As One

Read Psalm 133

In the 1970s if a person attended church camp or some church youth event, you stood a good chance to sing “Kum ba yah.” The song is an African American spiritual with an origin which is difficult to establish. The earliest version of the written music is from the 1920s. Translated from the Gullah, the song title is “Come By Here” in English. Today this song is seen as an example of a feeling of unity and goodwill. It is associated with the idea of harmony and warm fuzzies. Frequently it is used in a mocking manner. The view is that this unity and harmony is not real but an attempt to present a false image.

The passage chosen for today is also a song from the Hebrew hymnal. Psalm 133 is a song which would likely be sung by pilgrims on their journey to the Temple. This is a song of unity. The words communicate how pleasing it is to God when the people live united. Blessings come upon the people who live in harmony with one another. As they journeyed together,  this would be a binding song, all heading to the same place for the same purpose. 

Unity is a word which is frequently misused and misunderstood. This leads to a sense of falseness when the word is employed. Much of the reason for this sense is due to the misconception that unity is a synonym of uniformity. When perceived this way, achieving such a state seems unrealistic and in many ways undesirable. These two words definitely are not synonyms. Uniformity is not pleasing to the Lord or what Psalm 133 is speaking of.

God created diversity in all of creation, most definitely among humans. This diversity is what created a beautiful weaving of the world. Also, diversity is what makes an efficient and effective meshing of all creation. Since diverse components are what was the Creator’s plan, uniformity is in resistance to the plan.

What does please the Lord is when the diverse aspects of creation live and work together in united ways. Including and valuing each unique component of creation is the desire. The Latin phrase found on most U.S. coins and in various government buildings, “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one), is the concept of this unity. The idea is that our differences do not divide us but we are meshed as one like a jigsaw puzzle to create a whole picture. 

Let us cherish our diversity while we acknowledge our unity. This form of living and working as one is the true unity which pleases God and blesses each of us.

Majesty

Read Psalm 8

There seems to be very little which shocks or amazes people most days. Psychologists have created the term trauma and compassion fatigue to describe this. With so many reports of crime, war, and natural disasters, humans have become tired of expending energy on responding to all the events surrounding them. What would have led people to have reactions of shock and horror in previous generations, now seems to be so prevalent that many do not even take much notice. This can also be true on the positive side of life. Since we have gained an ability to explain nature’s beauty and magnificent aspects of creation, there is a tendency to not be amazed by our surroundings anymore. Even human inventions and structures have less of an impact upon us.

The psalmist calls us back to a sense of wonder in the words of Psalm 8. We are reminded to consider how majestic is our God. The power seen in creation and the praises of the least of us is truly amazing. Whether we are standing at the base of a great waterfall or listening to the voices of the very young, we are aware of the strength in all which God has created.

The psalmist then speaks what is probably the most amazing of all observations, the One who created the mountains, the large sequoias, and the very sun, has chosen to take notice of each human and what each human is doing. This same One has chosen to view us as the highest of all creation and placed us in charge.

These realizations must create a renewed feeling of shock and awe in us. They lead us to be mindful of the magnificence of our own God. Each calls us to praise our Lord.

Being Known

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18 (NIV)

For eleven seasons from 1982 until 1993, the familiar theme song from the sitcom Cheers played in many homes where the television was tuned to NBC. This theme song captured the desire of almost every human, “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Humans are created with a desire to be known. The sitcom demonstrated this desire. We became close to the characters as they became close to one another. As they experienced challenges, heartbreaks, triumphs and the ebb and flow of relationships, we experienced along with them because we could easily relate. Sam, Coach, Diane, Cliff, Norm, Carla, Lilith, Frazier, Woody and Rebecca each had a part of our life experience in them. We laughed and cried with them because we felt they knew us as much as we knew them.

The psalmist writes about being known in Psalm 139. The words recall for us the promise that God fully knows each and every one of us. God knows where we are and what we are doing at all times. We were known by the Lord even before being given life. Nothing about us is ever hidden from our Creator. We are completely known.

The idea of being so completely and intimately known can be comforting and unnerving at the same time. The comfort comes from a deep need being met. The unnerving aspect is that not only our good parts but our flawed and troublesome parts are fully exposed. There is no place or means of being hidden from God. Yet even while this is true, we are still loved fully by the Lord. The Almighty knows as by name and the welcome never ends. “(God) is always glad you came.”

Songs From the Sky

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6 (NIV)

Humanity has been impressed and awed by the magnificence of the sky since recorded time. The mysteries of the sun, the stars, the planets, and the weather associated with the sky have drawn humans to speculate and search for answers. Even prior to the launching of the scientific age, individuals had tried to explain what they observed in the sky. With the advent of science, the explanations have shifted from mythical and spiritual explanations to physical and temporal explanations. The awe and wonder still remains though. Our hunger to explore and go farther in our celestial understandings remain strong as evidenced by the increased interest in Mars and talks of returned trips to the moon.

In the psalm from today, we hear the psalmist claim the great wonder of the firmaments. These words link the awe of the sky to our understanding of God. When the psalmist gazes on the massiveness of the sky, there seems to be a voice which is singing the praises of God. The sun communicates the warmth which God provides to all of creation.

The imagery found in this psalm speaks to us about the greatness of God. Amazed at the vastness of the sky, we are led to contemplate the vastness of our God. As large as the galaxy and universe may be, God is larger. From the sun we receive warmth, necessary nutrients which create and sustain life, and light to direct all creation through the activities of a day. As we stand amazed at the wonders of the stars, planets and sky, we are prompted to be amazed by the One who created them all. So we join our voices with the creation’s celestial voices as we sing of the glory of God.

