Friday, November 29, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!" (Psalm 32:11)

Psalm 32, like Psalm 51, is a Psalm of confession. It starts with the lines, "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." Rather than being a personal prayer though, this psalm is written more as an instruction manual for those in need of confession. It talks about the blessings of being forgiven and contrasts it with the guilt and burden of living under sin.

Our verse for today comes from the end of the psalm as the final statement in this area of confession. It talks of a rejoicing for those who are righteous and singing for those who are upright in heart.

It's an interesting end to a psalm that is all about confessing one's sin, to suddenly start speaking about those who are righteous or upright as it has just taught how all of us need to be confessing. However, in God's economy, an upright person or a righteous person is not someone who always gets it right (there isn't anyone like that). It also isn't referring to a person without sin (none of us are without sin).

It's referring to the forgiveness and grace offered to us. Us who are broken. Us who are dirty. Us who are sinful. Living post the New Testament – this concept has even greater meaning for us. We can understand that we are made righteous in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:21 reads:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

The righteousness of God. Our sinfulness and failures were placed on Christ as he hung on the cross. Now we stand before God draped in Christ's perfection.
What a glorious exchange.

And it is in this knowledge and truth that we rejoice because we are righteous, that we sing because before God, we are upright in heart.

This is the final devotion for the year. It has been a joy to write for you and begin to learn this skill that Theo has honed over the years. I pray that as you prepare to welcome the Christ child once again, that you sing and rejoice, knowing that the child to be born Is the one who came to redeem, to save, to reconcile and show us the unfathomable depth of his love for us.

Blessings and love to you all.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2)

Two days ago – when we looked at Psalm 91, I mentioned Psalm 51 as the well-known penitent psalm. Some believe this psalm to be the most quoted in liturgies, especially in calls to repentance or in times of confession. The psalm is attributed to King David after he sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband to cover up his deed. David is confronted by the prophet Nathan who brings a strong message from God about the sin he has fallen into – and it is at this moment that David turns to God, admits his fault and confesses his sin – begging God to not cast him away or take his Spirit away from him.

The scope of the psalm however is broader than the confession of one sin. David recognises that sinfulness is a condition rather than an act. "I am sinful" as opposed to "I do sinful things." What is so powerful here though is this change in tone from other psalms we have seen. The common thread in many of the psalms is the idea of difficulty – and an appeal to God to change the situation so we may praise Him. Here the cry is; "Change me – I am the problem!!"

It's sometimes easier to see the good in ourselves rather than the ugly. We don't really want to analyse too deeply the motivations for our actions, and the reasons for our thoughts. How good or bad we feel about ourselves is often as a result of a comparison – "well I'm better than those people" or "I wish I could be as good as him…"

But the truth is we are all in the same boat. Standing before the cross none of us are innocent, none of us are worthy, none of us have the right.
But all of us are welcome. All of us are loved. All of us are offered free grace.

The focus of the psalmist, while lamenting his sins, is on a God who is rich in mercy. Our two verses today speak of the Lord's unfailing love and great compassion. And so we come to God with our sinfulness, our brokenness and our failures and are not met with a man wielding a big stick. We are not met with a cold shoulder and silent treatment. We don't even get the look and the unbelieving "I can't believe you did that AGAIN."

Rather we are met with the open arms of a Father welcoming his wayward child home. We are met with love and forgiveness and an opportunity to be welcomed into fellowship with Him once again.

So stand before the cross
Pray the prayer
Receive the forgiveness
And rejoice in the love and grace that was won for us with blood and nails, with death and resurrection.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done... which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children." (Psalm 78:4-6)

Psalm 78 is actually quite long (72 verses long!) and is known as one of the historical psalms. From verse 8 onwards the psalmist starts recounting the deeds that the Lord has done for his people Israel and their response to him. This psalm specifically deals with the portion of Israel's history as they wander through the desert after crossing the red sea and then driving out the nations as they take possession of the promised land. It consistently talks of the faithfulness and generous provision and care of God, in stark contrast to the fickleness and faithlessness of his people.

