Everyday Awe

The Inclusivity of God’s Love in the Old Testament

Psalm 87Did God change His plan between the Old and New Testament?

That’s how it can seem sometimes upon quick reading. The Old Testament, God seems focused on one people group, to the exclusion of all others. So, it can seem like a shift when in the New Testament Jesus starts talking about God’s love for all the world, and His desire that all should come to Him.

In reality, God’s story has always been that of His love for all the world. It was His people who were (and still are) at times confused about that fact.

His purpose for Israel was to be a light for the nations. At the same time as giving them commands that set them apart from their neighbors, He charged them to welcome strangers with open arms. They were to practice hospitality and show mercy and demonstrate His love to any who came across their path, not just their own people.

It was they who most often lost sight of this purpose, who hoarded the light for themselves, instead of sharing it with those lost in the dark.

The story does get jumbled and confusing when it comes to territorial invasion and God’s directives in times of war, let’s be honest. But, still, over and over, God shares His heart…

As God tells Abram, “all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3

As Moses encourages the Israelites to emulate their God, who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:18-19

As God says through Isaiah, “my justice will become a light to the nations.” – Isaiah 51:4

And perhaps no section of Old Testament Scripture emphasizes this inclusive heart of God more than Psalm 87. It is a Psalm written for the people to sing in celebration of Jerusalem, an outflow of the joy of being in God’s chosen city. It is a commemoration of Zion, as the city is often called in these types of hymns, the location of The Holy Temple, the place in which the presence of God resided in a special way.

The Psalm starts as one might expect.

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you,
city of God:
–Psalm 87:1-3

This is a special city. But why? What are the glorious things that are said about it? What comes next may surprise the listener who has not heard God’s heart for all.

“I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.” –Psalm 87:3-6

Rahab is the poetic name for Egypt, where the Israelites were once slaves. Babylon was the empire that once held the Israelites in exile. This a list of Israel’s enemies, and a longing for the day they could be registered among God’s people in Jerusalem.

Zion is being declared beautiful because of the way it could one day welcome all people into God’s family. Zion was meant to be a place of reconciliation and love and inclusion and joy, not a different story from that of Christ, but a prequel. The same love, manifested in a different way.

Just as these desert people would celebrate the discovery of a spring, the people are jubilant at the thought of how Jerusalem could be an oasis of refreshment for all.

As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.” – Psalm 87:7

This world was, and is, parched in search for a love that pushes beyond barriers. That is the love of our God.

(Have you heard the Chris Tomlin song by that name? It seems only appropriate to link to it as the conclusion of this post.)


That was my reflection on Psalm 87. Add a link to your own post on it below. And stop by next week to continue our Psalms Journey into Psalm 88.

Comparison is the Thief of Healing

comparisonNot long ago, I had one of those extraordinary, deep, soul-stirring conversations with a friend. I don’t know if you’ve ever had one, but they are quite amazing. I was a gibbering mess of tears and snot and laughter for over an hour.

 

In that conversation, I shared about some things that had happened in my life, especially over the last several months.

 

There was a point when my friend filled the space of silence with the simple compassionate statement, “Wow, you’ve really had a rough go of it.”

 

I looked away in embarrassment as I worked to shrug off the declaration.

 

My thoughts immediately swirled to friends and acquaintances that have had way worse times than me. Surely my life is easy compared to theirs. It hasn’t been that rough for me.

 

Then my attention spun to the global perspective. I don’t want to be that person who bemoans the problems of my 1st world privileged life when so many people have so much less and have it so much harder than I do.

 

But there is a problem in that “perspective.” It means I am quick to discount my own struggles.

 

Like physical pain, ignoring emotional pain won’t make it go away. In fact, it actually risks making it worse. It would be a ridiculous notion to pretend nothing has to be done to treat a deep cut because it’s not as bad as cancer. That train of thought would lead to all sorts of infections and scars. Yet that’s the outlook we frequently take with our non-physical wounds.

 

I have heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy. We do something we feel good about, but then we see how much better someone else is at that thing than we are, and suddenly the sense of accomplishment disappears under the weight of “not good enough.”

