**Very Visual Devotion
Devotions in Psalms
Psalm 3:3 - A Shield, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head
**Psalm 3:3 - More Than Our Shield
Psalm 8:4 - What Will You Do With Your Gift?
**Psalm 8:9 - Truly Making All Things New
**Psalm 11:3 - The Sure Foundation
Psalm 16:8 - What's Most Important to You?
**Psalm 18:2 - God Can Save Us
**Psalm 18:18 - A Balancing Act
Psalm 19:1 - Are You Listening?
**Psalm 19:8a - God's Laws Don't Change
**Psalm 26:2 - Prove, Try, Test (Holy Day Lesson - Days of Unleavened Bread)
Psalm 32:1-2 - How, Then, Shall We Live? (Holy Day Lesson - Countdown to Pentecost)
**Psalm 32:5 - Made Clean
Psalm 33:12 - Blessed!
**Psalm 34:3 - Magnify and Exalt
**Psalm 34:8 - Taste and See
Psalm 46:10 - Be Still and Know
Psalm 51:10 - A Clean Heart and a Right Spirit
**Psalm 56:3 - Trusting God
Psalm 62:5 - What are You Waiting For?
**Psalm 68:10b - Trees
Psalm 73:25 - Choices!
**Psalm 74:17 - Summer and Winter
**Psalm 77:11 - Thanking God
Psalm 78:52 - All We Like Sheep
Psalm 84:1 - How Lovely
**Psalm 85:10 - Acted Upon By an Outside Force
Psalm 86:11 - Taking the Fork in the Road
**Psalm 89:9 - The Raging of the Sea
**Psalm 90:12 - Counting for a Purpose (Holy Day Lesson - Countdown to Pentecost)
**Psalm 91:2 - Trusting in God
**Psalm 95:2 - Praise and Thanksgiving
Psalm 101:3 - Where Do You Set Your Eyes?
**Psalm 101:7 - Practicing Deceit
Psalm 103:15-16 - What Will Last?
**Psalm 105:2 - Sing to Him
**Psalm 111:7 - God's Laws Are Trustworthy
**Psalm 116:7 - Your Value
**Psalm 119:10 - My Whole Heart
**Psalm 119:37 - What Are You Looking At?
**Psalm 119:45 - Christ our Banner
**Psalm 119:71 - Follow the Directions
**Psalm 119:98 - Being a Productive Servant
Psalm 119:98-99 - Wise and Understanding
Psalm 119:165 - Stubbed Toes or Great Peace
Psalm 131:1 - Too Great and Too Marvelous
**Psalm 133:1 - Good and Pleasant
**Psalm 134:1-2 - Rejoice! (Holy Day Lesson - Tabernacles)
**Psalm 139:14 - Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Psalm 139:23-24 - The Way Everlasting
**Psalm 147:3 - Atonement (Holy Day Lesson - Atonement)
**Psalm 147:4 - God Knows My Name
**Psalm 147:5 - Great is our Lord
**Psalm 150:4 - Praise God Always
**Psalm 150:6 - Praise the Lord
A Shield, My Glory, and the Lifter of My Head
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3
English is a funny language. For instance, “lifter of my head” seems to be very similar to “lifter of my hair.” But the reality is: they are much different. Lifting someone’s hair meant someone was going to be scalped - which usually meant death to that individual. Whereas lifting your hair is a negative thing, lifting your head can be a very positive thing. It means to be encouraged. It means to be empowered and strengthened. It has the connotation of giving hope to the hopeless. (Psalm 27:5-6)
Another piece of this verse is “my glory.” What is glory? According to the dictionary, it’s “high renown or honor” usually because of some great feat. So we say things like, “He just wanted all the glory for himself.” In other words, that person wanted the recognition that he was something special because he’d been able to do something extraordinary. He wanted to pat himself on the back - and everyone else to pat him on the back too.
The next piece of this verse, as we’re working backwards, is the shield. Some of the most powerful pictures in my mind, when I think of “shield,” are the battle scenes in the Narnia movies. Those shields are not just dead weight. They are not just decoration. They serve a crucial role, a first line of defense when attacked by an enemy force. A shield is an indispensable tool when you know you’re going into battle.
I love that David used such vivid images to depict who God is to us - when we have a relationship with Him. For where do you get your shield? Do you rely on your own strength? Do you count on the craftsmanship of the “shield” you have constructed for your defense? Or do you rely on God to be your shield? Nothing could possibly penetrate the shield of the Almighty!
And where do you obtain glory? If you get honor through the things that you do, it counts for nothing. In less years that you would even imagine, the great things that you have done will be forgotten. So much for gaining glory. But the glory that is yours through a relationship with God is everlasting. Because you belong to Him, you are special; you have received His glory, which will never be tarnished or grow dim. Do you want high renown or honor or glory? Seek God first. Put His objectives and goals and agenda first in your life. Bring every thought into submission to Him. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up (1 Peter 5:6).
That brings us to “lifter of my head.” It’s so sad to see people who have no hope, who seek encouragement through material possessions only to find them meaningless in the end, or who are strengthened through drugs, alcohol, or the adulation of the people around them. Their heads are lifted up momentarily. Their encouragement is just a mirage. When God strengthens us and encourages us, we are filled with the courage and strength to accomplish His purpose in our lives.
The bottom line is this: If you have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ, then you have a shield that is impenetrable, a glory that will endure, and hope that will lift your head with courage for the days ahead. If you don’t have a relationship with God, then you have a shield that will fail, glory that will pass away, and you might want to hold onto your hair because that is seriously in danger of being the only thing on your head that will be lifted.
**More Than Our Shield
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3
Materials: poster board shields, small weaponry (like beans, paper wads, mini marshmallows)
When might you need a shield? If someone is attacking you, you could use your shield to defend yourself. Your shield could deflect marshmallows or beans or wads of paper. But what if you took a paper shield outside for protection during a snowball fight? How well do you think that would work? Or what if someone were shooting arrows or flaming arrows at you? A paper shield wouldn’t be too effective at that point! It wouldn’t be much protection from a sword or a bullet either! When you stop to think about it, there are a lot of things with which you could be attacked. A good shield, a strong shield, would be a good thing to have.
So let’s say that you are being bombarded behind your shield. What do you do? You duck behind the shield? You crouch down and hide as much as you can behind that shield. So then . . . . what do you do when the battle is over and your foe has been vanquished? You are the victor. So you come out from behind the shield with your head up. The battle is over. You are the winner.
That’s the imagery in Psalm 3:3: But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. God is our very strong shield. Is there anything that can harm us when God is our shield? No! Not a chance! God is the best protection that there is. Not only does He protect me, He also gives me the victory. He is my glory. (Psalm 62:7; Jeremiah 9:24) And because he gives me the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, He’s the One who lifts my head.
There are a couple of very interesting ideas to draw from this:
- You’re a soldier of the cross. You’re in the Lord’s army.
- Because you’re a soldier of the cross, you’re going to have to fight. You should expect some battles in your life as you serve God.
- God can protect you. He is sovereign. But you shouldn’t expect to receive honor if you’re not fighting for God. That is, if you’re not engaging the enemy under orders from your Lord, you shouldn’t expect His protection.
- Soldiers rarely win every battle. Sometimes you win some; sometimes you lose some. Your chances of winning are greatly diminished if you’re not following orders from your Commanding Officer. If you’re not fighting for God, you’re fighting against God - and that’s a losing proposition.
- We know the end of the story. God wins. So even if the battles in your life feel like defeats, even if you fight to the death (without seeing the victory), we know that God wins in the end. God’s kingdom will be established. As long as you are fighting on His side, you can rest assured that He will lift your head in His kingdom. You will see victory in His kingdom.
“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”
To not be fighting on God’s side is to be fighting a losing war, to be fighting with an inferior shield, to be assured of defeat. Our victory is in Christ!
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3
What Will You Do With Your Gift?
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the Son of man that you care for him?
Have you ever been given a gift so precious that you were grateful beyond words? You know that the giver has worked hours, or spent a large amount of money, to give you something that should be special to you, but also has special meaning to the giver. You are overwhelmed with gratitude and pleasure.
I can imagine David exclaiming in awe over the blessings God bestowed upon him and singing this psalm in praise, in worshipful recognition of God’s majesty.
The word “man” is “enosh” and means mankind, but one of its root is to be weak, so this word is frequently used to portrays man’s weakness or faulty nature.
The word “mindful” means to remember or reflect, to mention or proclaim, or to record or commemorate. Do you see the progression of the meaning of this word. The first level is simple remembrance. The second level is to talk about. That requires more than just bringing to mind. The third level is to write it down so that you will remember in a permanent manner.
So David is asking God why He takes notice of weak and faulty humans in such a long-term way!
David wanted to emphasize this thought, so he used a parallel phrase. The son of man is another way to say all humans. “Son” is “ben,” and just means son. “Man” is “adam” and means mankind collectively. The phrase “care for” is Strongs #6485 and conveys the idea of visiting, inspecting, viewing, numbering, looking after, caring for, but can also mean to appoint, to be charged with, to entrust, to make an overseer.
David is awestruck at the idea of the Creator entrusting mankind with His creation. God gave mankind dominion over all that He had made!
But it can also be taken in the sense of that precious gift we talked about earlier. What is the greatest gift that we’ve been given? God’s own Son! Hebrews 2:6-8 indicates that this psalm is Messianic. It’s telling of Jesus Christ being made a little lower than the angels, but that Jesus would be resurrected again to have all things put under his feet.
In light of that gift, it brings us right back to this verse. What is frail, weak man that God remembers him and gives all mankind (all who have sinned) such an incredible gift? John 17:23 reminds us that God loves us enough to give us His Son and eternal life through Him.
How much does this gift mean to you? And what will you do with it - seeing it’s entrusted to your care?
**Truly Making All Things New
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9
Materials: Pez dispenser and candy
Have you ever seen a Pez dispenser? The dispenser top is usually some animal. I have a Winnie the Pooh and a duckling Pez dispenser. But they come in all sorts of tops. When the head is pushed back, the dispenser lifts one piece of candy and pushes it forward so that it is easily obtainable. It’s an ingenious gimmick to sell sugar candy. Kids are enthralled with the idea that you can get a piece of candy and then it’s “miraculously” replaced. Honestly, there are any number of things where adults would like to see that phenomenon applied.
Maybe that’s why we like spring so much. Every year daffodils spring out of the ground, sometimes in places we’d forgotten they were the previous year. Trees bloom. Lilac bushes that were just a mass of dead-looking twigs are again a fragrant bouquet. And even adults feel that childlike wonder when the row of radishes pops its head up. “Yea! I’ve got little baby radishes!!” Where everything was seemingly dead and colorless, everything is made new and fresh again.
However! Everything really wasn’t dead; it was just dormant. If it was really dead, spring would not bring it back to life. Dead is dead. And that’s how it works with people too - whether we’re talking about physically or spiritually. When we die physically in this life, we are dead. And when we are dead spiritually in our sins, we cannot make the choice to come to life again. Dead is dead. We need the Giver of Life. We need Jesus Christ.
Praise our God who calls us and draws us to Himself (John 6:44)! When we have a relationship with God the Father through Jesus, we are spiritually alive; we’ve been made new. Plus, we have the assurance of eternal life - being raised from the dead at Jesus’ return and living forever with Him.
During the springtime, we rejoice at the sight of new life. Imagine the rejoicing when God’s people are raised out of their graves to eternal life.
We are enthralled with a simple candy dispenser that gives us a new piece of candy every time we push back the head or the miracles of spring. As C.S. Lewis noted, we are too easily contented to sit in dirt and play in the mud. We need to set our minds on things above, on eternal life and God making all things new.
**The Sure Foundation
if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3
Materials: 8 sugar cubes (or bouillon cubes); 4 one-inch pieces of candle; 4 marbles; 4 square, flat rocks, 3 -4 books
Whenever you build something (a bridge, a road, a building), if you want it to last, you have to make sure you have a solid foundation on which to build. So obviously, we know that we can’t build on sand; it shifts and moves easily. It’s not a good foundation. So what is a good foundation?
*Could we use sugar cubes? They’re square and solid. No. At the first sign of water, they’d melt away.
*Could we use candle stubs? They’re solid and wouldn’t be affected by water. But they don’t stand up under fire very well.
*Could we use marbles? They’re solid. They don’t melt when exposed to water or to fire. But at the first sign of wind or earthquake, they would be all over the place.
We need a solid rock upon which to build.
We’re not just talking about building bridges, roads, or buildings, are we? We’re talking about what you build your life upon?
*Sometimes people try to build their lives on something that tastes good (like the sugar). It makes them happy at the time. But when the flood comes (like a flood of adversity), their lives crumble. You can’t build your life on something just because it seems good at the time.
*Sometimes people try to build their lives on something more solid - maybe something that people around them think is good. But God says He’ll purify everyone’s work with fire. And the things that society thinks are foundational are not going to survive the fire any more than the candle does.
*Sometimes people try to build their lives on something they think is rock solid - maybe they believe it has reason, common sense, or science behind it. But if it doesn’t agree with Godly principles, then there is something drastically wrong with it. Pseudoscience, secular humanism, relativism - all of those religions that people substitute for the way God wants us to live, all of these are a foundation that will not last.
You know that you have to build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ, one the laws of God, and on a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Society, Satan, and our carnal nature doesn’t like that foundation. And we see our society trying to force God and Christians out of the world. That’s what Psalm 11:3 is talking about: the time when society is so ungodly that those who truly love God and follow His ways are persecuted. What do we do?
Psalm 11:4 tells us that God is watching from His throne. He knows what’s going on. He expects us to continue to seek Him, to do what is right, to fight the good fight, to persevere. Don’t give in to the pressure around us to build your life on something that won’t last. Build your life, every choice you make, to the best of your ability, on what pleases God.
What’s Most Important to You?
I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
What toy is most important to you?
What possession do you value more than any other?
What person means more to you than anyone else?
What place is most important to you?
What is the most important thing in your life?
Most times, what’s most important to you is very obvious to others in the way you live, what you spend your money and time on, and what you think and talk about.
In this verse, the psalmist says that God is His priority. God is always, continually, perpetually, constantly before Him. Forevermore. God’s not first just on Sabbath. God’s not first just during church. God’s not first just when you need something. God is first - period.
The phrase “at my right hand” also means first choice. Because most people are right handed, it’s what you reach for first. And when seating a person to show honor, you seat them at your right hand. To be at your right hand is to give them prominence, the place of honor, to choose them first.
The thing is: It’s not natural to us to put God first. We serve ourselves, our desires and needs, our goals. But to the Christian, the goal is God, His kingdom, His ways. It’s like climbing a high, dangerous mountain. If you don’t keep your eyes on the goal, you’ll never make it to the summit.
This verse from Psalm 16:8 is quoted in Acts 2:25-28 - in reference to Jesus Christ. But I know that Jesus Christ put God the Father first - always. And in this world’s definition, Jesus was definitely shaken. He was tortured, He was rejected, He was spit upon, and He was crucified - a horrible, shameful way to die. So how can this verse be true? How could Jesus, who kept God first in His life, end up going through all of the suffering He endured?
