Sunday, 31 July 2011

Fearfully and wonderfully

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvellous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. - Psalm 139v14

Many years ago we listened to a Christian radio broadcast. I don't even remember now the name of the programme or the personality who did the show. Even Mr Google could not help me on this one so I guess we have to leave it at a vague memory.

The context was this passage in Psalms- 'I am fearfully and wonder made.' While we must not forget that our sin makes us vile in God's sight, we must not also forget that we are not just some cast off worthless junk.

God made us to be who were are. In all of strengths and weaknesses and power and weakness we are His work. We are not some worthless happenstance of an evolutionary process. Evolution cheapens man to the basest descent of animal behaviour. Creation elevates man to the wonderful result of God's work.

We are of such value to God that He sent His son to die for us. God don't make no junk. Jesus didn't die for no junk. We don't have to compare ourselves to anyone else. Each of us, with our flaws and weaknesses, are just the fearfully and wonderfully made person God wants us to be.  Let us rejoice in that marvellous work. 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

No difference

If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. - Psalm 139v11-12

Tonight is the first night since the middle of May that we are going to have any real darkness. We have had various versions of twilight, but no real darkness. As the weeks go on now it will only get darker and darker until real darkness sets in about 5.00 in the afternoon and lasts until about 8.00 in the morning.

Though I like the dark nights for sleeping it is harder to get things done in the darkness. Some folks get really depressed by darkness. It is harder to find your way in the dark. Darkness can cause frustration and confusion.

In one way darkness can be hard to deal with. Sometimes we have to deal with times of emotional darkness. If we aren't careful during those times we can get so desperate that we forget that God is with us right in the midst of that darkness. He is there is the joy of a bright morning and the moments of the greatest darkness. It makes no difference to Him. The darkness that so confuses and befuddles us means nothing to Him. He sees the way through.

Praise God that the darkest night is no different that the brightest light to God. He has it covered!  

Friday, 29 July 2011

Held in His hand

Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. - Psalm139v10

Psalm, 139 is full of wonderful imagery which is used to teach a Biblical truth. I love the fact that God gave us His word in such a variety of styles including imagery and poetry. Often these can speak to our feelings and emotions.

Now that we have young children around again this particular verse brings some powerful images to mind. We are blessed to have four of the five children close by. We often get to mind them and spend time with them. All of them love to walk. Though Morgann is getting older and more independent, the rest still very much want one of us close by. Maddie will often just take take one of our hands as we walk along. In unusual places AJ and Hudson will also reach up to take a hand. Sometimes, like when crossing the road or walking down the canal or a busy road we will take them by the hand because we know they need extra protection.

I don't know if God has emotions just like ours, but I love holding the kids by the hand. It is always kind of sad when they get too old for it. It is a precious time to walk hand in hand with them. I wonder if God likes leading us by the hand as much as we like leading the kids.

Sometimes though just taking the kids by the hand is not enough. If there is an obvious danger or if there has been a fall the kids want more than just a hand. They want us to pick them up and carry them. Sometimes they just get weary and need to be carried for a while. Being held in our our gives them an extra sense of security and safety. It can also help them through the times they just can't handle on their own.

I am grateful for a God who cares enough about us to pick us up and carry us at times. There is comfort, rest, safety, and security in His arms. Sometimes we need to learn to say, just like the grand kids do, 'carry me.'

Thursday, 28 July 2011

God is there

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, - Psalm 139v7-9

A couple of days ago I mentioned Job and his search for God in the midst of his trouble. Job wrote ‘"Look, I go forward, but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.’ To his credit Job goes on to acknowledge his faith in God and wrote ‘But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.’

David came to the same conclusion by a different route. David realised and sensed that no matter where he went God was there. He could never get away from God. Even if he went to heaven or hell God was there. If he flew into the morning God would be there. If he went to live in the middle of the ocean God was there. He simply could not get away from God even if he wanted to.

That is of such comfort to us. Many people are going to face hardships today or in the days ahead. Christians are in prison around the world. Many are in hospital. Many people are going to face things today that they wish they didn’t have to face. People are going to hear news today that is going to shake their lives to the very foundation.  In today’s world economy many are jobless and the prospects for work are dim.

But we can rest in the same knowledge that Job and David did. Job couldn’t sense God but he said ‘but He knows the way that I take.’ David said ‘this knowledge is too wonderful for me.’

No matter what news you hear today, no matter what meeting you are facing, no matter what email or text or phone call comes your way you can rest assured that He is already there preparing the way for you.

