Just Understanding is OK: Psalm 137

Israelites in Captivity

 1 By the rivers in Babylon we sat and cried 
       when we remembered Jerusalem.
 2 On the poplar trees nearby 
       we hung our harps.
 3 Those who captured us asked us to sing; 
       our enemies wanted happy songs. 
       They said, “Sing us a song about Jerusalem!” 

 4 But we cannot sing songs about the Lord 
       while we are in this foreign country! 
 5 Jerusalem, if I forget you, 
       let my right hand lose its skill.
 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth 
       if I do not remember you, 
    if I do not think about Jerusalem 
       as my greatest joy. 

 7 Lord, remember what the Edomites did 
       on the day Jerusalem fell. 
    They said, “Tear it down! 
       Tear it down to its foundations!” 

 8 People of Babylon, you will be destroyed. 
       The people who pay you back for what you did to us will be happy. 
 9 They will grab your babies 
       and throw them against the rocks.

When you get to this Psalm, you need to grip the idea that there is a revolving link. There is something that makes you swirl back to verse 1. It’s a link that brings us from the end to the beginning. A certain revolution that seems circular. When we get to the end of this psalm, we are shunted back to the beginning. There is a certain connection that takes us into a spiritual connection, and then demands we reconnect and do it all over again.

I suppose that we hate the idea.  We start, and then insist on a conclusion, we like to be tidy, and somehow we think completeness makes us spiritual.  But in 137, we discover we are a loop, in this sense. We read it over and over, but honest believers, but we can’t grip onto a true discipleship.

Commentary

VV. 1-2 establishes certain things. There is a kind of nostalgia here. A powerful sadness is acknowledged. Desperation is the theme of this moment. Memories can be good, and yet be savagely painful. The viciousness of all of this makes us act in strange ways. We hang our harps up on the trees. We don’t want anything to do with life in captivity. There is a bitterness in this new world of slavery.

V. 3,  there will be an awful antagonism, and those who order us about have no idea. Pain is afflicted by ‘their’ falseness. Undoubtedly, this isn’t intentional, and they seem so sincere, but savagely brutal. Perhaps might does make right, in seems so in this case.

V. 4 bring us issues of a self-recognition. What Babylon asks from us, is simply not possible. It is not within us to sing in captivity.

V. 5, is a reasonable declaration. There is an intense connection between a man’s religion and all that he is. What marks us at the start, identifies us at the end. You could say, “we are who we have always been.”

V. 6 is a very certain concept. It has to deal with, of “what could be.” The reader has to keep the orientation right. So much seems “airborne.” Completely in flux. But that’s ok.

V.7, has a residual awareness of a deep wounding that happened in the past. The ugliness and pain will continue to be acknowledged. Whether the past will keep being understood is completely up to us.

V. 8 is actually an understanding of a certain action against what is so evil. Nothing escapes, or can even be rationalized. We take the things that come to us, and there is a certain awareness of a “right & wrong” that simply can’t be diminished or reduced. It is now “locked in.”

V. 9 carries something quite tragic and immensely sad.  I won’t push this too much. The pain of such happenings carries an ugly and vicious sadness. There is far too much grief here. The slaughter of innocents, is brutal and difficult. Perhaps the inclusion of this, has come as a result of all that has happened out of the terrible pain of seeing this happen to themselves. Grief has many funny ways as it is absorbed, but that will never make it easy.

And now we cycle back to verse 1. We are brought through all of this. We start over, and then over again. None of us, will ever get complete answers. But I guess that this is ok.

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The True King: Psalm 145:1-3

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“I will lift you up high, my God, the true king.
    I will bless your name forever and always.
I will bless you every day.
    I will praise your name forever and always.
The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!
    God’s greatness can’t be grasped.”

Psalm 145:1-3, CEB

The spirit of David opens up this psalm incredibly upbeat. He is wild and quite fervent as he unleashes his praise of God. In the past, he has been hammered many times by dark forces. And yet, David continues to praise in a way that some would consider way too excessive.

Praise has changed David. He has discovered much through trials and obstacles he has encountered. He is not bitter, but better. He has not been mauled, but amazed by the grace that has been given freely to him.

Commentary

V. 1, “I will lift you up high, my God, the true king.
    I will bless your name forever and always.”

King David loves to praise his God. He calls Him the “true king.” I suppose “true” is the operative word. God is royal, and He astonishes us beyond our focus.

The idea of “blessing His name” isn’t really a part of our western mindset. It may seem to be extraneous and doubtful. But David understands something. He can impart this directly to the presence of God. He really believes he can convey “goodness” to a God who is already good and true.

V. 2,  I will bless you every day.
    I will praise your name forever and always.

I suppose we are seeing something that drives David further. David is focused on delivering his blessing directly on the Lord. He is blessing when so many are cursing.

I think that this verse directs us a to an admirable consistency of faith. But David presses us in this psalm to focus on a worthy God, who deserves a daily acknowledgement. David shepherds us into the concreteness of our belief.

“Forever and always. Simply understood, we must realize we are offering up something quite eternal and everlasting. David understands that his faith is fairly understood. (But understanding doesn’t mean acceptance). But certainly, there is a grace that punches into our malaise. We suddenly understand a grace that is beyond us.

V. 3,  The Lord is great and so worthy of praise God’s greatness can’t be grasped.”  It seems David is running on an understanding of this worthy God. David is focused on “greatness” and “worthiness” of God. Simply, the understanding this deep awareness will change us completely. He turns us “upside down.”

“Can’t be grasped,” propels us into a deep awareness of His goodness. We see it, and then we try to focus, but our silliness and foolishness deflects so much. And yet it pushes us into an ignorant place. Humility will bring us directly into His presence. (But that may seem very hard.)

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I Must Have Mercy! Psalms 6

A Prayer for Mercy in Troubled Times
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Upon the sheminith. A psalm of David.

 1 Lord, don’t correct me when you are angry; 
       don’t punish me when you are very angry.
 2 Lord, have mercy on me because I am weak. 
       Heal me, Lord, because my bones ache.
 3 I am very upset. 
       Lord, how long will it be? 

 4 Lord, return and save me; 
       save me because of your kindness. 
 5 Dead people don’t remember you; 
       those in the grave don’t praise you. 

 6 I am tired of crying to you. 
       Every night my bed is wet with tears; 
       my bed is soaked from my crying. 
 7 My eyes are weak from so much crying; 
       they are weak from crying about my enemies. 

 8 Get away from me, all you who do evil, 
       because the Lord has heard my crying. 
 9 The Lord has heard my cry for help; 
       the Lord will answer my prayer.
 10 All my enemies will be ashamed and troubled. 
       They will turn and suddenly leave in shame.

 

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This is the first seven “penitential” psalms written by David. Residing within each psalm the themes of regret, and contriteness, brokenness and self reproach. However, you could say these emotions are the engines that push David’s faith, especially at this particular moment.

Many of us understand these, at least to some degree. These psalms are especially prized by those of us in ‘liturgical services’, with some of these seven read aloud every Sunday. The first few verses of this work contain words like “correction” and “anger.” (The NCV also uses the word “punish.”)