The goal is not this world. The goal is the Kingdom of God. That’s a good thing to remember for the Christian, because if Jesus is our Captain, then we’re likely to endure some very hard things in our lives. If He was called to suffer, then why would God exempt suffering from our lives? Christianity does not mean this life becomes a bed of roses. The road is not easy and level. The sailing is not smooth. There are going to be some storms in your life. As you’re climbing that mountain, you’re going to experience a few earthquakes.
But keep your eyes on the goal. Regardless of what happens to you in this life, live your life pleasing to God. Make sure He’s the most important part of your life. Make sure that all your thoughts, deeds, and words are pleasing to Him. Keep God always before you. Make sure He’s at your right hand. I want you to reach the summit!
**God Keeps Us Safe
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. . . Psalm 18:2
Materials: jar, water, unpeeled orange
What does the psalmist mean when he says that God is my rock? God is solid. He never changes. You can trust Him completely. He is the sure foundation. Like the foundation you build your house on so that it won’t fall down, God is completely dependable.
What does the psalmist mean when he says that God is my deliverer? God can rescue us from any difficulty. He is our Savior. Like a life guard who rescues a drowning person, Jesus saves us from our sin and can save us from bad situations, even when we don’t know we’re about to encounter one.
But what is a fortress? And what does it mean that God is my fortress? A fortress was a wall of protection - protection from enemies, bad weather, high winds, wild animals. A fortress was a place of protection and security. We have lots of physical examples of protection: band-aids protect us from getting dirt in our cuts; gloves protect our hands from something that would cut or burn them - or protect them from the cold; sunscreen protects us from getting a sunburn. But have you ever thought about how an orange shows protection?
An amazing thing happens when you place an orange, unpeeled, into a jar of water. It floats! Maybe you don’t think that’s amazing. But consider what happens when you peel it. Now the same orange sinks.
Have you ever found yourself being overwhelmed by a flood of difficulties and problems? Does it seem like you’ve a choice of sinking or swimming and you feel like you’re going to sink like a rock?
If you belong to God, if you love Him with all of your heart and if you diligently seek Him, He has promised that He’ll never leave you (Hebrews 13:5). He has promised that He won’t give you more than you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is sovereign. He is mighty to save. He is our rock and our fortress and our deliverer.
Does that mean that we won’t ever experience troubles? No. The orange was in the water. The orange, then, symbolically, was in a life-threatening situation. But God can save us. God can keep us safe in the midst of a whelming flood!
You can trust Him. He is good all the time.
modified from: http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.com/search/label/God%20keeps%20us%20safe
**A Balancing Act
They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. Psalm 18:18
Materials needed: ruler or yardstick
Have you ever seen a balancing act on the high wire? Here’s this little tiny wire that a person is confidently walking across - often carrying a long pole for balance. Yes, there’s a safety net (usually) in case he falls, but most of the time, he successfully walks across the wire. But there have been aerialists who have performed without a net, crossing the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls gorge.
On June 23, 2013, 34-year-old aerialist Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk a high wire across the Little Colorado River Gorge near Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
On June 30, 1859, Jean Francois Gravelet, a Frenchman known professionally as Charles Blondin, became the first daredevil to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The feat, which was performed 160 feet above the Niagara gorge just down river from the Falls, was witnessed by some 5,000 spectators. Wearing pink tights and a yellow tunic, Blondin crossed a cable about two inches in diameter and 1,100-feet long with only a balancing pole to protect him from plunging into the dangerous rapids below.
I don’t understand the daredevils who take the risks just because. It seems to me that there’s enough trouble in life without going to look for some more. Indeed, life often feels like a balancing act on the high wire, with disaster on either side if you fall. So how do you keep your balance?
Take a ruler or a yardstick. Put your index fingers out horizontally and place the yardstick on top. Gradually move your fingers together, keeping the yardstick from falling off. When your fingers finally come together, where are they in relation to the yardstick? They’re right in the middle.
This makes me think of two scriptures: the first is Matthew 7:14 (NIV) But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. The way to eternal life in God’s kingdom is a narrow road - kind of like the balancing wire. It’s very easy to get off the road and lose your way - if you’re depending upon yourself.
That makes me think of today’s memory verse, Psalm 18:18 (ESV): They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. There is calamity, disaster, and trouble confronting us. And it does feel like we’re walking that narrow wire, way, or road. But if we belong to God, He is our support. He is our fortress and high tower. He guides our steps and directs our path. There may be trouble all around, and I’m certainly not going to go looking for more, but I don’t have to be fearful either. God’s got this. He is my support.
Are You Listening?
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1
Listen. Seriously. Close your eyes and just listen for a minute. (Do it!!) What do you hear? When you pay attention to the noises around you, it’s amazing how much noise there is - most of which you just normally ignore.
But we’re not much better with our other senses. Think about someone around you right now. Don’t look at them. What color shirt are they wearing?
There is a pandemic of non-attentiveness in our world today and it’s getting worse. In our family, there has been a running joke about Mom rearranging things and Dad not noticing. But it happens to us all. Think about it. Have you ever been riding with someone and they miss their exit because they were so busy talking to the passengers? Have you ever known anyone who drove right through a stop sign? They saw the sign; it just didn’t penetrate the conscious thought processes enough to engage a different action. I know that for people who drive the same long route repeatedly, they can start thinking about something and then suddenly shake themselves and think, “Wow! How did I get here? I don’t remember passing [whatever landmark comes to mind].”
But the inattentiveness has deeper consequences. For instance, not only can you not think of what the last song was that we sang in the song service, but when we were singing it, you likely were singing the words without listening to yourself. You heard the words with half your brain, so to speak, and their message didn’t make it into your brain at all.
There are books designed to help you become more visually attentive - the hidden treasure books. But the reality is that life around, the heavens, and even the sky above is much more complex than even the hidden treasure books. That’s part of the message of Psalm 19:1 - The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. We know that all of creation reflects how great our God is, how mighty He is, how fantastically awesome He is. His creative abilities are so expansive! He doesn’t sit down at a drawing board and try to figure out how to design a hummingbird or a blue whale. He speaks it into creation - and it’s good, very good, the first time. It’s not that He just gets the big details worked out and figures the little details will fall into place. The work “handiwork” in this verse means “fingerwork;” that is, the smallest details are not left to chance. God purposely attended to every detail. From galaxies to atoms, God designed them all.
But we humans blithely bumble through our lives and we don’t pay attention. We’re like Alec in The Phantom Tollbooth; we’d rather live in Illusions (what we’ve made up in our imagination) than in Reality. So we miss what all of creation around us is telling us about our great God.
But it’s really even more than just our inattentiveness. It’s more than the vast complexity laid out before us. It’s that we don’t know what we’re seeing. When my college choir went on tour to Switzerland my senior year, it was fun to stop at a McDonalds in Lucerne, Switzerland and see how something familiar could be so different in a foreign country. One of the freshman came back to the hotel, elated that he’d learned his first French word on the trip; he’d learned the word for “trash.” He knew it was the French word for trash because it was printed on the trash can in McDonalds. We laughed at him. The word was “merci.” Because it had been printed on the trash can, he assumed it meant “trash” instead of “thank you.” On a much grander scale, we can look at creation, at the heavens, and the sky above and completely not understand what they are saying to us about who God is, His greatness and majesty. We need a teacher, the Teacher, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to make it clear to us.
We can spend our whole lives studying what creation tells us about God and still not have even scratched the surface of who God is and how great He is. But it would help if we’d start being a little more attentive today to the environment around us. We’d be easier to teach if we’d pay attention.
God’s Laws Don’t Change
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; Psalm 19:8a
Materials: syrup, oil, water, jar
There’s something very comforting in knowing that God’s laws don’t change. You can rest assured that when we walk down the stairs, gravity will make sure that you’re going down, not up. When you throw the ball for your dog, the ball flies the direction you throw it; it doesn’t curve around and bop you on the head like a boomerang. You know that the friction between your feet and the floor keeps you from sliding all over the place. And you take a breath of air throughout the day without worrying if the oxygen is suddenly going to become lighter than hydrogen and float up out of your breathing space. It all sounds so silly to talk about the natural laws of God, as if they were not constant.
But because God’s laws are constant, we can be fairly certain of some basic things. For instance, every fluid has a specific density - that is, the closeness of the atoms within the liquid.
If I pour water, oil, and syrup into a jar, I know that the oil will rise to the top, the syrup will sink to the bottom, and the water will separate the two. I can show you this because God’s natural laws are constant. They don’t change. We believe that to the point that we go forward with confidence, believing that God’s laws aren’t going to surprise us.
In reality, all of God’s laws are constant - the natural law and the moral law. If you murdered someone yesterday, that’s wrong. If you murder someone tomorrow, it’s still wrong. If you lied last week, that’s wrong. If you lie next week, it’s still wrong. God’s laws don’t change. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus told his listeners that as long as heaven and earth exist, so will the laws of God. The last time I checked, the heavens and the earth are still here. God’s laws are still here. We can depend on them.
Furthermore, we can know what God’s laws are. He wrote them down. And since they don’t change from day to day, or year to year, or century to century, we know God expects us to obey His laws - all of them.
***Prove, Try, and Test
Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. Psalm 26:2
Materials: lemon, lemonade, cups, iron, kite tail, string
Let’s say I have a string. It’s a fairly strong string and I think I can use it to fly my kite. But I might want to prove that it’s strong enough to use before I attach my kite to it. Otherwise, my kite might end up in the tree. So I’m going to tug and pull on that string, proving it is kite-flying worthy.
Let’s say I want to attach a tail to my kite, and I want it to look sharp. So I’m going to iron it. I can’t iron it until the iron is hot. How do I know when the iron is ready to be used? I have to test it. You have to be careful because when it is hot, it will burn your fingers. But if you lick your fingers and quickly touch the iron, you’ll know when it’s hot enough!!
And let’s say that I know that kite flying will make me thirsty. So I’m making some lemonade. But I want to know if I’ve put enough sugar in the lemonade. What do I have to do? I have to try it. Yum. That’s so good I’m not sure I want to go fly my kite. I think I’ll just sit here and drink my lemonade.
Perhaps you’re thinking that proving the string is the same thing as testing it or trying it out. Maybe you’re thinking that testing the iron’s readiness is the same thing as proving that it’s ready or trying it on the tail. I suppose you’re thinking that trying the lemonade is the same thing as testing it or proving that it is sweet enough. Well, you’re right. When you look up the Hebrew words they are all synonyms meaning to try, to test, to examine, to prove, to inspect, to evaluate.
It is interesting that this is a psalm of David, a man after God’s own heart. David is asking God to prove that he is fully devoted and committed to God. He wants God to test that he is ready for service, and he wants God to try him, to verify that he (David) has done what he is affirming. That’s quite a request to make of God!!
Would you make that request of God - asking Him to try you, to examine your ways, to prove your heart is solely devoted to Him?
It’s a powerful thing to consider. We just celebrated the Passover, the commemoration of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. We eat the bread and drink the wine not only as a reminder of what Jesus was willing to do on our behalf, but also a reaffirmation of our relationship with Jesus as our Savior. And just as Jesus was willing to be completely obedient to the Father, to be solely devoted to God, even to death on the cross, we are to be conformed to His image, willing to be completely obedient to the Father in all things.
Over the next seven days, we are daily eating unleavened bread. It’s a reminder of the changing power of taking Christ into us that we might be changed, fully, completely, unwaveringly into His image. Then we, like David, might have the confidence to ask God to try us, to prove us, to test us.
How, then, shall we live?
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Psalm 32:1-2
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.
Those three phrases are very straight-forward. The words mean exactly what you would expect them to mean. Transgression and sin and iniquity are all words conveying offenses, wrongs, wickedness, misdeeds, breaking of God’s law. The word counts is a legal term or an accounting term, like keeping track of money. Forgiven and covered are words which both mean taken away, lifted up, canceled out.
These three phrases are exactly what we memorialize in the observance of Passover, the Night to Be Much Observed, and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Jesus Christ was tortured and crucified for us, for our sins. He was lifted up that the penalty for our transgressions would be canceled out. He stood in our stead, instead of us, that we could have the accounting sheet balanced before God.
So what’s this next phrase doing in these verses: and in whose spirit there is no deceit. The word spirit is the Hebrew word ruach and means, in this context, the mode of thinking and action. In other words, it’s everything we think, say, and do. Blessed is the one who is honest all the time.
Uh oh. We’re in trouble here. Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all things.” That’s 180º from David’s statement in Psalm 51:6: “You delight in truth in the inward being . . .”
The first three phrases are a work of God through Jesus Christ. But this fourth phrase tells us that we can’t stop there. 1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
What promises is he taking about? In the end of 2 Corinthians 6, he’s talking about that covenant relationship we have with God - because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. So - since Jesus has died for us, we need to live in a way that reflects, not only our gratitude, but the change that has been accomplished in our heart.
And here we are back at heart again. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” God’s going to work with us, as we travel with Him, to create a clean heart, to renew a right spirit within us. But we have to walk with Him. We have to choose His ways. We have to seek Him daily.
I don’t think it’s an accident that God started the countdown to Pentecost within the Days of Unleavened Bread. We’ve just been taken out of sin - delivered from the bondage of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Now what? We need to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So we count the days to Pentecost. Each day is a gift from God, and they can be used to their full potential, or they can be wasted.
How are you going to live your life as a result of what God has done for you?
. . .I did not cover my iniquity . . . Psalm 32:5
Materials: dirty pennies, vinegar, salt, paper towels
God tells us that He’ll remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
God tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ will pay for our sins (1 Corinthians 6:20; Hebrews 9:12-14).
God tells us that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
There’s one thing we have to do first. We have to recognize that we have sinned. Just like these pennies are dirty, we have to realize that we are unclean because of our sins. These pennies can’t clean themselves up. And we can’t make ourselves clean either. We can make better choices. We can become better people. But we know that all our good stuff is still as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6).
So we need God to make us clean. Just like the pennies need the vinegar and salt to cleanse them, we need the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
But there’s one more thing. If we don’t intentionally put these pennies into the solution, they’re not going to be cleaned. How do the pennies make it from your hand into the solution? You have to ask the one who holds the solution to put the penny in to clean it up. In the same way, if we don’t ask for God to forgive us, He won’t. You have to ask for forgiveness. You have to ask to be cleansed by God.
What’s the opposite of asking to be cleansed? It’s trying to hide your sinfulness from God. It’s refusing to see that you have anything to be sorry for. It’s failing to see that your sins are making you dirty and are separating you from God.
Think about these pennies. If I have a dirty, dingy penny and a bright, shiny penny, which one would you rather have? The bright one, of course. It’s the same way in our lives. If we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, then we become useful to Him in attracting other people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then! Our lives glorify God - and that’s the whole purpose of our existence!
