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Entries in Psalms (9)

Wednesday
Jan142015

Take ownership of it

In the first two verses of Psalm 51, David's situation is immediately apparent: he is asking for mercy and forgiveness.

David is counting on God's mercy. It is mentioned three times in the first verse as mercy, steadfast love, and abundant mercy. The NIV renders abundant mercy as great compassion. He needs mercy because he has sinned. Three terms are used to describes Davd's sin: transgression, iniquity, and sin. He also asks for forgiveness in three ways: blot out my transgression (v.1), wash me, (v.2), and cleanse me from my sin (v.2). 

That's a lot of stuff packed into the first two verses. David will unfold these matters further as the psalm progresses. What is clear to the reader immediately, even without knowing that the occasion of the psalm is David's sin with Bathsheba, is that David is in trouble. How often do we find ourselves in need of mercy?

Before David goes into more detail in his petitions to God (v.7-12), he makes it clear that he is taking ownership of his sin:

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

David says, "I know my transgsressions." He knows what his sin is. He knows that it is his sin. Even before he makes this statement, in v.2, he calls it "my sin." Before David can ask for cleansing and restoration, he confesses that it is his sin.

It is the same for us. We cannot experience God's healing and restoration without recognizing that we sin. That little piece of information, that like David I was brought forth in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), was something that kept me from God as a young person. Oh yes, I wanted to know God, and to be called his child, but it wasn't until I realized that I was a sinner that forgiveness was possible. And now as a Christian, I must contnue to own my sin and ask for forgiveness. 

David goes to God for forgiveness on the basis of God's mercy, not on his own merit. That is the only way forgiveness is possible, because we are not worthy on our own. We don't go to God with an attitude of, "Well, I'm humbling myself here, Lord, so you have to accept me." No. We go before him, because through Christ, he has shown us mercy.

These principles can be taken into situations with people, too. When people come to us for forgiveness, we must show them mercy. We offer them mercy because mercy has been shown to us. Likewise, when we go before others to seek forgiveness, we must take owenership of the sin we have committed.

How often do we blame others for our own sin? We speak harsh words because someone irritated or offended us. We are rude to others because we just can't let go of that offense that happened ten years ago. We have family strife because of matters that happened years ago in our childhood; things we can't forget. And I'm not talking about serious situations like domestic abuse. I'm talking about the grudge we hold against siblings or parents for things that didn't really matter in the long run. Do we always see ourselves as the wronged one? There are any number of ways to avoid admitting our sin, whether it's blaming others or blaming society. Blaming others for our sin is a never ending cycle. Until we admit that the problem starts in our own hearts, we will have no peace.

I used to think that as I got older, I would mature and have less struggle with sin. Isn't happening. The same sins simply get recycled and put into different packages. I am quicker to see them and forsake them, and for that I can only give glory to God. But it's still an issue. Praise God, though, that as David shows in the rest of Psalm 51, we can count on the mercy of God. Cleansing is ours. He will not turn us away. Our fellowship is restored, and we can rejoice.

Friday
Dec192014

When they tell you their secrets

My kids are beginning to arrive home for the holidays. I love to see how insanely happy the Beagle is when they come in. She was so happy last night that she sounded like she was being disemboweled. It's like she was saying, "Where have you been? I've been waiting."

We had dinner with all of our kids together last night. Our daughter will be home on Monday, but we were in town where she lives, and we ate together. I love to hear my kids laugh with each other. It's so much  nicer than when they were younger and just filled the dinner table with bickering. It's a blessing to see my adult children be friends with each other. It's not always the case. Of my three brothers, I really only have anything to do with one of them, and that's kind of sad.

Inevitably as they talk together, snippets of things they've done while being on their own come out. My brothers used to do that to my mom, too; share a story of some gross infraction she would rather not have known about. She didn't like it, and I could see that. I sympathized with her, and I sympathize with her more now.

I really don't want to know the things they have done which are displeasing to the Lord. When mothers hear that, the guilt impulse automatically kicks in. When my kids persist on sharing details, I try to keep it light, and say, "Too much information," or "I don't want to know that." Because I don't want to know.

Mothers have one desire for their children; Christian mothers, that is. We desire our children to pursue righteousness. A righteous life is a blessed life. It may not be an easy life, but it's a good life. That's what I want for my kids no matter what their vocations are. We don't want to hear about the things they have done which are unrighteous, no matter how small. Hearing them say how they learned from a mistake is one thing, but hearing the details we can do without.

