Your version may use the word “hallelujah” to begin Psalm 135. Hallelujah means “praise the Lord.” While it is synonymous with giving thanks, it means to laud a superior quality or act, to acclaim and express joy in doing so. What is so noteworthy is that the psalmist does this in very specific ways, recounting times in history when God demonstrates His power and glory on behalf of His people. As we walk through the psalm, we see this. Why is He to be praised?
HIS CHOOSING OF HIS PEOPLE (4)
HIS NATURE (5)–Great, Above All
HIS WORK IN CREATION (6-7)–Heaven, Earth, Seas, All Deep, Vapors, Lightning, Wind, Rain
HIS DEFEATING OF THEIR ENEMIES (8-11)–Egypt, Amorites, Canaanites
HIS BLESSINGS (12)–Gave His People A Heritage (Possession)
HIS POWER (13)–His Name And Remembrance
HIS PROMISES (14)–Compassionate Judgment
HIS SUPERIORITY OVER HIS RIVALS (15-18)–Deaf, Dumb, And Blind Idols, Just Like Humans
The writer calls on God’s people to praise and worship Him in song, expressing their adoration (1-3). He ends with a threefold call to “bless the Lord” (19-21). May I suggest that you work through something both in your daily life and in your preparation before every time you assemble to worship? Call it setting the table for fellowship with the Divine. Either meditate on the specific works and ways of God that are worthy of admiration, praise and honor or pray to Him, expressing these matters in specific terms. Focus on how He’s demonstrated greatness in blessing your life and the lives of those around you. Perhaps it’s answered prayer, providence, deliverance, or relief. Focus on His power and might in the affairs of our nation, in the activities of our congregation, and the occurrences within your family and personal life. Let the worship flow as you look around at all you see in nature, from the universe to right out your window. Think about the gift of Jesus for your sins. All of this will surely cause you to echo the writer in Psalm 135 and call out to others, “Praise the Lord!”
We would all like to improve in many ways, but many of us are also well aware of the flaws we feel are holding us back. Those shortcomings tend to get in the way, slow us down, or even prevent us from achieving the quality of life that we desire. While there is plenty of room for improvement in my life, I have found that there is a simple way to clearly envision where I am currently, and also plan for where I would like to be in the future.
It’s true that our burdens often come from our blessings. For example, the blessing of having a car may result in the burden of expensive bills that follow a mechanical issue.
I believe that there are five major buckets of blessings that we all must give our time and attention to. They are the five categories that, if purposefully tended, help our lives to be wonderful. On the other hand, if neglected, we find ourselves in a head-spinning spiral of worry and anxiety.
These buckets are:
If one of those buckets isn’t filled with the proper content, the effects, I’m sure you’re aware, are negative. If these crucial categories are filled correctly, our quality of life will only improve.
God is the Creator of life itself which makes Him the leading authority on the subject. Consider how He can help you in each of the five areas listed here.
By denying self, our focus is diverted away from our negative self absorption. Putting God and others first can give you a better, fresh, and positive perspective.
When we seek to understand our own minds and what makes us tick, we’ll be able to identify where these negative thoughts and reactions originate.
Poor health habits like fast-food diets, lack of physical exercise, and sleep deprivation only make dealing with stress all the more difficult. God designed your body to function properly when properly taken care of.
Every relationship, whether in marriage, friendship, family, coworkers, or the church, all have one thing in common—they were made by God. Thankfully, God wrote a book to help us understand who we are to be to each individual that make up those groups.
God built us to work— He expects us to. Some choose to be lazy, and they suffer. Others choose to constantly work to the neglect of the four other areas mentioned. There must be a balance, and God knows that.
While there’s a lot more to be said concerning these five categories, I hope this simplifies things and helps refocus on what really matters.
Hopefully, looking at life through His divine lens is a reminder of Who we should turn to for everything. He has given us the ultimate assurance— and He is willing to give us the ultimate assistance.
I wonder if Kathy felt like she was living with Briscoe Darling and the boys (imagine them if they were talkative) through the years they were growing up. She is refined and genteel, words that are not usually connected to our three sons and me. One thing she impressed upon us was the importance of timely, thoughtful thank you notes. Gratitude, though it can be expressed with very little time and expense, is telling. It acknowledges the kindness and generosity of the giver.
