Tag Archives: learning

Moving on Up (My Journey Through Psalms 120-134)

I love getting an A.

I may be 32 years old, but being told that I have gotten 100% on something still makes me feel, well, proud.

Unfortunately, that is also my greatest struggle with sin–feeling as though I can do it by myself, that I can EARN a 100% with God, and forgetting life isn’t all about me.

This collection of Psalms (120-134) is a humbling reminder to me.

Named Psalms of Ascent, this collection has been the center of debate for scholars–when were they written? why were they written?–honestly, we don’t even know if they were written at the same time by different authors or collected later and assembled, but we do know that they are associated with the journey, or pilgrimage, to Jerusalem and moving up to the temple. In other words, moving closer to God. And the journey itself is clear in the written words.

While there is a lot to unpack in each individual psalm, I found a lot to work with when treating them as a group. A general progression is clear and emphasized in these poems with the use of repetition and analogy throughout.

First, we have an acknowledgment of God in Psalms 120-121; the poet(s) acknowledge the almighty power and presence of the Lord and his role in our lives. We move next into the pleas or appeals to God’s character. The plea of peace (122), followed by a plea for mercy (123), then an acknowledgment of the Lor’ds strength and favor (124), a plea for God’s goodness (125) and favor despite the hardships of life (126), and finally the joy, rest and rewards God grants to his people (127); what it ultimately boils down to is the promises of prosperity for trusting in God as his chosen people (128-129). In our next poetic phase we see repentance (130) with a recognition that we cannot achieve this, but rather it is granted through grace despite our naturally evil hearts (131). WIth a specific example of a man who sinned but still received the favor, pleasure, and promises of God (132), David’s story begins to tie all these poems together as the Psalms of Ascent end in thankfulness (1333) and praise (134) turning focus back to God and his awesome power and might. 

These Psalms outline how we should approach God, but also teach how to grow closer to him. Although we are maybe not physically ascending, spiritually we can experience growth if we follow this example. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, I can always use some help with.

First, we must always acknowledge who God really is.

Beginning our prayers with the acknowledgment of God’s awesomeness and power takes the focus off us and places it where it should always be–on God. I use to think I was the protagonist in my own life.  BUT I’M NOT! I am a minor character in God’s story, which is both humbling and restoring because it means I don’t always have to be in control of the outcome. Nor should I be. This life is not about me. It’s about Him. It always has been.

Next, we can appeal to God’s character for more purposeful lives.

This is a great supplication moment for peace, mercy, goodness, strength, and favor. BUT it’s not about YOU or ME; it’s supplication for ISREAL, aka God’s people. This is a time to focus on community and prayers for the local church and/or the church as a whole. The story STILL is not about me as an individual but about US as the bride of Christ. In helping others we grow closer to God, not in helping ourselves first.

After we focus our attention away from ourselves and our selfish needs then we can ask for forgiveness.

Amazingly, when we re-direct our focus, it highlights the many things we need to ask God to help us fix in our own hearts. We must then ask for forgiveness and accept the grace he offers us. In placing emphasis on God and other’s first, we abandon our pride and expose the places in our hearts that need work to be purified and made holy. Only then can we grow closer to God.

Finally, in the end we turn back to God, admitting to ourselves that the story has always been and will always be about Him, not us.

In reminding ourselves of the promises God has made and the promises he has fulfilled we are then able to humbly ask him for the desires of our hearts because then we will be less focused on what we get out of it and focused on the purpose of these supplications–how they can bring glory to God’s story, the only story that actually matters.

Acknowledging God, Appealing for others, Asking forgiveness and Admitting who the true protagonist is…

allows us to ascend toward him and grow both in faith and prosperity–being given, not earning, the only A+ that matters: God’s grace.

The Paradox of God’s Character (my journey through Psalms 110-118)

True honesty is a myth among the human race. As the boy Macduff observes to his mother in Macbeth:

And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? […] Who should hang them? […] Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them. (Act 4 scene 2)

And he’s right. Honesty is out of fashion and has been since the fall of Eden. So it is no wonder that we sometimes judge God by our human standards. Even though we are made in the image of God, he is not human (he chose to become human as Jesus, but even so he retained his divinity), which means his character is not like that of the liars and swearers of Earth.

I think C. S. Lewis expresses the paradox of God’s character best in the novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when the children ask if Aslan (an allegorical representation of God) is safe, Mr. Bever responds with:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

This, paired with the psalms, leads me to draw a few conclusions about God that prove he is not hopelessly flawed like the human race.

God is unchanging

Humans have a hard time with change. Some people love it, but the vast majority of us have a hard time adjusting to any kind of change. Sure, it helps us grow and keeps us from being bored out of our minds, so change can be good, but adjusting to it is always a challenge. I wonder if this is because our hearts yearn for the one we were created in the image of an unchanging, steadfast, unsafe, King.  Psalm 110:4 says that “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind”; Psalm 117:2 reiterates this with “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”;  Psalm 118 repeats over and over again that His steadfast love endures forever. And this is just here in the psalms–the rest of his word is filled with other examples of how he is unchanging. He is alpha and omega–the same today, yesterday and forever.

