Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 141

    Psalms 141 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David.) I pray to you, LORD! Please listen when I pray and hurry to help me.
  2. Think of my prayer as sweet-smelling incense, and think of my lifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
  3. Help me to guard my words whenever I say something.
  4. Don't let me want to do evil or waste my time doing wrong with wicked people. Don't let me even taste the good things they offer.
  5. Let your faithful people correct and punish me. My prayers condemn the deeds of those who do wrong, so don't let me be friends with any of them.
  6. Everyone will admit that I was right when their rulers are thrown down a rocky cliff,
  7. and their bones lie scattered like broken rocks on top of a grave.
  8. You are my LORD and God, and I look to you for safety. Don't let me be harmed.
  9. Protect me from the traps of those violent people,
  10. and make them fall into their own traps while you help me escape.

We have in this psalm the prayer of a man - David - who desires to be in right relationship with God and to live the life God desires of him. Getting past the opening request that God hear his prayer, David asks for three things that would help assure his proper conduct. The first was for God to "set up a guard for my mouth." He didn't want improper words to come from his mouth. The second was that God would keep his heart from turning to and dwelling on evil things or performing reckless acts with sinful men. And the third request was that his righteous friends would strike him, if necessary, to keep him from partaking in the evil acts of the wicked. He asks that the Lord would cause him not to refuse the rebuke of these friends. Only a pure heart truly desiring to be obedient to God would make such a request.

How many of us have a person in our lives who is wise enough to recognize when we are heading in a wrong direction and to whom we give complete freedom to rebuke us in such an instance for our good? It is a humble heart indeed that will even seek out such a person in their lives and desire their frankness when it is needed. Too many of us are too prideful for such relationships. It is too difficult for us to admit our own mistakes and sins to ourselves let alone have someone else point them out to us.

What is the meaning in verses 6 & 7? It is a bit obscure, but verse 6 seems to be saying that when the rulers of the people are overthrown, the people will find the wise counsel of the psalmist to be pleasing. There seems to be the inference here that the rulers in question are not wise or righteous rulers. Their overthrow causes the people to be without a rudder and to be open to wise counsel. Verse 7 is even more obscure and I don't feel I can bring clarity to it. I believe I understand the first part which speaks of cultivating good soil as an illustration of cultivating righteousness in our own lives. As the cultivating of the soil involves turning up rocks that need to be taken away to allow for the best conditions for fruitful harvest, so cultivating righteousness in our lives will at times turn up rocks (behaviors, sins, etc.) that must be eradicated to allow the best growing conditions for righteousness in our lives. But the meaning of the last part of the verse escapes me.

In conclusion, David's trust is in the Lord. Having set his own life right, as we have witnessed thus far in this psalm, he trusts God to deal with the dangers around him, in particular protecting him from the traps set for him by his enemies. He asks that these enemies fall into their own traps while he passes safely by.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 140

    Psalms 140 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) Rescue me from cruel and violent enemies, LORD!
  2. They think up evil plans and always cause trouble.
  3. Their words bite deep like the poisonous fangs of a snake.
  4. Protect me, LORD, from cruel and brutal enemies, who want to destroy me.
  5. Those proud people have hidden traps and nets to catch me as I walk.
  6. You, LORD, are my God! Please listen to my prayer.
  7. You have the power to save me, and you keep me safe in every battle.
  8. Don't let the wicked succeed in doing what they want, or else they might never stop planning evil.
  9. They have me surrounded, but make them the victims of their own vicious lies.
  10. Dump flaming coals on them and throw them into pits where they can't climb out.
  11. Chase those cruel liars away! Let trouble hunt them down.
  12. Our LORD, I know that you defend the homeless and see that the poor are given justice.
  13. Your people will praise you and will live with you because they do right.

This reads much like earlier psalms in the book with David seeking rescue from the wiles of evil people. The first six verses describe what he was up against. They plotted evil against him continually, their tongues were like the bite of a poisonous snake, they hid traps for him and set snares and nets to entrap him. There are various thoughts as to the occasion that inspired the psalm, such as the rebellion of Absalom.  But it could even be the kind of threats a person of power was up against consistently. As was David's practice when experiencing trouble, he went to the Lord for help. He knew the Lord as his "strong Savior" who shielded his head in battle.

He prayed that the Lord would thwart the plans of these wicked people and keep them from achieving their goal. Part of the reason for this request is that these wicked people would otherwise become proud. This, of course, would encourage the wicked in their evil pursuits. So David asks that the plans of these people be turned back on themselves. "Let the trouble their lips cause overwhelm them." This reference to the lips along with the earlier mention of the tongue and the mention in verse 11 of slanderers leads me to believe this whole threat was one of words. Even the hidden traps and snares could be speaking of traps by words and accusations. David appeals to God's justice in verse 12, knowing that God upholds justice for the needy.

There is a hint in this psalm that David's prayer is asking God to consider which side He will take - that of the wicked or that of the righteous. Verse 8 asks that God not "grant the desires of the wicked," suggesting that the mere toleration of wickedness might seem to indicate His approval of this behavior or complicity with the wickedness. Verse 13 then says, "Surely the righteous will praise Your name," adding further to this thought. David is confident that the righteous will praise the Lord because the Lord will uphold justice against these evil deeds. But the opposing thought is that if God were to allow this injustice to take place it would be the wicked, not the righteous, who would praise Him. Now the wicked never praise God, even when they have success because they do not credit their success to any other source than themselves. But nevertheless, these hints lie behind David's words.

I do not think it out of line to press God to consider which side He is on, that of the wicked or of the righteous, but in doing so, we need also to consider which side we are on. We should not be asking God to uphold us against those who wish to harm us without also considering our actions and motives. If He were to take our side, so to speak, would He be taking the side of the righteous? Would He be upholding justice?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 139

    Psalms 139 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) You have looked deep into my heart, LORD, and you know all about me.
  2. You know when I am resting or when I am working, and from heaven you discover my thoughts.
  3. You notice everything I do and everywhere I go.
  4. Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say,
  5. and with your powerful arm you protect me from every side.
  6. I can't understand all of this! Such wonderful knowledge is far above me.
  7. Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight?
  8. If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you would be there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead you would also be there.
  9. Suppose I had wings like the dawning day and flew across the ocean.
  10. Even then your powerful arm would guide and protect me.
  11. Or suppose I said, "I'll hide in the dark until night comes to cover me over."
  12. But you see in the dark because daylight and dark are all the same to you.
  13. You are the one who put me together inside my mother's body,
  14. and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt.
  15. Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below,
  16. but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.
  17. Your thoughts are far beyond my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine.
  18. I try to count your thoughts, but they outnumber the grains of sand on the beach. And when I awake, I will find you nearby.
  19. How I wish that you would kill all cruel and heartless people and protect me from them!
  20. They are always rebelling and speaking evil of you.
  21. You know I hate anyone who hates you, LORD, and refuses to obey.
  22. They are my enemies too, and I truly hate them.
  23. Look deep into my heart, God, and find out everything I am thinking.
  24. Don't let me follow evil ways, but lead me in the way that time has proven true.

Depending on one's view of God and one's own character, this psalm could be either comforting or distressing. Does it bring comfort to the heart to know that God knows everything about you? He knows when you sit and when you stand. He understands your thoughts and observes your travels. He even knows what you will say before you say it. Trying to hide from God would be futile. Everywhere we might go - God is there. Nor will hiding under cover of dark be of any use for dark is not dark to God. The night shines like day to Him. For those who love and worship God and understand Him for who He is, all this should bring comfort. For they know there is nowhere they can go or be taken that God will not also be there to care for them. There is nowhere we will be apart from God's presence. I suppose there is also a sense of accountability in the knowledge that God knows what we will say before we say it. It gives cause to guard our thoughts, our words, and our actions for nothing we do is in secret - at least from God. He also knows our motives, which should make us realize that to say one thing because we know God is listening but to think something else is of no use. It is the thought and motive that will register with God, not the words.

But none of this is of concern to the one who seeks to please God and obey Him. Such a person understands it is like trying to please a parent who loves you and wants only the best for you. Even when we don't understand the reason they insist on a certain behavior we understand it is for our own good. All of this applies to God and His desire for our behavior. Not only is it what He desires, but it is what will best benefit us. Even though our parents don't always get it right, God always gets it right.

Verses 13-16 give us a word about the sanctity of life from conception. Point one is that it is God who forms us and knits us together in our mother's womb. That is sufficient to give sanctity to life just conceived. However, it will not likely register much concern to one who sees life as formed only by chance and natural selection as if nature acts on its own independent of any outside source or creator. Point two is that even before we were conceived God had all our days "written in Your (His) book and planned before a single one of them began." Regardless of the circumstances of conception or the intentions of the parents for that life, God has purpose and intentions for that life and it therefore has sanctity and purpose.

