Psalms for Today

It’s interesting to be working through the spiritual season of Lent while the world battles this virus. During the time that we in the spiritual community are reflecting on the incredible, powerful, transformative, humbling, intense years of active ministry leading to biggest and most challenging week of Jesus (and anyone’s) life, His death and resurrection, we’re facing a challenge that we’ve not yet faced as a world, and we don’t yet know how things will end up. It gives you some understanding and intimate knowledge about how the apostles must have felt after Jesus died on Good Friday.

This week I was reading one of my Lent devotionals, this one written by N.T. Wright, and while the devotional wasn’t written with knowledge of the virus in mind, I thought the words were relevant both to the situation we find ourselves in, as well as about the relevance of the Bible to our lives today:

“The deep distress we sense as we read this Psalm has, paradoxically perhaps, given great hope to millions down the years. No matter how deep we have sunk, no matter what sorrows or tragedies we may encounter, the Psalms have been there before us. Not only do they encourage us to believe that we have not, after all, fallen off the map. They give us words so that, when our own words fail to do justice to our misery, they will do instead.

The Psalm doesn’t hide. There’s no point pretending, putting a brave face on it before God….’Out of the depths!’ That’s how it is, for all of us some of the time, for some of us most of the time. Let’s tell it like it is.”

The Psalm referenced here is Psalm 130, which talks about suffering and fear, as well as hope in God and in God’s power to redeem. As N.T. Wright says, this is a recurring theme through many of the Psalms, all 150 of them. One of the reasons to love the Psalms and to read through them regularly is because of how they can speak to you about whatever situation you may be going through at the time, even though they were written thousands of years ago, which means that Jesus, who lived on Earth after the Psalms were written, can also identify with the feelings we’re dealing with now.

It may seem like we’re in a vicious, endless downward spiral right now, and that even though there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, it seems too far away to get to before everything falls completely apart. Much of our world will still be experiencing great uncertainty as we get into Palm Sunday and Holy Week next week, and Easter won’t look anything like what most of us have known it to be all our lives. And it’s OK to be struggling with this uncertainty and even have a healthy degree of fear and respect towards the problems that we’re dealing with as a world. But as we know from many Bible stories, God doesn’t give up on His people and doesn’t forget about them. So even if or as you struggle through this challenging time, know that Jesus will go through it with you, and that He’s faced much worse for you, and it’s with the type of love and compassion that Jesus showed during His years of ministry that we’ll be able to get through this too.

Time to Praise

The new year is here, have you and God been talking about the year ahead? Has God put anything specific or different on your heart for this new year and decade? I’m excited to have another year here to talk with you about God and see where our journey together takes us. I want to start the year off by sharing a passage from the Psalms:

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” Psalm 103:1-2

I can’t guarantee what the year ahead will be, I can’t promise that it will be a good year, I can’t promise that this year will have better news in it than last year did, I can’t promise better income, I can’t promise better health, I can’t promise much unfortunately, as much as I would like to. What I can promise is that if you spend more time this year in praising God, you’ll have greater peace about whatever does happen.  Taking time to praise and worship God even when (especially when) you’re feeling down can lift you up because it helps to recenter and refocus your heart and mind.

I start with those statements because during this time of year we do think about what we want or our resolutions or our year ahead (if we only take one time of year to truly think about it, that’s better than never thinking about it). But we shouldn’t be praising God or doing anything that has to do with God for what we’re going to get out of it, but rather to honor, worship, love, celebrate and remember God. We can praise God for all of the things He’s done for us, all the blessings He’s shared with the world, and for just being the caring, loving, omnipresent God that He is.

What will you praise God for today?

Peace and Quiet

This year for December’s devotionals I’m going to be sharing about the topic of Advent. If you’re not familiar with Advent, it’s a tradition that’s been in religious circles for hundreds of years, most typically practiced with an Advent wreath that has candles around it (typically 4 candles around the wreath and one in the center), although there are other traditions. For those who do celebrate Advent with a wreath, the candles can signify different things depending on the faith group you belong to, and I’ve always associated the Advent wreath and candles with some specific words, which we’ll be talking about throughout the month.

While it’s not a traditional week one topic, I wanted to start the month by talking about peace. For people of faith one of the first words that comes up when we think about Christmas is peace. There’s always been an association of Jesus in the manger with a peaceful, perfect night with some gentle sheep and local shepherds gathered around. Rarely is giving birth a quiet, peaceful experience, and if you’ve been around an infant, there’s some peace and quiet, yes, but there’s also noise and smells and needs to take care of that often interrupt sleep for the adults. The same is true for sheep, they aren’t exactly great at creating peace with the noises and smells that they make.

Peace is sometimes about our circumstances, including that picture perfect moment we imagine in the manger or that moment we’re all gathered around a Christmas tree. But peace is also found in the words of Psalm 46:10 which says “”Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” and Luke 2:19 which says “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (after the shepherds stopped by and told them about the angels).

