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Love God, Grow Together, Reach the World

    Daily Devotions - Entries from July 2012

    TueTuesdayJulJuly31st2012 The washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Baptism 0 comments Add comment

    I was baptized in a small tank in an evening ceremony conducted at our old church in East Palo Alto in 2001. There wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance, but I do remember being keenly aware that my old life was being symbolically washed away and my new life was beginning.

    Now, technically speaking I became a Christian in January 1997. That was the actual moment when my new life begun, and for the next four years I grew quite significantly in my faith and understanding of the Lord. Had I died, I would have gone to be with Jesus. However, nobody really explained the significance of baptism to me until we moved to California. That night was a symbol for me of the astonishing spiritual truth that had already happened several years before. In Paul’s letter to Titus he reminds him:

    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

    Once upon a time, we were all hopelessly lost and completely separated from God. For some of us it was more obvious than for others, but without Jesus we were all headed for death. Yet, while we had our backs turned against God, He Himself reached out to save us. In fact, the single most important thing in life is that we all experience this kind of “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” My hope is that as many people as possible would be “justified by his grace [and] become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

    Baptism is an incredibly important symbol of this spiritual transformation. It doesn’t replace it or add to it, but God uses it in some supernatural way as part of the process of growing and shaping us as followers of Jesus. Have you been baptized? What was your experience? How would you share the importance of getting baptized with someone?

    MonMondayJulJuly30th2012 Turning points
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Baptism 0 comments Add comment

    Our lives are marked by turning points—defining moments where, for better or worse, everything changed. Graduations, marriages, deaths, births, career transitions and moving house all mark our time and set us forward on new and sometimes unexpected trajectories. We may not always see it at the time, but later we can look back and recognize that God was working to bring about change in our life and draw us closer to Him.

    Baptism is perhaps one of the most significant turning points we will experience, and this week as we prepare for Pastor Chris’s McElwee’s sermon on Sunday we will be thinking and praying through the topic of baptism. We begin at the beginning…

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” —
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1-11)

    Before we leap to the spiritual and theological ramifications of baptism, we need to ground our conversation with a couple of key truths. First, baptism was a real, physical action that took place in lots of water and almost certainly involved full immersion. Many other religious groups had rites and rituals that involved washing in water, but John’s baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” was quite different, indicating a substantially more significant and important act than a simple ceremonial cleansing.

    Second, this act was very public (large crowds came to see John) and had ramifications for how one should go about living. The Gospel of Luke records the personal challenges that John made on those being baptized; that they would live differently now as a result.

    So, even John’s baptism would have had a “turning point” feel to it. Of course, ultimately, John’s baptism was primarily meant to point forward to the spiritual baptism that Jesus, the Messiah, would bring. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And that’s what we’ll examine next.

    FriFridayJulJuly27th2012 Whom shall I fear?

    1 The Lord is my light and my salvation —
    whom shall I fear?
    The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

    2 When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
    it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
    3 Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
    though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

    4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
    that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
    to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
    5 For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
    he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

    6 Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
    at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

    7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
    8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face! ”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
    9 Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
    Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
    10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
    11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
    12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

    13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
    14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

    (Psalm 27)

    If patience is a virtue, then I am not a very virtuous person. If an email doesn’t send immediately, I’m ready to restart the computer. If something doesn’t download right away, I’m ready to fire off a complaint to customer service. Amazon’s free one-week delivery seems almost impossibly slow. How will I survive waiting a whole seven days for something? Traditional ovens weren’t fast enough, so we invented convection ovens. Convection ovens were still too slow so we invented microwaves. Cell-phones are a miracle in and of themselves, but, while “3G” seemed blazingly fast a year ago, it feels like old technology now that everything is “4G.”

    And on and on we go. So, as I read the Bible, trying to go slowly, trying not to race through my reading, I’m pulled up short by this one line:

    Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

    How am I expected to do that? I need healing now. I need financial assistance now. I need a solution this moment. “Wait”? What is that about?

    Go back and re-read the psalm. The Lord is our “light and [our] salvation,” “the stronghold” of our lives. We have nothing to fear when we surrender our lives into His hands.

    Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

    Don’t we all want to be able to make such a daring and incredible claim? Such confidence comes from placing our hearts in God’s hands. Then, “though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.”

    A heart of worship is a heart committed to seeking God’s face, surrendered to His will, trusting in His purposes, and confident of His goodness. Most of us are not there yet. But we can progress even today. As life swirls around you in chaos and difficulty, who will you trust? Whose plan will your pursue? Whose strength will you rely on? The Lord is your light and your salvation. Of whom shall you be afraid?

    ThuThursdayJulJuly26th2012 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Psalms Surrender Worship 0 comments Add comment

    1 In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

    2 I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
    3 No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
    but shame will come on those
    v who are treacherous without cause.

    4 Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
    5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
    6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
    7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
    according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

    8 Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
    9 He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
    10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
    (Psalm 25:1-10)

    The Olympics are about to kick off, and as we prepare to admire some of the top athletes in the world, it’s important to remember that raw talent will only get you so far. To truly excel requires coaching, and for coaching to be effective, you have to be willing to be coached. The willingness to submit to the guidance and leadership of another person is a key ingredient in success. As we get caught up in all the hype of the Olympics it’s easy to forget, but without a coach there will never be a gold medal.

    Our goal in life is not winning an Olympic gold, but rather living a life that is holy and pleasing to God, a life of worship, a life devoted to pointing others to God’s glory. We can only accomplish this goal as we surrender ourselves into the hands of our loving Father. He alone can guide us and lead us in the way that we should walk. But we have to be willing to sacrifice our pride and self-centered tendencies in order to achieve God-focused greatness.

    Read through this psalm in its entirety in the Bible. Look at the way the psalmist gives his life completely over to God. “Show me,” “teach me,” “guide me.” Our Lord is good, upright, just and fair. He alone knows the way in which we should walk. He alone can direct our paths and teach us the way. Where are you struggling in your faith? What challenges seem insurmountable to you today? You won’t solve these under your own power. Turn to God and ask Him for the wisdom you need to run the race and cross the finish line successfully.

    WedWednesdayJulJuly25th2012 You have searched me and you know me
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Psalms Surrender Worship 0 comments Add comment

    1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
    2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
    4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
    5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

    7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
    11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

    (Psalm 139:1-12)

    What is your gut level response to this idea that God sees and knows everything in our lives, from the obvious things everyone can see to the dark secrets tucked away deep in our hearts?

    On the one hand, this is terrifying. To be laid bare like this before anyone is almost unthinkable. It should make us cringe. Moreover, the very fact that we want to cringe should be a powerful reminder of how desperately we need a savior. However clean and well-held together we may look on the outside, inside our hearts are full of all kinds of evil.

    On the other hand, this is so comforting! There is no place on earth where we will be apart from God. He is with us at all times, in all places. No human has the power to ever separate us from our Heavenly Father. No sinful act or thought can overpower the penalty-paying Crucifixion and life-giving Resurrection. We are his children. He has declared us to be His own and there is nothing that can ever change that fact.

    If God sees who I truly am, and yet loves me nonetheless, then I can in turn trust Him completely with my life. I willingly and eagerly surrender all my hopes, dreams, desires, needs, wishes and wants into His hands, for He alone is capable of handling it all. May your prayer, our prayer, today, be that His will would be done, in every single nook and cranny of our lives.

    TueTuesdayJulJuly24th2012 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Psalms Surrender Worship 0 comments Add comment

    23 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
    24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
    25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

    27 Those who are far from you will perish;
    you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
    28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.

    (Psalm 73:23-28)

    Fact: Pain and suffering are inevitable and unavoidable aspects of life this side of Heaven. Evil will come our way and we should expect it. Don’t waste time worrying about it or trying to avoid it. Instead, take comfort in the good news that God has not abandoned us to evil or left us to struggle around all by ourselves. He is with us and will never forsake us. He loves us and will be our refuge for all eternity.

