Do you ever talk to your soul? That sounds like an odd question perhaps. But in Psalms 103, the writer is doing that. He is talking to his soul. He is telling his soul to praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
I honestly can’t think of a time when I addressed my soul as I would a friend. I don’t ever tell my soul to do anything. So what are we to do with this passage?
The writer of Psalm 103 understands a deep truth about the human soul. Our souls fundamentally desire to praise God. But so often our souls become enslaved to our moments. In other words, if we don’t particularly feel like praising the Lord, we don’t. If we don’t feel like singing we don’t. If we don’t feel like raising our hands we don’t. If we don’t feel like kneeling we don’t. If we don’t feel like praying, we don’t.
We might even feel like we’re being dishonest if we praise God while our inmost selves don’t really feel up to it.
So why is our praise so dependent upon how we feel? If God is who we say his is, we should be ready to praise him at any moment.
How much more honor do we give God when we praise him even though we might not feel like it? Praise is, after all, about God right?
I remember a time when I resolved to no longer praise God based upon how I feel at the moment. I was in a worship service and I did all the things you might expect me to do when I am really “feeling” the praise. So I praised God without any expectation of getting anything out of the service for me personally. Guess what happened? I praised God, and gave him all of me.
The writer of this psalm recognizes that praise is not praise if it is about us. We are not actually praising God when we want him to give us something. Praise is leading our whole soul, our whole inmost being into giving God what is due to him…all of us.
So next time you are praising God alone or in church, recognize that it’s about him, and you might have to tell your soul to fall in line.Read More
Generally, there are two types of people, those who are quick to speak and those who are slow to speak. As a member of the former, I readily admit that we have a problem. Sometimes we speak too quickly and end up saying something we regret; for example, “When are you due?” or “I can’t believe your dating someone and I’m not,” or “my grandpa wears those same sandals.”
Those who are slow to speak have their own problems. Admittedly, I cannot speak from experience, but like any good “quick speaker”, I’m really good at guessing. I imagine slow speakers wish they were proficient at witty comebacks and dazzling crowds with articulate yarns.
I’m sure that we can all agree that we can improve our speaking. Imagine speaking at such a level that everyone was jubilant over every syllable that came out of your gaping maw. That would be nice.
The apostle Paul talks about speaking with such quality, such confidence, that you could hold the attention of both men and angles. But he asks this question. What good is it to be the most eloquent speaker if you do not have love? Without love, enrapturing people with your words means about as much as a car horn.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul compares love to the things we find important. If we are honest with ourselves, eloquence of speech is often preferable to love. The reason is simple, love is hard and doesn’t bring acclaim the way speaking well does. But which has more meaning? Is it love or speaking well?
The economy of God is pretty clear. Love for others necessarily benefits both the loved and lover. Speaking well may be beneficial to those who listen, and not necessarily beneficial to the speaker. Love is the best economy because it benefits all.Read More
What is one of the biggest hurdles for someone to come to faith? In my experience, the biggest hurdle is understanding God on an intellectual level.
Why do people think understanding God is so important? Because knowledge is at the top of our cultural totem-pole (it would be carved to resemble a smart-phone). The irony, of course, is that we don’t have to understand a smart-phone to know that they’re great. As long as some people understand the technology (mostly engineers of various disciplines), we’re fine not understanding how technology works—as-long-as it delivers.
But when it comes to the person of God, many people think they need to fully understand him to believe in him. They need a God that makes sense to them. This is faulty rational. Because, how many people truly know themselves? How many people truly know the individual to whom they are married for that matter? Humans and their relationships are fundamentally mysterious.
The Bible paints a picture of God as a relational being. If that is true, than we can safely assume that there are going to be things that we don’t understand about God. We also don’t have to assume because the Bible tell us.
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.”
The writer of this proverb knows the condition of the human heart. We so deeply want to understand, but often our understanding (which is limited any way) gets in the way of deeper things.
This passage shows that trust is more important than understanding. The same can be said for all relationships. We might not totally understand one another, but without trust there can be no relationship. Imagine a marriage based only upon understanding—there would be no love but only a contract and lots of data. Imagine a marriage without trust—there would only be fear and the necessity to control. Understanding is important like a car’s steering wheel. But without trust the car has no gas, making the car a very expensive mini lounge.
