin in response to his observances of the apostle, Paul.  It makes me wonder what becoming entirely lost in admiration of God would look like.  What would it feel like?  What would my response be?  I’m hoping, that it would be a celebration.  And, just like Paul, I don’t think that my celebration would be adequate.

When I read Psalm 40, I hear celebration.  It comes from a man who has been saved from all manner of impossibilities.  But there is something special about his celebration.  He realizes, without a doubt that his rescue, his salvation, and his now success were not his own doing.  Rather, they were bestowed upon him.  This calls out a special kind of celebration.  As you read the Psalm, it sounds a lot like praise.

Did you notice that this Psalmist’s praise cannot be contained?  While he speaks to God of how great he is, the love in his heart cannot be contained there.  He also tells the world, unrestrained.  I’m beginning to think that this is what it looks like to be “entirely lost in admiration,” of God.

Let us spend some time, today celebrating the goodness of God.  May we allow it to occupy our minds until we are also entirely lost in admiration.


Calvin, John (2011-11-15). Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 470583-470584).  . Kindle Edition.

Another One?

Psalms 28

Sometimes I feel like the psalms are on repeat.  When I read them every day, back to back, they sound the same.  Here is the pattern, Lord, help me, I am in trouble.  I see bad things headed my way and I don’t want any of that to happen.  Eliminate my enemies.  I love you.  Thank you for being Awesome!

Does that cover it?

Psalms 28 is no different.  Seriously, when I sat down to read it, that was my first reaction.  Thankfully, I was charged with finding something meaningful in this scripture to share with you.  Otherwise, it may have been my last reaction.  I wonder how many times I have read scripture with the same attitude.  It’s not pretty.

To read it that way is to nullify the joy of the author.  Clearly, the Psalmist wants to share his lifted burden.  He is celebrating so that we can celebrate too.

To read it that way is to dismiss my own troubles.  Rather than confront them, it’s far easier to deny them.  When I don’t think about them, I don’t really need God, either.

To read it that way is to reject God’s power.  In fact, as long as I don’t call upon God, it’s my own resourcefulness that gets me through.

To read it that way is to nullify God’s glory.  Make no mistake, the glory is going somewhere.  Maybe I am trying to steal it for myself?

I’m sure you find this commentary as frightening as I do.  Truth is, we are all vulnerable.  Not until I slowed my pace and called upon God did I hear from him.  That’s when I received this firm and gentle rebuke.

Thank you Father for the powerful reminder that you are God.  Thank you for leading us toward righteousness.  Praise the Lord!

 

Why I Believe: Psalms 16

Psalms 16 

Scripture is an amazing teacher.  We know that Hebrews 4:12 calls scripture “alive and active,” but how do you really experience it?  If you have not read Psalm 16 yet, do so now.  Which part stuck out to you?  In my reading, I was first drawn to my previous highlights and notes.  They remind me of my past experiences and have become a permanent marker of where God has led me.  But today, I don’t dwell there.  There is new work to do because God has highlighted a new part of this Psalm for me.

What is it?  I am amazed at how the Psalmist, David,  puts God first, surrendering everything to Him.  Consider that David is in trouble.  Verse 1 states it clearly.  He is looking for refuge.  As we read on, we get the picture that David finds it, despite his circumstances.

First, he finds it in God himself.  He understands and clearly acknowledges the good things in his life.  He also recognizes that all of the good things are given by God.

Second, David finds refuge in God’s people.  I can only imagine the details, but we all know how God’s people care for each other.  Love has no bounds amongst His followers.  While all of that is good, it is not what God highlighted for me today.

The words that struck me between the eyes are found in verse 6.  It says, “the lines have fallen in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”  As I read it, I was thinking about David’s circumstances.  Remember, he was seeking refuge.   I would not call that “pleasant places.”  In fact, I can think of all kinds of things to call it, but “pleasant” is not one of them.

This is where God does his good work in me.  Today, he put my life in contrast to the life of a faithful man.  He’s used it to help me redefine pleasant places.  It’s not about luxury, safety, and opportunity.  Not for a second.  It’s about God’s provision, everywhere, all the time.

When I finally stop to look around, I see God’s provision in my life everywhere.  No, that does not mean everything is going the way that I want it to, or that I have everything I think I need.  It does mean that God has provided me with an amazing family and amazing people to journey this earth with.  As I dwell on this, I am filled with gratitude and contentment, followed closely by peace and joy.  Surely these are the pleasant places David found.  Like him, I too have “a beautiful inheritance.”

Why do I believe?  Because he faithfully guides, corrects, and loves me into becoming who he created me to be.

Why I Believe: Lynden McGriff

Psalms 9:1-2;13-14

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in your salvation.

Why I believe? This is such a profound question that it cannot be nearly summed up in one passage. For me, my belief can be seen through the eyes of a gardener. In the eyes of a gardener you have the preparation with the seed, the plant, the fruit, and the pruning.

Matthew 13:3-9

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears,[a] let him hear.”

I want to start out with the seed. In the parable about the seed, Christ talks about several different grounds and soils, which the seed has been sowed. I’ve been able to see that the seed that is been planted or sowed is the seed of the Holy Spirit. But I also recognize that in me I have all of the soils that Christ has spoken. In each different part of my journey the soil has changed.

There are different times in my life that I’ve had good soil there are different times in my life I had rocky soil and there’s different times in my life that I have had thorns as well. But it is when the seed finds the optimal soil and right time to produce a plant. This has happened several times in my life where of the seed has found some good soil, but it also has landed on some of the troubled soil as well.

So what I believe is that the seed that is the Holy Spirit never changes in us, but as we allow the Spirit to move in us the soil with change.

As in gardening you have to continuously and constantly check the pH of the soil because the soil that may not be optimal for this year’s crop. The soil needs to be adjusted for the next crop. So what I believe is God is utilizing his Spirit to work in me constantly to cultivate me constantly to change me into the person who he wants me to be and to give him the glory and show his presence in my life to be a reflection of his life.

An example that can illustrate this seed growing when it’s optimal was revealed to me from a visit that I had with a friend last week. Last week, a dear friend of mine showed me one of his pets. He showed me a tadpole that he had rescued from a small little pond. So as we were conversing he informed me that this tadpole was two years old. This knowledge baffled me because in my limited perception as being a scientist, I thought that tadpoles only lasted for a small amount of time. But I understood that tadpoles will only change will transform into a frog when the conditions are right. This tadpole is two years old. This tadpole is approximately 4 to 5 inches long. This was a complete intriguing for me. For my 39 years, I had some new information that I’ve had assume were true.

With this new knowledge I have an enlightened view of absolutes. The seed, as with the tadpole, will find the right time to prepare, mature, and produce a plant at the correct time in which it is ready. The seed of the Holy Spirit will activate and produce when it Optimal. This can be two months, five years, 10 years, or 70 years. No matter how long the seed is there God will allow the seed to mature and transform and metamorphosis into the new creation in which He has ready for us.

This is what I believe that God is in the changing and growing of each individual at the each individual’s time no matter what time do restraints or limits we placed on Him. Be blessed.

Lynden McGriff