The Measly and the Mighty

NOSELESSIn Psalm 135, a vivid contrast is painted in broad strokes that compares the almighty and robust God of King David to the puny and powerless idols of the Canaanites. The Psalmist describes the inept and impotent gods: They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.

A recent viewing of some photography reminded me of this Psalm. The photographer had captured the image of some artifacts that portrayed their gods with smashed ears and crushed noses. I wondered if these ancient scars were the work of vandals or mischievous imps.

After reading Julia Wolkoff’s article on the subject, I found my answer: The ancient Egyptians, it’s important to note, ascribed important powers to images of the human form. They believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity, or, in the case of mere mortals, part of that deceased human being’s soul could inhabit a statue inscribed for that particular person.

By smashing the ears and crushing the noses of these images, the perpetrator thought he was castrating the idol and nullifying its power.

My worship and prayer aren’t focused on a toothless god who can be rendered impotent by the hand of man; my devotion is to the Omnipotent God who is great, above all gods, and the One who does whatever He pleases.

The God who is the focus of my attention is the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Thanksgiving’s Golden Rule

macys-parade-tom-the-turkeyTraditions are a large part of many of our holiday celebrations.  An absolute essential for some homes is to halt all activity to watch the march of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The ritual in other homes will involve football and the riotous cheering or jeering as favorite teams either win or lose.

While the Macy’s Day Parade, the game of football, and other long-held traditions can be good, they are as listless as your turkey-stuffed grandpa when he crashes on the sofa, if they fail to observe the Golden Rule of Thanksgiving.

The rule is not a third piece of whip cream-covered pumpkin pie: it is the peace of God and letting it rule your heart.

In a world of trials and tragedies, it is the peace of God that will carry you through your personal times of heartache and turmoil.  A key principle of the Golden Rule is the jewel of thanksgiving.  Paul spoke of this in one of his letters (Colossians 3:14-17):

  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . and be thankful (3:15).
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (3:16).
  • Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (3:17).

When the peace of Christ is ruling in your heart, it becomes the umpire that manages the game of life. When this peace is joined with the giving of thanks, worry-filled thoughts are refocused on the blessings of God.

Many of the Psalms focus on the blessings of God, and they are full of expressions of thanksgiving:

  • Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things (107:8-9).
  • The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him (28:7).
  • Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever (106:1).

Whatever your traditions may be, I encourage you to pause at some point in your celebration to focus your thoughts more on what God has given and less on what the world has taken, and give thanks to Him.

Blessings: Have You Counted Yours?

countWhen was the last time you paused and counted the many blessing that you have?  Have you taken the time to heed the old hymn and “name them one by one?” These are the questions I asked myself after reading Psalm 68:19: “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation!

A survey of the Psalms will reveal several verses that remind us of God’s many blessings:

  • Psalm 1 speaks of relationship: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
  • Psalm 2 speaks of faith: Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him
  • Psalm 28 speaks of prayer: Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
  • Psalm 31 speaks of God’s kindness: Blessed be the Lord, For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!
  • Psalm 32 speaks of forgiveness: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
  • Psalm 33 is a promise: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

I’ll close with this link to Count Your Blessings. I hope the song will become a symphony as you reflect on the times God has blessed you.

Sing A New Song

simonOne among the many things that I lack is the ability to sing well. This is why I like the words of Psalm 96; it encourages us to sing a “new song to the Lord.”

Due to my inability to harmonize and sing on key, songs always have a new and different sound when I sing—I can carry a tune; I just can’t unload it.

The songs of David are replete with sweet praise for God’s love and faithfulness:  For Your faithful love is higher than the heavens, and Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds (Psalm 108:4).

Love is the expressible and essential attribute of God that is one of His cohesive characteristics. God’s attributes never detract from or diminish another of His characteristics—God is both just and merciful. He is also self-existent, eternal, and holy; therefore, God’s love has no beginning; it has no end, and, it is holy and pure. God’s love has always existed and it will never end.

Love is that attribute of God that defines the Substitute who died for the spiritually destitute on the cross of Calvary. And, as John said: We love God, because He first loved us (I John 4:19).