One of the elements of worship, generally, and prayer, specifically, is thanksgiving. Our songs call for it: “Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart,” they express it: “Thank You, Lord,” “For All That You’ve Done,” “How Great Thou Art,” “10,000 Reasons,” and “He Has Made Me Glad.” Though that songwriter, Leona Von Brethorst, apparently wrote the song from Psalm 100, she includes a line from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
Five times in Psalm 118, the psalmist says “give thanks” (1,19,21,28,29). He urges others to do so, but also expresses his resolve to do the same. Why?
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GOODNESS (1-4)
“Good” is a general word that takes in pleasantness, desirability, and beauty. The good quality specified here is His everlasting mercy (lovingkindness). The writer moves from the broad to the specific–Israel, house of Aaron, those who fear the Lord. Everyone is the object of God’s lovingkindness. The righteous freely express their thanks for it.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DELIVERANCE (5-13)
There is a sudden, dramatic shift in tone in verse five. From an upbeat, positive tone, he turns to thoughts of trouble and difficulty. Distress, hatred, being surrounded, and violence threatened him, but God was there for him as protection and help. This kept him from fearfulness. It gave him refuge.
It is an amazing thing to think of all the ways and times God has been with me, but those are just the instances I’m aware of. How many trials has God spared me from, disasters has He caused me to avoid, and troubles has He averted for me that I won’t know about on this earth? Just what I do know humbles me, and it should fill my heart with gratitude.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GREATNESS (14-17)
The writer turns to the Giver. He is strong, a Savior, valiant, and exalted. Summarizing God’s qualities, the writer says, “I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord” (17). Awareness of who God is for me, physically, materially, and spiritually, will drive me to grateful thanks.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DISCIPLINE (18)
Though it is almost a parenthetical phrase in the middle of this song of thanksgiving, it is important and an additional reason for gratitude. He writes, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.” Who is brave enough to say that with the psalmist? He implies gratitude for God’s severe discipline. Hebrews 12:7-10 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls His children. It is for our good and allows us to share His holiness. Can I thank Him for the trials and challenges that refine me and grow my dependence on Him? Or do I just plaintively ask, “Why?”
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS PROVISION (19-29)
He uses the imagery of a city here–gates, stones, and chief corner stone. Then, he ends with a temple analogy, with the house of the Lord, festival sacrifice, and the horns of the altar. Saved inside God’s walls of protection, we are free to offer worship which He accepts. We marvel, we rejoice, we are glad, we prosper, and we extol. He has given us light. The primary thrust is not material, but spiritual. However prosperous or impoverished you are, financially, however strong or weak you are, emotionally, we have the greatest provision of all in Christ. Eternal salvation, the hope of heaven, fellowship with God and the saved, the church, strength to endure, the list is endless.
Today, as you go through the day, why not stop and spend time in prayer to God thanking Him categorically: physical blessings, relationship blessings, emotional blessings, national blessings, and spiritual blessings. No doubt, there are things in your life right now that are dissatisfying and disappointing. You may be struggling mightily. Perhaps those are ways God is disciplining you in His love. Whatever is happening in your life, choose to give thanks and know God is trustworthy! It’s more than polite. It’s righteous!
One of the many reasons you’ll never find me sewing is because I can never seem to thread the needle. It takes a good 45 minutes of fumbling around, licking the thread, and missing the hole before I finally get it. This is because the eye of your average sewing needle is approximately 0.6 mm wide. Or a better way to describe it is about the width of two periods placed side by side. Now try to imagine your average camel that stands at over seven feet tall and weighs 1300 pounds fitting through this space that is so small a toothpick can’t even fit through it.
Jesus uses this exact illustration in one of his interactions with a ruler during His earthly ministry. This account is found in three of four gospels, Luke, Mark and Matthew.
