Tag: Psalms

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

The battle-cry of Chaplain Lt H. M. Forgy aboard the USS New Orleans during the attack on Pearl Harbour in WWII. Just the thought of it today causes Christians to recoil in horror. Imagine! Associating God with war?? Crazytownbananapants!

Ot is it? I think Christians write-large would also recoil in horror at the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 149:6-9, who writes:

Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a sharp sword in their hands— to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with shackles and their leaders with iron chains, to execute the judgment written against them. This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!

A sword? Vengeance!? Execute!?!

We read these words and run to the New Testament to say that our fight is NOT against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, this is a metaphorical battle! This is only imagery! David Guzik in his Enduring Word commentary writes:

They bear a two-edged sword in their hand, demonstrating both the use of practical weapons and means, and in a spiritual sense, reliance upon God’s word, which is described as a two-edged sword (Revelation 19:15) as even sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and as the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).”

I don’t think so, Dave. That is NOT the context the author of Psalms is writing in. He’s not in a post-Resurrection world. Christianity does not yet exist. And the writings of John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews are hundreds of years away. Which begs the question: what is the context of the Psalmist?

  • Exodus 32:25-28 – The Golden Calf Incident: After the Israelites create and worship a golden calf, Moses calls for those who are loyal to the Lord to come to him. The Levites respond, and Moses commands them to go through the camp and kill those who participated in the idolatry. About 3,000 people are killed as a result.
  • Numbers 25:1-9 – The Sin of Peor: The Israelites engage in idolatry and sexual immorality with Moabite women. God commands Moses to execute the leaders involved. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, takes a spear and kills an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, stopping a plague that had killed 24,000 people.
  • Joshua 6 – The Battle of Jericho: God commands Joshua to lead the Israelites in the conquest of Jericho. They march around the city for seven days, and on the seventh day, they blow trumpets and shout, causing the walls to collapse. They then destroy every living thing in the city as an act of divine judgment.
  • Joshua 7 – The Sin of Achan: After the Israelites are defeated at Ai, God reveals that Achan has taken forbidden items. Joshua identifies Achan, who confesses, and he and his family are stoned and burned as a punishment, restoring God’s favor to Israel.
  • 1 Samuel 15 – The Amalekites: God commands Saul, the first king of Israel, to completely destroy the Amalekites, including all their people and livestock. Saul partially obeys, sparing King Agag and the best of the livestock, which leads to his rejection as king.
  • 2 Kings 9-10 – The Judgment on Ahab’s House: God anoints Jehu as king of Israel and commands him to execute judgment on the house of Ahab. Jehu kills Joram, Ahaziah, Jezebel, and the seventy sons of Ahab, fulfilling Elijah’s prophecy.
  • Judges 7 – Gideon’s Battle Against the Midianites: God uses Gideon and a small army of 300 men to defeat the Midianites, delivering Israel from oppression. This victory is seen as God’s judgment against the Midianites for their actions against Israel.

This is far from an exhaustive list. We just need to accept the fact that God uses human agents to carry out His will. And — yes — His will includes judgement from time to time. And if that bothers you, I have a quite sincere question: Do you have an issue with any of these incidences?

  • The Great Flood: God caused the flood to wipe out all humanity except Noah and his family (Genesis 6-8).
  • Sodom and Gomorrah: God destroyed these cities with fire and brimstone due to their wickedness (Genesis 19).
  • Nadab and Abihu: They were consumed by fire from the Lord for offering unauthorized fire before Him (Leviticus 10:1-2).
  • Uzzah: He died when he touched the ark of the covenant inappropriately (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Because it seems to me that most people who object to how God is doing a thing, but rather than He is doing it at all. This comes back to the same thing I’ve talked about before; when my opinion differs from God’s, I’m wrong. And if I don’t like it, I need to better understand God’s grace or holiness, or some other attribute of His better. Don’t forget that God is all-knowing. He knows everything that was, is, and will be. He has a level of both knowledge and understanding that we could never HOPE to attain. And any attempt to massage, mold, or adapt God to better fit OUR desires is nothing more than an idol. An idol that demonstrates a profound lack of trust in our God.

