Reading: Psalm 68
Sing to God,
you kingdoms of the earth,
sing praise to the Lord,
to him who rides across the highest heavens,
the ancient heavens,
who thunders with mighty voice.
Proclaim the power of God,
whose majesty is over Israel,
whose power is in the heavens.
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
the God of Israel gives power
and strength to his people.
Praise be to God! (NIV).
Psalm 68 ends with a call for us to sing. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.
Have you noticed how important singing and music are to our celebration of Christ’s birth? Take music and song out of Christmas and there is little left. In many ways carols define the season and add sparkle and joy. And so it should be. Heaven saw fit to announce the Saviour’s birth through song. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).
God sent an angel choir to celebrate the birth of His only begotten Son. And earlier during her pregnancy, at the home of Elizabeth, Mary burst out with what is commonly called the Magnificat or Mary’s Song. See Luke 1: 46-56. Yes, in the darkest month of the year we can rejoice with the songs of Christ’s birth.
So yes we should sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides across the highest heavens. He sent his star to guide the way for the magi. One glorious night the heavens joined in to declare the glory of heaven’s Son, who had come to earth to be born among men—men and animals.
What a grand descent! From the highest heavens to a lowly stable. That’s the glory of Christmas. God transferred His sanctuary—His dwelling place—from heaven to earth—from heaven’s throne room to a stable. Now we can join with the psalmist and the shepherds with these words of praise:
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Praise be to God!
Response: LORD God, thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for coming in frail human flesh—flesh like our own. Thank you because now we can know you as one of us—God with us. Amen.
Your Turn: How important are music and song to you? Do they lead to heartfelt worship?
Reading: Psalm 61
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day (NIV).
When I reflect on Psalm 61, it’s about distance—distance to God. There’s an old saying that goes like this, “If at one time you were close to God, but now He is far away, who is the one who moved?”
As is so often the case, this psalm begins with David crying out to God. It would seem David is not at home. He is calling out from the ends of the earth. From biblical history we know that David was not a world traveller. He never ventured beyond the traditional territory of Israel, so in this psalm where exactly are the ends of the earth?If I have offended my wife and the issue has not been resolved, we can be sleeping in the same bed, but there is a distance between us. Though she is physically present there is a gulf between us. Spiritually and emotionally we are on opposite sides of the planet. I might as well be on the other end of the earth.
The same can be true of our relationship with God. God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth is always close at hand. He is present and evident in His creation. But beyond that He has promised to dwell within every believer. We have Jesus’ promise on this. “The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you” (John 14:17 CEV).
That means we can call out to God with confidence. He is more than nearby; He is within us helping to form the words of our prayers. We can draw close. David reminds us that we can take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
Response: LORD God, help me to draw near to you. Thank you for the indwelling Holy Spirit. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Amen.
Your Turn: What creates distance between you and God? What draws you close?
I will praise Him!
The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:6-12, NIV)
I will praise Him!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the LORD
and he answered them.
He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.
LORD our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.
Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the LORD our God is holy.
(Psalm 99:1-5, NIV)
Reading: Psalm 41
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
The LORD protects and preserves them—
they are counted among the blessed in the land—
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
The LORD sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness.
I said, “Have mercy on me, LORD;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around (NIV).
Psalm 41 reminds us that compassion and empathy are at the core of what it means to be a follower of the LORD. David begins this psalm with this declaration, “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak.”
Social justice and care for the poor are not small matters in eyes of LORD. Ancient Israel was destroyed and went into exile because of their disregard for the poor. The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the LORD, the LORD Almighty (Isaiah 3:14-15).
Why is regard for the weak so pivotal in having a right relationship with God? Lack of care or empathy for the needy is based on a kind of self-deception. In arrogance we see ourselves as better than those who are weak or needy. Yet if we examine ourselves, we have all gone through times when we were weak and needy. Sometimes we may need a reminder that our current state of self-sufficiency can come to an end in a moment.
This morning I very nearly hit a pedestrian as she rushed across the street. I sounded my horn thinking she was in error. A quick glance showed she was crossing with the walk light. I was the one in error. I had completely missed a red light. I was the one in need of correction and forgiveness.
Are you doing well now? Praise God. The day will come when you need His help and protection. Do you see someone in need? Help as you are able. The day will come when you will need forgiveness and the help that you have offered others.
Response: LORD God, forgive me when I have looked down on others in need. Open my eyes to someone I may help today. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Your Turn: How do you keep yourself from the deception of pride?
I will praise Him!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
(Psalm 98:1-3, NIV)
America, attack, Christian, David, enemies, forgiveness, forgving, Gaza, Holy Land, Israel, Jesus, peace, peacemakers, Philistines, retaliation, rockets, strength, turning the other cheek, war, weakness
Reading: Psalm 35
LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
Vindicate me in your righteousness, LORD my God;
do not let them gloat over me.
Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!”
or say, “We have swallowed him up” (NIV).
There’s an old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That certainly is true of the conflict in the Holy Land. About 3,000 years ago, in David’s time the Kingdom of Israel was in a struggle for survival. Chief among its enemies were the Philistines along the Gaza coast. On the day when I originally wrote this post, Israel’s chief enemy Hamas was firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza coast.
David’s words from Psalm 35 have a present day resonance. LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Many in present day Israel are praying this prayer with the fervour of those who are being attacked.
But the residents of Gaza could pray this prayer with equal fervour. Their homes and businesses are also under bombardment. Where is God in all this suffering? Whose side is He on? Many in the Christian community affirm with great confidence that God is on the side of Israel. Does that make God complicit in the deaths of innocent children in Gaza?
Jesus gave this counsel to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Present day Israel (and America for that matter) has a well-established policy of hard-hitting retaliation when attacked. What are the long term consequences of this policy? Is the conflict resolved or is it inflamed?
Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek goes unheeded. Most feel that turning the other cheek implies weakness. In reality it requires far more strength, but in the end it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness—not a righteousness that insists on its own way—but a righteousness that sees both sides of an issue and works hard for peace and reconciliation.
Jesus asks us to do the far harder thing. Retaliation is easy. It’s the natural response. Forgiving when we are wronged, that requires far more effort. Whose side is God on? He is on the side of peace. That’s something worth fighting for.
Response: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). LORD God, help me to be a local peacemaker in my world today—someone who builds bridges between people and communities. Amen.
Your Turn: Forgiveness and turning the other cheek works on a personal level. Can it work on an international level as well?
Reading: Psalm 9
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Death of the Son.” A psalm of David.
I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you.
For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies, you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.
The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you (NIV).
Without question David was a man of war. After all, this was the man who as a strapping young teenager slew Goliath, the gigantic champion of the Philistines. Later he led King Saul’s army as they went out to do battle with the enemies of Israel. Eventually when David became King, he secured Israel’s borders and greatly expanded its territory through conquest. David knew a few things about bloodshed and war, and he had more than a few enemies.
It should not surprise us then that the language of warfare and talk of enemies and destruction should appear in the psalms that he wrote. David wrote, sang and spoke of the things he knew and experienced. He was personally involved in life and death struggles. Consequently, he was a man of violence, who lived and survived through violent times.
But he loved God. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the slay-my-enemies David with the LORD-is-my-shepherd David. It’s as though two contradictory Davids are living in one body. But then I look at myself—deep within myself. Am I any different? There are more than a few contradictory elements at work within me. The real warfare is within the human spirit. Will I yield to the Spirit of God, or to the foul spirit of this world, or my own selfish pride?
Like David I simply need God. I need to praise and exalt Him over all else. When I do that I gain perspective—the right perspective. With David I can say, “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
Response: I praise you, LORD and I seek you. Along with David I can say you have upheld me in difficult times. Be the master within me. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you yielded to the LORD? Is He winning the warfare within?
Reading: Psalm 147
Praise the LORD.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds (NIV).
There are a lot of brokenhearted people in this world. No, I’m not talking about sports fans who have suffered heartbreak because their team has lost. I’m talking about the more serious issues that arise—the loss of a home, a career, or a family member. I’m talking about those devastating life events from which full recovery may never be possible.
Today’s evening news carried the story of a woman who had lost her home due to severe flooding throughout our region. There she stood with her voice breaking as she described all the work she and her husband had put into their lovely home. Looking beyond her you could see nothing but brown water lapping against the sides of her house. Everything they had worked for was ruined.
Every Friday morning for a dozen years I have been meeting with a group of men who have entered into a covenant to grow stronger in their relationship with the Lord. We are accountable to one another in our commitment to grow in love and service to Jesus. But faithful commitment to the Lord provides us with no guarantee against personal heartbreak.
One of the leaders of our group lost his wife last fall due to pancreatic cancer. Now Chris must cope with the loss of his wife while also providing care and comfort for his young son and his teenage daughter. That’s heartbreaking. That’s a daunting task!
I’m not sure that I could cope with that level of loss.
In today’s reading from Psalm 147, we see a call to praise coupled with a promise that the LORD will build up, restore, and heal the heartbroken. The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
I need words like that. I need healing words. The wounded need healing words. As God’s people we need to give and receive words that comfort the grieving, build up the downcast, and minister healing to the wounded. All too often our tongues do more harm than good. Too often we speak words of judgment, when we should leave judgment to the LORD.
Today, remember there are a lot of brokenhearted people in this world.
Response: LORD God, heal my hurts so I can help heal the hurts of others. I pray that your people will find comfort in your word. May your words bring health and healing. You are worthy of praise. Amen.
Your Turn: How can we bind up the wounds of others? Do you have wounds that need healing?