Category: Psalms (page 1 of 10)

Against All Odds

I don’t know how Easter Sunday is for you. Maybe you go to church on Easter and you’re great. You’re excited. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is a part of who you are every day — the power and the life — and celebrating it with God’s people on Easter Sunday is a true highlight for you. Maybe you go to church wanting to be excited, but once you arrive, it all seems like empty ritual. You feel like an outsider, not an insider. Like a spectator.

Or maybe it’s bad. You feel like the odds are totally stacked against you. You’ve had faith that the world is basically a good place but you can’t find proof of it anymore. Disease and hunger and violence are not going to be solved by arrogant dictators and power-hungry politicians.

You’ve had hope in our culture, that the advances of science and technology would heal us and bring us closer together. But we are sicker and more lonely as a people than we’ve ever been.

You looked for life in your family and friends, the people you trust, the people who love you. But they’ve let you down. They’ve disappointed you. They’ve hurt you.

Maybe you can’t even believe in yourself. You can’t sleep at night because of the things you’ve done in the past. You can’t look at yourself in the mirror because of the things you’re caught up in now. The obstacles to faith and hope and life have boxed you in. The odds are stacked against you. You feel like you only exist. On a dead-end street. Maybe.

Maybe the bad news in the world drives you to despair. Maybe the bad news at work or at the doctor’s office is overwhelming. Maybe the bad news in your marriage or with your kids or the bad news between you and your parents is too much. Maybe the bad news of your past and current sins — the odds are stacked against you. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t feel good.

Let’s talk about bad news.

The bad news is Pharaoh’s army is going to win at the Red Sea. Those were the odds that day. Pharaoh’s army was favored by 497 points. The over-under was four-million dead Hebrews.

The bad news is the little shepherd boy with the sling is no match for a trained warrior giant.

The bad news is Peter can’t walk on water.

The bad news is a virgin can’t have a baby.

The bad news is the authorities crucified our Savior.

The bad news is dead people stay dead.

I’m telling you right now the declaration of the angels is true: Jesus is alive! Jesus lives! That stone was rolled away from the tomb not so Jesus could get out but so we could all look in and see for ourselves, so we could see and proclaim the truth that our God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were!

He calls the things that are wrong in your life, right. He calls the things that are broken in your family, fixed. He calls things that are missing in your soul, the things that are lacking and bad, he calls them found and saved and overflowing with goodness and life!

Psalm 112 says the one who belongs to God has no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Can you hear the good news? Are you able to hear the power and the life our God so longs to give you by the resurrection of Christ Jesus? Hear the good news, believe the good news, and walk through the door into a brand new world where the ultimate reality is not dying and death, but where Jesus is the risen and reigning King and his gift is everlasting life.

Peace,

Allan

The Snare Has Been Broken

“Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
Psalm 124:6-8

The child of God who wrote this psalm is not singing about some great life, how the Lord has protected them from all trouble. These people go through a ton of trouble: angry mobs, flash floods, traps and snares. They’ve gone through the worst but they still find themselves alive and in one piece. They’re intact. The Lord is on our side. God is our help.

The psalm begins, “Let Israel say!” Everybody is singing. This is a passionate corporate expression of faith. Everybody joins in. This is the corporate reality for God’s people. The psalm is very enthusiastic about this.

And we’re very suspicious about enthusiasm. We’re cynical when somebody’s just a little too excited. Or sure. Advertisers have trained us to be suspicious.

LeBron James is being paid $252-million over six years to be enthusiastic about Sprite. Beyoncé gets $50-million to be excited about Pepsi. When we know these things, we inwardly discount the witness. I think it was Mark Twain — somebody — who said “Sincerity is the key to success; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Maybe it was Woody Allen; I can’t remember. But this is the world we live in. We know that when LeBron and Beyoncé are talking about soda or Matthew McConaughey is pontificating on the merits of driving a Lincoln, their words are written by professional copywriters and their testimony is given in exchange for money.

So when we read the words of Psalm 124, our first reaction might be, “Great poetry! Love the sincerity! Who’s your copywriter? How much did you get paid?”