Right at the beginning of the psalm – where our verses today come from – the psalmist gives the reasons for recounting this history. This is told so that the children and the children's children and all that follow will know the greatness and mercy of their God. This is a principle taught in the Old Testament and in the law. In Deuteronomy 11, after we read about loving and obeying the law, verses 18-29 read:
"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds… Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

It is vital that our young people know about what God has done and is doing in the lives of his people. These youngsters who sit in our church and ask embarrassing questions in their 'not so quiet' voices, who crumple chip packets and drop crumbs on the carpet, who start crying or laughing in the most inappropriate times. These teenagers who are struggling to find their identity, who spend hours typing on their blackberries, who ask difficult questions about faith and life – these are going to be the elders in our church. These youngsters are a promise from God that he will continue to work with the next generation. Some may become ministers or missionaries. Some doctors and teachers. Some will become godly parents, and leaders in their community.

And they need to know now, who God is and what he has done.

It is this grounding that they will return to in difficult times.
It is this grounding that will enable them to make wise choices in their future.
It is this grounding that will allow them to walk through the storms that life will hold for them, hand in hand with Jesus.

I love the long term view of the psalmist – he sees beyond our children now to the children's children and to those who are not yet born. We don't get to meet the fourth and fifth generations that follow after us – but we do get to feed into that which will be fed into them. What a privilege.

I pray that you will consider what you teach all the young people in your life: your own children, nephews and nieces, god-children, and all the young people in the church. Speak to them about God, the stories of old and the ways in which he has touched your life. They are our greatest hope for the future.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him." (Psalm 91:14-15)

Psalm 91 is one of the more well known psalms, along with Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) and Psalm 51 (The penitence Psalm). It is one which speaks of unwavering confidence in God's protection over those who "dwell in the shelter of the most high" – those who follow Him. It is also the psalm which Satan quoted during the temptation of Christ, telling Jesus to throw himself off the temple because (quoting from Psalm 91:11-12) "He will command his angels over you … you will not strike your foot against a stone."
These verses we are looking at today come near the end of the Psalm. They are the psalmist's final argument declaring that the Lord has said that he will do this.

One unfortunate misinterpretation of this psalm is that we as Christians will never face difficult times in our lives. That, because of our faith, God will guard all that we do so that life will be a constant ease and that difficulty, sickness, trauma, grief and pain will never cross our doorstep. Yet in real life we know this to not be true. We all face trouble and grief, heartache and pain and none of us are immune to it. In fact Jesus talks about this in the Sermon on the Mount saying that God causes the sun to rise and sends rain equally on the evil and the good. (Matt 5:45)

The hope I believe is in the line "I will be with him in trouble." No matter what we face God is in it with us. We are never alone. We see this with the angels in the Lion's den with Daniel and in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Jesus in the stormy waters with his disciples. Time and again Jesus tells us "I will be with you".

Thus the rescuing, the protecting, the answering, the delivering and the honouring mentioned here happen right in the midst of our pain, our fear, our loneliness and our loss. When all feels shaky and uncertain around us, the constant hope and truth we can cling to is that we are not alone. We are with the One who has been to the cross – and who can therefore understand our fears and our pain.

Isaiah writes this beautifully in chapter 43;
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name and you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour."

I pray that in all circumstances you will know the presence of a loving God
- Who meets you in your distress. 
- Who holds your hand through the dark times. 
- Who walks with you on lonely pathways. 
And who will never ever leave you.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." (Psalm 95:6-7)

I love these lines from Psalm 95, they even read like poetry in the English! Psalm 95 is a call to worship the God who is the great God, creator of the universe and maker of his people. It's really broken into two parts though, the first is a call to worship the Lord of all the earth – the second (which is where our verses start) is a call to be submissive and obedient to him.

Bowing down and kneeling are signs of submission and obedience. It was done in ancient times where when you came into the presence of royalty. You always had to ensure that they were higher than you – and thus kneeling, bowing down to show reverence for the higher position were common practices. Bowing or kneeling also puts you in a weaker position. In some ways it renders you powerless before the powerful ruler.