 

I don’t think joy is the only thing comparison can be accused of stealing.

 

Comparison is the thief of healing.

 

Our pain is not defined by the experiences of others. Our pain is defined by our own feelings. If something hurts us, then it is painful. Period. End of story.

 

I had to make a conscious effort to accept my friend’s statement of empathy that day. Since the conversation, I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay that things have been difficult for me. Even if someone else would have counted themselves lucky to be in my shoes, and handled it all with grace, that doesn’t change my experiences. I have suffered hurt. And I need to seek healing.

 

We are not weak when we get hurt while someone else seems to walk away unscathed. We are not weak when we struggle under the weight of something someone else seems to handle with ease. We are not weak when we accept statements of empathy when someone else seems so much more deserving of them than we do.

 

We are strong when we face our experiences. We are strong when we admit our hurt. We are strong when we accept help.

 

Let’s not let comparison rob us of our healing.

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” -2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Bringing our Whole Selves to Prayer

Psalm 86

Hear me, LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy. – Psalm 86:1

I am poor and needy. I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken that phrase, to God or to others.

Sometimes I may have mentioned it as a past state: I was poor and needy, but then I found Christ and He filled me up. Or I may have talked about it as an abstract characteristic: I, like all people, am a sinner, so I have poor and needy tendencies.

But an outright and direct admission of my brokenness, my current state of sin and uncertainty and powerlessness? That raises all sorts of fears.

The fear of being rejected. The fear of unfulfilled dreams. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being passed over. The fear of being defined by my failures. The fear of not being good enough.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you. – Psalm 86:2-4

Yet, David doesn’t seem to have fear when he admits his brokenness. In fact, his next words are surprisingly self-assured. He is poor and needy, but he is also faithful to God. David confidently requests mercy and joy, while boldly asserting his trust in his God.

We don’t often put prayers like these in the same camp.

Yet, somehow it is possible to declare our need at the same time as our desires. We can admit our poverty at the same time as acknowledging the good things we bring to the table.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, LORD;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me. – Psalm 86:5-7

All this is possible not because David is some sort of superhero of the faith, but because he deeply understands his God.

God is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call on Him.

That can and should change everything about how we pray, giving us confidence to admit our weaknesses, declare our desires, and express gratitude for our gifts all in the same messy upheaval of communication.

I don’t get the impression David tries to admit his brokenness, or works to conjure up those words about his faithfulness. He just brings himself, his whole self, his true self, before a God he knows will love him.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God. –Psalm 86:8-10

Perhaps the deepest tributes spoken between lovers are the ones that occur in the middle of a conversation. The momentary breaks of unplanned utterances. When conversation pauses for compliments, “Wow, your eyes are so beautiful” or declarations of affection “I just love you so much.”

When David brings his true self before his true God, the love seems to compel him to break from his own agenda and declare the beauty of the One to whom he is speaking. He is wholly present, entirely engaged, and begins to authentically worship.

Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead. –Psalm 86:11-13

An undivided heart seems to be what David has in this moment, and he asks for it to continue.

I want that too. Oh how deeply I want an undivided heart. One sewn together by unconditional love. One not caught in trying or performing, but simply in being whole.

Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
they have no regard for you.
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and have mercy on me;
show your strength in behalf of your servant;
save me, because I serve you
just as my mother did.
Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86:14-17

Yet even if God does grant me that whole heart, that confidence to declare myself needy and faithful at the same time, that desire to worship spontaneously out of my understanding of love, even then my life will not be easy.

David still has enemies. They are what drove him to this prayer in the first place.

Yet he reaffirms his faith in God’s compassion, grace, love, and faithfulness. And he boldly asks for Him to show up, here and now.

For when people truly understand their security as a beloved, they know their lover will never look down upon them for bringing forth what their heart has to say.

Our belovedness is not confirmed in the answers to our prayers, but in the room it gives us to pray in the first place. As beloveds of God, we show up to prayer wholly ourselves, entirely seen, and never rejected.


This was my reflection on Psalm 86. Please link up with your own post below. Then, come back next week to digest Psalm 87 together.