God is there. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Too wonderful

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. – Psalm 139v6

Some things are just too wonderful to know. Some things are beyond our human ken. There are some things we just are not going to ever really and truly ‘get.’

Our word wonderful comes down from the Old English word ‘wundor’ which meant ‘marvellous thing, marvel, the object of astonishment.’

This goes a way to describe the feelings of the psalmist that God knows everything about him. It is the only natural response to the fact that God walks before us and behind us with His hand on us on our Yellow Brick Road. Those feelings are even more fully laid out in the marvellous truths that follow.

How can God do all this for me at the same time at the same time that He is doing it for so many others?
I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. His knowledge is so much higher that my knowledge that I can’t even approach it.

So what does that mean? I think it means that instead of languishing in despair I should be basking in wonder. Instead of doubting the reality that God understand and that He is with me I need to let myself be astonished at the truth.

‘His name shall be called Wonderful.’ Let us cast our cares on Him and rejoice in the wonder of our wonderful God. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

YBR moments

You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. – Psalm 139v5

This marvellous psalm of encouragement continues with a beautiful picture of God's guardianship of His people. In the depths of his despair Job could not see God before him or behind him or on his right hand or left. Despite not sensing God's presence Job decided to trust God anyway.

David had a different perspective but the result was the same. We are going to see more later, but here David rejoiced in the fact that God had hedged him about with His divine protection.

Life can be scary. It can be like walking down an unknown trail where we have no idea what is around the next bend. Just picture Dorothy with Scarecrow and the Tin Man walking down the Yellow Brick Road and singing ‘Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My.’

We all have those ‘Yellow Brick Road’ (YBR) moments. But we have Someone with us though who protects us and hedges us from the lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my).

‘You have hedged me behind and before’ David wrote. He knew that as he went down his own YBR God was walking before him and behind him. He didn’t have to worry about the lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my) because his ‘Hedger’ was stronger than any of them.

The verse does not stop there. ‘…and laid Your hand upon me.’ As we go down our YBR we can rest in assurance that God hand is own us. I picture His hand on my shoulder guiding and protecting me. With that kind of confidence I don’t have to be afraid when a lion goes ‘to and fro seeking whom he may devour.’ 

Monday, 25 July 2011

God knows

O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. – Psalm 139v1-4

I have loved this psalm in a personal way since I taught in teen Sunday School a few years ago. We had just moved to Ireland and I was serving as youth pastor in a church in Dublin. I loved that ministry with all my heart. I loved the young people and many of them are still friends today. Because of that setting this the psalm holds a special place in my heart. I don't know about those teens, but the study there has impacted my life every since.

The psalm begins with David making a personal application of a very important truth – 'You have searched me O Lord,' he writes, 'and known me.' The next few verses amplify that truth. God knows my getting up and my lying down. He knows my path. He knows my thoughts. He knows my words from the time they are formed in my heart.

In one sense that is a great truth to keep us on the straight and narrow. If God knows that much about me I had better be sure I keep my life right.

On the other hand this is a truth which gives great comfort. I don't think our Sunday School class did verse one any harm when we summarised it with 'God knows.' One of our teens did a little cross stitch for us. It has a lovely decoration and two simple words – 'God knows.' It was a beautiful gift that we treasure. We treasure it because of who it came from because it reminds us of that wonderful group of teens and because it reminds us that even though many yeas have based God still knows.

What are you facing today? What difficult situation are you dealing with? Read Psalm 139 today and remember – 'God knows.'  

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Singing in a foreign land

How shall we sing the LORD's song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy. – Psalm 137v4-6

Anyone who has lived in a land which is not their birthland can identify with the sentiments of the psalmist here. Things are always different, especially if you grew up in the land of your birth. No matter how long you live in a foreign land the homeland has a special feeling. When you visit there you normally have a feeling of peace and normalcy. There is just something about the land where you grew up.

When things get difficult in the foreign land it is easy enough to blame it on the land. Some folks never adapt and spend their whole time in the foreign land in misery and longing to go hope. It can be hard to ‘sing the Lord’s songs’ in a foreign land.

The psalmist knew this. Jerusalem was his homeland. It is where they served the Lord with joy and gladness. It is where there were great memories of what it was like when God’s people got together and built each other up and edified each other. How can you sing about your circumstances with those kinds of memories?
I think we have a couple of applications. First there is a practical application. We live in an age when dwelling in a ‘foreign land’ is no longer unusual. People emigrate and immigrate with regularity. Ireland, for example, is full of foreigners. For many of us living for Christ here is nothing like it was ‘back home.’ We don’t have the big churches and massive numbers of Christian friends. We don’t have all the things that our physical Jerusalem offered. We certainly ‘get it.’

