Psalm 148

The last five psalms have in common that they all start with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord. Bang bang bang bang bang, like the big finish to a fireworks display.

This is a big fun communal song about everything praising God. First half the heavens, second half the earth.

Each half ends in a “why?”

For the heavens, angels, heavenly powers, sun moon stars etc, they praise God because his decrees are eternal. From them we learn of a bigger, longer reality than our own. We get the mind-blowing physical and temporal scale of God.

The “why” at the end of it all is a bit circular. We on earth praise God because though he’s above everything there is, we are dear to him, and the connection grows stronger through our praise.

So we praise him because praise strengthens our praise. It’s a pop song, ok? You got a problem with that?

The overall effect played in my mind a bit like when you use Google Earth and start in space, zooming in on the ball of earth, past all the vast seas, wild places and daunting features of creation down down, past kingdoms, cities and villages right down to you.

And the God view and the micro view are connected and strengthened because he hears our praise.

It’s a happy vision to start the week.

I’m looking forward to working on soldiership materials (ie: the training course you take to become a salvation army soldier) and some of the notes for self denial, which is a charity appeal within the membership, not a public appeal. Goodness me, I’m deep in the weeds these days! But they will be enjoyable projects.

It’s the last week of Kelly’s internship, she’s worked two days a week in an architect office for five weeks, and we’ve really loved meeting after work and catching up. Highlight of the week. Which I will partcularly treasure as the last one. And also as she enters her last semester, it’s a positive glimpse of possibilities post graduation, which can be scary too.

There are some constructive opportunities at church too, going to have a chat with the Minister about music, is one of them.

Some things to praise God for, you know, and the heavens and the world broadly too. Lots of challenges as well.

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Psalm 147

A love story about God and Israel, which today reads like the love story for every believer.

God calls anyone who understands that they need him. Who understands they are outcasts, misfits gathered from exile.

Weak, broken, humbled in body or spirit, he binds and heals our wounds. He knows us, he knows each star. His knowledge is unfathomable.

He provides, he is not impressed by the things or people that normally impress us, we delight him simply by putting our hope in him.

He freezes and he thaws, like snow, like water. Why are we blessed? Why do we love him? His power works to harden some hearts, and soften some hearts, he is in control of it all, there is a meaning to it all.

Praise him for softening ours!

We had a good day yesterday. I took it off work, since everyone else is on holidays.

Sydney turned on a perfect day, winter with no sting and three of us went boating, myself, Kelly and youngest, Ren.

We didn’t necessarily do things that were objectively great, but it was a kind day, we were gentle and didn’t raise problems, he kept his cynicism at bay, we didn’t hound him about our frustrations with him.

Boating was actually a bit boring, but no one complained. We ate a late lunch/early dinner looking at people playing in the dusk over water. Came home and watched a pretty fun movie.

I praise God but I don’t always understand, the God who freezes and who melts. I put my hope in him, he’s the best thing going IMHO.

Psalm 146

God is eternal, God is good. It’s another praise psalm, and it’s a simple formula. And it’s beautiful.

His eternal nature is compared to human rulers. Even the best of them are a bad bet for your faith, because they pass away, their power fades. Not so God.

His goodness is very much in terms of care for the weak, vulnerable, unexpected, marginalised. At the heart of this boisterous cheer leader chant for God is compassion, gentleness. That’s the beautiful bit.

Less beautiful was the Donald Trump rally yesterday where the people chanted “send her back” about a Congress woman who was originally a refugee from Somalia.

No matter how far you go, beyond citizenship all the way to Capitol Hill, at any moment you can still be hated as a foreigner if you aren’t white. Thrown out of the circle of acceptance. If you have an opinion people disagree with, your race and origin can always be used to attack you.

We watched a sad documentary walking though the racist booing for over a year of Adam Goodes, an indigenous footballer who was made Australian of the year, he played a legendary 375 Premier league matches, but skipped his retirement parade on the field because he anticipated being booed so much. As Australian of the year he expected he had a platform to represent indigenous causes. The acceptance was withdrawn by the crowds when he tried to have a voice.

The Lord watches over the foreigner, says David, upholds the oppressed, lifts up those who are bowed down, sustains the fatherless and the widow. This is our God, it’s who I want to be, my crowd!

Give me a head full of praise today. I’m not going into work, I’m heading off to go bushwalking with my son, a little school holiday escapade. Let my praise be natural, not preachy, but clear and honest.

Psalm 145

I think i recall from a talk about psalms that it ends in a blaze of praise. This psalm fits with that theory. It’s everything king David loves about God.

I’m enjoying that they are all by David at the moment, because we know him so well.

He says how God is too much for any one person to understand, he places himself in a generation to generation project to think about and share about God. You see that in all cultures. Unfortunately our inclination towards sin corrupts what we can learn by ourselves from the degrees of God’s revelation.

