Pondering Psalm 127

Psalms-YELLOWPsalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
    children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

Here are a couple of observations that I had never really thought about until I pondered this week….

1) What exactly is a “Song of Ascent?” –  There are 15 Psalms that claim this designation (Ps 120-134). And there are quite a few explanations as to what this means. There does not seem to be a clear consensus, but this one gets as much press as any of them and I like it best:

The word ‘ascent’ means a step, or an upwards climb.

God’s law includes a rule that Jewish men should go to Jerusalem for the sacred holidays each year. There are three such occasions, called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16).

Probably, these songs were for the men to sing as they travelled. Of course, they did not have modern methods of transport. Most of them walked. And as they walked, they sang these songs.

Their journey might take 3 or 4 days, or longer, if they were from the north of Israel.

Some of the journey had to be uphill, because Jerusalem is at the top of a hill. That is why these are the songs of “ascent” (an upwards climb).

2) The Psalm is “of Solomon” – Many interpreters  believe the Psalm was written by David for his son Solomon. Did you know that at his birth Solomon was given the name “Jedidiah” by the prophet Nathan? (see 2 Samuel 12:25). Jedidiah means “loved by God.”  There is a veiled reference to Solomon (Jedidiah) in verse 2 of the Psalm – “for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

3) My main takeaway from the Psalm – Comes from verses 1-2. “Unless the Lord…” One of the main things that differentiates Christianity from all religions (note that I did not say “all other religions” because Christianity is not a religion) is that Christianity is based on what God does (and has done in Christ) and religions are based on what people do. These verses are a reminder of that. We can do whatever we want BUT “unless the Lord”  is the builder, watcher, boss, manager, coach, owner… then all the work will be in vain. Much better to join God in His great work than to hope, often futilely that  God will bless what we consider our great work.

Next Weeks: Okay I am going to take the rest of the year off from blogging – not pondering, so that I can get prepared and re-energized for next year. I may slip a post or two in about my family and new grandson. For those of you who read this thing, thanks for your encouragement and support along the way. See you in a month or so.

Pondering Psalm119:121-176

Here are the verses that grabbed my attention this week and why:

v. 133  “Direct my footsteps according to your Word; let no sin rule over me.”

It wasn’t enough for the Psalmist to just know what God’s Word said, he wanted his life to be dictated by God’s Word. And he knew that if this were true then sin would not rule his life.The familiar maxim comes to mind again – Sin will keep you from God’s Word or the Word of God will keep you from sin. So the Psalmist did two things: 1) He spent time reading and learning and pondering the Word of God and 2) He prayed – he prayed that God would use the  Word in the Psalmist’s life to “direct my footsteps.” This is a great example of how the Word of God and prayer go hand in hand. As you read, pray. And when you pray ask God to work his Word into your life in practical ways.

v. 135  “Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.”

Knowing the Word of God wasn’t just a mental exercise for the Psalmist. He didn’t read and ponder so that he could impress people with how much he knew. He did so in order to know God. This was the desire of his heart. And he knew that hearing God’s voice through His Word was the pathway to seeing His face. There is a huge difference between reading the Bible and hearing the voice of God. I’m reminded of what David prayed in Psalm 27:8 – “My heart says of you, “Seek His face!” Your face,  Lord, I will seek.”

v.136  “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”

The Psalmist was a passionate man. This is quickly obvious as you read through Psalm 119. He was passionate about God’s Word. He was passionate about knowing God. He was passionate about hearing His voice and seeking His face. But he was also passionate about God’s glory. This verse reflects his passion to see God honored and obeyed. And when people do not give God the honor that is His due it literally brought the Psalmist to tears. Question: As you and I look around at our world and see the egregious way that people have rebelled against God are we brought to tears? Do we have the same kind of passion that the Psalmist had for God’s glory. And if not, why not?

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 127

Pondering Psalm 119:81-128

Here are a few of the verses from this section that caught my attention. Good stuff!

v.83  “Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.” 