We Become What We Worship

I was floored reading Psalm 135 this morning. Particularly verses 15-18. For the sake of completeness of understanding, here are those verses (in the New Living Translation):

The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

Look at how the idol is described. It has a mouth that cannot speak. Ears that cannot hear. Eyes that cannot see. And its worshippers are ‘just like them’. Wow. It’s so simple and yet so deeply profound! How have I never seen it before!? We become what we worship. Not that we turn into an idol, or money, or status, but we begin to adopt the traits of those things! Think about it…

Money & wealth promise happiness and contentment, but cannot actually deliver on those things. And we see that the people who idolize money can appear successful and even draw envy, but they lack contentment and purpose. Money never leads to satisfaction. If you aren’t satisfied with a small amount of money, you could never be happy with a tremendous amount of money.

Celebrity & fame promise a glamorous and enviable life, but it has just as many downsides as upside. Followers of celebrities may adopt a glamorous exterior but struggle with their own identity and sense of worth, becoming superficial and disconnected from authentic relationships and deeper values. Jim Carrey famously said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Power & influence command attention and authority but can be quickly corrupted and become tyrannical. Those who seek power often become authoritarian and manipulative, losing their moral compass and becoming isolated, much like the corrupt nature of the power they idolize.

Technology & gadgets promise connectivity and convenience but often leads to distraction and detachment. People obsessed with technology may become highly connected online but disconnected in real life, leading to shallow interactions and a lack of meaningful relationships, mirroring the superficial connectivity of their devices.

Physical appearance focuses on outward beauty and strength but neglects spiritual health and well-being. Individuals who idolize physical appearance may achieve outward attractiveness but suffer from internal insecurities and even health issues, mirroring the superficial focus on looks rather than overall wellness.Success & achievements promise recognition and fulfillment but can lead to burnout and emptiness. Those who chase success may achieve high status and accolades but often feel exhausted and unfulfilled, as their worth becomes tied to achievements rather than their status as children of God.

Pleasure and Entertainment offer immediate gratification but lack lasting satisfaction and depth. Individuals who seek constant pleasure may enjoy temporary highs but feel a deep sense of emptiness and lack of purpose, mirroring the fleeting and shallow nature of their pursuits. There is a reason this is called “escapism”.

New Age Spirituality & Self-Help promise enlightenment and self-improvement but lacks a foundation of truth. Followers may feel enlightened and empowered but often remain spiritually ungrounded and confused, reflecting the elusive and inconsistent nature of these practices. Talk about being blown about by the wind!

Political Ideologies and Leaders present solutions and direction but can lead to division and extremism. Those who idolize political ideologies may become polarized and intolerant, losing sight of unity and compassion, mirroring the divisive and rigid nature of their political beliefs and neglecting the Biblical call to love even our enemies!

Nature and the Environment worship is seen as pure and life-giving but is often indifferent and harsh. People who idolize nature may become overly critical of humanity and disconnected from progress, reflecting the sometimes indifferent and unforgiving aspects of the natural world.

Contrast this with how Christians who follow the God revealed in the Bible come to embody His traits in their daily lives. Just as God is characterized by unconditional love, Christians learn to love others selflessly, showing compassion, forgiveness, and kindness, as emphasized in 1 John 4:8 and John 3:16. This love is not conditional or based on merit but flows from a heart transformed by God’s own love.

Holiness is another key attribute of God that Christians strive to emulate. As God is holy and set apart from sin (1 Peter 1:15-16), believers seek to live lives that are morally and spiritually pure, avoiding behaviours and thoughts that dishonour God and lead to worse outcomes for themselves! This pursuit of holiness is a reflection of their desire to be like the God they worship, dedicating themselves to His service and glory.

Faithfulness and trustworthiness are also central to God’s nature (Deuteronomy 7:9), and Christians aim to be reliable and steadfast in their commitments, both to God and to others. This faithfulness is demonstrated through consistent trust in God’s promises and a steadfast adherence to His Word, even in challenging circumstances.

Mercy and grace, seen in God’s dealings with humanity (Ephesians 2:4-5), are mirrored in the lives of Christians as they forgive those who wrong them and extend kindness, even to those who may not deserve it. This reflection of God’s mercy helps Christians build communities marked by forgiveness and reconciliation.

In embodying these attributes—love, holiness, faithfulness, mercy, and grace—Christians reflect the character of God, standing in contrast to those who idolize and become like the empty, unfulfilling pursuits described in Psalm 135. Their transformation is a testimony to the profound impact of worshiping a living and active God, rather than lifeless idols.

