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Created to Praise: My Journey through Psalms (8)

Psalm 8

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” originally spoken by Mary Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice I’ve always interpreted this in a rather Romantic way. No, not as in lovey-dovey let’s grow old together romanticism of the 21st century, but 19th century Romanticism where idealism and nature reigned supreme and people really did look at the world around them in terms of simplicity and beauty as opposed to what they can use it for. Of course that was before industrialism stripped the world into a barren wasteland and though technology and progress certainly make life easier, I’m not entirely sure it has made our world better. But I digress.
On one level, Mary (and then in the adaptation, Elizabeth’s) spoken question is literally pointing out freedoms associated with natural beauty–anticipating Elizabeth’s upcoming trip to the lake district and the escape from the soul crushing societal expectations. On another it embodies the theme of most Romantics–the search for individual freedoms and happiness among a society that places pressure on each person to maintain a certain amount of social balance.  What I find interesting is the equivocating nature of the question: comparing “men” to “nature”. Men could, in fact, just refer to Elizabeth (and all the sisters’) search for ‘suitable’ husbands to save them from social ostracisim, yet “men” embodies so much more, especially in the 19th century before feminism took political correctness to a whole new level. Reaching beyond just the surface, “men” could also be “society” or “humankind”.
What is society compared to nature?
Psalm 8 cries out in verse 3 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
Humankind and nature have always been intertwined, and whether you want to admit it or not, nature holds a power over humankind that we cannot (and maybe should not) tame. Verse 5 continues “You made him little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hand”.  It’s a matter of order, not a matter of control.
Mark 11: 23 says, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
Read those pronouns. “Yourself”, the mountain is a part of the action. “Done for them”, man didn’t do it–their faith in the One with more power than they did. Humankind isn’t in control.
Just as a ruler who respects his people will have a more effective reign, humankind must respect our role in creation. Throwing mountains into oceans for no reason isn’t respectful to anyone. We are not gods. We are not masters. We are not in control. We are only a part of the whole. And we are all created to do the same thing: praise the one who created us.

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Questions to ponder:

  1. How is humankind and nature intertwined?
  2. Do I have any bad habits that need correcting to make me a better part of God’s creation?
  3. How can I praise God more?

Regret to Repent: My journey through Psalms (6)

Psalm 6

The other day I was babysitting my nieces. My eldest niece is eight going on thirteen and so when we were sitting down to eat dinner, she was in quite a sassy mood. In her attempt to assert some kind of rebellious authority after having been told no, she reached over and tried to jerk something out of my hand. Well, you can imagine how well that went over. She was in trouble now, and she knew it. Out came the water works, but you see. I’ve been the queen of water works since I was three, so that didn’t work on me. Off to your room, I said, you can finish your dinner when you’re ready to act like a decent human again.

The big guns came out then. There was foot stomping and hands on hips now and for a moment I thought she was going to tell me no. Straight to my face. Until I said the magic words.

Do you really think your mother and father aren’t going to hear about this little fit?

Instant silence. Rebuked and shamed now, she begrudgingly trudged to her room.

Later, worn out from her fit, she put a card in my hand that read ‘I’m sorry, Aunt Ashley’ and she whispered, “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.”

The fact is we all mess up and feel regret–especially when we feel like what we have done is going to be found out (as clearly seen in Psalm 6), but it is the Lord’s unfailing love that allows us to heal when we come to Him with our sorrow and repentance. Because the Lord accepts our prayers readily and forgives our transgressions even mores readily than an Aunt who forgives a niece for a temper tantrum of epic proportions.

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Questions:

1. What am I afraid of admitting to God and others?
2. How does my openness with God shame my enemies and free my soul?
3. What are the rewards of repentance?

Out of the Pit: My Journey Through Psalms (5 and 7)

Psalm 5 and 7

Mostly Psalm 5 is on of pronouns. Once again the Davidic speaker is crying out to God for help, begging the Lord to hear him, but what I really hear are the personal pronouns “my, I, me” in the first few lines, and repeated again later on in the psalm, each time as part of a plea. These are juxtaposed in a stark contrast against the “yous” of the next few verses, and the “theys” of the following verses, each outlining the roles of not a single individual but representatives of groups. Symbolic figures. Even the you isn’t just the single entity of the Lord, but rather the trinity–a group.
The volta in verse 11 is sharp, because it brings all the pronouns togehter, naming them and describing how and why “my, I, me” is protected and cared for.