Huh? What does he mean by that? The Psalmist uses the term “wineskin in the smoke” as an illustration of how he felt. Drinking containers in ancient times were usually made of skin. These skin bottles were often used out in the wilderness to hang in a tent when the use of fire was needed inside and there was no chimney. The skin would absorb the smoke for a long period of time. The skin would become hard and shriveled because of the smoke and afterwards it turned black and was useless. The psalmist is saying that he felt useless – dried out, shrivelled, and soot-covered spiritually but he wasn’t giving up. And he would not forget God’s Word no matter how he felt.

The lesson for us is this: No matter what life brings and no matter how distant from God you might feel, hold on to God’s Word. Don’t let go. Cling to it as you would a life preserver in the open sea when you have had to abandon ship.

v 89  “Your word , O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”

This verse reminds me of my call to ministry. In college I heard a speaker say that there were only two things that were eternal in this world – God’s Word and people. And that we should spend our lives investing in these two eternal things. I knew after hearing that that I would be a Biomedical engineer, which is what I majored in in college. I knew that I would pursue a life of vocational ministry which would enable me to maximize my time as I invested in eternal things.

v 101, 104, 127-128  “I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word./ I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path./  because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.”

So there seems to be two things going on here. Because the Psalmist loves the Word of God, he hates evil and does whatever it takes to steer clear of it. And because his desire is to obey God’s Word, he avoids sin so that it does not short circuit his relationship with God. Do you see the difference? On the one hand, the Word of God keeps him from sinning. And on the other hand, he know that sinning would keep him from the Word of God so he is very intentional about staying away from it.

So here is the question to me… and to you: Do I love God and His Word more than I love sin? We don’t have to look very far to find the answer to that question.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 119: 129-176

Pondering Psalm 119:41-80

There were several verses from this section of Psalm 119 that grabbed my attention. Here they are and a few comments about each one.

v. 43 “Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.”

Why would God snatch His word away from the Psalmist? Literally, He would not. But figuratively, it might at times feel that way to the writer. For instance his voice would be silenced were he to fall into open and unrepentant sin. Or were he to lose his health in a tragic way. Or were he to be captured by his enemies and put to death. So another way to say what the Psalmist is saying would be this: “Lord, protect me, guard me, enable me to always have a voice that can speak with boldness about your Word.” (see similar verses such as v.29,36-37)

v.59 “I have considered my ways and turned my steps to your statutes.”

There is a lot of intentionality in this verse. The Psalmist has been very intentional about looking at his own life and doing some self evaluation. He has seen where his way of doing things does not line up with God’s way of doing things and has then deliberately and intentionally changed the direction of his life. There is repentance in this verse. There is a statement of faith in this verse. There is metamorphosis in this verse. What a great thing to be able to exclaim to God: “I have considered my ways and turned my steps to your statutes.”

v.67,71,75  “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word./It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees./I know, O Lord, that you are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

No one would ever say “Lord please send affliction upon me that I might learn to obey your word.” But, often, after the fact, it is easy to see how God has used affliction in our life to shape us. I know that this has proven true for me in the wake of the accident we had last year in India. I can easily say with the Psalmist, “in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

Perhaps you are realizing along with me why I love Psalm 119. So many choice verses to ponder and pray. Already looking forward to this next week.

Next Week: Psalm 119: 81-128

Pondering Psalm 119:1-40

Posting this as we wake up to the news of all the election results. I will say 2 things: 1) I am glad that I have been elected by God, and 2) My hope and trust is Him and not in our government (no matter who was elected.) And I am grateful for His Word…

Psalm 119:1-40

As may be true for many people, Psalm 119 is my favorite Psalm. So this is not my first time pondering it. It is a Psalm that I frequently come back to when I feel like I am going through a period when I do not feel like reading Scripture. There are so many choice verses that reinvigorate me spiritually and help to re-create a hunger for God and His Word. Here are some of the verses from this week’s pondering and a few comments about them.

