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Jason Silver

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2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 |

Thoughts and Reflections on Scripture

2020

January February March April May June July August September October

October

Saturday, October 17th, 2020
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What's The Point of Living Rightly?

This is one of those Psalms that varies quite a bit from one translation to the next. For example, it seems to be addressing "you gods" in the first verse, and some translations make it "Lords," or "Rulers." I chose the latter, since that seemed to be the general consensus among the translations. Another phrase, "untimely birth" is perplexing, but I chose to use what I read in one translation: stillborn.

All that to say, this is a rather unusual Psalm. Singing about bathing in the blood of the wicked, and singing about snails and slime, about the pots in the fire of thorns-- well, just a little on the awkward side of things.

Perhaps this is why Psalm 58 seems to be avoided in the lectionary - I did a search through the Revised Common Lectionary and the Lutheran Service Book lectionary, and at least in those, it was nowhere to be found.

But what can we take from this scripture? Surely it's been included in the Bible canon and part of Israel's and Christianity's worship for thousands of years for a reason?

The main point of this Psalm, in my opinion, is summarized in the last line: people will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous, surely there's a God who judges on earth." This is a valid point, because it is difficult to see the merit of living righteously. People who live sinfully often seem to have everything they want. Whether it be power, fame, or wealth, these are the rewards for cut-throat behaviour.

But what do those who live a life of gentle love and holiness get? No "pat answers" allowed here, no trite response; it's a valid question. It's easy for me, since I'm an idealist: I just believe it's intrinsically better, because I want it to be. I try to live a life of gentle love and righteousness because it's beautiful to do so.


What do you think? Why do you live rightly?

Amen

Saturday, October 10th, 2020
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Sometimes at church, I have found myself distracted with things that keep me from really focusing on God. The whole reason for going each week is to fellowship with other believers, and to lift my praise and worship to His heavenly throne. But instead, I wrestle with inner criticisms of those around me, or negativity about various details, or preoccupations with unrelated matters in my own, cluttered life.

Has this ever happened to you? Of course, it has! It seems to be the plight of humanity to miss the whole point!

That got me thinking about Psalm 145. Over and over again, David describes the many reasons God deserves our praise! He itemizes the many features and attributes of God, in order to remind us of "why we're here." He's slow to anger, merciful, full of love, faithful, kind, and lifts up those who are bowed down! He satisfies our needs, He is righteous in all His ways! He's near to those who call on him, and He fulfills our desires! The list goes on, and on!

These things are the true motivation of praise! God deserves it, because He is like none other!

I often fog over, and blur my attention when reading scripture; it can somehow become commonplace, well-known, and so I don't really process what I am reading or hearing. But it's NOT commonplace! Let's determine to respond positively to God's word, and do what it says!

We need to speak about the goodness of God, because it's TRUE! Bless His name forever! Praise him! Why? Because of His many works, His unsearchable greatness! Declare it to each generation! He is behind all of what is good in this world. Make it known to all people!

And from that awareness and thanksgiving for His character, praise Him!

Amen

Saturday, October 3rd, 2020
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When I was a teenager, I once stole a chocolate cream-filled easter egg from my mother's secret stash. I noticed the sweet confection staring back at me one summer afternoon, and quickly snatched and consumed it. I can't recall for certain whether I enjoyed this sugary treat, but in my memory, it seems as if the taste was somehow soured.

Here's why: a few days later, I completed some errands for mum. When I had finished, she smiled kindly at me, saying she had a little gift of appreciation. Opening the treat cupboard, she frowned, began moving things around, and then said, "I'm sorry, it's gone! I had an Easter Cream Egg I wanted to thank you with!"

Holding my face in a plastic smile, I reassured her that I needed no such reward. Inside, however, my guts were in turmoil. I did not confess my theft, but instead struggled to erect a fragmented justification for my dishonesty.

In Psalm 32, David tells us how he kept silent about his sin; not owning his wrongdoing, his deceit; not confessing his guilt to God. As a result, he felt as though the vitality of his very strength became withered and broken, "dried up as by the heat of summer." That's a vivid simile. I can imagine a desiccated carcass left in the desert sun; dehydrated flesh in an arid wasteland!

I have many such stories, as I'm sure you do as well. Some may even be much more serious than stolen candy! I have experienced the very deliverance which David describes, when I have acknowledged my sin to God and man. Forgiveness is available to those who confess and turn from their sin.

When we see that our torment is of our own making; once we come to realize that God's steadfast love is all around us; once we understand that joy and forgiveness is available to our lying hearts, then refusal to own up to our wrongdoings is simply stubborn ignorance. David compares such behaviour to a mule who must be controlled with a bit and bridle!

Be happy, for your sins can be forgiven!

Amen

September

Friday, September 25th, 2020
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We live in a day and age of deconstruction, in which it is common to dismiss conventionally held wisdom as irrelevant, and instead, to embrace whatever seems palatable, emotional, or politically acceptable.

The Psalmist Asaph, who penned Psalm 78, invites us to incline our ears- or as I like to think of it, to lean into the wisdom he shares. He calls his words parables, and dark sayings. This does not mean they are somehow mystical or gnostic, but rather, they require illumination in order to be understood.

In fact, as the commentator Kidner has shared, a parable is like a comparison in which a person uses one realm of life to describe a reality in another.

So what are these parables?

Well, Asaph tells us. He says that we have heard and know of these sayings, for our forefathers have told us. They are the praises of the Lord, the reality of God's strength, and the wonderful works that He has done.

Imagine seeing all of history as a parable, which when exposed to the light reveals the truth of the spiritual realm! How can we reread the stories of the Isrealites with that perception? How can we reconsider our own histories, in light of this remarkable truth?

Instead of being a stubborn and rebellious generation, one that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was unfaithful to God, perhaps we could learn from history and become a true Kingdom of Heaven on earth!

Lord, shine the light of your love and knowledge upon my own history. May I learn from the past, and become more loving, more honest, more humble, more truthful. May I learn to exalt you in all that I do, to worship you in each moment, and every breath. May I remember and retell the stories of your faithfulness and the ways in which you've saved me from myself and from those who would harm me! Help me to have the courage to tell others about the wonderful works you have done!

