Psalm 74: Where are you,God?

Why does it seem that God is silent in the midst of the most difficult trials and tribulations of our lives? The silence can puncture the ear drums of the most spiritual person. The pain eats away at your faith like acid as you begin to feel hopeless and helpless. You are stranded in a spiritual traffic jam until it clears, if it ever clears.

One popular saying concerning God’s silence is “The teacher is always quiet during the test.” While well-meaning, this saying doesn’t bring immediate comfort during the test because we simply do not know how long this test is going to be nor do we know if there is another part to it, which can sink us further into the depths of despair. I have been there and I know you probably have been there too.

In Psalm 74, the psalmist wrote about the destruction of the first Temple while questioning God. Essentially, the psalmist asks such questions as, “Where are you, God?” “Are you seeing this?” “Do you care about what’s going on here?”

The Old Testament tells us that the Jews are God’s chosen people, Jerusalem was the place where the Temple was to be built and God’s presence would dwell in said Temple. However, all of this came into question as the Babylonians laid waste to the Temple in 586 B.C.

“O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation  you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed-Mount Zion, where you dwelt.” (Psalm 74:1-2, NIV).

The psalmist goes on to describe the destruction:

“Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.” (Psalms 74:3-5, NIV).

The destruction is detailed- the paneling is smashed and the sanctuary has been burned to the ground. The psalmist once again makes note of God’s silence during this time and asks Him if He’s going to do something about it:

“We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” (Psalm 74:9-11, NIV).

These words portray such raw emotion. How many times have we pleaded with God to give us wisdom in a situation, asking for a sign? How many times have you prayed for God to remove sickness from your child or yourself? How many tears in the night must be shed before action is taken? When your last hope has nothing to say, where do you go? The psalmist is literally pleading with God to take His hands out of His pockets and do something about it.

Like the other Psalms, the writer reflects on some of God’s deeds (verses 12-17), and ends with another plea for God to intervene (verses 18-23). The Psalm does not end on a happy note nor does it make a declaration of faith. The Temple has been destroyed. God’s dwelling place has been burned to the ground. The treasures have been seized and are now in possession of a foreign king in a foreign land. For the Israelites, the story doesn’t end well, as they face seventy years of exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). After the exile, the Temple would be rebuilt during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it did not match the splendor and majesty of the first Temple.

Just as the destruction of the Temple and exile marked major turning points in the history of the Jewish people, so to we experience such turning points in our lives. There are events that take place where we may never fully recover; part of us will always be missing. Sometimes there are no answers. When we go through trials, we must be realistic about what we are facing- it’s going to be tough, but you will get through it, somehow.

 

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Peace through Music

 

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. - Victor Hugo

There is something about music that resonates in the collective soul of humanity. For millennia, music has been used to sing praises to God, tell stories of epic victories, songs of nature, songs of love, to bring awareness of social causes, or just simply for entertainment purposes. Just as there are billions of people on the planet, not everyone will agree on the same music, as it is a fine-tuned individual preference based on what sounds pleasant to the ears.

In recent months, I have rediscovered my love for classical music. The music has brought healing to my heart and spirit. Throughout the course of my life, I have had to fight constant battles against depression and anxiety. There would be times that I would feel so overwhelmed by the everyday events of life, that I would get anxious and the tension would rise. It would feel as if a panic attack was coming.  I would put on my earbuds and close my eyes and I would allow the classical or instrumental praise music to help me refocus on what I had to do. There is just a timeless, serene quality to a symphony or sonata that can bring such joy to the heart and mind. (Along with music, we can tap into the power of prayer and even breathing exercises, but I will focus on music).

The Bible states Saul was the first king of Israel. However, due to Saul’s continuous disobedience, God rejected Saul and anointed David as the next king. Maybe it was the weight of God’s rejection or the realization of his personal failings, Saul became a tortured man.

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14, NIV).

Briefly, I believe the above verse means that God had removed His protection, grace and anointing from Saul and Saul was left to deal with the fallout of his sins. God had allowed Saul to reap what he had sown.

Saul’s attendants knew what was going on with him and they sought permission to find a harp player, who could bring comfort to Saul. The harp player ended up being David, who earlier in 1 Samuel 16, unbeknownst to Saul, anointed the next king of Israel.

“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel 16:23, KJV).

David’s harp playing would bring temporary healing to Saul’s spirit, but this verse also serves as a pivot point between Saul’s steady decline and David’s meteoric rise. Through music, David was able to bring praise to God and bring healing to the pain of others, much like how a hymn or worship song in church can touch a broken heart. David’s musical ability not only gave him audience with the king, but his praises of God would give him strength for the next challenge. In 1 Samuel 17, we come across the famous story of David defeating Goliath. David praised God before he went into battle. There are other instances in The Bible where music and praise won the battle.