How do we understand and deal with verses 19-22 which speak of hating and killing the wicked who are enemies of God?  It seems to be out of step with the teaching of Jesus to love even our enemies. However, one commentator puts a different perspective to it which I believe is worthy of consideration. Young says, "David hated, but his hatred was like God's hatred; it proceeded from no evil emotion, but rather from the earnest and thoroughly sincere desire that the purposes of God must stand and that wickedness must perish. Had David not hated, he would have desired the success of evil and the downfall of God Himself. It is well to keep these thoughts in mind when we consider the nature of David's hatred."

The concluding words are no less comforting that the first part of the psalm to one whose motives are more driven to please himself than to please God. The psalmist prays that God would search his heart and test him to see if there is any offensive way in him. For one who seeks God and desires to be pleasing to God, recognizing that it is also good for himself, this will be a prayer they wish to pray. If I am such a person, and I believe I am, I want to know if there is anything in me that I am unaware of that would hinder my relationship with God.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 138

    Psalms 138 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (By David.) With all my heart I praise you, LORD. In the presence of angels I sing your praises.
  2. I worship at your holy temple and praise you for your love and your faithfulness. You were true to your word and made yourself more famous than ever before.
  3. When I asked for your help, you answered my prayer and gave me courage.
  4. All kings on this earth have heard your promises, LORD, and they will praise you.
  5. You are so famous that they will sing about the things you have done.
  6. Though you are above us all, you care for humble people, and you keep a close watch on everyone who is proud.
  7. I am surrounded by trouble, but you protect me against my angry enemies. With your own powerful arm you keep me safe.
  8. You, LORD, will always treat me with kindness. Your love never fails. You have made us what we are. Don't give up on us now!

This is the first of a series of eight psalms that are attributed to David and thought to be works of his that were found at a later time and included in the Book of Psalms somewhat as a supplement. David writes from a thankful heart after God answered his prayer. He was certain all the kings on earth will give thanks to the Lord when they hear of His promises. This would include even the heathen kings. David seems of the opinion that God's glory is so great that in its presence no one can resist giving praise to the Lord. In verse 6 David says that the Lord has a preference to the humble over the haughty. Why is this? It is because He desires our worship and the haughty only worship themselves.

David is confident of the Lord's protection in the future because he has seen it in the past. As I understand it, that is what prompted this psalm - thankfulness for God's answer to his prayer to give him increased strength and protection against his enemies. What reason does he give for God giving His protection? That the Lord's purpose for him would be fulfilled. That is a thought worth hanging onto. Prayer for God's protection from harm is one we pray frequently if we are a praying person. Why would God honor that prayer? Or, why does He in some instances and not in others? It would seem to me that this thought from David helps answer these questions.  It is related to God's purpose for our lives. Would He be as inclined to protect us so that we can go about the life we want to live for ourselves as He would so we can fulfill the purpose He has for our lives? It seems that these questions and this thought are not unrelated to David's comment about God's preference to the humble over the haughty. The humble are more inclined to worship God. They are also more inclined to give themselves to God's purpose for their lives. According to Romans 12:1, this is the greatest worship we can give God - to give Him our lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 137

    Psalms 137 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Beside the rivers of Babylon we thought about Jerusalem, and we sat down and cried.
  2. We hung our small harps on the willow trees.
  3. Our enemies had brought us here as their prisoners, and now they wanted us to sing and entertain them. They insulted us and shouted, "Sing about Zion!"
  4. Here in a foreign land, how can we sing about the LORD?
  5. Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand go limp.
  6. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I don't think about you above all else.
  7. Our LORD, punish the Edomites! Because the day Jerusalem fell, they shouted, "Completely destroy the city! Tear down every building!"
  8. Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord's blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us.
  9. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!

The writer of this psalm was a victim of the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem. This captivity was preceded by a horrendous assault on Jerusalem involving untold atrocities. Once the Jews were brought to their knees, they were marched off to captivity in Babylon where they endured the taunts of their captors, typical of an oppressor to the oppressed. Out of these experiences comes this psalm. It starts with reference to the desolateness of their situation after which the insults of their captors is mentioned. Verses 5 & 6 allude to the writer's attachment to his country followed by a prayer for judgment and retribution upon their enemy.

A number of thoughts pass through my mind as I read this. I try to imagine the extend of grief the writer must have felt and experienced, which I can only imagine. I think of God's hand at work in these experiences of the Jews and how He was guiding events even among people who did not recognize His existence. Israel had turned away from God and were little different from their heathen neighbors at this time in history. God used one of those heathen neighbors to bring judgment on them. But though the Babylonians were used as an instrument of God's judgment they had only contempt for the God of the Jews. It was not to their credit that they had been used to bring judgment on the Jews, and so judgment also came to them at the hands of the Persians. It was this destruction of Babylon at the hands of the Persians that brought the release and return of the Jews to their homeland and beloved Jerusalem. It is a mystery to us how God acts to use the choices and decisions of people for His purposes without overriding the freedom of choice He has given them. Here He was using the actions of powerful nations for His purposes, even nations that had no respect for Him.

Any pleasure in going our own way apart from God is only temporary. The paths of our choosing eventually bring us to our knees. If we come to our knees in surrender to God, the circumstances that bring us there have a purpose. Otherwise they are only tragic. Even if the paths of our choosing bring about actions God uses for His purposes as with the Babylonians, there is no joy in it. Our choices still bring us to our knees as they did the Babylonians. We are wise to learn early in life that the best choices of life are in choosing to allow God to direct our paths.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 136

    Psalms 136 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Praise the LORD! He is good. God's love never fails.
  2. Praise the God of all gods. God's love never fails.
  3. Praise the Lord of lords. God's love never fails.
  4. Only God works great miracles. God's love never fails.
  5. With wisdom he made the sky. God's love never fails.
  6. The Lord stretched the earth over the ocean. God's love never fails.
  7. He made the bright lights in the sky. God's love never fails.
  8. He lets the sun rule each day. God's love never fails.
  9. He lets the moon and the stars rule each night. God's love never fails.
  10. God struck down the first-born in every Egyptian family. God's love never fails.
  11. He rescued Israel from Egypt. God's love never fails.
  12. God used his great strength and his powerful arm. God's love never fails.
  13. He split the Red Sea apart. God's love never fails.
  14. The Lord brought Israel safely through the sea. God's love never fails.
  15. He destroyed the Egyptian king and his army there. God's love never fails.
  16. The Lord led his people through the desert. God's love never fails.
  17. Our God defeated mighty kings. God's love never fails.
  18. And he killed famous kings. God's love never fails.
  19. One of them was Sihon, king of the Amorites. God's love never fails.
  20. Another was King Og of Bashan. God's love never fails.
  21. God took away their land. God's love never fails.
  22. He gave their land to Israel, the people who serve him. God's love never fails.
  23. God saw the trouble we were in. God's love never fails.
  24. He rescued us from our enemies. God's love never fails.
  25. He gives food to all who live. God's love never fails.
  26. Praise God in heaven! God's love never fails.

This psalm rehearses for us an overview of Israel's history while listing ways in which God has demonstrated His love toward Israel throughout that history. It is an overview that is seen in many forms throughout the Old Testament. Obviously this psalm was intended for public worship used in a responsive fashion with one group or individual reading the leading statement of each line and another giving the response, "His love is eternal." As I imagine this being done in worship I imagine this responsiveness building with a crescendo all the way through until it is nearly a shout at the end.

I like what Matthew Henry says of this repetition at the end of each line. He says it intimates that, "God's mercies to his people are thus repeated and drawn, as it were, with a continuando from the beginning to the end, with a progress and advance in infinitum." So as this psalm is used in worship the continual repetition both tells and illustrates the eternal repetition of God's love. There is both a generic and a personal nature to this psalm about God's love. In the beginning it suggests to us that God's creation of the universe is a demonstration of His love. At this point it is of a generic nature, for this act of creation and demonstration of His love is for all, not just for Israel. But then at verse 10 it turns to the personal nature of God's love in the telling of what He did for Israel. And why did God perform the great works such as parting the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross safely? Was it to demonstrate His capabilities? Maybe in part. Was it to fulfill His purpose for Israel? Probably. Was it to bring judgment upon Egypt? Could be. But the point of this psalm is that whatever the reasons for why God does what He does, the motivating factor behind it is His love. His love for me and His love for whoever is reading this.