In Hebrews 12, we see that God definitely intervenes into the lives of His own. He corrects, working to adjust us according to His will. The basis of this is relationship between a Father, and a son or daughter. There is harsh correction at times, as we learn how to behave. If He loves you, and you are His son, you will be corrected. Love and discipline are working together, side by side.

 

Commentary

V. 1, Correction and punishment have become very significant issues to David. They begin to engage him and he is aware that things can get quite turbulent.  Anger on any level can warrant our attention. But when God gets angry, it can be lethal.

V. 2, 3 mercy is a very precious commodity at this moment. And it is all that he wants.  Mercy is never deserved, it can’t be earned, it just is given. It is clemency and generosity blended together. David knows this about God, and he “plays the mercy card.” David knows God, he just doesn’t always obey Him.

“How long will it be?” shows a desire to get things on track, and soon.  Waiting for God to decide can be traumatic. Separation from Him is profoundly painful.

“The golden rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience.”

    Oswald Chambers

V. 4,  5 these verses fit together like puzzle pieces. David, when faced with his own depraved actions, turns and calls out for deliverance from the consequences. The key word in v. 4 is “kindness.” And this is exactly what he is aiming for.

The obvious meaning is that death and the grave end all possibility of change. The word is “Sheol.” A Hebrew word describing the grave, where the unsaved are placed when they die. Once there, you are “locked in” with no possibility of changing. Ultimately, it is the complete divorce from God’s presence and that without remedy.

V. 6, 7  Crying. Crying. Crying, Crying. It appears that remorse and grief are now the whole of David’s theology. And David is fatigued by it. Grief is exhausting. It is so intense and consuming, it wears you out. Jesus in the NT had much to say about grieving our sin. About brokenness, and mourning. He made it the starting point of a real Christian life.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C.S. Lewis

V.8 is a needful stop in a believer’s life. We must pull into this place. It is here that separation takes place. I leave the world by deliberate choice. I have no intentions of following sinners in their rebellion.  “I see dead people” was a line from the movie, “The Sixth Sense. Sadly, it works well here.

V.  9, 10 we see the use  in verse 9, of the past tense. And I must say that this is a relief. Mercy has been shown, but only when it is appealed to.  There is a deep confidence that is quite opposite of some earlier verses.

David shines a spotlight on the strategies of evil people who have afflicted him. He enjoys the idea of evil being stripped and defeated. Today, I think it is completely appropriate to include your spiritual enemies in this equation, and throughout the psalms when this is mentioned.

*

ybic, Bryan

 

Becoming Quiet For a Change: Psalm 62:1-4

A Place to Become Quiet

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 “I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.” Interlude

Psalm 62:1-4, NLT

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David establishes the wonderful need we have, to be quiet– silence. He understands a great deal of things.

  • Who God is, and His heart for me,
  • being in a precarious position,
  • the extent of the conspiracy against him,
  • the deceitfulness of so-called “friends.”

 

Commentary

V. 1, “I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.”

The Hebrew word for “wait” is “kawva.” It is a curious word. Its definition is “to bind together, by twisting.” For David, waiting could not be a passive condition. It had a far more active concept, that of “braiding.” When we “wait on the Lord,” we should be pliable, and soft. It is a time for us to be wrapping our hearts and minds with God, and the things of God.

When we think of “waiting” today, it’s pretty much a passive thing. We “wait” to see the doctor. We sit in a “waiting room,” reading old magazines until he (or she) is ready to see us. Very few people like waiting.

The verse also shows a coming “victory.” It is given to us freely and extravagantly. We certainly can do a single thing to be given such an incredible gift.

 

V. 2, “He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.”

David sees God as a place of safety, security– a castle. I think that David was seeing God properly. Perhaps all of this crisis– over and over, is exactly what the Lord wanted. When crisis initiates a desperate heart, than it is worth it.

 

V. 3, “So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.”

Sobering, isn’t it. This is not a game, in David’s eyes. “So many enemies,” and the phrase, “kill me” is not melodrama. He’s not making this up, and he isn’t paranoid. He is a target for assassination.

I think what David was trying to say (with the last part of the verse), that many see him as vulnerable and weak. Tottering, especially, is an evocative word. It has the idea of being decrepit. In the eyes of his enemies, David is completely defenseless and totally assailable.

 

V. 4, “They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.” 

David understands how “coups” work. He realizes that slander, and lies are just the first step to remove David as king. He doesn’t trust anyone. He finds that those who are flattering him are telling him lies. They intend to deceive, that is their real purpose.

*

ybic, Bryan

 

Despondency and David’s Theology: Psalm 73

For those on the mat wrestling, things can move very fast.  Our adversary is strong, and he knows us too well.  He is counter-intuitive and knows the moves needed to pin us to the floor.  He is dangerous.  And he despises us. I get bewildered and rattled by his attacks.  He knows how to pressure me at just the right time, and he refuses to follow the rules. He is no gentleman, rather you might say that he is both a cheater and a bully.

Of course I am talking about Satan and his dark team of demons.  I will not dispute their reality with you.  There is almost as much scriptural support for his existence as there is for Jesus’.  His hostility is  toward God and His people, and his viciousness cannot be camouflaged.  Evil is real, and believe this– Satan has a terrible, and ugly plan for your life. He wants to impose it on you.

As a mentally ill Christian, my depression quickly morphs into despondency.  When I sink to that level I start to abandon hope.  It’s like I’m in a lifeboat and decide that I should abandon it and tread water on my own.  Despondency is not rational and just a little bit is deadly. David knew all about desperation.

He had been chased by his enemies, and maneuvered into the most difficult of situations.  To observe him at a distance we would say that “there is no hope for him in God.”  Nothing for him in God’s thinking.  Nothing. In the Book of Life, the angels have used “white-out” to delete the name of David, Son of Jesse. I

t would be so easy to make this judgement.  For David was a moral failure; he was an adulterer and a brazen killer.  David had sinned deeper and more intensely than Saul ever had.  Saul seems to be mentally ill, while David just presumes God will forgive him. Join with the crowd, “There is no hope for him in God!”  No hope, none, nada.

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

David defied the theological teachers of his day.  He embraced the Lord God with a desperate passion.  It was not orthodox or logical.  You could say it was disturbing.  But David would not let go of God!  He hung on, and continued to sing in faith, in spite of logic.

I encourage you besieged brother, and embattled sister.  Hold on to Him, even if it defies logic and theology.  Seek His promises with a fervency, open your heart to Him with a passion.  Remember that sin can and will destroy you.  It is part of Satan’s stratagem.  Sing in the cave, and never lose hope. Never.  

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jer. 29:11

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 126: Bringing in the Sheaves

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1 When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

Psalm 126:1-6

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Like Psalm 137 the historical background of this psalm is Israel returning from years of captivity in Babylon. For Christians today, captivity can mean many things that are not physical. It may mean bondage to a particular sin that really has become an addiction. It may mean the reality of a loved one who doesn’t believe and is a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil. It may be a prolonged trial that we didn’t cause or maybe one that we did. Captivity has many faces.

