Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt my church we take communion every fourth Sunday of the month. Communion is one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So I’ve been thinking about Psalm 103 ever since one of our guests preached from the first three verses. The key verse is, “Bless the Lord, O my soul / And forget none of His benefits” (v 2; emphasis mine, here and below).

That verse is the flip side of Psalm 77 in which the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Don’t forget, do remember.

In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel, but also features their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking some time ago that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling—specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

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The Thanksgiving Psalms


David017I may have mentioned in the past that there are some psalms I have a hard time with. Not so the praise and thanks psalms, especially those in chapters between, say, 90 and 104. Those psalms magnify God by recounting His character, seen in His dealings with His people.

My favorite might be Psalm 103. Might, I say, because I also really like some of the others, particularly 91. But 103, one David wrote, contains some memorable lines, and it throws the spotlight on God in such a beautiful way:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3 Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4 Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5 Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Published in: on January 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Wait In Silence


woman-praying-840879-mWaiting is hard, but in silence? Who waits in silence? Don’t we wait kicking and screaming? Or at best, fussing and fuming?

Frankly we don’t do much in silence these days. Walk into a mall, a store, a restaurant, and music is playing. Stop off at home and the TV, the XBox, the Internet is tossing pictures and sound at us. Many people add to the mix by playing music of their own choice in the cars or through their headsets.

Silence? It’s a shrinking commodity.

Yet God through the Psalmist David said, “My soul waits in silence for God only./ From Him is my salvation./ He only is my rock and my salvation, / My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2).

Maybe one problem contemporary Christians face is not having or making, time to wait in silence for God only. How can we understand Him to be our salvation, our rock, our stronghold, if we are too distracted to see Him or hear from Him?

And “distracted” is a good way of identifying the condition we’re in. For example, I sit down at my computer to answer my email. One item requires me to go to a web site to enter a contest. To do this, I must like this site on Facebook and Tweet the contest on Twitter. So now I open Facebook and see the myriad of notifications, some linking to articles, others commenting on posts I’ve written or responded to. I leave an additional comment and open one or two articles.

Then I remember I am answering email. I rush back to finish. Now I have a notice about LinkedIn, and click the link, only to recall that I’ve been trying to edit my profile to include the publication of Power Elements of Story Structure. And somehow that reminds me that I also need to check my Yahoo email account since that’s where people contact me for editing. Another chunk of time passes while I download and edit and reply.

Back to email, but there’s a notice of a new comment to the post I wrote yesterday at Spec Faith. I click on the link and answer the comment. How is it that I can’t stay ahead of the email?

Eventually I turn to the editing project before me, but not before the morning is gone and the afternoon well under way.

Now, as it looks, I will have “worked” all day, moving from distraction to distraction, and completing only two of the six items on my to do list.

My soul, wait in silence for God only.
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. (Ps. 62:5-6)

Second time around, it sounds as if David was scolding his soul for not waiting in silence. Verses 3 and 4 of the Psalm undergird that idea.

Apparently he was faced with betrayers trying to bring him down–perhaps Saul and his men before David became King, perhaps some other scenario after he was on the throne. But the point was, in the midst of focusing on God as his rock and his salvation, thoughts about these lovers of falsehood who blessed with their mouth but inwardly cursed, distracted him–pulled him away from his focus on God.

So he starts over, this time giving himself a shake: My soul, listen up. You need to wait in silence for God only.

Maybe that’s what we need today: a little shaking up, a little talking to so that we’ll stop the noise, turn off the music, and sit in silence in order to wait for God only.

After all, if we truly believe that He only is our rock and our salvation, our stronghold, then we should be happy to wait for Him. What choice do we have?

Of course our actions reveal our true beliefs. It’s so easy to say, I’d wait in silence for God if I only had more time. Or I’d wait in silence for God if only I could get away for five minutes from all the people in this household.

I tend to think that a decision to wait in silence for God only will cause us to find the quiet we need or the time we need. God will see to that. After all, James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a).

Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt church Sunday we took communion. It’s one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So today I was reading Psalm 77–and the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel and their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking recently that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling–specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Remembering  
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Revenge Psalms


Afghan fighter
I don’t think any commentary on the book of Psalms will actually have a section entitled Revenge Psalms, but they exist. I decided to memorize one last year. Mind you, I didn’t realize at the time that it was a revenge Psalm. It starts out so innocently, so sweetly: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”

Yes, I thought, that’s a Psalm for me. I had underlined a few other verses further down such as “He makes my feet like hinds feet/And sets me upon my high places.” Well, who wouldn’t want to memorize that verse? Or how about “The LORD lives and blessed be my rock/And exalted be the God of my salvation.”

Great! So I settled down to memorize Psalm 18. Except, the strength David was talking about and the salvation he was referring to were quite literal. He wanted physical strength to overcome his enemies and he wanted God’s intervention to save him from people who wanted to kill him. If I’d read the intro, I would have realized this.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

I think verse 3 encapsulates the Psalm: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,/And I am saved from my enemies.”

No doubt about it. David had enemies and he needed to be saved from them. But the Psalm gets pretty graphic later on:

I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise;
They fell under my feet.
For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.
Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind;
I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.