Thankfully, between people, this practice is seldom seen today – and rightly so. However I wonder if in losing that practice we have lost something in our relationship with God. How often do we literally go on our knees before him in our quiet times? When last did you literally bow down in reverence? While I don't believe in legalism in these areas, perhaps the simple action of physically kneeling before our King, would remind us powerfully of the true position we hold in relation to him.

Aside from the action though – bowing and kneeling are truly attitudes of the heart. We are incredibly privileged to worship a God whom we can call Father; Jesus who we can call friend and brother and the Spirit who we can call counsellor. Yet we dare not ever forget that he is King of kings and Lord of lords. That he made all that we see with simply a word. That the true power of life and death lie in his hands.

Knowing God as the shepherd continues this same idea though some may not think so. It is a royal image that was used in the time to describe the relation of a king to his kingdom and understand his role of leader, provider and protector.

I pray that as you go into your day, that you assume the position of kneeling within your heart before a God who created you, loves you, redeems you and cares for you. May you know him as your Shepherd King.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." (Psalm 130:7-8)

In some ways this Psalm picks up on similar themes to the one we dealt with yesterday. Yesterday the psalmist cried out to God to be saved from the brevity and frailty of life. This psalm deals with the psalmist crying out for help in his distress because of sin and the nature of the human heart. It is again a psalm of ascent like Psalm 127 that we spoke about a few days back. This is a psalm used by pilgrims as they travelled to Jerusalem – and this psalm especially would have dealt with the hope one had that ultimately one day the Lord would deliver his people from all their sins.

Our two verses again come right at the end of the psalm. They finish off a psalm that starts with "Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord" and express the hope and trust that even in the depths of one's sin, God is able to redeem because of his unfailing love.

Sin (or iniquity as some translations put it) is an unpopular concept today. We so often are more comfortable talking of our 'mistakes' or 'short-comings' or even 'brokenness' but sin or iniquity sounds a little harsh to our twenty-first century ears. While we tend to blame people's shortcomings on a lack of education, or their upbringing, or perhaps even some psychological problem in extreme cases – many times society actually has no answer for why some people behave in the way they do. As we look at the cruelty and the horrific nature of the crimes we see committed in our country we can only acknowledge that there is something profoundly evil at work.

Before we point fingers too readily at others though, it is important to recognise that there is a crooked way in each of us. While it may not be the overt criminal activity that catches us out, the sneer and disdain with which we listen to the tall story of a beggar, the judgemental attitude towards those who commit a certain kind of sin, and the lack of love we have for our fellow man are all forms of evil. My previous minister defined sin as the "deliberate claim to the right to our own lives, and the equal refusal to worship God as God." And none of us will be found innocent.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans cried out in the same way the psalmist does saying, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin… When I want to do good, evil is right there with me …"
Our verse today is the psalmist final cry of hope and triumph – God will never go contrary to his unfailing love – God will redeem. Paul finishes in the same way, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Just as yesterday the Psalmist look forward to a time of living under God's favour, today he looks forward to a time of living under God's grace. And that's where we are. We live in a time where God has paid the price of our sin, and offered us his free gift of grace. A time where he does not leave us to struggle in it alone – but provides his Spirit to work in us to change us and guide us.

If there is something you need to bring into God's forgiving light this morning – do not delay. We do not need to struggle in our sin and guilt alone – his redemption is complete and his forgiveness free.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands." (Psalm 90:17)

Psalm 90, a psalm attributed to Moses, focuses on the frailty and brevity of human life here on earth in contrast with God's eternity. It is both a prayer – a plea to God to have compassion on his people who are simply dust, and a teaching to a community about the wisdom in recognising the number of our days.
Verse 17 is the final line in the psalm. The writer has made his case for the shortness and struggles that this life brings and then in the last three verses changes to asking that God will fill their short days with his unfailing love. He also asks that God grant them a spirit of gratitude and then it comes to this request that God's favour will rest with his people and establish the works of their hands.

