Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 5

“If you, O LORD, kept a records of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” (NIV)

So begins Psalm 130 in Week 5 of our study. And truly, what a question! This question should make us fall on our knees in thankfulness to God for His great mercy, for if He kept a record of our sins not one of us could stand up under that condemnation. God is just that holy – we literally could never be in the presence of God with the stain of our sin upon us. But the psalm doesn’t end there. The question is followed by a statement that fills our souls with hope, “But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered.” Psalm 130 goes on to describe this hope as waiting and watching…”more than watchmen for the morning”…knowing without a doubt that God is true to His word and that He fully redeems us from our sin through His Son.

Psalm 131 calls us to a recognition that pride is often a stumbling block in our ascent to the next level of relationship with the Lord. Why is God so opposed to arrogance and pride in our lives? Perhaps because arrogance and pride are a focus on ourselves rather than on God. Perhaps because arrogance and pride can become a habitual behavior and attitude in our lives. Perhaps because arrogance and pride are barriers to having compassion for other human beings. Humility, on the other hand, brings our minds into a place where we are not the focus. Instead, we can focus on others and develop a servant attitude. What would our lives be like if we made a habit out of humility?

Beth Moore describes Psalm 132 is one of 11 “royal psalms” scattered throughout the book of Psalms that may actually have been written by Solomon instead of David. This psalm recalls the hardships endured by King David, and his promise that he would not rest until he had fulfilled God’s command to build a permanent dwelling place for Him on earth. It was David’s greatest desire to bring the ark to the city of Jerusalem, but as we read in Joshua, Judges, and I/II Samuel, this did not happen quite as smoothly as David had hoped. Ultimately, David was able to bring the ark to Jerusalem but only after He learned to obey God’s instructions completely and without the slightest error.

We serve this same God! A God that is simply that holy and powerful.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 144 and 145 of your study book): 

  • Tabernacles
  • 70
  • 10
  • All; captive; king’s daughters
  1. Wise up; forgive; outwit
  2. Encourage
  3. Love; deeply
  4. shields; armor; one hand; weapon; other; sword; fight for; with

Tri-Delts: Friends Don’t Let Friends Fat Talk

Congrats to Delta Delta Delta Sorority for creating this powerful video and being a part of the movement to help women in the United States address negative body image.

  • 10 million women are suffering from eating disorders – more than four times the number suffering from breast cancer.
  • And 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

Stop the madness! Get involved and be on the lookout for Fat Talk Free Week next October, 2009.

Notes From Psalms of Ascent – Week 4

This past week of psalms were difficult for me and maybe for some of you. Psalms 127 and 128 are about the fruitful family, with pictures drawn of the wife and mother surrounded by her children, and Psalm 129 is about protection of the oppressed. As someone who has been told that I will never bear my own children without medical intervention, I cried when I studied these psalms. Yet at the same time God was merciful in meeting me in my tears and showing me that the words of these psalms apply just as much to me as they do to anyone else.

In Psalm 127, I am reminded that even children can become an idol in one’s life. God describes children as “a heritage from the LORD” but not “the heritage” — make sense? I limit the effectiveness of God in my life when I believe that bearing children is the only evidence that God has blessed me. As Beth Moore says, “God grants us heritage in numerous ways.” I have truly missed the point when I make having a baby an idol in my life that becomes my litmus test for God’s ability to bless me. Yes, children are a blessing, but God can bless me in other ways. Yes, children can be like protective arrows, but God can protect me in other ways. Yes, a full house of children is a reward, but God will reward me in other ways.

Psalm 128 continues with the metaphor of fruitfulness and prosperity, using both the Hebrew word “asher” for happy in verses 1 and 2, and the Hebrew word “barak” for blessed in verses 4 and 5. To me, the most important parallel drawn in the study of Psalm 128 is between the wife described as the “fruitful vine” in verse 3 and Christ referring to himself as “the vine” in John 15: 1-8. This point was raised during our Bible study meeting by a young woman who said that she loved reading about this parallel but didn’t fully understand it yet — I am right there with her.

We obey God’s command in Genesis 1 when we are “fruitful and multiply,” and we are told in John 15 that abiding as branches in the “vine” of Christ while allowing God to prune us will allow us to be even more fruitful. Apart from this vine we cannot bear fruit. Apart from this pruning process we will wither away. I keep coming back to the mental image of Christ as the central root the provides complete nourishment, and the only way that we can become the fruitful vine with olive shoots around our table is to glorify the Father by abiding faithfully in His Son.