That thought provides another wrinkle for anyone who is in doubt that God is concerned about us personally. Maybe He created the universe, but if He did, once He accomplished it He went on about His business and left the people He made to shift for themselves. So goes the thinking of some. But no, this psalm is telling us that God was motivated in the act of creation by love. Love for whom? It was for no other than the people He made. And it is not just people in general, but it was also for me. He is not an impersonal God. He is a very personal God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 135

    Psalms 135 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! You are his servants, so praise his name.
  2. All who serve in the temple of the LORD our God,
  3. come and shout praises. Praise the name of the LORD! He is kind and good.
  4. He chose the family of Jacob and the people of Israel for his very own.
  5. The LORD is much greater than any other god.
  6. He does as he chooses in heaven and on earth and deep in the sea.
  7. The LORD makes the clouds rise from far across the earth, and he makes lightning to go with the rain. Then from his secret place he sends out the wind.
  8. The LORD killed the first-born of people and animals in the land of Egypt.
  9. God used miracles and wonders to fight the king of Egypt and all of his officials.
  10. He destroyed many nations and killed powerful kings,
  11. including King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. He conquered every kingdom in the land of Canaan
  12. and gave their property to his people Israel.
  13. The name of the LORD will be remembered forever, and he will be famous for all time to come.
  14. The LORD will bring justice and show mercy to all who serve him.
  15. Idols of silver and gold are made and worshiped in other nations.
  16. They have a mouth and eyes, but they can't speak or see.
  17. They are completely deaf, and they can't breathe.
  18. Everyone who makes idols and all who trust them will end up as helpless as their idols.
  19. Everyone in Israel, come praise the LORD! All the family of Aaron
  20. and all the tribe of Levi, come praise the LORD! All of his worshipers, come praise the LORD.
  21. Praise the LORD from Zion! He lives here in Jerusalem. Shout praises to the LORD!

Why should we praise God? The particulars will vary for different people, but there will be similarities. The psalmist begins by mentioning a couple of God's attributes: He is good and He is delightful. These are reasons for us all to praise Him. Then he then points out that the Lord had chosen them - Israel - as His treasured possession. Although there is a uniqueness about God choosing Israel, those today who have received Christ into their life are also God's chosen people. Ephesians 1:6 says God chose us in Christ and in Christ we have been made God's inheritance. We have a similar reason as the psalmist's to praise the God who has chosen us as His inheritance.

We praise Him also because He is greater than all gods. The psalmist supports this by pointing out God's wonders in nature. He does whatever He pleases in heaven and earth. For instance, He causes the clouds to rise, makes lightning for the rain, and brings the wind from His storehouses. The psalmist moves on to mention the wonders God did for His people. For this he goes back to Israel's slavery in Egypt and tells of the miracles God performed to free them from that slavery. What wonders has God done for us that we can point to for praising Him? I can point to an occasion just this week in which God diverted catastrophe for me when a wheel came off my car. Rather than it happening on the interstate, it happened as soon as I was on a boulevard. Instead of happening at 70 miles an hour, it happened at 30 miles an hour. Mere chance? I think not.

Then the psalmist mentions how God took the Israelites through the wilderness once they were free from Egypt and brought them safely to their land of promise in Canaan. I can point to the ways over the years God has guided my path, charting a course that has blessed me and made my life fruitful. How He has protected me and provided for me. All reasons to give Him praise. Having mentioned these things about God, the psalmist returns to his comment earlier that God is greater than all gods. In verses 15-18 he says idols are nothing but silver and gold, made by human hands. They can't talk or see or hear or breathe. They do not even have the capacities of those who make them.

The psalmist concludes with another call to praise the Lord, this time directing it specifically to the priests and Levites - house of Aaron and house of Levi. May the Lord be praised from Zion. And, may He be praised from within my heart!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 134

    Psalms 134 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) Everyone who serves the LORD, come and offer praises. Everyone who has gathered in his temple tonight,
  2. lift your hands in prayer toward his holy place and praise the LORD.
  3. The LORD is the Creator of heaven and earth, and I pray that the LORD will bless you from Zion.

This is the last in a collection of fifteen psalms called "Songs of Degrees," and serves somewhat as a doxology for the collection. Some suggest it might have actually been used at the conclusion of a temple service "giving exhortation to the priests and Levites who kept the nightly watch in the temple." (Adam Clark's Commentary) The first verse could certainly lend itself to this conclusion. Others consider it a summons to praise. It is certainly that whether or not it was for those who kept nightly watch in the temple. We are summoned to lift our hands and praise the Lord, who is Maker of heaven and earth. Included is a prayer that He may bless those who praise Him.

As I reflect on this psalm I find the focus of my attention to be on the phrase, "Maker of heaven and earth." The One who is Maker of heaven and earth is worthy of my praise and my worship. He is also the source of my blessings. Again, I am struck with how key it is that we recognize God as the Creator. Take that factor away and what kind of a god do you have? Is he worthy of your worship? Is he even capable of providing blessings? It is the foundation of our understanding of God - who and what He is. The scientific community these days seems intent on pointing the source of creation away from God as if they had compelling evidence leading us to believe there is another source. However, it seems more an agenda than science. So many in this community become so impassioned against any suggestion of an Intelligent Designer that one has to wonder if science isn't being used as a crutch to support their religious views.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 133

    Psalms 133 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace.
  2. It is as beautiful as olive oil poured on Aaron's head and running down his beard and the collar of his robe.
  3. It is like the dew from Mount Hermon, falling on Zion's mountains, where the LORD has promised to bless his people with life forevermore.

As this psalm points out, unity is a "good and pleasant" thing. But we should be careful about what we call unity, for a false unity can be a detrimental thing. If we think unity to be an absence of conflict we will be in for difficulty. In the name of unity, bad behavior is often permitted due to the thinking that to oppose it would be to break the unity. It is failure to confront bad behavior that will break unity more completely than anything else. So what often passes for unity is not good and is not a pleasant thing. Various scripture translations translate different words in the place of unity. Some, for instance, use the word 'peace,' others the word 'harmony,' and still others say 'get along' or 'when brothers can live together.' Regardless of the word used here, the same can be said about proper application. Neither is harmony or peace the absence of conflict.

True unity, harmony, or peace require a common purpose that brings persons together in unity around that purpose. It also requires a trust of those involved. This trust makes it possible for individuals to be vulnerable with one another and to call each other to account when any fail to promote the unity or demonstrate behavior that threatens it.

But look at the benefits. Besides the benefit of fulfilling the purpose that brings persons together in unity, there is the pleasantness it brings (verse 1), it is fragrant and holy as the anointing oil used by the priests (verse 2), and it is refreshing as the "dew of Hermon" (verse 3). These are descriptions that probably do not mean as much to us today as they did at the time this was written. But what may be of greatest significance is that the Lord "has appointed the blessing" where unity is found. This brings to mind Christ's sermon on the mount in which He said, "blessed are the peacemakers because they shall be called sons of God. This evidently refers to a unity possible only by those who are sons of God and who can look forward to "life forevermore."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 132

    Psalms 132 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) Our LORD, don't forget David and how he suffered.
  2. Mighty God of Jacob, remember how he promised:
  3. "I won't go home or crawl into bed
  4. or close my eyelids,
  5. until I find a home for you, the mighty LORD God of Jacob."
  6. When we were in Ephrath, we heard that the sacred chest was somewhere near Jaar.
  7. Then we said, "Let's go to the throne of the LORD and worship at his feet."
  8. Come to your new home, LORD, you and the sacred chest with all of its power.
  9. Let victory be like robes for the priests; let your faithful people celebrate and shout.
  10. David is your chosen one, so don't reject him.
  11. You made a solemn promise to David, when you said, "I, the LORD, promise that someone in your family will always be king.
  12. If they keep our agreement and follow my teachings, then someone in your family will rule forever."
  13. You have gladly chosen Zion as your home, our LORD.
  14. You said, "This is my home! I will live here forever.
  15. I will bless Zion with food, and even the poor will eat until they are full.
  16. Victory will be like robes for the priests, and its faithful people will celebrate and shout.
  17. I will give mighty power to the kingdom of David. Each one of my chosen kings will shine like a lamp
  18. and wear a sparkling crown. But I will disgrace their enemies."

There is considerable disagreement among commentaries as to the author and occasion of this Psalm. One viewpoint, that seems most probable to me, is that it was written by Solomon upon the dedication of the newly-constructed temple in Jerusalem. Besides the seeming appropriateness of this psalm to that occasion, the fact that 2 Chronicles chapter 2 has Solomon quoting from this psalm when he spoke at the dedication of the new temple lends further credibility to the psalm being for this occasion. The psalm is in two primary parts. The first part speaks of David's zeal to have a permanent house for the ark, and the second part reaffirms God's covenant with David and states specific promises from God. These promises in the second part of the psalm correspond to specific requests made in the first part.

David vowed not to rest "until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob." However, we recall that God told him he was not the one to build the temple, that his son Solomon would have that task. At the dedication of the temple Solomon relies on God's covenant to his father to ask that God not reject him, Solomon, as God's anointed (verse 10). He goes on to point out God's promises to make Zion (Jerusalem) His home, to abundantly bless the people with food, to clothe the priests with salvation, to make a horn grow for David, to prepare a lamp for His anointed one, and to clothe Israel's enemies with shame. Although not all of this language speaks to us today, we understand it to mean God's blessing on Israel and David's descendants. We also understand that God's promises to David are of a perpetual dynasty that is fulfilled in Christ.

What does all this say to me? It reminds me of my own spiritual heritage. It is a heritage that has persistently, over centuries, pointed to and accomplished God's plan of salvation for mankind. Despite man's unfaithfulness over the ages, God has faithfully worked out His plan. It is a plan that has used people - all kinds of people - to accomplish God's purpose to redeem humanity, and yet none of those He used guided or changed the plan. They merely responded to God's leading in their lives.

