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.  

Our Home

Psalm 87 speaks to the glorified position that Jerusalem has in the eyes of God.

The Psalmist speaks about the great and wondrous events in the history of God that occurred in Jerusalem.  From the days of Isaac’s willingness to sacrifice Jacob, Kind David’s rule, the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as where the apostles launched Christianity.  Jerusalem is the epicenter of our faith.

Where is the city, town, or home that is special to you?

Home has become an important part of our lives over the past year as that is where we have spent the majority of our time since COVID-19.  Our family activities, travel, clubs, sports, hobbies, and even church have been cancelled or moved online.  Some homeowners are remodeling, expanding, painting, upgrading, and evening buying new homes, because they are spending so much time or have extra time to work on their home.  Many are working on their “home” to make it a place where they want to be.

Reflecting on the word “home” for this journal, I prayed to receive wisdom about this chapter.  I have been reflecting on the fact that no dwelling, structure, town, or city is my home.  My home is in Heaven with our Savior.

The greatest joy and comfort to me is to know that this life is temporary.  Yes, I love my family deeply and want to stay here with them on earth as long as I am able.  I want them to stay on earth as long as possible to experience the love and joy that comes from our relationships.  I live with conviction that when we die on this earth, we will see each other again in Heaven. Honestly, I long for my true “home.”  I want to live in Heaven with my savior Jesus Christ.

The Bible speaks of Heaven in both the new and the old testament.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16 

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”Revelation 22:1-5

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 5:1

Our home or city on earth is where we hope to feel protected, comfortable and at ease.  Our home in Heaven will be beyond what we can comprehend.  I yearn for a “home” with no pain, no heartache and no sadness.  I yearn for constant celebration, adoration, joy and peace with our Lord.

May the promise and hope of your Savior wash over you with His presence and peace to know that through Christ, you are saved, and will dwell with Him forever, in the “home” He has prepared for you.

My favorite Christian song about Heaven is by Chris Tomlin called Home.

Praise = Peace

Gratitude, meditation, spiritual practice… trending ideas and buzz words that are all rooted in the Word, and not at all new concepts in the early church or with Christ followers today. So what exactly does the Bible say about gratitude, and how do we apply it today?

A frequently quoted scripture can be found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, where he encourages them to be anxious for nothing, but in everything give thanks. Paul tells them this is because God is at hand (Philippians 4:5). Meaning, because the Lord is working on our behalf, because He is near to us, we do not have to worry. Instead, through prayer and thanksgiving we approach God with our needs, and His peace will fill our minds.

What a powerful encouragement! Because God is working, our act of thanksgiving not only glorifies the Father, but it covers us in peace! The act of gratitude comes back and blesses US!

As we’ve spent the past few months journeying through the Psalms, have you noticed the theme of David’s heart of gratitude? So much praise and worship for who God is, what He has done, and what He will do in the future. Our Psalm today (Chapter 86) carries this same message, and I’m drawn specifically to verse 12.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

With my whole heart. What would that look like in my life? Do I surrender my whole heart, my entire being, when I practice gratitude? Am I able to fully devote my praise to the Lord? Or is my thanksgiving a half-hearted routine muttering of niceties? Have my thank you’s become mannerly and procedural, lacking zeal and true joy? Are they genuine or are the obligatory at times? Does the splendor of His creation or the undeserved grace I experience ever get old? 

Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, details her experience and learning of gratitude in the small and everyday, and the joy it brings. She shares that through the expression of gratitude for the life we already have, we come to know how wildly loved we are by God. This is part of the joy process that brings overwhelming peace.

I believe the Bible gives us formulas like this to unlock the fullness that God has for us. David shows us all through the Psalms how he was afraid, he was pleading for shelter, seeking forgiveness, and at the same time, he would break out in song and prayers of gratitude. David knew that when he wanted peace, he gave God praise.

Here’s something we can be grateful for – a God that instructs us! Not only is He the source of overwhelming peace and joy – He tells us how to get it! A heart wholly grateful for who He is and what He has done.

Lord, thank you for the steps to experience your peace. You are an amazing provider! I ask you to help me surrender any parts of my heart that aren’t fully praising you. Show me the little corners I might be holding back or allowing to be distracted, or want to control. You alone can bring full joy and peace! Amen

 

 

Psalm 85: Celebrate! He will restore us again.

After a brief dance with freedom, the region where we live in Italy went back to stricter measures from “yellow zone to orange zone” mid-February 2021. This resulted in closing restaurants for dining-in at any time, imposing curfews, and restricting movement.