I don’t know about you, but I confess to having problems with the not turning-back-until-they-were-consumed part, the shattering-so-they-were-not-able-to-rise, the destroying-those-who-hated-me, the beating-them-fine-as-the-dust-before-the-wind, and the emptying-them-out-as-the-mire-of-the-streets. It’s all so vengeful.

It reminds me of the modern Middle East with the ongoing battles between Jews and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites, insurgents and government forces. People are hating and fighting and praying for rescue, only to turn around and destroy those who were trying to destroy them.

I get that, when we’re talking about peoples who haven’t heard of the love of God, I ought not expect them to act according to the grace and mercy God gives. But when the same kind of attitude crops up in the Bible, it throws me. It’s one thing for God to exercise His just judgment against sinners, but when David talks in such unforgiving tones, I feel a little shocked.

But then I remember the short verse tucked in the midst of all the shattering and destroying: “They cried for help, but there was none to save,/Even to the LORD but He did not answer them.”

I find that verse shocking on a different level. People cried to God for help, but He turned away from them! The Psalm starts out with David being the one who called for help. God didn’t turn a deaf ear to David:

In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

The next verses describe God acting, as a result, on behalf of David to rescue him. But those enemies who later cried for help, God didn’t answer.

I’ve got this impression of God that He’s always there for us, that He’ll always answer the cry of the needy, but apparently there are needy wicked who He will ignore. I mean, how could he hear and answer David and at the same time hear and answer those who were trying to kill him? Apparently God takes sides.

David, in this same Psalm, credits his righteousness with bringing God on his side:

The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.

I emphasized the phrase “in His eyes” because that’s what I think is significant for today. In God’s eyes, those of us covered by the blood of Jesus Christ are righteous. It seems then, that we can call upon the Lord to save us from our enemies.

Except, Paul says our enemies are not flesh and blood:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

So I’m thinking, maybe a revenge Psalm for the Christian wouldn’t be so shocking if we had a clear idea of who the enemy is. What if we prayed for God to rescue us, our families, churches, communities, states, countries, from Satan and his schemes, in the same way that David prayed for physical rescue? I think that would necessitate us viewing God in the same way David did:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Comments (16)  
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Which Comes First?


gatesSunday my pastor, Mike Erre, discussed a study of the book of Psalms by Walter Bruegemann in which he categorized the various psalms in three groups: Orientation, Disorientation, or Reorientation.

The Orientation psalms view the world based on an orientation toward God. They praise Him all-out. They speak of His mercy, His wonders, His glory. There are no shadows in those psalms. Psalm 100 would be an example of an orientation psalm, I believe.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

They “express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues.” They “give expression . . . to the reality that God is trustworthy and reliable.” (Quotes from Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann).

As you might guess, then, the Disorientation psalms view the world as broken. They are the psalms that Job might have written at his lowest point. They could be considered laments. They mourn for what is lost and plead for God to hear and answer. And then they end. Psalm 88 is an example of a Disorientation psalm.

Then come the Reorientation psalms. These are songs that begin with questions, with a focus on the broken world, and then reach a turning point in which the psalmist sees the world more completely because he’s now taking God into account. Psalm 73 is a good example of a Reorientation psalm:

When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. (vv 16-17)

The Reorientation psalms seem clearly to begin with a problem–affliction by enemies or an observation of the prosperity of the wicked or an unanswered prayer. As the psalmist cries out to God, he finds the answer to his situation in God.

But what about the Orientation and Disorientation psalms–which comes first? The implication from what Pastor Mike said is that Orientation came first, then “reality” set in–or at least hardship did. All is well, so people praise God unreservedly. Then all hell breaks loose and people lament. At some point there’s a realignment of perspective that takes into consideration both the greatness of God and the disappointments of life.

But must it be so? Why couldn’t the order be Disorientation, brought on by the Fall, Reorientation, when the truth of God sinks in, and Orientation, when all is seen as under His sovereign ordering, so praise is not dependent upon circumstances in the least.

I’m mindful of this because of something I read this week by literary agent Lee Hough who has been battling cancer for a year or more. As he awaits to learn the effect of the latest treatments, he wrote in part

So, again, the cancer is back. Now what?

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is good.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is faithful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is merciful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is loving.

His life has been disoriented, but his faith is firmly oriented. What private laments did he and his wife express? I couldn’t say. God has been the hero of Lee’s story since he first began writing about his experience with cancer.

It is in reading his praise of God, his unswerving trust in God, his undiminished confidence in God’s character that my faith grows. Obviously, Lee did not write out of a naive trust in God when all was bright and sunny, with his future here on earth looking rosy. He wrote from the unknown, from the valley of the shadow, caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He wrote as one “going, not knowing.”

And his words make me think of Paul’s:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

It seems to me, the clearer we see God–when we no longer put our eyes on the enemies chasing us or the friends betraying us or the cancer, the famine, the lost income, or the prosperous cheats–when we see God without distractions because we know nothing can separate us from His love, I think our praise will be like Orientation psalms, like the praise of the angels around God’s throne. The more nearly we understand Him, the more clearly we’ll sing His praise–not because of ignorance of suffering or out of naiveté. Rather, because of an awareness of suffering and evil, knowing that God is greater than all of it. Therein lines the purest praise, I think.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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