When we examine God's plan throughout the ages, it consistently reminds us that the accomplishment of His plan for redemption is not dependent on man's righteousness, but on God's. Man has no righteousness to bring to the table. Only unrighteousness and unfaithfulness. All man can do is to accept, by faith, what God has done on his behalf and then worship God with his life. If I should reject God's salvation feeling that it doesn't make sense and that I cannot in faith accept it, I need to consider what I am, in faith, accepting in its place. There is no neutrality on this subject.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 131

    Psalms 131 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song by David for worship.) I am not conceited, LORD, and I don't waste my time on impossible schemes.
  2. But I have learned to feel safe and satisfied, just like a young child on its mother's lap.
  3. People of Israel, you must trust the LORD now and forever.

Knowing the occasion on which this psalm was written would go a long way in better understanding its meaning. Many suppose it was written by David as a young man when he was accused of conspiring to overtake the throne from Saul. That would give one meaning to the psalm. Another meaning, a more general one, could be a determination by David at some point in his life that he would no longer aspire to things too great or lofty but was instead going to calm and quiet himself and let the Lord direct his paths. This is the meaning I lean toward which does not exclude the first setting in which David was accused of aspiring for the throne. It just gives a slightly different perspective to it.

From this perspective we understand David to be saying that although he had certain aspirations in mind for his life, he is now content to accept whatever God has planned for him. He has put his hope in the Lord, not just for the present, but forever. His life is in God's hands. This is the meaning I wish to take from the psalm. I believe it is the best goal we can set for ourselves. As followers of Christ, if we aspire to be true disciples of Christ, I believe it is the only goal we can have. That is, God's purpose for our lives.

As a young man soon out of college and pursuing a vocation, I had certain aspirations for myself. When I came to a serious consideration of committing my life to Christ and what this really meant, I came up against the very issue I am supposing this psalm is addressing. Do I pursue my aspirations or God's? I believe this question to be one of the three major obstacles to being a true disciple of Christ which Christ Himself points out in Luke 14:27. In this verse Jesus says, "You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross and come with me." I interpret this cross-carrying as crucifying one's own plans for their life that they might follow Christ.

How can we claim to be followers of Christ if rather than following Him we are pursuing our own aspirations? That doesn't automatically mean going to some remote spot on the globe as a missionary. It merely means we allow Christ to call the shots in our life rather than doing it ourselves. In my estimation, that is the only way to the abundant life that Jesus said He came to provide - "I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance." (John 10:10) Does this sound scary and give feelings of insecurity? Actually, I believe it is the most secure position we can take. God promises to provide for those who put first the kingdom of God. In Matthew 6:33, Christ says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." He said this in the context of talking about having the necessities of life. If we pursue God's plan for us we can be assured of always having what we need. If, instead, we pursue our own plans for life we do not have that guarantee. I call God's plan the most secure one to follow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 130

    Psalms 130 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) From a sea of troubles I call out to you, LORD.
  2. Won't you please listen as I beg for mercy?
  3. If you kept record of our sins, no one could last long.
  4. But you forgive us, and so we will worship you.
  5. With all my heart, I am waiting, LORD, for you! I trust your promises.
  6. I wait for you more eagerly than a soldier on guard duty waits for the dawn. Yes, I wait more eagerly than a soldier on guard duty waits for the dawn.
  7. Israel, trust the LORD! He is always merciful, and he has the power to save you.
  8. Israel, the LORD will save you from all of your sins.

Though there is no indication that this and the previous psalm are connected, I looked for the 129th psalm to convey a little of what is found in this one, and that is penitence. The writer of that psalm prayed for his enemy to be cursed because of his treatment of the writer and his people, the Israelites. This was his attitude even though the enemy was used of God to discipline Israel for her sins. On the other hand, the writer of this 130th psalm is only concerned for the Lord's forgiveness of his sin. Penitence is the theme of this psalm. If the Lord considered sins, he says, who could stand? But with the Lord there is forgiveness. This is reason to revere the Lord. It is reason also for the writer to put his hope in God's word. He appeals to Israel that she would also put her hope in the Lord. Why? Because "there is faithful love with the Lord, and with Him is redemption in abundance." The Lord will redeem Israel from all its sins - if it will allow Him to do so.

This is also true for us. Redemption is the story of the bible. God made man to have fellowship with him. But man sinned and broke the fellowship. Therefore, God established a means to atone for the sin and renew the fellowship. That is the bible in a nutshell. There are a few points in this story that are problematic for many. First, many cannot believe that the creator of the universe is all that concerned about one little aspect of that creation - mankind. But that is exactly what the bible tells us over and over again. Nor do many grasp what sin is and why it should break our fellowship with God. As long as one views God somewhat as a traffic cop enforcing certain laws of the universe and sin as the breaking of those laws, it will be difficult to understand what sin is and why it affects our relationship with God. When we come to understand that God desires a relationship with us, only then can we begin to understand it. Then we can begin to understand that as certain actions break our relationships with other people, so do certain actions on our part break our relationship with God.

God made man in His image, the bible tells us, and we are incomplete apart from this relationship with God. Therefore, we are lost, we are adrift, we are without direction or purpose, apart from a relationship with God. The only way we can fully partake of this life God has given us is to be in fellowship with Him and have Him direct us in how to live this life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 129

    Psalms 129 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) Since the time I was young, enemies have often attacked! Let everyone in Israel say:
  2. "Since the time I was young, enemies have often attacked! But they have not defeated me,
  3. though my back is like a field that has just been plowed."
  4. The LORD always does right, and he has set me free from the ropes of those cruel people.
  5. I pray that all who hate the city of Zion will be made ashamed and forced to turn and run.
  6. May they be like grass on the flat roof of a house, grass that dries up as soon as it sprouts.
  7. Don't let them be like wheat gathered in bundles.
  8. And don't let anyone who passes by say to them, "The LORD bless you! I give you my blessing in the name of the LORD."

Deliverance from captivity is a frequent theme in the psalms whereas the threat of captivity is so prominent throughout the books of history and prophecy in the Old Testament. With the exception of Exodus and Daniel, little is written that relates to the periods during Israel's captivities. This psalm is one that references a return from captivity. The writer says that frequent attack from enemies has been a reality all of his life. But he also says that the enemy has not prevailed. They have plowed furrows over his back, but the Lord is righteous and has cut the ropes of the wicked. The inference here being that in cutting the ropes of the wicked Israel was released from her captivity. Then the writer voices a prayer of vengeance for his enemies. "Let those who hate Zion be driven back in disgrace." Let them be like grass that withers before it is fully grown. Nor does he desire that any would give a blessing to his enemy saying, "May the Lord's blessing be on you."

None of us are prone to bless the hand that disciplines us. Nor are we prone to be thankful for the discipline itself. Unless we recognize our need for the discipline we will not likely benefit greatly from it other than to try to avoid it in the future in whatever way we can. But avoidance of discipline and correcting the behavior that brings it are not necessarily the same. I say these things in regard to Israel and this psalm, and in reflection upon my own trials that have resulted from need for discipline. Israel's various captivities by her enemies were direct results of her ungodly behavior and intended as discipline that she might learn to follow in the ways of the Lord. Does this psalm reflect that the lesson was learned on this occasion? I'm not sure. If it were I might more likely expect a prayer for God's help to correct the behavior and keep them from further trials from captivity. Instead we have here a prayer of vengeance for Israel's enemies who were used as the hand of discipline. There is praise to God for His deliverance, but no mention of repentance for what brought the captivity.

Our pathway is made easier with repentance, so why is repentance so hard for us to come to? The obvious response is pride. I have discovered, over time, the truth of what I just said, our pathway is made easier when we are repentant. The benefits are many, but in particular, when I admit that the Lord is right and I am wrong I find peace within myself. I am no longer at odds with my Maker and I find peace both within and without. Additionally, my life is made easier because in admitting the Lord's ways are right I adopt His ways as mine and begin avoiding the pitfalls that cause the trials.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 128

    Psalms 128 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) The LORD will bless you if you respect him and obey his laws.
  2. Your fields will produce, and you will be happy and all will go well.
  3. Your wife will be as fruitful as a grapevine, and just as an olive tree is rich with olives, your home will be rich with healthy children.
  4. That is how the LORD will bless everyone who respects him.
  5. I pray that the LORD will bless you from Zion and let Jerusalem prosper as long as you live.
  6. May you live long enough to see your grandchildren. Let's pray for peace in Israel!

The previous psalm was written to a young man just starting out in life. This psalm seems to be a continuation of that one. They are a "Psalm to the Family." "How happy is everyone who fears the Lord," says the psalmist. In so doing, you will eat what your hands have worked for and your wife will have many children. I think we need to see these benefits as a general rule rather than a specific promise to everyone. Certainly everyone who fears the Lord and walks in His ways will be happy in so doing, but in reality not everyone who does so is recipient of the blessings mentioned here. If we understand our relationship with the Lord to be a guarantee of such benefits we have the wrong motivation for our relationship with Him. The relationship itself is a blessing and benefit sufficient in itself. Everything else is a bonus.