Jesus met many different people in His ministry on earth, from those of weak faith to great faith, from those in opposition to those in support. The account in Matthew 19 stands out for a few reasons. It applies to us more than we realize. We normally don’t think of ourselves as being rich. Rich is Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. Many of us are richer than we think. For example if you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10 percent of the world’s income-earners. The average income in America is $56,180. In America, if you make $32,000 you are considered to be apart of the poor to near poor income bracket, and yet even then you’re still making three times more than the average person worldwide. All of this to say, we are rich. Which makes what Jesus says to the rich young ruler hit a little closer to home.
Matthew 19:16 says, “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” From the outside looking in, this person had it all. He was young so he had lots of life left to live. He was rich so he had no worries financially. He was a ruler so he had power and authority. While he had all of these qualities, he felt a need to go to Jesus for help.
The rich young ruler made many right decisions. He came at the right time (while he was young). He came to the right person (he ran and knelt at the feet of Jesus Mark 10:17). He asked the right question (“how can I inherit eternal life?”).
He received the right answer (Jesus tells him the truth). BUT…he made the wrong choice (he left the Lord broken-hearted).
The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asks, “what good deed must I do…?”
This question is singular. He was looking for a single action that would save his soul and give him eternal life. Sadly the action Jesus tells him to do was too much for him to handle. His riches kept him from salvation. If you live in America chances are Jesus would say to you, “How difficult it is for you to enter the kingdom of God.” May we never let what God blesses us with keep us from spending an eternity with Him.
How does Jesus feel about us? He created us, became human, and let us kill Him so He could make a new deal with us (Heb. 9.15-17). Most disregard Him, many are outright hostile. How could He love us at all? Because we know how most view God, it’s easy to lump ourselves into the same group as the hostiles.
Ephesians gives some awesome insight into how Jesus feels about his people.
1.3 – He gave us spiritual blessings through His sacrifice. 1.4 – He had us in mind before He even started creating things. 1.5 – He intended to make us part of His family. 1.6 – He gave us grace. 1.7 – He died to give us freedom. 1.7 – He gives us forgiveness. 1.9 – He told us what He wants. 1.11 – He is going to give us an inheritance. 1.11-14 – He knows His own, and He’s looking to get us back home.
He didn’t just do nice things for us, though. Here’s how He feels about it:
1.5 – Love motivated Him. 1.5 – He wanted to do it. 1.7 – He’s generous with His grace. 1.8 – He’s generous with His grace. 1.9 – He wanted to do it.
We don’t deserve Him, but He loves us to death. We let Him down, but He gives us grace. He’d have every right to be exasperated with His imperfect family, but He’s not. People get on our nerves and societies fall apart, but we have the best family on the planet. Remember whose you are when you’re discouraged. No one wants you more than He does!
In 1986, Roy Whetstine was in Arizona at a mineral show. He was digging through a plastic bowl of rocks. He saw a large stone the size of a potato that looked interesting. He bought the stone for $10. Later, Whetstine would learn that his rock was actually the world’s largest sapphire, worth $2.28 million. The man who sold Whetstine the stone was willing to give up something of great value because he did not know what he had.
The Jews in Hebrews had a hard time giving up “Mt. Sinai” for “Mt. Zion” because they did not know that Mt. Zion was far better. Hebrews 12:18-24, ‘For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore (For they could not endure what was commanded: ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’ And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” There are a lot of things that are better in the new law, but we are just going to look at three of them.
In Hebrews, there are just a few of the many blessings in the New Testament. In our passage, the writer compares Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion. Starting in verse 18, he describes Mt. Sinai It sounds awful because if you touched it you would be burned with fire or shot with an arrow. God has the power to do all these things. The writer is referring to when Moses went to get the ten commandments. God wants the people of Israel to understand and not forget them. He wanted them to obey Him so they could be His special treasure (Exod. 19:5)
Starting in verse 32, he describes Mt. Zion. It’s better because it has better blessings than Mt. Sinai. Let’s look at three contrasts in our passage.
INSTEAD OF TERROR, WE CAN BE HAPPY (22)
How can we be happy with Jesus? Moses tells the people what kind of God we serve. In Deuteronomy 33:29, he says,“Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, The shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, And you shall tread down their high places.” Jesus gives us a rich and satisfying life.” In John 10:10, He says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” So you can be HAPPY by doing good deeds for others that may need it, and by knowing He is there.