Don’t cover your sinfulness! Repent! Ask for forgiveness! Get cleaned up!!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! Psalm 33:12
When you think of God, our God, the God of the Bible, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jehovah, what comes to mind? Do you think of creation? Do you think of flinging the stars to the far most corners of the night? Do you think of the platypus or the giraffe? Perhaps you think of a specific Bible story which displays God’s powers: Jonah in the belly of the great fish, Daniel in the lions’ den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, David and Goliath, Noah’s ark, or Elijah on Mount Carmel. The Bible is full of history of God’s interaction with His people and His incredible power and majesty! I particularly like 1 Kings 18:20-40: Elijah’s confrontation of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Elijah says to all the people, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18: 21). There was no doubt in the people’s minds who was God after “the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). The people’s response? They fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”
Is this the God you believe in? Do you believe that He exists and works in the lives of people? Do you believe that He created everything around us? If you do, then this is an incredible blessing that is not given to all people. John 6:44 says that we don’t come to God on our own; He draws us. Psalm 33:12 says that God is the One Who does the choosing. Our carnal mind is enmity towards God (Romans 8:7); we won’t choose God. It’s an act of God which brings us into a relationship with Him.
But God doesn’t just choose individuals. The Old Testament is the story of God’s interaction with one man, Abraham, who became a great nation. Because of the promise God made to Abraham, He saved Israel from Egypt. God brought them out of slavery and oppression to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But it wasn’t because they were such a great people. Deuteronomy 9:6 says, “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” Israel’s rebellion and unbelief in Jehovah amazes us as we read the stories today! We wonder how anyone could see the ten plagues in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna, and the water in the desert, and still continue to not be wholly devoted to God.
But the reality is that human beings, fallen, carnal humans are unwilling and unable to serve God wholeheartedly. So God made another way. He sent His Son to die for those who would believe. Jesus’ coming made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, and to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, changing us into new creatures. God chose us to follow Him. When we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, and go under the waters of baptism, we now have the power, through the Holy Spirit, to choose to follow God with all of our hearts. We are so incredibly blessed!
Sometimes we are hesitant to talk about the great things that God has done for us. Sometimes we think that perhaps it’s going to sound like we’re exalting ourselves, that it will sound like we’re saying we’re really important so this is why God has done this for us. Sometimes we think that it’s not really provable; people will just think we’re making it up. But there are events which have happened in the lives of believers which cannot be explained any other way: God is actively working in the lives of those whom He has chosen. And we are incredibly blessed because of it!
Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” I like these verses. I like the assurance of knowing that even if I have difficulties and troubles in this life, God will not let me be as hurt as I would have been if He hadn’t been holding my hand. We see God’s people in difficulties all around us. We know that just being baptized is not a guarantee of a carefree, pain-free life. But we can’t let the trials and tribulations we experience cause us to forget that we are so blessed. We can’t let the pain and trouble cause us to doubt that God is with us through it all, upholding us with His hand. We can’t forget that we serve God, the Creator of the Universe, the One who can do anything - and that we are so very blessed to be God’s heritage, His possession, to belong to Him. I like how Jonah warns us from the belly of the great fish: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (NIV).
**Magnify and Exalt!!
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Psalm 34:3
Materials: mirror, several little magnifying glasses, flashlight
There’s a song that goes, “Oh, magnify, oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!!” Maybe you’ve even sung that song. But have you stopped to think what it means to magnify the Lord or what it means to exalt His name?
You’ve seen a magnifying glass. They are wonderful for making things bigger so you can see them better! Perhaps you’ve used one when you were looking at a bug. Or maybe your mom used one when she was trying to dig a splinter out of your finger. But is that what we’re supposed to do when we magnify the Lord? Are we supposed to make Him bigger? It’s not like making the bug or the splinter bigger, but magnifying God makes it easier for others to see Him. How would we make it easier for other people to see God? Maybe that’s where “exalt” comes in.
Exalt means to lift up. So if I pick up your little brother, am I exalting him? No. Exalting doesn’t necessarily mean to lift up in a physical sense. That is, I’m not exalting the cookies when I hide them in a cupboard where the kids can’t reach them (although that doesn’t work anymore because my boys are taller than I am now). It’s not putting something up in a high place that exalts it. Exalting has the idea of praise and honor. It’s the idea in the song, “Lord, I lift your name on high.” We’re not just putting God’s name up close to the ceiling; we are praising Him and honoring Him.
So how do you magnify God or exalt his name? You can
- tell of his wonderful deeds. Talk to other people about the great things that God has done in your life. If you don’t know what God has done for you, ask your mom. She’ll have a whole list!
- sing songs of praise to God! When you sing songs of praise, you are joyfully telling how great our God is.
- give Him thanks. Psalm 69:30 says, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.” When you thank God, you are giving Him the credit and honor and glory for what you have been given and the good things that have happened, and are happening, to you!
- magnify God in your actions. When you choose to obey God’s commandments, you are telling the whole world that God is greater than you. You are magnifying Him and exalting His name to everyone around you.
Sometimes people think that they are merely supposed to be reflections of God’s love. It’s like shining a flashlight in a mirror. It shows back God’s glory and power and love. But what if we’re not only supposed to reflect God’s glory and love and majesty to everyone around us; what if we’re supposed to magnify God’s glory and love and majessty so they can see God better; what if we’re supposed to magnify Him through our words, our songs, our thanksgiving, and our actions.
There’s one other really important part of this verse. We’re not supposed to magnify God and exalt His name by ourselves. Listen to it again: Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
“Magnify the LORD with me and let us exalt His name together!!
When we tell of what God has done, when we sing songs together, when we give thanks to God as a group, and when we all work together in our actions, we have a much bigger impact than when we’re just one person by ourselves. It’s like several magnifying glasses all working together. The big word is synergism and it means that together we make more of an impact - a stronger witness - than the impact we each make on our own by ourselves.
So are you ready? Oh magnify, oh magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!!
**Taste and See
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
Materials: a variety of things to taste - cookies, juice, applesauce
Imagine you had a whole display of yummy-looking food items spread out before you. What would you do? You’d taste them, of course. Your mouth would start watering at the thought of how good they look. Your tummy might start rumbling, signaling its approval of sampling the culinary delights. Your eyes would quickly assess which of your choices you’d select first.
But. Just because all of these things look good doesn’t mean that you will particularly like how they taste. My older brother, for example, made a delectable-looking lemon meringue pie one time. But he misread the recipe and used 1/4 cup of salt in the meringue, instead of sugar. We couldn’t eat it, no matter how good it looked.
In the above scenario, you’re tasting to see if the food is good. But that’s not what Psalm 34:8 says. It says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” The emphasis changes completely when you substitute “if” and “that.” The psalmist isn’t telling you to taste and see if you think God is good. The psalmist is flat-out telling you that God is good - statement of fact. Then he emphasizes this fact by stating, “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Good things happen when you trust in our good God.
So you might ask, “How is God good? What makes Him good?” Here’s God’s description of Himself: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6) This description is repeated by David in Psalm 86:15 and Psalm 103:8; by Nehemiah in 9:17; and by Joel in 2:13. The LORD - Jehovah - the I AM - the Cause without a cause, the self-existent One - the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - He is full of mercy; He is full of grace; He is so patient with us; He loves us so much that He was willing to die for our sins while we were still sinners; and He is faithful. This is the God who created us and redeemed us from our sin. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. This is how He was to David, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and this is how He is to us today. God doesn’t change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). God is good all the time.
You might taste different foods to see if they are good. But when you have a relationship with God and come to know Him, you’ll find out that He is good - all the time.
Be Still and Know
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10
Where else do you hear these words: be still? They remind me of the time when Jesus was asleep in the bottom of the boat during a storm. His disciples awake him, asking him, “Don’t you care if we perish?” Jesus absolutely astounded them when he spoke to the wind and the waves and told them, “Peace, be still.” This whole story is in Mark 4. It’s well worth reading, if you haven’t read it for awhile.
Why didn’t the disciples already know that Jesus could command the wind and the waves? Why didn’t they trust Him to keep them safe?
Be still. It reminds me of a little child who trustingly, excitedly, but a little bit of trepidation, walks to the end of the diving board while his dad waits, treading water below him in the pool. When Dad says, “O.K. son, jump,” the little guy doesn’t hesitate. He jumps. He believes his dad will catch him. He will be safe because he trusts his dad.
We need to trust God in the very same way. God is Sovereign. He has the power to rescue us, no matter what! But, as adults, we know that God doesn’t always rescue us. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it isn’t His plan. But that doesn’t give us an excuse to distrust God. No! In fact, our goal should be like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo. They told King Nebuchadnezzar that they knew God could save them from the fiery furnace, but even if He didn’t, there was no way they would bow down and worship the golden image! That’s the kind of faith we should have - the faith to follow God regardless of earthquakes or floods or any of the various storms of life.
As we learn to trust God, we praise His name for His goodness and involvement in our lives. We sing praises! But it’s easy to sing the songs, giving lip service, but not exalting Him from our heart. How do we exalt God from our heart in our lives?
When my little sister was three years old, Mom took a picture of her one day. She was sitting in her little rocking chair, with her feet up on another chair, reading one of Mom’s magazines - a very good imitation of Mom’s actions, except the magazine was upside-down! Nevertheless, Mom was so pleased that my sister would imitate her.
Just as Mom was pleased at the imitation, so is God pleased when our actions imitate Him. But it’s not a list of do’s and don’t’s. It’s a conformity to His will. The faith in God produces actions and words which exhibit the faith within our hearts.
So, how are you doing at exalting God in your life? Are you worshiping Him each Sabbath? Are you keeping His commands? But remember: the goal isn’t the form, it’s the heart. Your words and deeds must exalt God from your heart because you love Him. If you’re not doing that so well, maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning: Be still, and know that He is God.
A Clean Heart and a Right Spirit
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
How do you clean? Well, first you gather your cleaning tools together: Comet, Windex, Lysol, lemon juice, baking soda, soap, a scrubbing pad, a cloth, water, a bucket, or maybe a broom. The list goes on and on. Different dirt responds better to different cleansers. Sometimes, though, the stain is so bad, you decide it’s better to just cover it up. That’s when you paint over the walls, recover the chair, put down new linoleum.
But what do you do when your heart is dirty, when it’s unclean? You can’t really use one of these cleansers because we’re not talking about the heart being physically dirty. We’re talking about a person who has not been faithful to God’s ways, who, in a word, has sinned and who is a sinner. Many people try to clean up the heart by changing their behavior. That’s kind of like painting over a pile of dog poop. It might look nice on the outside, but inside, it’s still dog poop. Nothing has changed. It has just been covered over. So what do you do to clean up the heart?
You can’t. But thankfully God doesn’t want a cleaned up heart. He wants a new heart. Why does it have to be a new heart? Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” It can’t be just cleaned up; it needs to be new. David knew that. Look at how he starts Psalm 51:10: Create. This is the word that is used over and over in the Genesis account of the Creation. This is not recreating a clean heart. This is God giving a brand-new, clean heart. Ezekiel records God telling His people that He would give them a new heart (Ezekiel 35:25). How does He do that?
The word “create” means to make new, to make brand new, but it also involves the idea of cutting. Immediately we think of circumcision and God telling His people (Jeremiah 4:4) to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts. It wasn’t enough to just go through the motions outwardly of worshiping God; they had to change inwardly too (Romans 2:9). Their hearts were cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9), and that faith was a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8); God is the One who drew them to Himself (John 6:44).
When we put all of this together, the verse in Acts 2:37 makes a lot of sense. Think of the people who were standing, listening to Peter on the Day of Pentecost. When he told them that they had crucified the Son of God, they were cut to the heart. Remember that the word “create” has the connotation of cutting? God was creating a new heart within those people through the hearing of the word (Romans 10:14-17).
So, guess what “renew” means? It means to make new, but it also incorporates the idea of cutting. And what else did God say that He would give His people in Ezekiel 36:26 besides a new heart? Yes, a new spirit. So Psalm 51:10 is employing a Hebrew literary technique, the couplet, in which the first phrase and second phrase are mirror images of each other to help the reader gain a more complete understanding of the meaning.
This idea of making something new by cutting has passed into our language, our idiomatic expressions, as well. Think of term “cutting a contract” or the phrase “cut a deal.” It is a new contract, a new deal.
We, like David, desperately need a clean heart and a right spirit. So God “cuts a deal” with us. He gives us the faith to believe in the word that we hear spoken about His Son, who is our Savior. When we accept that contract to be His people, and for Him to be our God, we are given a clean heart and a right spirit. It’s an amazing gift from our God - and it’s even more amazing that God often chooses to begin that process through the hearing of the word (Romans 10:14-17). David knew that too. In Psalm 51:13 he says that when God creates that clean heart within him, restoring unto him the joy of his salvation, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” God works through the words that are spoken to others. We have to talk about who God is and what He has done in our lives. Maybe a good place to start is how he has created in us a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within us.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56: 3
Materials: water, a cup, card stock, transparency film, plastic lid, wash basin, towels
What would you say if I offered to turn a full cup of water upside down over your head? Maybe if you were outside, on a hot summer day, you might say yes. But otherwise, you’re likely to turn me down. Would you trust me if I said I could keep you from getting wet?
What if I offered to turn the full cup of water upside down over your head with a piece of card stock over the cup? Would that make any difference? Would you trust me then? Or do you think you’d get wet?
The interesting thing is that the atmospheric force overcomes the gravitational pull, keeping the water inside the cup - at least until the paper becomes soaked and allows air into the cup. Once air can rush in, the water will rush out all over your head.
So maybe we should use a piece of plastic. Would a piece of transparency film keep you from getting wet? It wouldn’t get soaked like the card stock. But surprisingly, it doesn’t work well at all. It looks like it would work, but it’s too flexible.
Another option, then, might be a plastic lid. If I filled the cup with water, put a plastic lid over it, and turned it upside down, would you trust me to put it over your head? Would you believe me if I said you wouldn’t get wet?
There are so many times in our lives when we’re afraid something bad is going to happen to us. In the analogy with the cup of water, we know we’re going to get wet. So we look around for something that can prevent the bad thing from happening. We might look to family or friends. We may look for an organization or the government. But even if they mean well, all of these people and organization are not perfect. They can still fail at times (or all the time).
The only One you can trust to make everything work out for your good is God. Does that mean that nothing bad will ever happen to you? No, sometimes God does allow us to suffer. But when we trust in Him, we know it’s all going to work out for our good in the end. That means we trust that He’s working in all the good and all the bad in our lives to make sure that we are in His kingdom with Him. So in our analogy, the water falling on your head would be analogous to you not being in God’s kingdom. You can trust God that, if you love Him and belong to Him, He will work out all things for your good.
What are You Waiting For?
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5
What are you waiting for? School to be out. The garden to start producing tomatoes. The pool to be ready to swim in.
How do you wait? Most of us wait noisily. “When are we going to be there?” “Are you almost done?” “Can we go now?” We do not wait quietly, patiently. We want what we want NOW!
The word “wait” is #1826 damam (daw-mam’). It means to be dumb, by implication to be astonished, to stop. It also means to perish, cease, be cut down, forbear, hold peace, quiet self, rest, wait, be silent, keep silence, stand or be still, tarry. So the psalmist says that we are to wait, quietly, for God alone.
Does that means it’s wrong to wait for school to be out or for the garden to grow tomatoes to eat? No. But it means that we can’t focus on what the world would tell us should be out goal. We don’t wait until we have a great paying job and an expensive car. Those aren’t what we’re waiting for; they’re not our primary goals in life. Our mindset is not one of achieving success as this world defines success. Our mindset is that we’re waiting for God. It’s very much like how the dogs wait for us to go for a walk each day. They could easily walk around the pond four times. But they wait for us, because they want to go with us. Similarly, we should want to go with God - wherever He leads us.