Then mid-March like a change in the wind, the entire country suddenly changed to a “red zone” (and as of the publishing of this post it has changed to red and orange). Most of our readers are Americans so you might have a hard time believing this, but the following restrictions are true, without embellishment. I’m not creative enough to make this up. There’s no “got ya!” at the end of this list.

For now, a red zone in Italy means:

  1. You are not allowed to visit or meet relatives or friends.
  2. You may only leave your home for proven work, education or health reasons, or for matters of necessity. If you leave your home and are stopped by the police for a check, you must be able to justify your reasons using the self-declaration form and show a form of ID. Breaking these rules can result in being fined between $475 – $3,500 (€400 – €3,000), criminal charges, and even imprisonment.
  3. You may take a walk close to your home, but must keep a physical distance of at least one meter and you must wear a face mask.
  4. Shops are closed (apart from those deemed essential such as grocery stores, newspapers and pharmacies). Gyms and beauty parlors are closed.
  5. Restaurants may only sell takeout until 10:00 PM. No dining inside whatsoever.
  6. Secondary schools/universities are closed for in-person learning.

And that’s just a summary… It feels oppressive, a loss of freedom. People are lonely and frustrated. Rules changed quickly. Everyone knows there is a pandemic and the reasons being given for the measures, however it is still painful, confusing and oftentimes mysterious.

Full disclosure: We recently left Italy legally for a temporary taste of freedom in a different country and it is a night and day comparison. Leaving the restrictions has brought a new and refreshing perspective, even for just a short time.

Today’s reading is Psalm 85 and reminds me of our journey and the other stories going on in most of our lives:

  1. Verses 1-3 talk about what God did in the past: Blessings and forgiveness. Most of us long for the “old days” when life seemed much easier.
  2. Verses 4-7 acknowledge God’s anger as a result of our sin. We ask God to do again what he did in the past so that we can rejoice: Restoration, revival, salvation. Don’t stop praying and don’t stop asking.
  3. Verses 8-9 reflect repentance; hearts that do not want to return to sin. These verses also reflect anticipation; waiting patiently and trusting faithfully he will respond.
  4. Verses 10-13 are a celebration of God and his response, putting God in his rightful place, giving him all the glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.
    Righteousness and peace have kissed!
11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. (Psalm 85:10-12)

What’s the point? What’s the answer to our problems in a world that seems unfair? Jesus. While we didn’t create this pandemic nor have most of us committed horrific crimes against humanity, we’re all guilty of sin that separates us from God. Jesus is the restorer. He’s the truth. His love is unfailing. God’s anger is no more upon us if we choose repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. We celebrate today his victory over death. We celebrate that no matter what happens here on this broken planet, He will restore us again, and we will be with him for eternity.

Psalm 84 – Dwelling Place

I was reading a couple articles this week about how COVID 19 has affected a variety of different living patterns like how we shop, how/where we work and where we live.  Several of them were trying to predict which of the changes are temporary and will soon shift back to pre-COVID patterns, versus which changes have become a lasting “new normal”.  For the most part, there was consensus that WFH (Working From Home) is here to stay.  In other words, the authors predict the vast majority of employees who have successfully performed their job duties from home instead of the office this last year, are likely to have some level of increased freedom to work from home more often than they did before the pandemic.

Is that good or is that bad?  I guess it depends on your perspective.  For those of us associated with the single family residential real estate industry, the impact of the WFH shift has been overwhelmingly positive so far.  Nothing makes you want to remodel your outdated house, or move to an entirely new house that better fits your needs, more than having to stay at home 24 hours a day, every day!

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord (Psalm 84:1-2).

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).

As I read our passage for today and pictured the Sons of Korah, or temple assistants, singing about the eternal home God is preparing for his followers, I couldn’t help but think about the emotional buying that has engulfed the residential real estate market over the past few months.  Because of record low inventory, home buyers have been willing to forgo house inspections, willing to waive appraisals, and even willing pay more than asking price to win the right to purchase a house.

Read verse Psalm 84:2 again – My soul years, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.  Can you feel a similar emotional longing?  While the Psalmist refers to the “dwelling place” and the “courts” of the Lord, he doesn’t really mean a physical structure like we picture a dwelling place or a home.  In reality, his longing is to dwell in the presence of the Lord.

In similar fashion, when you think of your home, is it the physical structure that brings out the emotion in you?  I doubt it.  While the physical structure may bring a level of safety and security, it is the people and relationships that actually give it meaning.  Can you think of the first place you lived with your spouse?  What about the room where you rocked you newborn back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning?  Or the kitchen table around which you shared meals with those you love night after night?  I’m guessing those memories stir some emotion in your heart, some longing for the people with whom you shared those physical spaces.