In verses 2 and 3 the people of Israel are so blessed by their release that they feel like they are in a dream. Their fortunes have dramatically changed and other nations have taken notice and confess that they are experiencing divine favor. The blessing of the Lord’s deliverance has been exceedingly above what they could ask for or think. Sometimes because of the disappointments of life, we become pessimists and don’t have faith for such a blessing. Something good happens and we sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop. Often this can limit what God can do in setting the captives free because our unbelief negates the power of God. Jesus couldn’t heal or perform miracles in his hometown because of unbelief. Lord, help our unbelief.

We also need to remind ourselves that most captivities don’t last forever. Tradition indicates that a major saying in Solomon’s arsenal of wisdom was “This too shall pass.” He knew that whether we are in a time of blessing or trial that it wouldn’t last forever. The addiction you have now will probably become a vanquished foe months or years from now. The trial you have now will probably become yesterday’s news next month. This too shall pass.

In verse 4, the psalmist asks God to restore their fortunes again like streams in the Negev. The Negev is actually a dry river bed. Why is the writer asking for this; hadn’t they already experienced a wonderful deliverance? He’s asking this because God’s work in their life is far from over. The recovering alcoholic who is now clean and sober knows there is much more work to do if he is to remain sober and become all that God wants him to be. The couple who almost divorced but is now experiencing a marriage renewal knows that God still has much to do in their lives besides keeping them out of the divorce courts. Water in the Negev is a miraculous happening and we will need his supernatural grace until the day we die.

Verses 5 and 6 talk about sowing in sorrow and reaping in joy, planting with tears but later harvesting with great happiness. Another way of summing up this passage is to say, “No birth without travail.” Monica cried many tears during her prayers for her pagan son Augustine who would go on to become one of the greatest church fathers. I know a mother who cried many tearful prayers several years ago for a son bent on destruction. He is now a solid, mature Christian and devoted family man. Often there is much mourning over our own sins before we are delivered of them which Paul calls “a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” This repentance is a harvest of righteousness born of sowing seeds with tears.

ybic,

Jonathan

Psalm 88:1-7, A Painful Darkness

Posted on September 28, 2012 by  • Posted in believerdepressiondiscipleshipmental illnesspain,Serving Mentally Ill Christiansspiritual lessonsunderstanding • Tagged , • Leave a comment • (Edit)
 

1 “O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out to you by day.
I come to you at night.
2 Now hear my prayer;
listen to my cry.
3 For my life is full of troubles,
and death draws near.
4 I am as good as dead,
like a strong man with no strength left.
5 They have left me among the dead,
and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
cut off from your care.
6 You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
into the darkest depths.
7 Your anger weighs me down;
with wave after wave you have engulfed me.
       Interlude”

Psalm 88:1-7, NLT

  

I needed this today. Yesterday I went to the doctor and am still asked to stay on my meds. A bit discouraged as I still look for a “magical cure.” Today, I feel like I’m running a marathon with ‘leg weights’ on. And I thank God for David’s depression.  “Thank you God for letting this happen to your servant David!”

This particular Psalm is radically different than the others.  This Psalm has no kind words, and no praise to God for deliverance.  It is a singularly sad song.  Imagine if you will, a huge stone fortress in the mountains.  Every room has a door, and every room a window.  All except one.  No light enters.  There is no entrance or exit, no way to get free.  Ps. 88, would describe living that experience.

I like my Psalms to be strengthening or encouraging.  But then comes this one!  Life unravels and frays.  Everything scrambles and gets confusing. Life comes apart on me.  The thought of being one who is irretrievably lost and damned, tunnels into my thinking, like a strange kind of worm, assaulting my thinking.  The despair is beyond belief, I have no words to describe its special variety of darkness.  But anyone who has walked into this hell will understand.

Am I ‘less’ a Christian because of this vicious despair?  Some would say so.  David in verse 1-2, calls out to God.  (I guess this what you are supposed to do).  There is a sense of consistency in his cry.  In verses 3-5, we see him evaluating his position.  Again, there is a underground current of despair.  There is simply no help, no deliverance for him.

And in verses 6-7 is a painful recognition that God is doing all of this.  It’s a bitter and painful place to be.  There are no explanations why life has gotten so nasty and bitter and out-of-control.  But one thing that Psalm 88 does quite well, it is a trusty mirror that shows you stripped of any dignity that you have left.  I think that there must exist a faith behind your faith.  (If that makes any sense at all?)

There is so much embedded in the Psalms.  Comfort, faith, victory and hope are what we find,  and more.  But in Psalm 88, we find a black pearl, the only one of its kind.  Somehow, we dare not leave it behind, just because we don’t understand it.  I’m convinced that it has tremendous power to the disciple in endless pain.  Just vocalizing this Psalm does something to us.  These words help.  This Psalm is ours.  God has provided it for us. We must include it in our theology.

*

ybic, Bryan

The Unfailing Love of God: Psalm 63:2–5

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2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory.
3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 63:2–5

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When David was in the Desert of Judah, he made an amazing statement. He said that knowing God’s love was better than life. Only here in the Old Testament is anything prized above life itself. We find a similar passage in Ephesians 3:14–19 when the apostle Paul prays that the Ephesians will know the many dimensions of the love of God and, as a result, be filled with all the fullness of God. Nothing in this life is more wonderful than the experiential knowledge of God’s love for us, that he delights in us and holds us close in his arms as sons and daughters of God.

In just a casual survey of the Psalms, I found several references to the “unfailing love of God”: 6:4; 13:5; 33:18,22; 119:41; 147:11. Truly, one of the central dramas of David’s life was trusting in the unfailing love of God despite evidence to the contrary. In the furnace of affliction, whether it be in a military battle, opposition by evil men, or the betrayal of his own son (Absalom), David needed to trust in the unfailing love of God even if he didn’t feel that love. His faith superseded his feelings.

In the muck and mire of his own egregious sin with Bathsheba– against God involved an unholy trinity that reeked of adultery, lying, and murder, David, in repentance and contrition, had to trust in the unfailing love of God for his forgiveness, and reconciliation with God ( see both Psalm 32 and 51). Like the apostle Paul, he knew that nothing could separate him from the love of God, but sometimes our greatest doubts about this come when we feel our own sins stand between us and God and we doubt that his mercies endure forever. Dear believer, his mercies do endure forever!

We all know John 3:16– it declares that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” to die for it. We accept the concept of God’s love for us in our sin before conversion but often struggle with experiencing his love for us in our sin after conversion.

One of the bad fruits of not trusting in the love of God is that we take things into our own hands. If I’m concerned about one of my kids walking away from the Lord and don’t  trust in God’s unfailing love, then I will become what people call a “helicopter parent” that is hovering constantly over their child’s life, meddling in their affairs in such a way that will drive them away from the kingdom of God. If I trust in God’s love and that he is in control, I won’t do this. There’s still no guarantee that my child will serve God, but at least that meddlesome influence has been removed and I can stand before the Lord with a clear conscience.