With that in mind we apply this passage. The lesson is not only for those of us who live in a foreign land. All believers live in a similar state. This world is not our home. We all long for our heavenly Jerusalem We look forward to our heavenly home, but we still have to live here. Let’s not allow this foreign land to become the place that we praise and exalt. Let us rejoice and exalt our heavenly home. Let our primary attention be our heavenly goal.

If we can do that our geography of our earthly tabernacle won’t be all that important.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

His mercy endures forever

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever: To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever; To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever; - Psalm 136v1-5

We hear a lot of remarks today about songs that repeat the same phrase over and over again. Sometimes they are ridiculed (occasionally with just cause), but we cannot just write them off. While I may not like it all, it is not necessarily wrong to keep repeating something. While Jesus warned against 'vain repetitions' He did not warn against repetitions.'

I wonder what would happen if Psalm 136 were to be set to modern music?
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever.
To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever.
To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever.
To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, For His mercy endures forever.
To Him who made great lights, For His mercy endures forever.
The sun to rule by day, For His mercy endures forever.
The moon and stars to rule by night, For His mercy endures forever.

And so it goes for another fifteen verses. Over and over we read 'for His mercy endures forever.'
Sometimes repetition helps. I use it a lot when I teach. Advertisers know that repetition works.

Possibly these words are repeated over and over again because we are so thick that we need it drilled into our skulls. Good situations, bad situations, indifferent situation; it makes no difference – 'His mercy endure sforever.'

There is a great lesson from Psalm 136. No matter what we encounter today God's mercy is strong enough to endure through it. That is well worth repeating. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Trusting false gods

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, The work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them. – Psalm 135v15-18

Here the psalmist speaks of the worthlessness of trusting in false idol. There are the works of man’s hands. They have eyes, but they can’t see, they have ears, but can’t hear, and so on. They are dead. Those who make them and those who trust them are dead as well.

While a lot of eastern cultures would immediately see this issue of idol worship we in the west don’t to think of ourselves as idolaters. After all, most of us don’t light incense and bow down to pray before carved or cast images.

That does not mean that we are not still depending on cold, dead, lifeless, and useless gods. Colossians 3v5 warns us against covetousness, which it calls idolatry. The question we have to ask ourselves if our modern idolatry is really the same as the idolatry the psalmist talks about.

When we think I about it we will see that the dangers are the same. Our idols are the thing we covet. We covet fame and fortune. We covet success and stuff. If we follow the media it seems like these are the things that can help us. They speak of great things. They look great. They make great promises.

But just like the gold and silver idols the psalmist talks about these gods are cold and dead and hopeless and helpless. Anyone who trusts in the them will find themselves in the same boat. 

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing— Life forevermore.  - Psalm 133v1-3

The psalmist here captured a beautiful picture of unity. ‘How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like a precious refreshing oil running down the beard and covering the body.’

I guess the closest we would have in our culture would be the feeling of taking a shower after exercise. The hot water runs downs and cleanses away the dirt and grime and sweat that we have picked up. When we are done we feel so good and clean and refreshed and ready to face the next challenge.

That is what unity is all about. The unity of the body of Christ should be our chance to be cleansed and refreshed from all the junk we have picked up. That blessed unity is one of God’s great blessings. I like the thoughts expressed in my reading in the Valley of Vision this morning – ‘I long for the blissful communion of thy people in thy eternal house in the perfect kingdom.’

That all sounds nice. But while we are here seeing it played out is different. Instead of unity brethren seem to be seeking out chances to divide. While there is a Bible injunction to earnestly contend for the faith and defend the purity of the gospel that doesn’t seem to be enough. I was reading an article in a conservative evangelical magazine this morning. The article was discussing another conservative organisation. The only complaint they could come up with was that the second group did not separate to the extend they did, or talk about separation enough!

If it were not so sad it would be silly. The things the brethren divide over would make you laugh if you weren’t crying. No group has a monopoly on divisiveness over unity. We are all guilty.

I like the way the writer of Hebrews put it – ‘Seek out peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see the Lord.’

Notice the verse starts with ‘seek peace.’ Our goal is peace with God and with each other. The only disclaimer on that is that we cannot forsake holiness at the expense of holiness.

The key to this pleasant and refreshing unity is pretty basic. Pursue peace with all men, and holiness. How can we go wrong when we do that?  