It’s also a matter of waiting for God when we see injustice. The wicked don’t always get their due reward when we think they should. And, you know what, it doesn’t do any good to complain about it. They still prosper. We have only one recourse many times - wait in silence for God to act. There is coming a day when all accounts will be balanced and everyone will be rewarded according to what they’ve done and said. God is just and there will be justice.
So. Is it wrong to anticipate, to wait for something like school being out? No. It’s important to plan for the future and to have a goal. Just remember that these are little things. Our big goal is the Kingdom of God. That’s what we’re waiting for - walking around the world with our King when He comes back.
**Only God Can Make a Tree
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. Psalm 68:10b
Materials: various items made from trees
There are so many products made from trees: boxes, paper products, books, pencils, clothespins, turpentine, cinnamon, vanilla, puzzles. The list goes on and on.
But even if you had all these products, you couldn’t reconstruct a living tree. You couldn’t take the pieces and create a living tree. You could create something that looks like a tree, but it wouldn’t grow leaves. It wouldn’t produce fruit.
Our great God, in His goodness, as provided what we need. And it’s not just trees. Think about God’s creation and what He has provided for us: water, air/oxygen, gravity, the sun/moon/stars, food, shelter, family. What is there that we need that God hasn’t provided for us?!! He has created everything. He has provided everything that we need.
I love how this verse in Psalm 68 tells us why God provided for us - because He is good!!
There’s a poem that I love by Joyce Kilmer, entitled “Trees.”
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I praise God that He is good and He has provided everything I need, including trees.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Psalm 73:25
Let’s say someone offers you a choice: Pepsi or a creme soda. Which will you choose? How about pie: cherry or raisin? There are choices that you have to make every day. They can be minor; they can be monumental. Regardless, we walk through life making choices. As we make those choices, we explore our options. If two different things are presented before us and they both have their strong points, our first question is: Can I have both? If we can’t have both, and both are still desirable, we question if we can have one now and one later. Maybe the choice won’t limit me to just having one of the two. Maybe I can have my cake and eat it too. Eventually though, for many choices, we work our way down to the reality: one. One soda, one piece of pie, one path . . . less traveled or more traveled. Being one traveler, I can only travel one.
Sometimes the choice presented to us is not an equal choice. We have to choose what classes to take in school or college. We choose what hobbies to pursue. We choose what tasks to accomplish in the time we have. Since we can’t choose to do it all, we limit our choices with other criteria: Which one do I like? Which one is easier? Which one is more convenient? Which one will help me achieve my goal?
When we’re young, we often choose hastily based on what appeals to our senses. As we grow wiser (not necessarily older), we learn to consider the ramifications of our choices. We think about the consequences of the path we take.
So it is with worshipping God. God offers us a choice: He says, “Follow me.” Our first response is, “Can I have it all?” Can I serve God and still do this other thing too? We often see both choices as equal and desirable. Once we understand that we can only choose one, we wonder if we can do one now and one later. Can I do what I want now, and follow God later? Eventually reality hits that we’re at a fork in the road, that one path is going to take us far away from this point, that there’s no coming back and taking the other path. We must choose one.
So we consider our options. Which path appeals more? God is drawing us down one path - to follow Him. Our carnal nature, hostile to God and His ways, draws us down the other path. We look and consider which path looks more desirable. We think about which is easier or more convenient. Then, if we’re wise, we realize that only one way is going to help us to achieve our goal. We must become wholly devoted to God. We have to choose His path.
So we start down the path, following God. But a weird thing happens: we revert to our original thought. Can I follow God and do what my carnal nature wants to do too? So imagine in your mind a person who has one foot on one path and one foot on the other path. Perhaps the paths look like they are side-by-side to begin with, so he walks with one foot on each path. But soon, God’s way takes him in a direction that starts to diverge from the ways of the world. Still, he tries to stay on both. His legs spread out farther and farther. Soon he resorts to hopping back and forth. That’s what it looks like when he reads the Bible, prays, goes to church on Sabbath, but he’s watching inappropriate things on television, he’s reading ungodly books, he’s having conversations with others which don’t glorify God. Eventually, his hops from one path to another are jumps, then leaps. The effort to go back and forth means that he spends more time on one path than the other. If God’s path is harder, it’s more likely our jumper will stay on the easier path. But the time comes when we realize we can’t move forward down the path and still follow God. The two paths are too divergent.
It’s like the passage in John 6:66-68: After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .
It’s what the psalmist states in Psalm 73:25: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
That word desire means “to delight in, take pleasure in, desire, be pleased with.” There are several words which mean desire, but the most frequent one in the Old Testament means originally "to bend,” hence, "to incline to," "take pleasure in.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states that desire contains “the element of joy, of delight in God and His law and will.”
That’s where we have to be. We eventually reach the point where we not only know that this path of following God will get us to the goal, but it is also the one we desire, the one we take joy in. Furthermore, we no longer want it all. The other choice is no longer a choice; it’s not desirable in the least. It’s the process of taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is, in a word, becoming wholly devoted to God, a living sacrifice - which is, after all, our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). God is our all in all. Nothing else in heaven or on earth draws us, attracts our attention, has any pull. He is our God; we are His people.
**Summer and Winter
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. Psalm 74:17
Materials: leaves of various colors
Do you have a favorite time of the year? I suspect that most people would either say that spring or fall is their favorite time of year. The spring brings new life, budding trees and blooming flowers, new calves and frolicking lambs. But springtime is a busy time and often the delightfully warm days rapidly morph into the heat of summer. Summer is filled with gardening, and trips to the creek or swimming pool, and siestas because it’s just too hot to work in the heat of the day. The fall brings relief from the summer heat and the delightful prospect of bonfires, hot chocolate, and fun with friends and family.
I really like autumn. I love the spectacular colors of the deciduous trees as they move towards losing their leaves and going into winter hibernation. I suspect that it’s not the beautiful fall colors that I really like; I suspect that it’s because I associate the fall colors with the fall holy days, especially the Feast of Tabernacles. There’s a certain smell in the air during fall that smells like the Feast of Tabernacles to me.
Some people really don’t like fall . . . because it’s directly followed by winter. Those first snow flakes are beautiful, but even the crispness of a still, bright winter day loses its attractiveness by the time late February rolls around.
Nevertheless, I’m so very glad that God created the seasons. Psalm 74:17 says that God fixed all the boundaries of the earth; God made summer and winter. There’s wonderful, delightful things to do in each season - and there are lessons to learn, if we’re looking for them.
Today, I just want to consider that God created the seasons. He didn’t have to. He could have made each day the same temperature, complete with clouds or lack of clouds. He could have created a world without all of the variety. But because He created our earth with summer and winter, springtime and autumn, we get to enjoy them all. And that’s something to be very grateful for.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. Psalm 77:11
Materials Needed: corn cob
What do you think of when you see a corn cob - with all of the kernels gone?
I think about the delicious corn that I ate from that crop of corn. I think about the time spent planting the seeds, watering the plants, and pulling the weeds. But mostly I think about God giving the increase. For although I can plant and water and pull weeds, I can’t make the seeds sprout or grow or develop. God does all of that!
Corn cobs are a cool reminder of what God does for us - His provision - because they take longer to disintegrate than other things like pea pods or acorn squash shells or cantaloupe rinds. That means I can be working in the garden, hoeing or digging, and I can find a corn cob. There it is again: a reminder of God’s blessings.
We need those reminders. It’s too easy to only see the problems because those are the things that demand our attention. But the Bible has stern warnings about forgetting to thank God for what He has done for us.
2 Chronicles 32:25 says, "But Hezekiah did nothing [for the LORD] in return for the benefit bestowed on him, because his heart had become proud; therefore God’s wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.” (Amplified)
Deuteronomy 28:47-48 says, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies . . .”
Ungrateful is listed along with the other ungodly and repugnant behaviors in 2 Timothy 3:2
So we need these reminders, like corn cobs, to help us. Having received so many blessings from God, in so many ways, every day, we should always give thanks to God! He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise and thanksgiving.
And keep your eyes open for other things that God has put in your path to remind you to give thanks to Him, serving Him with a grateful heart.
All We Like Sheep
Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. Psalm 78:52
The KJV of this verse says: But he made his own people to go forth like sheep. The ESV says: Then he led out his people like sheep. There’s a big difference between making someone go forth and leading someone out. One is driving before you; the other is calling them to come. The Bible is pretty clear that God doesn’t drive us. He calls us to Himself. That’s very interesting because in the Western Hemisphere we drive out sheep with a sheep dog. The hand signals to the dog let him know exactly which sheep is too far afield. But in the Middle East, the shepherd calls his sheep. Remember the New Testament: the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, my sheep know my voice. The sheep come when they are called.
It’s interesting that the psalmist uses the image of sheep as the analogy for God’s people. When you think of sheep, what do you think of? What do sheep do? They wander. It’s almost like they’re thinking: Oh look at that tasty clump of grass; I think I’ll go taste that one. Handel did a fantastic job in The Messiah of using music to paint this picture. When he wrote the chorus, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” the musical lines go all over the place. The four parts move and intertwine and diverge. It gets even more complex when they sing “We have turned everyone to his own way.” Sheep wander.
The psalmist, in this verse, uses a couplet to make his point. We have “led” and “sheep” in the first part. In the second part, he has “guided” and “flock.” Think of how God guided His people in the wilderness. Again, he didn’t drive them before him; he led them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He called them to follow Him.
The wilderness is a wild place, full of dangers, a place where you are not at home and settled. But God led them, called them to follow Him, through this place.
Then the psalmist uses the word “flock.” We’re not talking about just one sheep. We’re talking about a whole bunch of them. It makes me think of trying to herd cats! Ain’t happenin’! But again, God wasn’t herding; He was calling and leading.
This verse very much applies to today. God doesn’t force you to go where you don’t want to go. He calls you to follow Him. This world is very much like the wilderness; it’s not your home - you’re just a-passin’ through. There are lots of God’s people all around you, but you can’t get distracted by them. They have the tendency to wander. And you have the tendency to wander. We all want to go our own way. You have to keep your eyes on the Shepherd and your eyes tuned to hear His voice. He will lead you safely home.
O lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! Psalm 84:1
All I want is a room somewhere,
far away from the cold night air,
with one enormous chair -
ah, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
lots of coal making lots of heat.
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet -
ah, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Oh, so loverly sitting abso-blooming-lutely still.
I would never budge ’til spring crept up on me winder sill.
Someone’s head resting on my knee,
warm and tender as he can be,
who’ll take good care of me -
ah, wouldn’t it be loverly?
In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle sings about a place to be warm and comfortable, yummy things to eat, a rest from her labors, and someone to love and take care of her. I couldn’t help thinking of this song as I read Psalm 84:1: O lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! The psalmist longs for the temple, the place where God dwells. Why? Why does he use language like “my soul faints for the courts of the LORD” (Ps. 84:2), “my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1), or “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2)?
There’s a concept that we all have a God-sized hole that only God can fill. (Some attribute its origin to Blaise Pascal, in his book Pensées; but no one really knows for sure where the quote originated.) But basically, there’s a dissatisfaction within each of us. We try to find happiness and contentment in our living arrangements, our food, our basic necessities, our vacation and rest time, even in other people. But when it’s all said and done, only God satisfies. He’s the One who provides every good thing for us (Ps. 84:11). Trying to find contentment outside of God is like watering an elephant with an eye dropper; we always want more.
We believe this - that our contentment is found in Jesus Christ - and yet, somehow, we allow contentment to slip away from us. If we trust in God, if we believe in the hope set before us, knowing that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, then why are our feathers so easily ruffled? Why are we short-tempered with our family and closest friends at times? Why do we place such importance on accumulating more and more? Why do we take anxious thought about tomorrow?
I think sometimes I fail to act on the faith I confess, I act as if I don’t believe, because I’ve taken my eyes off my Savior. And as Peter did (as he was walking on the water) when he took his eyes off Jesus, I become overwhelmed by and fearful of the events in my life all around me.
So the psalmist gives us the answer - the way to find peace and rest: the long for the place where God is - because He’s the Someone, the only One, who truly, thoroughly, ultimately loves and cares for each of us. That’s why God’s dwelling place is so lovely, or to use Eliza’s word, so loverly.
And while Eliza sings about loverly, temporal, physical things, there is a myriad of Christian songs which focus on the lovely, eternal, spiritual things of God. I started singing “All I want is a room somewhere.” Now I am singing a song about a specific somewhere: “All I know is I’m not home yet. . . Take this world and give me Jesus. . . I want to be found in You.” (from “Where I Belong.”) That’s the most lovely place I can think of.
**Acted Upon By An Outside Force
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Psalm 85:10
Materials: clear cup, quarter, card
If I hold a quarter over a cup and let go of it, what will happen? The quarter will fall into the cup. Why? Because of the law of gravity.
If I place the quarter on a card over the cup and pull the card out quickly, what will happen? The quarter will still fall into the cup. Why? Because of Newton’s First Law of Motion (otherwise known as inertia) and the law of gravity. Newton’s First Law of Motion says that an object in motion will remain in motion, or an object at rest will remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.
What kind of outside force could act upon that quarter so that it wouldn’t fall into the cup? Hmm. If I pull the card slowly sideways, the quarter will stay with the card and will not fall into the cup. Why? Because the law of friction, the adhesion between the molecules of the card and the molecules of the quarter, will cause the quarter to move with the card. The law of friction is the outside force which overcomes inertia.
O.K. So how does this work in your life? Let’s say you have a jar of candy in your house. The law from your parents is that you can have a piece when you get permission from them. One day when your mom is busy, you look at that candy jar. You know you’re not supposed to get into the candy, but you really want a piece. That’s the law which is at work in your mind - your overwhelming desire for a piece of candy. Just like that quarter falling into the jar, unless you have some outside force at work, you are going to be drawn to that candy.
Is there an outside force which will keep you from getting into the candy? Maybe it is enough to know that you’re really going to be in trouble when your mom finds out. Maybe the fear of being found out will be enough. Or maybe you don’t want your mom to be disappointed in you. Maybe that outside force will be enough. If that outside force (like the friction on the quarter) is not enough, you will get into the candy (just like the quarter will fall into the jar).
In Biblical terms, the quarter dropping into the jar is your natural inclination - what you are going to do, how you will react to things around you. You are born with a carnal nature. The choices you make are based on that carnal nature. You don’t necessarily think about your choices, but even if you do realize that you’re making choices that displease God, you can’t seem to help yourself - just like the quarter is going to drop into the jar. The apostle Paul says that your carnal mind is enmity against God. You are going to choose the wrong way, even if you know you shouldn’t.
So what’s the outside force which will keep you from making ungodly decisions? It’s God working in us. It’s God’s Holy Spirit which changes us. We no longer want to make choices that are displeasing to God. And, if we listen to that leading, it becomes the force which keeps us from listening to our carnal nature and doing things which are displeasing to God (like the friction on the card which keeps the quarter from falling into the jar).