We must love and trust, when unbelief seems to be our only transportation.

If you liked this post, you my also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now available to buy at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

ybic, Jonathan

Check out the good doctor J at his own blog, http://www.openheavensblog.com/

You Are Being Mocked: 1 Samuel 17

 

From 1 Samuel 17

Young David stood and looked at Goliath ‘face-to-face.’  Physically there was hardly a comparison.  Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, a warrior since birth, armed to the teeth, we read of his armor–he was like a human tank!  David was nothing,  a pesky boy, nothing more.  Goliath preened and strutted into the field of battle with real and solid experience, and David was stepping up for his first try.

Goliath begins to blaspheme.  He boasts and mocks.  In his mind he is superior.  His arrogance knows no bounds.  The center of the universe is the Philistine army, and he is their champion.  Nothing can compare, the glory is his, for he believes he is the ultimate warrior on planet Earth.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground”. 

1 Sam. 17:48

I find David to be exceptional.  His reaction to the human mountain of Goliath was to run directly at him.  This is astonishing.  Goliath is a human wood-chipper.  Everyone who has faced him has been destroyed.  There have been no survivors to speak of.

Many of us face a giant called “despair”.  He has marched out on the field of battle confident of his ultimate triumph over us.  We have been tutored that there are enemies that can destroy us.  We’ve been indoctrinated to accept the inevitable slavery with a spirit of sheep-like meekness.

For some reason, the concept of going to war has not been passed on to us.  The ‘enemy-giant’ of despair is real and brutal.  Our destruction is inevitable in his mind.  Despair believes he will destroy us.  Its just a matter of time. As soldiers, we are inclined to stay in the safety of the camp. In the Army, we spread among ourselves the GI wisdom, “Never volunteer for anything.”

So many believers, cowed and intimidated, surrender to the boastings of the giant Despair.  Hope, and faith are leeched out of our being, and we become a empty spiritual shell.  The “warfare” dimension gets nullified, and soon irrelevant.  Despair reaches us and has the full intention of taking total control.

David ran to the battle.  He passed through the dark lies and defeated hearts to approach Goliath.  There was no passiveness or doubt to cloud his mind.  David took a spiritually aggressive position, he took on the confusion and ran directly at the giant Goliath.  His spirit was untouchable.

As believers, we desperately struggle and foolishly pout.  We turn our hearts over to despair.  We become available to the enemies workings.  And the confidence we might have through faith is dissipated into doubt and confusion.  But the victory we have in Christ allows us the liberty, through the Blood of Him who defeats our goliath of despair.

*

ybic, Bryan

When The Fear Gets Too Much: Psalms 143

Psalm 143:

A Prayer Not to Be Killed, or Something Worse

A psalm of David.

1 Lord, hear my prayerlisten to my cry for mercy. Answer me because you are loyal and good.

The writer stresses the truth that God listens.  A listening God is a God of wonder.  Elijah on Mt. Carmel had focused the people on a hearing God who was the real God.  The writer then reveals his trust in the inherent goodness of God.   He listens, He never ever puts His phone on call forwarding. We will reach Him, 24/7 everyday.

2 Don’t judge me, your servant, because no one alive is right before you.

We are all in the same predicament, we are sinners.  The writer doesn’t need to be convinced of this.  All he can do is appeal to God. He knows his place though–a servant of the Lord.  He understands that he is what he is.  He accepts what is real, and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise.

3 My enemies are chasing me; they crushed me to the ground. They made me live in darkness like those long dead.   4 I am afraid; my courage is gone.

We all have enemies.  They are the satanic evil spirits that are the wholesalers of evil and its devices and they mean to harm us.  David feels the pursuit, and his paranoia must have doubled.  These sinister antagonists get close enough to strike at him.  He confesses fear.   His life has been far too influenced by their dark ministry.  He is being pressed to the point of being overwhelmed.

5 I remember what happened long ago; I consider everything you have done. I think about all you have made.   6 I lift my hands to you in prayer. As a dry land needs rain, I thirst for you.  Selah

The psalmist has a spiritual history to ponder.  He thinks of all the past events and draws out his strength.  He “remembers” in the truest sense of the word.  It is good if we can just remember all of the issues and battles that we have already faced. Verse 6 declares his proper response to v. 5.  The hands go up, and he imagines himself to be a desert–dry and desolate.  He thirsts (desires) not for rain, or an oasis, but for the Lord God.  

7 Lord, answer me quickly, because I am getting weak. Don’t turn away from me, or I will be like those who are dead.

The writer has evaluated his situation, he is weak and he is dying. His spiritual pulse is “weak and thready.”  This seems to be a deteriorating condition.  He is discerning enough however to draw conclusions.  Doctors tell us that hearing is the last faculty to depart a dying man.  Perhaps to a spiritual man, discernment is the last to go?  Somehow we know what the truth is until we are completely senile (spiritually, that is).

8 Tell me in the morning about your love, because I trust you. Show me what I should do, because my prayers go up to you.

The writer affirms his personal connections to the Lord.  Love should be an intimate word, saturated with hope and a future.  This love comes as a result of trust/faith (the word, “because” is key).  The psalmist requests help for his particular situation.  He sees his prayers, like arrows reaching heaven.

9 Lord, save me from my enemies; I hide in you. 10 Teach me to do what you want, because you are my God. Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Save me…teach me…lead me.

A “triune” aspect of the Spirit’s work.  Each believer can realize this ministry.  He is like a bodyguard, a tutor, and a professional guide to each of us.  Verse 10…”level ground”; nothing is harder on a tired soldier then marching on hilly terrain.  Flat and level is the best, and its not wrong to ask for an easier path.   Sometimes we stumble because we haven’t asked for level ground.

11 Lord, let me live so people will praise you. In your goodness save me from my troubles. 12 In your love defeat my enemies.Destroy all those who trouble me, because I am your servant.

This should be the cry of the Christian heart–let me be an example that will lead others to worship.  Let me be a reason to them to sing, and give you glory.  Notice that God’s goodness is specifically pointed out to be the starting point for salvation. “Since He is good, I will be saved”.  In verse 12 we are reminded that out of that matrix of love, God can conquer.  “God so loved the world”…John 3:16.  Love is the reason, and not just a vague, general sense of love but a love that rolls up its sleeves and jumps in and pounds my enemies.

flourish-small Text taken from New Century Version (NCV) The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. If this post has been a blessing to you, and you would like me to do more of this, won’t you let me know.  Thanks!

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 51:14–17: What God Delights In

rebellion-seen
I am lost without you

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Both Psalms 32 and 51 are about David’s sorrow and repentance because of his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who David purposely placed on the front lines of military battle, where he would surely die. In verses 14 and 15 he asks God for forgiveness for the murder (“bloodguilt”) so that he can sing of God’s righteousness and offer him praise. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, is helpful here in suggesting that David wants to extol God for his righteousness because he (David) sees God’s crowning achievement being making an egregious sinner like David righteous!