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

The Wait

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

Waiting can be a challenging aspect of life.  Children wait for birthday celebrations, Christmas, Easter and Halloween when they receive gifts and special treats.  When a woman is pregnant, there is approximately eight months of waiting (usually the first month the person is unaware). Family, friends, and her partner eagerly look forward to the arrival of new life along with the one carrying the child. In the midst of winter we must wait for the warmth and new life of spring. All of this waiting can result in impatient people.

On this day when we await the sunrise of Easter morning, we sit in silence. The events of Thursday and Friday, filled with activity and emotions, are over. Jesus died on the cross and it now stands empty. His body has been sealed away in a tomb where death holds the power. All there is for us to do is wait. The darkness of yesterday afternoon and last night lingers around our spirits. There is an unsettling quiet about today. As the words from the psalm portray, our whole being waits for the Lord. Tomorrow will bring a new beginning with new life but today we wait.

Making Requests

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:4-11

We make requests of people all the time. As parents, we ask our children to put away their toys, clean their room, hang up their coats, take the dogs out, and the list goes on ad nauseam. In the work environment there are requests going both ways between employer and employee; i.e., employers request tasks to be completed, employees request time off. Everyday life is filled with examples of requests being made and being fulfilled or granted.

In the midst of Psalm 25, we see a series of requests being made. First is a request for the Lord to show us the Lord’s way. A request is then made for the Lord to teach the Lord’s truth. The requests continue with a desire for grace and mercy to be shown instead of our rebellious behaviors. The Lord is acknowledged for the way in which the Lord instructs sinners and guides the humble. Requests, confession and praise fill these verses.

These verses serve as a guide in regard to how we need to humble ourselves and seek the Lord. Each of us are aware of the times we rebel against the Lord. Those times when we choose to exert our independence so we can go the direction which we think is best in our lives. Often we discover that such rebellion leads to problematic results. This is when we must humble ourselves and make the above requests of the Lord. The first request should be for mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then a request to be taught, or retaught, about the Lord’s ways, paths and truth. Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we can be assured that these requests will be granted.

Make your requests of the Lord. Then humbly learn and strive to rebel no more.

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

One of the most challenging actions for most people is admitting when he/she has done wrong. There is not a person alive who has not taken an action or said something which impacts another in a negative way. As humans we make bad choices, act in hurtful ways, and say hurtful words. How we handle conversations with others afterwards, especially someone we may have wronged, speaks directly to who we are as a person. It has been said that confession is good for the soul. The reason for this is by not honestly admitting our shortcomings a burden is placed upon us which impacts us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Relationships can be harmed when we do not own up to our negative behaviors. The well-being of others can be strongly impacted by our silence or lies used to cover up. Confession releases all the negative and allows for reparations and healing.

The psalm for today is a confession. It has been attributed to David. He seems to have written it after Nathan confronts him regarding Bathsheba. This is a confession to the Lord with a request to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is a psalm where most of the words could be said by almost all of us at various times, or possibly daily.

Let us follow David’s example. With contrite hearts, come before the Lord and acknowledge any sin. Request forgiveness and cleansing. Receive the Lord’s compassion which comes for unfailing love.

Endless Love

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Psalm 89:1-2 (NIV)

Love is one of the words in the English language which is used often and can mean a variety of things. The context in which the word is used gives some assistance in understanding what is being communicated. The ancient Greeks had six words they used to communicate concepts which we place under the label of love. Today we will focus on a long standing love, or pragma.

Reading the psalm for today, I was drawn particularly to the first two verses. These verses caused me to consider how I understand the Lord’s love and faithfulness. Human love can be fleeting but the psalmist states that the Lord’s love is forever. How can we begin to understand a love which lasts forever?

Another word which stands out in the psalmist’s writing is “great.” Not only does the Lord’s love endure forever but it is great. This can be understood as meaning it has tremendous depth and expansiveness. The image of an ocean comes to mind.

The psalmist writes that the Lord’s love stands firm. Here we come to know the Lord’s love as being solid and unmovable. God is not going to stop loving us because of anything we do or fail to do. This love does not end because of a change in desire or a competing emotion. We can fully rely upon the Lord’s love. We can have confidence in the existence of this love.

The Lord loves you in your good times and your bad times. This is an enduring love which nothing in life can remove. A foundation for your life is established in the love which the Lord has for you. God’s love is forever.

Overwhelming Praise

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Have you ever had such a strong emotion that it seemed like it was coming from the core of your being? Your whole body seems to be overcome by this emotion. It feels like you can sense it in your skin and body parts. You might even tell someone that you feel like you are going to burst with the emotion.

The writer of today’s psalm expresses a desire to have such an emotion. Specifically, a desire to praise the Lord with a level of emotion that comes from the core of being. A list of reasons then accompanies the desire; reasons that should never be forgotten.

This is a good reminder for each of us. We have more than sufficient reason to offer praise to the Lord. The reasons listed in this psalm apply to each of us. There are other reasons not listed here which we could, and should, add. Our praise should not just be half-hearted but consume our very being.

Take a moment right now to recall all which the Lord has done and is doing for you. Then after reviewing that list, determine the level of praise which befits the list. Finally, offer such praise to the Lord.