At church we celebrated the coming of the light to islands in the Torres Strait. When missionaries arrived, they instantly recognised the gospel as filling out their understanding of the God they had always worshipped. And they saw clearly in a way they hadn’t before that they should leave headhunting and violence behind.

Israel struggled with the idea that God’s plan for all mankind may not literally include the temple and Jerusalem.

Having talked about how much greater god is than we can comprehend, David lists what he does know of God in the second half of the psalm.

God is good, compassionate, patient, generous, eternal, faithful, mighty trustworthy, loving, caring, close, sustaining, just, righteous, a rescuer, a provider, a listener, a saviour.

The pile up leaves me a bit unemotional to read. But to gather and sing this, it would take flight. Praise is best done in groups of two or more. Praise is a triangular process, with the praisers along one side of it, all pointing to a shared third point.

Ah the corruption of man… My mind drifts to a logo design for my long imagined, never realised, praise band.

Don’t forget to pray.

Psalm 144

This quite a personal prayer, David reflecting on God while preparing for war. He not on the run, he’s a king now. But he’s still the same guy, the sum of so many complex parts.

He returns to some of his favourite themes, ideas expressed over and over in his poetry. I felt like we are getting a lot of David in this psalm.

He calls God a rock, a solid basis for his preparation to fight, and a refuge, his safe fortress.

How often has he returned to calling God his refuge? God as a safe place to escape must be his number one image.

Such a helpful thought pattern to learn… Stressful times turn you closer to God, not further away. He learned as a fugitive in his youth to hide in God as he hid in caves.

He’s still the same David inside, though he’s a brave king and warrior on the outside, he does not do bravery in his own strength.

He talks about scale and perspective. Man is so insubstantial, like a breath, a shadow. Yet God thinks of him. He paints a grand picture of God’s heavens to contrast the teensiness of man, as he’s done many times.

And this time God will be active, splitting the clouds, reaching down in lightning and power to intervene in his war and scatter the enemies. But beyond God’s help or otherwise in the current fight, he’s thinking about God’s mindblowing capacity to care for mankind at all.

Then the image of himself playing a new song to God the deliverer on the 10 stringed lyre. The warrior, happiest playing music and singing.

The song will be of abundance and blessing.

It’s a bit of a greatest hits, we’ve done psalm 40 (he set my feet on a rock), psalm 8 (oh what is man, why do you think of him?) and ended where psalm 23 does (goodness and mercy will follow me all my days…)

Psalm 143

Hear me, answer me – that’s the two halves of this psalm. They serve to step up the intensity and urgency of the prayer; put the screws on God to shuffle this prayer to the top of the priority list.

God gets a gazillion emails a day marked urgent with a read receipt.

It’s a middle of the night prayer, when everything seems impossible. At one point David asks the morning to bring a word of God’s unfailing love. Seems like there ain’t such a word coming to him now as he prays/panics into the night.

His utter lack of options for whatever problems he’s facing focuses him on having no claim to God’s grace; being totally undeserving. But also how totally reliant he is on it.

I think God probably loves it when we throw his character back at him this way. “Woah, this will certainly display your unfailing love” is a pretty positive way to react to bad news, when your own resources abandon you.

Psalm 142

Never alone. This is why it’s great to be connected to God.

Key moments out of 6 verses to me were: 2, ‘I pour out before him my complaint’ and 5 ‘you are my portion in the land of the living’. As in, I am in dire straights, I have no one. But: you are all I need.

I’m not, as David, in some miserable cave, public enemy number one, knowing everyone wants me dead. But I’m feeling kind of sorry for myself, stuck.

I should be planning retirement, looking forward to the rest of my life, but I can’t see past the older two children who show no sign of ever leaving. I’m not exaggerating, that’s literally the case.

And it’s a tension and a strain, obviously on me and Kelly. The drumbeat of questions about the future isn’t quite deafening, yet. I’m 57, but sometime in the next 3-8… 13? years, I’ll like to retire if I can.

I’ve have had an interrupted career, not a lot of Super. We won’t be well off, but I can do poor. However, I can’t imagine the future, and that’s a big problem, blocking me from moving ahead on all sorts of things.

For me, part of the Lord being my portion means stepping up to these issues.

Psalm 141

Tender and brutal. Who was king David? A poet and a warrior. Intensely emotional, a tough and effective mercenary. He takes us amazing places, but surely few of us can go to all of them, he’s a rare bird.

He gets that religion is about the heart. He gets that temptation draws your heart to it. You, not it, are to blame. And a rebuke and a slap for the right things are blessings from God.

Please let me recognise that one. So often when I am told off, I reflect back the hurt of the moment, the wound to my pride. Later, when I am cool enough to actually take on board the truth, so rarely do I close the loop and go and express my gratitude to the person who rebuked me.