In verses 16 and 17 it’s obvious that King David has learned from his predecessor King Saul’s mistakes. This insight is often overlooked in sermons and commentaries. Saul was given clear instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekites and he disobeyed these instructions. He spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of the livestock so he could offer sacrifices to the Lord. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul essentially said, “Don’t think these sacrifices impress God. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Your disobedience is similar to witchcraft and idolatry. Sacrifice is good but it means nothing if your heart isn’t right.”

The parallels to our present age are legion. Anytime someone is involved in religious activities–i.e. “sacrifices”–but their heart is wrong, they are following in the footsteps of Saul. One thinks of the Pharisees, both in the time of Jesus and now, who were/are more engaged in religious activities than anyone, but their hearts were full of pride and self–righteousness.

As a Roman Catholic, I often hear complaints from fellow parishioners about “cradle Catholics,” who were born into the faith, and do many of the right Catholic things–“sacrifices”–but their hearts are not humble and contrite and they are far from an intimate relationship with Christ. This is a kind of empty “cultural Christianity” that exists in every denomination.

Movements come and go within Christendom.  Some local churches emerge to ride the next big thing.  They become the most fashionable place to be involved. Sometimes the reason some of the members give their time, talent and treasure–“sacrifices”–to these churches is not to advance the kingdom of God; no, it’s because their involvement makes them feel hip and a part of a special group in comparison to all those boring, generic suburban Christians. And they get to rebel against their un–hip parents, who they are angry with, as part of a package deal!

What does David mean in verse 17 by saying that God wants a broken and contrite heart? Because Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Matthew 25:1–13), sometimes it helps to understand biblical principles through the marriage relationship. When a husband has sinned against his wife and knows it, often he will engage in a flurry of activities–“sacrifices”– in order to extricate himself from the doghouse. Suddenly he’s bringing home flowers and candy and is doing home–improvement projects that she wanted done several months ago. However, what she really wants is not a whirlwind of goodwill gestures; no, what she really wants is an apology marked by humility and sorrow for what he did. She needs to know that he is truly sorry, not because his carelessness put him in the doghouse, but because what he did hurt, and was a sin against, her.

It’s never too late for the Pharisee, the “cultural Christian” or the “Christian hipster.” Or me, for that matter. We can still offer sacrifices that God will delight in if we come to him with a broken and contrite heart for the many ways we have offended him. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

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ybic, Jonathan

“I Am Not Afraid:” Psalms 3

Psalm 3

A psalm of David, regarding the time David fled from his son Absalom.

 1 O LORD, I have so many enemies; 
      so many are against me. 
 2 So many are saying, 
      “God will never rescue him!” 
                         Interlude[a]

 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; 
      you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. 
 4 I cried out to the LORD, 
      and he answered me from his holy mountain. 
                         Interlude

 5 I lay down and slept, 
      yet I woke up in safety, 
      for the LORD was watching over me. 
 6 I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies 
      who surround me on every side.

 7 Arise, O LORD! 
      Rescue me, my God! 
   Slap all my enemies in the face! 
      Shatter the teeth of the wicked! 
 8 Victory comes from you, O LORD. 
      May you bless your people.
 8 Victory comes from you, O LORD. 

                         Interlude

Footnotes:
  1. Psalm 3:2 Hebrew Selah. The meaning of this word is uncertain, though it is probably a musical or literary term. It is rendered Interlude throughout the Psalms.
Without question, the truth of this Psalm must become foremost in our thinking, and living. There is an apple-crisp awareness that David has, he grips the facts, “I’m hated, and very many people struggle to resist me.” We just might relate. We understand at certain times of being snubbed and isolated and ignored. David was being pushed out of what was his rightful place.

At the end though, the God of David does triumph. And since David trails so close behind, he too will understand victory. But none of this is easy, it certainly is not a “given.” David has to work through this “patch” of awful darkness, in order to get into the light.

Commentary

V. 1, remember this, King David is being truly persecuted, and he isn’t paranoid. He understands being ostracized, and mocked as he walked down the street. There is as well, an idea of being hated by a whole lot of people. The word “many” is mentioned 3x in two verses. David is realizing the scope of all that he must endure. The slander, and mockery are intense. He seems to have become the ‘Richard Nixon’ of 1000 B.C.

V. 2, The people felt that David was beyond salvation. That he had simply sinned too much, and Absalom’s rebellion was just a reaping of what David had sown. He didn’t belong anymore in the “covenant of faith.” He was outside God’s love. This what the majority of people thought.

V. 3, 4, Pressed to the wall by this deep resentment, David makes his faith known. He declares that it is God who protects him, like a “shield.” He also pronounces that God is responsive to him; that God listens, and reacts to him. It seems that King David, who is mocked and villified by everyone, still has God’s ear!

V. 5, 6 There is peace, something special which is working through David’s life. This example of “sleeping” while people (10,000 enemies) encircle him is remarkable. Many of us would lose sleep if just one person is offended by us. But the masses David faced could have incapacitated him.

“I am not afraid.” This is an incredible declaration in the light of so much intense hatred. It is something bold, and confident, and perhaps a tad outrageous. But that is what grace is like to a watching world.

V. 7, 8, I suppose that this is a desire for justice. We agree that there is a right and a wrong. When we are “sinned against” we deep down want things to be restored. No one wants to live being hated and mocked. There is a profound sense, (it’s deep down ) and something innate. On several occasions I have experienced unjust situations, and am very much bothered to this day by those issues that have not been resolved.


Living With an If, Psalm 73

if

 

21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
    and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
23 Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

 

Psalm 73:21-26, NLT

 

Our hearts are unstable things. Our spiritual life is often in a turmoil. For many, the yo-yo is not much more than a toy to amuse a child. At any given time, it seems we can be in any given place. Only God truly knows how confused and tumultuous we get. Some intrepid photographer once put a bull in a china shop just to see what would happen. The pics are really funny, as the bull put on a raging show, blasting glass everywhere. The more he broke, the more agitated he became. Sometimes– I think about this.

 

Psalm 73 is like a silver trumpet. It sounds out many things. And when we get toward the end of the psalm we run smack dab into vv. 21-26. The writer has a big dose of self-awareness. Sometimes we can travel a long way with an imperfect faith, without ever realizing what the truth really is. Oh, dear one– these can be very good times. The psalmist realizes his ugly issues. He realizes that he has gotten bitter, and he has become very foolish.

 

For many of us with a strong set of religious principles, we deem this inconsistency as a complete and total failure. We see our stupid behavior and decide that God will never, ever accept that kind of person (whether its you, or someone else.) But, my Bible reads so much different! I’m told that,

 

 “Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.” (v. 23)

 

Can a jerk follow Jesus? But more, can a bitter believer be held close, and loved so faithfully? When we begin to “really” see ourselves, we may often condemn what we see. Condemnation is one of the most insidious diseases of the spirit. The Holy Spirit saves his strongest medicine for us who are regularly sickened by this evil.