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Bible hope

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. - Psalm 130v5-6

What is hope? An old copy of Webster’s dictionary used this definition:
A desire of some good, accompanied with an expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable; an expectation something which is thought to be desirable; confidence; pleasing expectancy.’ defines the word this way- ‘the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best:’

You can see the slight difference in meanings in the word. 150 years ago Webster has the idea that there is an expectation that something is going to happen. Today talks about a feeling that something can be had.

One is confidence, the other is maybe.

Most of the time when we read our Bibles and we come across the word ‘hope’ we need to read it with the idea of confidence. A few weeks ago Caleb was preaching and mentioned this illustration from Psalm 130.
The psalmist was hoping in the word of God. This was not a maybe kind of hope and he makes clear – ‘My soul waits for the Lord with more confidence than those who wait for the morning to come.’

Now that is hope. The night can seem very dark and very long. It may seem that morning is never going to come, but we know it will. The sun will indeed come up tomorrow. It is that kind of confidence we can have as we wait on the Lord.

What kind of hope do we have as we wait on the Lord’s promises? Is it a feeling that it could happen, or is an expectation of obtaining it? 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Our heritage

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.- Psalm 127v3-5

Mary and I are approaching the end of parenting our children in the home. Only one, our Eoin, is left at home. He is approaching 16 so we only have a few years left of in-home parenting. Though parenting never ends, it 
does change greatly when our children leave home.

As we look back we can reflect on the meaning of Psalm 127v3-5. Children are the heritage of the Lord. God entrusts them to us. Our reward has been our children. They give us strength in the years to come. Our 
quiver has been full and they have given us great joy.

The last time we were all together was April of 2010. The next time, Lord willing, will be this Christmas time for Caleb and Karen’s wedding. After that the chances will be slimmer and slimmer. I love those times. The noise, the laughter, and the stories are so much fun. I love having the children here because for a little while they can be the kids again. Beth was here last week and it was fun to help with Kian and watch her interact with the other siblings. We cherish these times as we understand their rarity.

I am starting to understand the truth of what the psalmist wrote here. ‘Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.’ Not one of them is perfect, but then again neither am I. Praise God for the heritage with which He has entrusted us. I am grateful for our reward. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

In vain

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. - Psalm 127v1-2

The Hebrews word translated 'vanity' in most to the Old Testament is an interesting word. It is a word that perfectly fits what we think of when we hear the word 'vanity.' It means something like 'grasping at the air and trying to contain it.' We all know that is impossible. Despite was the souvenir shops advertise you cannot capture and sell Florida sunshine of Irish fresh air. It is vanity to think that you can.

Building a family has occupied a huge part of our lives. It still does as a matter of fact. Obviously it is something we have to pour our hearts and minds into. We have loads of books on the family. I read advice from all kinds of sources. Some of it is excellent and applicable. Some if it is pure rubbish. Sometimes we just do what we think best regardless of anything. Sometimes we act without even thinking. It is hard to know what to do sometimes.

The psalmist talks about vanity in relation to building a family here. He says that unless the Lord builds a house all we do is vain. The Bible addresses vanity in the light of eternity. Life is like that morning vapour that appears for a little while then 'vanishes' away. When we focus our efforts on the hear and now is building our families instead of looking to eternity we are trying to grasp that bit of vapour and keep it forever. It won't work. It is vain.

Solomon figured that out. He tried to build his life on everything else and found it all vanity, emptiness, and a waste of time. He finally realised that the only reality came in the fear of the Lord.

Unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vanity when we try to do it our way. Our focus in our homes must be dependence on the Lord and His word. When we try to please someone else it is vanity. When we try to build our family to impress others we fail in our vain efforts.

Unless the Lord is allowed to build our homes we indeed labour in vain. Lets be sure our efforts are not in vain and depend on Him. 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Tear sowing

Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him. - Psalm 126v5-6

I have a confession to make. I am a crier. I cry at the drop of a hat. I cry reading books and watching films. I cry at happy stories and sad stories. I cry at songs. I cry at church. Tears are and always have been a part of my life.

Crying can be out of pain, but as we get older crying is usually an indication that our heart has been affected in some manner. My heart is moved now when I hear of young mothers with cancer. I can sit here now and think about our own Michelle and tears well up in my eyes. I know of a young mother of seven who is in her last days because of cancer. Those tears come because situations are real to me. Because of Michelle these situations are very meaningful and stir my heart.