Family and friends with whom we can share our lives are a gift from God, and I am grateful for them.  But nothing, and no one, here on earth will ever compare to being in the presence of God for eternity.  What a day that will be!

 

 

Psalm 83

Psalm 83:1  “O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!”.

Psalm 83 is the last Psalm of Asaph and a prayer for God to rescue his people, the Israelites. The first verse alerts us to the urgency of the situation.  There are times when we are waiting for God to move and in all of our humanity we wonder and start to worry……”O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!”. What is He doing? Does He really care about us? Will he allow the enemy to take over and win? Is there a plan? When will it happen? When will we see His victory?

The enemies were all around Israel. They prayed that God would bring them through as He had so many times before.  The evidence of His power was shown to them through defeats of the Midianites and many others.  What moments can you recall throughout your life where God rescued you? Do you believe God will continue to fight for you as He has in the past?

The Israelites are God’s chosen people. He has continued to take care of them to this day.  While this prayer was meant for the protection of the Israelites it is pertinent in our lives today. As believers in Jesus we are also chosen. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and is the blueprint for our lives. As I watch things unfold in our world today I catch myself relating to the cry, “O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive”.  I am concerned about the future if it continues on its current trajectory. But I also know that God has done many miraculous things already and He will continue to do so. I have faith that He is not “sitting idly by, silent and inactive”. He is Lord over all. Our prayer should be that all would come to know the power and love of our savior Jesus.

Psalm 83:13-18 O my God, blow them away like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind! As a fire roars through a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storms; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Make them failures in everything they do, until they learn that you alone are called the Lord, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.

 

 

Nations Prayer

Today’s Reading: Psalm 82

As we have read through the Psalms recently, we have been able to read from Asaph. (Asaph was a leader of one of the Temple choirs. 1 Chronicles 25:1) Whether Asaph was the author or just transcribing for David, these collections of Psalms (49,50, 73-83) celebrate the sovereignty of God, God’s hand in history, God’s faithfulness, and God’s covenant. These psalms remind us that the worship of our God the almighty should be continual.

At first, I had to look up Asaph and the Asaphites. These people were temple singers.  Asaph had the opportunity to see the best and the worst in the officials while serving and participating in public and private settings.  Psalm 82 reminds us that God is the true judge of all judges. The integrity of our justice system in a nation provides a clear indication of our society’s health.

On the dawn of an election day like today, I realize that whatever your vote may be, our ultimate judge will be our Lord. I pray for all those elected and in authority. 1 Timothy 2:2 says for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 

We can only pray for those in authority worldwide so that their societies will be those who spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Remember Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject under higher powers. 

I pray that all those elected already know or come to know our Lord more and more each day.  That in their roles, they are put in positions to do good. Please pray with me for these officials in authority that make decisions that can impact us, our children, and grandchildren.

Psalm 80:1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods, he holds judgment:

Are we listening?

 

Psalm 81 6-16

    I hear this most gentle whisper from One
    I never guessed would speak to me:

6-7 “I took the world off your shoulders,
    freed you from a life of hard labor.
You called to me in your pain;
    I got you out of a bad place.
I answered you from where the thunder hides,
    I proved you at Meribah Fountain.

8-10 “Listen, dear ones—get this straight;
    O Israel, don’t take this lightly.
Don’t take up with strange gods,
    don’t worship the popular gods.
I’m God, your God, the very God
    who rescued you from doom in Egypt,
Then fed you all you could eat,
    filled your hungry stomachs.

11-12 “But my people didn’t listen,
    Israel paid no attention;
So I let go of the reins and told them, ‘Run!
    Do it your own way!’

13-16 “Oh, dear people, will you listen to me now?
Israel, will you follow my map?
I’ll make short work of your enemies,
give your foes the back of my hand.
I’ll send the God-haters cringing like dogs,
never to be heard from again.
You’ll feast on my fresh-baked bread
spread with butter and rock-pure honey.”

