Sunday, June 14
By: Daniel Zamora
1 I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
Quarantine time is not something most people would be happy about or would look forward to it and yet, the first sentence of this psalm is an open invitation to praise God at all times. When we think of the Psalms being the songs of God’s people, our minds could think they were written during happy, untroubled, easy going days. That could be true of some, but on this particular, it was written by young David as he was running for his life from king Saul.
This psalm is as gem in the Jewish literature. It is written as an acrostic: each of the twenty-two verses begins with the next letter following the Hebrew alphabet which only has twenty-two characters. A blogger named Richard, on Charisma, gives us an idea on how this psalm would be if it had been written in English. Let us look at the first seven verses of it.
At all times, I will praise the Lord!
Because I boast in the Lord, the afflicted will hear and rejoice.
Come let us praise his name together.
Desperate, I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from my fears.
Everyone one who looks to him is radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
From all his troubles the poor man was saved when he called on the Lord.
Great is the Lord, whose angel guards those who fear him, and he delivers them.
David not only wrote a beautiful piece of poetry, but also made it a Maskil, a psalm that contains wisdom. Beginning on verse 4, each has a teaching and a promise. Let us consider four teachings that can provide for us a new perspective during this pandemic. First, verse 4, “the Lord delivered me from all my fears.” The definition of fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” We certainly have experienced some degree of fear towards Covid 19 as we know it is potentially dangerous. In addition, the strict measures placed at the beginning caused us more fear: empty shelves in grocery stores, high possibility of getting infected and extended duration of the quarantine, to name a few.
Second, verse 7, the angel of the Lord encamps around … and delivers them. Our present enemy is invisible to our eyes, it is microscopic and, so far, science has not found an effective way to protect us from it. In other versions, the word “delivers” is translated as “rescues” or “defends.” The one who knows the exact number of hairs in our heads provides for us in all circumstances.
Third, verse 8, blessed are the ones who take refuge in him. It is very revealing that David, the most powerful king that Israel had, refers to God as his refuge. And it all began when the Lord helped him to defeat Goliath, the armies’ most feared enemy.
Fourth, verse 18, the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. As we might be concerned or worried about our families, friends, frontline health workers, and feel so terribly bad for those already infected, we are reminded that God is near to us.
Time for reflection
1. Do we praise God every time we find ourselves during troubles or adverse circumstances?
2. Is God our first source and resource of help during difficult times or we come to the Lord when everything else has failed us?
Music to our souls
As the people of Israel sang the psalms, would you like to sing this psalm? Hymnwriter Timothy Dudley-Smith metrified Psalm 34 to be sung with the tune HOLY MANNA. Here are the lyrics and an mp3 attachment with the accompaniment.
Tell his praise in song and story, bless the Lord with heart and voice;
in my God is all my glory, come before him and rejoice.
Join to praise his Name together, he who hears his people’s cry;
tell his praise, come wind or weather, shining faces lifted high.
To the Lord whose love has found them cry the poor in their distress;
swift his angels camped around them prove him sure to save and bless.
God it is who hears our crying though the spark of faith be dim;
taste and see! beyond denying blest are those who trust in him.
Taste and see! In faith draw near him, trust the Lord with all your powers;
seek and serve him, love and fear him, life and all its joys are ours:
true delight in holy living, peace and plenty, length of days;
come, my children, with thanksgiving bless the Lord in songs of praise.
In our need he walks beside us, ears alert to every cry; watchful eyes to guard and guide us, love that whispers `It is I.’ Good shall triumph, wrong be righted, God has pledged his promised word; so with ransomed saints united join to praise our living Lord!
Friday, May 29th
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
One of the common things that I hear from you at Woodland and from friends in other churches is how much we all miss physically worshipping together. Obviously, as we’ve seen in news reports, this is difficult for worshippers around the world. I’m thankful for our pastoral leadership team who have been diligent in creating our virtual worship experiences. For me, these times offer gratitude for the week completed, guidance for the week ahead, and the welcome recognition that I am not alone. One of the remarkable benefits of worship is its ability to turn our minds and hearts from lamenting the world as it is toward a perspective of gratitude for the overarching grace of God. This spiritual practice of giving thanks and praise, which we know as doxology, is vital for health – physical and spiritual.