Not By Bread Alone

wonder-bread-sign-garry-gaySome people look at nature and see the beauty in the flowers.  I walk through the baking section of the grocery store and see beauty in a bag of flour. I like bread, and I’ve eaten more than my share of Wonder in hope that its enriching ingredients will build me a strong body in eight ways.

Even though bread is a tasty treat, Jesus said: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Luke 4:4). To be enriched, a person will consider both the physical and spiritual dimensions of life. While bread benefits one, God’s Word enhances the other.

When you read the Psalms, you can see that God’s Word is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Illumination: The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:30).
  • Guidance: Direct my steps by Your word.  (Psalm 119:133).
  • Comfort:  Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights (Psalm 119:143).

In Psalm 19, David lists several advantages of including the God’s Word as a part of your daily regimen: The The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; and, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes (Psalm 19:6-8).

I encourage you think of God’s Word as an essential vitamin, and remember to take your daily dose.

Let the word of Christ richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness. ~Colossians 3:16

A is for Apple

apple-bobbing-boys-1920x675I was enjoying the sweet taste of apples long before I had ever participated in the homespun, spit-swapping, and germ-spreading, tradition of apple bobbing. Fact is, I almost drowned a time or two while I chased an apple around the inside of a water-filled wood barrel.

Apples are a tasty delight and a welcome addition to most diets, and they are also a definite plus to the pocket books of Washington farmers.  The typical orchard will produce 37,100 pounds per acre with a value somewhere between $12,500-$13,000.  The fertile ground of Washington contributes $18 billion plus to the state’s economy in apples alone.

When I eat an apple, my preference is Jonathan, Fuji, or Honeycrisp, but I doubt David had a specific variety in mind when he prayed: Keep me as the apple of your eye, and hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8).

As the apple of God’s eye, you are so special to God that:

  • He is aware of your sorrows—Psalm 56:8
  • He likens your prayers to the sweet smell of incense—Revelation 5:8
  • He floods your heart with His love—Romans 5:5
  • He blesses you with His mercy—Psalm 57:10

From out of all the orchards in the world, you are the apple that God has picked, and it is, “According to His great mercy, He has given us [you] a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:3-4).”

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry          ~Psalm 34:15

When the Stars Shine Bright

sky2_1552774iI’ve been told that the English language can be difficult to comprehend due to the multiple definitions a single word can have.

As an example, think of the word “light.” It can be used in many different ways:

  • The speaker shed some light on the subject.
  • Her suitcase was heavy, and she wanted to lighten her load.
  • He turned on the light switch, so he could see.

Light can also:

  • Bring comfort when a person is frightened
  • Be discomforting when it reveals a secret
  • Guide us or help to give direction: Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

Many years ago, I had a conversation with Richard Gregory concerning his time in the navy. When the ship was sailing under a “lights out order,” an officer would summons Richard to the deck. Richard could look at the stars at night and tell the officer what time it was.

Richard could do this because he was a student of astronomy, and he had memorized four important landmarks in the night sky:

  • The 0-hour circle
  • The 6-hour circle
  • The 12-hour circle
  • The 18-hour circle

Richard’s ability to comprehend the night sky was a benefit to his shipmates. It not only told them the hour of the night, but it also helped to guide the ship.

In I John 2:5, John used a word that is meaningful to our discussion: “Whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected.” The word “keeps” was a nautical term. Sailors in John’s day, would speak of “keeping the stars,” or charting their course at night by the stars.

The Star that shines more brightly than any other is the one that Peter referred to as the “morning star,” and He is the one to follow:

We ourselves heard God’s voice from heaven when we were with Jesus on that holy mountain. We have a fuller confirmation of the message of the prophets. You would do well to pay close attention to this word; it is like a light that shines for you in the darkness of night until the day dawns when the morning star rises in your own hearts.

~2 Peter 1:18-9

Think about it: You can lighten your load, brighten your path, and find your way through the darkness when you chart your course by the light of the Morning Star.

A Parade of Smiles

doggyWith the exception of Sunday, my morning routine includes a little java and journalism.  On Sundays I still drink the coffee, but I skip the newspaper.