The word for 'favour' can also be translated as 'beauty'. We encounter this same word in Psalm 27:4, a well-known verse reading: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek … to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." And while favour is a better fit in this context, it simply brings a picture of the beauty or the magnificence of God's favour that rests on us.

When someone does something incredibly generous or kind towards another, it can be said that they have done a beautiful thing. So too, God's favour or his kindness or his generosity towards us is truly beautiful.

In simpler translations, the line: "establish the work of our hands" is written as, "make our efforts successful". Here the psalmist after belabouring the point that life is frail and full of pain and heartache – asks God to make it into something more. Make it worthwhile. He asks for a change not in the length of our days, but rather in the nature of our days – that days that are lived under God's wrath are exchanged for days lived under his favour. That our time on earth will be a time of satisfaction and joy instead of toil and trouble. To 'establish' then is also asking that we can be involved in something that lasts, something eternal rather than something temporary.

The incredible news is that we are living in the answered prayer of this psalmist. Through the coming of Christ we now live under God's favour. The grace afforded us by the cross allows us to live a different kind of life. A life lived in communion with God and in the experience of his everlasting love for us. A life lived in the freedom of forgiveness and without fear of God's wrath. A life where the work the Lord calls us to (and all forms of work can be a calling) can be lived to his glory and for the building of his kingdom - a kingdom which lasts forever.

Life is no longer futile and final. The greatest enemy – that of death – has been swallowed up in victory. We live under God's favour and in relationship with him and he establishes the work of our hands. How incredibly blessed we are!!

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him" (Psalm 103:11-13)

Psalm 103 is again one of those favourite Psalms, so often used in worship, and in private meditation. It is a Psalm focusing on the grace of God shown towards those who sin. It extols the greatness of his love and compassion towards his people and towards David. It begins and ends with the line, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"

The three verses we are looking at this morning, are three repetitive comparisons building a case for the greatness of God's love.

The first line, speaks of the height of the heavens being the measure of his love. This word for love is again the "Hesed" – steadfast love, which we spoke about earlier. We remember that this is both God's character and an action. Not only is he himself love, but his actions towards us are ones of continual helpfulness, always acting for our best interests, always having us on his mind. The psalmist then talks about this love in a comparison that shows us that it is so infinite and abounding that it fills all of time and space.

The second line shows the extent of his forgiveness and grace. Not only are we forgiven but our sins are completely cast away – so far from us that they would never be found. This contrast appears in differing forms throughout Scripture. In Isaiah it reads
"Thought your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow…" (1:18)
"You have put all my sins behind your back" (38:17)
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (43:25)
His love covers all our sins – to the point that they cannot be seen or remembered.

Lastly he compares the compassion a father has on his children, to the mercy God has on those who fear him. This is to bring it home to a place that we can relate to once again. Just as a parent would get angry with a child, the anger is momentary but the love for the child never changes. So too God's love for us is unchanging and constant.

The love of God is so vast and infinite that it covers our sins and is unchanging through time. I pray that this morning you can spend some time with the Father just acknowledging him and praising him for his great love. I pray that you, together with all believers, may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is this love that he has for you. (Eph 3:18)

One of my favourite worship songs simply says this

"Think about his love
Think about his goodness
Think about his grace – that's brought us through
For as high as the heavens above
So great is the measure of our Father's love
Great is the measure of our Father's love"
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Friday, November 15, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." (Psalm 143:10)

Psalm 143 is known as a penitential psalm, a guide in the practice of repentance. It begins with the psalmist crying out for mercy and saying to the Lord in verse 2, "Do not bring your servant into judgement, for no-one living is righteous before you." He goes on to talk about his troubles and calls God to hear him and not turn his face away.

He then gets to our verse that we are looking at today.