In Jesus, we receive God’s mercy. We don’t deserve God’s gift which enables us to choose Him. He gives it to us because He loves us. The carnal nature which would lead us away from God is acted upon by an outward force in Jesus Christ. That’s what Psalm 85:10 is all about:
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Taking the Fork in the Road
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” We laugh, but when you are sitting at that fork, agonizing about what to do, it is no laughing matter.
Have you been in that situation - the one where there are two paths laid out before you and you can only take one? You know to do the one means you absolutely cannot do the other. There’s no erasers in life, no reset button, which allows you to do it over.
Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
This concept of having choices is not new. But we’re really not talking about whether to have strawberry or chocolate ice cream. We’re not talking about whether to wear your blue pants or your white pants. We’re not talking really even about which car to buy. We’re talking about choices which reflect who you are - deep inside - those choices which show your character. Choices like how do I react when everyone else is showing disrespect to the coach? Choices like doing what my parents say even if my friend is doing the opposite. Choices like telling the whole truth even when telling a lie would keep me out of trouble for the moment.
In this verse, the psalmist is asking God to unite his heart - to make him whole-heartedly devoted to what - to fearing God’s name. He wants God to make him afraid of His name? No, he wants to completely recognize who God is (have fear or reverence for God’s name).
That’s coupled with the first phrase: teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth. The word teach is yara (yaw-raw’) #3384, and comes from a primitive root which means to flow as water (like rain) or to shoot an arrow. Think about it. Water has one course; it doesn’t normally flow uphill. Rain almost always comes down. An arrow has one course - straight from the bow to wherever it is pointed. So this word yara means figuratively to cast, direct, inform, or instruct. So this word teach means to instruct, to point as an arrow - it’s a natural thing; it’s not abnormal or strange. It’s what you would expect.
Way is the word derek (deh’ rek) #1870 and means a road, or figuratively a way of life.
Truth is ‘emeth (eh’ meth) #571 and means stability, certainty, truth, trustworthiness, verity, faithful.
When you put it all together, you have a word picture: Teach me (as straight as rain falling from the sky or an arrow shooting to the target) your way (God’s road map as I come to the fork in the road every day), O LORD, that I may walk in your truth (live my life in a trustworthy, truthful manner where there is stability because of the way I live.); unite my heart (make me whole-heartedly devoted, singly-minded from the deepest part of my being) to fear your name (to have reverence for who God is always).
We all have forks in the road, every day. We can take them, as Yogi Berra and Robert Frost say, or we can let God direct us in the way we should go. When your heart is united to fear God’s name, those forks don’t even look like forks anymore; they don’t slow us down. We know which way to go.
***The Raging of the Sea
You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. Psalm 89:9 (ESV)
Materials: bottles of water, buoyant objects which fit into bottle
It doesn’t take long in this world for most of us to feel like we’re a tiny person caught in a maelstrom that we didn’t cause, that we didn’t want, and that we didn’t see coming. There’s a good reason people call them “storms of life.” It can feel like everything is conspiring to pull you under so that you’ll drown. And honestly, sometimes it feels very much like those waves are getting higher and higher with the sole, malevolent intention of swamping your boat, beating you under, dragging you down.
It’s much like putting a tiny figurine into a water bottle and then trying to keep it under the water all the time. You can turn the bottle end over end. You can shake it violently. You can spin it like a top. Or maybe you let everything calm down and then hit the bottle with a surprise attack.
But for those who belong to Jesus Christ, we have to keep our eyes on Him, not on the waves, not on the trouble, not on the tempest around us. We look to Him for strength, provision, and protection. God takes care of us. That’s His job and we don’t get to tell Him how to do His job. We have our own job: giving glory and honor and praise to Him regardless of our circumstances.
*** The Hebrew slave girl of Naaman’s wife (We don’t even know her name!!) trusted God enough, even as a captive in a foreign country, to tell Naaman’s wife that God could heal him of his leprosy.
*** Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt. He refused to disobey God. Instead he trusted him - to go to him for the interpretation of the dreams and then to give God the glory for the interpretation.
*** Daniel was a captive in a foreign country - but he refused to obey the kind’s edict and continued his habit of praying three times a day to God, regardless of the storm that would cause in his life, i.e. being thrown into the lions’ den.
There are so many stories of Godly people whose circumstances were less than perfect, but they demonstrated their belief and trust in God through their actions, bringing glory and honor to Him, praising God through those actions.
Yes, sometimes it feels like the storms of life are bigger than we are. Sometimes it feels like we are in a hopeless situation. That’s when it’s time to praise God. I like to do it in song. It could be a song like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” or it could be “We Won’t Be Shaken” (by Building 429) or “Even If” (by MercyMe), “Hills and Valleys” (Tauren Wells), “Sparrows” (Jason Grey), or so many others. The reality is we serve the great God who can still the raging waves in our lives.
**Counting for a Purpose
So teach us to number our days . . . Psalm 90:12
Materials: freshly-harvested strawberries
A couple of weeks ago we talked about counting - specifically because we’re counting from the Wave Sheaf Day until Pentecost. Do you know why we’re counting? The first reason is because God said so. . . . So how are you doing on your count to Pentecost? Do you know what day of the count today is? Are you using the calendar and stickers?
Are you learning anything while you’re counting? As we count the days to Pentecost, it makes us start thinking about why God might want us to do that. The psalmist who wrote, “So teach us to number our days” went on to say “that I might gain a heart of wisdom.” Counting the days can make us wise. Hmmm. What kind of wisdom is this, do you think? Is it wisdom that you get from the world? Maybe. But it’s more likely that the wisdom you get from counting your days is Godly wisdom. How would that work?
I have another question for you too: what do you think I did yesterday? I picked the first of the strawberries. I had picked a small container on Wednesday, but Friday was the first good harvest of strawberries. But what does that have to do with counting or numbering our days?
One of the lessons we learn from numbering our days is that we only have so many. We don’t want to waste any of the time that God has given to us. Wasting time means that we’re not doing something that is profitable for the kingdom or something that doesn’t bring glory and honor to God. We want to be productive, or fruitful, servants for our King.
But how does that relate to strawberries? Well, in order to get a harvest of strawberries, I had to work. There’s weeding. There’s watering. There’s weeding. There’s mulching. There’s weeding. . . You get the picture. If I don’t work hard to make the plants productive, I’m not going to get a very good harvest; there won’t be many strawberries to eat.
It’s the same thing with you. How do you become a productive, fruitful servant of God? You have to work at it. There’s Bible study. There’s prayer. There’s going to church. There’s Bible study. There’s prayer. . . You get the picture. If you don’t work hard to build your relationship with God, you won’t be productive. There won’t be a very good harvest of Godly actions which glorify God.
Being a faithful, productive, fruitful servant for our God means intentional work on your part. You have to make God the priority in your life. That means doing what He says - not some of what He says, all of what God says. He’s God. He has the right. And right now, what are you supposed to be doing? Counting. We’d better get to it!
***Trusting in God
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2
Materials: fully opened iris, iris bud (Can be done with any flower.)
There’s an old hymn that I love entitled “Lead, Kindly Light.” The author speaks of wanting to figure out where he’s going in life. He wanted to know what his life was going to look like and make firm plans about his path. What he learned through life was that he has to rely on God to do the leading and finally came to the place where he could say, “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.”
It’s good to make plans. It’s good to think ahead, to see trouble coming and to avoid it. It’s important to have a goal and work toward that goal. Without a sense of direction, you don’t really get anywhere. You float. You meander. You wander.
However, there’s another saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
The reality is that when we give our lives to Jesus Christ as our Savior, He becomes our Captain. He pilots our path. That’s what it means to be completely surrendered to God. He gets to decide. That doesn’t mean we sit on the couch and watch tv until God drops something in our lap. We still make plans. We still work hard at what our hand finds to do. But we start each day asking God for His direction and guidance in our lives. Then when things don’t go the way we thought they would go or should have gone, we don’t get upset. We don’t find ourselves “thrown for a loop.” We trust that our lives are in God’s hands. He’s in control. He’s sovereign. He knows that we’ve turned our lives over to Him and there’s nothing that happens to us of which He is not aware. Our prayer is the title of that hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light.” He leads us. His commandments light our steps. His Holy Spirit directs our days.
Sometimes we want to take matters into our own hands. And it’s much like taking an iris (or rose or tulip) bud and trying to open the flower fully. If we try to open the bud, we’ll end up making a mess of the flower. If we allow God to open the bud, it will unfold as He designed it. Similarly, we need to remember to trust God and to allow God the unfolding of our lives, not rushing before His timing to make things happen as we want them to. He is more than able to cause beautiful things to happen in our lives - to His glory and honor.
Praise and Thanksgiving
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise. Psalm 95:2
Materials: crayons, superball, small assorted toys
When someone gives you a gift, what do you do? You know what you don’t do, right? You don’t turn up your nose and say yuck, unless, of course, you’re supposed to say yuck. You know, like if someone wants to give you a dirty sock or dead mouse or something. Then it’s okay to say, “Yuck. No thanks, I’m trying to quit.” But the majority of the time, the gifts that people give you are given because they like you; they want to give you something of value; they took some time and effort on your behalf. You should, at the very least, say, “Thanks.”
But let’s suppose that your parents give you a box of crayons. You say the appropriate “thank you,” but then you promptly take them and color all over the walls of your living room. Your thank you isn’t going to be very well received. Or suppose they give you a really cool bouncy ball. You say the obligatory thank you and then promptly throw the ball in the house, breaking the tv, a lamp, a mirror, and the picture window. Your parents aren’t going to feel very good about your obligatory thank you.
On the other hand, if you take the gift and you use it for good, your verbal “thank you” is very much appreciated and valued. If you take the crayons and draw a beautiful picture to give to your aunt who is ill, your parents will not only have your verbal thank you but also the evidence of your gratitude expressed in your actions. If you take the ball outside and play with your brother or sister so that your mom can get dinner ready, she’s going to appreciate not only you saying thank you, but also that you’re all benefiting from the gift.
So why would we think that God would be any different? We can go to church on Sabbath and sing praise to Him, thanking Him for all of our blessings. But our words don’t mean very much if we’re not actively using our blessings, glorifying Him through what we do with what He’s given us. Our thanksgiving means even less if we’re complaining about what we don’t have, or we’re not obeying Him and His direction in our lives. If we’re rebelling against God then just saying “thank you” is just so many words. If you really appreciate who God is and what He’s done for you, it’s going to be reflected in your songs of praise and thanksgiving . . . your conversations with others . . . in the things you do when you’re with others . . . and what you do when you’re all by yourself. Praise and thanksgiving becomes the way you live your life. Your attitude of gratitude is obvious to God and to everyone who sees you.
Where Do You Set Your Eyes?
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. Psalm 101:3
Our two black labs, Velvet and Ebony are great examples of steadfast, undivided attention - when you are eating something yummy. They stare at the food. Why? They are paying close attention, just in case you might decide to share with them. They stare because your food is something they want.
Let’s think about this in relationship to Psalm 101? Why wouldn’t David want to set anything that is worthless before his eyes? Simply, whatever you set your eyes on is what you value. It has your attention, like the dogs wanting your food. It’s what you desire. And wherever you set your eyes, that’s where you’re likely to go.
When you want to go in a certain direction, where do you look? Straight towards the goal. Conversely, when you look in a certain direction, where do your feet take you? To wherever you’re looking. To phrase it another way, if you take your eyes off the goal, how effective are you at reaching that goal? How likely is it that you’ll go another direction? The rubber hits the road, literally, when you’re driving. That’s why texting and driving is such a bad idea. That’s why sight-seeing and driving is such a bad idea. For example, when we were on the way to the Feast of Tabernacles in 1996, we had flown to Portland, OR. Then we rented a car and drove down the coastline. We traded off who was driving so that we could both enjoy the scenery. Each time we stopped, the other person would drive. We stopped, I’m pretty sure, at every scenic parking lot; we only made it a half a mile or so between stops. Even so, when I spotted whales, it was hard to keep our eyes on the road.
Because we are so impacted through what we see, we need to be careful where we let our eyes linger, to be very careful of what we set before our eyes.
The ESV says to “not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” But the KJV translates the word “worthless” as “wicked,” and the Hebrew here is #1100: bĕliya`al. It means “worthless, good for nothing, unprofitable, wicked.” There’s a big difference between just being worthless and being wicked. Think for a minute about something that you could set your eyes on, put before your eyes, make as your goal that is wicked. Wicked has the connotation of being against God and His ways. It’s sinful. It’s in rebellion against what is good. But it’s a different thing to say that something is worthless. Some of our pastimes could fit into that category. In the long run, they are not profitable; they are just a waste of time. But wait a minute! If they are a waste of time, if time is limited and is a gift from God, then perhaps, on a small scale, those time-wasters, those things that are not profitable for the kingdom, are wicked - because you are either for God or against God. There’s no middle ground. It’s something to think about as we allocate our time to different occupations.
Bĕliya`al can have another piece to its definition. It can also mean “ruin or destruction,” as in construct destruction. That definition helps us understand the rest of Psalm 101:3. David says, I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. If the definition of the word “worthless” meant “to construct destruction,” then the work that David hates is that which is destructive. David’s talking about a person who falls away from worshipping God. That person has not set his eyes on following God, on doing what is good, and what that person is constructing will end up hurting himself and perhaps others. David says that he’s not going to go that direction. He’s not going to get involved with those kinds of activities. He doesn’t want to be associated with it; he doesn’t want it to cling to him. He’s not going to set his eyes on it and go in that direction.
Bĕliya`al is such a strong word for worthlessness, wickedness, or constructing ruin and destruction that this Old Testament word “in time, became a proper name (Belial) for Satan, the prince of evil (2 Corinthians 6:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:3)” (Zodhiates’ KJV study Bible lexicon).
We know the concept of a slippery slope. We understand that once we start down a path, the momentum can build in that direction. Anyone who has tried to drive uphill when the roads are icy understands how tenuous the grip is and how difficult it is to go against gravity. With that analogy in mind, we should consider our priorities, our hobbies, the things to which we allocate our time. Some of the stuff we do is productive for the kingdom. That’s a keeper. Some of it looks good, makes us feel good, but is it really producing anything? It could be a task from the Terrible Trivium (see The Phantom Tollbooth). Some could be detrimental to our physical and spiritual health. Some of our occupations could be very ungodly. It would behoove all of us to stop and consider what we do with our time and how God sees our allocation of the time He’s given us. We really don’t want to have anything to do with bĕliya`al.
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; . . . Psalm 101:7
Materials: Things that look like other things, i.e. a rock that looks like a potato, a super ball that looks like a rock, a book that has a hollowed out center; a knife that looks like a bullet, etc.
There are some very clever gadgets out there that strike our fancy because they look like they are one thing, but they are actually something else. And sometimes these things can be useful. Take for instance, a college textbook that has been hollowed out. Before you open the book, it looks as if it’d be a dull textbook with limited value. (You certainly can’t resell them for anywhere close to what you paid for them originally!!) On the shelf, it blends right in with the other books. But when you open the cover, you discover a space that is perfect for hiding valuables from someone who might come looking.
The other day when I was digging potatoes, I found another look alike. Right next to the potato was a rock that looked like the potatoes around it, knobs and all.