Generally speaking, those who walk in the Lord's ways live a lifestyle that promotes many of the blessings that come as a result of our relationship with the Lord. That is what the Ten Commandments are about: outlining a lifestyle that will promote a life of blessing rather than a life that is cursed by its practices. True, the Lord does bless us in specific ways at times that are special to us, but in general He blesses us by guiding us on a pathway of life, when we walk in His ways, that reaps its own reward.

The psalmist asks in verses 5 & 6 for further blessing beyond those mentioned in the first verses. He asks that as a people they would prosper all the days of their life and that they might have a long life in which to enjoy the children and grandchildren with which they have been blessed. Longevity is not always a blessing, particularly for those who have not enjoyed the blessings mentioned here. A lifestyle that has brought ill health and family dysfunction is not one that is blessed with more and more years of suffering from ill health and bad family relationships. True, many who do not fear the Lord life a lifestyle somewhat similar to those who do and thus do not suffer from poor lifestyle choices. Yet they miss out on many blessings that come from a relationship with the Lord.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 127

    Psalms 127 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song by Solomon for worship.) Without the help of the LORD it is useless to build a home or to guard a city.
  2. It is useless to get up early and stay up late in order to earn a living. God takes care of his own, even while they sleep.
  3. Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD.
  4. Having a lot of children to take care of you in your old age is like a warrior with a lot of arrows.
  5. The more you have, the better off you will be, because they will protect you when your enemies attack with arguments.

Is this a psalm written by Solomon or written to him? That is not certain. Some believe it to be a fatherly psalm written by David to his son Solomon. On the other hand, it certainly seems to fit the style of Solomon's writings in Ecclesiastes. Either way, it is wise counsel to a young man beginning life and taking on a family. He is wise to recognize early on in his life that if his house is not built by the Lord his own labor will be in vain. To leave God out of the equation as he charts the course of his life he sets himself up for a life of vain labor. But if the Lord is allowed to chart life's course for him, his labor is fruitful and he will be at peace, able to sleep at night.

In the first two verses the writer counsels the young man to let the Lord direct the building of his house, in his provision of security, and in his vocation. Finally he counsels him concerning his family. In this, too, he needs to recognize God's hand, for his children are "a heritage from the Lord," and a reward. They are a natural blessing in themselves, but beyond that they are a provision to a parent as the parent is to them.  Parents provide for their children through their childhood years, and in return the children become an asset to their parents in their adult years. As verse 5 says, the man whose quiver is full (with children) "will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate."

This psalm conveys the same truth as does Zechariah 4:6, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 126

    Psalms 126 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) It seemed like a dream when the LORD brought us back to the city of Zion.
  2. We celebrated with laughter and joyful songs. In foreign nations it was said, "The LORD has worked miracles for his people."
  3. And so we celebrated because the LORD had indeed worked miracles for us.
  4. Our LORD, we ask you to bless our people again, and let us be like streams in the Southern Desert.
  5. We cried as we went out to plant our seeds. Now let us celebrate as we bring in the crops.
  6. We cried on the way to plant our seeds, but we will celebrate and shout as we bring in the crops.

The setting of this psalm is no doubt the return of Israel to her homeland following a period of captivity. It was probably the Babylonian captivity which lasted such a long period of time brought Israel back to a desolate homeland that was overgrown and untended. They returned with great rejoicing, praising the Lord for what He had done. It is pointed out to us in verse 2 that when the Lord blesses His people, others take notice and have cause to consider joining themselves to this God. Now that Israel has returned, their prayer is that the Lord would restore their fortunes. Return them to their former state. Then comes the psalmist's lesson from the experience of the people: "Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy."

What lesson do I draw from this? There might be any number of applications made to this passage. But keeping with the context of the psalm seems best to me. As I see it, the context of the psalm has the Israelites returning to a desolate homeland following a 70-year captivity in Babylon. They must rebuild and replant if the land is to return to its former state. But they are burdened down with grief over their losses and the task seems overwhelming. True, they were joyful to be returning, but what they found when they got there brought back the sorrow. They prayed that the Lord would restore their fortunes so now they must put feet to their prayers and sow, though they do so with tears. Their sowing represents their faith that the Lord will indeed bring a harvest from their efforts. That He will answer their prayer. So the lesson to me is that in spite of our losses and the overwhelming circumstances we may face, if we will pray for God's help and then act in faith by going ahead with our "planting," even though we do so with tears, we will see a harvest and we will again rejoice.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 125

    Psalms 125 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) Everyone who trusts the LORD is like Mount Zion that cannot be shaken and will stand forever.
  2. Just as Jerusalem is protected by mountains on every side, the LORD protects his people by holding them in his arms now and forever.
  3. He won't let the wicked rule his people or lead them to do wrong.
  4. Let's ask the LORD to be kind to everyone who is good and completely obeys him.
  5. When the LORD punishes the wicked, he will punish everyone else who lives a crooked life. Pray for peace in Israel!

This psalm might be summed up with Isaiah's words in Isaiah 3:10-11, "Tell the righteous that it will go well for them, for they will eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked--it will go badly for them, for what they have done will be done to them." In other words, we reap what we sow. This is the message of Psalm 125 in a nutshell. Why is this true that we read what we sow? The truth of it could be approached from several directions, but the approach of this psalm has to do with what our trust is based on. The first verse of the psalm says that those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion that cannot be shaken. Their trust is based on what is sure and unshakable. They are like those Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:25. Their faith is built on the solid rock, and as Jesus said, "The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn't collapse, because its foundation was on the rock."

In contrast, those who turn to wicked ways build their lives on sand, to return to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:27. So when "The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house," it collapsed. The house built on sand may be very elaborate when built, but its fall is sure. So it is with those who live lifes of wickedness. In the beginning they may build an elaborate life that appears to be wonderful. But their fall is sure. It may not happen soon, but it will happen.

Many might say, "I'm not wicked, I don't do wicked things." And this may be true. But if their trust is not in the Lord, they are still building their lives on sand rather than on the solid rock.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 124

    Psalms 124 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song by David for worship.) The LORD was on our side! Let everyone in Israel say:
  2. "The LORD was on our side! Otherwise, the enemy attack
  3. would have killed us all, because it was furious.
  4. We would have been swept away in a violent flood
  5. of high and roaring waves."
  6. Let's praise the LORD! He protected us from enemies who were like wild animals,
  7. and we escaped like birds from a hunter's torn net.
  8. The LORD made heaven and earth, and he is the one who sends us help.

This psalm could be titled, "If the Lord had not been on our side." The entire psalm is an explanation of that statement. If the Lord had not been on their side, the enemy would have swallowed them alive, the waters would have engulfed them, and the torrent would have swept over them. As it was, they escaped the encounter "like a bird from the hunter's net." But it was only because of the Lord's help, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Two thoughts strike me as I reflect on this psalm. The first is the importance of recognizing the source of our victories - whatever those victories may be. Not only is it important that we praise God and thank Him for His help because that is what He desires, but it is important because we need to realize the source of our victory. This recognition will serve us in the future when faced with more difficult situations. Situations so overwhelming that we have no doubt of our inability to do anything about them. Being confident in God's help will come from previous experiences in which we have recognized His help, and will carry us through the present overwhelming circumstance. Every time we praise God for what He has done, we not only are doing something pleasing to Him, we are building our store of confidence in God's help for the future.

The second thought that strikes me from this psalm comes from the very last phrase of the psalm, "Maker of heaven and earth." This recognition of God as the Creator is central to our ability to recognize God's help in times of trouble. It is central, even, to recognizing there is a God. Much of the scientific community these days is intent on denying any involvement of an "Intelligent Designer" in creation. They do so in the face of a total inability to explain how the universe and all it contains got here. Explanations they offer are harder to believe than to believe there is a God who created it. But they are determined to accept these explanations rather than accept that there is a God. If, however, at this very crucial point one were to accept the idea of God in the role of creation, everything else about God becomes plausible. Accepting the role of God in delivering His people in times of trouble, as did the psalmist in this psalm, becomes believable if one accepts God as "Maker of heaven and earth." If God is the Creator, then He is capable of delivering His people from anything. The remaining question to answer is, "Does the Creator of the universe care enough about you and me to deliver us when we are in trouble?" And Jesus answered this question for us. God cares enough about our deliverance to sacrifice His own son for that purpose.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 123

    Psalms 123 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) Our LORD and our God, I turn my eyes to you, on your throne in heaven.
  2. Servants look to their master, but we will look to you, until you have mercy on us.
  3. Please have mercy, LORD! We have been insulted more than we can stand,
  4. and we can't take more abuse from those proud, conceited people.