I began to think more about this several years ago, when I criss-crossed the country visiting a number of different churches – from Seattle to Orlando, from New York City and Chicago to Los Angeles. Specifically, I was involved in a project studying churches with innovative approaches in relating to young adults. One thing I noted about their worship was that, although I heard a lot of energetic “praise songs”, few of those churches seemed to me to incorporate a sense of doxology into their worship. Now, I suppose a word of explanation is in order here. Doxology is, in the traditional sense, a hymn, a piece of music, sung in many churches — “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…” The Gloria Patri and the sung Lord’s Prayer are also forms of doxology. More importantly, though, “doxology” has a broader meaning. It is really an effort to respond in awe and gratitude for the indefinable, inexpressible Mystery that we call God. A sense of the Holy is intensely personal. For me, Daniel’s preludes are a deep doxology every week. What is it that evokes that sense for you?
Today’s Scripture is a doxology, an effusive, grateful outburst of praise beginning with the word, “Blessed,” and ending with the phrase, “to the praise of His glory.” The eleven numbered verses are actually just one long, breathless Greek sentence, composed by an inspired author!
This “doxology” is the beginning of a letter traditionally regarded as having been written by Paul from his Roman prison, although some scholars believe that it may have been written by one of his associates after his death. It was a common and accepted practice within the biblical tradition of the ancient world to write in the name of a revered figure, and so, if this were the case, although it may seem strange to our modern perspective, the letter would have still been valued as a valid expression of the faith of the apostle. It is also believed that the letter was meant to be a circular letter shared by many regional churches, which would explain why there are no personal references to Paul’s deep and long-lasting friendships in the church at Ephesus where he spent so much time and had much personal investment. Those historical questions are fascinating. However, for the meaning we find in its teaching, we will simply take the letter at face value and consider it to be from Paul to the church at Ephesus.
The structure of Ephesians is more like a sermon than a letter. And if that is the case, then this introduction we are considering today is more like a hymn. You might even consider it as the special music right before the sermon itself. But as in all worship, music is vital to the experience. It has been said that singing is perhaps the purest form of prayer.
Back in the days of the Civil Rights Movement in the South, Will Willimon remembers attending a freedom march. He, along with many other students, had gathered to march for justice, to bravely stand up and be counted, to demand that the government do something for the rights of African-Americans. Will said that he was astounded that the first thing the organizers of the march made them do was to gather in a hot, rural black Baptist church for hours of endless singing and praying and preaching. The white students got edgy. “Let’s get on with the real work of justice. Let’s get out on the streets where we can do some good. What does all this singing have to do with the work at hand?” The organizers patiently reminded the students that they had been at this a lot longer than they had. They told the students that they were not contending against a few bad laws or people; they were struggling against principalities and powers, against cosmic evil. “If all we have to sustain us out in the streets,” they said, “is optimistic humanism, then we won’t be here long.” What Will and those others discovered was that they were there to be in church, to be reminded of Who called them together, Who sent them out, Who marched with them. Will said that he discovered in that little rural church that the most important revolutionary act he could make was to sing a hymn, praise God, and trust God. He said, “Praise always precedes Christian action, calls it forth, sustains it. We love — in the streets, in the office, at school — because we have been loved.”
Worship is vital for us as the church, and as we glean from this Scripture passage, worship is formed by grateful praise – doxology! Therefore, sister and brothers, let us, in W.H. Auden’s words, “stagger onward rejoicing.”
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
What sorts of things tend to encourage you in gratitude… personal relationships, creating or sharing meals, reading or study, the natural world, music, prayer, worship? During these difficult times, purposely incorporate into your days things that inspire thankfulness for life as gift.
Carl Jung, the eminent psychologist, had this phrase carved in Latin over the front door of his Zurich home, Bidden or unbidden, God is present. Thank God for continual Presence.
Ask for “doxology” to travel with you this day, to see life in terms of grace for which to be grateful.
A Poetic Guide for Prayer: Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Two Countries”
Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.
Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.
because you have hope.
Do not forget,
for hope is always around the corner.
Be patient in suffering;
Be patient when the troubles come,
endure in distress.
For you are faithful in prayer.
persisting at all times.
You have devoted yourself
to the Lord.
So be joyful.
Because our hope is here.
By Bridgette Langford
Chapter 150 of Psalms verses 1-5 reminds us to always give thanks to God, sing unto to Him, and to rejoice always for the wonderful works of His hands. Knowing His judgment is Seeking His Glory, His strength and His face always.
As I am about to close a chapter of my life by graduating Seminary, I am constantly reminded of just how blessed I am by His mighty works in my life. The road has not always been easy and sometimes the burden heavy, but seeking Him at every step has been my strength.