Repentance is something that doesn't often get spoken of or taught on, but yet forms a key part of our liturgy on Sunday mornings. We know when we get taught the different ways of praying like A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) that it should form a part of our daily prayer life, and yet sometimes gets too little or too much attention. We are promised however that when we do confess, when we do admit to our weakness, our failures and our need for God, he has promised to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)

But there is the part of repentance that goes beyond the words we pray. Repentance actually means turning away from our sins and doing them no more. The grace we receive, the unconditional love is no excuse to continue in the ways of the world, in activities that go against the calling of the spirit, in the lifestyle that is lived outside of the influence of God. Rather as the psalmist asks, we should be seeking to change. Our heart cry should be that God molds us to be more and more like Jesus, more and more in step with His Spirit, more and more loving towards others.

"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;" is the way he says it. It is a request to, not only know God's will and plan, but to actually do it. Knowing his will comes from spending time in his presence and learning his heart for us and the world. Doing his will comes from relying on the courage the Spirit breathes inside us.

"May your good Spirit lead me on level ground" speaks of following the promptings of the Spirit. Learning to hear His whispers as he guides us in our day to day lives. It results in living a life that is coming alongside God and the work that he is doing in the world.

May this be your prayer this morning. May you have the bravery to open your heart up to God that he might work in you and change you. May you have the sensitivity to hear the Spirit and the courage to obey.

I pray that in this you will see the work of God in your life and the lives around you! Have a wonderful and blessed weekend!

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand." (Psalm 10:14)

Psalm 9 & 10 are actually one Psalm which has been split in two for liturgical reasons. They are a prayer to God which begins in thanksgiving and praise to God for deliverance and salvation. It then changes to a prayer that evil is not left unpunished, and finally ends with an expression of confidence in the Lord that he hears the cry of the afflicted, and he encourages, defends and sees that justice is meted out.

This morning's verse talks about the fact that God sees. He observes trouble and grief. This is a quality of God that caused him to be named, 'El Roi' – "The God who sees me". In Genesis 16, we see Hagar who has fled from the cruel treatment of Sarai, and who is out in the desert, pregnant and alone. An angel meets her there and promises her that God has not forgotten her or her child, and that he will bless her, that her child will be the start of a great nation, and that he will take care of them both. In response to this Hagar gives the LORD the name of El Roi.

El Roi is the God who sees what happens in our world. In terms of the bigger picture, God sees the injustice in our world. He sees the corruption that happens behind closed doors. He sees the horrors of slavery. He sees the brutality of war. And while we are tempted to despair – we can be reminded by the second part of the verse that he 'takes it in hand'. Evil will not flourish forever. We can be assured that in the final reckoning justice will prevail. Those who appear to 'get away with murder' will meet face to face with a God who hates oppression and cruelty.

So also when it comes to us and our personal walk with God – we can be assured that God is seeing what is happening. So often when we are struggling with something – whether it is people who hurt us, systems that are flawed and callous, illness that destroys our health or the health of a loved one, grief or fear about the future- we feel alone. We feel as though no one knows or understands our hearts.

God is not far off. He observes trouble and grief. He sees and he is there. He knows and he understands better than you do.

May you be reassured this morning that we serve El Roi, the God who sees us. May you rest in the knowledge that justice will be done in our world. May you know that he sees you personally, and trust that he will meet you in whatever desert you find yourself in as he did for Hagar.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great." (Psalm 18:32-35)

Psalm 18 is a long psalm praising God for the achievements of a king, most likely king David. The wording in the psalm as a whole also lends itself to a form of prophecy – speaking of the Messiah who would come in David's line and be the ultimate conqueror over sin and death.

David went through some very difficult times. He was anointed king as a young man while another king was reigning. He had massive military success from killing giants with a sling-shot to leading armies but found himself abandoned and running for his life. He is known as a friend of God, and yet fails badly, progressing from adultery to murder.

Yet we see in this psalm his total trust on God, and his total acknowledgement that his success and his strength to endure come solely from God. As he flees over mountains so God makes him as surefooted as a deer. As he leads armies, it is God who is his trainer and shield. As he struggles with betrayal and abandonment, it is God who sustains him and who ultimately brings him out again.