13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.

The Psalmist evidently loved God’s Word so much that it was the subject of  conversations that he had with people. I find that I talk much more about sports, politics, and current events than I do about the Word of God. Is this an indication of how passionate I am about Scripture? I think probably yes.

14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.

We live in a very materialistic culture. I am very much a materialist myself. I find that it is easy for me to be a God-follower as long as I have all my material needs being met. I often wonder would I do so if to the same degree if these were stripped away from me. In other words, where does my joy come from?

18 Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.

What a great prayer! I am so blind so much of the time to the truths of the Word and to the power in God’s promises that I need my eyes to be opened. “Lord open my eyes that I may see…”

36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word.

Another great prayer that I find myself coming back to. Again and again. And again! I find that more often than  not I pursue selfish gain and worthless things rather than the Word of God. This prayer right here needs to be my daily Scripture mantra.

I’m Just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 119: 41-80

Pondering Psalm 103

To read all of Psalm 103 click HERE

Here are the first 5 verses…

Psalm 103:1-5

Of David.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Are there times when you do not feel like worshiping? You walk into church and the music starts and your heart just isn’t in it. Or you know you need some time alone with God but you have a bad case of the “I don’t want to’s.” I get the feeling that David was feeling this way as he sat down to journal. The first two verses almost sound to me as if he is telling himself to “Praise the Lord.”

In order to get himself into a worship mode he does something which I think is key for anyone who just doesn’t feel like worshiping. He begins rehearsing all the things that God has done for him. And as he reflects, he  remembers why he should worship. He was made to worship God and beyond that there are innumerable reasons why he should worship God.

Just as there are for us.

He has forgiven all our sins. (v.3) He has removed them as far as the east is from the west. (v.12) That calls for worship!

He has redeemed our lives from the pit (v.4)  In other words the changed our destiny and our eternal destination. We were bound for hell on a fast train but now we are on a pilgrimage to heaven. That calls for worship!

He has crowned us with love and compassion (v.4) He did not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (v.10) He saw us in our miserable state. He saw what the influence of evil had done to us. He saw our despair and our ever searching for something, anything, that would satisfy our hearts. And instead of judging us because we had defamed His name, He showed us incredible kindness. That calls for worship!

He satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth in renewed (v.5) I am now 54 and I will admit that I can’t do some of the things I could as a younger man. But I firmly believe that because God has satisfied my heart my youth is renewed daily – I don’t feel like (and hopefully don’t act like) an older man. That calls for worship!

So here’s the point. Most likely you did not wake up in a worship mode this morning. Nothing unusual about that. But don’t let that stop you from being a worshiper. Take some time to rehearse ALL that God has done for you and let the Spirit of God draw you into worship.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 119:1-40

Pondering Psalm 95

Psalm 95

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”

Grumbling and complaining never gets you anywhere. This was certainly the case for the Israelites. They were on their way to the promised land when they started grumbling and complaining about not having water – this is the Psalmist allusion to Meribah and Massah. You can find the account in both Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. The grumbling was an indication of something going on in their hearts. The Psalmist says here that their hearts had “gone astray” and that they did not know the ways of God. And as a result they spend the next 40 years wandering in the desert and probably wondering what went wrong.

I don’t ever want to be a grumbler – nor a complainer. I have been around my share of people who who do this a lot and it is no fun to listen to. There are at least 3 things that I glean from this passage that can help keep us from become grumblers…

Worship God with thankful hearts – Note verses 1-2. God is the Rock of our salvation. We must never ever forget what God has done for us to rescue us from our sin and depravity and give us Life when all we deserved was death and wrath. This is why author Jerry Bridges preaches the gospel to himself everyday. It is a daily reminder of how much he has to thank God for – no matter what else might be going on in his life. Not a bad habit to cultivate.

