Monthly Archives: December 2016

Psalm 57 — Finding Refuge

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me . . .

This is how Psalm 57 starts, which is the next psalm in the  series I’m writing on the Psalms in chronological order.  Psalm 57 was written by David when he was holed up a cave, hiding from Saul’s soldiers.

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I imagine it was real downer to be there, stuck in the dark, cut off from the world.

So as David started praying to God there, what did he pray first? Did he catalog all the ways that God should work?  No, he begged, “Have mercy on me.” He wanted this so much, he said it twice.

This challenges me!  I’ve been going nonstop since before Thanksgiving.  I have a backlog of unprocessed emotional baggage; feelings screaming for attention.  I want to whine and fill God’s ear with requests.

emotional-baggage

But instead, what I need to do is get on my knees, put my face to the ground and remember who I am before the Lord.  The only real thing I can ask for is mercy.

Let this illustration burn into me, the one Jesus gave about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:13-14

I am such a Pharisee!!  It’s so much about me.  I am so preoccupied with trying to  do the right thing so I can feel good about myself.  More than that, I am so focused on praying for what I think should happen.  I exude pride, not humility.

David goes on to write, “for in you I take refuge,” And then says, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

Oh, this is what my heart craves, a refuge.  But even though I know that it can be found in God, it doesn’t click.  So I’m trying to understand how David could so completely and confidently find a safe place in God.

And as I meditate on it,  I’m realizing that David wasn’t just seeing God as a haven.  He was putting his trust in the God who had a solid history of always protecting and caring for his people. Look at this passage in Deuteronomy 32 and how it describes God’s actions towards the Israelite nation:

He (God) found him (Israel) out in the wilderness,
        in an empty, windswept wasteland.
    He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him,
        guarding him as the apple of his eye.
    He was like an eagle hovering over its nest,
        overshadowing its young,
    Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air,
        teaching them to fly.
    God alone led him;
        there was not a foreign god in sight.
    God lifted him onto the hilltops,
        so he could feast on the crops in the fields.
    He fed him honey from the rock,
        oil from granite crags . .

God is like a bird that shelters its young. That bird would also be committed to feeding its young and fiercely protecting them.

wings-shelter

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eagle-feeding-young

So David knew that God felt a loving responsibility and obligation toward him.  He knew God would be there for him.  THAT is how he took refuge in God.

And that is how I can take refuge in God as well.  By learning to believe that God is faithful to me.

As the psalm goes on, it helps me to realize this.  Here is what David says next.  I’m listing several translations of this verse:

I call upon the God Most High; to the God who completes what he began in me. ISV

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. NLT

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. NIV

I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.  ASV

No matter which translation is correct, they all say that God would act on David’s behalf.  I love this thought.  God’s not going to just sit in heaven.  He’s going to get up and do something for his people.

What really helps my heart is knowing that it is God who is doing the work, not me.  When I work, I make a mess of things. How wonderful it is that I can come to God and know that he WILL work his good purpose in spite of my mucking about!

It reminds me of this verse:  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

But the thing is, for God to work, I have to first humble myself, as David did.  I have to stop thinking I know how things should be done.

I have to vacate my own refuge, my own way of trying to control and make the world safe, and make God my refuge in every way.

It’s sort of like the story of the three pigs.  I need to leave my house of sticks and go to the house of bricks!

three-little-pigs

I tend to be overwhelmed.  I think about all that’s going wrong, all that needs to change, all that needs to be done.  On one hand, I come up with plans to fix it, and on the other, I despair because my efforts seem to have bungled things.

How much I need peace!  The irony is that I need a refuge because I haven’t made God my refuge.

When will I learn that true peace comes from humility, not performance?  It comes from surrender, emptying myself before God, and having faith that he will work.

“And that is what we should seek for — to go on our faces before God until our hearts learn to believe that the everlasting God Himself will come in to turn out what is wrong, to conquer what is evil, and to work what is well-pleasing in His blessed sight.”  (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender)

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Psalm 56: Grief and Goodness

mother

Eighteen years ago today, my mother passed away.  Even after all these years, I am unutterably sad and miss her so much.