    The psalmist declares, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” If you are like me, there are times when you’ve perhaps doubted that truth. “Is He really there?” “It doesn’t feel like I’m being held.” Open up your Bibles to the New Testament. Right there at the beginning we have four gospels filled with evidence of God’s faithfulness to His covenantal promises. In the person and work of Jesus Christ we have incontrovertible proof of God’s great love for us.

    Based on these truths we can then let go of our fears, let go of our anxieties, let go of our doubts and worries and surrender everything to God instead. Only when we see God as faithful and true will we be able to declare with the psalmist,

    “Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

    MonMondayJulJuly23rd2012 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge

    1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
    2 Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
    be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
    3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
    4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
    for you are my refuge.
    5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

    14 But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
    15 My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
    (Psalm 31:1-15)

    Sometimes giving up is not such a bad thing to do after all. The problem is that we associate surrender with defeat, and that goes completely against our “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” way of thinking. We’re wired to think and believe that if we try hard enough, we can and will prevail. We’re programmed to go it alone, to never give up without a fight. All of these things can be good in some areas of life, such as sports or sometimes even the workplace. However, the real danger for us is when this way of thinking becomes the controlling principle for our lives, when we start to believe the lie that “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” (A famous quote that comes from the last line of the poem, “Invictus,” by the English poet William Ernest Henley.)

    God has a lot to say about who is really in control, and the Bible is filled with stories of people earnestly wrestling with His sovereignty. Ultimately, however, the path of wisdom is the path of submission. One day we will all bend the knee before our Creator, willingly or otherwise. The path to peace and understanding now comes from living a life that is fully surrendered before God and His plans and purposes for our lives.

    This is what it means to “take refuge” in God. Whether good or bad will come our way we will not know and cannot control. The uncertainties in life are unending. The only solid ground we have is found in our relationship with God. We don’t have access to know the future, but we do have free access to the One who controls past, present and future. He is truly a fortress, a rock, a strong tower.

    As you turn to God in prayer today, cry out with the psalmist,

    Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

    FriFridayJulJuly20th2012 Vindicate me, my God

    Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
    Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
    2 You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
    Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
    3 Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
    let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
    4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
    I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

    5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
    (Psalm 43)

    Psalm 43 is effectively an extension of Psalm 42, continuing the same theme and containing the same refrain. The degree of desperation is not quite as strong, yet the key thoughts remain the same. Where is God in the middle of the psalmist’s struggle with those who are “deceitful and wicked”? What will God do to “vindicate” the psalmist as he faces such mockery and disdain?

    Again, we have a model here for our own prayer lives in times of desperation. You may want to try incorporating the following cry into your own prayers:

    3 Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
    let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
    4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
    I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
    (Psalm 43:3-4)

    Life is going to be a battle. Some fights we will win, many we will lose. Bad things are going to happen, because this world is racked with sin and filled with reckless sinners. The good news, though, is that God has not left us alone. He has given us His Holy Spirit as a comforter and guide; as a seal, a promise of His love and His adoption of us as His beloved children. When we remember whose we are, then we can look into the darkness and affirm again with the psalmist,

    Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
    (Psalm 43:5)

    ThuThursdayJulJuly19th2012 My soul thirsts for God

    As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
    2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
    3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
    while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
    4 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
    how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
    with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.
    5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
    6 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
    from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon —from Mount Mizar.
    7 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
    all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.
    8 By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.
    9 I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
    Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
    10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
    saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
    11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
    (Psalm 42)

    I’ve never seen a deer panting for water, but I do know what it felt like a few weeks ago when the temperatures hit 100 degrees for several days in a row. We were all desperate for relief. For anyone who was outside for any length of time, panting for water would have put it mildly. Quenching thirst was not just a nice image or something we’d get to eventually, but a simple matter of life or death. No water meant dehydration, heat stroke and possibly death.

    When was the last time you felt that degree of intensity for the Lord? When was the last time your soul thirsted after God’s presence with that kind of burning desire? For the psalmist, an oppressive depression has taken over and everything appears to be going wrong. Where can he turn? “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:9-10)

    And yet…though the darkness lingers, this psalmist knows he has no other option available before him than to turn to God. In perhaps the most unexpected and seemingly illogical line in the whole psalm, he says, “My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you…” This movement has to be at the heart of our wrestling with God. Our natural tendency is the other way around. Our instincts are to turn away from God when we hit rock bottom. We believe Satan’s lies that God doesn’t love us and doesn’t care about our pain and suffering.