Expectancy might be considered the theme of this psalm. It is evident, for instance, in the mention of the eyes. They are lifted to the Lord, as the servant's eyes are attentive to their master, those of the writer are on the Lord. The eyes are expectant of the Lord's mercy or favor. We can sense that this is an urgent expectancy rather than casual. The writer and his people are exposed to scorn and contempt by those who are arrogant and proud. Who might this be? We don't know, but some believe the psalm was written during a time when Israel was in captivity. Whatever the circumstances, they have experienced enough scorn and contempt and are looking for God's favor.

Unfortunately, it is when we feel the rejection of those around us that we normally feel most rejected by God as well. To be sure, this is perception and not reality, but perception is often what seems the most real to us at the time. That is why we need to keep close to God in all times so that in the difficult times we are assured of the Lord's presence even when it might seem that He is far away. As the question is sometimes asked, "If God seems far away, who has moved?" And, of course, the answer is, "It wasn't God." This may seem trite, but it is true, none the less. God is ever present and ever with us. If ever it seems otherwise, it is our feelings that are betraying us. James 4:8 tells us to, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." God is ever present. It is we who come and go. Jesus told His followers to "Remain in Me, and I in you." (John 15:4) By so doing, He said, we can be fruitful.

Reflecting on scripture is a primary way we can remain in the Lord or draw close to Him. It is a practice that will take us through both good and bad times.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 122

Psalms 122 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song by David for worship.) It made me glad to hear them say, "Let's go to the house of the LORD!"
  2. Jerusalem, we are standing inside your gates.
  3. Jerusalem, what a strong and beautiful city you are!
  4. Every tribe of the LORD obeys him and comes to you to praise his name.
  5. David's royal throne is here where justice rules.
  6. Jerusalem, we pray that you will have peace, and that all will go well for those who love you.
  7. May there be peace inside your city walls and in your palaces.
  8. Because of my friends and my relatives, I will pray for peace.
  9. And because of the house of the LORD our God, I will work for your good.

This psalm is attributed to David for use in worship when the people went to Jerusalem for the three solemn feasts. Enthusiasm is expressed toward Jerusalem which was not only Israel's capital but also the center of its worship. It was to them the city of God. It was where He resided at the temple which was located there. Jerusalem is highlighted in this psalm as:
  • A city built as a city should be built.
  • The place where the tribes of Israel went to give thanks to the Lord.
  • The seat of justice.
The people are encouraged to pray for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem. Why? "Because of my brothers and friends," and "Because of the house of the Lord."

As I reflect on this psalm I am not drawn particularly by the nationalism and pride for Jerusalem expressed in it, but I am drawn in the first verse by the words, "I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." Since the advent of Christ this takes on a different meaning than it did for the Jew of David's day. For them, the house of the Lord was the temple at Jerusalem. For those who are followers of Christ, we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that we are "a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you."

It could be argued that for the follower of Christ who is "a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit," they are continually at the house of the Lord. But when I think of going to the house of the Lord, I think of meeting Him in worship and I envision two meeting places. The first is my meeting place with the Lord each day for personal worship and the second is the place of worship I go to each week to join others in worship. Both are special and I meet God in different ways in each of these places. My personal worship time and location is where I commune best and most closely with the Lord. I am not drawn away by anyone else or any other distraction. It is just the Lord and myself and I am not only drawn to Him in those times but also confronted by Him as needed. My weekly worship time with others at the place of worship is special because of the fellowship with other believers and followers of Christ and because of the other elements of worship that come into play. I am challenged in different ways in this setting. Challenged by others, challenged by the music, and challenged by the sermons. I could repeat that last sentence and replace "challenged" with other words such as "drawn to the Lord." Drawn to the Lord by others, drawn to the Lord by the music, drawn to the Lord by the sermons.

Therefore, I will rejoice with those who say to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 121

    Psalms 121 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) I look to the hills! Where will I find help?
  2. It will come from the LORD, who created the heavens and the earth.
  3. The LORD is your protector, and he won't go to sleep or let you stumble.
  4. The protector of Israel doesn't doze or ever get drowsy.
  5. The LORD is your protector, there at your right side to shade you from the sun.
  6. You won't be harmed by the sun during the day or by the moon at night.
  7. The LORD will protect you and keep you safe from all dangers.
  8. The LORD will protect you now and always wherever you go.

Here is a great psalm of comfort if one will accept its tenets. Primarily they are that the Lord is our protector who is always on duty. He will protect us from all harm. These are its main tenets though a few other details are offered such as: He will not allow your foot to slip, the sun will not strike you, the Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever. What do we make of this when we know that harm does at times come to good and godly people? I personally am not troubled by this seeming inconsistency. I know, for one thing, that there certainly is no hope of help from any other direction. Those who love me and wish no harm to come to me can do nothing to stop it. Only God is capable of such a thing. I believe that much of the potential harm that might have come my way and didn't was not harm that missed me, but harm that I missed. In other words, I believe the harm that I might have escaped was not diverted from me, but I was diverted from it. This is why we want God to be directing our paths. He knows where the harm lies and can divert us from it.

Okay, that is all fine and good, but what about this psalm stating that "The Lord will protect you from all harm," and the fact that harm does come at times even to those who allow God to direct their paths? Well, we have here first the truth that nothing is beyond God's control to be able to harm us. That is, nothing can harm us that God does not permit. This is troubling to one who is not convinced about God, who has not been devoted to God and seen His care first-hand over time. But the one who has experienced God's care knows that God has a purpose for even those seemingly bad things that come into our lives. Romans 8:28 is true, "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God." Many a follower of God will testify to the "harm" God allowed into their lives that led to better things. One never gets to the point of welcoming harm, but when it comes we can be assured in the midst of it that God has something good for us at the other end when we emerge from the harm. When understood in this way, harm is no longer harm. It is a pathway to something else - something that is for our good.

What I am saying here is not theoretical ideas that might be possible. They are realities that I have experienced as have many others over the ages. But the unbeliever will not likely "buy" this perspective. That is understandable. The only way to understand them and accept them is to first take the step of faith toward God. Believe that He is and that He cares enough for us that He might actually protect us from harm. No sense can be made of any of this looking from outside faith in.

But I will take my stand with the writer of this psalm and raise my eyes to the One from whom comes my help, the "Maker of heaven and earth." My help comes from the Lord.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 120

    Psalms 120 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song for worship.) When I am in trouble, I pray,
  2. "Come and save me, LORD, from deceitful liars!"
  3. What punishment is fitting for you deceitful liars?
  4. Your reward should be sharp and flaming arrows!
  5. But I must live as a foreigner among the people of Meshech and in the tents of Kedar.
  6. I have spent too much time living among people who hate peace.
  7. I am in favor of peace, but when I speak of it, all they want is war.

Slander is the topic of this 120th Psalm. The psalmist was under attack by a slanderer and sought the Lord's help. He was apparently greatly distressed by the attacks, as any of us who has ever been attack by slander could understand. He asks the Lord to deliver him and then suggests that the Lord might strike the attacker with sharp arrows and cauterize his tongue with burning charcoal, which seems a fitting remedy. In the concluding verses the psalmist bemoans that he has stayed so long among the tribes of Meshech and Kedar who were known as an uncivilized and cruel people. While he sought peace, they hated it, wanting war instead. It may have been due to this difference that these people fought him with slander.

Slander is a particularly malicious practice which has potential to destroy a person's reputation, even causing them to lose their livelihood. Yet there is often little defense against it regardless of the source or the accusation. No matter what evidence is presented against the slander, public opinion often retains doubt about the person. Once the seed of slander is planted its roots are difficult to irradicate. Not only is slander malicious because of the damage it can do and because there is little defense against it, it is malicious because the victim is always innocent. By definition that is the very nature of slander. It is, "words falsely spoken that damage the reputation of another." The sin of slander is strongly spoken against in the New Testament. Christians are not to be guilty of this sin. We might unthinkingly slip into gossip, for instance, but cannot unthinkingly slip into slander. It involves forethought and intent. It requires planning to determine the accusation and give a modicum of truth to the charge.