God is faithful and just

When I think about the character of God, I am constantly reminded of the Israelites’ wandering through the desert. Over and over again they complained and whined and forgot about the Lord’s provisions. Over and over again Moses spoke to God, intervening for this unfaithful grumbling. Over and over again God demonstrated his faithfulness by sticking to his chosen people, but still like any loving father, teaching them that actions have consequences–proving his justice is real. As Psalm 111:7 says, “the work of His hands are faithful and just: all precepts are trustworthy. ” And God values this kind of faithfulness in his people. Psalm 112: 5-6 asserts this: “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.” Remembered by the original and most high judge.

God is giving

When I feel like I’ve been overlooked, or forgotten, because (just being vulnerable here) this is something I struggle with a lot. A sense of insignificance. I have to remember that God is the giver of all good things. He wants to bless his people. He wants us to walk with him, not just talk about him or fear him. Psalm 113:9 is evidence: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Having a barren home can be…debilitating, even in our culture. And I’m not just talking about the inability to bear children, but the isolation that comes with perpetual singleness–and the way our culture seems to ask “what’s wrong with you” if you are not in a relationship by the time you are 30…or even earlier than that if you are a woman. God doesn’t see something is wrong with a woman who is ‘barren’ in any sense of the word. No. He sees an opportunity to give, to bless, and to honor this woman for her faithfulness and that is a hope that I hang on to every single day (no pun intended). Because, as Psalm 115:12-13 says: “The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Isreal; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” If I believe that God is unchanging, faithful and just then you better believe that he is one who will bless and give the most amazing gifts. Even if it’s not in the timing we might prefer.

God is not Safe.

I have been reading an excellent book by Mark Buchannan entitled Your God is too Safe. If you haven’t read it, you should start immediately. In our culture we have created this image of God–this cuddly, hang it up in the Sunday school image of a man in a white robe cuddling a lamb and smiling down at children. Sure, that may depict a fatherly image of God, but it’s not the whole picture. It neglects to consider the power of God. The mind-blowing awesomeness that is wrapped up in an all-powerful being who has no beginning and no end. Who can destroy us with one word–or heal–or create–or bless–a multifaceted triune of holiness that can’t be put in a nice little box that we take out with our Sunday best and then put away while we live the rest of our lives. The being who frightens and commands the seas and storms. Psalm 114:3-8a sums it up with “What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan that you turn back? O mountaints that ou skp like rams? O hills, like lambs? Trembel, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob who turns the rock into a pool of water…” Our God is not safe, nor should we try to make him so. But he is good, and for that we should ever be thankful.

Grandma Says: My journey through Psalms (78-81; 83)

I love history. It’s one of the few things that I understand the universal importance of learning. Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t know if anyone really needs the specific dates of when Washington blew his nose right before he took office, but the older I get the more I realize history does, in fact, repeat itself.

In Psalm 77, the poet recounts all that Israel has been through in the recent past. The poets cry is understandable as he just can’t fathom the waitresses of a people who have witnessed so many wonderful things.

But it’s easy…in the moment of crisis, when you are stressed, and weary, and tired of yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich…to resort to complaints and curses..neither of which are productive.

Yeah, grandma said there’d be days like this.

And maybe Grandma even told you a few old stories about how God is always faithful. You want to believe her, after all bread falling out of heaven is pretty cool, but you’re tired and you’re sure she is exaggerating. After all, that can’t really be literal, can it?

It’s important for us to know our history and listen to the previous generation. They have lived through a lot. Maubr they’re out of control with their need to share their input, but really they are behaving as God intended. Generation to generation, guiding, teaching and learning. In theory.

But as they say, sometimes you just have to learn for yourself no matter how many times you’ve been warned.

I used to think the Israelites of the Old Testament had to have some kind of mental hangup or processing disorder to be so foolish and unwise, but we are really not all that different. We want results…now! We want answers…now! When we don’t get answers… we make them ourselves.

Generation after generation after generation.

So we have a choice to make. We can cry out to God with our complaints and worries…great, but do we follow after him DESPITE the circumstances, or are we just fair weather followers. Oh sure, it’s easy to follow God when he is sending plagues and parting seas, but how about in the desert? Do we still look for him, or do we abandon him, because we think he’s abandoned us?

Although history can teach us how to be successful followers of Jesus, we have to be willing not only to just hear, but to embrace the lesson. Otherwise our history repeats.

Grandma said there’d be days like this…because she knows. Are you listening?

Why I teach Students, not English or Anything Else

I was recently at a conference and was asked a really important question:


Do you care about students, or do you care for students?


I’ll admit my mouth dropped open a little as I soaked in that thought. Don’t let any one ever tell you words are not important, because that one preposition shift changes everything.

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Humans are everywhere, but they don’t always live with a purpose. In fact, I’d argue that a large majority of people are lost. Spoon-fed on social media and misinformation and wandering the planet without focus or direction. They’re working for a dollar sign or in the case of students, grades. Both arbitrary uses of symbols that represent far less than what we should be working toward as a human race.

They don’t know why it matters.

Too often, they don’t even care.

