Tuesday, 28 June 2022

LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. – Psalm 26:8

Today's Scripture Reading (June 28, 2022): Psalm 26 & 27

At a recent denominational meeting, an older man stood with a confession for those who would listen. He had been coming to this denominational assembly for decades, but this time it was different. Every other time, he had come and celebrated God with the people who treasured God's name. But this year, it was different. Something had changed. There was a dispute among the churches. Therefore, one of the proposals the assembly was asked to consider was the removal of a few churches, including the church to which this man belonged. As a result, this assembly veteran felt that the place to which he had loved to come in years past was no longer a safe space. It was no longer a place where this man wanted to spend some time.

As I listened, I emotionally understood the words that the man spoke. Emotionally, I was in pain because I knew that my friends were in pain. But what seemed to the worst part of the situation was that even though we were meeting in a conference center, we were meeting as the church, the Body of Christ. This place should have been a safe space, but it wasn't. It didn't feel like a safe space to me either.

What hurts even more was that I know that those who existed on the other side of the argument strongly believed that they were following the dictates of this Psalm. David writes;

I do not sit with the deceitful,
    nor do I associate with hypocrites.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers
    and refuse to sit with the wicked (Psalm 26:4-5).

Some had decided that this man's church was in sin, and by extension, so was I, and they didn't want to sit in assembly with us. And I get it; really, I do. But at the same time, we were all followers of Jesus Christ, believers in the power of God. We had come to sit in his house with his people. We were brothers and sisters in Christ, and family shouldn't lobby to exclude its own. I might be the crazy uncle of the group, but I am still Uncle Garry.

As Christians, I really believe that we should be able to get beyond our disagreements and make sure that our gatherings are safe and encouraging experiences. We should love coming together, knowing that God is in our midst. We should major in the idea that we worship the God who created this universe, the Son who died for our sins, and the Spirit who embodies our unity. And nothing else really matters. To this elderly gentleman, I give my tears. To my opponents in the denomination, I give my love. I yearn to say with David that I love to come into the fellowship where he lives. And nothing else should matter. I long for the day when we can learn to disagree in the midst of the Spirit of God and then be able to hug and celebrate at the table by breaking the bread and sharing the wine, praising the God of this life and our fellowship, and enjoying the place where God's glory dwells.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 28 & 29

Monday, 27 June 2022

In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. – Psalm 25:1

Today's Scripture Reading (June 27, 2022): Psalm 25

The official motto of the United States, "In God We Trust," is a relatively recent adoption of that country. Unofficially, the slogan has a much longer history. The motto first originated during the American Civil War. The Union Army began using the phrase to boost morale by emphasizing the Army's connection with God and the morality of their cause. In 1864, the motto first appeared on the currency of the United States; it was placed on the American two-cent piece. But it wasn't until 1956 that "In God We Trust" officially replaced the original motto of the United States, "E Pluribus Unum," "Out of Many, One." And in 1957, "In God We Trust" made its first appearance on American paper money.

And even in a changing world, "In God We Trust" enjoys majority support from the American people. They may have different definitions of and beliefs in God, but they still approve of at the least the mention of placing trust in the Creator of the Universe. In an ever-changing world, the problems we face often seem to be beyond our capacity to solve. As a result, we need to trust in God more and more.

David almost seems to begin this Psalm by talking to himself, reminding himself that he trusts in God. Even amid the most desperate moments of his life, David had found that he could trust in the God he worshipped. And, once again, as he pens this Psalm, David is in trouble. The exact cause of the crisis is unknown. So many times, David found himself struggling against a problem for which he had no answer. But it was in these moments that David needed to remind himself that he could trust in his God.

Charles Spurgeon makes this observation concerning Psalm 25.

"David is pictured in this Psalm as in a faithful miniature. His holy trust, his many conflicts, his great transgressions, his bitter repentance, and his deep distresses are all here; so that we see the very heart of 'the man after God's own heart'" (Charles Spurgeon).

David reminded himself that he could put his trust in God even in the midst of significant conflict. Many centuries later, the Union Army would face a desperate situation of their own, and then they would revive the motto to give morality and purpose to their struggle. In 1956, in the middle of a swiftly changing world, the nation would once again return to the idea of trusting in God as they fought their battles with a transforming culture. And it is still a motto that we need today. Regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, or the opponent with whom we are required to battle, we can still place our trust in God. And regardless of where in the world we might live, we can still state with great emphasis, "In God We Trust," even if we are the only ones who are really listening.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 26 & 27

Personal Note: Happy Anniversary to my Dad and Mom.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. – Psalm 23:2

Today's Scripture Reading (June 26, 2022): Psalm 23

Sometimes, there is nothing more fulfilling than just sitting and resting. As a kid, I loved to lay down on the grass on a hot summer day and just watch the clouds pass over my head. But once I became an adult, there seemed to be too little time for watching clouds. There always seems to be something that needs to be done. Meetings fill my calendar. There always seems to be someplace that I need to be. And time to just sit back and do nothing is just not available. Besides, if I find time to do nothing, I often feel guilty about the waste of such a valuable commodity.