 

If you take a piece of white chalk, and you dip it into a cup of india ink. The chalk obviously absorbs the ink– it is porous. If you snap the chalk, and examine the inside, you will see that the ink has altered everything, this is how condemnation works. Once affected, we are very vulnerable to bitterness and confusion and guilt. We discover that our life is bracketed by the word, “if.”

 

Verse 23-25 speak loudly of a love that will never let you go. Never. Write down your sin, tally it up, ” Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.” As sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, “though our sins be as scarlet; they shall be as white as snow.”

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ybic, Bryan

 

The Verdict is In– Psalm 14:1-3

Verdict

Psalm 14

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!

Psalm 14:1-3, NLT

I remember it clearly. I was a student at Alaska Bible Institute, and got enmeshed in one of those “bull sessions” that periodically arise when there is far too much time, pizza and root beer.

The conversation rolled and we got on the subject of the depravity of man. Essentially, it is the doctrine that states that we are at best, evil and fallen into a sinful state. We are living in darkness and iniquity without hope. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can save us and deliver us.

Commentary

V. 1, “Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!”

David is speaking directly to people who claim they are “atheists.” Within this belief system, there is an aggressive disbelief in any faith in an unseen God. There are also “agnostics” who are not sure that God can be known or understood.

This psalm states that all who state their unbelief are “fools.” There’s no ‘soft’ take here. A verse this bold gives us no real room for any compromise. Deep down we want to be pleasant, and make allowances– but that simply isn’t possible.

“The atheist can’t find God for the same reason that a thief can’t find a police officer.”

In Mathematics there is something called “the lowest common denominator.” What it is is the smallest positive integer that is a multiple of the denominators. According to David, the atheist is a complete fool at his core level.

There is a moral and spiritual decay that results in this foolishness. They are “corrupt,” and “evil,” and no good.

V. 2, “The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.”

I believe that we are in a constant state of evaluation. The entire 7 billion humans alive today go under the microscope. This close examination is not intrusive or invasive. God simply knows. He is completely aware of His created beings.

The Lord is seeking wisdom in the hearts of people. Wisdom, in my thinking is completely underrated. We think something else will substitute. I see wisdom as a mix of discernment, and comprehension, with a smattering of foresight and balance.

But– there is no one! This is where the doctrine of the depravity of man makes its entrance.

V. 3, “ But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!”

The verdict isn’t good. We are slaves to sin, serving Satan with wild abandon. Most likely, we are not conscious of this arrangement. And even if we were it would change us very little. Sin is what we want, but it is certainly not what we need.

The good news is that He loves us. Jesus Christ lived, died and was raised from the dead. The Old Testament ingrained the deep sense of what is holy. But it also instilled an awareness of the sacrificial. Lambs died for the sins of people. And Jesus “the Lamb of God” substituted Himself in our place.

*

ybic, Bryan

How Dark Could it Possibly Get? Psalm 88

My life is full of troubles, and I am nearly dead. They think I am on the way to my grave. I am like a man with no strength.” 

Ps. 88:3-4, NCV

A Study of Psalm 88

As  I read Psalm 88, I suddenly realized the dark depths it took.  It is bleak and grim.  I believe it to be the only psalm there is without a reference to praise.  Not a single “hallelujah” graces this portion of scripture. It is the “black hole” of the Psalms.

But why?  And why has God chosen to leave it where just anybody can read it? This psalm is a masterpiece, but it has been exclusively painted with hues of black.  A word chosen by it’s author is the word, “darkness.”  Is it appropriate? Time after time, I’ve read this, looking for just a glimmer of light.

“Heman the Ezrahite, the apparent composer, was seriously depressed. Maybe he was also chronically ill. Or maybe, like many, he battled almost constantly against a relentless darkness. We honestly don’t know.

But he said he had been this way since his youth (v. 15). He felt abandoned by God (v. 14), his beloved (v. 18), and companions (v. 8). He was desperate and his prayers seemed to be going unanswered (vv. 13-14). He was so overwhelmed that he felt close to death (vv. 3, 15).”

 –John Piper

So! Why has God decided to include this in the canon of scripture?  Obviously, writing psalms was probably a fashionable and a religious exercise, and we can safely conclude that hundreds of Psalms never made it into this book we call the Bible.  Undoubtedly, most of these ‘rejects’ were sincere, and heart-felt.  The deep instinct of a spiritual man or woman is to reflect and share their pilgrimage.

Saturated with despair, and then glazed with desperation,  we must extend the human condition and just accept that things are not always what they should be.  We must conclude that this darkness is within our capability and experience.  It could happen to you, or anyone! You are vulnerable. We all could slide into the dark.

The darkest psalm is really a ‘nightlight.’  It exists to give us hope.  There is a broad range of conditions the human heart will encounter.  Psalm 88 is within the realm of possibility for those who are of the Faith.  We probably will need to expand our ideas of what is possible, and not what is accepted.  Those of us who know deep down the “blackness of darkness” have just started to savor the light.

“…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you”

Psalm 139:12

&

Kyrie Eleison.

ybic, Bryan

He Looked Down: Psalm 102:19-22

Crowd in the rain
Crowd in the rain

19 Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
   He looked down to earth from heaven
20     to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to release those condemned to die.
21 And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,
22 when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:19-22, NLT

The movie “Roots” is on the tube. I have never seen it before, and it is quite provocative. The scenes on the slave ship, and the slave market where Africans were auctioned off are brutal and vicious. It didn’t seem possible for such evil being afflicted on a people.

I also have been reading this psalm and thinking about God’s certain awareness of both the condemned, and the prisoner. I know His heart is breaking as He watches every mean and wicked action against these sufferers.

There are 7 billion people alive on planet Earth today. Slavery, and prostitution are rampant. Drug addiction and crime seethes into every corner– corrupting and confusing. In fact, if we could weigh all the sin in the world committed in the last five minutes it would bury us.

This thought fits, but may need work to make it real. Bob Pierce, who wrote, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

And, it is something that Mother Teresa once said, “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” – Mother Teresa

Commentary

V. 19, “Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
   He looked down to earth from heaven.”

God is always on alert, watching and looking. He is all-seeing, from a sweat shop in China, to the homosexual in Miami. No dark corner in an alley in Rio can block what He sees. He sees 24/7, and never takes a nap.

His HQ is what we call a “sanctuary”– that is, a position of perfect peace and serenity. But this doesn’t infer to isolate. Rather it seems the very opposite is true, as He looks, and grieves over it all.

V. 20, “to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to release those condemned to die.”

Have you ever groaned? I went to Dictionary.com and quickly looked it up. The noun form of groan is, “a low, mournful sound uttered in pain or grief: the groans of dying soldiers.

Prisoners groan–a sob, a cry, a whimper. But people being people, one must adapt and become inured to the dull pain that confinement brings. You adapt to stay alive, even when life gets difficult.

The last phrase in this verse, “to release those condemned to die.”  This explains the effort of God to see people liberated. He loves to parole those who will turn to Him. We think this release is physical. But I’m reasonably sure it is a spiritual release as well. If you find Christ, “you are free indeed.”