So what is Psalm 101:7 talking about? And should I be concerned that there’s something attractive to me about these look alike? It all has to do with intent. Did the rock intend to deceive me? No. Was it trying to do harm to me? No. It’s just a fun example of coincidence. The hollowed out textbook is meant to deceive someone else - as protection from their evil intents towards me. There’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself in this way. The bouncy ball rock is not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s just a silly toy.
The thing is that if someone wants to harm you they can find all sorts of ways to do so, to trick you into believing something is one thing when it just isn’t. You can’t always believe what you see or hear in a world where people lie intentionally to hurt you.
God is very clear about this! If you are intentionally trying to deceive other people to hurt them, you will not be in God’s kingdom. Think about that next time before you try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. You’ve got to know where the line is between fun and hurt. And what you think is funny may not really be funny at all.
What Will Last?
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field, for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. Psalm 103:15-16
I can hardly wait for the spring flowers to come! Crocuses, daffodils, forsythia, tulips, redbuds, lilacs, iris. They all are so beautiful, but they are gone so quickly. They don’t bloom for months and months. They are just here for a short time each spring.
Humans have picked up on that temporary feeling. Life is short. We’re only here for just a short period of time. Then we’re gone. So some have tried to make their mark. Some of them have climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. Some have gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Some have tried to break the Guinness world record for how many hiccups they sustain. But although I know people have done these things, I don’t know their names or anything else about their lives. I don’t know how old they were or if they sustained injuries from attaining these records.
Most of us don’t attain to the world records, but we do crazy things, focusing on ourselves and on the glory we can get for ourselves.
The reality is that only what we do for God, for His glory, matters. But sometimes we get so busy in the day-to-day tasks that we don’t focus on what really matters. We become distracted from what really gives meaning to life.
As the Psalmist says, we are like grass. Our days here are just a span. We’re here and we’re gone. But God abides forever. He is holding out to each of us an opportunity for eternal life in His kingdom. It’s a free gift. It’s called Salvation. The big project for school, the house remodeling, the garden growing, the dog walking, the book reading - they are all a part of life. But they can’t become the most important part of our lives. Because they won’t last. Only a relationship with God which carries over into His kingdom will last. Maybe we should spend a little more time working on that relationship.
**Sing to Him
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Psalm 105:2
Materials: jars, bottles, mugs and glasses of various shapes, sizes, styles; water
Each of these containers has a different purpose. Because of that, they are designed a little different from one another. The canning jar is very stable with a nice mouth for ease of canning. The bottle has a narrow opening so pouring out the liquid doesn’t make a huge mess. The glass has a more decorative look and the stemmed glass adds elegance to a meal. If you were going to have a fancy Thanksgiving meal, you probably wouldn’t place the bottles at everyone’s plate for them to drink from. If you wanted to preserve green beans, you wouldn’t put them in the stemmed glass and place it on the shelf.
In a similar way, each one of us has a different purpose in service to God. God might use some of us to repair a roof for someone - but that wouldn’t be me because I’m afraid of heights. God might use one of us to prepare a Bible study, but not everyone has a gift of being able to teach clearly. God might use one of us to start the coffee pots for the fellowship each week, but that wouldn’t be our family because we’re not the first ones here each week. In so many ways, God gifts each of us different gifts to use for the benefit of the whole group.
So if each of these glass containers has a different purpose, wouldn’t you expect it to make a different sound - to have a unique sound coming out of its heart? Whether you strike the glass, clink it against another one, run a wet finger over the top, or blow into it - each glass container is going to make a unique sound.
Similarly, each of us is going to bring a slightly different sound out of our hearts in praise to God. Why would we expect the praise coming out of my heart to sound exactly like the praise coming out of the heart of my daughter? We are each unique, each of us with unique gifts and purposes. The praise coming out of each heart praises God uniquely.
I can’t write songs like Christopher does and I don’t play the guitar like Jonathan does. But that doesn’t make their music any less pleasing to God. I don’t particularly like Christian rap, but I’m impressed that they can get those words out that fast clearly! I like slower, heart-felt hymns and spiritual songs, but I don’t want them to sound like a funeral dirge. One song leader in Canada told us we were going to sing the hymn so slowly that someone could go out for breakfast and we’d still be singing it when he got back! That’s not my idea of praise. But that’s the praise Sydney wanted to make to God that morning!
Maybe the way you express praise to God isn’t through music; maybe it’s through art. Maybe it’s through the quiet serving of your family without complaining or arguing. Maybe it’s through poems, not set to music. There are lots of ways to praise God. We’re just used to thinking that praise only comes through music.
Maybe our goal should be to live our lives in such a way that our entire life is praise to God, a thank offering to Him for all of His wondrous works. Think about it. How do you praise God?
**God’s Laws are Trustworthy
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; Psalm 111:7
Materials: thermometer, water, ice, cup
Water freezes at 32ºF - unless you add salt to it. Then it freezes at a much lower temperature. In fact, if you keep adding salt to your water, you can keep the water from freezing up to -6ºF! Six degrees below zero. Why is this important? Well, it’s very important for the department of transportation; it’s how they keep ice off the roads in the winter time. But more importantly, getting the ice to melt by adding salt is how you get the cream mixture cold enough to make ice cream!
It’s a cool 😀 reminder that we use God’s natural laws all the time to make life work better for us. And we can use God’s laws because they don’t change. They are trustworthy. We can depend on them to work the same way all the time (unless God performs a miracle).
Guess what? Using and obeying God’s moral laws makes life work better for us too. If you obey God about telling lies - you don’t tell them! - people trust you. That makes relationships a whole lot more pleasant. If you obey God about stealing - you don’t take things that don’t belong to you - it likewise makes people trust you, and it helps to keep you out of jail.
God gave all of His laws for our good - the natural laws and the moral laws. We can depend on God’s laws to always be there. They are trustworthy! They don’t change. If we worked harder at using them and obeying them as God intended, life would work better for us!
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Psalm 116:7
I have a pinecone. My friend has two pinecones. My cousin has a whole bag of pinecones. My neighbor has a tree that makes new pinecones every year. My daughter makes things out of pinecones. My son sells things made out of pinecones. . . . I have a pinecone. . . . Only now I’m not as impressed with my pinecone as I was three minutes ago.
It’s funny, isn’t it. We humans tend to place value on things relative to how much of the thing other people have. If no one in the room has a pinecone, then I am rich. If I have a tiny pinecone and Ron has a huge ponderosa pine pinecone, then I’m poor. Or at least I think that I am. Do I have any less or any more than I did before I knew what Ron has? No. Does what he has change what I can do with mine? No. But my perception changes. But it shouldn’t.
Did you like me before we walked into the room today? Before you knew that I have a pinecone? Were we friends? Yes. Is our friendship based on whether I have pinecones? Are you going to remember that I have pinecones every time you think of me? If I lose all of my pinecones will we stop being friends?
My value is not in what I have; my value is based on who I am - specifically, who I am in Christ. I am a child of God, a daughter of the King of the Universe. He loves me so much that He gave His Son to pay for my sins so that I could be adopted into His family. I belong to Him as a beloved daughter! He wants to spend time with me. He delights in giving me gifts. I have great value because God has said that it is so!
I don’t need to worry so much about what I have or don’t have. I have enough. God has dealt bountifully with me. Bountifully . . . like overflowing with more than enough!!
And then, like a cherry on top of the most fantastic banana split ever, God gives me a pinecone.
**My Whole Heart
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! Psalm 119:10
Materials: predetermined activities (one for each child) - 1) count from 1-25; 2) say your abcs; 3) name 10 animals you’d find at the zoo; 4) list 10 different colors; 5) name your 10 favorite things to eat; 6) name your 10 most favorite toys; 7) list the names of 10 songs or hymns, etc.
If I gave you a job to do, one that you knew how to do, how hard would it be to do it? It depends, doesn’t it? What if there’s lots of noise in the room? What if there are other people doing their jobs and distracting you from your task? What if people are watching you, you feel embarrassed and forget how to do your job? You may have the skills and the knowledge to do the job I gave you, but getting it done could prove to be a challenge.
Isn’t that what it’s like as a Christian who is seeking God? We know that God is the most important Being in the universe. We know that He’s Sovereign. We know that He’s not going to give us more than we can do. We know that He’ll give us the tools to complete the job before us. But we can get really distracted.
There are other people! Each of them have their own job to do. Their job may not look like your job. You can’t worry about what they’re doing. You have your job in front of you. You can’t get distracted because their job is interesting, or because they’re loud, or because you think God gave you the wrong job. You want theirs. God gave you a specific job to do. You can’t let your heart wander from that task.
Someone might tell you that you’re doing your job wrong. But you know what God has told you to do. You can’t look at the way they do their job and decide to ignore what God says. If it’s a contest between following someone else and following God, God wins hands down. You keep your heart and mind focused on doing your job the way God says to.
You might be afraid that someone will laugh at you because you’re different, that you’ve got a different job. But your job comes from the greatest Being in the universe. You serve God. You don’t worry about other people and their noise. You seek to please God with all of your heart - doing your job for His pleasure.
There’s lots going on in our world. People are doing all kinds of things - and causing a lot of distractions while they do those things. You have to seek God with all of your heart, do the job He gave you to do, and not let yourself wander from doing His commandments, what He says to do.
***What Are You Looking At?
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:37
Have you ever asked yourself who gets to decide how much something is worth? What is a glass of water worth? Well, it depends on how thirsty you are and how many other people want that glass of water. How much is a car worth? Or a painting? Or a book? In our society today, the value of an item depends upon how many people really want that item. It’s a crazy thing, really!!
Have you ever been to an auction? If there’s a really good turnout at an auction, the seller may do very well because people decide they really want an item and they’ll keep bidding until they get it - even if it’s not really worth that much. But if there are not too many people there, you can pick up items for a song! I went to one auction the summer I got my first teaching job. To the dismay of the seller, there was a bigger auction going on a couple of blocks away. I was able to purchase a bedroom set, pots and pans, a crockpot, etc, for next to nothing. There just wasn’t anyone bidding against me to drive up the price. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
But what about money? That has a value, right? Actually, our money is supposed to have value, but once the government decided to take us off the gold and silver standard, our money isn’t stable. Even our coins are suspect. Did you know that it costs almost twice as much as a penny is worth to make it? And a nickel costs over half again as much as its worth to make. But we believe a penny is worth one cent, and as long as everybody agrees, our system keeps limping along.
But this verse in Psalm 119:37 gives a little different perspective. The second half of the verse says, “and give me life in your ways.” What is really valuable? God’s ways because they bring life. We want life, not death. We want good things and fun things and pleasant things. But here’s the kicker: some things are worthless. That is, they will not aid you at all in seeking God’s ways and finding life. And! the psalmist makes this point: I may not know what is worthless; I may have become beguiled by what everyone around me says is valuable! I may not even realize that what I’m looking at will not bring life; in fact, it will bring death.
This verse is really a prayer. The psalmist is acknowledging that he doesn’t always realize that he’s looking at something worthless, spending time on something that is not only not profitable; it actually could be harmful. Then he asks that God will turn his eyes away from looking at worthless things. The implication is then that God will turn the psalmist’s eyes towards those things which bring life, aka God’s ways.
It is a good idea to be aware of what has your attention and how valuable it really is. But it’s also very important to realize that God’s determination of what’s valuable is really the only true standard. May He turn our eyes toward life.
**Christ our Banner
And I will walk in freedom, for I have sought Your precepts. Psalm 119:45 (Berean)
Materials: American flags (one to give to each child)
Have you ever thought about the American flag (or any flag) and what the colors and symbols on the flags represent? The United States flag is comprised of three colors, arranged in 13 stripes, and an array of 50 white stars on a blue background (a canton). Red: Signifies hardiness and valor. White: Signifies purity and innocence. Blue: Signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. Those are all admirable traits. Who wouldn’t want to have a country full of people who displayed hardiness, valor, purity, innocence, vigilance, perseverance, and justice?
The flag is not just a decoration. It’s a banner which flies over the country it represents. It also is lifted up during battle so that in the melee soldiers can keep track of which way to fight. It is a point around which soldiers will rally, or gather, so they can continue to fight as a single force, stronger and less vulnerable.
So isn’t it interesting that one of the names of God is Jehovah-Nissi which means God our Banner. It’s found in Exodus 17:8-15. And the description we just read about the flag applies to Jesus as well.
*For the Christian, Jesus is not just a decoration. We don’t just hang the label “Christian” on our lives and then go about our daily business. We identify ourselves as Christian and then conduct ourselves as Christians in everything. That’s the goal - to accurately reflect the character of our God through our thoughts, words, and actions.
*Jesus was lifted up, like a banner or flag is lifted up, when He was crucified. As His disciples, we are always mindful of the redemption He provided in dying for each of us. Knowing what Jesus did for us affects us and the decisions we make every day.
*Jesus, our Banner, draws His people together. We help and encourage each other. We are stronger together.
There will likely be a lot of flag waving tomorrow on the Fourth of July. Many people will not even think about what the flag represents nor the freedom that was won when the flag first flew over this country. In a similar way, there are many Christians who proclaim to be followers of Jesus who don’t know their Bible and don’t think about the freedom He purchased for us with His death on the cross. But freedom is not free; it comes at a great price. Our Founding Fathers who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor were following the example of Jesus Christ who died for us.
As you celebrate the Fourth of July, think about our freedoms and what the flag represents. But also think about Jesus, Jehovah-Nissi, God our Banner. Think about the freedom we have because of Him and how we should live our lives.
**Follow the Directions
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Materials: assortment of items with directions (box of macaroni and cheese, tea, popcorn, game, electronic device, etc)
There’s a saying that I grew up with around my house: if all else fails, read the directions. You laugh, but way too many people have the mindset that it’s easier to just figure it out. Who needs directions?!
Let’s talk about that theory for a minute. Do you know that macaroni and cheese tastes a lot better if you drain the water from the noodles before adding the milk, butter, and cheese? But, hey, to each his own! . . . Look at a package of microwave popcorn. Do they really need to tell people to remove the plastic wrap before putting it in the microwave? Apparently! Can you imagine what a mess it would be if someone tried to microwave it with the wrapper still on? . . . . Did you know that you should steep your tea bag for four minutes? Most people go dunk-dunk-dunk and throw the bag away. Or did you know that for Throat Coat, a special herbal tea which soothes sore throats, you’re supposed to let the tea bag steep for 10-15 minutes? Imagine if you just went dunk-dunk-dunk with that one! Your throat might not be feeling very coated.
Seriously! Think about all of the things that have directions for use! What happens if you don’t use them that way? The short answer is: it’s not good.
Why do you think that God’s law would be any different? God gave us His laws, His commandments, His decrees, His statutes, His instructions so that life will work well for us. If we don’t keep them, it doesn’t hurt Him. But it can really hurt us! We can be, in the psalmist’s words, afflicted.
And there’s a funny thing about being afflicted: it makes you want to go back and figure out why things aren’t going smoothly. You know that saying, if all else fails, read the directions? Don’t wait until things have failed in your life. Don’t wait until things are really bad and you’re afflicted. Read God’s statutes now. Follow His directions now. You’ll be glad you did.
***Being a Productive Servant
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are always with me. Psalm 119:98
Materials: 3 cups, 3 table knives, a Bible or additional cup
God gives each of a job to do. Then He gives us time, opportunity, and abilities or talents to complete that task. We need three other elements in order to be successful: work ethic, Godly wisdom, and faith.