Psalm 129 draws a very vivid picture of the attack of the Oppressor, beating down on the backs of the oppressed and attempting to bind us with ropes of affliction.  Many people know this feeling well and, if you have ever suffered from depression, you will know this feeling like the back of your hand. There is nothing like the incredible binding constraint of an episode of depression. The only thing that exceeds the power of that feeling for me is when I immerse myself in the incredible freedom of God’s powerful word. Only then am I able to release myself to the power of God’s full authority in my life.

What becomes clear is that, for the world, freedom equals no authority but for the one abiding in Christ, freedom equals God’s authority. There is incredible freedom in allowing yourself and your life to be completely defined in Christ, and recognizing that even in our oppression His word is there to guide us out of our places of bondage and into the “broad place” (Psalm 18:19) of His complete redemption.

Study Guide answers (pages 116 and 117 of your study book):

  1. joy
  2. Messiah
  3. lights
  4. water pouring; rivers; living water
  5. Ingathering

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 3

Our next three psalms (125, 126, and 127) are all about the goodness of God! Encouraging words on our journey that we are protected on all sides, we are restored by His goodness, and we are confident in His will for our lives.

Psalm 126 tells us that God surrounds us like the mountains surrounding Jerusalem — sure, unshaken, everlasting. These aspects of the nature of God are secure, and we can rest wholly in the fact that His nature does not change. But how often do we trust the security of the blessings of God rather than trusting God Himself? How often do we believe that God is who He says He is based on whether or not we get what we want? We should be careful to not confuse His blessing with the nature of His person. In other words, as Beth Moore says, “If our trust is in manifestations of God’s favor rather than God Himself, we will crumble like dry clay when he calls us to walk a distance of our journeys entirely by faith and not by sight.” Rest securely in the fact that God’s goodness is present even in our struggles.

I love the opening verse of Psalm 127: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” To me, this perfectly captures the sense of unbelief and overwhelming joy that God would be so merciful and good to us in the restoration He performs in our lives. When you think to yourself, “I must be dreaming!” God surely does great things for us. But Psalm 127 continues with the exhortation that the part we play in this blessing plan involves “sowing the seed.” The seed is God’s word and it must be applied to our lives. There are times when this sowing process involves tears and weeping, but we are given the promise that, in due season, our harvest will come with shouts of joy.

Psalm 127 reminds us that our efforts are in vain if we do not recognize that God is responsible for the goodness in our lives. I believe that the Psalms and Ecclesiastes are having what is called a “canonical conversation” here. Remember what the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity.” The psalmist (Solomon in this particular case) echoes the same sentiment, “Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.” When we perform work thinking that we alone are responsible for our gain, this is vain labor. Yes, we are to labor in our earthly lives, but why and for what? So that we can claim sole responsibility for our own fortune and gain? Instead, we labor in recognition that we are doing so alongside our Lord, who is building us up and working all things together for our good.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 88 and 89 of your study book):

  1. seven weeks; Pentecost
  2. giving of the Law
  3. remembering; former bondage
  4. great generosity; grace; giving; spontaneous; bounties
  5. Feast of the Harvest

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Poverty is a culture in which many people spend their whole lives. Poverty is a word with deep and complex meaning and I would challenge is a word that most people (including me) do not fully understand.

I believe that economic poverty and spiritual poverty often go hand in hand. People who suffer in economic poverty and do not know the Lord often find themselves making money their god. They are willing to risk a lifetime of imprisonment by stealing from others because they believe that money will finally bring them everything they have ever wanted. Or they believe that they will finally rise above the level of mere survival. But they are imprisoned in ways that they do not even realize. They are imprisoned mentally and spiritually by believing that they will somehow be different if they have money. They will somehow become someone else.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Centuries of people on this earth have suffered in economic poverty but have lived rich and bountiful spiritual lives, pouring themselves out for others as clear evidence that an empty wallet does not equal an empty heart. Think Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I certainly do not minimize the struggle of those in economic poverty around the world. You must be able to feed yourself in order to have the literal physical strength to help others. We have a human obligation to feed the world.

But I would challenge that we also have a human obligation to spiritually feed the world. To address the spirits of brokenness, loneliness, and desperation. What does this look like? It begins with getting out of your house and getting involved. Volunteer at a local food bank or soup kitchen. Become a foster parent. Take the extra $20 you were going to use to order a pizza and go to the thrift shop to buy children’s clothes for a child you know is in need. Put together a Thanksgiving basket for a family that you know will struggle to feed their children this holiday season. Make cookies this Christmas for the neighbors in the surrounding houses in your neighborhood and attach a message with the good news of Jesus Christ.

