Psalm 10

The God Who Hides
Sometimes it's really, really hard to find God.  The world is full of hardship, heartbreak, and heresy.  We sin and are sinned against.  We are broken, and so is everything else.  Where is God?

The Wicked Who Scoff
In the absence of God's intervening presence, evildoers keep doing evil.  AND THEY PROSPER FOR IT.  They use and abuse without regret.  They get away with anything and everything, and laugh.  The wicked say to themselves, "I'll never get caught.  I'll never be held to account.  There's no one to hold me to account."

The Listener Who Chooses
When God is hard to find, all we hear are the scoffers.  Over time, we may start to agree.  Maybe God doesn't exist, or he does and doesn't care, or he cares and cannot act.  But remember Psalm 1?  Do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.  The listener has to make a choice.  Will you listen to the scoffers, or will you listen to what the Bible says about God?

"Invocare" comes form Latin and means "to invoke."  (Didn't see that coming, huh?)  This was a common writing device in epic Greco-Roman poetry where the author invokes a Deity to aid with his writing.  John Milton also used a series of invocations when writing Paradise Lost.  Obviously, I'm using the term achronistically, but that is what David is doing here as well.  He invokes God.

David does five things in this passage:
  • he calls out in faith: "Lift up your hand" (12) "But you do see" (14)
  • he remembers God's past work: "You have been the helper of the fatherless" (14)
  • he petitions: "Break the into account" (15)
  • he has faith that God will follow through: "you will will incline your ear to do justice" (17, 18)
  • he responds in praise: "the Lord is King forever and ever" (16)
David's process here provides the framework for how we can structure our own responses to suffering and injustice.  Though wicked scoffers may say that God is distant, uncaring, or unable, we can refuse to listen to their words.  Instead, we can pray to God in faith, remember God's goodness as demonstrated in the past, and pray that God moves in a certain situation.  Stop living in passivity, start actively calling on God.  When we do this, we cannot but respond in praise when we live in the security of God's goodness, power, and love.

Honesty, Idolatry, and Community

I've always had the answers.  As a kid, I was good at school and better at Sunday School.  As I grew older and was involved in Bible studies and small groups, I've been called a human Bible encyclopedia more than once (and hated it every time).  I might not be the person people go to when they want to have a night out on the town, but I'm the person people go to when they don't understand a doctrine, or when they want a verse, or if they want to share their problems.  Even during the times of my life where I intensely struggled, I still knew what the answers were.  Maybe I didn't fully believe them, or maybe I didn't like them, but I still knew the answers.  I always have.  This isn't a pride-thing.  I've always only praised God for this.  I could have ended up differently.  Much differently, and in a much darker place.  I could be dead, really- so, honestly, it's not a pride thing.  I'm very grateful and humbled.  I never deserved the answers, but God provided the clarity.  He always has.

I think I built an identity around that.  Around knowledge and competence.  Or the ability to feign competence until I got a handle on things.  When God provides something, it is easy to get used to it.  I'm not talking "entitlement," but rather assuming that it will always be provided in the future.  And creating an idol out of a gift?  What a joke.

I didn't realize this problem until I stopped having answers.  My answer-stream slowly trickled away and evaporated into nothing under the heat of the harsh sun called Reality.  The confidence started cracking when I found myself in my first relationship and didn't know how to handle being romantically involved with another human being.  At all.  Then the spidery cracks grew until they became splintering, gaping holes when I realized I needed to make life and career decisions where I had an endgame but no discernible means to get there.  How am I supposed to plan my life when I don't know what's going to happen next week?

Everything spiraled into feelings of inadequacy.  Why?  Because being on top of things was my idol.  It was comfort and security and peace.  Control.

It's funny, though.  People still come to me with their theological questions.  They still come to me with their problems.  I teach, and I counsel.  But as my friend once asked me, "Who's pouring into you?"  At the time the answer was "No one."