Worship God for His sovereign care – Note verses 6-7. God is our Maker and Sustainer. We are under His care. We must never ever forget this. Even when life is hard and and there are seemingly good reasons to complain, this especially is when we need to worship God and cling to the promise that as our Sovereign King He knows our needs and provides for us according to His (not our) perfect will.

Worship God through obedience – “Today if you hear His voice…” v.7.  Believers should delight in hearing God’s voice not dread hearing His voice. I wonder if the reason so many Christians neglect the reading of God’s Word is because they don’t want to be responsible to do what the Word says. When we remember how God has poured out His blessing upon us (salvation and sovereign care) then when God gives us tasks to do we should joyfully go about doing them. We have been blessed in order that we might be a blessing – and we should never ever forget that obedience is an act of worship.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 103

Pondering Psalm 90

To read Psalm 90 in it’s entirety click HERE.

Verse 1: “Lord You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” What might Moses have been thinking as he penned these words in the wilderness? Charles Spurgeon does such a great job detailing this that I will let him speak as I could do no better.  He uses some words that we don’t use and it is a little lengthy but worth the picture it paints.

At nightfall, or when the pillar stayed its motion, the tents were pitched, and the Israelites laid themselves down to rest. Perhaps to-morrow, ere the morning sun had risen, the trumpet sounded, they stirred themselves from their beds and found the ark was in motion, and the fiery cloudy pillar was leading the way through the narrow defiles of the mountain up the hillside, or along the arid waste of the wilderness. They had scarcely time to arrange their little property in their tents and make all things comfortable for themselves, before they heard the sound of “Away! away! away! this is not your rest; you must still be onward journeying toward Cannan!” They could not plant a little patch of ground around their tents, they could not lay out their house in order, and arrange their furniture, they could not become attached to the spot of ground.

Even though just now their father had been buried in a place where a tent had tarried for a time yet they must be off. They must have no attachment to the place, they must have nothing of what we call comfort, ease, and peace; but be always journeying, always traveling. Moreover, so exposed were they, that they never could be very easy in their tents. At one time the sand, with the hot simoom behind it, would drive through the tent and cover them almost to burial. On frequent occasions the hot sun would scorch them, and their canvas would scarce be a preservation; at another time the biting north wind would freeze around them, so that within their tents they sat shivering and cowering around their fires.

They had little ease; but behold the contrast which Moses, the man of God, discerns with gratitude, “Thou art not our tent, but thou art our dwelling-place. Though we are uneasy here, though we are tossed from side to side by troubles, though we travel through a wilderness, and find it a rough pathway, though when we sit down here we know not what comfort means, O Lord, in thee we possess all the comfort which a house can afford, we have all that a mansion or palace can give the prince, who can loll upon his couch, and rest upon his bed of down. Lord, thou art to us comfort, thou art a house and habitation.”

Have you ever known what it is to have God for your dwelling-place in the sense of comfort? Do you know what it is, when you have storms behind you, to feel like a sea-bird, blown to the land by the very storm? Do you know what it is, when you have been caged sometimes by adversity, to have the string cut by divine grace, and like the pigeon that flies at once to its own dovecot, have you sped your way across the ether, and found yourself in God? Do you know what it is, when you are tossed on the waves, to go down into the depths of Godhead, there rejoicing that not a wave of trouble ruffles your spirit, but that you are serenely at home with God your own Almighty Father? Can you, amid all the uneasiness of this desert journey, find a comfort there? Is the breast of Jesus a sweet pillow for your head? Can you, lie thus on the breast of Deity? Can you put yourself in the stream of Providence and float along without a struggle, while angels sing around you—divinely guided, divinely led—”We are bearing thee along the stream of Providence to the ocean of eternal bliss!” Do you know what it is to lie on God, to give up all care, to drive anxiety away, and there—not in a recklessness of spirit, but in a holy carelessness—to be careful for nothing, “but in every thing by supplication to make known your wants unto God?” If so you have gained the first idea; “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place throughout all generations.” Charles Spurgeon