A Fresh Look at a Familiar Story

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt Source: WikiPaintings

Familiarity often breeds assumptions.

Whenever we have heard a story more times than we can count, our memories of the story being told mix with the story itself, until we are no longer able to separate one from another.

This happens especially with well-known Bible stories.

After hearing about these narratives ad nauseam from children’s ministry through Sunday sermons, there comes a point when we stop reading them for ourselves. They are old hat. We know them.

Perhaps one of the most common is the story of the prodigal son. It is that most common illustration from Luke 15, about the boy who goes off in sin and squander, a father who is so happy at his return that he runs to greet him, and a son that is so judgmental and arrogant that he misses the party.

You know the one.

The one in which we all despise and look down upon the older brother for being so full of himself.

Yet, the text does not say he was judgmental. It says he was angry. I think there is a big difference.

Judgment comes from a place of pride. It is the feeling that comes when we think we know better than someone else about what should be done in particular situation.

Anger comes from a place of hurt. It is the emotion that rises when we feel we have been wronged in some way.

The only other time the Greek word for angry used here (orgizo) is used in the book of Luke, is in the parable of the dinner in Luke 14, when the landowner becomes angry that none of his guests accepted his invitation. He is feels hurt and overlooked; anger is his emotional response.

In all my years of being exposed to the parable of the prodigal son, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the older brother painted with the brushstrokes of compassion.

I wonder if we read the text ourselves, without the preconceived notion of his arrogance, would we hear we hear his words differently? Would we hear the pain and tremble in his voice as he says to his Father,

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” – Luke 15:29-30

I wonder, did the older brother avoid eye contact with his Father as he spoke these words, for fear that he could not hold back the tears if forced to look into His eyes?

If I put away my judgment, if I stop assuming I already know the heart of this cruel and shrewd brother, I am able to hear myself in his words.

We like to talk about how much we love God’s grace. That’s easy to say when we feel how deeply we ourselves have been the recipients.

But I have sometimes been  hurt by God’s brutal grace. That’s right, I called it brutal. Can we be honest and admit that’s how it feels sometimes? That it stings when we watch others receive what we always longed for, and we feel left behind?

When we see a friend receive, without asking, and maybe without even wanting it, the thing we have prayed to have for more years than we care to admit. When we watch seemingly undeserving people get thrust into the spotlight while our hard work seems to be unnoticed. Or when God seems to show up so visibly, so tangibly, for everyone except us.

Have you ever wanted to scream at God in hurt and anger, “When is it going to be my turn? I have followed you faithfully. I have sought You. I have read Your Word. I have tried to obey. I have asked forgiveness when I failed. I have let your Spirit lead me the best I could. So why is my life here, and that other person’s life is there? When is it going to be my turn?!?”

Grace is not fair. The younger brother did not deserve a party. The older brother did. That is what fairness would have looked like.

I can understand why the older brother would be hurt to the point of anger.

Somehow, his relationship with his Father had to break open to a place it had not yet been. He needed to trust his Father not on the basis of His equality, but on the basis of His love.

That is a harder place to get to than we sometimes admit.

Until we are ready, God remains sitting next to us on the step of that porch, patiently waiting for us to hear His words of grace for us.

“you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” –Luke 15:31

Sometimes The Bible is Enough

I’m tempted to conjure up something profound to say, so I can prove I have studied the Bible.

 

I’m tempted to bring forth eloquent imagery, so I can prove I am able to write.

 

I’m tempted to lay out an amazing story, so I can prove my life is interesting.

 

But this isn’t about me.

 

The Bible is about God. It is His story. Sometimes I need to let it be the thing that stops you in your tracks, instead of standing out in front of it, waving my arms, hoping you’ll notice me.

 

Listen to this description of what happens in the presence of God.

 

Loyal love and faithfulness meet;
deliverance and peace greet each other with a kiss.
Faithfulness grows from the ground,
and deliverance looks down from the sky.

-Psalm 85:10-11

 

This beautiful picture stands on its own.

psalm 85


That was my reflection on Psalm 85. Link up with your reflection below. Or stop back next week with thoughts on Psalm 86.