Happy Easter.
God is awesome.
He has given us the amazing opportunity to experience his love and joy. For most of my life I had the perception that Easter was only one day. I knew it as Resurrection Sunday. But as I grew older, I found that Easter was not just a day but it is a season that spans over 40 days after the resurrection of Christ.
In this psalm we see that God is speaking to the children of Israel. In God‘s beautiful providence, he is showing it as directly after the Passover. We are completing the Passover. This is Psalm is directly to speaking to us today. In this song God is telling us again about his love for us and how he has provided for us and how He will continue to provide for us. The one thing you have to remember as his children we need to LISTEN to his direction.
There are so many times in my life where I’ve had my mentors and family members tell me a story. They can tell the story several times. The story can be told so many times it can become an inside joke. We have heard stories so many times that we can tell it word-for-word from the person telling the story. One thing that we cannot do is miss the underlying meaning . We have to acknowledge the story but also remember and analyze the story each time it is told.
In this song the children from Israel have been out of Egypt for several centuries. The meaning of the Passover is to remember the deliverance that God gave their ancestors. But over the years they have forgotten what God has done for them. In this song they are re-telling the story to make sure that we listen.
It is Easter, we have the joy of the resurrection and the blood. Are we listening? What is God telling us? This Easter we were able to celebrate with others, but last Easter we were sheltering in place. This Easter we can celebrate open, last Easter we could not touch each other. This Easter we are able to celebrate at church, last year we were fearful of touching or breathing on each other. What has God revealed to you in this last year and how will it change your relationship with Him? Will we have to have another awakening with verse and psalm centuries from now?
Be blessed.

May His Face Shine Upon You

“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine on us [in favor and approval], and we shall be saved.”
Pslam 80:19 (AMP)

Psalm 80 is a cry to the Lord for His restoration. It was a time of tribulation and distress. God’s chosen people, Israel had turned away from Him. This chapter in the book of Psalms is a cry out to the Lord God Almighty for restoration and revival.

There are 3 instances in this chapter where the people call on God for restoration:
Verse 3 – Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine on us [with favor and approval], and we will be saved.
Verse 7 – Restore us, O God of hosts; And cause Your face to shine on us [with favor and approval], and we will be saved.
Verse 19 – Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine on us [in favor and approval], and we shall be saved.

Do you see the pattern here? The people were desperately looking for restoration. When you seek the Lord, if your cry is from your heart, the light of Jesus will shine upon you. Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone.

In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men.
John 1:4

In this season, we also may be looking for restoration, freedom, and/or forgiveness. We may be looking for healing. And behold, tomorrow is Easter. We are reminded of how God raised His Son from the dead so that we may have life. If we turn from our sinful ways and seek Him, He will forgive us and give us a new life. Jesus assures us in His Word.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].
John 10:10

May His Face Shine Upon You this Easter Weekend.  Bless You.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 79: His People

Reading Psalm 79, it’s a bummer to see how not that much has changed in relation to God’s people and the scorn they get at the hands of the world around them. Such as in Psalm 79:4 – in Asaph’s words, do you feel echoes of things you’ve heard recently? Of people deriding, mocking, looking down upon us for our faith? Everyone seems to have more and more stories today of encounters or experiences with those scoffing at expressions of faith while propping up secularism, mysticism, and antitheism on pedestals.

In times when faith is tested, especially in monumental ways like today’s vast cultural schisms, some can see it as a reason to doubt God’s providence; rather, surely these are signs of the church’s ever-greater need to outwardly display it. And Psalm 79 is a great example in my mind of doing so by holding fast to hope in God’s righteousness. Verse 9 in this passage says, “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us our sins for your name’s sake.” We must set ourselves apart as Christ-like in all words and actions in this world, letting all people see and experience the changing power of Christ in our lives through our abstinence of sin, deliverance from evil, and embracing of visible, indisputable spiritual transformation. 

As verse 10 put it, “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”” We should offer non-believers no opportunity to point out hypocrisy in God’s people as we walk blameless paths in life and reflect Christ’s grace towards us to those around us. People should be able to see our lives and clearly know where our hearts lie. But this doesn’t always turn out to be the case, does it? Amidst this Psalm, Asaph’s own people are likely experiencing the long-term after-effects of Israel’s works of evil (2 Chronicles 36). But like Asaph approached God in begging for forgiveness of their sins, rather than clinging to the sins of our past – “do not remember against us our former iniquities” needs effort on our part too – we must embrace repentance & embody Christ’s forgiveness, and become a people radiating that undeniable love right now in a way that can’t be ignored. I read Romans 12, and ask myself: what could possibly be more radically astounding and mind-blowing to today’s world than a true Christian?

Let this be a reminder that when expressing and living our faith is perilous, God has ensured victory for His faithful. When we cry out to God despite whatever has happened to us, we know He will address His enemies appropriately in our stead, and deliver us into His kingdom. Verse 13 of this passage says “Then we the people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” Take a deep breath this Friday morning, and remember how God has delivered His people through trials before; and when they remain faithful, they have endured by His might. Pray with me now for the day that we are justified; that Christ would soon claim His victory over His enemies many times over; and for the day after God’s people once more overcome their trials, when we too will recount His praise forevermore through eternity.