Monday, February 16, 2015

PSALM 150 - Our Last Breath: ISIS

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Hallelujah!  (Verse 60

This is my last post in Psalm Calm. The end of a journey through the real life songs people sang about their God and to Him. It is fitting that the book ends with the imperative for every breathing thing to praise the One Who is and was and is to come.

Also fitting for me today was to meditate on the news of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were slaughtered over the weekend by ISIS in Libya. Marched to their deaths wearing orange jumpsuits as they walked single file along the edge of some undisclosed body of water, leaving their footprints in the soggy sand, they were lined up and told to kneel. Several cried out, "Oh, God!" or "Oh, Jesus!" The last words they would have breath to utter before they were thrown forward, facedown into the sand where Islamists sawed off their heads. I didn't watch the YouTube video, but those who did said the lips of most of the men were moving as they knelt. Praying. What were they thinking in those last few moments of life?

I put myself there for a few minutes. Horrified by what was surely coming. Knowing that my life was over with the thrust of a knife into my neck. Dreading the pain; wondering how quickly I would die. What next? Understanding that in the seconds I had left I could breathe the name of the One I would see with my own eyes in the ensuing seconds. I could cry out to Him or I could incline my heart already in that direction and find, perhaps like Stephen did when he became the first martyr for our faith, that Jesus was already standing there awaiting my arrival. Holding a white robe. "...I saw under the altar the people slaughtered for God's word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, the One Who is holy and true, how long until you judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?' So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer..." Revelation 6

No virgins. Heaven isn't about revenge or the sexual conquest or hearty usury of women. It's about justice, peace, righteousness and love. The more honor given to those whose lives were demanded in bloody death for the sake of Christ--as Christ's was given for us. And their blood is now mixed with His in suffering. The martyrs seem to have a say in heaven. "Avenge us, God!" The promise is, of course, that God will. All the armies of the world can't mount an attack that will stop the flow of justice when it "rolls down like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream (Amos 5)."

While we have the breath to do so, it is our privilege to use it to proclaim the mercy and love of our God. He is not a god who tells us to strike with jihad. Instead He says, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved! (Acts 2:21)" Over and over again in both the new and the old testaments of the Bible, God willingly saves and forgives those who call out to Him. Even the worst of us...even the best. And however it is or wherever it is we find ourselves taking that last breath here on Earth, may we be assured that by the grace of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus, that we will take our next breath in heaven. May those who have been slaughtered for their faith over the weekend, leaving their bodies behind, be dancing with abandon with all who have gone before them! No more tears. No more pain. And their joy reflected in the face of Christ!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PSALM 150 - Shall We Dance?

Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance! Praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud crashing cymbals!  (Verses 3-5)

Get loud! Dance around! Beat the drums, play the sax, clang the cymbals! Praise Him with everything that is in you! Join the noisy worship of heaven. Lift your hands. Sing a new song at the top of your lungs. It's appropriate to the occasion. We have been redeemed by the One True God! Brought into His family as adored and precious children. Set free from sin and death, empowered to live in a confusing, upside down universe. You are no longer judged by God but now you are saved from eternal punishment. Set free from the prison that bound you as surely as if you'd been released from Leavenworth. Sprung because Jesus took your place on the gallows. Rejoice! Don't sit quietly in your pew when the music starts. We have much to dance about.

Recently during praise and worship, I have felt drawn up into heaven where I see my mother and several of my friends worshipping in a broad space before God's throne. They aren't still, but running in circles together, dancing wildly, extolling from a place in their souls that makes them almost frantic with joy. They sing with their mouths open wide as emerald lights flicker in the bright whiteness of His Presence. The music is very, very loud. Pounding the foundations of heaven, lifting my mother and friends from the pavement on which they stand. I want to join them there. So I do. To the degree that church protocol will allow me to wander from Earth to Heaven or my body can facilitate such romping in the privacy of my home. But I want to empty myself like they are doing. Exhaust myself before the throne. Sometimes I am a bit shaky after worship. Sad to shut it off. Wanting more and more to join my heart with His.