Amen

Friday, September 18th, 2020
Related Song

In Psalm 54, the Ziphites betrayed David to King Saul. These Ziphites were in the same tribe as David- his own countrymen, and yet he says they were strangers to him. I suspect that his use of the word strangers here, is his attempt to describe his feelings of isolation, and separation from them as humans.

I get that. I've even had that happen! When loved ones or coworkers have betrayed me, they've seemed very much like strangers! How could these confidants, friends, or fellow believers, so easily discard our relationship and pursue their own hurtful purposes? And from the other angle, how could I have been so naive, and allowed myself to be deceived by those I had called brothers and sisters?

David was certain these deceivers had not even known their God. He questioned their faith and allegiance. In fact, in the very next phrase he says they "have not set God before them." David is so confident in his calling, and upright in his behaviour, that he can say that by rejecting him, they have rejected God!

I'll admit I've wondered the same thing about those who set themselves against me! How can they even call themselves believers and behave in such a destructive and non-loving manner? I may not have had the confidence to outwardly question their belief in God, but it does touch a nerve for me.

Have you ever had this experience? Have you been undermined, treated like a pawn, manipulated politically, or suffered the brunt of gossip from those whose motives are questionable? If so, take heart! Sing along with David: "Surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life! He will repay my enemies for their evil."

Oh Lord, as your children, we often feel the focus of animosity from others. Protect us, we pray. We know you will deliver us from every trouble!

Amen

Friday, September 11th, 2020
Related Song

What is your stress level lately? Have the problems in the world been affecting your peace, disturbing your heart?

Psalm 46 reminds us to look to God in our troubles. It entreats us to not fear, but to rather put our trust in God, who helps us. I think this Psalm is perfectly suited for a time such as this.

If ever we were in need of a refuge, and a source of unshaking strength, now is that time! Fires are raging across many places in the world, even recently destroying a refugee camp! The plague of COVID-19 has changed how we relate to one another, removing graciousness from relationships, adding suspicion and fear to our interactions. Distrust of our institutions, such as governments, churches, and schools has highlighted our sense of isolation and wariness. Floods seem to be a regular occurence in different parts of the world, forcing citizens to relocate to higher ground. The world is in tumult.

But though the earth is certainly changing right now, as it says in verse two, we will not fear! Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though waters roar and foam, though nations are in an uproar, kingdoms totter, the Lord of hosts is with us! He is our refuge! He will end wars, He will make them cease and shatter the spear!

So tell me: what is your stress level lately? Can you be still, and know that He is God? Whatever the state of the world, this truth will not change! He is with us!

Amen

Friday, September 4th, 2020
Related Song

On our 6400 kilometer drive this summer, we passed more than a few derelict churches. The broken windows, overgrown graveyards, and peeling paint seemed to cry out to passersby: "God is dead."

Some churches have been awkwardly converted into homes. It's difficult to disguise the signature architecture of steeples and stain-glass windows. But for the others, grasses grew right up to the steps, birds flew in and out of windows, and in one church a small fox took up residence. Stepping in through doorways I was sometimes startled by a flurry of wings, which broke upon the silent mood of abandonment.

Across much of the west, congregations are dropping their chins and locking their doors. They can no longer carry out the task to meet in worship, and to bring light to their communities. Many have found themselves unable to stand against the taunts of culture. Our world insists that religion is old-fashioned, irrelevant, and archaic. People have stopped attending.

It probably doesn't help that Christianity has become associated with stubborn dogma, nor that many of our theological boundaries are associated with sexism, prudishness, and ignorance. Some of us have even forgotten how to communicate Christ's message of hope, peace, and joy, or have never experienced it ourselves.

Take a look at the words of Psalm 74! They could have been written for this decade, so relevant are their lines. For example, "We do not see our emblems; there is no longer any prophet, and there is no one among us who knows how long. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?"

Lord, we cry out to you to change our world. Bring back our ability to speak love and kindness, hope and purpose to a world that is desperately lost. The ground cries for deliverance! Do not turn your face from us. May the kingdom of God return to the earth!

Amen

August

Friday, August 28th, 2020
Related Song

Many of us have been watching virtual worship services on computer and phone screens since the middle of March. At first, it may have felt novel and refreshing to participate in living room church; but nearly six months later, it's starting to feel ridiculous. Each of us are renewing our appreciation for the importance of congregational fellowship. We're identifying more and more with scriptures that underscore the importance of meeting together regularly.

On Wednesday night, half a dozen of my musical friends met together at our church to film some worship songs. We sang from the top of our lungs, we laughed about silly things until our eyes ran with tears! It was SO GOOD to be back together. It was SO GOOD to be within the walls of our house of worship.

In light of that experience, the first verse of this Psalm reverberates with meaning: I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ It's true! Whether you attend a little country church, or a towering cathedral, when you find yourself amongst your fellow worshippers, lifting your voice in praise and standing in unity, there's a joy that passes all understanding. This is why we're put on the earth: to praise God and to love one another!

Oh Lord, we pray for a restoration of this world! Bring your gentle love to our streets! May we stand in solidarity and unity of purpose, to bring about peace on earth! May the world come to know you, to experience the joy of salvation! May they hunger and thirst for righteousness! May they begin to grasp how wide and long, deep and high is the love of Christ, which passes knowledge! Lord, may they be filled with all the fullness of God.

Amen

Friday, August 21st, 2020
Related Song

Okay, dumb question time: are you ever afraid?

Who isn't, right? Everybody falls into old fears once in a while. Fear can wear a lot of different masks; whether it's jealousy, worry, obsessive compulsive behaviour, social anxiety, as well as many other negative emotions.

At the root of all of them is that old enemy, fear, and we all have felt it.

In contrast, God is so completely deserving of our trust! Just try to imagine a person who is full of perfect love! Such a being would be entirely trustworthy and safe, right? That love would cushion us from fear, strengthen us in weakness, hold us tenderly in moments of pain. That person is God.

