40 Days in the Psalms – Day 38

Ps 150 – “Let every living, breathing creature praise GOD! Hallelujah!”

News stories break almost daily of teenagers or young adults whose actions shame or embarrass their parents.

This week’s newsfeeds include the stories of a 14-year-old Dutch girl, whose thoughtless but threatening Twitter message to American Airlines left no one amused; and Kevin “Kayvon” Edson, 25, who left a backpack with a  rice-cooker (not a bomb) at the finish line area in Boston on Monday. In the latter case, the parents have moved quickly to indicate that Kevin is emotionally unstable. It’s not their parenting but his health that is at issue.

Psalm 150The 150-song Psalmody concludes with the resonating line “Let every living, breathing creature praise GOD! Hallelujah!” The statement summarizes the heartbeat of the Psalms as a whole. Whatever we face, whatever we fear, whatever we long for, whatever we suffer, the final word is Hallelujah.

Yet, this statement calls us to more than a vocal declaration.

It’s one thing to honor GOD by what we say. It’s another matter altogether to honor Him by how we live. Indeed, our actions surely do more to bring Him praise than our words. A life that reflects His character speaks far more loudly than a few eloquent sentences.

We praise GOD most authentically and most powerfully by life-choices not word-choices.

As we prepare for this Easter weekend, this final declaration of the Psalms should become the primary declaration of our lives. We choose to live differently and speak differently because of the Cross and the empty tomb. We resolve to bring GOD glory, honor, and praise despite the violence, chaos, and darkness in our lives … because Sunday’s coming.

And as we praise GOD (with all that we are) may all of creation around us do the same.

Breath Prayer for Today: “All praise to You, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 37

Ps 148 – “Praise the name of GOD–he spoke the word, and creation came into being.”

Nothing in all of creation has the vocabulary — the words — that humanity enjoys. Other animals have sounds and various levels of communication, but we have words; nuanced sounds that form endless combinations of meaning. Even more, we have found ways to articulate these amazing combinations in entirely distinct language groups.

Yet, for all the wonder of words — if we stop and think about it — “the word” has suffered a great loss of confidence in recent generations. Too many words? Too many shallow words? Too many broken words? Too many manipulative words?

WordThe Psalmist reminds us of the most elementary purpose of the word; not to communicate, but to create. God spoke, and the world came into being. He did not need pre-existent matter. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).

Our words carry the same potential and the same power in GOD’s hands — first to create; second to communicate. We’ve often lost sight of the former and resorted entirely to the latter. We most typically use words to inform, not to inspire; to instruct, not to create.

Today we have an opportunity to honor Christ with our words; to let Him take our communication and use it to produce transformation. He spoke and the world came into being. Perhaps today he’ll take our words and change the world (ever so slightly but meaningfully) for those around us.

Speak prayerfully and trust Him to do with these sounds more than we could ask or imagine.

Breath Prayer for Today: “Use my words, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 36

Ps 145 – “GOD’s there, listening for all who pray, for all who pray and mean it.”

Recently, I had a low moment. Kim, my wife, and I were chatting about our day. In the middle of the conversation, I asked her a question. But, before she could give a response I flipped open my iPad and began to check my email. I know. It’s terrible. She asked, quite reasonably, “Are you listening to me?”

It can feel that way sometimes with prayer. Even in this final week of Lent, some of us may wonder if God has been nearly as attentive as we had hoped. Nearly six weeks have passed since we started Lent.

Prayer 2The Psalmist reminds us, however, that GOD is listening both for us and to us. He knows our voice, and what we say matters to Him.

Beyond that, listening implies both attentiveness and responsiveness. It’s not simply that GOD hears the sound of our voice, recognizing its pitch or tone. Rather, He concerns Himself with what we say and He responds. He is neither absent nor deaf.

Thankfully, too, it’s not our eloquence but our earnestness that moves His heart. We do not have to be wonderfully articulate. He does not require a particular prayer language of us. Just sincerity. If we mean it, it matters to Him.

Let’s finish Lent with fresh confidence and determination. Pray earnestly these last four days; believing, trusting.

Breath Prayer for Today: “Hear my heart, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 35

Ps 145 - “GOD gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.”

Yesterday, many churches around the world acknowledged Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. What great irony. A Jewish people, wearied by poverty and bruised by oppression — ready to quit — hoped this might be the fresh start that GOD was about to provide. This Jesus of Nazareth would turn everything around, politically or militarily. So they thought. So they wanted.

As we know, within days the Hosanna-crowd turned hostile. Their expectations dashed, they turned their disillusionment into a drum-beat for death. “Crucify Him!”

Fresh Start 2Yet, that Monday, Jerusalem was abuzz. “Might this be the fresh start that GOD has promised? Might this be the ray of hope for those of us ready to quit?”

The Psalmist declared that GOD specializes in fresh starts — second chances. When we feel utterly trapped, He opens a window. When we see nothing but darkness, He shines a light. When fear threatens to ruin us, He holds us steady. When loneliness seems unbearable, He takes our hand.