Here’s how that works. Set out the three cups in an equilateral triangle with a table knife making up each of the sides of the triangle. The knives don’t touch any of the cups. The cups represent three things that God has given to us: abilities or talents, time, and opportunity. How can we use our work ethic, combined with Godly wisdom and faith to accomplish the goal? The goal here is represented by elevating an object (cup or Bible) above the three cups - just using the knives. The cups don’t move.
The knives are placed with the end of the handle on a cup. The tips of the knives meet in the center of the triangle. Each knife is place so that its tip is over the tip of the first knife and under the tip of the second knife. They form an interlocking support for one another. Gravity and the weight of the knives allows the knives to transfer the load to the cups. Once the knives are placed in the proper place, an object can be placed on their intersection - even a heavy Bible!
Reaching the goal of accomplishing the task that God has set before us requires us to utilize all three things:
faith - We must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him;
work ethic - We must have the willingness to do God’s will and the determination to persevere despite obstacles or adversity.
Godly wisdom - We must utilize Godly wisdom - which is available to us from several sources: prayer and meditation, Bible study, Godly counsel from people who love the Lord, and direction from the Holy Spirit.
Only having one or two of these things will not allow us to be successful in reaching our goal of being a productive servant for our Lord. God’s given us a job to do, and He expects it to be done. We have to use all the tools that we have in order to serve Him with all of our heart and to be successful in completing the task.
Wise and Understanding
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding that all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. Psalm 119:98-99
Enemies, teachers, aged . . . what do these three groups of people have in common in this psalm? They do not value God’s law, His statutes and commandments, His testimonies and precepts.
It’s amazing, really. I’ve heard the Bible compared to an owner’s manual: God is the Creator of the Universe and the Bible is the instruction manual to make life work. So why wouldn’t you want to study God’s law.
The word wiser in vs. 98 is the Hebrew chakam, which means to be wise in mind, word and action; to have an intelligent attitude towards the experiences of life; to be wise in matters of general interest, basic morality, prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and spiritual experience. It is a state of being, not just a hat that you put on for specific instances.
The word teacher in vs. 99 is the Hebrew lamad, which means expert, instruct, learn, skillful. Hebrew is such a frugal language. One word denotes both the concept as a verb and as a noun. So this one means both teach and teacher, depending upon the context. It also means train and educate. To train something means that the person (or animal) will react in a certain way in a certain situation. To educate means to give understanding so that the concept can transfer to new situations. Interestingly, this word lamad has a derivation: a goad for oxen. You can see how a word which means to train can be used, in context, to mean a goad which is used to train oxen.
There’s an instance in the New Testament where this Hebrew word for goad is used: when Jesus struck Saul down on the road to Damascus. He said to Saul in the Hebrew dialect, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Now Saul was extremely well-educated. He was, as he later described himself, a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was very prominent. He also was very zealously persecuting the Christians. Somewhere along the line, he did not have more understanding than all of his teachers - otherwise he would not have been fighting against Jesus. So Jesus, the greatest of all teachers (Isaiah 40:14), had to train and educate Saul. I can’t help but think that Saul would have known the original meaning from which the oxen goad word was derived. He was intelligent enough to get the connection, and realize that He was going to have a deeper education and training than he heretofore undergone.
What about us? What understanding do we think we have? What makes us passionate? If we’re so passionate about Cardinals, Venus fly-traps, and necklaces that those pursuits take pre-eminence in our lives and our thoughts, then the evidence would suggest we are not wiser than our enemies and we do not have more understanding than all our teachers. If we put God first, if we honor Him every day in our thoughts, words, and deeds then the evidence would suggest we’re becoming wise. But it’s a process. We fight against these carnal natures, our selfish desires, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, and Satan’s wiles. It’s a battle that will continue until Christ returns. But we have help. We have God’s ways showing us the way to walk. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Stubbed Toes or Great Peace
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165
When I was a kid, I usually had bandages on my elbows and knees and on the end of my big toes. My older brother said I could trip over a crack in the sidewalk. Mom wondered, at different points, if she should put me in a strait-jacket until I was eighteen. I was always getting hurt. But it wasn’t usually because it was dark. A famous comedian once did a routine that went something like this: When we get up in the middle of the night, our brains think we can make our way around in the dark. Our brains are stupid. Our feet know we’re going to kick the coffee table and the couch on the way by. Turn on the light, stupid.
But whether we’re naturally clumsy or we are trying to stumble around in the dark, Psalm 119 gives us the solution. If I asked you what the theme of Psalm 119 is, you might tell me that it’s God’s law because the different Hebrew words for law are found in all but three of the 176 verses. But if we only look at the law from a distance and we don’t apply the law, living by its principles, then the law doesn’t benefit us. Psalm 119 is all about God’s law - as the perfect guide for life. Psalm 119:1-3 begins the chapter: Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!
This is really not talking about children who stub their toes. We’re not talking about walking around a dark house in the middle of the night. We’re really talking about the way we live our lives. The idea of walking around in the dark is a metaphor found peppered throughout the Bible for those who are walking in rebellion to God’s ways in the choices they make in their lives. John 3:19 says, And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. We often quote Romans 1:21-23, which talks about the foolishness of people who reject God, who become futile in their thinking. They walk, not according to God’s ways, but according to their own desires. Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . . (Romans 1:22).
Following God’s law takes care of the stupid brain (as in the comedian’s skit) by turning on the light. Thanks to Amy Grant, we can all probably quote Psalm 119:105: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. But that’s not the only time this idea of God’s law giving light is found in Psalm 119. In verse 130, we find, The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. When you truly don’t know which way to go, God’s word tells you what to do. The first thing to do is to go to God and ask for direction, to ask for His blessing, to ask for his assistance. God’s word shines light in a darkened world, in your dark house when you don’t know which way to go to keep from stumbling.
But what about being naturally clumsy? Does God’s word help with that too? The word “stumble” is Psalm 119:165 is the word mikhshol (#4383). It means “stumbling block, literally or figuratively, obstacle, cause of falling or sinning, an enticement, an offense, or a defense of the heart as in 1 Samuel 25:31” (Zodhiates’ Word Study Bible lexicon). 1 Samuel 25:31 is the story of Nabal, Abigail, and David. When David had sent to Nabal asking for some provisions after having kept Nabal’s sheep shearers safe, Nabal refused. David was angry. He was so angry he was going to do harm to Nabal. But one of the servants told Abigail what was going on. She met David and his fighting men, swords strapped on, with bread, wine, sheep, grain, raisins, and figs. But it was when she was talking to David that we find this word mikhshol. In the ESV, it’s translated “pangs of conscience.” She was grateful that God had restrained David from bloodguilt and that when David became king over Israel, he would have no pangs of conscience over having shed blood without cause or for taking his own vengeance. I think we would translate this “pangs of conscience” as having deep regret and guilt over doing something hastily, something that we really probably shouldn’t have done.
This is the idea that, apart from God’s law, we can fall into sin (stumble, mikhshol). God’s law provides a defense for our heart. Psalm 119:133 puts it this way: Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. When we allow our carnal nature to direct our steps, we are likely going to stumble into sin. We are likely to leave our hearts vulnerable to attack where we would end up with pangs of conscience over having done the wrong thing and gone the wrong direction. Apart from God’s law, iniquity, or sin, could get dominion over us very easily!
God’s law, then, gives light to your way so that you don’t stumble. God’s law provides direction so that you don’t sin. It provides a defense for your heart. It gives you peace.
There’s an inescapable parallel between God’s word, the Bible, shining light in a darkened world (Psalm 119:103), and God’s Word, Jesus Christ being the Light to a darkened world (John 1:4-10). Similarly, there’s an inescapable parallel between loving God’s law and having peace and loving God who is our peace.
Are you looking for a cure to being naturally clumsy? Do you want to illuminate your way? Do you feel disturbed and uneasy? Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble (Psalm 119:165).
Too Great and Too Marvelous for Me
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. Psalm 131:1
When you are little, Mommy and Daddy can do anything. When Jonathan, Christopher, and Jennifer were small, they would bring things to me to fix. Sometimes I could fix them; sometimes I couldn’t. But they had such faith that I could make things better. Then they entered that “why” stage. Why does it rain? Why do some birds swoop and some birds soar? Why is the earth tilted on its axis? Why? A good mother’s job is to answer the questions she can and help find the answers to the questions with the child for the rest. Gradually, the child learns how to find the answers on their own. Soon they are coming to Mom with facts they’ve discovered. “Why?” turns into “Hey, Mom, did you know that an ostrich will eat about anything? One even drank a gallon of green paint one time!!” Eventually, the child is learning facts and formulas at an accelerated pace, and it becomes obvious that Mom doesn’t know or remember half of these things. (I take great comfort in Einstein’s statement that an education is what remains after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned in school.) The inevitable result is that the young person looks at their parents and thinks, “They’re not very smart at all. I know a lot more than they do.” This continues until the young person reaches adulthood and starts making his or her way through life. Suddenly, he realizes that his parents were actually pretty wise. This reverse trend usually starts about six months after he gets out on his own and continues for years. It’s amazing how wise his parents are by the time he reaches 40!!
I truly believe that God gives us the physical to help us understand spiritual concepts. To that end, I believe there’s a similarity between the education and intellectual development of a child and the education and spiritual development of a Christian. When we are first converted and drawn into a relationship with God, we are so grateful to our God. We are profoundly moved by God’s love, that He would give His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. We’ve been brought to repentance; we know what we are; we know we desperately need the Savior. Because God has become so important to us, we begin to read His Word, which is very good. It is an indication that God is creating a new creature. If we didn’t have a hunger for His word, there’d be something wrong.
So we get out the concordance and look up meanings of words. We find other places that the word is used. We get the meaning from the context. We dig and we study. Then we get into conversations with other people who are Christians, who have a relationship with God. They show us things they’ve learned; we share things we’ve learned. Sometimes it’s amicable. Sometimes it’s tense. Sometimes we walk away feeling invigorated. Sometimes we walk away disturbed that anyone could believe what that person believes. We’ve looked at the words. We’ve done the research. We’ve spent literally hours looking at a certain passage. And sometimes, a Christian starts to feel they have more knowledge and understanding than most of the people around them. And if we’re not careful, we can become proud, thinking that we’ve got it figured out.
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us there. Like the kid who leaves home and finds out very quickly that his mom was a lot wiser than he realized, God puts us in situations where we realize we don’t know as much as we thought we did. We may know some facts. We may know the definition of some words. But do we understand how to apply them in our lives and in our relationships? God, in His mercy, grants to those who are truly seeking Him minor adjustments - He shows us His greatness and our smallness; He helps us replace our growing pride with a humility that comes from recognizing His awesomeness. Truly, if God brought us before Himself and questioned us like He did Job, what would we do? Do we truly think that we’d be able to answer His questions? We’d quickly see just how incomplete our knowledge and understanding and wisdom is! The more our relationship with God develops, the more we realize how great He is, how incredible is it that He cares for us, and how amazing the sacrifice of His Son is. As Phillip, Craig and Dean sings, “How great You are; how small I am!” Yes, we’ve learned a lot. We know a lot. But in the large scheme of things, compared with what God can yet teach us, we know very little.
The apostle Paul tells us that we don’t have it all figured out, that we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Yet, this inflated idea of our own importance and knowledge is endemic; there are too many scriptures which warn against pride!
In Psalm 131, David shares this same idea. “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high.” He doesn’t think of himself more highly than he ought. He is not proud. David says, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” There are things about God, about who He is, what He done and is doing, that are beyond us. I wonder if that’s part of why Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).
Yes, we should study our Bibles. We should strive to understand what it says. But it’s not about how much knowledge we can gain. It’s about the relationship we have with the One who inspired these words to be written. We would be wise to consider how little we truly know, coming before God with praise and in awe and humility.
**Good and Pleasant
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1
Materials: xylophone, mallets
When you’re playing a xylophone, there are some notes that sound good together and some that don’t. The octaves sound good. The thirds and fifths sound good. The seconds, sevenths, and fourths - well, we kinda want to avoid the sounds like that.
Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
Unity would be like playing the same note or perhaps octaves.
But we’re not always completely unified. We are all so different, with different likes and different backgrounds. And, as long as it’s not against God’s word, difference can be good. It’s okay if you like blue and he likes red and she likes green. Those are preferences which make us different from each other. That’s kind of like playing a third or a fifth on the xylophone. They complement each other. Those differences make life more interesting. It could be boring if everyone thought Chevy was the best kind of car or if everyone thought Ford was the best. Differences can be good.
But differences can also cause problems. Let’s say that you like quiet when you’re trying to do your schoolwork, and your little sister wants to sing her way through the day. Neither one of those preferences is against God’s law, but the way that you react towards each other because of those differences could say a lot about whether you truly love God or not. When there’s a difference of opinion, you have to find a way to reach a compromise; that’s what is pleasing to God.
And we can see that demonstrated on the xylophone. If we play the first line of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” it sounds good to us. But if we take the chords one at a time, we realize the song is made up of some pretty discordant notes - which are resolved to more pleasing chords. Think about this for a moment: the music we listen to, and like, is a combination of notes played together, pleasing to displeasing which resolve back to pleasing.
Think of how good it feels when you’ve had a disagreement with your best friend and you work it out. Your relationship was discordant, but you worked it to a more pleasing state. Your parents are very happy when bickering sisters and brothers figure out how to live more peaceably. Similarly, how pleasing it must be to God when we hit a snag in our relationships with the people around us (discordant) and then we work to resolve the problem.
Sometimes you have to stand your ground when there’s a disagreement. Those are the times when you are choosing to do what is pleasing to God rather than what is pleasing to the person with whom you have a conflict. God’s ways always come first.
But that’s not what this verse is talking about. Psalm 133:1 is talking about learning to get along with the people around you who truly love God like you do. A few of the translations substitute “harmony” for “unity.” How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! (Holman Christian Standard Bible) I like that translation. Because of my love for music, I understand how harmony is so much more pleasing than disharmony. But music also teaches me that, in this life, we’re going to have a little of both. The key is to always come back to harmony.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1
“Come bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by might in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD!” Psalm 134:1-2
Materials needed: helium, balloons, string, scissors, tape
It is not a coincidence that the last of the Psalms of Ascent is Psalm 134: “Come bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by might in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD!” (verses 1-2) What an expression of celebration and rejoicing! We’ve made it! We’re at the Feast of Tabernacles!!
So how do you rejoice? You might include some of these responses: jump up and down, go out for ice cream, throw confetti, sing, dance, smile, go out for ice cream, carry a balloon. All of the activities we do when we rejoice are evidence that we are rejoicing. That is, these actions show your attitude inside.
But why would we be talking about rejoicing on this second day of the Feast of Tabernacles? Maybe, like the author of Psalm 134, you’re rejoicing because you’re at the Feast of Tabernacles. That would be a good thing because one of the commands associated with the Feast of Tabernacles is to rejoice. It’s not a command of Moses; it’s a command from God. What makes it even more significant is the fact that the first mention of rejoicing in the Bible is here - in connection with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. God wants rejoicing to be a very important part of our Feast.