My mother was such a bright light in my life.  I felt like I was different and didn’t fit in, but she got me.  She thought I hung the moon.  She thought my children were awesome.  She always saw the best in others.  She made my burdens lighter, both by pitching in and helping, and by making me feel better when I felt down.

It’s so hard to not have that anymore.

Today is the funeral for my dad’s brother, Uncle Bill.

uncle-bill

He was a special person in my life, and I know he meant the world to his family.  He raised not only his daughter, but was really a big part of raising his granddaughter and his two great grandchildren.

Life can be devastating at times.  It can feel like our heart is getting raked over ground glass.

As I’ve been reading through the Psalms in chronological order, I see how this was true for David.  Here is part of the next psalm in the series, Psalm 56:

Be merciful to me, my god.  For my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack. . .

All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin.

They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, hoping to take my life. . .

Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record?

This Psalm was written at the same time as the last psalm I wrote about, Ps. 34.  David was fleeing Saul’s soldiers, and ended up in Gath, which was a Philistine kingdom.  The servants of the king there recognized who he was, so, in desperation, he started acting crazy.  His ploy worked, and by God’s grace, he was allowed to go on his way.

David recorded what he was feeling as he went through this: sorrowful, betrayed, cornered, mistreated.  Emotions to which we can all relate.

But then he wrote this:

I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you.

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before God in the light of life.

I love these verses!  They encourage my heart.

But the thing is, I don’t think David had been delivered from his tough situation when he wrote them.    I believe he was remembering about other times he was saved from peril:  “You have delivered me.”  He was basically saying, “God, even though I am in a dicey situation, I will remember who you are and what you have done, and present thank offerings to you.”

It reminds me Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We HAVE to pray with thanksgiving, no matter how tough the situation is.  More than that, we need to give thank offerings.  Our life needs to be one of constant service, because we are so grateful for God and what he has done, even though we feel miserable at the present time.

Right now, at Christmas, we are feeling all warm and fuzzy at the birth of Jesus.  We think of the stable, the star, the shepherds and wise men.

nativity

Yet when the wise men came, they set in motion a terrible situation.  Herod found out from them that a Jewish king was being born, and to eliminate a threat to the throne, he put all of the boys ages two and under to death.

nativity2

God rescued Jesus from this massacre, but it was a tragic time.

There always seems to be a juxtaposition of deliverance and tragedy.

The same is true for us.  It usually feels like what Dickens wrote in Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

There are always blessings in the midst of adversity.  If we are alive today, we must be thankful.  We can think of all we’ve lost, and it is unbearably painful.  Yet somehow through all of it, we know that God is also good.  We can see the milestones of his goodness in our life.

I’ve had times when I could have died.  I almost drowned when I was young.  When I was in college. I was leaning over, trying to use a staple gun, and it wouldn’t work, and then I discovered it was upside down, and if it had been working, I would have shot myself in the head.  It still gives me a cold feeling to think about it.

I believe God preserved me.  I don’t know why it is the time for some to pass, and not for me, not for others.  But I have been delivered, and now, as the psalm says, “I may walk before God in the light of life.”

That is my job today, to walk with God in this vibrant vitality that we call life.

To walk with grace.  To honor my mother, my uncle, and all whose stories are complete.

I pray that the chapter God and I write today will be a good one.  And I pray that amidst my grief, and troubles and worries, I find the vein of God’s goodness, and cling to it, as David did, in trembling soberness and purposeful gratitude.

Outside my front door, my camellias are blooming.  It’s winter, and much of the vegetation is dead.  Yet they are alive and bursting with beauty.

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That’s what God calls me to do today: be alive and beautiful, even as I mourn. I don’t know if I have tomorrow.  But God has given me this time and I vow to make the best of it.

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Psalm 34 — Praising At All Times

What a harrowing time it was when David wrote Psalm 34!  He was fleeing for his life.  He tried to hide in some region called Gath, but people there were wise to him.  So David started acting like he was stark raving mad!  Here’s how the Message version describes it:

When David realized that he had been recognized, he panicked, fearing the worst from Achish, king of Gath. So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.  I Sam 21:13

Can you imagine?  David really threw himself into his performance.  He was smashing his noggin on things and slobbering.  It would have been funny to watch, if it wasn’t so scary!