If we could strip ourselves of our bodies in the experience of worship, what would we do? Unencumbered by the restraints of flesh, only presenting our pure devotion from soul and spirit, I believe we would be LOUD! Revved up by the heavenly orchestra, electrified in the presence of God, thankful beyond all imagination for our place in His kingdom, do you think we'll stand still? I think heaven is amped up. There are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, the ever shouting voices of angels and elders crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" And here on Earth, music brings us into the Presence like nothing else. Drums for the pulsing throb of heaven's atmosphere, cymbals for the crashing thunder and lightning, stringed instruments to soften the experience as the angels do when they sing. God wants us to be as carefree and unrestrained as King David was when he brought the ark back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). Returned the Presence of God back to the Jewish people. Stripped down to his linen ephod, David danced "with all his might" while his men shouted and played their trumpets. He was so out of control that his wife, Saul's daughter, was disgusted by the wild display. So, maybe some will be uncomfortable with our abandon, but that doesn't mean God isn't ordaining and enjoying it. It's no little thing to be saved. To walk out of prison free. To be included in the family of God because Jesus is our Lamb! We should get a major rush from the knowledge, remembering it day after day and never tiring of its magnificence!

So let it out today! A massive flow of unadulterated worship. Turn the praise songs up! Dance around the room. We are freed from the enemy and will never, never, no more forever (Exodus 14) be locked in the cells of his making! We are loved beyond all reason. Protected even from our own stupidity. Great mercy covers our lives. And we will live forever in the noisy reverence of Heaven!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PSALM 150 - The Role of a Lifetime

Praise Him for His strength; praise Him for His greatness!  (Verse 2)

I can do all things through Christ because He gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

The Oscars are coming up. A time when the entertainment industry honors those whose performances in movies were great. Number one. Top of the top. Amazing job. Standing ovations. Applause. For...being someone else. We laughed, we cried...we'll never forget. Well, maybe, a little. Next year the hype will be about another movie star.

So how do we calculate greatness. Might. Strength. There are awards for football, basketball, racing, prize fighting. Athletic, muscled men and women who are mightier than the rest, as we count might. In the scheme of things, most of the rest of us are left out of the competition. Only the elite receive the bows of homage; the wreaths of victory. To be great, we must be ahead of the pack, while most of us are trying just to keep up.

I'd like to give a prize today. To the ones no one sees. The ones who are bravely taking care of their children's children because mom and dad are MIA. To Saeed Abidini and the other hundreds of Christians who languish in prisons because they love Jesus. I'd like to walk into their cells and say, "We are proud of your courage, your strength, your steadfast faith in light of the fact that you are tortured, sleep and food deprived, and cold." Then I would hand them the Oscar for endurance and faith! I'd like to award those who have languished in illness with their heads high and their faith in Christ in tact. And to those who held the hand of a loved one to the last breath then committed themselves to living in faith without the warmth of the one they loved so much. Trusting that soul to Jesus while they trust their todays to Him, also. Loss. Handling it as yourself...not an award for pretending to be someone else--a life you can leave when the cameras are off. There should be acknowledgement for powering through the very real difficulties that are our dramas.

It's why the knowledge that we can do all things through Christ Who gives us strength is so vital. We have to play out what is our lives. It's not fantasy. It's the nitty gritty of our reality. I don't know how people live without the Holy Spirit. I don't. Christ in me is the engine that propels me toward every goal. Keeps me in every circumstance. My Guide. My Source. My Inspiration. Christ in me is the very energy of my spirit that keeps me from idling or falling apart. When I can't play the role given to me another minute, it is He Who lives in me Who revs the engine and moves me forward. Gives me inspiration for the part. Cues me where to go next. Who to be. What to say. Millions of fans don't watch us bigger than life onscreen taking each step. Most people will never even know we exist. But the drama that is our lives is important just the same. It is the role of a lifetime. And it has its reward.

"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now, a crown is being held for me--a crown for being right with God. The Lord, the Judge Who judges rightly, will give the crown to me on that day--not only to me but to all those who have waited with love for Him to come again."  Paul.  2 Timothy 4:8

Monday, February 9, 2015

PSALM 150 - Somewhere in the Crowd is You

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens! (Verse 1)

Last night was the album release concert for Vanessa's newest CD. It was so great to see friends I haven't been with in years, in some cases. I'm never done with hearing Vanessa sing and marveling in the gifts God has given her. I was thankful to be in the mix when she praised her God in song. Couldn't help but raise my hands and worship as she sang, "I am forgiven, once and for all. I am not doomed to stay down when I fall." I mouthed the words I've come to love from hearing the song many times at home. "He calls me Precious, He calls me Precious Little Girl," she sang, and somehow in lyrics and music I heard Jesus say, "You are my Beloved." And in the worship experience, heaven must stretch its edges to draw us like a magnet into God's sanctuary. The dividing line thinner as the strains of worship reach the ears of God. I hear my daughter. So does He. And He hears us as we join in, for we are only catching a far off whiff of glory. Our worship reflecting what is happening in His sanctuary; not the other way round. Worship brings us into a holy unity with heavenly choirs whose sole reason for being is to extol the God of All.