We should all be able to identify with this Psalmist, as he talks about his enemies trampling over him, of people fighting with him. He complains about the evil thoughts people hold against him, people trying to take him out, to betray him, and hurt him!

Our loving God treasures us so much, that he even keeps our "tears in a bottle," knowing our every loss, caring that we struggle, and tracking it all. He will vindicate and save us from destruction!

Do not despair, God is FOR us! There is no reason to be afraid.

Amen.

Friday, August 14th, 2020
Related Song

The power of a waterfall, like these Kakabaka Falls, is an apt illustration of the power of God. Every second, thousands of gallons pour over these cliffs, and slowly, undoubtedly, water carves the rock beneath. Nothing can stand in its way. The path of erosion is easily visible, and with their retreat, the layers of sedimentary rock give up historic secrets as well.

The roar is deafening! The air is wet with mist! Even before the tumult comes into view, one senses something unusual just around the corner.

We hold our breath, in awe, and marvel at the epic, terrible beauty. Physically insignificant compared to these mighty torrents, we may even picture ourselves slipping and tumbling to the bottom.

The centuries pass, the water pounds, and people come and go. Yet God, like this waterfall, continues in His power and might. His essence is like living water, and he invites us to be filled, to be cleaned, to allow the scouring of our own sediment, the carving away of our own sharp edges. We fear throwing ourselves to his mercy, to see where the waves may carry us, for we know how perfect and unmoving he is. Yet his water brings life, and joy, and peace, and love.

Oh Lord, I thank you for saving me, and delivering me not just from my enemies, but from myself as well. You draw me from the mighty waters, and set my feet upon the rock.

Amen

July

Friday, July 10th, 2020
Related Song

Spirituality is the "next big thing" in millenial-focused marketing, according to a chief creative and commercial officer of a large, successful company in the United States.

It's no secret that those born between '81 and '96 have mostly turned away from organized religion (over 40% according to Pew). But what might be a surprise is how quickly corporations have stepped in to fill the void! Whether it's Google or Gucci, political and social activism– as well as spiritual stances– seem to be selling.

If you search for spirituality in business, you'll find many articles referring to the importance of companies fostering a spiritual aspect to their work. The irreligious who belong to the millenial generation seem to respond well to corporate spirituality.

But why would that even be effective to people who don't believe in God? Haven't they turned their back on the supernatural?

As it turns out, people who abandon belief in organized religion most often substitute that faith with some sort of personalized, individualized, homemade belief structure. Instead of Jesus Christ, they say they believe in angels, the universe, or even extraterrestrial caretakers.

We all have a hunger for food, but humanity is now accepting that we also have a hunger for meaning. It's becoming harder and harder to deny one's own spirituality.

If you're in this age group, let me encourage you to think bigger than yourself. While it might be appealing to design your own religion, the beneficial qualities of faith, such as accountability, community, and unity with other believers will be lacking.

There's a reason world religions have survived for millenia: they do what they aim to. I invite you to call out to God, and ask him to speak to you. I invite you to open your mind to the possibility you may have been wrong. As Jesus said, take up your cross– carry a great responsibility– and follow Him.

Amen

Friday, July 3rd, 2020
Related Song

Many can recite at least a few lines from "The Lord is my shepherd–" we often hear it read at funerals, said on television, and many are comforted by believing that God leads them through the dark valleys of the soul to greener pastures where troubles are few.

I find it curious that despite our attachment to the poetry of this scripture, many people would think of it an insult to be called a sheep. Sheep are often seen as docile, compliant, and easily influenced; mindlessly following the herd without thinking.

In our moments of humility, we may agree that we aren't particularly strong, that we're often defenseless to the aggressors in this world, and not very much in control of our surroundings. Like sheep, many of us find safety in numbers, and are happy to follow a confident leader.

From my perspective, the life of the sheep seems quite idyllic. Look at them, laying in a thick patch of clover, happily munching away. Everywhere you look, there is green pasture; food abounds; fences protect. This is how it can be for each of us when we put our faith in the Good Shepherd.

I love how Jesus described himself: he said that a hired hand, who doesn't own the sheep, runs away to protect himself when he sees a wolf coming. He doesn't really care for the sheep. In contrast, he described himself as the good shepherd. He said, "I know my own, and I'm known by my own; even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep."

Wouldn't you like to put your faith in such a shepherd? Can you trust that he will protect you from the wolves of this world, that he will lead you to safety, and provide for all your needs?

Don't wait any longer. Now is the perfect time to join this flock of followers.

Amen

June

Friday, June 19th, 2020
Related Song


As I listened through this song and looked at the video of trees: old ones; young ones; dead ones; rotting ones; I felt like the Spirit of God was speaking to my spirit: that just as this Psalm attests, life is brief, but a breath, as evidenced by the forest.

See them standing stately, or gnarled and bent by forces outside their control; look at them, starved for nutrients on the rocky landscape, or reaching tall toward the hot sun! Many have fallen over in death. Can we hear their voices, entreating us to look and learn?

New life springs all around their carcasses. Their decay becomes a source of energy to the next generation, who each benefit from the carbon they've gleaned from the sun, as they return nutrients to the soil.

A tree's life hardly seems like just a "breath," but in terms of eternity, they live hardly any longer than we do.

We too leave behind not just our bodies, but the energy and effort we have put forth to change the world. It is important while we stand in life, to consider the "measure of our days." We may be just a shadow in light of eternity, but what sort of legacy do we leave behind which others "gather up?" Do we create a soil of love and peace, or bitterness and regret? Have we used our short lives to better the world, or are we grasping after personal satisfaction and selfish gain?

None of us are perfect, but we can each invite God to deliver us from ourselves, and to use our frailties to make the earth a better place.

It is only through God's grace that this can happen. O God, guard my ways, muzzle my vain tongue, make me Your tool to bring about a heaven on earth: the Kingdom of God!

Amen

Friday, June 12th, 2020
Related Song

Why should we offer our praise to God? Is it because of what God does, or because of who God is?