Psalm 124 is not a commercial that pops up to remind us, “Things go better with God,” or “You’re in good hands with God.” This is not a media campaign to convince us that the Lord is better than all the other gods. It’s not a press release. This is a sincere prayer from honest experience. And it’s credible. Disciples of Christ, people who walk in the way of the Lord and sing this song in all kinds of weather — this psalm fits with their experience.

We’re in the snares all the time. We live on the edge of disaster and doom. Christians are in trouble a lot. And we’ve all been in places where it felt like there was no way out. It’s over. And then, all of a sudden, there is a way out. Suddenly, the snare breaks and you’re out! You’ve escaped! You’re alive and in one piece and you’re still going! It’s unexplainable, but you’re free!

Remember the old Batman television series? At the end of every episode the caped crusaders were trapped and it looked like there was no way out. Robin was hanging upside down over a vat of acid, Batman was tied to a conveyor belt that was pulling him toward a bone saw — it was over. Will they escape? Will they get out? It doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And the narrator wants you to believe it’s hopeless. It’s over. But then next week at the same bat time on the same bat channel, they escape. They’re rescued. They’re delivered. And it always happened so fast you were never quite sure how it happened. But it was always so matter-of-fact.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

“Praise be to the Lord who has not let us be torn by their teeth!” I think God wants us to sing like that as we walk the way of discipleship every day. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”

Peace,

Allan

The Lord is On Our Side

Thank you, Georgia!
If there’s any justice in this broken world, baker mayfieLd will be drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Browns.

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“If the Lord had not been on our side — let Israel say —
If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken, and we have escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
~Psalm 124

Angry mobs and flash floods and fatal traps. As disciples of Christ, we are always surrounded by danger, always facing threat, under constant attack by those with different views, overwhelmed by a flood of cultural elitism, trapped by society’s cynics and skeptics and compromisers who demand our Christianity be a private thing we keep between us and God. That’s where we live. And you know it.

We put our faith on the line every day. We have never seen God. We live in a world where almost everything can be seen and studied and weighed and measured and explained and subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control. But we insist on making the center of our lives a God we can’t see our touch. That’s a risky way to live.

We put our hope on the line every day. We don’t know anything about the future. We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen between now and when we wake up in the morning — we’re not guaranteed we’re going to wake up in the morning! We don’t know our future. Sickness, pain, rejection, loss, death — we don’t know. Still, despite our total ignorance about the future, we say God will accomplish his will and nothing can ever separate us from his love and promises. That’s a dangerous way to live.

We put our love on the line every day. There’s nothing we’re less good at than love. We’re much better at competition than love. We’re better at responding by instinct and ambition and selfishness than trying to figure out how to love people. We’re trained to get our own way. Our culture — the whole world! — rewards us for trying to get our own way. Yet, we make the decision every day to put aside what we do best and try to do what we’re not very good at: loving other people. And we open ourselves wide open to hurt and frustration and rejection and failure. That’s not an easy way to live.

We live on the edge. Every day as Christians we walk a tightrope on the edge of disaster and defeat. We live on the edge of the flood, surrounded by angry men and sharp teeth and deadly traps. That’s where we all live.

But Psalm 124 is not about the hazards, it’s about the help.

The hazardous work of following Jesus and walking in the way of the Lord is the setting, it’s not the subject. The subject is the help of the Lord.

The TV show Cheers was not about the bar. It was about Sam and Diane, Norm and his wife, Cliff and his mother, and Coach and Woody. The TV show Friends was not about the coffee shop. It was about six good-looking, young, lazy, spoiled rotten, single people. Central Perk was the setting, not the main point.

Our walk with the Lord takes place in a hazardous setting. But that’s not the focus. It’s not the subject. The main point is that the Lord is on our side. God is our help. That’s the reality of our situation.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

You can look up into the sky and see a billion stars or beautiful clouds or an inspiring sunrise. And, if you’re a Christian, it can easily lead to praising God. “Thank you, Lord, it’s beautiful.” A brand new baby can be born into your family, perfectly healthy, perfectly wonderful. “Thank you, God, this is so good.” A stable job? A loving family? “Thank you, Father, I’m so blessed.”