The psalmist writes of enduring through the tough times. He speaks of the struggles of living and the tears that some with them.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who goes forth weeping, carrying the seeds for sowing, will come back rejoicing bringing the fruits of their labour.

The thought reminds me of 'be not weary in well doing.' I find that my tears come most freely when I am tired. Weariness makes everything seem worse. Our weary tears are not wasted as long as we keep going. Those times of weeping will produce joy. If we keep going through the weary times we will reap, if we don't quit.

The tears and the tiredness will not last forever. Joy will come when we reap in due season. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Mouths filled with laughter

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad. - Psalm 126v2-3

'Our mouth was filled with laughter. Our tongues were filled with singing.' What a wonderful testimony of people relying on the Lord. These folks were rejoicing in all the good things God had done. We don't know the date or occasion, but we do know that it was after some kind of great deliverance.

I think we can all identify. We have an easy time with this kind of attitude when God has brought us through a trying time. We have been in the pits and God brings us out. We can shout, praise the Lord, and sing with gusto. Those are marvellous days and we are right to use these times to celebrate God's wonderful works.
Not every day is a celebration day. Not every day puts us in a mood to laugh and sing.

It is on those days that we need a reminder. 'The Lord has done great things for us.'

Sometimes it can be simply a matter of focus. We don't need a reason to celebrate. We already have one.
He did a great thing for us when He saved us. He does great things by taking care of us. He is doing a great thing in preparing a place for us. All of these and so much more should cause us to have mouths full of laughter and tongues full of singing.

The Lord has done great things for us – let us rejoice and fill our hearts with laughter and singing! 

Friday, 15 July 2011

If the Lord had not been on our side

'If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive when their wrath was kindled against us – Psalm 124v2-3

Where would we be if the Lord were not our side? It doesn't even bear thinking about does it? As the psalmist says here we would have been swallowed up alive. As bad as things can be I am so grateful that we have the Lord to depend on in these times.

You know how it feels. Everything seems to be opposed to everything we try and do. The world system and its gaping jaws seem like it is right on our tails. It threatens to swallow us in one big gulp.

It is a scary thought. The world system is huge and in comparison the church is so tiny and powerless. We should have been swallowed up a long time ago. We should have been stamped out at the start by the Roman opposition. The true church should have been squashed by false religious kingdoms. Communism should have destroyed the church in those parts of the world. The church should be dead in the Muslim nations today.

But we survive. We hold on. The gates of hell shall not prevail. We are His church. The Lord is on our side and we WILL survive because He is!  

Thursday, 14 July 2011

My life preserver

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore. – Psalm 121v7-8

We all know what life preservers are. There are those rings attached to a rope that you throw to someone to keep them afloat until help arrives. They are not intended to last forever, just until the actual rescue can take place. They do a good job at that and many lives have been saved because of a life preserver.

Psalm 121 is all about the Lord as our Keeper. It is a beautiful psalm that I often refer to. One aspect of 'keeping' is that of preservation. That is the word used in these two verses. 'The Lord will preserve you from all evil. He will preserve your soul in your going out and coming in. He will preserve you now and forever.'

I know that there are many times in our lives when it seems we are about to drown with all the cares and anxieties of the world. It seems that we can just keep our heads above water. We are going down for the final time.

That is the time to reach out to out and grab onto our great Life Preserver. He is not only a temporary help. He will hold us up forever.

Tough day ahead? Grab on to your Life Preserver and hold on. The final rescue is coming.  

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Your keeper

The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade at your right hand. – Psalm 121v5

At the moment we have Beth and Kian with us for a few days. The last couple of mornings Kian and I have been the only ones up early. At the moment he is on the floor playing with some toys while I type these words. As we say here I am 'minding' Kian for a bit.

I used to occasionally hear an expression dealing with taking care of the children. I am not sure whether is not used much any more, or if it just an American thing. Sometimes, if parents were going to busy and needed someone to watch their children someone might say 'Do you want me to keep the kids for you?'

Of course, that did not mean that they were going to take possession of the children forever. 'Keep' there was used in the sense of watching over and taking care of.' It is the same phrase we would use here when we say 'Can I mind the kids for a bit?'

We use the word in that sense quite often. We keep house, we keep a pet, a shepherd keeps the sheep.
Just Kian started getting fussy. It was obvious he needed or wanted something. I put the laptop down and took him the kitchen. He got excited when I started messing with his little bottle/cup thingy so, once I half way figured it out he had some apple juice.