We each have a choice how we approach and take in this holiday season. We can choose to be bringers of peace into the world, or we can choose to add to the chaos. I would encourage you to celebrate this holiday season with the wonder that Mary experienced and take the time to be still and experience all that is going on around you, and all that God is doing too.

A Psalm of Thanks and Celebration

As we head into this week of Thanksgiving celebrations (including giving thanks for big deals and discounts from our favorite companies), I wanted to talk today about the words of Psalm 100. You may have read them recently, heard them preached on this past Sunday, or read an article about them recently, it’s a popular passage for Thanksgiving reflections. Why? Let’s take a look at it:

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

The chapter starts off where all thanks should begin, and that’s with God. Even if you don’t have much to be thankful about this year, you can be thankful for God’s presence in your life and the (good) plans He has for you. It also begins with a reminder to worship God, something we may struggle with between non-church commitments that seem to conflict with church opportunities. Then it reminds us to make time for joy, and to remember that God made us and knows who we are and what’s going on in our lives and the plans He has for us. And just as He is our God, we are His people. It’s a unique relationship that we’re so blessed to have because few relationships with someone in the position God is in (like a CEO or billionaire or other big public figure), are as close and intimate as ours can be with God.

The second half of the chapter is a reminder to celebrate and why to celebrate. Thanksgiving is a day about celebrating the life we have, the country we live in, the people we love, and all the other blessings in our lives. It’s a time to thank others and thank God for their role in our lives. As to why we celebrate? Love is one of the best reasons out there, both God’s love and the love we can have for each other. If you ask anyone who has loved and been loved, they’ll tell you that nothing compares and they would rather know love and have lost it than to never have loved. Fortunately, God isn’t planning on stopping loving us anytime soon, so for generation upon generation we’ll be able to celebrate God’s love for us.

What are you celebrating and being thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Spring to Life

Today I am thinking spring. I’m thinking all things that come along with spring, from clearing out the clutter and cobwebs of winter to bursts of life to warmer weather and being more active. As I was reading through my Lent devotions for this week and the other regular devotions a couple of verses caught my attention:

Spring will have some dark days:
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4a

Spring is a time to be refreshed:
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV

Spring is a time for thrive:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Spring is a time to celebrate:
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Spring is a time to search for God (and find Him):
“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!”” Psalm 70:4

This spring can be whatever you make it out to be. It’s totally up to you. My hope is that you would take inspiration from spring slowly (or quickly) coming to life and you would do a little spring cleaning on your life so that you get rid of the things that are holding you back or down so that you can celebrate, thrive and grow into the person God has created you to be for this season in your life.

Conquering Fears

This week I read an interesting Bible verse, it was Psalm 112:7 NIV which says: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Let’s unpack this verse a bit.

The first thing this verse talks about is not having fear. I don’t think we can truly escape fears or not experience them, fear is part of the human experience whether we’re talking heights or spiders or of broken hearts or cancer or drowning. I think it’s one of the things that’s hardwired into us. It’s also a learning experience and warning indicator for us: when we feel fear we know that we need to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on.

But the difference is that fear doesn’t have to take over our lives or make us incapable of moving through the fear. God gives us the strength to experience the fear, recognize what is scaring us and move on. Sometimes moving on means a new path or new plan (you’re making changes as a result of the fear you’re experiencing), other times it just means we recognize the fear and move on (for example not jumping into the pit of alligators but rather walking past or around).

Fear can absolutely control us, so it’s up to us to choose not to let it have the final say in what decisions we make. Instead when you’re faced with fear I would encourage you to take a deep breath, take any immediate actions necessary and/or evaluate next steps before taking action knowing that God will be with you every step of the way, and then move on to continue in the plan He has for your life.

Believe God Can

Recently the phrase came to mind “believe God can.” I like the phrase because it’s empowering and encouraging at the same time. It is a reminder for us to have faith in God, to believe that God can, to believe in God’s power, and to believe in His engagement in our lives. It’s a hopeful phrase that gets us thinking beyond where we are and whatever we may be stuck in, to a healthier place hopefully with a better attitude which will help us keep going through our challenges. The phrase “believe God can” is a challenge to us, to trust in God and His plan, that He’s got it all under control even if it doesn’t seem that way to us with our mortal and limited ability to see and know.

With Martin Luther King Jr. day yesterday we were reminded of a man who inspired many others to believe, to take action and to hold out hope for a better tomorrow when we all work together. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith, beginning his work in churches and among faith communities. He was able to speak to the lives of many outside the church as well, but his work started with the belief that he believed God could do great things.

Psalm 20:4 says: “May He grant you your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” While God can and does do many things, including things we never see happen, most often we come to Him with a specific desire in our hearts and minds, hoping that He can (and will) do something for us. If you haven’t lately, I would encourage you to find time this week to check in with your heart and think about what you desire in your life, and if you’re working and praying to get to that point, or if the course you’re on is not going to take you where you truly want to go. God may be able to and plans may come to pass, but if they’re not truly what you desire you’ll be disappointed in the end.