Psalm 124 looks the other direction. It looks into the troubles, the trauma, the conflicts. It acknowledges the problems, it points out the dangers and loss. And it sees that God is on our side. God is our help. God is always with us and God always saves us.

We declare our words of faith in an unbelieving world. We sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy. We live our joy among people who don’t understand us or encourage us. But that’s the setting of our lives, not the subject. The main subject is God and God’s salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You may be lost in the darkness of sin and doubt, but you’re going to be found in the light of Christ. You may be trapped behind the bars of despair, but very soon those gates are going to swing open wide. You may be drowning in a sea of bitterness and conflict, but tomorrow you will be lifted up to dry ground.

Our God is rich in mercy and strong to save. His help shapes our days and his deliverance defines our lives. Praise be to the Lord!

Peace,

Allan

Palm Sunday at Central

We celebrated Palm Sunday at Central with palm branches and prayers, songs of praise and times for reflection, the sacred meal and the Holy Word.

We attempted to capture the enthusiasm and expectation of that day when our Lord Jesus rode that donkey into the Holy City, surrounded on every side by throngs of cheering followers. The people of Israel were looking for a king. They were expecting a divine liberator, a deliverer sent by God to free them from the yoke of the Romans. They were praying for a Messiah who would save them and restore the throne of David back to Israel and establish the Kingdom of God right there in that land. The prophets had spoken about that day and it looked like for all the world that long-anticipated day had finally come.

Jesus is that promised Messiah! Jesus is our King sent by God, empowered by God to save us! All the signs are there! He’s healing people, he’s teaching the Law, he’s raising people from the dead, and feeding people in the desert! These are the signs the prophets told us about! God is saving us!

All this energy. All this excitement.

Our great-grandparents always told us about this day, and now it’s finally here! Our synagogue teachers have been reading to us about this day for generations, and now it’s come! We’ve been praying to God about this day for as long as we can remember and, praise God, he’s allowed us to live long enough to see it!

That’s us. That crowd of disciples, walking with Jesus on his way to the Holy City — that’s us.

Jesus is our King. We know Jesus is sent by God, he’s empowered by God’s Spirit — we know he IS God! And he is saving us.

And like those Israelites then, we long for the day when our King returns to completely and fully restore the Kingdom of God in our land — right here in Amarillo! We praise God for the salvation he delivers in our Messiah Jesus. The “hosannas” are on our lips today as we recognize that salvation for us and for the whole world.

May our God bless us during this Holy Week to faithfully remember and reflect on our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the events of those last days before his loving and history-changing sacrifice.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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Valerie helped design a sweatshirt for the 21 female students at Oklahoma Christian University whose dads belonged to Delta Gamma Sigma. They’ve had an informal fellowship for most of the school year; now they have a formal sweatshirt. You’ll recognize Val on the far right in this picture. On the far left is Kenzie Minor, whose dad, Shawn, was a Delta freshman my senior year. The young lady in the middle is Savannah McMillon, whose dad, Jeff, was a great friend of mine, two years my senior, a Delta vice-president, and current OC Bible professor.

Good looking kids, huh? But then, again, everybody looks good in maroon and gold.

Peace,

Allan

Good for the Soul

Has it been awhile since you openly and honestly confessed your sins to our Father? When’s the last time you got down on your knees, alone in the presence of our Holy God, and confessed your shortcomings and failures? These days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent are a good time to re-engage this scriptural, historical practice.

Maybe you have a hard time getting started. If so, I would humbly suggest something like this. It’s both a terrible and beautiful experience for me. It’s devastating and liberating. Not easy at all, but needed. Desperately needed.

Block out twenty minutes when you can be totally alone with our Father. Not in the back bedroom of a crowded house, I mean in the back bedroom of an empty house. Totally alone. Nobody around. If you have to go to the shed in the backyard, do it.

Now, physically get down on your knees and physically open your hands with your palms up toward heaven. Now, just sit there in silence for a full five minutes — no cheating! —- in the presence of God. After those five minutes, read one of the penitential psalms to the Father out loud. I’m partial to Psalms 32 and 51, but you could go with Psalm 6, 38, 102, 130, or 143.