    Yet it is precisely in the very middle of the darkest nights that we have to will ourselves to remember God’s grace, God’s love and God’s provision. It is when we are most downcast that we have to be most vigilant about reminding ourselves, as the psalmist does repeatedly, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

    WedWednesdayJulJuly18th2012 But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Psalms Thanksgiving Worship 0 comments Add comment

    I said, “I will watch my ways
    and keep my tongue from sin;
    I will put a muzzle on my mouth
    while in the presence of the wicked.”
    2 So I remained utterly silent,
    not even saying anything good.
    But my anguish increased;
    3 my heart grew hot within me.
    While I meditated, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

    4 “Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
    5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
    Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

    6 “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.

    7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.
    8 Save me from all my transgressions;
    do not make me the scorn of fools.
    9 I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
    for you are the one who has done this.
    10 Remove your scourge from me;
    I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
    11 When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
    you consume their wealth like a moth —
    surely everyone is but a breath.

    12 “Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for help;
    do not be deaf to my weeping.
    I dwell with you as a foreigner,
    a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
    13 Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
    before I depart and am no more.”

    (Psalm 39)

    The world we live in is challenging, to say the least. Storms rage unexpectedly, loved ones die suddenly, jobs are downsized, health diminishes, and money evaporates. Who can makes sense of it all? What hand does God have in all this?

    These are the kinds of questions plaguing the psalmist. He can’t keep these concerns in any longer, so he blurts it all out to God. It’s another variation on the “how long, O Lord?” theme. He wants and needs to hear from God. He looks around and sees that ultimately everything is meaningless. “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be” (Psalm 39:6). There’s no meaning inherent in any of it. So what can we do? We’re desperate for answers—where can we turn?

    The only place we can go is to God. Desperation, desolation and depression should all force us to our knees in prayer to God. When he could take it no more, the psalmist looked to the Lord for help, “Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping.”

    Our lives are indeed fleeting, and that can lead to feelings of doom and despondency. However, God is with us. In Jesus we have found redemption and forgiveness, freedom and reconciliation, meaning and hope. Pray your heart out to God today. Ask Him all the questions you’ve been bottling up inside. Not only can He handle it, but He alone can handle all our fear and worries. In moments of desperation, He is the only solution we have available to us.

    TueTuesdayJulJuly17th2012 Do not turn a deaf ear to me

    To you, Lord, I call;
    you are my Rock,
    do not turn a deaf ear to me.
    For if you remain silent,
    I will be like those who go down to the pit.
    2 Hear my cry for mercy
    as I call to you for help,
    as I lift up my hands
    toward your Most Holy Place.

    3 Do not drag me away with the wicked,
    with those who do evil,
    who speak cordially with their neighbors
    but harbor malice in their hearts.
    4 Repay them for their deeds
    and for their evil work;
    repay them for what their hands have done
    and bring back on them what they deserve.

    5 Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
    and what his hands have done,
    he will tear them down
    and never build them up again.

    6 Praise be to the Lord,
    for he has heard my cry for mercy.
    7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
    My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.

    8 The Lord is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
    9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
    be their shepherd and carry them forever.
    (Psalm 28)

    I am a needy person. I fall down, I make mistakes, I stumble, I struggle, I feel weak and powerless and often I feel overwhelmed. I cannot do it all myself. Which is why I join the psalmist in saying, almost daily, “To you, LORD, I call; you are my Rock…Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help.”

    Whatever the world may think, and whatever stereotypes of self-sufficiency we may have bought in to, God has programmed us to be needy creatures. We are wired for reliance on our Heavenly Father. Truly, if He remains silent, we are lost. If He does not answer, who will? But, “Praise be the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy.”

    As long as we continue to muddle through life under our own strength, convinced of our own abilities, relegating God to a box we only open on Sunday mornings, we will always battle loneliness, desperation and anxiety. We are desperate people, facing desperate times, but we serve a mighty God, “the strength of his people.” May we take refuge in that today.