My mind is drawn back to an incident when they were younger and we were homeschooling. I had just started blogging, and I was typing away one morning and one of the kids was beside me, speaking to me, asking for permission for something. I was quite involved in what I was doing, and lo and behold, later on I discovered I had given consent for something, had I been paying attention, I would not have.

I wonder how many other moments there were like that. When they share some of their secrets, I feel like I wasn't paying enough attention, that I was too wrapped up in my own affairs at the time. There is a temptation when they are getting older and more independent that we don't have to pay as much attention. I wonder if my time should have been better spent. It's all water under the bridge, but every now and then, I feel regret for it.

I'm studying Psalm 56 in prepration for teaching in January, and in this psalm, David is running from Saul. He is surrounded by enemies. They are "trampling" him "all day long," (v.2).  Their thoughts are evil against him (v.5), and they "lurk" (v.6).

I feel sometimes like those things in the past are my enemies. They trample on an otherwise good day; they lurk, only to jump out when I least expect it. I don't have the kind of enemies David had, but things like guilt and regret can be oppressive in their own way. These enemies from within are stubborn to leave. They want to drag me down.

In the second half of verse 9, David says, "This I know, that God is for me."

What a tremendous thought! The God of the Universe is for me. He is for us. This season of Christmas reminds me what lengths God went to in order to show that he is for us. He sent his son who knew the glory of heaven to a humble stable. This is my comfort. No matter how relentlessly my inner enemies want to be against me, God is for me. That is my comfort and assurance.

Young moms who blog, take care. While there is nothing wrong with blogging, keep it in proper perspective. Don't get distracted with looking for the affirmation of the blog world. Be there for your kids. You're the only mother they have. There will be time for blogging later.

Friday
Dec052014

If the foundations are destroyed...

... what can the righteous do?

This is the question asked in Psalm 11:1. David opens with confidence: his refuge is in God. He asks, "How can you tell me to flee?" 

The wicked are busy, bending their bows, fitting their arrows with a string, and taking aim in the dark. They attack in the dark, when no one can see them. This is where the wicked like to be. Their aim is levelled at the upright in heart.

The question is asked, "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Crumbling Foundations in Ukraine

Have you ever looked around and thought that the foundations are crumbling under your feet? Maybe it's a big situation, like what's going on in Ukraine. Our church supports missionaries in Ukraine, and recently, we were visited by them, and heard first hand the kind of details that don't make it to CNN; details about everyday, ordinary atrocities that don't make for tantalizing, hit-generating blog posts. It was sobering. People are hungry. People are being left homeless. The proclamation of the gospel is being squelched.

The morning I listened to this man, I could not help but feel a little guilty at being so occupied with struggles that really are nothing compared to what these people are facing. The Christians there are watching their foundations crumbling. But they are not fleeing. This is a time for the church to shine. The church there, as they are able, are reaching out with food and help for their neighbours. As long as they are able to get funds into the country (which is becoming a difficult feat) to buy necessities, the church is helping. They are not fleeing to the mountains. They are taking confidence that the Lord is in his holy temple (11:4).

Judgment is Coming

There is no doubt that judgment is coming. The last verses in Psalm 11 tell a very vivid picture: raining coals, scorching wind, fire, and sulfur. It generates images of Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you know what sulfur smells like? My in-laws have sulphur in their well water. They have a treatment system which deals with it, but I remember being taken aback when I first went there at the smell when the water ran. Have you ever watched video footage of a volcano erupting, how the fire rains down? My husband and I recently watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the last installment had Frodo and Sam sitting on a rock while fire and coals rained down. I can't imagine what that would be like. Judgment is coming.

It is that judgment which provides hope. We know that the Lord is on his throne. He's right where he is supposed to be. He sees all, he knows all, and he will reward the righteous. He is righteous, and the righteous will behold his face. Christ is the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21-26), and we share in the righteousness of God through faith in him. That Christ was made as a propitiation for our sins demonstrates the ultimate righteousness of God. This is our confidence.

Personal Foundations Crumbling

Sometimes, though, the crumbling foundations are more personal. Sin, conflict, struggle, trials; they all weigh on us, and sometimes, we feel like our entire world is slipping away. At this time of year, when there are warm, fuzzy thoughts everywhere, we may feel isolated and sad. The Lord is in his holy temple. The hope remains the same. There are times when, as Christians, we throw up our hands in despair. We mourn. But our mourning should not last, because God is in his holy temple, on his throne, and the righteous will see his face.