It is up to those of us who DO have purpose and direction to TEACH these humans how to learn. Not just give them information, but actually TEACH them how to invest their time, energy and passion into something they TRULY care about.

But teaching people to care is about as fruitful as bathing suit shopping in January and as obnoxious as Christmas decorations in October. It isn’t something that will ever have meaning for people unless you first learn yourself how to care FOR those under your charge. And the burden shouldn’t fall on parents, teachers, preachers, and youth leaders alone.

I care about a lot of things:

  • Global warming
  • Politics
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Activities
  • Music
  • Health

I can care about a lot of these things, but I don’t care for them. I don’t nurture them. I don’t invest in them to the point that I am overwhelmed with emotion, needing to fix every little thing that’s wrong with them. I read a book. I cry, scream, or shout for joy–but then I put the book on the shelf and move on. I can care about them all day long, but until I actually invest my energy into them, I will never care FOR them.


Humans are the same. I can care about them, but until I invest something in them–a part of myself–I will never care for them.


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And they will never see the relevance in anything I say.

Especially kids–or young adults. They can smell irrelevance and in-authenticity from miles and miles away.

I teach maybe one or two kids who actually care about English as something that will impact their future. Maybe. On a good day. “I hate English,” one student tells me daily. Fair enough. I hate math. Not everyone will love the same things because no one is the same. And that’s OK–great even!

“I hate English,” he says, but then adds, “But I like you so I do it anyway.”

Wow. I’m not tooting my own horn or even trying to say I’m the greatest teacher. Hell, if I were trying to be a popular teacher the kid probably wouldn’t ‘hate English’. What I am saying is that even though this kid doesn’t like the subject matter, he knows that I care–not just about him, but for him. So during lunch, he slinks into my room, and we chat. Sometimes about school work, but more often about life.

Yet he hates English.

Knowing that someone cares for you is more motivating than any assignment I could ever give them.


Kids need adults who care for them. Not adults who listen for a moment, pat them on the head, then put them on the shelf and move on. They need adults to teach and mentor them them. They need authentic guidance.


The movement to hide kids away and shush them as though they were distractions like cell phones is damaging our society and silencing the voices that aren’t just the future, but the here and now. And ANYTIME you SILENCE someone’s voice, they’ll find it someplace else.

In drugs.

In alcohol,

In sex.

In violence.

We complain about what is wrong with society. We blame it on the media. We blame it on movies and TV shows. We spend so much time blaming the problems in our society on whatever scapegoat is most easily accessible at the time, we never stop to realize that individually we are ALL a part of the problem If we want to see real change in our society, a change in the future…If we want to make the world great, the answer will never be found in the government. It will be when, as a society, we learn to care FOR–not just about–each other and more importantly OUR STUDENTS, OUR KIDS, OUR NEXT GENERATION.

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Wacked in the Head

I used to think I did not like change. To me, it was a 4 letter word not to be embraced, said or envisioned.

Then I realized I NEED change.

I need change because it gives me purpose and helps me set meaningful goals. What I don’t like is unexpected change. I need it, but I want it to be on my terms.

But life isn’t like that.

And God doesn’t work on my terms.

I do exactly what Lysa Terkeurst says in the book Uninvited:

“I’m forever making suggestions and predictions. It’s as if I’m saying to God, ‘Here’s the plan, and, trust me: it’s really good, God. So if you could just bless all this…don’t mess with all this…just bless it and we’ll be good.'” (53)

But the thing is, when I do that I’m putting a limit on God. I’m suggesting that I know better than he does how to run the world. Or at least my world.

And I don’t want to run the world. I’m not a supervillain. It reminds me of the 90s TV show, “Pinky and the Brain”. Every episode Pinky asks the same question: “What are we going to do today?” And Brain responds: “What we do everyday; try to take over the world.”

As if two tiny mice could actually accomplish this goal, let alone doe the job well.

Ridiculous!

But aren’t I doing the same? I think I’m the “Brain”. Every day I try to take control from God and run things my way as if I could be more successful than He!

Ridiculous!

The other day, Rachel and I took a day trip to the beach. We were really excited, but woefully unprepared. Despite our intentions and plans, we quickly realized if we didn’t have a little shade, we would both be fried by the time we went home.

So I bought an umbrella thinking this would solve all our problems.

We had plans. First we tried with our own strength to get the pole down in the sand.

Negative.

So we dug a hole.

Negative.

Then we piled sand around the pole.

Negative.

Then…nothing we planned worked and we were at a loss. What a waste!

Until a kind stranger came to the rescue. He had the tools to drill a hole for us. And the kindness to help show us the error of our ways and point us in a more successful direction.

If only we’d asked for this direction first, then we might have saved ourselves a konk or two on the head.

When the stranger drilled a hole, it worked. Despite all our plans and tries, we wouldn’t know the outcome but someone who knows more than us did.

God’s a little like that.

When we try to work things out all on our own and in our own way we get wacked in the head with an umbrella and strangely we often don’t realize that our efforts are, well, ridiculous.

The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and expecting a different result.

So maybe it is time to stop the insanity and give up the “Pinky and the Brian” mentality. Maybe it’s time to let God drill the hole for us and well…

Be God.

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