I need people.  I need people pouring into me.  Supporting me.  Loving me.  And it's difficult to say that I need people because that means being vulnerable.  But I'm glad I'm so, so grateful for my Mars Hill small group.  Because after my friend asked me that question, a chain of events occurred that allowed me to join this wonderful church and become involved in a community group.  I can be honest there- fears, failures, and all.  Community and discipleship are wonderful things.  And I'm thankful.

I don't have the answers, but I know God does.  I have to be OK with that.  And part of that answer is community, but I have to be honest first.

Psalm 9

(Image: Pernell, flickr, CC2.0)

God gets a bad rep in the OT.  You hear a lot of theories along the lines of, "He used to be this big, angry guy, but then Jesus came and he became loving."  But I don't think it's that way at all.

There is an amazing amount of tenderness between David and God in this poem.  An amazing amount of trust.  Why?  David's faith isn't blind, but he looks to past demonstrations of God's character.  He finds strength in the grace and mercy he finds in God, and he finds protection in the justice God doles out against those who turn back from Him.

God's character encompasses all of these.  It always has, and it always will.  That's why David sings praise.

Psalm 8

As I write this, I just got word that my classmate died.  He was maybe 26, tops.  I just met him this semester, but I met him in a small class of 5 so the impact is larger than it would otherwise be.  There were other circumstances, too, but I won't get into that here.

Psalm 8 is a hard read right now.  I know I'm not the only one who finds it hard to praise God during times like this.  Maybe it's a personal trauma or tragedy.  Maybe it's a friend, family member, coworker, or colleague.  Maybe it's nothing "big," but it's just ~life.~ 

The great thing is, my feelings don't dictate reality.  Some religions propose that God is something or someone within ourselves, but the God of the Bible has an existence external to us.  I find comfort in that because it means that I don't dictate who God is, and neither do my circumstances.

God is God.

God is worthy to be praised.

God is majestic.

And man-

We are fleeting, but oh, so precious.  Humanity has been crowned with glory and honor.  With reason and a soul.  Yes, man is dust, but we contain the breath of God.  We image the Divine.

Who are we that God is mindful of us?  That he cares for us?  That he became one of us and died for us?  We are nothing.  And yet, we are a little less than everything.

Psalm 7

I've honestly grappled with how to blog this Psalm for the past half a week.  This Psalm is so rich, and there are so many angles I can take here.  This Psalm is about finding refuge in God.  But refuge from what?  David needs to escape from his enemies, but he also needs an escape from his own sin.  

Double Take

I think on first gloss, it seems that David is challenging God.  "If I have committed evil, let my foes defeat me."  I've certainly heard it discussed that way.  It makes it seem that David is this cool and awesome and holy guy.  Cue M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This."  And in one way, I think that is true.  David had his faults, but he was a generally upstanding guy.  But I don't think that's the whole picture.

Loving God, Hating Sin

It is very evident form the Psalms that David loves God and hates sin.  Very much.  To David, people who sin deserve to be destroyed.  They deserve God's anger, and David takes a hardline stance on this.  David longs for the day when the wicked will cease, and God's kingdom of righteousness will be established.

David hates sin in others, and he hates sin in himself.  He's not a hypocrite.  He's an equal-opportunity kind of guy. 

Repentance, Righteousness, and Refuge 

I think the crux of the Psalm is verse 12a:
 12 If a man[d] does not repent, God[e] will whet his sword

David doesn't fall back on his inherent righteousness.  He is falling back on his repentance, and God's willingness to accept it.  David can ask for refuge because he has repented and God looks upon his newfound "righteousness."  A far cry from "Can't Touch This," I find this a beautiful picture of faith and dependance on God.

Do I believe that my sin deserves damnation?  Do I really believe that repentance leads to righteousness?  Do I really believe that refuge is given to the righteousness?  How much do I "bank" on God's character and His promises?

And, like David, do I respond with awe and praise?