V. 21, “And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,”

There is nothing quite like praise of one who has been “scraped off the bottom” and given life. I love worshiping with scoundrels and misfits. They are authentic, they understand being held in dark bondage. They know “a jumping kind of joy.” They party in the Presence of their Redeemer.

V. 22, “when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.”

You know, I think worship is what our life is all about. In this verse we witness the discovery of a common mission. A young believer in New Delhi, and the quiet elder of a church in Cornwall, have little in common. But worship. Worship is the “true coin of the realm” which we all share.

This verse speaks of both “multitudes” and “kingdoms.” Jesus redeems us one by one–but we all gather to worship together.

*

ybic, Bryan

Dead Roses: Psalm 102:9-11

deadroses

I eat ashes for food.
    My tears run down into my drink
10 because of your anger and wrath.
    For you have picked me up and thrown me out.
11 My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
    I am withering away like grass.

Psalm 102

When God starts dealing with a sinner’s heart, it can be pretty rough. Although He afflicts, God is careful how severely He touches His sons and daughters. He is gentle and kind even when He challenges us.

There is no such thing as “the brutality of God.” But at times, we might mistake His discipline as far too harsh. Heb. 12:5-6,

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

And actually, Hebrews 12 (the whole chapter) is a crash course on God’s position on discipline.

Commentary

V. 9-10, “My tears run down into my drink
10 because of your anger and wrath.
    For you have picked me up and thrown me out.”

Again, it’s all about the prophetic imagery. The psalmist describes the profuse tears that are gushing down. His cup is filled with his inconsolable sadness. The inference is that he is drinking his grief.

It seems that he traces all this misery back to the particular actions of God. “Your anger and wrath,” which is as about as specific you can get. I have thought about this, and a few certain issues come to mind.

  • Samson, strong– but made weak.
  • Job, the man who lost everything.
  • David, whose middle-aged indiscretions almost destroyed him.

I admit these aren’t perfect examples. They should at least be reflected on.

“For you have picked me up and thrown me out.” I just carried the trash out (with my wife’s ‘encouragement’). This bag was filled with unusable cans, table scraps, coffee grounds, and egg shells. Its aroma was quite pungent. The psalmist identifies with this.

V. 11, “My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
    I am withering away like grass.”

The evening quickly becomes the night. It happens in less than an hour. Darkness comes fast, and, there is nothing you can do. The psalmist somehow senses the urgency, as we all should.

The grass has a definite ‘shelf-life.’ It will not last for long. As soon as it starts to grow, it begins to move to the inevitable. It becomes lush and green, but soon it will begin to droop and dry up.

But the psalmist truly does understand.

&

ybic, Bryan

Up On The Roof: Psalm 102:7-9

bird-on-the-roof

7″ I lie awake,
    lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.
My enemies taunt me day after day.
    They mock and curse me.
I eat ashes for food.
    My tears run down into my drink”

Psalm 102:7-9, NLT

“How are you?” People ask me this all the time. I almost always plunge into a miniature crisis, and in a nanosecond I try to craft an adequate response. And it very seldom is the real truth. Many times I’ll ‘flip it’ and ask them the same question, moving from the defensive to the offensive.

I don’t believe a person really knows their own heart in this. I’m sure we get fragments, and odd parts. But we know so little, and then we share that so poorly.

And there is always the time factor, how much should I share? Would I bore them with all of my issues? What is appropriate? How well do I know the person asking?

“O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself;
It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

Jeremiah 10:23

Psalm 102 is scripture for the afflicted. And all of the imagery, words and ideas become understood through those who see them with the eyes of suffering. Others may read, but the afflicted understand.

Commentary

V. 7,  “I lie awake,
    lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.”

Sleep is very therapeutic, it heals and erases many of our foolish deeds from the day before. Your computer has a “reset button” that gives you an opportunity to start over. Sleep often works the same way. It is a gift from God. For so He gives His beloved sleep.”  Ps. 127:2

But there is no sleep given to this little bird. He sits alone, with no companion. The loneliness is terrible, and he suffers through the night by himself. But, why is this little one so lonely?

There are other birds, and other places to go, so why this self-imposed attitude? I think the writer is describing clinical depression. He has isolated himself, and none can heal him. He sits alone, and broods.

V. 8, “My enemies taunt me day after day.
    They mock and curse me.”

This is not an isolated incident, it happens frequently. Three different words– taunting, mocking, and cursing. All 24/7– all the time. Often for the despondent there a sense of being persecuted, a paranoia that is part of depression.

These “enemies” here may, or may not be human. Often when scripture talks about our archenemies they speak of Satan and his demons. Our adversaries are supernatural and saturated with hatred.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8, NLT

V. 9, “I eat ashes for food.
    My tears run down into my drink”

This isn’t part of the normal menu. But for the afflicted not much really is. Your caloric intake consists of cinders and soot. Tears fill your cup, and you drink and eat sadness and grief.

When affliction comes, and depression crushes, it is very helpful to strap ourselves to Psalm 102.

“The agony of man’s affliction is often necessary to put him into the right mood to face the fundamental things of life. The Psalmist says, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Thy Word.‘”

Oswald Chambers

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ybic, Bryan

Faith Demands Tests: Psalm 102:3-6

Chemistry1
Our faith needs to be tested to prove its authenticity

3 “For my days disappear like smoke,
    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
My heart is sick, withered like grass,
    and I have lost my appetite.
Because of my groaning,
    I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like an owl in the desert,
    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.”

Psalm 102:3-6, NLT

There is a deeper awareness that seasons our life with frailty and futility and emptiness. This is not some kind of bummer or downer. We arrive at this point, over time and some maturity, to feel this weakness. It can be very profound.

As I speed-read these four verses, I’m  become aware of the following.

  1. The verses all seem to be based on the same foundation.
  2. Metaphors change, but the message stays consistent.
  3. The Holy Spirit who directed the writing, has perfectly chosen each “visual.”
  4. As grim as it may seem, we all need to pass through these experiences.
  5. We really do need to use these words, phrases and metaphors to rightly make sense of our own issues. Like a physical key will open a specific door or lock– so these verses will open up, all that which is now closed.

Commentary

V. 3, For my days disappear like smoke,
    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.”

The imagery is everything. There is a heavy sense of loss, and things just seem to slip through our fingers. Nothing has a handle for us to grab unto. We are in a special place; it’s all sort of vague and bewildering. We are perplexed spiritually.

‘Fire in my bones’ is an intense picture of being consumed at the deepest level. This fire burns viciously and is hidden from casual contact. There are seams of coal in West Virginia that have caught fire underground, and they can’t be extinguished.

V. 4, “My heart is sick, withered like grass,
    and I have lost my appetite.”

Sick and withered. Sick– it’s like having the flu. Withered– clearly like a wilted bush in the desert. (If you had to pick one, which would you choose?) But the psalmist describes a person with both issues.