As individuals we will not solve the economic or spiritual poverty of this world. But together we can make a difference. Thanks to Kathy for alerting me to Blog Action Day and thanks to Krista for her inspirational post.

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 2

Last week we finished up Psalm 122 and delved into Psalms 123 and 124. As we go through these Psalms, we are encouraged to think of a word or phrase that sums up each one and fill in these words or phrases on the stair step graphic in the back of our workbook. For me, the themes of these particular Psalms are relief, contempt, and rescue, respectively.

In Psalm 122, we hear the relief of the Israelites as they finally step foot in Jerusalem at the end of their long pilgrimage. The psalmist writes, “Our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem!” They clearly feel the strength of this fortified city, built solidly as a place of justice and majesty — the home of the “thrones of the house of David.” We can reflect on our own cities and church congregations in the way that Israel viewed Jerusalem, as places where we hope to prosper and grow while freely worshipping our God. As exiles from their holy city, the Israelites must have been overjoyed to have finally reached their destination.

Psalm 123 depicts the psalmist looking desperately to God for His attention and favor. We read the words of despair at dealing with “scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.” We are reminded of the deep connection between what we see with our eyes and what ultimately affects our hearts, souls, and minds. As Beth Moore states, “Where we look…has a tremendous impact on how we feel.” In our times of struggle, do we look to the Lord first? His word tells us over and over again that He is enthroned in the heavens, with more than enough power and mercy to rescue us from the contempt of our enemies.

Psalm 124 uses powerful metaphors to illustrate the peril that surrounds us in this world. I know that I have often felt like the “torrents” of sin were going to engulf me and I was being “ripped apart” by the teeth of the enemy. This psalm reminds us that the Lord is always on our side and, although we may be allowed to go through a season of struggle, our lives are always under the watchful gaze of our God. Although we may not always understand the plans of the Lord we know that he works all things together for our good.

See you next week!

Study Guide answers (pages 62 and 63 of your study book):

  1. Unleavened Bread; seven; haste, depart
  2. sin; sour; fermentation; evil impulses; corruption
  3. kept over; former baking; hid; with
  4. death; burial; resurrection

New websites (at least new to me!)

Secret: I have a connection for great websites! My (very cool) Aunt surfs around out there and gives me regular updates on sites that are speaking up with real, true, meaningful messages. Here are some of her latest finds:

Real Beauty Is… bold, courageous, perfectly imperfect

~Love the link to http://www.feelyourboobies.com (it’s a breast cancer awareness site!)

Love Your Body from the NOW Foundation

~Be sure to check out the links to examples of negative advertising and positive advertising

Neue Ministry from the makers of Relevant

~Lots of free downloads for individuals, small groups, and worship

Notes from Psalms of Ascent – Week 1

Again, delayed in posting this week. But I have a good excuse! I am in Missouri for my 20-year high school reunion! Time flies.

In Week 1 of our study we looked at Psalms 120 and 121, began studying Psalm 122, and focused on the psalms as songs. Above all, we are encouraged that God wants us to approach Him in song if that is how we can most effectively express ourselves. Sing the Psalms!

In the Psalms of Ascent, as the Israelites made their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem, we can both see and hear how this group of psalms were the songs that accompanied the steps of their journey. This group of psalms are short in length, possibly because they were meant to memorized. When you read them, the emotions are so strong that you can almost imagine hearing the voices of the Israelites together as they sang.

Psalm 120 speaks of distress and laments living life as an exile in a fallen world. The author says, “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.” As the first song of the Psalms of Ascent, it is fitting that the journey would begin with expressing discontent and longing for the LORD to deliver us. The author pleads, “LORD, deliver me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue.”

Psalm 121 is reassurance that, even in the distress of living as an exile, the LORD will protect. The Hebrew word shamar, which means “to protect or keep,” is used six times in these 8 verses. We are reminded that our God never sleeps, never takes a break, never takes his eyes off of His children. The steps of our journey are under His watchful gaze, both now and forever.

See you next week!

Viewer Guide answers (pages 34-35 of your study book):

  1. creation; God, Father, Christ, Son
  2. emotions, experiences, spoken, satisfy
  3. ability, memorize
  4. beautiful, unaffected; spirit, mind
  5. change; affect, God
  6. created world; humans, angels