The Need for Christian Leadership

Psalm 125:3 (NLT) says, “The wicked will not rule the land of the godly, for then the godly might be tempted to do wrong.” This verse highlights a profound truth about the influence of leadership on the moral and spiritual health of a community. The importance of Christian leaders in today’s world cannot be overstated. Their presence is crucial for guiding people toward righteousness, providing moral stability, and fostering an environment where godliness can flourish.

The Influence of Leadership

Leaders have a significant impact on the behavior and values of those they lead. Studies in social psychology, such as the famous Milgram experiment, demonstrate that people often look to authority figures for cues on how to behave, sometimes even overriding their own moral judgments. In the context of Christian leadership, this means that godly leaders can inspire and guide others to live out their faith in meaningful ways. Their influence can help prevent moral decay and encourage a community to adhere to biblical principles.

Moral Stability in a Shifting Culture

We live in a time of rapid cultural change, where moral relativism often prevails. According to a study by the Barna Group, only 35% of American adults believe in absolute moral truth. This fluidity in moral standards can lead to confusion and ethical ambiguity. Christian leaders play a vital role in providing a steady moral compass amidst this shifting landscape. They remind their communities of timeless biblical truths that stand firm regardless of societal changes.

For instance, in workplaces where ethical leadership is emphasized, employees are more likely to engage in ethical behavior. A study published in the Journal of Business Ethics found that ethical leadership significantly reduces unethical practices among employees. Similarly, Christian leaders who uphold and teach biblical ethics can create an environment where godliness is the norm, rather than the exception.

Guiding Through Challenges

Life is filled with challenges, and people often look to their leaders for guidance and support during tough times. Christian leaders, grounded in their faith, can offer unique perspectives and solutions based on biblical wisdom. They provide not only practical advice but also spiritual encouragement, helping individuals navigate their problems with faith and resilience.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to their faith leaders for comfort and direction. Churches and Christian organizations played a pivotal role in supporting communities, offering not just material assistance but also hope and a sense of purpose. This highlights the importance of having leaders who can guide people through crises with both compassion and conviction.

Fostering Community and Unity

Christian leaders are instrumental in fostering a sense of community and unity among believers. They organize gatherings, encourage fellowship, and build a supportive network where individuals can grow in their faith together. Research shows that strong community bonds contribute to overall well-being and resilience. A study by Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program found that regular participation in religious community activities is associated with greater happiness and lower rates of depression.

In a divided world, Christian leaders can be peacemakers, promoting reconciliation and understanding. They can bridge gaps between different groups, emphasizing common faith and shared values. This unity is essential for a healthy and vibrant Christian community.

Role Models for the Next Generation

The impact of Christian leaders extends to the younger generation. Young people today face numerous challenges, including identity crises, peer pressure, and a barrage of conflicting worldviews. Christian leaders serve as role models, demonstrating what it means to live a life of faith and integrity. According to a report by Springtide Research Institute, young people who have mentors are more likely to thrive in various aspects of life, including their spiritual journeys.

By investing in youth, Christian leaders ensure that the next generation is equipped with the tools and knowledge to navigate life’s complexities with a strong foundation in their faith. They inspire young people to pursue godliness, encouraging them to become future leaders who will continue to uphold and spread Christian values.

Conclusion

In light of Psalm 125:3, the need for Christian leaders is clear. Their presence and influence are crucial for guiding individuals and communities toward righteousness. In a world where moral standards are increasingly fluid, they provide the stability, guidance, and inspiration needed to foster a Godly environment. By serving as role models, supporting their communities, and upholding biblical principles, Christian leaders play an indispensable role in ensuring that the “land of the godly” remains a place where righteousness prevails. Their leadership not only shapes the present but also secures a hopeful future grounded in faith and integrity.

Lying to Ourselves

First of all… take some time and read Psalm 119. It is wonderful. And I say this as someone who is rather ambivalent about poetry generally speaking. But I took over a page and a half of notes during today’s reading. So good.

Anyway, the fourth section — verse 29 — has this gem: “Keep me from lying to myself”. The context is a man who is overcome with grief and is looking for solace and encouragement. It would be easy to find such solace in tv, drugs, movies, food, pornography, alcohol, or some other activity that lies somewhere on the spectrum of USELESS<->DESTRUCTIVE. But despite having other options available to him then (and many more today), he wants God to protect him from lying to himself. He recognizes that while these things might provide a temporary distraction, whatever source of grief that is causing the problem will still exist after the distraction is gone.