The last line, "your help has made me great" is translated differently in other Bibles. Some say, "you stoop down to make me great" and others, "your gentleness has made me great." What a phenomenal picture.
The tenderness in the image of God stooping down to raise up David – an picture that you can see in your mind's eye of a father reaching down to his child to encourage or bless or even physically pick up and place on his shoulders – stooping down to make great.
But gentleness is a word and a quality that doesn't often get spoken of today. It is the quality of controlled strength. A weak person isn't gentle, he is simply weak. It takes a strong person to be gentle. God deals with us with tenderness and gentleness. Elsewhere in the psalms it says that 'he remembers that we are dust" – he knows our weaknesses our areas of hurt, the sins we continue to stumble with – and he deals with us gently.

Take a moment to think back over your life. Can you see times where he has given you strength to endure? Can you see a time where he has given you the courage to stand up for what was right? Can you see times where he has guided and trained you? Can you remember times where he has dealt gently with you?

Remember and give thanks – this is our God. The one who arms us with strength and makes our way secure. The one who trains and sustains us. The God whose gentleness makes us great.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

This is a Psalm actually attributed to Solomon, and is known as one of the ascent psalms. These psalms were written as liturgy to be used by pilgrims as they travel to Jerusalem to worship. It is a psalm that picks up on a similar concept to the one written about last Thursday, that of dependence on God in the basic areas of our human life. It is a short psalm where the first two verses speak of the endeavours or work of life, and the last three verses speak to the family. The second part of verse two which isn't recorded above, reads, "He gives his beloved sleep" – a beautiful line that many of us need to hang on to in challenging times!

But our verse this morning speaks about the fact that hard work alone is not the secret to success. This flies in the face of so much we have been taught as we grow up and live in the society we do. There is a belief that hard work will reap results regardless… with hard work one can do anything. And there is certainly nothing wrong with hard work – in fact the Bible encourages it and tells us that in all our work we should be working as though we are working directly for God, so that he will be glorified in us.

The problem comes in when we rely entirely on ourselves and on our ability to create success, wealth or safety apart from God. While this psalm speaks about work and family, both involve a mysterious uncertainty – both are indeed human endeavours but human action is not the only determining factor. Work does not always produce fruit. Marriage does not always produce children. And so these verses are grounded in the idea that God is the ultimate deciding factor in all of life.

And so working and worrying as though the burden is all on you is fruitless. Work needs to be an outworking of trust, rather than a source of anxiety or arrogance depending on which side you feel you are on. The call of this verse then is to commit your way to the Lord, to seek his will and purposes in the work you do and trust the results to him.

The beautiful promise in all this is unlike the defeatist or fatalistic claim of "It is the will of Allah"… the implication being that it cannot be changed, we can go to God with our worries and anxieties from the work place. We can take situations where it feels like the labour is in vain and seek his counsel and his blessing. That is the beauty of our relationship with a Father who loves us, and longs to be involved in all aspects of our lives.

I pray that as you go into your Tuesday, into whatever work or task you find yourself faced with, that you will see it as a gift and opportunity from God – and commit it entirely to him.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." (Psalm 139:7-10)

My favourite Psalm! Psalm 139 contains the most intimate language for relating to God that we have in the Old Testament, it is an exploration of the Psalmists relationship with God, personally and currently. The first part of the Psalm talks about being known, accompanied, created and sustained by God and it is into this section that our verses fall. I'm sure we will return to this Psalm at a later day again to look at some of these other beautiful verses!

Some commentators look at this section of the Psalm, verses 7-10, and label it 'The Omnipresence of God' which while true, loses an aspect of the personal quality of these lines.
Where can I – I Jackie Barker – Where can I go from your Spirit Lord? Where could I, as I am today, ever be out of your presence?

The juxtaposition of the words 'heavens', and 'depths' literally mean as high as I can go, and as low as I can go, the two vertical extremes – God is there with us. In the same way the wings of the dawn denotes the east and the far side of the sea (which is the Mediterranean) in the west… so horizontally as well, there is no place outside of God's presence.