*Jehoshaphat sent out the choir before he sent the soldiers to fight three invading armies. (2 Chronicles 20).

*When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people sang “Hosanna!” before Jesus went into the temple and confronted the corruption.

*Paul and Silas were praising God at midnight while chained up in the jail at Philippi before they were miraculously freed.

Music is one of the ways we are to build up our spirits.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16, KJV).

You may not be able to read music or play an instrument, but there is a song in you. Just as David acknowledged God’s deliverance from the bear and the lion before facing the giant, you too have a song of deliverance. Allow the music to dwell in you and give you strength to rebuild your spirit. God bless you.

 

Strengthen the Feeble Knees

When the human body is in perfect health, it is a divine feat of engineering. All of your body’s systems- neurological, nervous, skeletal, muscular, internal organs, among other biological wonders functioning at their peak-a perfect balance. Imagine for a moment that you have a sore foot. Your natural tendency is to compensate for the pain and discomfort. You shift your weight to the other foot, but you have possibly started a chain reaction. Before the end of the day, the pain could follow to the ankles, knees, hips, or back. The human body is also subject to age and along with it wear and tear, when our bodies no longer function as they did in their prime.

However, our existence is more than this daily aging body, as we are also soulful and spiritual beings. All three parts of our being can also be in harmony or disunity. Physical pain can cause emotional distress and emotional distress can cause us spiritual distress. Though  the kind of body we are born with, rather it be strong or sickly, is out of our control, our emotional and spiritual bodies are well within our control. That is why we need to exercise and strengthen our spiritual muscles.

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'”(Isaiah 35:3-4, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse after discussing how we are to run the race and a warning about disobedience (12:12). This verse is one of many that shows us the ideal balance of our spiritual lives- we are to strengthen ourselves (the hands and knees) by coming to God in faith, repentance, prayer, obedience, applying God’s word to our lives. We also have a responsibility to encourage those whose faith is not as strong. We must build up ourselves so that we may build up others.  If we have secured our foundation, then we are truly able to help someone secure theirs. As we have made our peace with God, let us as best as we can be at peace with everyone. I believe the entire family of God needs to sit at the table. Now more than ever, spiritual unity is needed. Let us focus on what we have in common- Christ and go from there. God bless you all.

Of Snakes and Spiritual Growth

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark  

Few creatures on earth can induce such a terror-stricken state of panic as snakes. No matter the size or species of the snake, people can be absolutely terrified of them. I have no particular fear of snakes, but I can understand people who have a fear of snakes, as many, many species are venomous and can kill with a single bite, while others constrict the breath out of their prey.  That sounds like something out of a nightmare.

Snakes have been portrayed in a negative light since time immortal. The Bible describes how the serpent mislead Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Book of Revelation, John refers to Satan as “that old serpent” (Revelation 12:9 and 20:2).  God sent snakes to bite and kill rebellious Israelites. After the surviving Israelites repented, God instructed Moses to make a serpent statue for people to look up at and be healed (Numbers 21).

In Greek mythology, Medusa had a head full of snakes and anyone who looked at her turned to stone. Snakes have also been portrayed as hypnotizing and deceitful, such as Kaa in The Jungle Book.  Snakes have also been portrayed as wise, which gives background to Jesus’ statement of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

Unlike humans and other animals, snakes grow throughout their entire lives. So, it is conceivable in the right environment, a snake can grow to be in excess of twenty-to-thirty feet long. However, a snake’s skin does not grow along with its body and it becomes necessary for the snake to shed its skin (which also helps it remove parasites from its skin). If a snake does not shed its skin properly, it could die.

I know this seems like a rather odd topic, but there is a spiritual principle involved. As snakes are always growing, so should we always be growing in our spiritual lives. As we go about our lives and our relationship with God, we too develop some parasites on ourselves- sin, bad habits, false doctrine, a religious spirit, bitterness, unresolved anger, the traumatic experiences we cannot shake off- whatever it is.  Anything that is not helping us grow is hindering our development and possibly suffocating the life out of us.

From time to time, we have to shed some of our “skin” in order to grow into God has called us to be- bad relationships, forgiving others, asking for forgiveness, etc.   We may have been comfortable in our old skin, i.e. our old life, but we cannot stay there. That clothes no longer fit. Could you imagine a thirty-year-old person trying to fit into pants they wore when they were three? You are not the same person you were yesterday, last year, or twenty years ago- you have come along way and you have a long way to go. Keep growing and God bless you.