Creating Space for Encouragement

cafe tableI sat across the table from her, wondering how to subtly wipe my nose. I knew I didn’t have any Kleenex along. I didn’t expect to cry this much.

 

It was a holy conversation. The kind that digs deep and hits at what is underneath the layer that is underneath the other layer that is way underneath what is showing on top.

 

I walked away feeling more encouraged than I had in a long time.

 

The encouragement didn’t come from the words that were spoken, but the space that was made.

 

She asked me the kind of questions that demonstrated how much she was listening. Not just to the words I said, but to what was behind the words I said.

 

She saw me. And she created space for me to see God.

 

Being the kind of person that brings encouragement to others runs so much deeper than saying nice words. It means being a person who sees others, listens to others, communicates with others, and walks beside others towards God’s loving embrace.

 

Five Minute FridayThis post is linking up with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. A weekly prompt with strict instructions: write for 5 minutes and post. No over-editing. No do-overs. An practice of freedom. A way to let go of perfectionism. An exercise for some not often used writing muscles. Read more posts or link up over there. Today’s prompt was: ENCOURAGEMENT. (Note: I spend only 5 minutes on the writing, but I do take a little extra time to put together the image. I can’t help myself.)

Lovely, a Poem Inspired by Psalm 84

Psalm 84

How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord Almighty.

Your Scriptures speak those words to me.

I am a dwelling place of Your Holy Spirit.

Your Scriptures speak those words to me.

You tell me I am a lovely home for You.

You assert I am Your beloved.

Make that declaration match my experience.

I ache for Your Presence in the depths of my being.

How precious to me are those times when I have felt You near.

How often I am fooled into believing my longing could be filled by something besides You.

Better is one moment with You,

One moment aware of You,

One moment listening for You,

One moment praying to You,

One moment remembering the distance You have travelled to be with me,

Than the magnitude of moments I spend flitting from place to place, looking for satisfaction elsewhere.

How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord Almighty.

How lovely am I when I remember You dwell with me.


That was my reflection on Psalm 84. Link up with your own Psalms Journey post below! And stop back next week for a reflection on Psalm 85.

Our Desire to Be Seen

few greater gifts than being seenWhen I was younger, almost every summer I fantasized about the start of the new school year. This was going to be the year. The year I was finally noticed. The year people would finally see me and want to be with me.

 

I like to think I grew out of those feelings, but if I’m honest with myself, I never did.

 

I carry around those hopes of “this time, it’s going to be different” and “this time I’m going to be noticed” almost every time I do something public. Before speaking, writing, leading meetings, and so many other things, I daydream about the conversations that will happen afterwards, when everyone tells me how gifted I am and how glad they are that I shared with them that day.

 

I feel a little childish admitting that, but I’m hoping I’m not alone. I think many of us still carry around the daydreams of adolescence as we go about our everyday lives as adults.

 

We so desperately want to be noticed.

 

There are few greater gifts than being truly seen.

 

The truth is, even though we can find that kind of encouragement from God, it’s difficult to feel like it’s enough. It’s abstract to place our significance in a God we can’t see or touch.

 

Yet, I will keep making space to feel His eyes upon me, for I know they are there.

 

 

Five Minute FridayThis post is linking up with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. A weekly prompt with strict instructions: write for 5 minutes and post. No over-editing. No do-overs. An practice of freedom. A way to let go of perfectionism. An exercise for some not often used writing muscles. Read more posts or link up over there. Today’s prompt was: SEE. (Note: I spend only 5 minutes on the writing, but I do take a little extra time to put together the image. I can’t help myself.)

What are you doing God?

psalm 83Oh, if only I could control God.

 

It is infuriating to follow Him sometimes.

 

I believe that God loves each of us beyond our comprehension, but then some really great people have really terrible things happen to them, and I wonder, what are you doing God?

 

O God, do not remain silent;
do not turn a deaf ear,
do not stand aloof, O God.
-       Psalm 83:1 (NIV)

 

I believe that God desires intimacy with us, and a relationship with Him creates a wholeness we can’t find anywhere else, but then there are seasons when I can’t seem to reach His presence, and I wonder, what are you doing God?