    MonMondayJulJuly16th2012 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?

    1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
    2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

    3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him, ”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

    5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
    6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.
    (Psalm 13)

    In moments of desperation, the entire world can feel as if it is caving in around us. Everything starts to go wrong, nobody seems capable of helping, and all hope seems to be lost. The light at the end of the tunnel has been snuffed out. The cloud has no silver lining, just more rain.

    It’s both astonishing and encouraging to find a psalm like this in the Bible. Astonishing that God would include such a visceral cry of pain in a book that proclaims His glory and power. Encouraging because it is such a visceral cry of pain, demanding answers from God on the toughest questions of life.

    The psalmist gives us a model to follow in our own prayer lives. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed and desperate right now, all alone, wrestling with your thoughts, sorrow in your heart. If so, be comforted by the fact that you are not alone, and be reminded of the importance of giving voice to these anxieties, handing them over completely to God in prayer.

    Finally, be encouraged by the last two verses of this psalm. Whether you feel it yet or not, God has been good to us and He is the only one in whom we can trust completely. He alone will never let us down. Pray for the strength to sustain that hope through the darkness and ask God to give you the faith you need to “rejoice in [his] salvation.”

    FriFridayJulJuly13th2012 It is good to praise the Lord

    1 It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
    2 proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
    3 to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.

    4 For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
    I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
    5 How great are your works, Lord,
    how profound your thoughts!
    6 Senseless people do not know,
    fools do not understand,
    7 that though the wicked spring up like grass
    and all evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever.

    8 But you, Lord, are forever exalted.

    9 For surely your enemies, Lord,
    surely your enemies will perish;
    all evildoers will be scattered.
    10 You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox;
    fine oils have been poured on me.
    11 My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries;
    my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

    12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
    13 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
    14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
    15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him. ”
    (Psalm 92)

    I don’t know about you, but I long to be counted among the righteous. I want to “flourish like a palm tree,” and “grow like a cedar of Lebanon” (even though I’ve never seen one). I want to “bear fruit in old age” and “stay fresh and green.” Who wouldn’t want a life like that? Isn’t this the kind of abundant life Jesus said He came to give us? (John 10:10).

    This kind of life is rooted in right worship of God. Worship that spends time reflecting on God’s goodness, praising and thanking Him for His provision, reminding ourselves and others that our God is Holy and life apart from Him will always lead to destruction.

    As we finish this week’s time of worship, my prayer echoes that of Paul:

    So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

    ThuThursdayJulJuly12th2012 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart

    1 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
    before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
    2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
    and will praise your name
    for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
    for you have so exalted your solemn decree
    that it surpasses your fame.
    3 When I called, you answered me;
    you greatly emboldened me.

    4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.
    5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for the glory of the Lord is great.

    6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.
    7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life.
    You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
    with your right hand you save me.
    8 The Lord will vindicate me;
    your love, Lord, endures forever —
    do not abandon the works of your hands.

    (Psalm 138)

    Praise and worship come easily when the object of adoration is ourselves, or something shiny and beautiful we can see and touch, but it’s harder when we’re talking about God. We can’t see Him. We can’t touch Him. Yet, we are called to praise Him nonetheless.

    Sometimes we say, with the psalmist, “I will praise you, Lord…I will sing your praise.” Our hearts feel it and we can barely keep ourselves from expressing it. His love and blessing overwhelms us. However, the reality is that there may be other days when we read this psalm slightly differently, praying with the psalmist, “I will praise you, Lord…I will sing your praise.” We find ourselves almost willing ourselves into worship. “Lord, help me to praise you, help me to be thankful, help me to see you as high and exalted, because my sinful heart just doesn’t want to do it today.”

    Thankfully we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and He enables us to approach God boldly and confidently even when we don’t feel we have a right to do so. In a wonderful act of God’s grace, He Himself gives us the ability to worship Him rightly. The Lord will never abandon us. May that truth embolden our worship today.