My standing in the crowd at the concert last night watching my daughter praise our God reminded me this morning of how God, to a much, much greater extent, joys in standing in the midst of our praise and bathing in its purity, however imperfect or amazing. It's a family thing. A recognition of the fact that our Father is better than any other father! He forgives us, restores us, loves us with almost unbearable sweetness, guides us, defends us, provides for us and grows us up to be like Him. Praise causes us to look at Him. To put aside whatever rubble life has thrown our way and to enjoy God's presence. It's a sharing of mutual affection. Reciprocating our Father's love. God comes near to hear us shout with the angels that He is "Holy, holy, holy!" There is no one like our Father. That's what holy means--separate, set apart. One of a kind. Tears welled up in my eyes knowing my daughter's heart is given over to Christ. How much more does the love of God swell in His heart when He hears the songs of our hearts, smells the sweet aroma of our sacrifices of praise? Above the noisy thundering of heaven's electric atmosphere, we have an audience Whose ear is attuned to the songs of our hearts. It's all one to Him, the praise there and the praise here.

The stars are constantly humming in harmonic praise. The Kepler space telescope proved Job's observation in Job 38 that "the morning stars sang together." The group of massive red stars sing in concert. God's mighty heavens literally play for Him. And God doesn't just stand apart from the creation He called good, but is in its midst, worthy of our prostrate adoration; worthy of the dance; worthy of the song; worthy of a life lived in praise to His glory. In the sanctuaries of our churches or in the sanctity of our quiet places, praise becomes us (Psalm 147:1). It's appropriate, sweet. It's like wearing a dress that fits perfectly and shows off our best features--becoming. That's how praise looks on us. Like we were made to wear it. The first fruits of our eventual white linen clothing reserved for us in heaven when we'll sit at the wedding supper of the Lamb and rejoice at the table of our Father.

Monday, January 19, 2015

PSALM 149 - Musings on Martin Luther King Day

To execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord!  (Verses 7-9)

The battle is always about the heart. Wars are fought because the heart of some man or woman has been given over to the destruction of other peoples or nations. Hitler, Stalin, Nero...something went terribly wrong. Pol Pot and the killing fields, and, yes, the Crusades. A demonic tweaking of  the mind that made a person or group of people decide everyone has to agree with them or die. The power of being right and gaining absolute control overwhelming any sense of compassion for those who disagree or don't fit the mold. Hearts that can kill their progeny and call it expedience. Hearts that can judge others by their own biases. We've got to fix the heart. And war against the proper powers. Unseen and violent, seeking destruction. Since the beginning. Offering up the pride of being godlike, making us buy into our own demise. Our real enemy: Satan.

The battlefields are real enough. Worldwide. Beheadings in the name of righteousness. Missile attacks, aggressor against aggressor. Mass executions in retribution for a drug deal gone wrong. Families wiped out by a spurned husband or wife. Our own infanticide pervading our country in the name of expedience and quality of life. And we all feel good about our particular war. We have the right to it. And in this way we are able to make wrong right. Celebrate it, in fact. Someone somewhere was whooping and hollering when the twin towers went down in flames and smoke as somebody's mother jumped out a window and landed on the pavement and somebody's father choked to death in an effort to save those trapped. Some several million people breathed a sigh of relief last year when a baby was taken, alive and well, and thrown into the garbage heap behind the doctor's office. What is wrong with us?

No tyrant thinks of himself as tyrannical. There is a certain altruism about making others do what you want. We seem to have infinite capacity, even the best of us, to create for ourselves a scenario that justifies our actions. There is some good and some evil in all of us. The question is, which will win? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it this way: "There is some good in the worst of us; some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." Evil always justifies itself.