INSTEAD OF KEEPING OUR DISTANCE, WE CAN BE CLOSE (23)
Instead of keeping our distance from Mount Sinai and we don’t have to be scared to get shot if we touch the mountain. How is Jesus close to us? In Proverbs 18:24, it states, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” This shows how Jesus stays close to us.
INSTEAD OF BEING PUNISHED, WE CAN BE REWARDED (24)
Instead of being punished we can be rewarded with heaven. In John 3:16, it states, ”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does Jesus want us to do to be saved? We are hearing the word. In Romans 10:16, Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” So we can hear his word. Why do we believe in God’s word? In John 8:24 it states, ”unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” This is why you believe in God’s word. Why do we need to repent of our sins? In Mark 1:15 it states, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Why do we need to confess that Jesus is the son of God? In Matthew 26:63, it states “I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Why do we need to be baptized? In Acts 2:38, it states, “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
All in all we don’t need to keep our distance from God. Instead of keeping God out of our lives, He needs to be in our lives because through Him we make it to heaven.
Kason with his family the night of his baptism (May 22, 2021)
When we forgive someone we usually do not forget what we forgave. Unless there is an underlying condition, our minds do not automatically or immediately delete irrelevant information, like something we no longer hold against another person. Because of this, it can be hard to understand what God’s forgiveness means for the Christian. We’ll think, “I know He has forgiven me, but there’s no way He’s forgotten about it. Maybe it will ‘cloud’ His decision to forgive me next time I ask.”
This is a very common mindset, and one that I struggle with daily. When we look at scripture, though, it paints a very different picture of what God’s forgiveness really does!
Forgiveness is the word ἀφίημι (afiemi). It has several definitions, according to Bauer:
1. To dismiss or release someone from a place or presence.
2. To release from a moral obligation or consequence, to cancel, remit, or pardon.
3. To move away with implication of causing a separation, to leave or depart from.
Knowing this, we should look at Hebrews 8.12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will not remember their sins anymore.” We understand that context is geared toward contrasting the old and new covenant, but it at least gives us insight into the process behind forgiveness.
When we get forgiveness from God, that sin is eradicated. It no longer exists, it will not affect our relationship with God anymore. “Remember” in Hebrews eight is, “To call information to memory.” It’s not only that God no longer holds a sin against us, it’s that it ceases to exist in His mind. How awesome is that?
When we ask God for forgiveness, let’s approach His throne with humility, yes, but also with confidence that He has the power and desire to make that sin disappear from our account forever.
Some phrases in the Bible are simple to read, but very difficult to comprehend. In this article, I’d like to walk through a process together in an attempt to make sense of a difficult phrase (thanks, Paul). One of those is in Ephesians 1.23: “…the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is a description of Jesus, specifically as it relates to His being the head of the church. But what does that phrase mean?
I will not pretend to have the answer, but I would like to make a couple of suggestions. Firstly, “fullness” appears to describe the church. In my limited knowledge of Greek, it seems to be grammatically tied to “body.” The church – His body – is His fullness. Both are nominative, both are the subject of the sentence.
Secondly, Jesus fills all in all. It’s that last phrase that’s so hard for me to comprehend. What does it mean, that “He fills all in all?” Based on the fact that some form of “fullness” is used three times in a single phrase, it appears to have reference to his nature. He is not confined by time or space and is present everywhere.
If the church is His fullness (the word is possessive in Greek), and He is omnipresent (or, creation is full of Him), then the church must be extremely important. Again, I am not a scholar, I may be mistaken.
I would, though, like to attempt to make application from this difficult phrase. If the church is, ideally, representative of the very nature of Christ, are we living up to it? Is our passion for the lost like His was/is? Is our love for each other as strong as His is for the church? Do we treat the church as if it were the body of Christ (because it is)? Do we keep in mind, as we interact with each other, that we all answer to Him? Are we trying to mold culture to His image, or are we being molded to culture?