Process, Perception, and Victory

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” -John F. Kennedy

The sweet taste of victory can be quickly replaced with the bitter taste of failure. The elation of going to the championship game in any sport can be countered with the agony of a crushing defeat.  The whole season can be and is often judged as a failure because the team did not take home the trophy. I have heard championship winning athletes discuss how the losses stuck with them longer than the victories. So it is with our lives as defeat and failure loom larger than any successful endeavor.

Think of the most successful person you know. Have they always been on top of their game? Were they always the company’s best salesperson? Were they always the best musician? Were they the best money manager?  Were they always this wise, Yoda-like person? Probably not.

Success and failure are a matter of perception. We may see someone’s external success, but we never see the internal struggle. We compare their success to our current situation, but we never take into account they could have at one point faced our obstacles. Statistically speaking, we will have more perceived failure than perceived victories.

If you were to ask the most casual or non-observant sports fan to name a historical or current Major League Baseball player, I sure the name George Herman “Babe” Ruth would come up. Until 1974, Babe Ruth was the all-time home run hitter in MLB, with 714 home runs. Ruth also won 94 games as a pitcher and had a lifetime batting average of .342. Ruth also won a total of seven championships with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. That’s a rock-solid resume of baseball immortal, right?

What if I you that Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times? Does that change your perception of him? Or take Ruth’s lifetime average of .342. That means that if  Ruth went to bat 1,000 times, he would get a hit to get on base 342 times. So, almost two-thirds of the time Babe Ruth did not get on base. I am not disparaging Babe Ruth, I am simply illustrating how we look at the successes, but not look at the struggle. People remember the home runs, not the strikeouts.

(Statistics courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01-bat.shtml accessed 5 February 2017).

Life is a process. All of us must go through our process. Failure is not fatal. A setback is an opportunity to step back and reassess the situation. If our process is flawed, we can correct it. If it is something beyond our control, we must have the wisdom to know that as well. We, like Babe Ruth, will not always hit a home run in life, but we must keep getting up to bat. If we were to view our struggles as preparation for a larger moment, we will have a solid foundation to fall back on when our next challenge comes.

David was one person from the Bible who recognized the value of the process. David being the youngest brother, had the job of tending his father’s sheep. David had older brothers in King Saul’s army who were being taunted by Goliath. Neither David’s brothers nor the other soldiers accepted Goliath’s challenge. However, David recognized that the process he went through prepared him to take down the giant.

“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard,and struck and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35, NKJV).

David learned the process of taking down creatures larger than himself, thus he knew he could defeat Goliath.

“Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them , seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36, NKJV).

Notice how David referred to Goliath: “this uncircumcised Philistine.” David did not acknowledge Goliath’s height or his might as a warrior. David instead grouped his challenge in with everything else. What kind of victorious mindset would we have if we were to think about past victories when we encounter obstacles? “I overcame this diagnosis.” “I came back from bankruptcy.”” I survived that bad relationship.” “I will overcome this too.”

We should not be prideful in our abilities, but recognize that our abilities, processes, and strategies come from God, who is preparing us for the next step. David is not being boastful, because he recognizes who gave him the victory.

“Moreover David said, ‘The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.'” (1 Samuel 17:37a, NKJV).

The rest as they say, is history.

Our sanctification is a process. Gaining wisdom is a process. You cannot get the proper results without the process. Step back in the moment. Don’t think about the last pitch, focus on this one. One pitch,one swing. Don’t worry about the conclusion of your life story, write the current chapter one word at a time. God bless you.

 

 

 

The Irony and Significance of Names

A name can speak volumes about a person. A name can reflect one’s individuality and identity. A name can also reflect one’s familial, cultural, or religious heritage. In ancient biblical times, one’s name was often indicative of that person’s character and reputation. What is interesting is how many people in the Bible lived up or down to their names. The twelve spies sent out by Moses serve as a perfect example of the importance of a name.

The Israelites were on the doorstep of the Promised Land when God told Moses to send out people to inspect it. Moses picked one leader from each tribe and told them to gather information about the land’s people, defenses, natural resources, and agriculture. Moses also told the spies to bring back fruit of the land.

If you have ever heard this story taught in church or Sunday school, you can probably name only two of the spies: Joshua and Caleb. What about the other ten men? Here is the full list of the twelve spies and the meaning of their names:

*Shammua- “One who was heard.”

*Shaphat- “He has established justice.”

*Caleb- “Wholehearted.”

*Igal- “He redeems.”

*Joshua- “The Lord is salvation/the Lord saves.”