David begins his famous Psalm by calling God "my shepherd." A shepherd's job is to care for the sheep. David places himself in the position of one of God's flock, and God is there to take care of him.

And then David says that "he makes me lie down in green pastures." Every time I read the line, the word "makes" seems to stick out. It is not that God "allows me to lie down in green pastures" or that he "instructs me to lie down in green pastures." Instead, David maintains that God "makes me lie down in green pastures." He forces the issue.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise. The whole idea of the "Sabbath" is something that God taught had to be done. As people, we need a Sabbath. We need time to do nothing, to recharge and relax.

And apparently, the comparison between sheep and us is often strangely appropriate. Sheep do not lay down easily. Okay, it isn't places to go and guilt that keeps sheep on their feet. But because sheep are naturally fearful animals with few avenues to defend themselves, they will not lay down if they are afraid. Because they are comfortable only in the flock, they will not lay down if there are issues within the herd's social structure. To lie down, sheep have to be physically comfortable. If they are troubled by insects or parasites, they will refuse to lay down. And finally, they have to be well fed if they are to get off of their feet. The shepherd's job is to make sure that the conditions exist where the sheep feel that they can lie down. The shepherd needs to allow the sheep to feel safe and be in a place where stress is low and where they are healthy and well-fed if the sheep are going to lie down.

Maybe that all begins with the sheep trusting that the shepherd is there to take care of them. And for us, it means that we understand that we can trust God to take care of us. He has done it in the past, and we know he can do it again. And so, he has made it safe to lie down in the green pastures of our lives. 

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 25

Saturday, 25 June 2022

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. – Psalm 22:6

 

Today's Scripture Reading (June 25, 2022): Psalm 22

In the early years of the eighteenth century (1707-1709), Isaac Watts wrote his hymn "At the Cross" (also known by the first line of the song, "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed"). The opening stanza of the song is - 

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?

Except that those aren't precisely the words that Isaac Watts wrote just over 300 years ago. I am always amazed by how our language changes and the words or turn of the phrase that were accepted when Watts wrote his hymn that is no longer politically acceptable in our contemporary world. The words that Watts chose to open his hymn with were slightly different.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

It is the last line of the verse that has changed. To be blunt, it seems that we don't really like the word "sinner" anymore. I know my computer balks every time I try to use "sin" in any of its variants. Sin is considered to be archaic and degrading. Maybe we could use "mistake" or "error" instead. Those words seem a little less judgy than "sin." And if "sin" is losing its political correctness, "worm" is just way too outside our zone of comfort to be used to describe the phenomenon of humanity. And so, we changed the words of Isaac Watts's hymn. We don't want to think of ourselves as worms. Worms are too – insignificant.

And yet, that is the very point that Watts was trying to make with his word choice as he wrote his hymn. We are insignificant. The miracle of the cross that so impressed Watts is that Jesus, his leader and king, the very Son of God who walked this earth with us, and someone of infinite worth, would die on the cross for him, someone whose worth is comparable with that of a worm. I get it. It is not an affirming idea, but it is the truth. When we compare ourselves with God, we are nothing more than a worm.

David agreed. He, too, felt like a worm. But the impact of Psalm 22 is that it carries Christological undertones. It starts with Jesus's words during his crisis on the cross; "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, and Mark 15:34)? So, it is not just David who feels like a worm. Jesus himself was scorned and despised and crucified as less than a man. The miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus didn't just become a "human like us," he became "a worm like us." The miracle of the cross is that the one who was of infinite worth became insignificant because of his love for his creation, us. To quote Joan Osborne, he became like one of us, "just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home."

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 23

Friday, 24 June 2022

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. – Psalm 20:4

Today's Scripture Reading (June 24, 2022): Psalms 20 & 21

I use a blessing at the end of every marriage ceremony that I conduct. And near the end of the blessing, I say these words; "May your dreams come true, and when they don't, may new dreams arise." Because that is the way that life usually works. We all have dreams, and if we are lucky, some of them might even come true. But the likelihood is that not all of our dreams will be fulfilled in our lives. And that is okay. As we move through life, we grow, and often we find that our dreams change. I have held some of my dreams throughout my entire life, but many dreams have changed as my life has changed. I readily admit that I am a dreamer, and our reality is that as long as we are alive, we continually need new dreams.

David writes what is basically a blessing in Psalm 20. And part of his blessing asks that God will "give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed." David is really saying, "may all your dreams come true." Some biblical scholars read this passage and argue that David could make this request because David's desire was aligned with God's. Maybe. What David desired was to defend the people of God. It was an appropriate desire and one that God could get behind. I agree. And yet there is still something that nags at my imagination.