In the flow of the psalm, this idea leads to an aside from David that those he rebuked will recognise the truth of his words once they have been thrown down from their high place and their bones scattered without a decent burial.

“You’ll wish you’d listened to me once you’re dead!” Is an impossible kind of rebuke, but one likely to startle the hearer. It sits oddly in a psalm that has been so reflective up to that point.

He returns to a more worthy tone to conclude, fixing his eyes on God, though he does still express satisfaction anticipating his enemies’ self destruction.

If Trump goes, for instance, I will be satisfied, particularly if it’s dished out with some of the pain and humiliation he visits on those around him too powerless to object. David goes there, some have suggested this might be about his relationship with king Saul. But he knows his thoughts should really be fixed on God and his own holiness.

He knows it is by the grace of God, not his doing, that He can slip by unscathed as others mess up.

We live in a distracting age, may I remember that too.

Psalm 140

Oh psalms!

I’m excited about a silly thing: I’m very close to finishing psalms, which, if you are reading a maximum of one chapter a day of the Bible, is at least a 150 day undertaking. Can’t help thinking “140… just 10 to go!”

But I’m bored by an important thing: the words of God. Or if you are less evangelical than me, King David’s words about God. Either way, Christians aren’t supposed to find it a yawn.

This is a”smite my enemies” psalm. By this point in Psalms, there have been many.

V1-6: rescue me, keep me safe, because these people are really bad… Poisonous Words and evil deeds.

V7-11: let the smiting begin: may coals fall on their head, may they fall into a miry pit, be trapped by their own mischief (an elegant curse!) Don’t let slanderers and violent people run the country.

V12-13: God’s way, justice, upholding the needy.

It’s cool and holy the way the focus progresses from being about his problems, his worry about his own danger at the start, to leaving the revenge to God, and by the end being more concerned for justice and good government for others, concern for the vulnerable.

I wondered if I let evil people off too lightly. Should I have more zeal? I don’t have many people I call down God’s judgment upon, though I do get quite worked up about bad government, there is a lot of it about lately.

I’m really not engaging today. I suppose it inevitable with a discipline that you will find yourself occasionally doing things even though you don’t feel it. Marriage is a bit like that.

But if there is never magic, it will get to the point where it is never rewarding, a discipline like this which is self imposed should be revisited. This project is far from that though, much as I love psalms, it does get like this. It’s a book you have to dip into rather than read right through.

Reeling today from the news that my sister in law is getting divorced. Thinking of her, praying for her. It’s not coming back, he’s leaving her for another woman.

Psalm 139

I feel like this psalm is a peak into king David’s head when he spends all that time in God’s presence. I’ve commented before about how in the thrilling narrative of Samuel he reacts to stress by slowing down and filling his mind with God.

The thoughtlines here have all the time and space they need to go where they want to go, though he also has the economy of a poet in the way he evokes them.

It starts and ends talking about being searched by God. I love how he reverses the tenses from what you would expect. He starts by saying God has searched him, and ends by asking God to search him. Its open ended.

He first chases that idea of being known by God into his daily activities… His going out and coming in, God is before him and behind him. He finds it mind boggling. And it is.

I mean, he’s a VIP, king David, so maybe it would make sense that God would give him special consideration, but it’s the same for me, for every soul, including the ones we haven’t the time or energy to care about ourselves. The last shall be first. Each flower of the field more glorious than Solomon, all known, each of us of infinite value.

Then the vision of God goes into scale: forget the daily movements, look beyond the village. You could zoom to the highest, furthest; be hidden in the darkest where you’d think no one or nothing could see, and God would be higher, further, and exposing the darkness like day.

Then the God who is eternal. The idea of God knowing and planning our days before he knits us together in the womb. I’m not a medical man, or indeed a philosopher, but I can appreciate that much is evoked in the phrase “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

He considers the number and value of God’s thoughts… infinite, like grains of sand, but hugely valuable.

These are the sorts of places David’s mind goes when he hears assassins are out to get him. This depth of love and certainty about God is why he can trust him so decisively.

So this is a psalm to go to in distress, when you need to pursue your own thoughtlines about the presence and control of God.

And people do, I feel like most of the lines of this psalm have turned up on posters, or on Facebook image memes!

David ends it with a capper we are used to by now… He’s not actually in a situation that lends itself to being relaxed and ruminative, he’s in a serious pickle. Hence, I guess, the dramatic shift from thinking about the delicate preciousness of God knitting us in the womb to asking God to side with him in the coming fight and slay his enemies.

That’s why the fiddling with tense: you have searched me God, please search me! Expose and calm my anxious thoughts, purify my motives to align with your character.

We go forward into the mess, as messy people with God’s spirit: in front and behind, highest, farthest, deepest, forever.