I cry out to you against them.
You are good.
They are guilty.
I am righteous.
THEREFORE,
You protect and bless me.

Simple logic showing the two sides of God, the vengeful and the protector. Not a contradiction, but a complementory personality necessary to bring justice to an unjust world. Proof of why we all need a savior.
And a theme that is continued in Psalm 7–especially in verse 14-17 where the psalmist uses distinct images to separate the wicked from the righteous.
Pregnancy usually has strong positive connotations, yet here it is used with negative intent ‘one who is pregnant with evil gives birth to corruption’, which again is simple cause and effect imagery. Followed by the image of digging a pit in which you yourself will then just fall, so true as Sir Walter Scott once eloquently put it in Marmion ‘oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’. You cannot nurture negative habits and expect positive results. The opposite, in fact, is sure to result. One little white lie is not as innocent as you expect it to be, but rather leads to another lie and yet another, and another, perpetuating the lie until it unfortunately can land you into a pit. Sometimes the pit is sinister, and sometimes it is just a sticky situation, but a pit it is nonetheless so unless we are nurturing good habits, we cannot expect to give birth to healthy offspring. There is a reason the warning label says ‘do not use if you are pregnant or nursing’ because you must be extra diligent when you are growing a baby human–we too are growing our spiritual selves and we must be intentional about it. If we are not, the outcome is not going to be spiritually healthy.
God gives us these guidelines for a reason and I thank him for it. Personally, I don’t want the trouble and violence to come crashing down on my head in the pit I dug for myself, but that is exactly what happens when we fall into our own tangled web and dug pits of deception, bad habits, or strongholds.
So I thank God today because he is good and he offers instruction, protection and blessing for all those who seek it. Because he knows I sure need it.
Without his hand, I sure wouldn’t be able to get out of those pits I’ve dug for myself.

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Questions to Ponder:
1) Are there any pits I need help getting out of today? Who can help me aside from God?
2)How does God help make straighter paths for me?
3)How can I better nurture good habits and starve the evil ones?

Questioning A Calling: My Journey Through Psalms Day 2

Psalm 2

Psalm 2 begins with a question, perhaps a rhetorical one, why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? It’s a set up of a conflict that continues into Psalm 3, where the psalmist is worried or at least commenting on the rebellion of the people against his anointed leadership.

When people are against you and conflict abounds, immediately you begin to question your calling. Despite the anointing, despite hearing God clearly, the odds do not feel in your favor and it is easy to feel despair. I notice a lack of reaction from the speaker throughout, though he does comment a lot on what the Lord does for him. Perhaps that’s for the best.

I know the psalm is referring to the power and authority given to Davidic kings, but I can’t help feel a connection since I am also called a daughter (and the speaker is called a son in verse 7). As a daughter I am given great power and authority through God’s anointing just as the Davidic king is.

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And still I often have doubts, especially when I run into conflict. I wonder, did I hear God right?

But anything worth doing is going to require effort and action. If it will have a lasting kingdom impact there will most certainly be conflict because the enemy will always step in. Always present, the father of lies tries to cast shadows in my sunshine. Still, with all my conflict and doubts, God whispers…just ask (verse 9).

He always answers.

Questions to ponder:

1) Davidic kings were given power and authority through an inheritance. How does my inheritance come through Jesus?

2) WHen I ask God for guidance, how does he show me that I have been given power, strength and authority?

3) How can I discern and dispel the enemy’s lies?

 

My Journey Through Psalms Day 1

My Journey Through Psalms

A Romantic Gesture to God

I may be a teacher, but I struggle to like poetry. Like my students I have always questioned the meaning, interpretation and use of poetry. Yeah, I know. That wheelbarrow he wrote about very well may be just a wheelbarrow. It may not have a deep symbolic significance or what have you. I teach it. Intellectually I comprehend what scholars say about poetry and verse but I struggle to like it. Probably because it is too abstract. Or maybe because people always want to tell me what it means and I disagree with them and get frustrated when I’m told that my interpretation of the abstract is wrong (which is why I like abstract paintings, but not poetry?). Over the years I’ve developed a healthy respect for poetry, and grown to like certain aspects of it, but it remains a struggle for me.