The truth is that there were times when David's desires were aligned with God. But there were also moments when David's desire and God's seemed to be running in very different directions. And I know that not just because I have read the biblical story, but because I know that that is how our lives work. Even the best of us are only aligned with God at certain times in our life. And it is not that there is something evil about the desires of our hearts. Just that God sometimes wants something different and unexpected.

Jesus, on the night that he was betrayed, prayed to his Father that "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4). Father, I have completed the plans you gave me, and soon I will fulfill my heart's desire. Because of his close relationship with his Father, it was something that Jesus could pray, knowing that the desires of his heart were aligned well with God's purposes. But it is something that is beyond us; it is definitely something that is beyond me.

I understand what David was trying to say, but at the same time, I want to leave you with a different blessing today. So here it is. "May God place his desire and his dream in your heart. And may those dreams come true. And when they don't, may God fulfill his heart's desire through you. And may all his plans succeed in your presence, to the glory of God."

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 22

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. – Psalm 19:2

Today's Scripture Reading (June 23, 2022): Psalm 19

The headline read that NASA had discovered a mysterious doorway on Mars. Of course, headlines are intended to pique our curiosity, and sometimes they give us a slanted view of the truth. NASA's Curiosity rover has traveled around the red planet for the past ten years, taking many pictures that have grabbed our attention. And then there was this doorway. The photo, taken by the rover, showed what looked like a doorway carved into the planet's rocky surface. It looked like a place where ancient  Martians might have escaped the unforgiving surface of Mars to spend time in some kind of underground bunker or living space burrowed into the ground.

Of course, then NASA dropped the other shoe. The doorway was only 45 cm high, a little less than eighteen inches. Of course, there is nothing to say that the ancient Martians weren't exceedingly short. But the truth is that the doorway was just an illusion. It did not lead into a cave; in fact, it didn't go anywhere. The Martian doorway joins the phenomenon of the Martian spoon and the cube and faces shaped into the Martian sand and all of those dragons and animals that we see in the summer sky. The doorway was nothing more than just something that our mind makes us believe that we see but is not really there.

We have been trying to find the meaning of the stars in the sky as long as we have wandered the earth beneath them. Ancient Sumerians looked up into the night sky and saw the planet Mars and believed that they were actually seeing Nergal, the god of war and plague. In Mesopotamian texts, Mars is known as the star of judgment and the dead. For over 3500 years, we have found meaning in the red planet's wandering nature as it strolls through the constellations. And we have worked hard to discover whatever secrets it might be trying to tell us.

David looks up into the night sky, and he too searches for meaning. But for David, the importance of the stars in the sky has nothing to do with gods of war or anything else. The stars in the night sky are God's attempt to let his creation know he is there. David says the sky "pour[s] forth speech." The Hebrew here literally means that the sky gushes out words for us to hear like a spring that never stops but just keeps pouring its water over the land. If we want to see the evidence of the God of Creation, all we have to do is to look up into the night sky and listen to what it is saying. Charles Spurgeon leaves us with this thought;

"Though all preachers on earth should grow silent, and every human mouth cease from publishing the glory of God, the heavens above will never cease to declare and proclaim his majesty and glory. They are forever preaching; for, like an unbroken chain, their message is delivered from day to day and from night to night." (Friedrich Tholuck, cited in Spurgeon)

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalms 20 & 21

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. – Psalm 18:16

Today's Scripture Reading (June 22, 2022): Psalm 18

Many years ago, I was involved in an accident with a canoe. I was out with a friend, rowing on a busy lake, when a speedboat passed us just a little too close to our canoe. We were swamped, and I tried to grab one last breath before going under the water's surface. Unfortunately, I was already underwater before I took that last breath. My friend and I were both wearing life jackets, so I was in no danger of sinking. But after I got back to the surface, I found that I still couldn't breathe.

My friend reached out his hand and grabbed hold of me, and then dragged me back to a dock where I was able to get up and continue to try to breathe. Then, my friend went back and got our canoe. He brought it over to the dock and placed me back into it. And then he guided us back to the car and then to his home. And all through this time, about all that I could do was continue to try to breathe. Eventually, I ended up in the hospital, and many people worked to get me breathing easily again. But my recovery was started by one friend who was willing to extend his hand and get me out of the water.

David feels like he is drowning. He is overwhelmed by his circumstances and doesn't know which way to turn. His enemy is too strong for him, but he understands that his only chance is if God would come to his rescue; he is looking for a hand that will lift him out of danger.

And so, as David pens this Psalm, he uses the imagery of a drowning person looking desperately for the hand that will reach through the water's surface and lift him out. His situation might be beyond his ability to rescue, but he understood that God could help him through any circumstance, regardless of how desperate the problem might be. Charles Spurgeon responds to this Psalm by reminding us that "some will not see the hand of God, but I warrant you, brethren, those who have been delivered out of the deep waters will see it. Their experience teaches them that God is yet among us." He is right. And when you're drowning, all you need to see is that one hand reaching out to help you out of the water.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 19