Comprehensive Praise: some notes from Psalm 150

sunshine-dust-motesAs we reflected this past weekend on worship in community from Psalm 122 as part of our series, “Ascend,” I was reminded of how deeply the psalms shape our life of worship, both individually and corporately. I found myself turning to Psalm 150, the last in the book of psalms, which provides a fitting, yet fascinating, conclusion to the book. The psalms are prayer-songs that were often used within the corporate, and private, worship of the people of Israel. Psalm 150 concludes the entire psalter with a comprehensive picture of worship. Here are some thoughts that leap out to me about worship from this psalm.

Worship is God-Centered
The beginning word of the psalm is simple: ‘Hallelujah’, which means, ‘Praise the Lord.’ The theme and tone of this psalm, something which sums up the entire book of psalms, is God-directed praise. This word, ‘hallelujah’, sets our compass to true north. Here at the beginning of this psalm, yet at the end of the entire psalter, we remember that God is the center-point and anchor for our lives and worship. As the often-used phrase says, we remember that worship is not about me but about God.

The Intersection of the Mundane and the Holy
Next, we are told to center our worship of God in God’s sanctuary or tabernacle and the heavens or the firmament of the sky. The psalmist reminds us that worship is simultaneously about us drawing near in a Read More »

Psalm 121 by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

This powerful rendering of Psalm 121, “My Help (Cometh from the Lord),” was written by Jackie Gouche Farris and is performed here by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I was not as familiar with this song until I began preparing for my message on Psalm 121 entitled “Help” as part of our series “Ascend: the Psalms of Ascent.”  I was deeply encouraged by this song and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Self-Control, anyone?

My crazy notes for last week’s message.

With all the hullabaloo in the news these days about failures on the right and on the left, abuse of power, and the angst over unacknowledged sexual abuse, it was ironic that last Thursday I spent time with young adults at Kaleo talking about self-control. I hate to say it’s not surprising to me that not only are these painfully abusive things present in people’s lives, but that we do not know either what to do with it or how to apparently prevent it. It should not surprise us when we have heavily criticized any standards of character in hopes of finding ourselves through vain self-fulfillment fantasies. These two things go hand in hand.

Jesus was not being ‘spiritual’ in an esoteric way when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He was revealing the practical truth that the way we truly become ‘ourselves’ is not through rampant, visceral, unbounded self-centered desire but through turning from ourselves to a source of greater guidance; in this instance, Jesus as our Master Teacher and Lord.

When we read in 2 Peter 1 that God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3) it comes to us only “through our knowledge of him” – that is, Jesus – and God’s “great and precious promises,” not through our self-will. Such a move toward God and from ourselves is what saves us from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). On the one hand as humans we tend to get worried about prudish morality here, but on the other hand we are disgusted by the abusive immorality so prevalent. Peter reminds us there is no happy medium here, there are only those equipped with God’s power to live a different sort of life and those that are left to live from their own power, which struggles gasp air above the sinking waters of sin’s corruption. Read More »

Jesus Praying the Psalms of Ascent

jericho-road-imageAs I prepared for my message, “Help,” on Psalm 121 this past week, one thing that caught my imagination was considering what it means that Jesus prayed the Psalms of Ascent throughout his life. While we do not have an explicit record of this happening in Scripture, it is implicit within Luke 2:41-52 where Jesus travels to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover festival.  In this journey, Jesus likely would have prayed the Psalms of Ascent as he traveled with extended family and neighbors from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jerusalem Temple.

Erik Routley, in his concise yet insightful book Ascent to the Cross: Meditations on the Pilgrimage Psalms, considers what may have passed through Jesus’ mind as he prayed or chanted these psalms surrounded by others. I was moved by this brief reflection from Routley on Jesus’ approach to Psalm 121, which speaks of God’s all=encompassing protection and help for His people:

Our Lord sang these words with his friends, and surely he must have said, ‘This is for them. This will come true for them. But only because I must renounce my right to it. I must be accursed and cut off, that they may know what their Father’s providence really means.’[1]

Jesus is condemned in order that we might be held close. Jesus suffers that we might be spared. Jesus is abandoned that we might be kept. Jesus dies that we might live both now and unto eternity.

Through Jesus the Messiah – His life, death and resurrection – Psalm 121 becomes even more deeply and powerfully true for every tribe, tongue and nation. And we may fully and finally rest in Our God, who is our always present Help.

[1] Eric Routley, Ascent to the Cross (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 21.


When We Feel Like Running Away

There are times in our lives when we feel like running away. I still remember when I was an elementary school kid and one of the bullies came after me during a recess football game. I definitely felt like running away…and I did! As fast as I could go.

As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve encountered much more threatening things that make me and others want to run away. I’ve seen a father of four crushed by lack of work. I’ve seen parents helplessly lose a child they love. I’ve seen a single mom struggle to parent teenage children in rebellion. I’ve seen students feeling overwhelmed by confusing decisions. I’ve seen churches challenged by dire situations. These things and more can make us feel like running away.

In Psalm 11, we hear of a similar situation. The writer is struggling with the advice from a friend to simply run away:Read More »