Why? It goes back to that realist thing. Which is why I believe I need to journey through Psalms again, this time with an open heart and mind looking at it from a more Romantic perspective. Because it is one thing to say you have a problem, another thing to do something to change it.


 

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man [or woman]

Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

Or stand in the way of sinners

Or sit in the seat of mockers.


In this journey I am seeking blessing, passion, a closer relationship with God. This is the very first instruction in this psalm. Three things not to do 1) walk with wicked (alliteration) 2) Stand with sinners (alliteration) or 3) sit in the seat of mockers (alliteration). I find the sound devices to be pleasing to the ear, but also to emphasize the actions. For every non-action, there is an opposite action we can take.

  • If we are not walking with the wicked, then we should walk with the wise. This requires effort. It’s easy to find stupid people. They don’t use their brains. But to find the truly wise and to follow in their ways you have to want that, you have to seek it. God promises that if we seek this we will find it, but it does require that we look. Most often the wise in our lives are the people we don’t want to listen to: parents, mentors, people who have experienced what we are going through. Our culture tells us to be independent, but God tells us to seek wisdom and walk in the ways of the wise. Then we will be blessed.
  • If we are not standing with sinners, then we stand with saints. This is hard, because it means admitting that there are people out there who are better at life than we are. And there are. I have perfectionist tendencies, so I don’t like admitting that I’m not good at something; when I stand next to someone who is better at something than I am I feel inferior and want to run away, but I should want to stand next to them and learn—especially if they are walking in God’s holy ways. It’s not to shame us, but to set an example. It’s a lesson in freedom I am still perfecting.
  • If we are not sitting in the seat of mockers then we are sitting in the seat of encouragers. I tell my students every day to be nice to each other. They tell me that they are only mean to the people they like. I think to myself how sad it is that in our culture it is more natural to say something mean to your friends than it is to say something nice and encouraging. But seriously, how much better do you feel about yourself when you get a text from someone saying ‘Good morning, sunshine’ than ‘Good morning, loser’? There is power in the words we use and mockers, even in ‘good fun’ just don’t bring blessings. It wasn’t what we were designed to do and it pains me to think about how many times a snide remark I’ve made (I’m more sarcastic than I’d like to admit) could have broken someone’s spirit and I didn’t even realize it.

But his [or her] delight is in the law of the Lord,

And on his law he [or she] meditates day and night.

He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he [or she] does prospers.


Meditating is another action here. Meditating on the law day and night, but not begrudgingly, so that it becomes a delight. Or is a delight. It’s your joy to meditate on the law. It’s what you want to do. Crave to do. Can’t wait to do.

I feel that sometimes.

But not all the time.

I want to feel that all the time.

The simile—like a tree planted by streams of water—is the goal. We spend our entire lives searching for prosperity and the key is here. Delighting in the law of the Lord, day and night.

I’m always amazed at the way God uses nature in his word. Water, trees, etc. They are constant images over and over again (thus further proving my point about God being a Romantic), which goes to show that we are interconnected with his creation and as such can find rest there and in his Word.

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Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

That the wind blows away.


A second simile juxtaposed here with the first. Nature again—the useless matter in grain harvesting blowing away instead of being kept to be used in the cycle of life. How depressing.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish.

The promise at the end is both beautiful and haunting. It is beautiful because we see an image of God looking over his people, those who strive to do well (the actions above), but we see the wicked blowing away. Haunting because the image is a hand throwing the wicked to the air, never to be caught up in a pocket of grace again.

I thank God each day for his pockets of grace, because I don’t deserve them, but he has given them to me anyway. Lord, thank you for watching over my ways. Give me grace, peace and a desire for your law and word. I want to delight in them so that I can be this tree.

                March 20, 2016

Questions to ponder:

  1. How is God’s law both delightful and powerful? Why would following it bring me blessing?
  2. If sinners are spread like the useless bits of the harvest, how do I continually bring myself back to the path of the righteous?
  3. How is God’s word nurturing like streams of water to the roots of my tall ever growing tree?