Friday
Sep122014

Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

One of the saddest of the lament Psalms is Psalm 55. It opens immediately with a plea:

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy

The sadness is apparent through words like "anguish," (v.4), "terrors," (v.4), and "horror," (v.4)

He longs to fly away:

And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find shelter from the ranging wind and tempest. 

Can you relate to that? I think we have all felt like that. It is such a vivid picture; to rise from our situation and soar above it, leaving behind the storm, and finding rest in more verdant places.

The worst part is that the cause of the lament is a friend. In v. 12, we learn his identity:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me --
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me --
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God's house, we walked in the throng.

It is a painful thing to have a friend turn his back on us. Perhaps we discover that our friend has revealed a confidence, betrayed a trust, or repeated gossip about us. Perhaps she has just stopped calling, and we rack our brains to know why our friend has seemed to have rejected us. It's one thing to be rejected by a stranger or someone we aren't close to; it's another when it's someone we love. It is at those moments when we must be really careful not to let it consume us.

The solution, of course, comes in v. 16, with another of those beautiful "buts" found in the Psalms: But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.

Ultimately, God is the comfort we will need. It may not be easy, and our sense of justice may want to take action, but if our friend has sinned against us, God's justice will be meted out. There are times when we wil never know what has happened or why, and sometimes, we have to let things drop.

The advice in v. 22 is simple, but the only real solution:

Cast your burdens on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

When friendships fracture, we have to avoid sin ourselves. It may be hard. We may feel bitter. We may want to take matters into our own hands, but that could get very messy. Sometimes, confronting a friend doesn't go well, and we may realize we should have remained silent. We have to remember that Christ knows what it is like to have his friends turn on him. When that happened to him, he cast himself upon the mercy of his Father. And as hard as it may be, that is what we need to do.

When we grieve over lost relationships, we can speak Psalm 55 aloud. It gives us words to express our sorrow. There is just so much we cannot control, and in real life, unlike movies and novels, perfect reconciliation often does not occur. This may sound like a depressing thought. But these situations are the stuff of real life. And the beauty is that God will sustain us. That's really all we need in the moment: to be sustained. He will not let us be moved. It doesn't meant it will be easy, but in the end, we will see how faithful God is, and that's a good thing.

Tuesday
Aug262014

Chasing the light

I love the sky. I love its many moods, and I love watching how its light changes with the rising and setting of the sun, and how its own colour casts shadows on the earth below. 

My desk faces into the east, and into my back yard. This is an older neighbourhood, full of stately maples. We have a huge one in our yard which provides privacy, but as the sun rises, I can see snatches of light peeking through its branches. Yesterday, when I looked up from my book, I could see a brilliant orange coming through. I immediately got up and got my camera, because I knew an orange that brilliant indicated a lovely sunrise. 

The clouds were soft, and ripple-like. I put my sandals on and went out in between my house and my neighbour's house, in the wet grass, to take a few pictures.

I think I took about eight in all, and was out there for less than five minutes. When I got back into the yard and closed the gate, the light had already faded, again changing the colour. There have been times in the winter when the sun comes up and I want to take a picture, and by the time I grab my coat, the moment is gone.

When I got back inside, I thought of how fast the light changes. And then I thought that our lives are like that in the face of eternity, fleeting. As children, our lives feel so slow at times, but as we age, things go so fast. When we contemplate it, we see what a mere breath our lives are.

We think we have time, so we put things off. Perhaps it's restoring a fractured relationship, or getting involved with that bible study we've heard about, or helping with a ministry at our church, or even visiting an elderly neighbour. I know people who have stopped attending church. They say they love the Lord, but it's been years since they darkened the door, and it's all becuase they're offended and bitter. We think we have time to get right with God, to take him seriously, to learn about him. But maybe we don't have that time.

Psalm 90:12 is one of my favourite verses in the Psalms:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

I love the connection between evaluating our lives and the outcome of gaining wisdom. If we don't know we're a vapor, I don't see how wisdom will come very easily.

This is still a verse for all of us. We will not be here forever.  A year ago at this time, my husband's best friend from high school, and the man who was best man at our wedding, died suddenly at the age of 53, leaving three teenagers and a wife. That could be me or it could be you. Our lives are brief and just like that perfect moment to take a picture passes quickly, so do our opportunities. Let's make the most of them now to learn of God, to love him, to serve him and to proclaim his name.