Reputation is the target of slander making those of good reputation most susceptible to attack, and those of low reputation invulnerable. This weapon carries little or no threat to them. These realities add to the maliciousness of this practice. It is a sin that should not cross the mind of a Christian to be used against another, and if the Christian finds himself/herself a victim of attack, the primary resort is to do as this psalmist and turn to the Lord for help. He can help better than anything else we could attempt.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 119

    Psalms 119 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Our LORD, you bless everyone who lives right and obeys your Law.
  2. You bless all of those who follow your commands from deep in their hearts
  3. and who never do wrong or turn from you.
  4. You have ordered us always to obey your teachings;
  5. I don't ever want to stray from your laws.
  6. Thinking about your commands will keep me from doing some foolish thing.
  7. I will do right and praise you by learning to respect your perfect laws.
  8. I will obey all of them! Don't turn your back on me.
  9. Young people can live a clean life by obeying your word.
  10. I worship you with all my heart. Don't let me walk away from your commands.
  11. and obeying your laws makes me wiser than those who have lived a long time.
  12. I obey your word instead of following a way that leads to trouble.
  13. You have been my teacher, and I won't reject your instructions.
  14. Your teachings are sweeter than honey.
  15. They give me understanding and make me hate all lies.
  16. Your word is a lamp that gives light wherever I walk.
  17. Your laws are fair, and I have given my word to respect them all.
  18. I am in terrible pain! Save me, LORD, as you said you would.
  19. Accept my offerings of praise and teach me your laws.
  20. I never forget your teachings, although my life is always in danger.
  21. I treasure your word above all else; it keeps me from sinning against you.
  22. Some merciless people are trying to trap me, but I never turn my back on your teachings.
  23. They will always be my most prized possession and my source of joy.
  24. I have made up my mind to obey your laws forever, no matter what.
  25. I hate anyone whose loyalty is divided, but I love your Law.
  26. You are my place of safety and my shield. Your word is my only hope.
  27. All of you worthless people, get away from me! I am determined to obey the commands of my God.
  28. Be true to your word, LORD. Keep me alive and strong; don't let me be ashamed because of my hope.
  29. Keep me safe and secure, so that I will always respect your laws.
  30. You reject all deceitful liars because they refuse your teachings.
  31. As far as you are concerned, all evil people are garbage, and so I follow your rules.
  32. I praise you, LORD! Teach me your laws.
  33. I tremble all over when I think of you and the way you judge.
  34. I did what was fair and right! Don't hand me over to those who want to mistreat me.
  35. Take good care of me, your servant, and don't let me be harmed by those conceited people.
  36. My eyes are weary from waiting to see you keep your promise to come and save me.
  37. Show your love for me, your servant, and teach me your laws.
  38. I serve you, so let me understand your teachings.
  39. Do something, LORD! They have broken your Law.
  40. Your laws mean more to me than the finest gold.
  41. I follow all of your commands, but I hate anyone who leads me astray.
  42. Your teachings are wonderful, and I respect them all.
  43. With my own mouth, I tell others the laws that you have spoken.
  44. Understanding your word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.
  45. I honestly want to know everything you teach.
  46. Think about me and be kind, just as you are to everyone who loves your name.
  47. Keep your promise and don't let me stumble or let sin control my life.
  48. Protect me from abuse, so I can obey your laws.
  49. Smile on me, your servant, and teach me your laws.
  50. When anyone disobeys you, my eyes overflow with tears.
  51. Our LORD, you always do right, and your decisions are fair.
  52. All of your teachings are true and trustworthy.
  53. It upsets me greatly when my enemies neglect your teachings.
  54. Obeying your instructions brings as much happiness as being rich.
  55. Your word to me, your servant, is like pure gold; I treasure what you say.
  56. Everyone calls me a nobody, but I remember your laws.
  57. You will always do right, and your teachings are true.
  58. I am in deep distress, but I love your teachings.
  59. Your rules are always fair. Help me to understand them and live.
  60. I pray to you, LORD! Please answer me. I promise to obey your laws.
  61. I beg you to save me, so I can follow your rules.
  62. Even before sunrise, I pray for your help, and I put my hope in what you have said.
  63. I lie awake at night, thinking of your promises.
  64. Show that you love me, LORD, and answer my prayer. Please do the right thing and save my life.
  65. I will study your teachings and follow your footsteps.
  66. People who disobey your Law have made evil plans and want to hurt me,
  67. but you are with me, and all of your commands can be trusted.
  68. From studying your laws, I found out long ago that you made them to last forever.
  69. I have not forgotten your Law! Look at the trouble I am in, and rescue me.
  70. Be my defender and protector! Keep your promise and save my life.
  71. Evil people won't obey you, and so they have no hope of being saved.
  72. You are merciful, LORD! Please do the right thing and save my life.
  73. I have a lot of brutal enemies, but still I never turn from your laws.
  74. All of those unfaithful people who refuse to obey you are disgusting to me.
  75. Remember how I love your laws, and show your love for me by keeping me safe.
  76. I will take pleasure in your laws and remember your words.
  77. All you say can be trusted; your teachings are true and will last forever.
  78. Rulers are cruel to me for no reason. But with all my heart I respect your words,
  79. because they bring happiness like treasures taken in war.
  80. I can't stand liars, but I love your Law.
  81. I praise you seven times a day because your laws are fair.
  82. You give peace of mind to all who love your Law. Nothing can make them fall.
  83. You are my only hope for being saved, LORD, and I do all you command.
  84. I love and obey your laws with all my heart.
  85. You know everything I do. You know I respect every law you have given.
  86. Please, LORD, hear my prayer and give me the understanding that comes from your word.
  87. Treat me with kindness, LORD, so that I may live and do what you say.
  88. Listen to my concerns and keep me safe, just as you have promised.
  89. If you will teach me your laws, I will praise you
  90. and sing about your promise, because all of your teachings are what they ought to be.
  91. Be ready to protect me because I have chosen to obey your laws.
  92. I am waiting for you to save me, LORD. Your Law makes me happy.
  93. Keep me alive, so I can praise you, and let me find help in your teachings.
  94. I am your servant, but I have wandered away like a lost sheep. Please come after me, because I have not forgotten your teachings.
  95. Open my mind and let me discover the wonders of your Law.
  96. I live here as a stranger. Don't keep me from knowing your commands.
  97. What I want most of all and at all times is to honor your laws.
  98. You punish those boastful, worthless nobodies who turn from your commands.
  99. Don't let them sneer and insult me for following you.
  100. I keep thinking about your teachings, LORD, even if rulers plot against me.
  101. Your laws are my greatest joy! I follow their advice.
  102. I am at the point of death. Let your teachings breathe new life into me.
  103. When I told you my troubles, you answered my prayers. Now teach me your laws.
  104. Help me to understand your teachings, and I will think about your marvelous deeds.
  105. I am overcome with sorrow. Encourage me, as you have promised to do.
  106. Keep me from being deceitful, and be kind enough to teach me your Law.
  107. I am determined to be faithful and to respect your laws.
  108. I follow your rules, LORD. Don't let me be ashamed.
  109. I am eager to learn all that you want me to do; help me to understand more and more.
  110. Point out your rules to me, and I won't disobey even one of them.
  111. Help me to understand your Law; I promise to obey it with all my heart.
  112. Direct me by your commands! I love to do what you say.
  113. Make me want to obey you, rather than to be rich.
  114. Take away my foolish desires, and let me find life by walking with you.
  115. I am your servant! Do for me what you promised to those who worship you.
  116. Your wonderful teachings protect me from the insults that I hate so much.
  117. I long for your teachings. Be true to yourself and let me live.
  118. Show me your love and save me, LORD, as you have promised.
  119. Then I will have an answer for everyone who insults me for trusting your word.
  120. I rely on your laws! Don't take away my chance to speak your truth.
  121. I will keep obeying your Law forever and ever.
  122. I have gained perfect freedom by following your teachings,
  123. and I trust them so much that I tell them to kings.
  124. I love your commands! They bring me happiness.
  125. I love and respect them and will keep them in mind.
  126. Don't forget your promise to me, your servant. I depend on it.
  127. When I am hurting, I find comfort in your promise that leads to life.
  128. Conceited people sneer at me, but I obey your Law.
  129. I find true comfort, LORD, because your laws have stood the test of time.
  130. I get furious when evil people turn against your Law.
  131. No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs.
  132. Even in the night I think about you, LORD, and I obey your Law.
  133. You have blessed me because I have always followed your teachings.
  134. You, LORD, are my choice, and I will obey you.
  135. With all my heart I beg you to be kind to me, just as you have promised.
  136. I pay careful attention as you lead me, and I follow closely.
  137. As soon as you command, I do what you say.
  138. Evil people may set a trap, but I obey your Law.
  139. Your laws are so fair that I wake up and praise you in the middle of the night.
  140. I choose as my friends everyone who worships you and follows your teachings.
  141. Our LORD, your love is seen all over the world. Teach me your laws.
  142. I am your servant, LORD, and you have kept your promise to treat me with kindness.
  143. Give me wisdom and good sense. I trust your commands.
  144. Once you corrected me for not obeying you, but now I obey.
  145. You are kindhearted, and you do good things, so teach me your laws.
  146. My reputation is being ruined by conceited liars, but with all my heart I follow your teachings.
  147. Those liars have no sense, but I find happiness in your Law.
  148. When you corrected me, it did me good because it taught me to study your laws.
  149. I would rather obey you than to have a thousand pieces of silver and gold.
  150. You created me and put me together. Make me wise enough to learn what you have commanded.
  151. Your worshipers will see me, and they will be glad that I trust your word.
  152. Your decisions are correct, and you were right to punish me.
  153. I serve you, LORD. Comfort me with your love, just as you have promised.
  154. I love to obey your Law! Have mercy and let me live.
  155. Put down those proud people who hurt me with their lies, because I have chosen to study your teachings.
  156. Let your worshipers come to me, so they will learn to obey your rules.
  157. Let me truly respect your laws, so I won't be ashamed.
  158. I long for you to rescue me! Your word is my only hope.
  159. I am worn out from waiting for you to keep your word. When will you have mercy?
  160. My life is wasting away like a dried-up wineskin, but I have not forgotten your teachings.
  161. I am your servant! How long must I suffer? When will you punish those troublemakers?
  162. Those proud people reject your teachings, and they dig pits for me to fall in.
  163. Your laws can be trusted! Protect me from cruel liars.
  164. They have almost killed me, but I have been faithful to your teachings.
  165. Show that you love me and let me live, so that I may obey all of your commands.
  166. Our LORD, you are eternal! Your word will last as long as the heavens.
  167. You remain faithful in every generation, and the earth you created will keep standing firm.
  168. All things are your servants, and the laws you made are still in effect today.
  169. If I had not found happiness in obeying your Law, I would have died in misery.
  170. I won't ever forget your teachings, because you give me new life by following them.
  171. I belong to you, and I have respected your laws, so keep me safe.
  172. Brutal enemies are waiting to ambush and destroy me, but I obey your rules.
  173. Nothing is completely perfect, except your teachings.
  174. I deeply love your Law! I think about it all day.
  175. Your laws never leave my mind, and they make me much wiser than my enemies.
  176. Thinking about your teachings gives me better understanding than my teachers,