A relationship with God starts with trust. And out of that trust comes true understanding. And even if elements of that relationship remain mysterious, trust keeps everything moving. And over time a deeper understanding of God and his ways begins to blossom.Read More
About four years ago, I took my family to Lake Tahoe. We packed my little Honda to the brim with everything we needed for a week of hiking and biking. From LA, we took the 395 up the east side of the Sierra Mountains.
What fascinated me, other than the sheer beauty of that country, was how empty it was. Seriously, we passed through two decent size towns in a period of 400 miles. Other than that, there were no people. Occasionally there was a random gas station with a Subway that was jammed packed with over-heated travelers. We didn’t see any other signs of civilization, just untouched desert and granite adorned peaks.
Honestly it made me feel very small. Here we were, driving through the most populous state in the Union, and we didn’t see a soul. America is big…really big. And sometimes it’s difficult to conceptualize its size.
In Psalms 103 it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” In other words, God has separated us from the sin that caused separation in the first place. Not only that, but God separating our sin is so complete so thorough that our sin is far away from us as east is from the west. What makes this a powerful image is that east and west are not places; they are undefined general directions. In other words, no one can remotely fathom the distance between the two.
This illustration is important because we do the human thing where we struggle to really believe that Jesus has dealt with our sin. We have never seen ourselves as truly sons and daughters of God, so we have to keep that old-self close at hand. But God says no. He says no to all of us. Our sin, our old-self, our jealous, spiteful and fearful selves have been separated from our inmost beings. We are new. We are clothed in royal robes. We sit at a table which God has prepared for us. Do we believe that? How different would we be and act if we truly knew our old-selves are gone?Read More
As a dude, I have a very clear belief about time: when something is supposed to happen at a certain time, it should happen at that time. Crazy right? Luckily everyone shares my sentiment…not exactly.
Jesus talks with the Pharisees and Sadducees about time. They are asking for a sign from heaven (presumably to add validity to Jesus’ teaching). Jesus instead tells them they are very bad at knowing what time it is. Essentially, Jesus is saying that they are demanding a sign from Jesus, yet ignoring the signs of the time. It would be like going to a candy store and asking the owner to prove that the store in-fact sells candy. The owner would say, “look at all the candy surrounding you”.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were not wrong because they asked Jesus for a sign. They were wrong because the signs were right in front of them and they could not see them.
What about us? What are the times saying to us right now? When evaluating the state of our world, we can quickly become overwhelmed with how bad things can get. But our world isn’t more chaotic than it was during the time of Jesus.
Our times are saying the same thing the times were saying when Jesus walked with his disciples: the kingdom of God is near. If we cannot see that, than we are insulating ourselves from what God is doing.
If the kingdom of God is near, what does that mean for us?Read More
Part of my sermon last Sunday included a series of pictures on PowerPoint. They included chocolate layer cake with peanut butter filling, crunchy, salty, potato chips, an ice cream cone of 4 scoops (all different flavors), warm chocolate chip cookies, a tray of yummy pastries and one of a glass of ice-cold Coca Cola. The purpose of the pictures was to illustrate the principle that “knowledge is not enough to deter us from sin.” I was certainly not saying that eating chocolate cake, having a cheese danish or enjoying a Coke was sinful! The point of the exercise was to illustrate that knowledge is not an automatic protection against sin.
The apostle Paul used an example from the 10 Commandments. The 10th command is “You shall not covet.” In Romans 7:8 Paul writes, “I would never have known what it means to want to take something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, ‘You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.’ Sin found a way to use that command and cause me to want all kinds of things I should not want.”
After seeing all the things that were not healthy, did the congregation have a stronger commitment to be healthy? Or were they hungry? Yup…you’re right. They were hungry!
You live in a world of stimulation. From every direction, from every device – phones, radio, computers, tablets, TV – you are bombarded with images and sounds that can shape you, if you let them. And they can shape you in ways that aren’t exactly holy. What can you do?
Romans 12:2 says that first you can RESIST. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.” You have a choice. You can choose NOT to allow certain things to shape you. At the same time you can choose TO allow other things to shape you instead.
The second thing you can do is REFOCUS. Writing to the church in Philippi, Greece, Paul summed up his message by saying “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things (that are) true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
These portions of Scripture are good words to live by. Grab a handful of grapes and read them over again!Read More