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. 

An Invitation

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

Imagine receiving an invitation to attend a banquet. This banquet is being hosted by a very important and powerful person. The individual is known to have access to the finest food, wines and drinks known to humanity. You are also aware that the location of the banquet has been described as having unparalleled views, amazing furnishings and ideal weather. You are not required to bring anything or pay any sort of fee to attend. What you wear to the banquet does not matter because a special robe, exactly your size, has been prepared for you to wear once you arrive. Would you even consider turning down the invitation?

The passage which we have read today from Isaiah is part of a song of praise. The song speaks of God’s faithfulness to Israel. God’s protection of Israel from foreign enemies and the destruction of those foreign cities is lifted up. Then the words of the song switch to the telling of the Lord preparing a great banquet for all people. This is where our reading begins. The song moves from speaking about a great feast to God’s work in destroying death and its power over humanity. The Lord will remove the tears and disgrace of all people. The celebration then begins.

You have received an invitation to a banquet. The Lord has invited you to come to a celebration where death, tears and shame no longer exist. You know the host and the host’s abilities. The location has been described throughout Scripture.  There will even be people who you have previously known there. The price of admission has been provided. A special robe to cover all the dirty parts of your life has been made especially for you. Only one thing remains to be done, accepting the invitation. Will you?

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.

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.

Our Deliverance

I love you, Lord, my strength.

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

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
    with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
    at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

20 The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

Everyone of us has a variety of battles and difficult situations throughout our lives. Some of these bottles are physical in nature such as illnesses, disease, and injuries, Other battles can be mental ones like depression, low self-esteem, or feelings of inadequacy. While other battles might be spiritual ones for example, doubt, disbelief, and conflict of beliefs. Hopefully when we are engaged in these battles and difficult times, we cry out for assistance. Seeking qualified individuals to support us is the healthiest approach. Of course, our greatest support is found in the Lord. If we are open to the Lord’s assistance, others will be placed along our path to support and guide us.

The reading of a portion of today’s psalm speaks of the Lord’s assistance during a difficult time. A song of praise is being sung to the Lord. Deliverance from enemies, death and the grave is spoken of here. With great power the Lord enters the psalmist’s life. Rescued from difficult times by the hand of the Lord, the psalmist acknowledges the wonders of God.

Take a moment to reflect upon your own life. When have there been times in which the Lord has come powerfully into your situation? What about those moments when the Lord has interceded unnoticed and only upon looking back are you able to realize God was present? These times and situations can be during the battles in our lives. At times the battle we wage may be against ourselves because we can be our own enemy. Whatever the source and nature of our situation, we have a Lord who delights in each one of us. Our God stands ready to rescue and deliver us if we will allow it. Then we can join in this song of praise and declare the Lord’s mighty power.

Reasons to Sing

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33 (NIV)

Singing is something which I have always greatly enjoyed. I am not a highly talented singer. I never truly learned to read music. I am able to know when notes go up or down and can follow that guideline with my voice most of the time. My ability to sing melody is much stronger than my ability to sing harmony. If I have a strong and gifted singer beside me, I can follow fairly well. While my skills may be limited as a vocalist, my love and passion for singing is limitless.

Throughout the Bible many different songs can be found. In the book of Exodus, the songs of Moses and Miriam are recorded in chapter 15. The victory song of Deborah and Baruk is located in Judges 5. A song of praise for the Lamb can be found in Revelation 5. One book of the Bible which is a love song is the Song of Solomon. The greatest collection of songs is the book of the Bible entitled Psalms. This book is likely the first hymnal compiled for the worshippers of God. Today we turn to the 33rd psalm.

In our psalm for the day, the song encourages us to sing joyfully and praise the Lord, even using instruments. The song continues by listing all the reasons to sing praises to the Lord. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. All of creation came into being through the work of the Lord. The plans of the Lord endure while human plans fall apart. By looking to the Lord, we find salvation, deliverance and hope.

The psalmist gives us an outstanding list of reasons to sing praises. I am sure we can add to that list. My list would include the Lord’s unconditional love. The grace and forgiveness which I endlessly receive from Godi s another reason for singing praises. All which has been provided and daily is added to from the Lord’s hand gives reason. My list really seems to grow each minute of consideration as to why to sing. What would you have on your list? Consider your list and then sing and play praises to our Lord without ceasing!

Give Thanks

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Today our nation pauses to give thanks for all the abundance and positive aspects of our lives, This particular year has been a very difficult one for our nation and our world. The global pandemic has touched every one of us in some manner. In addition to the effects of the virus, we have witnessed all forms of disasters. The economy has taken a heavy hit with a record number of unemployed and hundreds of small businesses, and even some long-existing corporations, closing or declaring bankruptcy. Our country has experienced violence, protests, and a very contentious election cycle. This year’s events could easily cause people to ask what there is to be thankful for as we reflect. Yet we are not the first group to encounter a year of significant hardship and pain. Folklore indicates that after a year of death and great hardships in the New World, a surviving group of Puritan settlers held a festival of thanksgiving in their new land. The story even includes an invitation to Native Americans who had provided the newcomers with skills that aided in their survival. These settlers gave thanks for what they had been given which allowed them to live.

In today’s  passage, the Israelites are preparing to arrive in a land which God had promised them. Moses speaks to them about their journey through the wilderness. He reminds them of all which God had done for them during this leg of their journey. He tells them to keep God’s commands as a response of thanks to God. Then Moses speaks to the people about their entrance into a land full of abundance. Again, he tells them to keep God’s commands in this new land. He instructs them to offer praise to God for this land of abundance once they have been filled. They had experienced many years of hardship and God provided during those years. They would experience a land of great abundance which God has provided now. Moses makes it clear that God’s giving in both situations should give reason for the people to offer thanks both in praise and in action.

Now we pause for one day, like many generations before us in this land and others throughout the world. During this year’s hardships, God has provided. Through people reaching out to assist during a natural disaster, God provides. In the dedicated service of healthcare workers, emergency responders, teachers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, restaurant employees, and countless others, God provides. The hundreds of researchers and health science departments who have worked tirelessly for answers, God provides. This is when we must take time to reflect on God’s abundance and offer our thanks in praise and action.  We have even more reason to do so when life is difficult. 

The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Confession and Praise

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (NIV)

In my faith tradition, we use a fairly standard worship liturgy. As part of our liturgy, we have a time when we corporately and individually confess our sins. After we confess, the worship leader assures us of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is followed by singing of praises to God, most often using a doxology. The pattern of this portion of liturgy comes from the practices of the early Christian church.

The passage for today shows that the pattern of confession followed by praise may have found its origin with the Hebrew people. The Israelites had been called to account because after returning from exile, they began to intermarry with people from lands bordering Judah. God had instructed them not to do this because of the risk of the Israelites succumbing to worshiping gods which the foreigners worshiped. After having their sin pointed out, the Israelites confess, send away the foreigners, and enter into acts of repentance. The Levites then lead them into worship of God and a recalling of all God’s acts of compassion and salvation. The pattern of confession, assurance, and praise is seen here.

The question which comes to mind is, can this pattern only be followed as part of corporate worship? The answer is emphatically NO. We can use this pattern in our personal life at home. All of us struggle with sin every day. Setting aside time to confess these sins is important. While we do not have a worship leader at home to give us words of assurance, we can speak these words to ourselves. We can also open Scripture and read to remember God’s acts of grace, compassion and forgiveness. Then we can offer praise and thanksgiving to God in response.