Loss of appetite is seldom a problem for me. I dearly love to eat. You can take me anywhere– Mexican, Italian, German, and Chinese. I like fried chicken and BBQ ribs. But the writer has no desire at all to eat. He doesn’t want any more cheese cake. There is a time to feast and ‘make merry’ but the psalmist wants none of it.

V. 5, “Because of my groaning,
    I am reduced to skin and bones.”

The spiritual has a direct effect on the physical. The writer is in pain, and he moans out of the depths of his soul. He carries affliction, deep inside. The physical is now involved, as he now has become a complete ruin. He is emaciated, no longer the man he used to be. Like the photos of little children in Uganda, totally wasted and in ruin. The spiritual condition will often reflect into the physical.

V. 6, “I am like an owl in the desert,
    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.”

The psalmist has been ‘ransacking’ his vocabulary, trying to describe to us his present condition. He wants us to have a full and clear understanding of what he is facing.

These owls were fairly common. They are solitary and seek out solitary places. A “desert” in the scriptures is almost always used to describe a place of testing. A desert is a place of extremes. It is where plants struggle and water is scarce. The heat can be brutal and yet must be endured.

An insignificant “little owl” that lives in a far away wilderness, is the psalmist description of himself. In spite of the conditions, this is perhaps a very healthy view of oneself.

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ybic, Bryan

God Never Plays “Hide & Seek”: Psalm 102:1-2

Come out, come out. Wherever you are!
Come out, come out. Wherever you are!

Do Not Hide Your Face from Me

A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.

102 “Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
    in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me;
    answer me speedily in the day when I call!”

Psalm 102:1-2, NLT

Affliction is the most common experience we will share. It seems that it is our natural environment, because we can be found there most of the time. Afflictions vary in intensity– from the casual, day-to-day stuff to the catastrophic. It’s good to be reminded of our common situation. It helps, a little.

I chose this psalm because of content and ‘heart.’ A quick read will reveal issues not normally discussed or pondered. It’s sort of like ‘super-gluing” your hand to the horn of an enraged rhino. You’re not sure where he’s going, but you’re going to get there very shortly.

Bible study is like that for me. The text I happen to be thinking about has incredible power. I sense it and I handle it, and I pray. Once I attach myself to the text, anything can happen. Responding to the Word can be exhilarating.

Commentary

V. 1, “Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!”

Someone once said that just as breathing is to our physical bodies, prayer is the same to our spiritual ones. We must breathe. As a kid I remember having “breathing contests.” We would hold our breath for as long as it took to win. Weird, huh?

There is a definite need, as sure as anything, for each of us to fellowship with “the God of all comfort”.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NKJV

There is a heart-cry that comes out of the spirit of the believer. The Hebrew word chosen in verse 1 is one of the most intense found. It’s not just “whimpering”, but it goes far beyond that. This “cry” is strenuous and strong. It is the cry of a broken heart.

The psalmist does not intend to waste his sorrows. The pain he is feeling may just rip him into two; but he knows and believes that it has eternal value and everlasting purpose. (He knows this because he has faith).

Our faith was never meant to be spiritual medals and ribbons for decoration. Rather faith is a life boat we are swimming to reach. It is what I call, “the desperation factor”.

V. 2,  “Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!”

God does not play “hide and seek” with our hearts and souls. He absolutely loves it when His children are desperately looking for Him. He does not play tricks on us. We may have to walk in the dark, and have to listen through the cacophony of competing voices. But He is so close, “His eye is on the sparrow’.

There are often “time factors” that He uses. We will learn to wait. But waiting is first– never “passive.” We don’t need to go into a “spiritual hibernation” because things are quiet. Second– waiting does not mean “abandonment”.

The three Hebrew children stood in the furnace. This is the way they did executions back then. They stood in faith of a God who heard their prayers. They might as well have been standing in their bathrooms, as the fire couldn’t even singe them. The were so ‘insulated’ they didn’t even smell smokey.

But the king, peering through the walls of the furnace, could see a fourth man. The Lord God was quite present, even in this place of death.

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ybic, Bryan

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Psalm 142:1-4

“With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
     there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
    no one cares for my soul.”

Psalm 142:1-4,  ESV

I have learned this, that quite often “desperation is the mother of deliverance.” The issue though is becoming desperate, and then responding properly when we are hurting. It seems to me, that Satan is using “the frog in the boiling water” strategy. You know, turning up the heat gradually (as not to alarm the little froggie.) And, it works. You can cook him and he will not jump out.

When our backs are against the wall, what will we do? When ‘dark forces’ push do you get confused? Perhaps your bewilderment should be a signal to “shout out” to the Lord for intervention. If you get desperate you will be delivered, it is your promise as a Christian. Of course, all this is contingent upon being His child.

Commentary

V. 1-2, “With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

This cry, this plea, is what our soul wants to say to the Lord. There are many who just don’t get it. They may admit it in theory, and even give the sentiment a noble nod. But few get desperate enough to do it. The word, “I” is used in each line of verses 1-2. This suggests that I must take the initiative, while God provides the power.

I think that the Lord has a “complaint department.” It is a holy place of grace where we can bring our troubles, pleas, and laments and He will listen. Only troubled people ever go there (many others won’t.)

V. 3, “When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
   In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.”

God superintends our moments. He watches and surveys our steps closely. Recall the title of this psalm, “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.” Some thoughts I’ve had…

  • David wrote this to instruct others who are getting desperate (a “maskil” was a teaching method.) Someone else can learn from your ordeal.
  • David was hiding in a cave, underground. Caves are great places to disappear for a while. They provide shelter and concealment. But they can get very difficult to live in it permanently.
  • This was first and foremost “prayer.” Funny, but I have never met a Christian yet who was satisfied with their personal prayer life. (Maybe we haven’t been “squeezed” enough?)

When I was a boy I was chopping down some tall grass in a field with a hand scythe. All was well until I accidently tried to amputate my left index finger. I bled profusely, gushing blood all over. I almost fainted, everything got ‘swirly’ and confused. I staunched the bleeding with my tee shirt and staggered 1/2 mile to the house. (That was 40 years ago, and I still have a magnificent scar on my hand.)

King David admits his spirit was ‘fainting.’ He sensed he was on the verge of passing out spiritually.  And oh, so many believers are passing out. The enemy has placed thousands of traps to catch you, and harm you. Your path (seen and known by God) crosses some dangerous territory.

V. 4, “Look to the right and see:
     there is none who takes notice of me;
  no refuge remains to me;
    no one cares for my soul.”

David surveys the ground around him. There is no human help to be had. No one cares for his soul. He has no one. David knows deep down that even the cave he has been hiding, offers no real refuge. He has been stripped of everything (and all this, God has allowed.)

Sometimes, all we really need is ‘a God with skin on.’ We are tremendously comforted by someone, a companion.

The Son of God took on skin for us. Jesus Christ came looking for you, and He was fully human, and fully God at the same time. He loves you more fiercely and deeply than any love you have ever known. He has sent the Holy Spirit with specific instructions to watch over you directly.

Come out of your cave, jump out of the pot. Meet Him, and all will be well.

ybic, Bryan