No, what we need — as the author goes on to say — is the privilege of knowing God’s instructions. Because the JOY of the LORD is our strength. He will sustain us. Indeed, in verse 143 the Psalmist says as much when he states, “as pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.”

So if you have been tempted to lie to yourself about the usefulness of temporary solutions, know that there is lasting joy in the knowledge of the Lord which can sustain your through anything.

Glory & Pride

Glory and pride. One is God’s and the other comes before the fall. What are we to do with our successes and achievements? Is self-loathing the answer?

Years ago I was approached by a woman after I had led worship (I think) and she praised the work I had done. I was very bad at accepting compliments and must have looked like Neo from the Matrix films ducking and dodging her attempts to pat me on the back. Eventually, in a fit of frustration she looked at me sternly and sniped, “Just say ‘thank you’ and take the compliment!” That was rather embarrassing.

I’ve since learned to receive praise much more graciously.

But how do we keep from getting a fat head in circumstances like this? Because this is basically what happened to the nation of Israel throughout the books of the Kings; they mistook the wind of God in their sails as their own expert seamanship and got the fat head. Then God took away His help and Israel fell and fell and eventually end up in captivity. You don’t want to end up in captivity do you??

The good news is that I don’t think it’s all that hard to navigate this issue. Pride is something I think we can take in our work and even in our outcomes, so long as we are sure this pride is relative to ourselves and not others. If we get to the point where we are better than person X or Y then there is a problem! But we we are enjoying meeting our own standards or setting a personal best for output or outcome, then I think we can do that safely. But it’s still important to recognize that we are working as unto the Lord by stewarding the gifts and talents He has given us. Glory is even simpler. Don’t take it. Re-direct it to the Lord. Someone want to lavish praise on you? Receive it graciously, but say something like, “All glory to God!” or, “Praise the Lord for using me.” Now, I’m not advocating for false humility! If you cannot say these things sincerely and give God His due glory and praise, there’s a deeper issue there that you need to seek the Lord about!

In summary: all glory is God’s, but you can take pride in your work… so long as you do it with humility.

Foiling God’s Plan

Psalm 114 is an interesting one. It describes the flight from Egypt by the nation of Israel and describes the earth in some unique terms. The sea “flees”, the river “turns back”, the mountains and hills “leap”. The language is curious and worth thinking about because the author then asks what has prompted this behaviour. Finally the author states that the earth trembles before the God who turned stone to water.

As I thought about this kind of weird Psalm, I couldn’t shake the thought that God’s plan is unstoppable. Even the rivers and seas and mountains and hills cannot stand in His way. Think about that. These objects of nature would flee, turn back, and leap out of the way than make some feeble attempt to thwart God’s purposes.

And I guess that’s the crux of this thing, gang. Nothing can stop my God. He WILL have His way. His plans will come to pass and there is nothing we can do about it. We really only have two options when it comes to God’s will. Hop on the train or stand on the tracks. I’m going with the former. If you want to try the latter… it was nice knowing you.

Are there gods Other Than the God of Israel?

No. There are not1.

So then what do we make of the other gods that people worship? We have no problem saying they are ‘false’, or ‘not real’, or even ‘idols’, but these are all more pleasant euphemisms. None of the other gods from Baal & Molech to Zeus & Mercury, to Vishnu & Allah exist. But people heard from these gods! People got information from them! People ‘felt’ their presence!

So… what so we make of that?

It’s quite simple, really. Let’s take a look at a portion of today’s reading. Psalm 106:34-37:

They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods.

The original Hebrew word translated by the NET as “false gods” only appears in ONE other location in the whole of the Old Testament. That verse is Deuteronomy 32:17:

They sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known; to new gods who had recently come along, gods your ancestors had not known about.

Every supposed ‘god’ who is not the God of the Bible is just a demon (or possibly many of them) trying to fool and distract you so you never realize you are on the wrong path. They are an illusion. A mirage in the desert leading you to death rather than the promised oasis. The skeptic might rebut that the same could be said for the Christian God. And I would concede that the same charge could be laid against the God of Israel… but… I think there is an incredible amount of evidence for my God’s existence. Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, Josh & Sean McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and pretty much anything by William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ ministry.