When I read Psalm 147, I am so impressed with the giant list of things God has done! The psalmist observes that from God's vantage point, he doesn't just oversee the intricate turn of seasons, like sending rain and snow which feed both man and beast, but he also cares for the outcasts and heals the broken-hearted! He knows every star in this gigantic universe, but also every soul, and He takes delight in those who revere him!

This is so well summarized by the commentator Meyer: “That God tells the number of the stars is only what we should expect of Him… But that He should be able to bend over one broken heart and bind it with His sympathy and heal its flowing wounds, this is wonderful, amazing, divine.”

We serve such a tender, loving God, yet One whose anger flares when he sees injustice on the earth! Why do we praise Him?

God does what he does because of who He is! He is generous, loving, and peaceful! Truly, praise for such perfection is fitting!

Praise the Lord!

Amen

Friday, June 5th, 2020
Related Song

We hear how important it is to stay in a state of "thanksgiving," but many times we find ourselves in a situation in which we couldn't imagine being thankful. In these times, it can become quite challenging to find a single thing for which to express gratitude. Perhaps we're overwhelmed or stressed with our life, or maybe we're even deep in pain and despair.

It may be necessary in those moments to look at the world in a different way. Instead of only being thankful for the things that go our way, perhaps we should, in faith, thank God for the challenges which drag us down?

To someone outside Christianity, it might seem like nonsense to be thankful for trials and tribulations. However, I believe that this adjustment in our way of thinking helps us to see reality more like God sees it! That's why I said "in faith," to thank God.

When faith comes into play, then we decide to believe that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. When faith comes into play, we choose to see our circumstances as a path to God's glory.

You see, we have to WANT to see it that way. We need to adjust our perspective. How can this trouble possibly bring about the exaltation of our Lord? Afterall, that is the ultimate purpose of God, and should be our aim as well: his Glory!

So next time you find yourselves challenged to be thankful, and don't really feel like it, then remind yourself to CHOOSE it. Lift up your eyes to the Lord, and recall that there is NO unrighteousness in Him.

Amen.

May

Friday, May 29th, 2020
Related Song

Have you ever felt an urgent need for immediate rescue or deliverance? Can you relate to feeling an emergency situation, desperate for God to hear your cry and save you in your circumstances?

I ask this question more to awaken the memory than to qualify you, because if you're human, you've been there. Life is full of such moments: tragedies, when we realize that we're in trouble, unless someone or something comes to our rescue.

Whether we need to be saved from external forces, such as David and Absolom in today's Psalm, or internal forces like our own flaws and shortcomings; in either and every situation, God is there waiting for us to call on him.

And the truth of it is, even when we call for the proverbial escape-hatch, we may often fail to see His hand at all. This is the age-old question: why does God allow us to go through such torment?

I don't have the answer to that specific question. No one does. But I believe the whole purpose is to stir in us an awareness of our need for God. He is our saviour, and he is waiting with outstretched arms for his children to speak with him, to call on him, to show love to him, and in turn experience his everlasting love for us.

If you are crying out with David today, "O Lord, make haste to help me!" then I want you to know that God hears your prayer, and will send the very help you really need.

Amen.

Friday, May 22nd, 2020
Related Song

If you're a patron, you may have read my note a few days ago about my visit to the hospital's emergency room. The doctors there checked me over, did a CT scan, a chest X-ray, and scheduled an appointment for me with the stroke clinic. They haven't figured it all out yet, but they saw a bone growth behind my nose, and so an MRI is being arranged. Apparently, it doesn't look "sinister."

I agree, it's certainly not sinister. Even though the doctor may have been using sinister as a medical term, I am confident that my life is safely in God's hands. Yes, I am concerned about what my future holds, but at some point, each of us comes to term with our own mortality.

When Heman the Ezrahite penned today's Psalm 88, I can see he was also faced with his own death. He says his soul is full of troubles, his life is near to Sheol (or the grave), that he is cut off from God, forsaken among the dead! He feels like he is in dark regions, overwhelmed with despair. He goes on and on for 18 verses, recounting his hopelessness.

Unlike so many Psalms, this one does not end with a hopeful phrase. Perhaps you too can relate! So much is crumbling around us in our world right now. It's hard to see God when the air is so full of smoke!

But I have hope, and you should too! Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning! I look forward to that eternal morning when we all will celebrate in peace together, forever!

I am sure that this issue with my body is nothing to be concerned about, but even if it is, I trust that God will lead me, preserve me, and save me.

Amen

Saturday, May 9th, 2020
Related Song

From time to time, I consider the irony that the Psalms themselves, our historic source for sung worship, tell us to sing a new song! Think of it: as we sing the Psalms, we're in effect disobeying that command!

That said, I'm obviously not advocating that we stop singing OLD songs, and I believe that is the crux of the matter. Yes, we should sing new songs, but we should also include the Psalms in our worship.

My church is guilty of mostly ignoring the Psalms, and I'm in charge of worship there! We introduce a new song about once every month or two, but rarely include the Psalms as musical worship in our services.

You may be surprised to hear ME say that, of all people! Here I am, composing music for the Psalms, and failing to sing them with my congregation!

My wife and I are trying to rectify that. When we left the liturgical congregation of St. Paul's Anglican, and joined an evangelical congregation, this group of believers had not made it a practice to sing the Psalms. I felt awkward and perhaps slightly vain in making them sing my versions on Sunday.

However, over the last number of weeks we've been adding one Psalm-song each Sunday. We're encouraging our congregation to commit this Psalm to memory.

How are you using the Psalms in your worship?

Friday, May 1st, 2020
Related Song

It was so wonderful to get out in the canoe last week with my family to record the footage in this video. Finally the ice has receded, the sun gets warm enough some days to lay on the ground and soak in the rays. I leaned up against a tree, closed my eyes, and basked in the glory of spring! My son Seth even risked a polar plunge from the cliff of one island! (He's 18, and just a little crazy).