But beyond the literal understanding of this – there is also the understanding that no state of being separates us from God's presence. From heights of joy and celebration – to depths of grief and depression, from far swings to the left and right of our beliefs, emotions, doubts and fears – there is nowhere that God cannot reach in and touch, that God cannot hear and see, that God cannot intervene and that God cannot love.

It is a poetic and beautiful reminder of the verse in Romans 8,
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

How would your life look different if you lived in the constant knowledge of the Spirit's presence? Would it lead you to a holier, less sin-invaded life? Would it lend you the courage needed to do what was right? Would it remove your fear of rejection knowing that you are constantly and eternally loved?

May you grow in the knowledge this weekend that there is nowhere that God is not with you, guiding you and loving you.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." (Psalm 34:6-7)

This is a Psalm of thanksgiving, which becomes a teaching, almost like the proverbs, on the benefits of fearing God and shunning evil. It is a Psalm that contains the well-known verse of "Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." (vs.8). A verse we most often hear in our communion liturgy. It is also the Psalm that contains what the Gospel writer John takes as a prophecy about Jesus crucifixion in verse 20: "he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken".

This morning however I want to pick up on these lesser known lines in verses 6 & 7, as I believe they hold deep truths.

This is a Psalm written by David, and so it makes for an interesting thought that he refers to himself as "This poor man…" In many other cases David would refer to himself as the king or the like, and yet here he lowers himself to the level of a poor man. It's important to note that poor does not necessarily denote one who has no possessions – rather it can mean one who is without resources to save his own life or secure his own well-being. And who knows it.

We so often in life live a lie that we are in control. We believe somehow that we have everything in hand. We write memoirs and take photos, do back-ups on our computers and have safety deposit boxes to protect the past, we take out medical aid and have security companies guard our houses to protect our present and take out life cover, house cover, dread disease and disability cover, (I am amazed by the number of different things insurance companies have come up with to 'cover') all to safeguard our future.

And so we feel safe. We feel in control. We believe we have it all together.

Yet the truth is that we have very little control over what happens tomorrow or even in the next ten minutes. While insurances and back-ups are great safety mechanisms to have in place, if we place our trust there we will fall horribly short of reality. One car accident, one fire, one phone-call… and our worlds can fall apart.

This is why our trust belongs with God. Our faith needs to be in Him and in His goodness and faithfulness regardless of the circumstances around us. God is the only unchangeable dependable force in our lives. He has the power to deliver, to restore, to heal, and to command angels to encamp around us, or hold us up in their hands when we need it.

While this may be a scary truth, the powerful reality is that we are never alone. God will never leave us nor forsake us regardless of trial or tragedy. I pray that you will base your life on this truth, recognising that we are all poor, and all in need of a God who will never let us go.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14)

This Psalm again like yesterday speaks of trust. It is a beautiful Psalm – one of those that deserves memorising. It's also a very well-known Psalm starting with the captivating lines of, "The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?" The lines ring with the same message as yesterday.

And yet it finishes with the words, "Wait for the Lord."

Waiting is not something we are very good at. We live in an instant society, instant messaging, instant pudding, instant cash and instant answers. We have drive-throughs and google and 24 hour hot lines. Everything in life is aimed at being quick, efficient and faster. And so everything that slows us down gets us frustrated. Traffic, queues, waiting rooms and the little loading sign that appears on my blackberry from time to time. If our computers don't boot up in 30 seconds there is a problem. If I get put on hold and have to listen to delicate piano pieces on the phone I'm tempted to hang up. If the truck in front of me decides to drive at 40km/hr I find myself tempted to cross the solid white line to pass him.

But in reality – in the real world – things of importance take time. There is no such thing as instant love, instant character or instant relationships. These things of value require intentional and extended time. My relationship with Tim (my husband) grows and matures as we travel through the years together. My fitness improves with many hours at the gym. My understanding of life and ministry comes with time and experience. My knowledge and love of God comes through years of watching his faithfulness and his goodness to me.

God is never rushed. When we hit a crisis, he is not short of time to meet our needs. He knows, he cares, and he loves you enough to know that sometimes instant answers produce shallow character and limited faith. When Jesus' good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus took so long to get to him, that he had been dead for several days when he arrived. Was Jesus late? No. He was precisely on time to demonstrate God's mercy and power in what seemed to be a hopeless situation.