 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
 and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

Psalm 6 Images

Though TSN first started as a webcomic, the content has slowly shifted away from that blogging format.  However, I get a large number of comments about and requests for more comics.  So...enjoy!

 "Truth Over Circumstance"

(Solstice Cetl, flickr, CC2.0)

Psalm 6

Read through Psalms!
There is a knee-jerk reaction in Christian culture to direct people toward the Psalms.  Depressed?  Read Psalms!  Angry?  Read Psalms!  Sad?  Read Psalms!  Take two and call me in the morning.

Sure, God's word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  Sure, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness.  And, sure, the Word of God does not come back void, but will accomplish the work that He sent it out to do.

But Stories Take Time
These are things I understand.  But the Psalms can be really confusing, sometimes.  The tone of the poem can change within a verse or two.  Three verses down the line, the Psalmist may be talking about something different, entirely.  A casual gloss through the Psalms (which is why I don't recommend reading any more than one Psalm a day or combining it with a larger chunk of Bible reading, like many reading plans do) will miss the richness of the story.

Because Psalms are poems.  Poems tell stories.  Good stories point to God.  If you miss the story, you miss God, and you miss the point.

Breaking it down
This Psalm teaches us about God, grace, deliverance, suffering, and faith.  It took me over an hour of re-reading the one Psalm to piece together the story, so instead of sharing response reflections, today I'm going to share more of a summary of things that stuck out to me.
  • David doesn't say that God shouldn't be angry.  Instead, he asks for deliverance from that anger.
  • David asks for grace.  He doesn't deserve it, but he needs it.  He recognizes his need and his brokenness.  The first step is admitting the problem.
  • David does not argue that God is in the wrong, that he doesn't deserve God's anger, or promise to do better in the future.  David is not accusing or bargaining.  He is begging.
  • Instead, David appeals to God's character.  He hangs on to what he knows is true: that God is love and is loving, and that God is worthy of worship.
  •  David's suffering is not only "vertical" between him and God.  Just as he has sinned against God, others are sinning against him.
  • David explains his suffering.  He does not hide his emotions- he voices them.  But he does not let them dictate his actions- he confronts them.
  • David has faith that:
    • The Lord hears him
    • The Lord accepts prayer
    • God will come through for him
    • God acts quickly 
  • David's faith is based on the character of God and the promises of God.  The truth of what he knows about God supersedes his circumstances of being languishing, troubled, weary, moaning, weeping, grieved, and weak.  God is still God.
Story Swapping
Sometimes it will take a few reads to get the story right.  Sometimes you have to sit down with a story, or with a person, to really see who they are.  You have to interact with them.  It's the same when we read the Bible, when we learn about God, or we meet a new friend.

Part of my gripe about Bible reading plans is that it is so easy to value volume over substance.  But just as we can learn how to interact with others and get to know their story, we can also learn how to stop and spend time in the Word to get to know about God.

So what's your story?
One of my goals this year is to focus on words- on Jesus as the Word, on the Word of God, and the words of others.  What's a story that you have learned?  What's a story you have experienced?  Here's the story of my bro in Christ, Dan, who spends time listening to others' stories, building relationships, and teaching others to do the same.

    Psalm 5, A Response Poem

     This is a combined reflection on Psalm 5 as well as one of my poems for "finish year."

    The pious wake up at dawn,
    Stretch their legs over the side of the bed,
    Reach for the KJV on top of the dresser,
    And open the well-worn-but-well-kept book
    To where a satin ribbon marks their place.

    If common (mis)perceptions are upheld,
    I am not pious, healthy, wealthy, or wise.
    I wake up after the third snooze,
    And the first utterance out of my mouth
    Is neither praise nor prayer,
    But a groan.

    And yet God hears.
    In the morning he hears my
    Tired, groggy,
    (half-complaining if I'm honest)
    He hears, Remembering,
    That the Spirit Himself
    Interceeds With Groans
    And together our groaning
    Is offered up before God.
    A sacrifice.