God's word and His instruction is the subject of this 119th Psalm, which is the most unusual of the psalms. With 176 verses, it's length is due primarily to its structure. It is built on the Hebrew alphabet which contains 22 letters, and has 22 sections, each section corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. Each section has 8 verses, every verse beginning with the letter that corresponds to that section. So 22 sections with 8 verses each comes to 176 verses in the psalm.

Two of my favorite verses in the psalm are also favorites for many: verse 11 - "I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You." and verse 105 - "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path." Experience has taught me the truth of these verses as well as of the whole psalm about the role of God's word in one's life. That is a key reason I write these reflections from my readings of God's word. It helps me to think about what I am reading and reflect on it's meaning for my life. My desire to grow in my relationship to God was more desire than reality until I began to spend time in scripture. And then I "treasured" God's word in my heart and it changed my life. Over the years it has indeed been a "lamp for my feet and a light on my path." I cannot imagine the direction my life might have taken otherwise. I could never have charted a course for my life that would have brought as much blessing and fulfillment.

Only one verse in the psalm fails to have some mention of God's word. Here are benefits attributed to treasuring God's word:
  • Happy are those who live according to the law of the Lord.
  • Treasuring God's word keeps us from sinning.
  • It provides discernment to the ways of God.
  • It helps us recognize our weaknesses.
  • It turns our heart toward God.
  • God's word gives comfort.
  • It helps us to persevere in our faithfulness to God.
  • It is priceless in its value to us.
  • It gives us insight.
  • It is eternal.
  • It gives us wisdom.
  • It gives us joy and communion with the Lord.
  • It leads us to salvation.
This is not a complete list of benefits mentioned in the psalm, but representative. The last section refers to some type of trouble the psalmist is experiencing as he writes this psalm. He asks God to rescue him because he has chosen to follow His precepts. Times of trouble can be some of our most reflective times, leading to the greatest lessons learned. Asking "why" in times of trouble will not lead us to the lessons. It is asking "what" - "what do you want me to learn" - in those times that lead to the lessons. That is what I sense is going on with the psalmist in this psalm. In his time of trouble he is reflecting on the benefits of treasuring God's word and following its teachings. It is helping to moor him and give him his bearings in this troubling time, looking to this to take him through the difficult period.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 118

    Psalms 118 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful.
  2. Let Israel shout, "God is always merciful!"
  3. Let the family of Aaron the priest shout, "God is always merciful!"
  4. Let every true worshiper of the LORD shout, "God is always merciful!"
  5. When I was really hurting, I prayed to the LORD. He answered my prayer, and took my worries away.
  6. The LORD is on my side, and I am not afraid of what others can do to me.
  7. With the LORD on my side, I will defeat all of my hateful enemies.
  8. It is better to trust the LORD for protection than to trust anyone else,
  9. including strong leaders.
  10. Nations surrounded me, but I got rid of them by the power of the LORD.
  11. They attacked from all sides, but I got rid of them by the power of the LORD.
  12. They swarmed around like bees, but by the power of the LORD, I got rid of them and their fiery sting.
  13. Their attacks were so fierce that I nearly fell, but the LORD helped me.
  14. My power and my strength come from the LORD, and he has saved me.
  15. From the tents of God's people come shouts of victory: "The LORD is powerful!
  16. With his mighty arm the LORD wins victories! The LORD is powerful!"
  17. And so my life is safe, and I will live to tell what the LORD has done.
  18. He punished me terribly, but he did not let death lay its hands on me.
  19. Open the gates of justice! I will enter and tell the LORD how thankful I am.
  20. Here is the gate of the LORD! Everyone who does right may enter this gate.
  21. I praise the LORD for answering my prayers and saving me.
  22. The stone that the builders tossed aside has now become the most important stone.
  23. The LORD has done this, and it is amazing to us.
  24. This day belongs to the LORD! Let's celebrate and be glad today.
  25. We'll ask the LORD to save us! We'll sincerely ask the LORD to let us win.
  26. God bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD! We praise you from here in the house of the LORD.
  27. The LORD is our God, and he has given us light! Start the celebration! March with palm branches all the way to the altar.
  28. The LORD is my God! I will praise him and tell him how thankful I am.
  29. Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful.

God's enduring and faithful love is the theme of the first four verses of this 118th psalm, and could, in fact, be said to be the theme of the entire psalm. From this beginning theme the psalmist gives reason for his praise of God's enduring and faithful love (verses 5-9).  He called on the Lord when in distress and the Lord answered him, taking away his worries. That is sufficient for him to trust the Lord and not be afraid, recognizing that with God for him, "What can mad do to me?" He has learned that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in man or nobles. This is not the end of his testimonial, however. In the next verses (10-13), he tells of how he was surrounded by all the nations and the Lord enabled him to destroy them. His description gives the impression he was against overwhelming odds and it was only with God's help he was victorious. Not only did they surround him but they surrounded him like swarming bees.

This psalm might be considered antiphonal in nature. That is, it goes between two or more groups in a responsive manner. In this case there is the psalmist and then the priests along with the people. Through verse 13 the psalmist has been speaking. Beginning with verse 14 the people and priests rejoice in the Lord, stating that the Lord is their strength. It was He who has made them victorious in battle, and because of this, "I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the LORD has done." There is acknowledgment that the Lord had disciplined the people. The discipline was severe but not to the point of death. But the Lord became their salvation and they now give thanks and praise to Him.

Verse 12 brings us to familiar territory. Whether those first using this psalm recognized the significance of what they spoke/sang, we cannot know, but Christ references verse 22 to Himself. He was the stone rejected by the builders that became the cornerstone. Verse 24 is often used in a general sense, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." In this context, however, new significance is given to it. Certainly the Lord has made every day and we should rejoice in that fact, but in this context it seems to be a reference to the day the Lord made Christ the cornerstone. Verse 23 ties verses 22 and 24 together. The day the Lord made Christ the cornerstone is certainly a day in which to rejoice and be glad.

The concluding verses proclaim what we should proclaim daily. As my wife and I speak each day of our love for one another, we should each day proclaim God as our God in whom we give thanks and place our trust. Not only is this proclamation music to God's ears, it is a reinforcement of our personal commitment to God that we need to make daily for our own sake.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 117

    Psalms 117 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. All of you nations, come praise the LORD! Let everyone praise him.
  2. His love for us is wonderful; his faithfulness never ends. Shout praises to the LORD!

With only two verses, this is the shortest of the psalms. It is thought by some to have been used in public worship somewhat as the Doxologies were used in Christian worship of the past century. It is a call to all nations and people to worship the Lord, and the reason given is the greatness of His faithful love to us and the eternal nature of His faithfulness. Such characteristics on the part of our Creator deserve a response on our part. And what should that response be? Faithful church attendance? Charity for the poor? I would suggest that this should not be our first response but should follow our first response. I believe our first and lasting response should be relational. I don't think God is so much interested in our pious duties as He is our relationship with Him. And the mark of any significant relationship is time spent together in one's company and in sharing one's thoughts and concerns and feelings. I believe our relationship with God should be no different. It should be characterized by time spent reading God's word and conversing with Him in prayer. I have to wonder about the nature and depth of one's relationship to God when they don't seem to have time or make time to spend with God in this type of relationship. It makes everything else we do to show our love seem superficial.

Serving God should also be our response to His faithful and enduring love to us, but I believe service should follow the relational part, not replace it. When we love someone we not only spend time with them, we desire to do things for them. Out of our love for God we will want to be a part of the church He established, worshiping and serving alongside others who are a part of His family. But again, these do not replace the relational part of spending time with God.