And in the midst of all of this, he wrote something astounding:  “I will praise the Lord at all times.” (Ps 34:1)  How could he write this while he was in fear for his life?  He could because he wasn’t fixated on his troubles, he was fixated on the awesomeness of God!

Several years ago I put the first part of Psalm 34 to music.  Here is the first stanza of my rendition:

I will praise the Lord at all times

His praise will always fill my voice

My soul will boast in the Lord

The righteous will hear and they’ll rejoice

Oh magnify the Lord with me and lift high his name in harmony.

Join with me to praise the Lord, exalting his name with one accord.

I love that David was determined to not only keep praising God, but to even boast in him, even magnify him.  That means that David kept on singing about how magnificent God was, and the more he did, the greater God became in his eyes.

Do I do that? Do I magnify God?

It has been a challenging week for me. I found out that my daughter and grandkids are moving to Chicago.  My beloved uncle in New Mexico passed away.  Another family member is going through some struggles.  My emotions are all over the place.

So what do I need to do?  I need to do what David did!  I’ve been working on being thankful, but I need to take that a step further and praise God more and more!  I need to start boasting that he is with me, and he’s going to take of me and my problems.  I need to get others to praise him with me for all the incredible things he has done and will do.

I sought the Lord and he replied, delivered me from all I dread

Those who look to him are radiant, and shame shall never bow their head.

Just as David could be radiant when he was in mortal danger, I can have a heart of joy when I focus on God, and not my problems.

And David was right to be radiant.  He knew God was the deliverer, and God did deliver him by allowing him to escape Gath unscathed.

“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.”  (I Sam 21:14- 22:1a)

Will God deliver me as well?

The poor man cried, the Lord heard him, delivered him from all his woes.

The Lord’s angel encamps around the men who fear him, he rescues those.

Taste and see that the Lord is good and blessed is the man who takes refuge.

Lions grow weak and hungering, but those who seek God lack no good thing.

Isn’t it incredible to think of an angel protecting us on all sides, vigilant and ever ready?

Why then am I so insecure, so fearful?  Why do I navigate life like I’m walking through a minefield?  Why do I hunker down and protect myself?

God is the only protection that works!  Can I taste and see that he is good? Can I walk towards him instead of retreating and hiding?  Can I climb trustingly into his invisible arms?

And who among you desires life, and longs to age and see many good days?

Then keep your tongue from all evil words, and let no falsehood from your lips stray.

What a minute!  David is changing directions here.  The focus has moved from looking at the greatness of God, to looking at what a man’s behavior should be.  The song I wrote ends with the couplet above.  But the psalm David wrote goes on in this vein:

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

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;

but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.

David had to have be thinking about his own life, thinking of the battles he fought to not give into the dark side, to not be hateful, to not be overwhelmed with anger and bitterness.

David must have seen how God took care of him as he held onto his integrity.  This motivated him to rally others to fight for their integrity as well.  “Good leads to good, and bad to bad!” he exhorted them.

Evil will slay the wicked;

the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

The Lord will rescue his servants;

no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

It sounds like a no brainer.  Of course we need to keep doing the right thing.  So why is it hard?  Why is there a spiritual principle of entropy?  We do we blink and find ourselves going the wrong way?

For me, I get tired and overwhelmed.  I start slacking on taking the positive steps.

So these words of Psalm 34 are a great reminder.  As Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”  If I let up the fight and give into the dark side, there will be repercussions.

As I close this blog, I want to talk about two lines of the psalm near the end that have been puzzling me.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The lines seem like they don’t fit in.  David’s done such a good job of praising God, and talking about how God takes care of the righteous.  I have the impression that David has it figured out and feels great in spite of his challenges.

Then he talks about the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. Whoa.  This is gut level raw.  It’s like the hidden pain in David’s heart erupts.

And as I meditated on these words, in the end, they rang true.  David had to leave his wife and his best friend.  He left his home and his career.  His former friends and family were stalking him.  He was forced to run from place to place, and do things to survive like bang his head against walls.  His anguish went deep.

