Daily Psalms – Psalm 73

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Our reading today concludes Book 2 of Psalms and enters Book 3, of which Psalm 73 is the beginning. Here we focus on the psalms “of Asaph.” Psalm 73 is a wonderful reminder for us today who struggle with the same fault that the psalmist admits: envy over the unrighteous.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For i envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psalm 73:2-3 NIV

This is a big theme throughout the Proverbs especially, but also in Psalms. “Ill-gotten gain” is condemned repeatedly, and yet we still admire seeing wealth on display, no matter how it’s gotten, for some reason. We are drawn to the illusion of wealth and luxury, that it will somehow fix our problems. In reality, it amplifies our problems.

But back to the main point, we think about money so much, and yet we don’t think about money as much as we should. Dr. Jenn Hale Christy had a very thought provoking podcast on this topic recently where she asked us to consider what we’re actually doing with our money. We blindly throw our money into investment accounts, but do we actually know what we are investing in? Is our retirement savings coming to us through “ill-gotten gains?”

The psalmist talks about all the present-moment advantages that these wicked people seem to have: no struggles, healthy, easy life. But when we renew our focus on God we begin to see things clearly. The illusion of the wicked lifestyle begins to fall.

When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 NIV

This is one of the many reasons why worship is so important. When we worship God it recalibrates our hearts to follow him. In his excellent book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith reminds us that the entire world is a liturgy; everything we do is worship of something, and forms us into the image of that something. Gathering with believers in worship of our God refocuses and reshapes us into who he wants us to be. He is the one who loves. He is the one who guides. He is the one who saves.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26 NIV

Daily Psalms – Psalm 66

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.

Psalm 66:1-2 NIV

I love Psalm 66. It is a wonderful song of praise, but different than you might expect. You see, we tend to praise God for the good times. The psalmist here praises God for the good times, and praises God for causing the bad times!

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12 NIV

Notice that the psalmist says it was God who “brought us” into some terribly painful situations. These led to refining (removing all the impurities), and eventually to a place of abundance.

We love to praise God for the mountaintops, but we rarely praise him for the valleys. The psalmist tells us to not only praise him for the valleys, but praise him while we’re in the valleys!

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.

Psalm 66:13-14 NIV

Even in the darkest moments of trouble, we should be committing to worship. Even when we don’t know how the situation will turn out, we commit ourselves to praising our God. No matter the highest highs or the lowest lows, we commit ourselves to our God.

Praise be to God!

Daily Psalms – Psalm 65

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalms 61-65

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 65: a song of thanksgiving, but also one of supplication.

The psalmist begins with a focus on public acknowledgement of sin, something that seems to rarely happen anymore. We think of sin as an individualistic. If I sin it’s my problem, and if you sin it’s your problem. Scripture views sin as effecting everything and everyone. You would offer sacrifices for your sin, I would offer for mine, and corporately the nation would offer sacrifices, seeking forgiveness for the nation as a whole.

When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.

Psalm 65:3 NIV

Can you imagine our political leaders doing something like this? Can you imagine a joint session of congress where political leaders acknowledge the sins of the nation and petition God for forgiveness? I can’t imagine it either, but it is something that truly needs to happen. Until that time comes, we as believers (individual) and the church (corporate) need to intercede for the forgiveness of our nation. In doing so, we draw nearer to God who welcomes us to do so.

Why should we praise God? He answers prayer (v. 2), he forgives (v. 3), he allows us to draw near (v. 4), he sits over creation in power (v. 5-8), and he blesses us with provisions (v. 9-13).

So will we honor him? Will we dedicate our lives to him? Will we give God what he deserves for being so good to the undeserving?

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.

Psalm 65:1 NIV

Daily Psalms – Psalm 57

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalms 56-60

Psalm 57 is a much needed psalm in our world today. A glance at any form of news media will show you that things are bad in this world. Poverty, hunger, job loss, homelessness, rumors of wars, natural disasters, death…it doesn’t take long to get discouraged over all the chaos.

But the psalmist reminds us that our God sits over the chaos. The pleading for mercy is coupled by the trust of protection in the shadow of God’s wings.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
Rebuking those who hotly pursue me –
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.