Tuesday morning, I was enjoying my morning combo, when a stranger engaged me in some meaningless banter.  As he rose to leave he said, “Well, you know we all look alike.” Then he smiled and left.

As he walked out the door, I quickly concluded that I looked nothing like him:

  • He was covered in tattoos, but I have none.
  • He had a full head of hair that glistened with grease, and my head looks like a hairless Chihuahua.
  • He didn’t have a tooth in his head, and I still have most of mine.

I smiled to myself, but before I could shake my head in disbelief, I had a Kodak moment of comprehension: I got the picture.  I saw how much “we all look alike,” and I realized the similarity is in the smile.

Your face is the canvas on which your attitude and emotions are painted.  Is your face painted with the broad strokes of angry red, the depressing colors of a frown or with the bright hues of an inviting smile?

Solomon captured this thought when he said: A person’s anxiety will weigh him down, but an encouraging word makes him joyful. ~Proverbs 12:25

Is it easier for a person to see Christ in you when you’re smiling or frowning at them?  Think about it:

  • Paul said, “I am filled with joy, and I share that joy with all of you (Philippians 2:7).”
  • The Psalmist said, “Smile on me, and teach me your laws (Psalm 119:135).”
  • David said, “When I trust your mercy, my heart finds joy in your salvation (psalm 13:5).”

When Paul prayed for the Christians at Rome, he said, “I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).”

When your life is abundantly infused with God’s joy and peace, you can’t help it—you just have to smile!

Words of a Particular Kind

154451011How long would it take you to make a summary statement of your life?  How many words do you think it would take?

Robert Frost said he could sum up everything he had learned about life in three words: “It goes on.”  There’s a lot of truth to what Frost said, but it’s also true that what you say can determine how far you go in life and how your life “goes on.”

Mother Teresa was more concerned with the nature of your words than she was with the number of them: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”  David, like Mother Teresa, was well aware of the power of the spoken word, and he prayed: “May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).”

When I think about David’s prayer, I’m left with a couple of questions:

  • Are my words and thoughts acceptable to God?
  • If not, what can I do to make them more acceptable?

Joshua gave the answer to these questions, when he said: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Joshua 1:8).”

When you think about your words and thoughts, I encourage you to contrast them to the principles of God’s Word in general, and these words of Paul in Particular: “Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them (Ephesians 4:29 ~The Voice).”

Strength, Confidence, and Courage

Courageous-posterAfter the death of Moses, Joshua took the leadership reins of the Israelites and guided them along the path to the Promised Land.  In one of his first speeches, he admonished them, saying: “Only be strong and very courageous to ensure that you obey all the instructions that my servant Moses gave you—turn neither to the right nor to the left from it—so that you may succeed wherever you go (Joshua 1:7).”

Joshua’s call to courage reminds me of the words of Alfred North Whitehead: True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.

Some people act courageously because they assess a situation and move forward with confidence in their abilities.  There are others who are just as confident, but for a different reason; their available resources give them a sense of boldness.

David is a good example of both forms of courage.  In Psalm 27, he said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who is there to fear? The Lord is my life’s fortress. Who is there to be afraid of? Evildoers closed in on me to tear me to pieces. My opponents and enemies stumbled and fell. Even though an army sets up camp against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even though a war breaks out against me, I will still have confidence in the Lord.

Courage, as David used it in this Psalm, is resource-based. He speaks of his trust in the presence and power of God.

Earlier in his life, David displayed courage that was focused more on his own ability.  This was the  skill he used to kill the wild animals as attacked his sheep.

There may be times when you doubt your ability, but you should never doubt God’s availability.  Just as God was present to walk David through the trials of life, He is present for you as well:

  • God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble—Psalm 46:1
  • God is the shield of Your salvation, and His right hand will support you—Psalm 18:35
  • God will deliver you because He delights in you—Psalm 18:19
  • The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and He saves those crushed in spirit—Psalm 34:18

While there’s not a single one of us who can look to the future and know for certain what challenges await us, each of us can be confident in knowing that God is waiting to guide us.

Solomon believed this, and he wisely said: “The heart of man devises his way, but the LORD directs his steps . . . He that follows after righteousness and mercy shall find life, righteousness, and honor.”