Dr. King went on to say, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Agape love. Which we can't manufacture alone. God is love. And unless we are saturated in it, driven by it, changed by it, committed to it, we are bait for the enemy of our souls, who desires to turn us sour and use us for his purposes.

This love that armors us for battle (Ephesians 5) isn't a weapon of mass destruction, but of daily victories that come about by attacking the real enemy circumstance by circumstance. The sword of the spirit taking down principalities and powers (2 Corinthians 10) in order to destroy "strongholds and arguments" of the enemy. Because all evil starts in the heart and distills into the mind. The way we think is how we act. And if the love of God hasn't affected our minds, changed our hearts, and made us want to war for the same deliverance for others, we will fall in battle, too. We might not be in Iraq fighting ISIS, but we are at war just the same. Our battlefields are closer to home. Most of the time, the fighting is one on one. We don't win with great arguments and cutting language. We win, as Dr. King did, with the desire to love our enemies. By bringing light into darkness. Love where there is hate. Aiming right for the heart. Devastating it with the retribution of forgiveness and love.

Satan finally loses. I know the end of the book. But in the meantime, he will take hostages and execute the godly. This is war. And some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., will physically fall in the battle. This world isn't where we belong forever. But every single day we have the opportunity to bring light onto the battlefield, exposing the dark, making it flee. Every day we have the choice to love instead of hate, to forgive instead of hold a grudge. With the sword of the Spirit (God's Word) and the shield of faith, we are ready for battle, knowing that Love ultimately triumphs over evil. The cross provided our victory; the resurrection guaranteed our safe travel home. Let's have the courage to combat our enemies in the same spirit Dr. King did in the successful war he was called to wage against the prejudice and hate that divided this nation. Let us be willing, as he was, and the Savior before him, to "lay down our lives for our friends (John 15)."

"Now there is a final reason why I think Jesus says, 'Love your enemies.'" It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long...and by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It's redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There's something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

PSALM 149 - Sword Play

Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged sword in their hands.
(Verse 6)

For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4

Malchus was a servant of the high priest, sworn to the Jewish government that existed within the Roman Empire as a separate judicial entity. On the Passover night when Jesus was arrested, he was part of the guard sent to apprehend Him and take him before the Jewish court. Jesus was in a garden in the Kidron Valley where He was anguishing in prayer as His disciples slept nearby, unaware of the great suffering that was coming to Jesus. Judas Iscariot led the guards to the place of prayer, kissing Jesus on the cheek to signify which One the temple police were to arrest. Jesus asked, "Whom do you seek?"

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I AM He." And the soldiers fell down, weak-kneed and bewildered. The name of Jesus already more powerful than the enemy. He needed nothing more than the words from His mouth.

Peter woke up to what was going on about then. Hadn't he just promised to fight for...even die for...his Messiah? He couldn't fathom what was taking place. They couldn't arrest Jesus. He was going to be king. As the guards rushed on Him, Peter drew his sword. I meant what I said! Malchus was there. His hands holding the arms of Jesus behind His back. Pushing Messiah roughly forward. "No!" cried Peter, and sliced off the man's right ear.

Jesus saw. The blood gushing. Malchus grabbing his head and falling in pain to the ground. "Peter, put away the sword. I have to drink the cup my Father gave Me." And Peter, once again, didn't understand. It seemed to him he always got it wrong. "Put your sword back in its place, Peter," said Jesus. "All who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I couldn't appeal to my Father and He will at once send me more than seventy-two thousand angels?" It was then Jesus stooped down, picked up the blood soaked ear and put it back, whole and well, onto the head of Malchus.

The revelation of the new covenant that would in the next twenty-four hours be established by the crucifixion was foreshadowed by the healing of one of the very men who would lead Jesus to the cross. The Word become flesh, living among us, showing us that He is the sword, His words piercing deeply into our marrow. Sharp. Sharper than the soldier's blade that cuts only into our flesh. No longer the need to bleed out sheep and calves. No longer the need to war against the enemy with mere weapons made of steel. The Word of God took the ear of His enemy and healed him. Did Malchus lie there in a heap while the others led Jesus away? Did he thank Jesus? Did he break ranks? We don't know. And that isn't the point. How people react to the Word. The point is that it is powerful to restore what is lost, to seep deep down into our bones and change us from the inside out. Mercy triumphing over judgment as the weapons of our warfare are no longer sword and rife. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10).