Spending time in nature with my family is one my favourite things to do! It may be one benefit of being isolated from friends, since there is so little else to do! We all seem to be spending more time together, enjoying one another, and slowing our lives down to a pace that seems somehow, "more human."

I realized that not everyone finds themselves in an idyllic situation. I have heard of those who are hungry, depending on food banks, and many people are without work and pay, even though the bills keep coming. Some have needed to shut down their businesses for good, others are separated from their loved ones, maybe permanently!

If you're in that situation, I pray that this Psalm will meet you in your grief today. Perhaps no other psalm has a more profound sense of sorrow than this one. The soul of the singer pours itself out in unrestrained abandonment to overwhelming and terrible grief. David is facing persecution, and so prays to his God for deliverance.

Maybe you will find this scripture helpful. Look to the ending, and take solace in the triumphant conclusion! "Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and everything in them! For God WILL save Zion, and the descendants of His servants shall inherit it, and those who love His name shall dwell in it!"

Amen!

April

Friday, April 17th, 2020
Related Song

This has been a challenging week for me. I am a person of routine, and despite my best efforts, I am finding it difficult to maintain some semblance of order. It's taking me a lot longer to plan and organize worship services than it did when we were meeting in the church, partly because I'm trying to involve as many people as possible, and it's difficult to coordinate such a thing via virtual communication.

I'm asking various people to submit videos of corporate prayer, scripture reading, call to worship, special music, etc. This has me quite frazzled, and it's causing me stress too, and maybe even affecting the quality of my Psalm worship videos too. (I'm sorry about that!)

Having us all sequestered in one home, not able to get out much to enjoy friendships, nature, the joy of worshipping together is putting emotional pressure on everyone.

So, on that topic, I picked this Psalm, for it seemed appropriate. Fear is so commonplace all over the world right now! People are afraid of losing their loved ones, or even their own lives. We have all seen the change in our local economies, and many of us have personally suffered loss in some form or another as a result of this rampant disease. I've heard from friends who have lost their jobs, lost opportunities to advance in school, and more. My own boys will not be able to experience graduation ceremonies from University and High School! For many it is much worse.

Lord, we pray with the Psalmist in verse 5: hide us in your shelter through this day of trouble. Conceal us under the cover of your tent! Set us high on a rock, and lift up our heads!

Protect us, we pray, in Jesus' name!

Amen

Friday, April 10th, 2020
Related Song

Today is Good Friday, and this morning many of us were not able to attend our congregations, and not able to participate in services to worship our Father for sending His son to die on our behalf. We are living in unprecedented times, but although we can not be with one another physically, we can join together spiritually in prayer.

Lord, thank you for sending Jesus, your son, to die on the cross for our sins! Thank you for pursuing us, and loving us, despite our rebellious hearts, despite us turning away from you, time after time. It is clear that we are no different than the generations who came before us; we are just as likely to fall, to thrust a stiff chin toward you and do what we want instead of what you've asked us to do.

We don't understand why you haven't given up on us already, but for some reason you pursue us, and even took on human form and suffered, so that we might be restored to you. You allowed yourself to be spat upon, whipped and humiliated, crucified, and killed by our forefathers. Thank you.

And so we bow our heads humbly and accept your sacrifice. We welcome you into our hearts, we admit our need of you as our saviour.

Please heal those who are sick with the Corona virus, and please protect those who valiantly fight for our health. Provide scientists and doctors with a cure, and use this time to draw us all closer to you and to each other.

Amen.

Friday, April 3rd, 2020
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Guest post from Joanne Silver:

Reading about Psalm 132 online, I discovered that it is used as an anniversary song to remember the ark of the covenant. It recalls the difficulties of the past, the hardships endured, and looks forward to the hope of a coming Messiah.

That got me thinking about anniversaries, specifically, anniversaries of faith. Do you have a day you look back on to remember a religious decision or experience? Is there some point in your personal story that serves as a marker for your spiritual awakening? Maybe it's the date of your baptism, or the moment you first felt God stirring in your innermost soul? Perhaps it's the time when you bottomed out, with nowhere to go, but up, toward a loving and accepting God?

It would be hard for me to pick a specific date to celebrate a faith anniversary, because although there have been many pivotal moments, they are all critical events in this journey with God. As my spiritual relationship moves and changes, I look back at the heritage of faith my ancestors have given me.

My grandparents lived through the Russian revolution, and their faith was challenged by terrible atrocities and persecutions. In all of those trials, their relationship with God remained the center of their life. They met adversity with prayer, and thanksgiving, and have handed that legacy down to the generations that followed.

As a child, I often heard stories of bombings, near misses, supernatural interventions, and close calls. I heard about the ways my forebears worshipped God in all of these moments, by singing hymns together in the darkness.

We're in a contemporary dark time right now, with rampant fear, loneliness, and isolation. Many people are concerned about their next meal, even the future for their children! So in all of these trials, what kind of faith legacy will we leave? What will our descendants learn from our faith, through this difficult time in history?

As we navigate these very uncertain, COVID-19 times, where all the spiritual traditions of church and fellowship are turned on their head, will faith really be our foundation?

Let's all agree together that there is no other option than to praise Him, whatever he brings.

Amen.

March

Friday, March 27th, 2020
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I awakened at 1AM again last night, and since my friend overseas is in a time zone twelve hours away, I sent him a quick message. "Can't sleep, what's up?"

Like the wonderfully true friend he is, he asked me some questions about what might be keeping me awake. "What was I thinking about;" he asked, "what was the first thing on your mind when you woke up?"

I told him about some of my worries, and his response was so wise, so insightful, that I asked him if I could share it with all of you.

He said, "Since before all of this started with the coronavirus, I've been thinking a lot about mental health, (because of my teaching and some new projects I'm working on).

"The three most common mental health issues are depression, anxiety and addiction," he affirmed. "Not surprisingly, these are just amplified versions of emotions everyone struggles with." He told me about a counseling professor he knows, who said that depression and anxiety are the "common cold and flu" of the psychology world. "Everyone gets them at some point, and sometimes the symptoms are more severe than other times."

I agreed, saying that I've struggled with each of these in varying degrees.