Psalm 57:2-3 NIV

Even though the psalmist is surrounded by destruction, violence, and danger, the reaction is not despair, but worship!

My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Psalm 57:7-10 NIV

What’s your first reaction when life brings pain your way? Is it to run toward God in trust and in worship, or to stay home and hide?

The psalmist reminds us that there is healing involved in worship. There is strength, reassurance, trust, and blessings that pour forth when we worship. Don’t run from God in times of trouble, run to him! Find an opportunity to worship with others, even if it isn’t Sunday morning.

It’s easy to look at our world and conclude that everything is hopeless, but the psalmist disagrees. Psalm 57 reminds us that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are to be enjoyed and praised, even in the midst of the storm.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 57:11 NIV

Priscilla – The Leader?

Luke continues telling the stories of women serving in the Kingdom throughout his second volume, which we call “Acts.” Today we’ll begin with Priscilla. Paul first meets Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers, in Corinth after they had been ordered to leave Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2-3). Later on these two were missionaries traveling with Paul to Syria, staying for a time in Ephesus, and later returning to Rome (Acts 18:18-19, 2 Tim. 4:19, Rom.16:3).

Of all the times that these two co-workers of Paul are mentioned (seven times total), two of these times Aquila is mentioned first: When Paul meets Aquila, and then Priscilla, and when Paul sends greetings to the church in Corinth on their behalf. The other five times this ministry team is mentioned it is the female, Priscilla, who is mentioned first.

What does this tell us about Priscilla? She played a very active role in these events, likely the lead role. When we tell stories we tend to include the key player in the discussion first. We say “Tom Brady and the Patriots,” not “Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots.” Stidham is one of the backup quarterbacks. Does he play a role in the organization? Of course. Is he the key player? Not usually. Luke does this in other places as well. At the beginning of his relationship with Barnabas, Luke refers to the two as “Barnabas and Saul/Paul” (Acts 11-13). But after chapter 13, Paul becomes the main player, except for occasionally like Acts 14:14, and 15:12. When Paul is the main player, he is mentioned first. When Barnabas is the main player, he is mentioned first.

Priscilla is mentioned as the main player five of the seven times she is mentioned with Aquila. This includes the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:26), the missionary work in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 2 Tim. 4:19), and on three other occasions. Saying Priscilla helped her husband is inadequate. They are both called co-workers with Paul (Rom. 16:3), and Priscilla is mentioned first 71% of the time.

There are some who teach women are not allowed to minister in this way, yet time and time again Scripture shows them doing so. And they are never rebuked or criticized for doing so! Luke mentions numerous other women prophesying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15, 2:1, 4, 17-18), or Mary, who had a sizable church meeting in her home (Acts 12:12), Lydia, who also hosted a church (Acts 16:40), or Philip’s four daughters, who were prophets (Acts 21:8)?

Many have tried to take two verses from Paul’s writings out of context and use them to silence women in the Kingdom. The problem is the rest of Scripture, and even Paul’s own writings and ministry, show them doing the very things they are supposedly not allowed to do. So do we allow tradition to shape our understanding of what women may or may not do in the Kingdom, or will we allow the examples set forth in Scripture to set those guidelines?

Next week we’ll look at Paul’s conclusion to the Romans, and look at a few of the women he mentions there, as well as their roles in the Kingdom.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 29

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 26-30

Today we spend a little time meditating on Psalm 29 which many scholars believe to be the oldest psalm we have. This belief comes from finding very similar songs written to Baal by the Canaanites, and it appears that the Canaanite text has been reclaimed and rightly reappropriated to honor Yahweh.

Baal was known as the god over storms and fertility. If anything grew it was because Baal provided the fertility. If rain came it was because Baal made it so, and his voice was heard in the thunder of the storm. There was a belief amongst the Canaanites that they could manipulate Baal to do what they wanted by worshipping at the right time and in certain ways. They believed they could do certain things to obligate Baal to give them what they asked for. (Sadly some who follow Christ believe this as well.)

Psalm 29, however, takes everything that the Canaanites believed and flips it on its head. It isn’t Baal who does anything! It is Yahweh, and Yahweh alone who controls everything in the universe, and we are reminded of his name 18 times in this psalm alone!