Trusting in God doesn’t instantly mend a broken heart.  It helps, but we still bleed inside.

I would have been different than David.  I would have told myself, “God is awesome.  So you’re supposed to have faith and be doing better.  Don’t let yourself give into despair.”

But David was the opposite.  He let it out and gave name to his pain.  He saw that his pain showed him how desperately he needed God.  He was confident that God wouldn’t be repelled by his mess of emotions, but would instead draw closer to him.  He knew God’s heart would be moved to help him.

That inspires me more than anything.  Yes, I want to magnify God.  Yes, I want to do the right thing.  But what I really want is to be gut level honest with God and say that I hurt.  I’m scared.  I feel lost and abandoned.

And when I do, I want to hear God saying, “It’s okay.”  I want to feel him drawing me into his embrace.  I want to know that he’s marshaling his heavenly armies to deliver me.

That is what truly inspires me to praise God without ceasing.

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Ps. 52, Finding Strength in God!

Today, I’m looking at Psalm 52.  This Psalm was written by David when Doeg the Edomite told Saul that David had gone to see Ahimilek the priest.

So I read the story of what happened with Doeg in I Samuel 22.  What a gruesome tale!  Saul is upset because Ahimelek helped David.  “Saul said to [Ahimelek], “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?”

“I’m loyal to you!” Ahimelek insists to Saul.  “David’s come to me before to inquire of the Lord.  It wasn’t unusual for me to help him.”

But Saul only sees treachery, and he orders Ahimilek and all the priests in the town of Nob to be killed.  Saul’s  soldiers won’t kill the priests.  So Doeg, the very one who betrayed David, does it himself.  He slaughters 85 priests.   Then, he spearheads the massacre of all of the men, women and children in Nob, along with all of the cattle.

So when David writes Ps 52, he has some pretty strong words to say about the one he calls sarcastically “mighty hero,” the one most people think is Doeg.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?

Why do you boast all day long,

you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

You who practice deceit,

your tongue plots destruction;

it is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

You love every harmful word,

you deceitful tongue!

Let me focus on one thing David says here: “You love evil rather than good.”

Doeg did love evil.  And we can all think of people who fit into the category of loving evil rather than good.

But could this ever apply to us as well?  I’m reading “Radical Restoration by F. LaGard Smith, and he raises the question: “Given the materialism, immodesty, immorality, unauthorized divorce and remarriage, and shallow spirituality which has become endemic among us, can we assert with assurance that we have no need, as an entire family of God, to let the words of his Book rebuke us?  As God’s covenant people, do we not, even now, need to renew our covenant to follow the Lord?”

It reminds me of the verse in II Timothy where Paul indicts those of our age who, as he says, are not lovers of the good.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.  II Timothy 3:1-4.

Some of this stuff is me!  I am a lover of pleasure.  I can wear things that border on immodesty.  I watch things on TV that are immoral.  I love stuff too much.  I love glory for myself.  I want to make things all about me.

So this verse can be speaking to me, to all of us, even while it was written about a man a long time ago.  We need to be constantly taking stock, constantly reassessing our spirituality.

Ken read me John Porter’s latest blog last night, and it kicked my booty.  It talked about the importance of being grateful. (Ingratitude is one of the sins listed in II Timothy.)  I’ve been struggling with intermittent depression lately and I’ve lost touch with thankfulness.  Here is some of what Porter wrote which was like he was preaching to me!

“In my personal journey, I have struggled immensely to remain grateful during my trials.  It seems to me that gratitude is the first thing “to go”.  The unfortunate consequence of this decision is a lack of awareness of God’s presence with me during my trials.  As Christians we are not just called to suffer, but to suffer well.  The key to “suffering well” is to remain aware of God’s presence with us during our struggles as was modeled for us by Jesus during his final hours before his death.  Unfortunately, many of us have the tendency to pull back from God and from others when we are suffering.  This can cause our pain to evolve into trauma.  The path to recovering the desperately needed connection to God is gratitude.”