He continued: "What's been percolating in my mind is the spiritual side of all this. Whatever your worldview, most people could agree that depression isn't the lack of joy, but it's the absence of hope. It drags your focus into the disappointments and regrets of the past."

"Yeah," I said. "That's been true for me."

"Anxiety is really the lack of peace," he said. "If we're not at peace about things we can't control, then it drags us into worries of the future that haven't even happened yet (and in many cases are unlikely to ever happen)."

"OK, that seems right," I agreed.

"Finally, addiction is the absence of joy," he said. "We can't find (or are unwilling to find) happiness, or pleasure, or satisfaction with our `lot in life.' Our solution is to find ways to numb ourselves, or escape the pain by focusing or fantasizing on anything else. These addictions drag us away from our pain and our monotony. It ends up sucking all of our time into something else that may give us temporary `joy,' but with diminishing returns."

"That makes a lot of sense," I said. And then he pulled it all together with this amazing sentence:

"In all three cases, the painful emotions of depression, anxiety, and addiction pull us away from living in the present moment. Depression drags us into the past, anxiety into the future, and addiction into some kind of alternative present. We are preventing ourselves from really living in the here and now– whether intentionally or not."

As I considered what he had to say, he reminded me that it's not just depression and anxiety one gets from being in isolation. So many of us our addicted to constant social media, addicted to staying ahead of the news, addicted to any number of vices in an effort to be distracted from reality.

So how do we respond? I think we need to make every effort to stay in the moment, and trust that God knows our past and our future, as it says in today's Psalm. God is acquainted with all of our ways! Even before a word is on our tongue, he knows it completely.

Can you trust him? Can you let him worry about the future, can you give him your past? Can you live in the moment, as a child of the Father?

Amen.

Friday, March 20th, 2020
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What would happen if the world collapsed around us? That possibility doesn't seem so unlikely of late, considering the infections, the deaths, the financial collapses, the shortages, the quarantines, and the frantic panic just below the surface.

More than ever, people feel alone. Not only are we forced into isolation, but we fear that if we don't stock up on essentials, even hoard what we may need, then we could be left abandoned and hopeless.

This is a very strange time. Our natural urges to self-protect may outweigh our enlightened senses to love, share, and assist.

It's times like these when we should keep our eyes fixed on what's right, what's good, and what's true. None of us want our world to descend into chaos and anarchy. It's times like these when God's word is an essential standard on which to set our unwavering gaze.

That's one reason I love Psalm 119. Look at the verses 9 to 16, from today's Psalm: we see the writer imploring us to use God's law to stay on track, to fix our eyes on it, to stay focused. We're reminded to meditate on God's law, to not forget it.

I believe that the more we make scripture a part of our everyday life, memorizing and integrating God's word into our daily routine, then the bigger the change we'll see. We'll be filled with the fruit of God's spirit, and become people of love, joy, hope, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

That is exactly what we need in such tumultuous times! When we're unsure of the future, it's even more important to depend on what has been unchanging for millennia!

Amen

Friday, March 13th, 2020
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The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has been dominating the news for a few weeks now, and is probably on everyone's mind. I'm slightly amazed by the varied, and often fearful responses we've seen.

For example, I've heard of individuals lashing out in fear, doing and saying unkind things to others because they are afraid that they might become infected. I've heard of racism directed to people because they are Chinese! This is not how we should behave.

How should we react as Christians? What would God have us do, and how would Jesus behave? Should we protect ourselves and our families from becoming infected, or should we attempt to care for the sick just as Jesus cared for those who had communicable diseases like leprosy?

This is an easy answer: we should be motivated by love, not by fear. We should consider our own needs as secondary to the needs of others.

It was reported a few days ago that Pope Francis is telling priests to get out and comfort the sick, even while Italy is urging her citizens to stay home. I believe Pope Francis is modeling Christ here. We live in a world that is predominantly motivated by fear, and so this decision is in sharp contrast. Of course, Christians should be directed by love, compassion, and faith.

Listen to the words of Psalm 145: The Lord is near to all who call on him in truth! He hears their cry and saves them! He is just in all his ways, he watches over all who love him! Wouldn't it be amazing if, as described in verse 4, the next generation of humanity looks back to remember the work of God through his people?

As brothers and sisters of Christ, let's be the hands of Jesus, embracing those who are unwell. Let's reach out to those who need our touch.

You may think it is foolish to do so, but I would rather be foolish in sharing God's generous love, than to miss an opportunity to be Jesus to my neighbour.

Amen

Friday, March 6th, 2020
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One of the things I've noticed that seems to be universal wherever you go, is that people are lonely, and hunger for deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Some of these individuals fill up their lives with activites, in order to distract themselves from the pain of emptiness. Maybe they make lots of friends, and focus on having as good of a time as they can possibly manufacture. Other people try the opposite strategy, and retreat into a silent, inner life. They convince themselves that this is their choice, so as to soften the pang of abandonment or insignificance.

In both situations one thing is true: there's no escaping loneliness, there's no escaping pain.

Isn't it fascinating? We are such social creatures, building vast networks of roads, cables, and computers just to speed up our ability to connect to one another, and yet, that connection is often painful, disappointing, and lonely. There's no satisfying that inner hunger for friendship and fellowship.

Even King David! As talented as he was in music, as able as he was in war, and despite being a gifted leader, David felt like he had no one really taking notice of him. He had no protector, standing at his right hand; no one who really cared for him.

No one, that is, except for God.

So what does he do? He cries out to God! He uses his voice, to plead with God, and affirms his trust in God to know the way, even when their are hidden traps meant to finish him. When there is no refuge for him, he looks to God to be his refuge.

Have you ever cried out to God in desperation, pouring out your pains and needs to him, like David? If so, I encourage you to finish your prayer with his same confidence of faith! He knows that the righteous ones will surround him, and that God will deal lavishly with him!

God will deal lavishly with you too! Make him your refuge, pour out your complaints before him, tell your troubles to him. He is your God.

Amen.