Though far from perfect this illustrates our God keeps us. We have a need, but He knows about it before we even ask. He knows exactly what we need. He doesn't have to figure it out. He doesn't have to figure out the sippy cup. I might have given Kian the wrong thing, but God never does. Because He is the perfect Keeper he is always aware of us and tends to us perfectly.

Praise God that we have the perfect Minder!  

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

No slumber

He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. – Psalm 121v3-4

Four of our grandchildren live just around the corner. Because of that I get the opportunity to babysit for them on a pretty regular basis. There are times when they have just worn me out, especially when I have the two lads.

I hate to admit it in case mum and dad see this, but sometimes Grampy gets a little, shall we say, heavy eyed. He might even doze off while the lads are watching the telly. You know the state, not quite asleep, but...
That is an interesting state of consciousness. You sort of know what is going on, but are not totally aware of every little thing. Your mind is not as keen and sharp as it normally is. You are there, but not totally there.

Understanding that makes this verse clear. We can praise the Lord that the God who watches over us not only does not sleep, He doesn't even get sleepy. He doesn't get dozy. He doesn't nod off or get 'heavy lidded.'

What a blessing to know that the Lord who watches over us never sleeps. That is good in and of itself. But our God doesn't even slumber like a tired old Grampy. He is always totally aware and perceptive of everything going on as He cares for us.  

Praise God for His wide-awakeness!

Monday, 11 July 2011

I will lift up my eyes

I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121v1-2

As weary travellers returned on the dusty roads of Judea they would be eagerly looking for the hills surrounding Jerusalem. Eventually they would come into view and they would see the beautiful city of Jerusalem and be encouraged to carry on until they reached home. The simple vision of Jerusalem would give them to courage to go on.

To the psalmist this was a clear picture of a spiritual truth. As they looked to the hills he asked himself the question ‘Where do I find my help?’

That question should give each of us cause to stop and reflect. Where do we look for our help? Do we look to our own strength and abilities? Do we look, like these travellers, to the safety of our homeland? Do we look to our bank accounts? Do we look to our political leaders?

Loving politics like I do, that last one catches my eye. Some Christians seem to think that if the ‘wrong’ politicians are elected then we are ruined, all hope is gone, and that life is really not worth living anymore. More time is spent fretting over political results than our service for the Lord. More effort is expended in the political arena than in the work of God.

But enough of that. The question remains ‘Where do I look for help?

The psalmist’s answer? ‘Me help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.’ When we look at it that way it only makes sense. Who else would we look to for help when we can look to the One who created both heaven and earth? Who can help if He can’t? Is He worth trusting? Is He strong enough to be our help? He is wise enough? Does He have the discretion to know how to help?

If we sense ourselves as helpless it is quite possible that our eyes our looking in the wrong place. We are looking down and around when we should be lifting up our eyes. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

No stumbling

Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble. – Psalm 119v165

Virtually every day is full of occasions and events that could easily trip us up in our Christian walk. These little stumbling blocks are a part of life and we, hopefully, learn how to deal with them. There are like that little stumble over a shoe or a toy that really does no harm.

Then there are the more serious stumbling blocks. Way, way back in the mid-70s I was at Bible College in Tennessee. I remember it was a cold morning so I was running along with my hands in my coat pockets. I tripped over something and landed flat on my face. Not too long ago we were at Glendalough when Maddie tripped over something and smashed her face in the dirt. She had huge scrapes on her face.

It is more the second kind of trip-up than the first that we are interested in today. These things do come along. We open our email and read some news that floors us. We get a text message that takes us off guard. We get that phone call that takes our breath away. The doctor tells us the news that knocks us off our feet.

How do we handle these big trip-ups? What happens when we are blindsided by the news we had no idea was coming?

I can look back at a few of these. I remember the sick feeling in my gut when I got the news. When that happens we must have something to depend on or we will be crushed and defeated.

David knew about this kind of news. Here he wrote that those who love the word of God have peace no matter what happens. Nothing makes them stumble. Nothing causes them offence.

Sure, we are caught off guard. We trip a little. We almost lose our footing. But we don’t take offence. We pick ourselves up and keep going.

How? We put our faith in the word of God. We trust Him to take us through any trouble. We rest in the great peace of God that passes all understanding. 

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Using those sleepless night

My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word. – Psalm 119v148

I am no stranger to insomnia. Sleepless nights can be a pretty regular occurrence for me. Anyone who has had those nights knows how frustrating they can be. You toss and turn and keep looking at the clock fretting about what time you have to get up. I get so bad that sometimes I wonder what time I can practically get out of bed. The worst thing is that the worse the insomnia gets the worse it gets. It is a terrible cycle.