Therefore, it is very important to make sure you are rejoicing - all week long. Remember: it’s not a suggestion; it’s a command from God. So think about how you’re going to do that. The ice cream, balloons, jumping up and down - these actions are simply evidence of your attitude of rejoicing. How can you make sure that your internal attitude is rejoicing all week long?
First, it’s important to remember it is a choice to rejoice. You can have joy and rejoice even when things aren’t perfect - which is good - because these temporary dwellings aren’t perfect. Remember: the leaves let in the rain sometimes! And you choose to rejoice because it’s God’s command to you for this week. Secondly, you rejoice because you realize just how very blessed you are! You’re here at the Feast, you have a relationship with the Great God of the Universe, and you have assurance of eternal life in His kingdom where there will be no more tears or sorrow.
More practically, while you’re here at the Feast, make sure you get enough sleep, you drink enough water, you get enough exercise, and you don’t go crazy on sugar and very rich foods. If you don’t watch these four areas, as the week goes on, you’ll be less and less flexible in your temporary dwellings.
Also, as the week goes on, you’re going to get more tired. You’re not sleeping in your own bed. You’re out of your routine and away from your stuff. Even though the Feast is fun, it can be a lot. But that doesn’t mean you are excited from God’s commandment to rejoice.
You know what happens to a helium-filled balloon? As the days go by, the helium seeps out and the balloon droops more and more. Make sure that’s not what happens to your attitude of rejoicing before the Lord! Take the steps now to rejoice all week long!
**Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
I praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
Materials: puzzles, kaleidoscope (I purchased some kaleidoscopes you can assemble with the kids at Oriental Trading)
Have you ever looked into a kaleidoscope? The mirrors and bright colors make a shifting, symmetrical pattern which is pleasing to the eye. So many times after looking into a kaleidoscope, you can go outside and see those same symmetrical patterns in the flowers. In reality the kaleidoscope is a pale shadow the God’s creation! Its intricacies are minor compared with the incredible details in God’s creation.
Similarly, it’s fun to play with puzzles and figure out how everything fits into place perfectly. The old joke, when putting together a jigsaw puzzle, is that if a piece doesn’t fit, I’ll just take out my pocket knife and make it fit. And, of course, the reason that’s funny is because then you’d be left with the real piece which wouldn’t fit anywhere else.
When you think about your body, it’s much like that jigsaw puzzle. The pieces fit exactly in the right spot so that everything functions together like it’s supposed to! The body does amazing things:
* Your nose can remember 50,000 different scents.
* Your eyes are always the same size from birth (but your nose and ears never stop growing).
* The largest internal organ is the small intestine.
* Sneezes regularly exceed 100 mph & nerve impulses to and from the brain travel as fast as 170 miles per hour.
*It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.
* A single hair can hold the weight of a hanging apple. However, scientists don’t specify the dimensions of the apple.
* The number of bacteria in a person’s mouth is equal to the number of people living on Earth, or even more.
* Over the course of just one day, our blood ’runs’ the distance of 12,000 miles.
* A human makes approximately 20,000 breaths per day.
Another example is your heart. When your heart beats, it sends blood throughout every part of your body. It sends the blood to the kidneys to clean out all the wastes. It sends blood to the cells in the muscles to give them nutrients and oxygen. The heart send the blood to the lungs to get rid of carbon dioxide and to pick up fresh oxygen for your body to use. But did you know that in a baby’s heart - before it’s born - the blood doesn’t go to the lungs? There wouldn’t be any oxygen to get because the baby is inside its mom - suspended in liquid. So a very cool thing happens: Before the baby is born, there’s a passageway in the heart that completely bypasses the lungs. The heart receives the blood and sends it back to the body. But as soon as the baby is born, that passageway closes, never to be used again, and the blood comes to the heart, goes to the lungs for oxygen, comes back to the heart, and then goes to the body.
Who could ever have imagined such a cool design?!! Well, God did. After all, He’s the One who designed it to work that way!
So the next time you sneeze, or you smile, or you smell something, or you feel your heart beating, remember to praise God your Creator, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
The Way Everlasting
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24
When you want to search for something, what do you use? Your eyes. Maybe a magnifying glass. Perhaps a microscope. If you really want to “see,” maybe you’d do an x-ray or MRI. But why would the psalmist ask God to search his heart? Doesn’t God already know how a heart works?
The word “know” in this verse is the Hebrew yada, which means to perceive, to understand, to acquire knowledge. But God doesn’t need to know how the organ works. The word “heart” in this verse means the deepest part of a person’s character, how he thinks, the innermost part of his mind.
Furthermore, God isn’t going to just search the psalmist’s thoughts, the psalmist asks that God will “try” him. This word “try” means to try, to test, to examine, to purify. It’s the idea that as God looks deep into your mind and motives, He’s going to clean out anything that is repulsive. The next line supports this idea when it refers to seeing if “there be any grievous way in me.” The word for “grievous” means image, idol, pain labor, affliction, sorrow. A grievous way is something that is against God’s way and is going to bring the person pain and sorrow. The word for “way” means mode, walk, journey, path, road, a way of life. The psalmist wants God to make any correction.
It’s interesting that this verse comes at the end of a psalm which talks about God knowing the person from the beginning, before he was knit together in his mother’s womb. God knows his thoughts before they are spoken. God is responsible for the psalmist being fearfully and wonderfully made. So the psalmist wants God to go the whole distance and purify him completely from anything that defiles.
And more than that, he wants God to lead him in the way everlasting. Sometimes this is translated “in the ancient ways.” But that doesn’t go far enough. The word “everlasting” means forever in both directions. The Hebrew idiom for this word is “beyond the vanishing point.” You go as far as you can go and then take one more step, and one more step, and one more step . . . forever . . . and in both directions. This cannot but refer to God’s ways which are eternal.
Is that your desire? Do you want God to search your heart, show you where you are not on the path, and lead you in His eternal ways? If it is your desire, then follow Him. If it’s not your desire, He won’t force you. God doesn’t herd. God leads. I want Him to lead me in a way that is pleasant and joyful, not in a grievous and sorrowful way. What about you?
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalms 147:3
Materials: bandages, tape, glue, paper, first aid kit, needle, thread, patch, cloth
If I tear a piece of paper, is there anyway I can put it back together again?
I could tape it. But you’d still see where the tear was.
I could use another piece of paper and some glue. But you’d know it’d be repaired.
I could completely shred the paper, add some water, and some more glue. Then I could spread it out and let it dry. It wouldn’t look like the original paper, but you wouldn’t see where the initial tear was.
But that’s paper. What about cloth? What if I get a tear in my shirt? What can I do?
I can tape it, but that’d come off the next time I washed it.
And glue would act similarly.
I could sew it. If it’s a small tear, I could just use thread to cinch up the hole.
If it was large tear, I could sew a patch over the top of it. But you’d always know it was there.
What about you? What if you get a cut? What can you do?
You can put a band-aid on it.
You can use NewSkin.
Sometimes you need stitches.
You can do some surface repairs, but it is really God who heals us - either allowing the body to heal itself as God has designed it or directly as an answer to our prayers.
But that’s outside. What about the inside? What about the damage that has been done to you heart and mind because of your sinful choices? What can you do to heal that? Is there any way to put your mind back together - the way it was before you sinned?
You can ask for forgiveness.
You can try to make amends by telling the truth, repairing something, admitting your mistake, replacing something damaged, etc.
But for the damage to really be healed requires God’s healing. He has given us His Son to not only save us from our sin, to heal our diseases, to bind up our wounds and heal our broken hearts; Jesus also is our Advocate before the Father, ever living to make intercession for us, to restore the relationship that we have with God. Jesus makes things right again!
When we’ve sinned, made a mistake, created a tear, we can only do so much to make repairs. It takes God to heal the situation and to heal us. As we come before Him on this Atonement, we can never forget that it completely a work of God to make us whole.
**God Knows My Name
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Psalm 147:4
Materials: a jar of paper origami stars
A few years ago, Christopher became really interested in folding origami. He made a jar full of 3-D paper stars. There are quite a few in this peanut butter jar, but imagine if Christopher gave each of them a name. Giving them a name wouldn’t be too hard; remembering which star was which would be the trick! How do you tell them apart? There are an awful lot of similar stars in that jar!!
Psalm 147:4 says that God is the One created the stars. He’s the One who creates new stars and causes the old ones to burn out or go nova. That’s amazing all in itself because it’s estimated that there are 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 1 x 1021 or 1 with 21 zeros after it. To put it another way, there are as many stars in the observable universe as the number of grains of sand on all of the Earth’s beaches. Since Earth’s population is about 7.7 billion people, that’s about 130 billion stars for every person who is alive today! I can’t even call my three children by their right names some days. I can not even imagine trying to count all of the stars that would be mine, give them all names, and keep them all straight. Can you even think of 130 billion names?
Our Great God, our Heavenly Father, numbers the stars; He knows them by name. He knows when one sparrow dies. Then Jesus compares God’s care of the birds to how He cares about us: we are so precious to Him that Luke 12:7 says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Jesus goes on to say, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
The next time you are out at night, counting the stars, or the next time you see a sparrow (or other bird), remember how much God loves you. I consider them hugs from my Heavenly Father, a special reminder for me. We can all use more hugs from our Heavenly Father.
***Great is our LORD
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:5
Materials: pins, tape, straws, scissors, square sheets of paper, typing paper
If you ever look in the library, you will find a surprising number of books on how to construct airplanes. There are various models and designs, all with more or less of the theory of flight and aerodynamics included. Airplanes have long captured the attention of people - even Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) drew designs for a flying machine. It’s an important topic. After all, if you want this piece of paper to go from this side of the room to that side of the room, you’re going to have to do something other than send a single sheet through the air as is.
Or - think of a pinwheel. Someone had to come to the understanding of how wind works and how you can harness the air to make a pinwheel turn. If I pin a piece of paper to a straw, it’s not going to turn, no matter how much I blow on it. But if I bend the edges of the paper, to make foils on the ends of the blades to catch the air, I can make the pinwheel turn. And that’s important - the harnessed wind power turns windmill to grind flour (Think of a Danish windmill.), to pull water from the ground (A common sight in Western Nebraska!), or even to generate electricity (Think of the huge wind turbines that dot some of our western states.) The understanding of how to use the wind power has meant food and water for centuries.
Knowledge is power.
So here’s this wonderful gem of a verse: Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure (Psalm 147:5). Our great God understands beyond the ability to measure His understanding. Therefore, His power is unlimited as well. What is there that God cannot do? He created all things - all things! He knows how everything works because He designed and created it to work just the way it does. What is there that He could not do with His creation?! He is all-knowing and all-powerful.
It’s a comforting thing to remember when you feel like things are going badly and are out of control. They may be out of your control, but they’re not out of God’s control. And it’s a sobering thing to remember if you’re ever tempted to do things your way instead of God’s way. You’d just find yourself fighting against God - and that’s a losing proposition, hands down.
You might figure out a way to get the piece of paper across the room - like wadding it up and throwing it like a ball. But God has a plan for His creation, a plan that involves beauty and purpose. Your plans, next to His, are like a wad of trash next to the most intricate airplane ever. Great is our Lord!
**Praise God Always
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Psalm 150:4
Materials: recorder (flute-like musical instrument), glass, water
Psalm 150 makes it quite plain that we’re to praise God: singing, dancing, musical instruments. We’re to praise Him everywhere: in church and outside. We’re to praise Him because of who He is and what He’s done. Everything and everyone is commanded to praise God! All of these instances of “praise” is in the imperative sense; you must praise God.
You know what? It’s easy to praise God when things are going well. It’s easy to praise God when you have enough to eat, when you’re getting along with your family and friends. It’s easy to praise God when you feel well and when you’re not worried about anything.
It’s kind of like the recorder. It makes a nice mellow, upbeat sound. It sounds good.
But what happens when you put it into the water? It changes the pitch of some of the notes. Uh oh! What was sounding really nice and pleasant and joyful, now doesn’t sound so nice. What happened? The water impacted the amount of air that could resonate within the recorder. The result is a sound that isn’t so nice.
The whelming flood - too much water - is often symbolic in the Bible of trouble. So what happens within you when you have too much water in your life? What happens within your heart when things don’t go the way you want them to? When you get hurt, when you don’t feel well, when you’re fighting with family or friends, when you’re tired and hungry - how well do you resonate praise within your heart?
It’s really easy to become grumpy. It’s easy to neglect praising God. But, if you notice, this psalm doesn’t say anywhere that feeling good, being content, having everything you want will come first before you praise God. It just tells us to praise Him.
And if you notice, in so many of the psalms, the author starts by singing about the trouble in his life. But it almost always ends by praising God for who He is and what He has done. The psalms almost always end by talking about our Great God and praising Him.
It’s a good thing to remember. We need to praise God - no matter what and always!!
**Praise the Lord!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Psalm 150:6
Materials: musical instruments (harmonia, recorder, drums, tambourine)
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
There are eight sentences in this psalm. Everyone of them is a command. Everyone one of them ends with an exclamation point. We are commanded to praise God for what He has done and who He is. We can use trumpets or lutes or harps or tambourines or strings or pipes or cymbals. We can praise Him by dancing. And verse six makes it very plain, everything that has breath must praise the LORD!
Notice that this psalm does not say we have to be perfect in our singing and praising. It doesn’t say that we have to praise only if we’re good enough. It doesn’t say that we praise God only when things are going well.
So what is praise? There are a lot of instruments listed in Psalm 150. Can we just bang on the drum and blow on the recorder? Is making noise praising God? Praise is an expression of respect and gratitude towards God. If you’re just making noise, is that respectful? Does it show gratitude towards God? When you praise God, you bring your best (not someone else’s best - your best). You bring your best in humility, knowing that God is so great. You never would want to be disrespectful. It doesn’t work very well to try to be disrespectful and show gratitude at the same time. So you bring your best in a respectful, grateful attitude.
But why do we praise God?
* Because He is worthy of praise! He is the Great God of the universe. The psalmist says, “Praise him according to his excellent greatness!” He deserves it.
* Because we are told to. The Bible is the inspired word of God. That means that even if some man wrote down the words, God inspired him to write them. They are God’s words. This psalm should be taken as a command from God. God said it; that settles it.
* Because it’s good for us. When things are going well, what do you do? You praise God for the blessings He has given to you. But what do you do when things aren’t going so well? You should praise God! Do you know the song “Count Your Many Blessings?” The first verse starts, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed [Things aren’t going so well in your life]; when you are discouraged thinking all is lost [It’s easy to become depressed when you are struggling and you don’t seem to be winning.]; Count your many blessing, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done” [When you start thinking about how much God has blessed you, instead of thinking the trouble you are now experiencing, it has a way of lifting your spirits and putting everything back into perspective]. In other words, God tells us to praise Him because it reminds us of what He’s already done for us and what He’s going to do for us in the future. That gives us courage and strength to keep serving Him with our whole heart. Praising God is good for us.
There are lots of ways to praise God. Often we think of praising Him in singing or playing an instrument. But you can praise Him in dancing. You can praise Him in your conversations with others. You can praise Him, and you should praise Him especially, in your prayers. In any case, you praise God with a grateful, respectful heart because, after all, you are part of that group that has breath.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!