Waiting on the Lord is a strong feature in our trusting him. As hours or days tick by and we question why God has not answered, trust calls us to humbly wait on his timing and his purpose to be revealed.

Take a deep breath. Still up in your soul. And wait. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4)

Psalm 56 is a Psalm of trust in the midst of fear. It was composed during the time that David was fleeing from Saul who was trying to kill him. It links to the stories of David in Gath in chapters 21 and 22 of 1 Samuel. Here David has fled alone, and once he arrives in Gath, he realises that the people there have heard about him and so he is afraid. He pretends to be mad and thus manages to escape and hide out in a cave. It is here that he writes this Psalm, trusting in God even though there are enemies on every side, and trusted friends had even turned against him.

Fear is a very real emotion that we all encounter. We experience it in exam rooms, in doctor's offices, in hospital waiting rooms, and before performance appraisals. It creeps into our souls when the phone rings at three in the morning or a loved one begins a conversation with, "we need to talk…" We live in a country where there is a shortage of work, where we are uncertain of the trustworthiness of our police and justice departments, where crime covers our newspapers and fills our twitter feeds.

And fear is a dangerous thing – it can cause us to make rash decisions, to lash out at someone we love or to hoard possessions. When I look back at some of my worst failures, so much of the cause was a fear – a fear that people would think less of me if I told the truth, fear that if I was generous here that I wouldn't have enough to make it through the month, fear that if I showed people my vulnerability that they would reject me.

David in this Psalm uses opposing words to make his point. He contrasts fear and trust, God and man. "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." He shows us that faith is not based on feelings – in fact without fear, without doubt, without worry there would be very little reason for trust. Calvin talks about this when he says, "Fear and hope may seem opposite and incompatible affections and yet hope never comes into full sway unless there exists some measure of fear." Trust belongs in situations where fear or anxiety or terror is possible.

Our trust is not baseless- it is placed in a God who has proved himself time and again. The Bible is full of times where it confirms that He is trustworthy and never changes.
"Fear not, I am with you." (Isaiah 41:10)
"This I know; God is on my side" (Psalm 56:9)
"If God is for us; who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

May you find courage in the situations you find yourself in this week. May you pray together with the Psalmist, "When I am afraid, I will trust in God."

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Friday, November 1, 2013

EMMDEV Snippets from Psalms

"Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds…" (Psalm 141:3,4)

Psalm 141 is a prayer to God that He will protect and rescue the author from wickedness and the pervasive evil that he sees around him. The author, David, offers up this petition as an offering to God. In verse 2 he even describes this prayer as incense – an image which we find again in Revelation chapter 18, where the prayers of the saints together rise up to God together with incense.

The central text to our Psalm though, is the one we have read here this morning – a plea to God that he would guard his mouth and his heart from that which is evil.

This is a prayer I need to pray every morning. The reality is that so many of the problems we face in life begin with what we say. A careless comment here can tear down self-esteem. A thoughtless passing on of information can destroy trust. A little white lie here can lead to a web of deceit. An angry word can break a heart.

James talks about the power of the tongue and says,
"So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself. We humans are able to tame and have tamed all other creatures---wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish. But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison. We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse other people, who are created in the likeness of God." (James 3:5-9)

The second part is a plea to guard his heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12 that it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks, thus the condition of the heart is revealed in the words we say. Bitterness, arrogance, cynicism, racism, self-pity are all revealed in the words we say. Thus in order to keep what we say pure and holy, we need to keep our hearts from wickedness too.

We live in a world where we are bombarded by coarse language and joking, where we are tempted by materialism and lust, where we are confronted with negativity and pessimism.

Into this we need to realise daily that a faithful life depends on the faithfulness of God. We need to constantly throw ourselves onto his mercy and grace to set a guard over our mouths, and protect our hearts from wickedness.

May this Psalm challenge you in your prayer life today.

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