With such power indwelling us, the believers in Christ, we don't have to resort to condemnation or judgment. We don't have to slice our opponent in half or seek some earthly vengeance. We are to walk about the earth while we are here with praise on our lips and the Word of God in our hearts. Ready to do battle with the true enemy of our souls and the souls of all who walk the planet with us. Satan has been conquered. Destroyed at the cross. We know this. We live as prisoners set free from the bondage that fetters those without Jesus. We must use the sword in thankful mercy toward those who need our same rescue! The condemned don't need more condemnation, they need deliverance, just like we did. We march into war to save them singing hallelujahs to the One Who conquered Satan, stripping him of all his authority. To the degree we have sharpened the sword, have taken the Word into our own spirits and hearts, to that degree we are fierce warriors for our God. We are in a battle, for sure. And we need to suit up.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

PSALM 149 - God Singing at the Top of His Lungs!

For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people. He adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly celebrate in triumphal glory; let them shout for joy on their beds.  (Verses 4-5)

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Jesus

Vanessa just received her newest CD in the mail this week. The culmination of years of writing and producing, praying and working, just to hold it in her hands and offer it to others. It's beautiful. The lyrics are poetry, the themes important and borne from experience: God is faithful and always on time, we are His Beloved, precious children, disappointment can't kill our hope. For others, the album shows just how talented Vanessa is, how gifted and godly. To Bill and me, it's just pure pleasure to hear our little VJ sing to our God. We've heard her since she could walk singing songs she made up or songs she heard in church or on the radio. Nuancing the melodies even then to make them her own. I close my eyes when she sings and relish her giftings and her choice to use them for her Father. I marvel that she is ours. That she is His. Absolutely overwhelmed with joy when her band brings her visions to life.

Will has been put in a tough situation lately. One in which he's had to wait on God and trust. That doesn't come easy for any of us, and Will is still young. Waiting isn't his M.O. (or mine). However, in this process, I have swelled with pride on several occasions. At first impatient and out of sorts, he chose to unload his frustration. Then one day in church he had a revelation that brought tears to his eyes and mine. "All I have really belongs to Him, anyway, Mom. I know I should have realized that sooner, probably, but I get it now." In his heart, Will got it. Knew his Father would be faithful and would do what is best at the proper time. My eyes still tear up when I think about that. So pleased with Will and his choices.

Heather has her own needs right now. Lots going on in her life. Two busy boys. Her own dog walking and dog treat business to oversee. Her time is limited and, given the constraints on her life, she would be justified in saying no to less important demands. She doesn't. That's what is so amazing about her. She goes out of her way to find places for people to live, to help them find a job, to offer transportation, to make dinner for friends or to care for other people's kids when they need help. She reaches out to hurting people to tell them about Jesus. Unashamed of her faith and unabashed in sharing it. Her desire to reach out makes me so proud of her. Her heart always toward Him. I know her day-to-day doesn't seem that important, but her willing, faithful heart challenges mine even now.

A man told me last night how blessed I am. Wondered at the outpouring of God on my life, especially when it comes to my family. I had to agree. We have our ups and downs like any other family, but my children are a constant source of joy and pleasure for Bill and me. We enjoy even the down times because they make us grow up together. Should it surprise us, then, that God is pleased inside His family? Loves being with His children even in the valleys? He triumphs with us in our victories and wanders with us through our mazes. Because our Father loves His kids, and the struggles we go through with Him binds us to our God.

Let that soak in today. I am. It's my Father's great pleasure to give me all that Jesus died that I should receive. The kingdom now, here, and later, there. It makes Him happy to bless my life, to pour out His grace on me! My Father smiles when I get it right and struggles with me when I get it wrong, but all is great joy for Him because I belong to His family. I can look up to see my God smile at me. Though he disciplines me when I get out of hand, even that is a sign of His pleasure. No one disciplines someone else's kid. My Father's delight is when I grow up to look at least somewhat like Him. To reflect His glory. It's an almost forgotten miracle that we are passionately, mercifully loved and complete in God. A thing we should remember when we fall asleep at night and when we awaken in the morning!

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One Who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

Can you hear it? Your Father singing at the top of His lungs His great joy in you?