    WedWednesdayJulJuly11th2012 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged Psalms Thanksgiving Worship 0 comments Add comment

    1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
    2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

    3 For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
    4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
    5 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

    6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
    7 for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

    Today, if only you would hear his voice,
    8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
    9 where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
    10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
    11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
    (Psalm 95)

    As we mentioned on Monday, remembering who God is and what He has done for us is a vitally important part of our worship. In fact, taking time to remember and thank God for all the many ways in which He has been present in our lives should be something we do on a daily basis. As we do this, we remember that the God whose name we invoke in prayer and claim to be our “Lord” is bigger than us, bigger than our church, bigger than our country—He is the “great King above all gods.” Everything is in His hands. The more we remind ourselves of who He is and what He has done, the more we will grow in our trust in Him.

    Although from a stylistic point of view the last stanza of this psalm may not flow the way we expect songs to do, thematically verses 8-11 are the counterpoint to verses 1-7. The people “whose hearts [went] astray” are those who forgot who God was. The result was that they never entered God’s rest. Fear, worry and anxiety will overwhelm us the moment we drop God out of the picture. May we, instead, be people of prayer who constantly give thanks to the “Rock of our salvation.”

    TueTuesdayJulJuly10th2012 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people
    byJonathan Ziman Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    1 I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
    2 Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.
    3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

    4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
    5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
    weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

    6 When I felt secure, I said,
    “I will never be shaken.”
    7 Lord, when you favored me,
    you made my royal mountain stand firm;
    but when you hid your face,
    I was dismayed.

    8 To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
    9 “What is gained if I am silenced,
    if I go down to the pit?
    Will the dust praise you?
    Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
    10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help. ”

    11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
    12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

    (Psalm 30)

    My songs of thanksgiving to God are often based around His material blessings. Those things are, after all, the most visible and obvious signs of His provision. Yet, to some extent the more profound blessings come from His presence with us through times of intense struggle and difficulty. When we are caught in a pit and feel the world crashing in all around us, God’s presence is the only solid ground available to us. In those moments His love sustains us and His care strengthens us. The response to such blessing is to sing God’s praises. May we never be silent but indeed “praise God forever.”

    MonMondayJulJuly9th2012 Great are the works of the Lord

    1 Praise the Lord.
    I will extol the Lord with all my heart
    in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

    2 Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
    3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
    4 He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
    5 He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.

    6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
    giving them the lands of other nations.
    7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
    8 They are established for ever and ever,
    enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
    9 He provided redemption for his people;
    he ordained his covenant forever—
    holy and awesome is his name.

    10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.
    (Psalm 111)

    Perhaps one of our biggest problems as Christians is our incredibly short memory. We face a situation or challenge. It seems overwhelming. We pray. Others pray. God provides. Then, all too often, it’s back to life “as usual.” We tuck God back in the “Break in Case of Emergency” box and go about life as if we have everything under control.

    The many psalms of thanksgiving push back against this tendency, encouraging us to remember and delight in the works of the Lord (Psalm 111:2-5). Take some time today to reflect on the last month—how has God been speaking to you? Providing for you? Sheltering you? Protecting you? As you come to worship Him today, make sure to thank Him for all that He has done in your life. May we be people who remember and don’t forget that the Lord is God and there is none other!

    FriFridayJulJuly6th2012 Sing to the Lord!

    Sing to the Lord! Shout for joy! Make music to the Lord! Read the following psalm out loud, with a voice of jubilation and excitement.

    Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
    his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
    2 The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
    3 He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
    all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

    4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
    5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
    6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn —
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

    7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
    8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
    9 let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

    (Psalm 98)

    Look back again at the first three verses. It’s hard not to read these through a “Christian” perspective. That is, it’s hard not to assume the psalmist is talking about the salvation, righteousness and faithfulness brought to us in Jesus, the Messiah. However, the psalm was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born! The psalmist was perhaps thinking of the Exodus or some other dramatic event in Israel’s history, but ends up being almost prophetic in announcing the saving work that Jesus would do many generations later.