At this point, I am acutely aware of the presence of God and my own sinful soul. Like Peter, my first thoughts are, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” My feelings are like those of the prophets who proclaimed their own demise in God’s presence. I am ruined. I am dead. I am not worthy. And then I confess my sins out loud to God. And they are many.

I believe the silence and the physical posture of humility and prayer and the holy words of the psalms work together to prime the pump so that what’s in the deepest part of my soul comes gushing out.  It can’t be stopped. And it needs to come out. I need to be open and honest about my sins with my loving and forgiving Father. I need to experience his forgiveness and his blessing, his pardon and approval.

You do, too.

Whatever it takes. Don’t let Sunday come without spending some time in personal confession with our God.

If you need another suggestion, you might consider the words of this prayer of confession we prayed together with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian during yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service:

Holy and merciful God, I confess to you that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Have mercy on me, O God, and in your mercy, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Hear me now, as I continue to confess my sins to you…

Most Christian traditions begin every worship assembly with a time of corporate and personal confession. We don’t. We have to work on it. Now’s a good time.

Peace,

Allan

He Will Come to Judge

“On the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead.” ~from the Apostles’ Creed

RightHandSaintsNobody wants to see a judge. Appearing before a judge is not at the top of anybody’s list of enjoyable things to do. Not even lawyers, as sick as they are, want to go see a judge (sorry, that’s a cheap shot; I should apologize to Utsinger, Flow, the Egglestons, J. Bailey, and maybe even a couple of judges). If you walk into any government building or have a conversation with any government official and she says, “The judge wants to see you” or “You’ll need to appear before the judge” all your organs start to shut down. It’s not fun.

“The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” ~Matthew 16:7

This is a tough topic. The idea of a judgment is offensive to our culture. In this age of uber-tolerance, in this age of “Don’t judge me!” society bristles at the concept of any kind of judgment on almost anything. This might be Christianity’s most offensive doctrine. Our culture has no problem at all with a God of supreme love who supports us and accepts us no matter how we live. But it strongly objects to a God who punishes people. We have no problem with a forgiving God, but we can’t accept a God who judges.

Well, guess what? It’s both. We know it to be both.

Christians believe that God is both a God of love and of justice. Lots of people struggle with that. They believe a loving God can’t be a judging God. I’ve been asked this before, and maybe somebody’s asked you, “How can a God of love also be a God of anger and wrath? If God is loving and perfect, then he should forgive and accept everybody, right? He shouldn’t ever get angry.”

All loving persons are sometimes filled with anger because of their love. I’m grateful to Tim Keller’s insights here from his eye-opening “The Reason for God.” If you really love a person and someone harms that person, you get angry. If someone hurts your spouse or harms your child, you get ticked off. Even if they are the ones hurting themselves, you get angry. Think about how you feel when someone you love deeply is being damaged by terrible decisions or stupid actions or bad relationships. You don’t just tolerate it with kind of an apathetic “whatever” like you would if she were a stranger. Far from it! You get mad. Angry. Anger is not the opposite of love; hate is the opposite of love. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion; it’s his determined opposition to the cancer of sin that’s eating out the guts of the human race he loves with his whole being.

The Bible says God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He gets angry at evil and injustice because it’s destroying his creation’s peace and integrity.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made… The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” ~Psalm 145:17-20

Another thing I hear is that believing in a God who judges makes Christians very narrow-minded people. We’re exclusivists and we’re divisive and it might even make us violent people because we believe in God’s judgment. Now, hold on. Everyone believes that actions have consequences. Everyone believes that bad actions have harmful consequences. But because Christians believe that souls never die, Christians also believe that our actions affect us forever. Even non-Christians believe that there are terrible moral actions like lying and murder and exploitation and cruelty and self-centeredness. But since they don’t believe in an afterlife, they don’t think the consequences of those bad actions go on into eternity. Does that make Christians narrow-minded, because we believe wrongdoing has more long-term consequences than non-Christians do? It doesn’t make us narrow just because we believe the consequences of wrong actions are more serious.

We believe that today Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead. We’ll unpack some of that here this week.

Peace,

Allan

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