I underlined the phrase “holy carelessness” because I liked it. There is a lot to ponder in that phrase alone. But I thought Spurgeon did a great job of helping us understand that this is not our home. And even though we are settlers and not sojourners, so to speak, we must never forget that God is our home. God is our dwelling place. This place is is our temporary home-away-from-home and we MUST not get too attached. And yet we do.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 95

Pondering Psalm 84

Click HERE to read Psalm 84 in its entirety

Here are some thoughts about a few of the verses…

But before we get to them there is a note that tells us that this Psalm is “Of the sons of Korah”. Here is a good article that will give you some background information on who the sons of Korah are. To sum up, they were doorkeepers and musicians in the court of David. Their lineage however went back hundreds of years to their ancestor Korah. Korah incited a rebellion (Numbers 16) against Moses that involved over 250 people. God had to deal with him severely (the earth swallowed him up) but some of his descendants went on to serve faithfully in the house of the Lord. As I read this account I was reminded that God can always redeem our past. It doesn’t matter what kind of a home that we have grown up in, or how bad our parents were, or what influences we had early in life – God can use us to bring Him honor and glory as we follow after Him. We are not victims of our past we are victors with a future!

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…

10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

These guys loved God. They loved to be in His presence. You can hear the passion oozing out of them. They were singing from the heart. Here is the question that I have to ask myself: When I am in the “court of the Lord” and singing with the community of believers, do I sing to Him with this kind of passion? Or do I just go through the motions of singing but my heart is far from God? Does my “heart and flesh cry out for the living God?” Would I rather be in God’s presence than anywhere else? Than at my favorite Sunday restaurant? Than home watching the NFL pre-game show? Than on the golf course? Than taking a nap? Need to move on before too much conviction sets in…

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs…
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

We are sojourners. Not of this world. Journeying through this world on our way to another place. A better place. A holy place. Our hearts MUST be set on that place if we are going to make sense of this place. We must keep our focus on the future if we want to thrive in the present. Otherwise the best we can hope for is to make it through this world in survival mode. But in God we find our strength. And even when we go through those dark and desperate valley times we can still “make it a place of springs.” We can still see the hand of God. We can still find hope when those without Christ would be hopeless. We can still see the goodness of God “though the darkness hide thee.”

And we can draw strength to continue our pilgrimage in Him. In the valleys we find strength. On the mountaintops we find strength. On the long and winding road we find our strength in Him. We “go from strength to strength” until one day we find ourselves in the strong arms of the One who stretched out His arms on the cross and secured our salvation and procured for us an eternal home in the Heavenly Zion.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 90

Pondering Psalm 67

Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine upon us, 
that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples justly
and guide the nations of the earth. 
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.

Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Evidently David spent time reading the Scriptures. And evidently he was a fan of praying Scripture. Note what Numbers 6:22-27 says:

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

24 “The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

You can never go wrong when you pray the Word of God. Here are a few reasons why I am a fan:

1) Prayer is supposed to be more than talking at God. It should be a conversation. As we read God’s Word and ponder what it says we can pray based on what His Word is telling us. Our time with God then becomes more of a dialogue than a monologue. This is a good thing.

2) Sometimes our prayers can become very mundane. They can become overly “me-centered.” When we learn to pray Scripture we start praying things that are important to God. I especially like using some of the prayers that are recorded in Scripture as starting points for my prayer time.

3) Sometimes we pray robotically. We do it because we are supposed to do it not because we are emotionally engaged. The Psalms are a great example of prayers that were prayed where you can hear the emotion that is involved. We need to get our emotions involved in our praying – praying with passion for God and compassion for people – and praying Scripture helps me to do this.

Verse 1 is a great prayer to pray for ourselves and others:  “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us”. But don’t pray it without verse 2: “that your ways may be known on earth your salvation among all nations.” Verse 1 alone is a selfish, me-centered prayer. But with verse 2 it becomes a God-exalting prayer. God blesses us not as an end in itself but in order that we might be a blessing to others and that we might make His great Name known.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 84

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