    We have the blessing and benefit of being able to read this psalm and praise God, not just for the many ways in which He acted throughout the history of Israel, not just for the way in which He acted to bring about our salvation through Jesus, but also for the ways in which He will act one day to bring about complete and total restoration of all things. As we live in light of who God is and what He has done, what kind of people does God want us to be?

    ThuThursdayJulJuly5th2012 The Lord reigns

    Read the following psalm and marvel at the God whom we serve, the One we are blessed and privileged to call “Our Father in Heaven”:

    The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
    let the distant shores rejoice.
    2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
    3 Fire goes before him
    and consumes his foes on every side.
    4 His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
    5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.
    6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all peoples see his glory.

    7 All who worship images are put to shame,
    those who boast in idols —
    worship him, all you gods!

    8 Zion hears and rejoices
    and the villages of Judah are glad
    because of your judgments, Lord.
    9 For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth;
    you are exalted far above all gods.
    10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
    for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
    and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
    11 Light shines on the righteous
    and joy on the upright in heart.
    12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
    and praise his holy name.
    (Psalm 97)

    According to the psalmist, why are “the villages of Judah” glad? Now, hold in mind what the psalmist says about God in verse 9 and re-read verses 1-7. Amazing! Terrifying! Our Heavenly Father, who loves us and through Jesus Christ has adopted us as His children, is also utterly holy. He alone reigns. And yet we do not need to be afraid. We can be glad because He is in control. We can be glad because He is righteous.

    The bad news is that without Jesus we can only tremble before such awesome power. The bad news is that there is no-one who is truly “upright in heart.” However, the good news of the gospel is that in Christ we have been redeemed and restored. May we walk in His righteousness today, and every day, as a result.

    WedWednesdayJulJuly4th2012 Independence Day

    Today is a day of celebration. Parades, flags, hot dogs, fireworks and patriotic music make for significant memories as we remember the incredible gift of freedom that we have in this country.

    Read today’s psalm out loud as part of your July 4th celebrations—before your cook-out, as part of your celebration, or at breakfast before everyone goes their own way for the day. As we pause to celebrate our political independence from earthly tyrants, let us at the same time celebrate our absolute dependence on our Heavenly Father, who alone rules with justice ushers in peace.

    1 Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
    2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
    3 Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

    4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
    5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
    6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

    7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
    8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
    9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
    10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns. ”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

    11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
    12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
    13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96)

    TueTuesdayJulJuly3rd2012 Praise the Lord!

    I am, by nature, a more introverted, careful and cautious person. When people think of me, “exuberant” is not usually the first word that comes to mind. However, when it comes to worshipping God, we are all of us everywhere called upon to extend ourselves in unwavering worship to Him. Read the following psalm out loud. Then, read it out loud again with as much passion as you can muster!

    1 Praise the Lord.

    Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
    2 Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
    3 Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
    4 Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

    5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
    6 and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

    7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
    8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
    9 you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
    10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
    11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
    12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

    13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
    14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

    Praise the Lord.
    (Psalm 148)

    What does this psalm teach us about God and His Creation? What does it say about us? The extravagant beauty of a sunset was created for our enjoyment but points to God’s glory. How incredible is it to think of every single part of Creation singing praises to God? Ask God to help you see the world through these eyes today—that every leaf, every blade of grass, every cloud in the bright blue sky would point your heart towards the splendor of the King.

    MonMondayJulJuly2nd2012 Adoration

    It’s common in Christian circles to encourage people to pray according to the acronym ACTS—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. The problem for most of us however is that we don’t really know how to pray in “Adoration” and we generally don’t like “Confession,” so all too often we just skip straight to thanking God for blessing us and asking for more.

    The Psalms, however, can be our guide when it comes to learning how to praise and adore God. Read through the following psalm at least three times. Read it slowly. Read it out loud. Read it as a song or prayer of declaration.

    1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
    3 Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

    4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
    5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

    (Psalm 100)

    God is worthy of our praise, period. Whether He chooses to bless us materially or not, He alone is God, and as God, He alone deserves all our praise. As you pray today (and every day this week), consider using this psalm as a way to direct your heart in adoration to our King.

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