A few years ago, during one of those nights, I began to wonder if there was a reason for my sleeplessness. Surely there must be a reason.

There are reasons of course. Sometimes it is stress. Sometimes it is anxiety. Sometimes it is big plans for the next day. Sometimes it is that scorcher pizza we ate.

But, apparently God has a purpose for some of those sleepless nights. David wrote – ‘My eyes are awake through the night, that I may meditate on Your word.’

Sometimes there is a real purpose for those nights. Sometimes God gives them to us to allow us a special opportunity to pause and reflect on His word. What better time to stop and spend time with the Lord than in those quietest of moments when there are no distractions, no phone calls, no kids, and nothing to take our attention away.

I still fail at times, but I have tried to implement this into my insomnia. I try to remember that there is a reason for it and I try to meditate on things the Lord is doing in my life or praying for others. With modern technology I can even pick up my phone and do some Bible reading.

Instead of getting frustrated with insomnia perhaps we should find a way to benefit from it. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

The quick and the dead

I am afflicted very much; revive me, O LORD, according to Your word. – Psalm119v107

We all know that affliction is part of life. For some folks the affliction is severe and comes in the form of open opposition and visible conflict. For some folks the affliction is more subtle. It just comes from the everyday ‘stuff’ of life.

Either way affliction is wearying. It just wears you out. If living the Christian life was easy we could just coast along like we were on some great holiday enjoying life without care or concern.

But chances are that most of our life is going to involve affliction. Therefore it is going to involve weariness. If we don’t do something about it we are going to be spiritually asleep or may even appear spiritually dead.

When that happens we need something. We need a ‘relivening.’ The King James translators used a word here that I like. They translated this ‘quicken me according to thy word.’

‘Quick’ in that sense is a neat word. Mercury is sometimes called ‘quicksilver.’ Back before we knew that mercury was poison it was a great toy. We hoped that thermometers would break so that we could play with the mercury.   If you have ever seen mercury on a table top you know why it was called ‘quicksilver.’ It acts like silver that is alive. It seems to move with a life of its own.

It is this kind of quickening or reviving we need. We get our liveliness from the word of God.

There are two kinds of Christians – the quick and the dead. Are we living in spiritual quickness or spiritual deadness? God’s worn will give us that spiritual quickness if we will let it work. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Light and darkness

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. – Psalm 119v105

Way, way back approximately 1970-71 I was very active on Scouting. I had begun as a Cub Scout, come through Webelos, and worked my way up to Eagle Scout. Beyond that there was the ‘Order of the Arrow.’ It is something like a Boy Scout honour society. There was a lot of work involved and it all culminated in a weekend activity. The night before the final induction, after dark, they took you out and dropped you off somewhere in the area of the camp site. Your goal was to spend the night alone and then make your way back without compass, map, or any other means. Your supplies were very limited. I think all we were allowed to keep was our scout knife. I don’t remember exactly, but the food ration was very limited. If you met another scout you were not permitted to talk. Needless to say, I did make it back. I think it was more the smell of steaks cooking for breakfast that any other skills that led me back to the camp in the morning.

The thing I remember the most was the darkness. I started out thinking that I would be best to start making my way back to camp in the dark. I did okay. I knew I was going in the right direction. I was pretty good at reading stars and keeping my bearing. But then the clouds rolled in and it got dark. Even with the moss on the north side of a tree I did not know where I was going. I got some help from a stream, but eventually, because it was dark, I just bedded down till morning. Of course, I did that without tent or even a sleeping bag.

But it was the darkness that sticks out in my memory all these years later. I would have given anything for a torch (flashlight) or even a match to make some kind of light. The darkness was extremely unsettling. As I lay there on my bed and pillow of pine straw with a thin blanket covering me all kinds of things ran though my young head. It was, to put it simply, scary.

Whenever I read this passage I look back and remember that weekend in Tennessee. I remember that sense of disorientation and alone-ness.

I think we can all see the spiritual application here. We can all identify with those moments of darkness in our lives when we don’t know what to do next. But we do have a light for our paths. We do have a lamp to show our feet where to step next. When the way seems dark and confusing we can turn to God’s word for clear illumination.