We really have to think about this one to try to make sense of it. Comprehending this phrase is anything but easy (at least for me!). But the church – which is one distinct unit, not a series of denominations – is supposed to represent Jesus. Our values, our demeanor, our goals, our mission, our attitudes, our behavior, and our purpose should scream to others, “We are not of this world.” If these do not, we are not representing Jesus. No one will do this perfectly, but the standard is high.
When we begin to understand this phrase a little more, it shifts from being hard to understand to being hard to hear. We have a huge responsibility, but we also have a global family to support us. The standard is high, but our Head is also our Savior. As things slowly go back to normal, let’s keep this in mind! We’re not just Christians to be good people, we’re Christians to show the world who Jesus is.
This has been a beautiful spring. I cannot recall a time in recent memory when I’ve noted so many dogwood flowers in the trees. Our daffodils have been more prolific as well. There is phlox and violets blooming throughout the yard. Since I know that it is through nature that God first reveals Himself to us (cf. Romans 1.20), I could not help if wonder if what I have been seeing is providential. Think about it. We are in the midst of a pandemic and have been asked to shelter in place. What if God providentially boosted the fertility of the spring to grab the attention of all of the people stuck at home? It is a nice thought, isn’t it? Certainly, those who’ve inherited the earth (Matthew 5L5) would take notice of that.
Yet, the truth is, I cannot say this with any degree of certainty. My statement about this spring’s beauty is contingent on the amount of attention I have paid to it this year as well as the joy I’ve experienced having more time to spend outdoors since “normal” life has been shut down. The thought has occurred to me that maybe every spring is as beautiful, I’ve just been too busy or distracted to notice. Perhaps, there were plenty of equally beautiful things that had existed but went unobserved.
Maybe you’ve heard of “Schrodinger’s cat.” This is a thought experiment proposed by physicist Erwin Schrodinger, based on idea he had gotten from Albert Einstein. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, a poor kitty is imperiled by two deadly things inside a closed box. After an hour, you check to see if the cat has died. As crazy as it sounds, quantum mechanics allows for the cat to be both alive and dead until such time as one makes an observation; that is, until he or she opens the box. It is at the point of observation that the fate of the cat goes from superposition to a single state. If you find the thought experiment flawed, you’re not alone. Other physicists thought that it was ridiculous that a cat’s fate was contingent on whether or not we observed it. The radiation or the poisoned air would have killed the cat long before we opened the box. Another camp gave it a many-worlds interpretation. In other words, they say that upon opening the box, you as the observer become entangled with the cat on a quantum level and you both continue on in a reality in which the cat is either alive or dead. Since there are two possibilities, two worlds result in which the cat is alive and the cat is dead.
I apologize if I thoroughly confused you. Fortunately, it is not the wisdom of man that saves, but the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1.19-21). However, I referenced the thought experiment in order to frame my concept of a “Schrodinger’s spring.” God’s natural laws lead to a rebirth every year that He gives as we go from winter’s death to spring’s life. Because Christ sustains this creation (Colossians 1.15-17), we know that the promise God made with Noah will be kept (cf. Genesis 8.22). Hence, there will be “seedtime and harvest.” Yet, as I admitted about myself, there have likely been many years when I have failed to observe this unfolding process. There is a sense in which I allowed myself to be taken into a different world, one devoid of the joy God’s creation brings. We can do this when it comes to many different things besides nature, can’t we?
When I fail to note God’s providence and majesty, I create a world for myself that lacks contentment and joy. I don’t look to become satisfied with the state in which I am (cf. Philippians 4.11-13), but waste my life yearning for something else. We see the difference taking a moment to express gratitude made in the life of one former, Samaritan leper. Jesus had already cleansed his flesh, but extended forgiveness to him in response to the gratitude he had shown (Luke 17.18). A thankful heart is more predisposed to recognize the blessings of God, including the provisions made for our salvation. This is why, as with the cleansed Samaritan, it prompts worship. In what other way can we respond but with that desire to prostrate ourselves at His feet?
The next time you see the smiling face of the a child or a colorful sunset, remember “Schrodinger’s spring.” God has certainly surrounded you with blessings. It may be that in the hustle and bustle of life you simply haven’t had the time to notice. Make observations and change your reality as well.