Everything that comes from powerful storms: floods, thunder, tremors, lightning, destruction in nature – all of it subject to Yahweh. Blessings, strength, peace? All from Yahweh! Baal has no place in the discussion because it is Yahweh who does all of these things.

Let’s take a moment and focus on how our world views these things. Where do storms come from? We could look at scientific answers, but the general person on the street would attribute it to “Mother Nature.” How do we get rain? Hope the patterns found in “Mother Nature” will bring it about.

Our society, in large part, has done what the Canaanites did in attributing the power evident in the universe to created things. Humans can control a lot of things (or at least we pretend we can.) We can control our schedules, what crops we grow, where we want to build roads, where we want to travel, etc. We have amazing control over our world, but we cannot control the weather. Truth be told we can’t even accurately predict it most of the time.

Psalm 29 reminds us that we are not in control. No matter how hard we try, to matter what spells or chants we recite, no matter how many prayers we pray; we are not in control. Yahweh alone is in control. The only one who can control the weather is the only one in control of everything else.

And what should the response of creation be?

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, 
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; 
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. 

Psalm 29:1-2 NIV

May Yahweh give you strength and bless you with peace.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 23

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 21-25

Today our meditation is on Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture, and one that our western experience doesn’t really understand. We don’t live in a shepherding culture, and we certainly don’t live in the landscape of rural Israel. But that’s the context in which this passage speaks most clearly.

We often read this psalm with images of God’s abundant blessings. “I lack nothing” seems to indicate “I have everything I want!” “Green pastures” seems to indicate a feast of epic proportions in belly deep alfalfa hay. But have you ever seen pictures of Israel? Do we really understand what David is writing here?

Keep in mind that Psalms 20-23 are Messianic in nature; they describe the coming (returning) Messiah and how he would live. Did Jesus have all the physical possessions he wanted? Was his a wealthy and luxurious existence? Something seems to be off with our American understanding of this famous psalm.

If you look at the picture I have attached to this post, you will see the “green pastures” of Israel. Look closely. Do you see the sheep grazing on the hillside? Can you see the little tufts of green grass on the hillside in the desert? These are the green pastures of David’s world, of Jesus’ world, and of Psalm 23.

In the desert that is very little water and virtually no grass, yet this is where you can raise sheep in Israel. Each night a strong wind from the west blows humid air from the Mediterranean Sea against the hot desert hills and the condensation occurs. Overnight this moisture causes green tufts of grass to sprout that in the morning provide grass for the sheep, but by mid afternoon the sun has scorched everything there. Unless the sheep are in the right place at the right time they will have nothing to eat.

Do you know the most common cause of death in the desert? Drowning. Seriously, I’m not making this up! Though it doesn’t rain in the desert, it pours in the mountains and the mountains cannot absorb the water. These torrential runoffs stream through dry riverbeds (wadi’s) into the desert. Often there is water left over in the bottom of these wadi’s, and that’s the problem. When you attempt to get water out of these wadi’s you leave the rock often get stuck in the miry mud that is left.

People drown like this every year because they see water, their thirst in the desert drives them into these wadi canyons and when 70 feet of floodwater rushes through the canyon at once they cannot get out. Desert people will tell you instead to get your water from springs, also known as “still” or “quiet waters.” In these places there is no danger.

So who knows where the grass will appear in the morning? Who knows the difference between flood waters and quiet waters? The sheep? No, it’s the Shepherd that knows these things. So what does it mean to have Yahweh as your shepherd? And what what might happen if we don’t listen to our Shepherd?

I could write about this psalm all day, but hopefully I’ve provided enough to get you thinking. Here’s a couple of takeaways. First, read this psalm with the cultural and geographical information from above and see what David might be saying. Is he saying we will have everything we want because we follow Yahweh, or is he saying we don’t have to worry because because the Shepherd will always give us just what we need when we need it? The words of Jesus seem to echo here as well!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body or what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all theses things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:25, 33 NIV

Second, if Psalm 23 is Messianic in nature, then read this as if Jesus were speaking. Can you see his story here? And finally, read this in your voice. What does it mean to dwell in the house of Yahweh forever? What does it look like to dwell in his house now?

May Yahweh bless you as you spend time wrestling with his word today. Shalom.