February

Friday, February 28th, 2020
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Do you observe Lent?

Lent is the practice of giving up something for the 40 days leading to Easter. It is an opportunity to make a personal sacrifice, meant to draw us into deeper relationship with God.

Many times we give up cookies or potato chips, but forget what the real purpose of the sacrifice even is. Is it just self-denial, or is there something deeper going on? Why Lent, and why give up anything at all?

Historically, Lent has been called a spiritual journey into a spiritual desert. It is useful to understand that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the desert is a place of betrothal between God and his people, as well as a place of spiritual battle.

So therefore the point of Lent– the point of entering the spiritual desert– is to build the betrothal relationship with God, and to face the spiritual battles warring below the surface of our subconscious.

Maybe it surprises you to think of our God-relationship as a betrothal, but in fact, throughout the Bible God calls himself our bridegroom, and calls us the bride. He wants to build intimacy with us, to speak tenderly with us. He wants us to understand how faithful, loyal, and steadfast his love for us is, and to fully realize that he is the provider of our daily bread. It is he who leads us out of darkness, and strengthens us in the midst of our struggles and battles.

That still doesn't answer the question of how giving up little things like candy or coffee really help us?

I like to think of it as religious exercise, meant to build spiritual muscles. We are training to 'run the race' more effectively. We are practicing the whole idea of sacrifice, so we can be sacrificial in generosity, in kindness, in patience, and in love.

So if you're not participating in Lent formally this season, perhaps consider other ways to grow deeper in your spousal-relationship with God. Take the time to build those spiritual muscles, to improve in your sacrificial love and kindness.

Amen.

Friday, February 21st, 2020
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In my younger years, I struggled with pride. I told myself that I was special, that I was better than other people. In retrospect, it was a ridiculous belief to hold (of course!): I was inferior to others in so many ways. I was not at all self confident, but rather, racked with insecurity! I magnified the importance of things I could do well, in order to diminish the things I was embarrassed about. Perhaps my pride was some sort of defense mechanism to cover up these feelings of inadequacy.

Whatever the reason for having pride, it is wrong. Not only is it untruthful, it is hateful at it's core: someone who thinks more highly of themselves than they should, necessarily thinks less of others!

When David wrote this song, was he referring to some specific moment when he was accused of being prideful? Perhaps when he was discovered as a shepherd boy, and anointed as King by Samuel? Maybe his brothers called him arrogant when he said he could kill Goliath? Maybe his wife Michal, the daughter of Saul had something to say about his attitude when he danced before the ark of the covenant?

Holding onto pride can be like a child holding onto a favourite blanket. Pride becomes a crutch for us- we think we need it to survive. We tell ourselves what we want to be true about our own value and importance, so we don't have to face our failings and our weaknesses. Pride actually becomes a substitute for faith!

So why do we hold on to it? Let's face it: pride is fake. It's inauthentic, it's lacking in vulnerability. It's a sure way to sabotage intimacy.

So what is the answer? Perhaps it's summed up in the last verse of this Psalm. Maybe instead of holding on to pride, we should seek to rest in hope.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.

Amen

Friday, February 14th, 2020
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Have you ever seen the strength of a flood carry away vehicles, uproot trees, or break down homes? Whenever I see things like this, I'm taken aback by how powerful water is, amazed at how nothing can stand in it's wake.

In verse three, the writer of Psalm 93 may be referring to the "floods" of the ocean, but as I stood quite a bit too close to this icy, roaring, waterfall, (more than a little nervous that I'd be carried away), I could see how the thunder of mighty waters mentioned in verse four is a good metaphor for the power and kingship of God.

Waters scour everything they touch, even eroding rock over time. Water is called the universal solvent, because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. In the same way, when God moves in us, he dissolves our selfishness, he breaks down our stubbornness, he erodes our pride, our greed, our anger, and replaces it with the lubricating oil of his Holy Spirit.

Waters also cleanse and purify. Whatever needs washing, it is best done with water. Similarly, God washes away our sins, making us more like Jesus, the Messiah.

Just like the Holy Spirit, water is a critical and essential part of life. In fact, without water, there is no life! Water molecules play a key role in ensuring that proteins behave properly. Consider this: without the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that we will not behave properly.

Additionally, water satisfies our thirst unlike anything else. We may think we want more of some other beverage, but our body craves and needs water. How is this like God? Just as we all seek satisfaction in things other than His holy presence, in the end, it is in Him that we find our true satisfaction.

Jesus called himself the source of living water. What a great metaphor to describe the various workings of God's spirit in us to scour, dissolve, clean, purify, give life, and satisfy thirst!

Amen.

Friday, February 7th, 2020
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Recently I had a conversation with a young person who felt isolated and alone. This person sobbed before me, great big tears of pain. He was afraid that he would never find a friend that really understood. Faithful friends are few and far between, and with an imminent move coming, he worried that he would be separated from anyone who cared.

We all long to be known, to be valued, to be loved. Maybe you've been in that place. It's so hard to find someone who really understands us, and even when we do, there always seems to be a hole that cannot quite be filled, or a challenge to transparently communicate our hearts, or a fear of being judged and abandoned.

I recommended to this young fellow, that he think of our heavenly Father as that True Friend. God wants to hear about our pains and longings, not just our memorized prayers before dinner and bedtime; not just our shopping list of daily needs. I suggested he tell God exactly what he was worried about. Not only can God be that Friend, he will also meet our needs in surprising ways when we ask him to.

While this is all true, it can seem trite and empty when one feels distant from God. The writer of the Psalm today cries out to God, "Why have you cast me off?!" He also asks himself why he feels so "cast down and disquieted," when God is his exceeding joy! His answer to himself is absolutely correct: hope in God, for I shall again praise him!

Maybe you need to have a conversation with yourself? Maybe we each need to remind ourselves that God is our source of joy. When a person is hungry, they seek food. When thirsty, they drink. When bored, we seek stimulation, when tired we rest. Rarely would one forget to address a physical need.

