Tag Archives: psalms

House Cleaning: My journey through Psalm (90)

They say that life is short, so you should play hard. While I believe there is a lot of value in that aphorism, I’m not sure that’s what God wants us to glean in the 70, 80, 90 years we live on this Earth. Lately, I’ve had to come to terms with that hard truth in more ways than one.

This past week was my first full week back to work. I mean real work. Not workdays, but work work. As in for 8 hours every day I have to be at the top of my game, I have to smile when I feel like screaming; I have to listen when I want to nap; I have to stand when all I want is a nice bubble bath and a glass of Cabernet. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love my students (more than they even realize), but the first week always feels like…the first week. My feet hurt. My back hurts. My brain hurts. And I love it. In my English 4 class, we read part of The Things They Carried, a fabulous book that chronicles the young protagonist’s time in Vietnam. It is painfully honest, and I focus on the chapter “On the Rainy River” with my students. These are seniors, who come to school this last year thinking they have it all figured out. Thinking they’re going to slack off and still walk across that stage. Thinking they’re done.

They’re not. And this short story helps me to prove it to them.

Let’s be honest, most our students know squat about the Vietnam war. Hell, I know only what I have researched. Even if you fought for (or against…) the Vietnam war, often there was so much confusion about WHAT you were fighting for that the reasons and logical sense of it got lost in the propaganda and manipulations. On both sides. Whatever sides those were. What my students DO know and understand is that no one, especially not 18-25 year olds, wants to be told what to do (side note, I know this from experience. I made some epic mistakes the past few years when it came to honesty and advice giving to this age group. I didn’t do it well. BUT I’m learning…). So, when a young man receives a draft notice, life comes at him quick in this short story and he’s left standing at a crossroads. What I particularly love about this story is the way that the protagonist addresses the paradox of decision making. For him, going to war was cowardly because he didn’t believe in the war and the only reason he went was that he was embarrassed by the possibility of people looking at him as a coward. Our society sees him as a hero for going to war and not running out on his patriotic duty, but he sees himself as a traitor to his own morality.

And life is like that.

It is short.

It is hard.

It is filled with decisions that will change the course of our entire reality; with peer pressure; with internal conflict that sometimes, will never be solved.

My seniors understand this.

I understand this.

I didn’t want them to just understand it. I wanted them to embrace it. Make it their own. So, the assignment was simple: make a map of the choices you have made over the past…4-5 years. It can even include choices you will make (like, after graduation). But you have to include the alternatives. You chose a path, follow that around, but reflect on the path you could have taken and how that might have made your life different. They don’t love this assignment. It forces them to reflect on things they may not like reflecting on. What they produce though, is pretty cool.

None of their maps are the same, but all of their maps show one thing: life is short. Our decisions matter.

I wish someone had given me the courage to look at my life this way as an 18-year-old, but it’s a lesson I am still learning to this day. And I think God wants us to embrace this. To understand that our decisions matter, so we should seek Him. Not so our journey can be easier. Nothing worth doing is easy, but so our journies matter. They become meaningful when we make purposeful decisions. When we ask God to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), we make our lives matter. We make a mark.

So, yes, life is short. Don’t just play hard. Don’t just take risks. Be wise. Make a mark.

Not a Genie: My journey through Psalms (89)

It’s funny how quick we are to question God’s authority. Despite the fact that he is a sovereign, omniscient and all powerful, we tend to view him like the genie from Disney’s Aladdin–“It’s all apart of the Genie gig,” our minds seem to say “phenomenal cosmic power–itty, bitty living space”. As if God can be confined to something like a lamp that all we need to do is rub and request. We put shackles on our God and then wonder why things don’t turn out the way we planned.

Funny thing about genies. Despite the fact that genies grant wishes–whatever wish you desire. Almost every narrative with this concept–once the wish is granted…Problems.

Aladdin learned this pretty quickly. Oh, yeah, my wish got me all this gold and a title and status, but it didn’t change the fact that I had to start my relationship off with a big, fat lie. And that always ends well. Not.

In the movie Bedazzled, the main character discovers a similar fate when he accepts 7 wishes from the devil (always a smart move) in exchange for his soul. His wishes…didn’t exactly turn out the way he had planned. He wanted to be rich–so he was turned into a Columbian drug lord. Yeah, great.