Just in case I am being misunderstood in any way, let me be a clear as I can be: Allah is a demon. The Hindu gods are demons. The Sikh gods are demons. Every so-called god that is NOT Yahweh is a demon doing yeoman’s work to distract and confuse as many as possible. And friends don’t let friends worship demons.

  1. There are a great many problems with the idea of other gods beside Yahweh as well as the idea that there are sub-gods under Yahweh. A great many people have discussed this issue, so feel free to look that up if you are interested since that is beyond the scope of what I aim to do in these daily posts. ↩︎

Everything. All of it.

I’ve said before that poetry really isn’t my thing. When it comes to reading my Bible, I love the history, the theology, the wisdom, and even the law! Leviticus is drastically underrated. But Psalms has never been a book that I particularly look forward to reading when it comes up. I know it is God’s inspired Word, so even though it isn’t my preferred read, I still do it and I still pray for the Lord to open my eyes to some wonderful new truth or to convict me about paying closer attention to a truth I already knew. Some days I find it more difficult to mine the Psalms for something awesome, but other days — like today — hit me square in the jaw.

Psalm 104 starts and ends with this phrase; “Let all that I am praise the Lord”. So simple on it’s face that one might be tempted to say, “I know, I know” and keep reading, but no sooner had my mind processed the word than I was caused to sit back in my chair, look at the stunning landscape I find myself in this morning, and really think about that phrase. I proceeded to jot down a handful of sentences about this verse in my journal before sitting in the weight of the conviction of that thought.

All that I am. Everything. All of it.

Does all that I am praise the Lord? Does everything I do praise the Lord? Let me put it this way: after each thing that you do, can you praise God for it?

What did you do today? Have breakfast? Drive to work? Have a conversation with a coworker? Talk about someone else? Mindlessly doomscroll on social media? Spend time with your kids? Ignore your spouse? Harbour a grudge? Go for a walk? Get angry at someone? Watch a movie? The list of possibilities is endless. After each of these tasks, can you say that the Lord was lifted up in that, or that He gave that to you for your good?

Is God praised in the way you cultivate relationships? Is God praised in the media you consume? Is God praised in way you conduct your life? I hope this is as convicting for someone else today as it was for me.

Love you all. Be blessed today. Praise Him with all you are!

Sing to the Lord. Do it Now.

Just a quick thought today. Several times throughout the Psalms we are told to sing to the Lord. Not the more broad “worship”, but specifically singing. Why? Let’s pop that question in our pockets for a sentence or two while I describe my ideal Sunday service for you all.

I would like to see an extended time of worship, 20-30 minutes devoted to worship in song. Perhaps with other creative elements like scripture reading or videos, but mostly worship in song. This would be followed by a 30-minute message expositing God’s word. Then another closing song of response that matches the theme of the message. Perhaps a jubilant anthem, perhaps a somber acoustic reflection.

Why structure it this way? And why give as much time to worship in song and to the study of the Word of God? This is where we pull out that question from earlier. Why does the Psalmist so often encourage us to worship in song? Because I believe that while the sermon engages the head, music engages the heart!

Psalm 96 even says that we should sing to the nations! We should WITNESS through song! That’s what I believe as well. The music draws a tender heart toward God. The message equips a willing mind with His truth. And then the mandate moves a submitted hands to do the work of the Lord.

Heart. Head. Hands.

Repeat.

Delight in the Law… Really?

For YEARS after I returned to the church around age 13 I was always perplexed by this idea of delighting in the law, yet we see it pop up in the Psalms on multiple occasions. So what’s the deal with that? Doesn’t the law limit our freedom? Doesn’t it put restrictions all around us? Tell us what we cannot do? Why would I celebrate that?!

Here is my question: do we *really* want totally unencumbered, unfettered, limitless freedom? For those who might be thinking “Yes”, but know the other shoe is about to drop, here it is: another word for the scenario I’ve just described is lawlessness. That’s right. Total freedom is the same as lawlessness. Except that one sounds like a good thing and the other sounds like a bad thing.

The law is as much protection as it is prohibition. All the more in the case of God’s law. He wants to see each of us flourish and in order to reach our maximum potential, we need to stay on the optimal path. That’s what the law does. It provides guardrails to to keep us away from the sin that wants to trip us up and derail us. It makes sure we do not merely finish, but finish well.

So yeah… let’s delight in the law!