 

God, don’t shut me out;
don’t give me the silent treatment, O God.
-       Psalm 83:1 (The Message)

 

I believe that God answers prayer, and have seen Him do so in profound ways in my own life, but then I see so many words that seem to bounce back with no response, and I wonder, what are you doing God?

 

O God, do not be silent!
Do not be deaf.
Do not be quiet, O God.
-       Psalm 83:1 (NLT)

 

I believe that God is actively engaged in the world, but then some seemingly preventable thing devastates entire groups of people, and I wonder, what are you doing God?

 

O God, do not be silent!
Do not ignore us! Do not be inactive, O God!
-       Psalm 83:1 (NET)

 

Some silence I can handle. But when God seems intentionally inactive, it’s enough to make me want to throw in the towel.

 

What does faith look like in these times?

 

I think it looks the faith of Asaph, who allows that guttural cry of “Where are you God?” to be the first lines of his prayer.

 

What are prayer requests if not deep longings for God to act? We ache for the God who is supposedly the Lord to engage and do something already about this stuff that is broken in this world.

 

Honest prayer is the frustration of our souls put to words. Just because we believe in God and love God does not mean we don’t get irritated by Him. It’s not an easy relationship.

 

But over and over again, the Psalms show us it’s not supposed to be. Our faith in God is a dynamic connection with a powerful Being; a Being we can trust, but not control.

 

The words of Psalm 83 that follow verse 1 are surrounded by context that feels far and foreign from our own. But the cry of verse 1 is universal.

 

O True God, do not be quiet any longer.
Do not stay silent or be still, O God.
-       Psalm 83:1 (The Voice)


That was my reflection on Pslalm 83. Link up with your thoughts below. Or join in next week with a reflection on Psalm 84.

learning to be

This is the time of year for reflection. We look back at what we were and look forward to what we want to be. We face our regrets, celebrate our victories, and set new goals for the future.

 

Last year was the first time I jumped on the One Word 365 bandwagon. I chose “pursue.”

One Word 2013: Pursue

 

2013 was supposed to be the year I did all these things I wanted to do, but yet tended to procrastinate or avoid.

 

In many ways, I caught the vision of what having one word can do for you. Many times when I was tempted to sit back on my heels, my word would rise up in my heart and push me forward. I am grateful for its influence.

 

And yet, there is still so much I didn’t do. It’s difficult for me to look back on my initial post, and compare it to the year. I wish I had achieved more. I can rationally understand how things I couldn’t have anticipated in the beginning of the year affected my schedule and my priorities. I know that I am a limited human being, and pursuing some things means saying no to other things.

 

And yet, in my heart and soul, I feel disappointed.

 

Which leads perfectly into my word for this year.

 

Be.

 

In the last several months, I have realized how difficult it is for me to accept myself as I am. I am my own worst critic. I consistently see all the ways I could improve.

 

be- oneword365

 

Even this little logo I made. I wanted to do something simple, to highlight just the word: be. Yet I kept tweaking and nudging and working on this “simple” graphic way beyond the time I had set aside for it. I even created more than one version before coming back to the original.

 

I need to learn to let things be. To accept things and move on and know (not just in my head but in my heart and soul) that my worth is not dependent on how perfect things look or what others think of me.

 

Be.

 

And in other ways, I have realized how much I still have to learn about myself. I am not sure what about me stems from my best-created-self and what stems from my sin and brokenness. I need to learn who I am so I can be that person.

 

Be.

 

And as I go through this journey, I long to feel, not just know, but feel, that I am be-loved. Right now. I don’t have to pursue more, or look better, or do something as good as that person I admire. I can be myself and I will be loved.

 

Be.

 

This will be a very different journey than 2013. And like 2013, there are probably some things coming my way that I am not anticipating. But that becomes a part of this too, doesn’t it? Whether this word goes the way I expect it to or not, I can be me and I can be okay.

 

How about you? What word would you choose for 2014?