Fortunately, our God is about granting our wishes. He has phenomenal cosmic power, but no matte rhow we try to fit him into a box (or lamp), He doesn’t fit. We can’t shackle him into doing our bidding no matter how hard we try.

And I’ve found that’s actually a GOOD thing.

I’m a planner, so it won’t surprise most people to know that I pretty much had my life planned from the time that I exited the womb.

But God is so cool, he totally wrecks my plans. All. The. Time.

And it is incredibly frustrating. At least in the moment. It’s not until later that I understand HIS plan was so incredibly unfathomable that MY plans paled in comparison. So yes, it’s cool, but I have to keep learning this lesson over…and over….and over again.

Fortunately, our God is a really good teacher who believes in formative assessment (yes, I just teacher educationed you. Deal with it). Rather than handing me a test, patting me on the head, and wishing me good luck–then shaking his head and saying ‘too bad’ when I fail. He let’s me learn from my mistakes until I get it right. And sometimes…it takes a lot longer than either of us really expected. But he is steadfast and gracious and teaches me without a lick of condescension. Although there may be an occasional ‘I told you so,’ His ways are just, and right (Psalm 89:14). And unlike genies or satan–he’s not out to trick, manipulate or coerce me.

If he was–he’d grant wishes and laugh when they blew up in my face.

No, my God is good and his plan is greater than mine.

And that is beautiful.

Good Vs. Evil: My journey through Psalms: 86

Throughout the course of history, humans have sought justice. In our own simple way we have come to define justice in a finite way: good should be rewarded; evil should be punished.

Unfortunately, life is messy. The world is sinful. And “good” and “evil” are just not as black and white as we’d like to make it out to be.

I am a good person. I work hard. I treat people fairly. I give to the needy. I serve and teach others.

But I am also an evil person. I sometimes lie. I cheat when I play Candy Land. I judge in my heart, even if it never comes out of my mouth.

So if we use our human definition…should I be rewarded or punished?

Both, I guess. But despite the positive and negative consequences that exist in our world, some evil goes unpunished and some good goes unrewarded, leaving us with a sense of confusion for why justice just can’t be served.

The reality of it is…God is good. We are not. If we were, we wouldn’t do evil things. And because God is good, we can count on his justice being true justice. Even if we can’t quite understand it.

That’s the thing I love about God. He is so multi dimensional it is impossible to know him fully, but WANTING to know him fully keeps me searching, asking, and building a relationship.

 

Yes, God is good. But he’s also just, faithful, honest, loving, holy, and merciful. Th

 

ank God he is merciful. Because if I do evil, which we all do, then I CAN’T be good. And if I CAN’T be good then in our definition of justice…I must be punished. But God’s abounding love, mercy, and grace transcends justice. He extended a get-out-of-jail free card to all of us when his Son took our punishment. And frankly, that blows my mind.

Nothing I can do will erase the evil I have done.

I am not  a good person.

 

But God is.

My pastor Jimmy did an awesome sermon on this  a few months ago. You should check it out here–part 3.

On the Road: My Journey Through Psalms 84-85

I was 3 the first time we went on a long road trip. My mom was pregnant with my brother, if memory serves, and didn’t come with us for that reason, but I also suspect my grandparents were giving my parents a little break before the sailed into parenthood a third time. So we loaded up my grandfather’s large blue van and headed south.

I don’t remember much about this trip, except that we stopped at pretty much every McDonald’s along I-95. And that I thought the road would never end.

In case you’re wondering, I-95 does end and we took it all the way to Miami. Which, in the end, was worth all the endless traveling, bathroom breaks, and arguments with my sister.

It’s easy to see these kind of  adventures as symbolic, which I suppose is why road imagery is so common. In 1961, Kerouac, author of the novel On The Road, wrote this about his journey:

“Dean and I were embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to find that America and to find the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him.”

Kerouac’s version of finding God is definitely NOT biblically sound, but his point is valid.

Men build roads, but road build men.

Roads take us places, and a true God-traveled road will take you straight to Him. And that is better, as the psalmist says, than a 1000

elsewhere.

This has been a tough year for my family. On this road, in 9 months we have lost 3 family members.  But this Psalm provides comfort like no other, because it paints a picture of our eternal destination. And the whole reason why we started this road trip in the first place.

Yes, life on the road is hard and there is not always a McDonald’s when you need one, but the destination is worth it.

Because, “how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel” (Psalm 84: 5)

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?