Today as we prepare to celebrate our risen Lord, I want you to take moment and reflect on this passage and think about what Christ has done for you. Our God is so mighty and loving and I hold tight to that knowing if I just seek His will, He is going to provide for me. My hope and prayer for us today is that we keep seeking His face, rejoicing in song to Him, casting our cares on Him and allowing Him to strengthen us.
God is so good. Have you let Him know how thankful you are today?
Here is a prayer you can say:
Heavenly Father, today I thank you for providing me the strength to overcome the struggles in my life. I am so blessed to call you my risen Lord!!! Thank You for paying the price of giving your life for mine. Thank you for allowing me to cast all my cares on you. Father, help me to seek you not just today but always. Father, I love you and thank you for the life I live in you. Amen.
By Lance Mayes
Joy seems elusive at times; sometimes non-existent for long stretches of me. Such is the case for Israel. These were dark times. No joy. No hope. No way out of the mess they were in. Captivity was no fun for God’s chosen people. Where are you, God?
Many of us today can relate. You want a child and you wait. You pray and you wait. You hear nothing except for happy and crying babies. Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, friends and admirers oohing and aahing over the little ones. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are times of isolation and hiding. Where are you, God?
Maybe it is depression or another mental illness. No light. No hope. No activity. No joy. It takes everything in you just to get out of bed. You let things you used to be passionate about slide. Darkness rules your nights and days. Where are you, God?
Both of these are not just in my imagination. They are real experiences to me and my family. We prayed and waited for a long time before we adopted Nicholas and then Leah. We are so glad God answered our prayers in God’s time. We love our kids! We are honored to be their parents! God brought light to our darkness through them.
We also face depression and other mental illnesses. Parenting is not for wimps, especially parenting kids with challenges. Many days are dark. And then, God sends some light through a loving friend, a caring teacher, a wise doctor, and many others.
This promise of light and joy for Israel came in the form of a baby years later. This baby grew up and as the Messiah brought us grace and joy. Thank you, God for your grace, your light and your joy in our lives. We rejoice together!
By Barbara Higdon
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Many years ago, I cross-stitched verse 24 of Psalm 118; it still hangs in our bedroom. Even as a young wife with no children yet and few responsibilities, I knew I needed to be reminded daily that every day is a day that God has created. Some of us seem hard-wired to always look for the positive side of things; some of us– not so much.
This reminder that I can choose to rejoice and be glad often comes as I’m dreading a day filled with odious chores or fretting about a problem. My sampler hangs above my comfy chair in my reading corner, so I see it as I’m going to sit down. It makes me pause and express gratitude.
Psalm 118 is such a joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, that it was sung frequently—even by Christ and the disciples as they went to the Mount of Olives. It’s often quoted in the New Testament as well. The repetitive phrase, “his love endures forever” hammers home the fact that God actively loves without ceasing and He’s the one who’s watching over me.
Life’s tough, but “The stone the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.” If Christ could sing this hymn before he faced what he had to face, then so can I.
Bob Morrison, my Sunday School teacher, loves to quote Tony Campolo, who said in one of his more famous sermons, “Remember, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” As we go through the final week of remembrance before Easter Sunday, may we face each day with the knowledge that God made this day for us—let us rejoice and be glad in it.
By Garrett Vickrey
Nobody does joy like a toddler. And right now nothing makes my (almost) 2 year-old daughter, Zetta, happier than hippos. There is no place that Zetta is happier to be than at the zoo in the hippo exhibit standing in front of a giant glass wall where she can watch the hippos underwater and above the waves on their little riverfront habitat. The hippos (or Ah-ppos as she would say) waddle from the rocks around their pool and flop into the water. And most of the time they float right up to the glass and press their gigantically pudgy face up against the glass.
The joy this brings is too much for a toddler. Zetta scrunches her face into a smile, squeals with joy, bobs her head side-to-side, and jumps up and down. Sometimes I get something near this response from her when I come home from work, but for the most part only the hippos receive this joyful response.
Can you remember the last time you were so joyful you lost control of your body? Maybe you jumped up on your toes. Maybe you responded with a laugh or a shout. Maybe a tear.
This Sunday we light the pink advent candle. It’s the Sunday we celebrate the joy of the hope we have in God coming among us. It’s the day we celebrate with the Shepherds. The day we marvel with Mary and Joseph. It’s the day we revel in Isaiah’s words coming to life before our eyes.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Christmas is almost here. Hope and peace are about to be born among us. Angels are singing. Shepherds rejoicing. And hippos are flopping into the water. What else can we do but rejoice?