In our toughest times, we all want a savior to ride onto the scene — even on a donkey (see Zechariah 9:9). We hunger for something dramatic and cataclysmic. Militancy, even violence, sometimes seems like an acceptable solution. But it is not the Way of the Kingdom.

GOD has a way of providing fresh starts in disguise.

Are you ready to quit this morning — to quit a job, to quit a marriage, to quit a church, to quit a friendship? This Holy Week invites us to trust GOD. He’s at work, always at work, relentlessly at work, to provide you a fresh start — but not in the obvious ways.

Breath Prayer for Today: “I trust you, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 34

Ps 145 – “GOD is good to one and all; everything He does is suffused with grace.”

Everything suffused with grace. I love the image. It connects with a phrase in Romans 5:2 that has recently become a favorite of mine. The Apostle Paul writes of “this grace in which we stand.”

I picture wading out into a river. As I continue to walk, the water grows deeper. It surrounds me. It laps up to me. The farther I walk, the more it envelopes me. It’s a metaphor of our spiritual Journey.

WadingI used to think of grace as simply a “salvation-thing.” God’s grace meant He saved me. He generously invited me into His family and His Kingdom. Grace pretty much stopped there. But grace is far larger, far richer, and far more comprehensive.

Grace is undeserved favor; unsolicited blessing; unrequested generosity; unexpected provision.

I stand in His grace when I wake in the morning and can put my feet on the ground, when I sit at the breakfast table and have food to eat, when I arrive safely at my workplace, when I get to laugh, when I get to run, when my family just “hangs out” and basks in the joy of togetherness, when I can purchase something or pay a bill, when I get needed medication.

Grace. Grace. Grace.

Everything is suffused with grace. Immersed in it. Soaked in it.

I deserve judgment. Nothing about my life even begins to approximate “conformity to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29), yet His grace surrounds me, washes over me, pours into me. May we burst forth with gratitude today as we seek it, see it, and ponder it.

Breath Prayer for Today: “Your grace is sufficient, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 33

Ps 144 - “Pull me out of the ocean of hate.”

We have laws in the United States against hate-crimes; violent acts motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward a member of a gender, racial, religious, or social group. It doesn’t stop people hating.

We live in an ocean of hate. Our culture is awash in it.

HateReligious hate, political hate, familial hate, racial hate — even self-hate — are all alive and well. Listen to the language. Words have barbs. They drip with poison. They ooze hostility. They bubble with anger.

If we pause but a moment we’ll see and hear hate all around us. Watch the web. Listen to talkback radio. Read comments on political or religious news stories. There’s enough animosity to drag us all down. There’s enough antagonism to destroy us all.

It’s not new. The Psalmist in ancient Israel cried out to GOD to save him from “the ocean of hate.” We might well pray the same way, today. But it’s not merely the ocean of hate around us, but perhaps the ocean of hate within us from which we need deliverance.

The acrimony in a divorce does nothing to lay a foundation for the future. Malice in the workplace makes it intolerable. Venom directed towards others in the church weakens the Body of Christ. And self-hate may be the most insidious and destructive form of all.

If you find yourself battling on this front today, then this ancient prayer may serve you well.

“Pull me out of the ocean of hate.” We all need to pray it from time to time; perhaps often.

Breath Prayer for Today: “Protect and renew my heart, Lord.”

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40 Days in the Psalms – Day 32

Ps 139 - “I look behind me and GOD you are there, then up ahead and you’re there, too — your reassuring presence, coming and going; this is too much, too wonderful.”

Sometimes, being surrounded by God’s presence is “too much, too wonderful.” That happened yesterday.

Yesterday morning at William Jessup University our regular chapel service, which hundreds attend, became a baptismal service. Our Campus Ministries Director set up an inflatable pool, students led us in worship, and half a dozen students came prepared to be baptized. With Easter at our doorstep they wanted to declare their readiness to follow Christ whole-heartedly.

Presence (2)Then others started spontaneously stepping forward, in the moment, to join them.

For 40 minutes they kept coming, in their street-clothes, to be baptized into Christ. Friends baptizing friends; room-mates baptizing room-mates. Christ palpably among us.

“Too much, too wonderful.”

Each person briefly shared why they had come. “I never want to go back.” “God just lifted a life-long burden from me, and my legs started walking.” “I’m done with anger. No more.” “I can’t miss out on what God is doing.” “God has brought me through some dark times, and I’m saying yes to Him today.” “I’m ready to really stand for Jesus.”

Tears flowed. Voices cracked. People hugged. Lives changed.

I don’t imagine that too many Universities around the country had baptismal services yesterday. It doesn’t happen every day here, either. But yesterday, the Presence of God touched us in a specific way — restoring wounded lives, healing broken hearts, renewing hope, resurrecting the dead.

That is, of course, what Lent and Easter is all about — not merely a spiritual discipline or an annual event, but a divine encounter. “Too much, too wonderful.”

May you have a taste of it today in your own life.

Breath Prayer for Today: “Everything for you, Lord. Everything.”

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