    I wait.
    I watch.
    There is no fire from heaven to shame the prophets of Baal.
    There is no lightning from the mountain.
    Torches do not pass to and fro between the halves.
    But I do not watch with bated
    Breath or Trepidation
    Knowing that the sacrifice was accepted long ago
    After 3 days and an empty tomb.

    It is the dawn for which I wait.
    It will come.
    The answer to the promise already given
    But not yet fulfilled.
    The evil prosper, but not forever.
    Likewise, God's children groan
    Along with creation
    In the pangs of childbirth.
    Bowing down toward the holy temple
    In fear of a Holy God.

    He blesses the righteous
    Though there are none,
    No, not one,
    But he has declared righteous
    Those who take refuge in Him
    And those
    Who seek first His righteousness.

    They shall not bear their guilt
    or fall by their own counsels.
    They shall not be cast out by their trangressions,
    For the Lamb has taken their transgressions from them,
    Farther than
    The East
    Is from the West.

    So let them sing with joy.
    Let them praise him in song
    Raising up
    A joyful noise.
    (And, yes,
    for some of us, the singing is
    "noise," indeed.)

    Let them exalt the One
    Who blesses the unrighteous
    With righteousness.

    Let them love the One who
    Taught them love
    While they were yet unloveable,
    By first being Love, Himself.

    Psalm 4

    You know what's really distressing?  Life.  I mean, really.  Maybe your life isn't all that distressing, and praise God!  But my life hasn't been rainbows and unicorns.  Most people's aren't.  On top of that, I chose a profession that is by nature adversarial, and am entering a subsection of that profession that is adversarial over really distressing things, like abuse and rape.

    It's not pretty.  Sin is ugly.  There is trauma and brokenness and shame.  We're surrounded by it.  We are sinners and sufferers, all.  And the affects of sin- our sin against God, our sin against others, our sin against ourselves, others' sin against us...humanity sits in its own filth, and there's no stopping it. Not on our own.

    And yet, God pities the weak.  He comforts the weary.  He relieves the distressed.  He is gracious and he hears our prayers.  Often, we won't be able to see help coming.  We're too blind, too frustrated, too distressed.  We will ask "How long?"  "Why?"  "What is going on?"  It is easy to focus on the brokenness because there is so much of it, but those who seek the One who will "show us some good" will find Him.  He promises us that much.

    God will draw near to you.  In fact, He is already near you.  He calls out to his children, as he is already running to them with open arms.  I heard a fantastic sermon at Mars Hill by Justin Holcomb on this topic.  The Gospel is about saving.  It's about redemption.  It's about God calling us to Himself, but knowing that we can't move, so he comes to us.  It's about God coming as a man to live the life we could not live and die the death we should have died.  God gives us His righteousness and reprieve.

    So though we are angry at the brokenness and we grieve, we can do so without sinning.  We can have hope in knowing that God has set aside his children for Himself.  He has bought them with his blood and is never, ever giving them up.  He will protect His own, and He will rescue those who put their trust in Him.  He will be the one to show us good and put joy in our hearts.

    We will be safe, and we will find rest.

    Psalm 3

    The Story of David
    From the "New Jo Version" (NJV) 

    Imagine coming from a giant family where no one really cared for you all that much.  Then God said you would be king, which is cool and all, but you never asked for it, and then the current king started chasing you around everywhere trying to kill you.  After a ton of heartbreak and annoyance and perseverance, you finally become king, just as God said.

    Everything is going well, just as it should be.  Then you made this awful mistake where you coerced a married woman into sleeping with you and then killed her husband because she got pregnant.  The kid dies, and you do the only decent thing a king can do in that time period- you marry the woman and stick her together with all your other wives.  You feel awful and repent.  But even though you think you've sufficiently learned from your mistakes (you're a man after God's own heart, after all, despite your faults) it turns out that you've set into place an even worse set events that ends up in your son raping your daughter and another son getting mad, chasing you around, and trying to kill you.  (You're a classic case of High "Spirituality" Does Not Translate Into Good Family Man.)