It’s so true.  I was losing my connection with God because I wasn’t being grateful.  And gratitude is what I needed to reconnect.  I started telling God, “Thank you, God, that I am feeling depressed.  Thank you that it is forcing me to dig deeper for strength from you.”

Because that, really is what God is all about, all through the Bible.  He puts people through wilderness times so that they will build a steely strength of reliance in him.

You know, God could have put David straight on the throne.  But he had David go out to barren places and be a fugitive for years, so David could learn to rely even more on God.  The same is true for Joseph, for the Israelites, for Daniel, and, of course for Jesus, who was tempted in the desert for 40 days.

So look how Psalm 52 goes on to chronicle the building of David’s character.  He starts by quoting what others will say about Doeg, and ends speaking of himself:

“Here now is the man

who did not make God his stronghold

but trusted in his great wealth

and grew strong by destroying others!”

But I am like an olive tree

flourishing in the house of God;

I trust in God’s unfailing love

for ever and ever.

David compares the strength of Doeg, who grew strong through wealth and deposing others, with his own strength in trusting in God’s love.  David says this strength is so real and so great, he is like a prolific olive tree!

That is what we can be in God.

I love to make plans.  I come up with ideas and ways to achieve goals.  Many of my plans don’t come to fruition.  I’m not disciplined.  Things go wrong.

But as I was praying yesterday, I saw how God has a plan, and it is so much more solid and substantial than my plans.  It stretches into history and into the future.  It doesn’t crumble or have weaknesses.

Yet when things go wrong, I think everything is falling apart!  How foolish I am!  The firm girders of God’s plan are in place, just as they always are, and God is building on them every day.

In conclusion, let’s make sure that we don’t love evil, but reassess our spirituality every day.  Let’s be grateful.  Let’s remember that even when evil seems to be winning, God is still working his good plan.

As David says in the close of the psalm:

For what you have done I will always praise you

in the presence of your faithful people.

And I will hope in your name,

for your name is good.

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Thoughts on Ps 59 and Faith

I am trying to imagine how hard it must have been for David when Saul started trying to kill him.  Here was the king he was serving and doing everything for.  He led armies into battle and won great victories for Saul. He became best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan.  He married Saul’s daughter, Michal.  Everything was going wonderfully.

But then Saul got eaten up with fear and jealousy.

Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul.

Saul became convinced that David was a threat to his family continuing on the throne:

“They have credited David with tens of thousands,” [Saul] thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” I Sam 18:8

So Saul sought to have David killed.

Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.  I Sam 19:11

 Michal helped David escape and David started living a life of being on the run.

It is at this time that David wrotes Psalm 59.  His words describe well what he felt:

Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me.

Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.

See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.

How tough it must have been to have his own countrymen turn against him.  There must have been soldiers seeking him that David knew personally.  It must have felt like such a betrayal.  This was the king he had pledged to serve.  This was his father in law.  He had done nothing wrong.  Yet the king ordered his men to find David and put him to death.

Look at the wording David used — attacking me, after my blood, lie in wait for me, conspire against me.  He felt like he was under a constant mortal threat.

And he felt like the world had gone topsy-turvy.  One minute he was leading men into battle and living in the palace.   The next he was a fugitive.

But here is what David said at the end of the Psalm, after all his ranting and complaining:

But I will sing of your strength,

in the morning I will sing of your love;

for you are my fortress,

my refuge in times of trouble.

You are my strength, I sing praise to you;

you, God, are my fortress,

my God on whom I can rely.  (Ps 59:16-17)

David sang of God.  He sang because he knew God loved him.  He sang because he knew God would protect him.

In the end, David lived by faith.  It was faith that helped him survive and face the perils of the day.

And the same is true for me.  I can relate to David’s life at this time in a way.  God hasn’t acted in the way I thought he would.  I’ve given my life to serve him.  Yet I’m not in the place I thought I would be.  I feel cynical and jaded.

So, just like it was with David, it is only faith that will get me through.

 I love how Romans 1 talks about faith:  This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Whatever I accomplish in my life, will be accomplished, from start to finish, by faith.  Let me start living that way today!

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