But what about a spiritual need? Despite the protestations of atheists, each of us has a spiritual dimension. Our emotions, our loneliness, even our dissatisfaction with the physical reveal a deep spiritual hunger.

Go to the source, for he is your help and your God.

Amen

January

Friday, January 31st, 2020
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"As the Deer" is a popular English worship song I sang as a teenager. It was also based on Psalm 42. I think it's a pretty little tune, and it really helps me express my longing for God.

However, it doesn't communicate the distress that Psalm 42 contains.

Look at verses 3, 5, 6, 9, and 10! We see phrases like, "My tears have been my food day and night," "Why are you cast down, O my soul," "[God,] Why have you forgotten me," and "Why must I walk about mournfully?"

Don't let the image of a majestic and solemn deer throw you off. This Psalm is the cry of someone desperately thirsty, perhaps even DEHYDRATED for God!

Unfortunately, many of us know exactly what it's like to drown in one's own tears, and to hear the voices of mockers saying, "Where is your God now?" It's the plight of being human, actually! Suffering is at the core of the meaning of life!

Scripture is our guidebook, and so we can see hope in these verses! We must tell ourselves the same thing this writer said in verse 5 and 12: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him... [he is] my help and my God."

You see? The waters of life, those rivers of satisfaction, are found in God. They're found in praise! They're found in fellowship with other believers!

It's true: the Psalmist says in verse 4, when he's in the throng of worshippers, making their way to the house of God, shouting in joy and thanksgiving, then the distress becomes just a memory. We may not forget, but we can find help in God.

So don't push your pain away. Don't think that Christians mustn't suffer! Rather, find hope in Him as you worship Him! HE is your help, and your God!

Amen

Friday, January 24th, 2020
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When I read Psalm 91, it sparks my imagination of what it might be like to have super-human powers!

It says that an individual who shelters in the shadow of Almighty God will be immune from sickness, invincible to arrows, avoid traps, and sidestep destruction! Their enemies will fall all around them, while they survive without even a mark! Invisible angels will guard this super-hero, preventing evil from even touching them! Poisonous snakes are no concern, neither are hungry lions!

Imagine that!

It reads like a secret booklet of knowledge that ancient warriors might use. I can picture them memorizing the words, to be recited when they need to be protected.

In fact, that's not far from reality!

Between the third and eighth centuries, this psalm was written inside amulets by both Jews and Christians. It was used as a kind of talisman for protection.

Even before that, the Talmud calls this psalm the "song of plagues" (shir shel pega'im or shir shel nega'im), for "one who recites it with faith in God will be helped by Him in time of danger". Apparently, "Since the times of the Geonim, this psalm was recited to drive away demons and evil spirits." According to midrashim, the psalm references many types of demons that threaten man, including the "Terror", "Arrow", "Pestilence", and "Destruction" mentioned in verses 5 and 6.

While I'm opposed to using scripture like a secret spell, the fact is, God does care about his children, and he has promised to protect us from harm! These verses are not magic, but they certainly are a reminder to what we expect from God. Anything is possible to Him! He cares deeply for each of his children.

However, I think the key to this Psalm is found in the last verse: God will show us his salvation. We should think carefully about who our biggest enemy is, and what me most need to be saved from. Perhaps we most need to be saved from ourselves: our deceits; our pride; our stubbornness; our anger and hatred?

Oh Lord, we make your our refuge and fortress! Save us as you have promised we pray!

Amen.

Friday, January 17th, 2020
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When I was a kid, there were a few times in which I put God to the test. I told Him that if he would only show himself to me physically, then I would believe in Him! I bargained with God, saying "Wasn't my belief in him worth such a display?"

I could not understand why He wouldn't just do what I asked him to do.

Have you ever cried out to God, begging for proof? It may seem insolent, but I think it's pretty common.

The strange thing about thinking you need proof in order to have faith, is that the two are not compatible with each other. The very definition of the word is "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual understanding rather than proof."

Let's talk a bit about proof and faith, because I can hear some people saying, "I DO have proof of my faith in the way God has moved in my life, or done this or that."

In one sense, that's true: as I rely on my faith more and more, in other words, as I exercise it, this faith grows and deepens. You might say, "Isn't this a type of proof?" However, each person must build their own faith for themselves; I can't bestow my faith upon someone else by sharing my experiences (though this may encourage a person to try exercising faith for themselves). It's not like a mathematical or scientific proof that cannot be argued with.

Another problem with proof is that it's not always as convincing as we hoped it to be. For example, if we look at the children of Israel, it didn't seem to matter how much proof they were given, their faith always waned. Their hearts still longed for evil. As it says in verse 9, the ancestors of Israel put God to the proof, even though they had seem his works!

God says through the psalmist, "So don't harden your hearts! Come, sing to me! Give me thanks!"

Will you join with me in singing to our Lord?

Amen.

Friday, January 10th, 2020
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"Out of the depths I cry to you."

This is the first line of Psalm 130, and a really vivid image of desperation. The depths of despair is a well-known alliteration; I think mostly because it's so apt! We've all been there: full of sadness, in an ocean of pain, a chasm of hopelessness. Depth is the perfect word!

Sometimes it takes us hitting the "depths of despair," before we decide to cry out to God! The temptation to depend upon our own strength is great, until we're forced to admit our strength is not enough.

I love the honesty this writer shows in evaluating his own worthiness: he realizes that if God was counting our mistakes, no one could ever please Him. He states that none could stand before him, which is a legal term meaning that none could claim innocence or guiltlessness. But innocence is not required. Fortunately for us, God's forgiveness is waiting for those who ask for it!

What a reason to praise him! He forgives us, even though we don't deserve it!

I love the way this Psalm ends! The Psalmist looks to the future, and makes the bold claim that God WILL forgive Israel from all sin! From this side of the ressurection, we now know that forgiveness is available, not just to Irael, but to the whole earth.

Are you at the bottom of a chasm? Have you finally reached the depths, and come to the place where you can admit your weakness? Do you see your own guilt? If so, what are you waiting for? Forgiveness is there for the taking! Turn from your old ways and enter a new life of freedom and hope!

Amen