*Palti- “My deliverance.”

*Gaddiel- “God is my good fortune.”

*Gaddi- “My good fortune.”

*Ammiel- “People of God.”

*Sethur- “Hidden.”

*Nahbi- “Hidden/timid.”

*Geuel- “Pride of God.”

What is of particular interest is that ten of the twelve names reflect some aspect of God’s character and personality, while two names mean timidity and hiding. This is a bit of foreshadowing for what comes next.

The spies came back after forty days and brought back a cluster of grapes so large is had to be carried with staffs. The spies also brought back pomegranates and figs. The Bible does not say specifically, who gave the report, but what started out as confirmation of God’s word turned into complaining and discouragement.

“They [the spies] gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’” (Numbers 13:27-29, NIV).

People in the crowd began to murmur amongst themselves when Caleb spoke up:

“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30b, NIV).

God said of Caleb in Numbers 14:24 that he had a “different spirit and follows Me whole-heartily,” however, the people did not listen to Caleb as the other ten spies went on:

“’We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And the spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” (Numbers13:31b-33, NIV, emphasis mine).

People will often respond more to negativity than they will a positive message. Sometimes all it takes is one person with a rotten attitude to change the course of everyone’s day. The Israelites talked of rebelling and replacing Moses and going back to Egypt. Keep in mind this is the same generation that saw the Red Sea parted, the defeat of the most formidable army on the earth, water come out of rocks, and God supernaturally feeding them, yet they had a “grasshopper” mentality and could not see the giant God they served.

Moses and Caleb stood up before the crowd and encouraged them: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7b-9, NIV).

However, the people still refused to listen and rebelled further. It was only Moses’ intercession that saved the Israelites from being destroyed on the spot. God decided that the Israelites would not enter the Promised Land until the rebellious generation died, save for Joshua and Caleb. Because of their rebellion, the Israelites had to wander the desert for forty years. Joshua succeeded Moses in leading the people to the land and Caleb sought to take a mountain from giants in his well advanced age.

As we go through this life, we will face our share of giants and obstacles. Many of these giants and obstacles will seem unassailable. We must remember that God is with us. No matter what our name is or means, believers in Christ have a new name: Christians. Our God is known by many names: Jesus, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, Deliverer, Savior, Healer, Redeemer, Rock, Strong Tower, Shepherd, and many more. With the Lord on your side, you shall overcome. God bless you all.

Gideon: God’s Unlikely Leader

The results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election literally shocked the world. All of the data from political experts, pollsters, and pundits indicated a victory for Hillary Clinton. However, Donald Trump was able to win a resounding victory. Though these results unsettled the financial markets, God was not caught off guard by this or any other election. I believe God in His sovereignty would use either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump to fulfill His purposes.

In my lifetime, I do not remember an election that featured two such polarizing figures, whose personal, financial, moral, and political failures were well documented, yet both candidates rose above all party challengers. I am neither a prophet nor can I speak definitively concerning the next four years. However, I like other Christians believe that Jesus Christ is still on the throne regardless of who sits in the White House or any other presidential palace or government building.

During this election cycle, like others, questions arise as if a particular candidate looks, acts, or sounds “presidential.” All of us like to think that we can spot a leader or know what qualities a leader should have, but God tends to call up unlikely leaders. The story of Gideon comes to mind. During this particular scene in the Book of Judges, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites and they cried out for deliverance.

Gideon was hiding wheat in a wine press when he encountered an angel. God used the angel to speak to Gideon’s potential as a leader, though he was hiding wheat from the Midianites.

“When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12, NIV).

Gideon then questions God and dismisses his own ability to lead.

“‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’” (Judges 6:13, NIV).

“The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” (Judges 6:14, NIV).

Gideon once again questions God.

“’Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.’” (Judges 6:15, NIV).

“The Lord answered, I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:16, NIV).

After confirming His will through multiple signs, God put Gideon in charge of 32,000 men. However, God decided Gideon had too many people and eventually narrowed down the army from 32,000 to 300. Gideon and his 300 men defeated the Midianites and freed Israel from oppression.

The point of the story is that we truly do not know who or how God will use someone for His purposes. The Bible, history, and everyday life are full of examples of God using ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. David was a shepherd who became king. David’s fighting men were men on the fringes of society, yet they became a formidable force. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, and other everyday people. God speaks to our potential. We have to seek Him to find that potential. God has gifted each of us for specific purposes. God positions people for purposes as well. As we go forward with the new direction of the United States and the world, let us remember to seek God’s will. We may not have all of the details nor we may not have all of the resources we had at the beginning, but God will work it out. God bless you all.