Why then do we insist on trying to make it in the darkness? 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

My daily meditation

Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. – Psalm 119v97

RTE Radio One has a little morning though called ‘The Word for Today.’ Years ago it was intended to be a morning devotional thought which was aired shortly after the broadcast day started at 6.30 in the morning.
Yesterday morning a chap was on talking about the importance of quiet reflection. As an illustration he used a composition by John Cage. In 1952 Cage produced a piece called 4’33”. This interesting piece is made up of three movements. It is written for any instrumentalists or for an orchestra. The instructions are quiet simple. The performer or performers are simply to not play their instruments in the first, second, or third movement. Yes, that is correct. 4’33” consist of four minutes and thirty three seconds of musical silence.

Cage’s point was that the audience should experience and contemplate on the ambient sounds of silence. He considered this piece pure music because neither composer nor performer could impact the music by their personal choices.

Personally I think that is, how will I put this, a bit wacky. How can you call four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence ‘music’?

But, leaving that aside, and leaving the chap doing ‘The Word for Today’ aside I think there is a point here.
I am one of those people who have a hard time with silence. After raising six kids, working with children and teens all of our lives, and now with grandchildren close by silence has never been a part of my life. It can make me uneasy. I would probably go nuts if I sat through a performance of 4’33”.
Sadly, we can all allow our lives to get so crowded out by the ‘noise’ of daily living that we can forget the important things. Meditation and reflection are almost lost arts. If we are not careful we let New Age philosophers and Eastern mystics influence the necessity of meditation.

Maybe it is a western problem. David was from the East and he knew the importance – ‘O how I love your law – it is my meditation all the day.’

‘All day long’ David wrote. Are our minds constantly in a state where we can pause and reflect and contemplate the word of God at any time? Do we even have a 4’33” that we can dedicate to meditating on the word of God?

Have we lost the fine art of true meditation? 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides.  – Psalm 119v89-90

Sweet settledness. Even seeing those words typed out make me ‘feel good.’ The problem with this sweet settledness is that it is so elusive. There is little, if anything, that we can really count on in the world system.
It is interesting to notice how things change.

All sorts of fads and notions in almost every area of life come and go. Coffee is bad for you. Coffee is good for you. Put your baby on its back. Put your baby on its stomach. Lay your baby on its side. Going barefoot helps your back. Going barefoot helps your back. You know what I mean.

I have seen the same thing in Christianity, even in the conservative evangelical circles. We too have our fads and ideas. Somebody writes a book. It seems to have all the answers and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Then time goes by until the next great answer comes along.

I don’t have any problem with Christian books. I have a library full and often find them very helpful. Praise God for godly people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with me.

However, there are times when we need a source of perfect trustworthy sweet settledness. Sometimes I need a rock to hold on to. Sometimes I need a place to anchor my hopes and dream.

We have that in the word of God. His word is forever settled in heaven. His faithfulness just keep on enduring. He established the earth and it still abides.

Only a few things don’t change. We can find the sweet settledness in God’s forever settled word. 

Monday, 4 July 2011

No pain, no gain

It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. - Psalm 119v71

‘It is good that I have been afflicted.’ How is that for a seeming oxymoron? It is good to suffer? How is that?

I don’t like affliction. I don’t like troubles. I don’t like to hurt. I don’t like to suffer. I don’t like it when people I love go through affliction. I don’t like it when people I hear about suffer. I don’t like affliction.

How is it that affliction is good? I have to admit that my mind says that surely there must be a better way. Couldn’t we gain without pain? Do we really have to go through affliction to see spiritual growth?

While I admit that I still don’t get it, I do have a thought. A couple of years ago I realised that I had to do something about my fitness. I was well over 14 stone (200 pounds, 90kg). I felt like a massive tub of lard. My doctor was on my back. My blood pressure was giving me trouble. As much as I hated it I knew I had to do something. I started watching what I ate. I don’t really like that, but that is not a big deal.

But I also realise that I had to exercise. We bought a Wii and that got me started. I don’t use the Wii much anymore, but I try to walk or cycle any day that the weather lets me. Sometimes I have to get up early to get my exercise in. Many days my old bones ache when I am done. I sweat. My legs hurt. My feet hurt.

I could avoid all those inconveniences and aches and pains. I could just quit putting myself through all that. But what would the long term effect be? I would be right back where I was. Though I still have a way to go I am in much better shape than I was then, but it took ‘affliction’ to get here.

I think that is what God is telling us here. It takes affliction to wake us up. It takes affliction to grow.

It is good to go through affliction. If we let it, it will do its work and drive us to the word of God for His answers and for a relationship to Him.

I guess the axiom ‘no pain, no gain’ even applies to our spiritual lives.