    Remember how God said you'd be king?  That peace is broken.  You screwed it up.  And now someone's chasing you around trying to kill you.  Again.  Bummer.  You've made some Really Awful Mistakes and now you're facing the consequences.

    And yet- God sustains you.  He protects you from your enemies.  You probably deserve what's coming...but it never comes.  Because God has more in store for you.  He has placed you on the throne, and He's going to keep you there.  He has a plan for you that's bigger than you.  God's kindness does not make you proud, it makes you humble.  You aren't saved because you're cool and awesome- salvation belongs to God and God alone.  You praise Him for it.  And though enemies swarm you, you are not afraid.  You lay down and sleep.  You call out to God, and He sustains you.

    So look to God for salvation, trust him, and sleep.

    Psalm 2

    As the poem goes, "The best made plans of mice and men oft go awry."  As I plan at the beginning of the year, I have been filled with a lot of anxiety.  There is simply too much to do, too little time to do it, and a lot of evil in the world.  My anxiety, however, reveals my sin.  It reveals how small my little-g "god" is.

    Plotters against God
    There are wicked people "out there" who plot against God and His people.  This passage reminds us that while they plot, they plot in vain.  We do not fight against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities, and forces of this dark world.  But even then- God doesn't seem to be terribly concerned.  He laughs- not because it's funny or lighthearted business, but because he's in control.  We do not need to be anxious about these people, but in everything, in prayer and supplication, we can present our requests to the One who is Victorious.

    Plotting against God
    Perhaps, too, my anxiety stems from my own plotting against God.  Are there areas of my life where I have been resisting His will?  Have I given Him complete surrender?  Do I hold on and try to take control - before quickly realizing I can't?  Have I turned away from the Son, away from Zion, and set about my own business?  This Psalm isn't merely about the wicked people "out there," but it's a warning to me, too.  It's a reminder that God's in control, and why should I fight Him?  1) He's going to win anyway and 2) I'm much better staying within His plan.  Instead, I should not be anxious about anything, but in everything, in prayer and supplication, present my requests to God.

    The Victorious Son
    My current anxiety shows how small I see Christ.  I do not see Him as reigning and victorious.  I do not see Him as loving and compassionate.  Not really.  There is a cognitive-belief-action disconnect.  But sometimes (a lot of the time), our feelings are wrong.  It is during those times, that we need to stop listening to our feelings and start listening to the Word.  Christ is the one who sets things straight, conquers evil, and blesses those who come to Him.  I need to stop fighting and start worshiping.

    Psalm 1

    I was 23 when I got my first car.  To me, the concepts of freedom and mobility are intertwined.  People who are engaged in struggle often describe the frustration of being "stuck."  They feel there is no way out.  Nothing they do can change anything.  They want escape.  I know that feeling well.

    Getting away
    So often, I've wanted to "get away."  I wanted to leave it all.  I searched for solutions and answers.  The easiest answers meant abandoning what I believed to get what I desired.  They often do.  This creates war within our souls.  We know what is right, we know what is wrong, and our struggle compounds the feeling of stuck-ness.  We know we shouldn't walk in the way of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.  But, dang, it seems so easy, so practical at times.  Our souls writhe.  James asks, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?"

    Trees aren't mobile.  But they flourish.
    Unless you live in Middle Earth and have Ents in your backyard, you know that trees don't go anywhere.  Sure, the weak ones will keel over and die, but the healthy ones stay there for centuries.  In one sense, they are very much "stuck."  They aren't going anywhere.  But in another sense, they are very much "rooted."

    There is something better than mobility.  Health.  Because when the solution to the oncoming storm isn't to pick up and leave.  There will always be storms.  The solution is to become strong.  And strength comes from the Lord.  When we meditate on the Word of the Lord, we become strong, sturdy, and healthy.  We may not yield fruit on-demand, but we will yield fruit in season.  When the storms come and the environment changes, we will not wither.  We will not be chaff in the wind.  We will not be tossed to and fro by the waves.  We will not be left to our own devices.

    Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.

    2012: The Year of Words

    Becoming "You"
    Lisa Gates, contributor to Forbes' Woman "She Negotiates" series wrote a wonderful article last year on "Becoming More Like Yourself in 2012."  Of course, she comes from a secular humanist slant (I don't know about her personal views, but this is at least what it seems like), and some Christians, particularly in the reformed camps, may be wary of concepts such as self-empowerment and "becoming more like oneself."

    However, I caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  If you define yourself according to your selfish desires and what you want to accomplish for YOU this coming year, then tips like the ones in the article may go awry.  However, if you define yourself according to who God has created and re-created you to be in Him, and what you want to accomplish for Him this year, a few tips, yes, even from the secular world, can be healthy and helpful.

    Limit the Focus
    Ms. Gates suggests focusing on 5 goals in the coming year: 
    Create 5 Daily Practices. One for self nourishment; one business or career-enhancing strategy; one thing you want to learn, one behavior you want to replace with another, better one; and one core value you’ll be mindful of daily to underpin your agreements in 2012.
    I'm not one for "new year's resolutions," but the idea of "one core value" stuck out to me.  It is easy to live life "living nothing for deadlines" and seeing only "1's and 0's," but living with purpose helps keeps us from getting stuck in the ruts.  And apparently, the "one core value" thing has other proponents, as well!  (See Modern Reject and One Word).

    So what's my one word?  "Word."

    Milton and Augustine talk about this a lot and more thoroughly than I can explain here, but there is something special about words.  Christ is the Word Become Flesh.  The Word of God is living and active.  The Bible is a love letter.  The Creator God is the Author God who spoke everything into existence.  Everything is a parable.  Everything is a poem.

    My 5 Practices
    Self-nourishment: meditating, really meditating on and delighting in the Word of God.

    Community-enhancing: I want to spend time with people.  I want to see the story of what God is doing in their lives.  I want to witness the power of God in those around me, and become a character in others' stories as well.

    Learning: I will be still, and know that He is God.  I will stop and reflect and learn from the silence.  I will do less and listen more.  I already cut out a class from my schedule to allow me to do this.  I will focus less on "productivity" and more on being a better listener and storyteller.

    Behavior replacement: Many Christians will automatically balk at this idea.  Yes, behavior modification has its limits.  What is important is the heart and not the action, after all.  At the same time, if things need changing, by all means- change them.  My behavior replacement will be to switch out mindless internet browsing for writing more poetry.

    One core value:  Valuing words and stories.  Being intentional about appreciating them, finding them, creating them, and using them well.

    TSN and Finish Year
    Jon Acuff has an excellent idea for completing goals and finishing well.  Keep it short, keep it simple, and finish it.  (Posts here and here).  Goals are great (particularly for the resolution-averse crowd).  However, as Acuff explains, "Fuzzy goals fail." 

    My specific goals this year are:

    1. Blog through the book of Psalms
    2. Write at least a poem per month.
    3. Write at least two thank-yous, thinking-of-yous, and/ or encouragement cards per month.
    As a result, I am going to use this blog as a way to keep myself accountable to my goals, and I hope you will continue to support and join me. 
    • First, this blog will no longer be a webcomic.  I know that this will disappoint the large majority of my readers, but the webcomic formula simply hasn't been working for me as a writer for awhile now.  There may still yet be webcomics, but that will not be the primary purpose of this blog.
    • Second, I want to encourage you to read through Psalms with me and post your meditations as I blog mine.
    • Third, I will post my poetry to the blog as it is written, so you can look forward to that content..
    • Third, bookmark this page and be mindful of the stories in your life.  If you would like to share a way that God is speaking or creating story in your life, or if you would like to commend the way God is working in and through someone else, submit the story below in the comments!
    Here's to a great 2012 and finding fulfillment in the "you" God wants you to be.