Happy New Year! As I was ringing in 2018 playing Settlers of Catan (a board game) in my pajamas, my eye kept wandering to a sign that our friends recently put up in their kitchen. “365 New Days, 365 New Opportunities” In the beginning of a new year, this type of thought can be exhilarating, yet at the same time frightening. How refreshing it is to have a new year to achieve and try new things, yet also slightly unsettling due to the inevitable accompaniment of difficulties and struggles?
By now most of us are starting to get back into the flow of the newly begun year. Some of us are excited at the fresh beginning. Resolutions guiding us to what will certainly be our best year yet. Others are more cautious, no less hopeful but perhaps with more soberness to what could be. Regardless, here you are today, once again, at a beginning. Naturally beginnings afford us the stimulus to observe where we are and where are we going.
Our Psalm for this week is Psalm 146. In the middle of the psalm, verse 6 says that God “keeps faith forever”. The verb to keep means “to have or retain possession of” and “to continue or cause to continue in a specified condition…”.
If I am honest, Christmas day offers me little space for reflection. Especially now as a parent. The moment eyes open the day is off and running full of excitement, surprise, laughter, and too much dessert! Perhaps there will be a quiet moment about 3 o’clock, but by then food has settled and along with it I am settled down to an afternoon nap. Awoken again by the sound of card games being played and family reminiscing of stories too embarrassing to share with anyone else; not to mention the loud toys given by uncles and aunts without kids! It is a good day! A joyful day! Just not a quiet day.
Advent is a peculiar season. For several weeks, the Church reflects on what it means that Christ has come and will come again. We weave together two very pivotal epochs of salvation history into a single thought. We talk about how what Christ has done and will do, influences the present moment. We trace story lines of old and anticipate story lines that have yet to play out. We remember, we long, we wait, we celebrate and we hope. And more peculiar still: we do all of this simultaneously! This may seem strange, confusing or even foreign to everyday life and you may think it extremely counter-intuitive or even contradictory. But as I think Psalm 85 will show us, this is actually a very healthy, mature and worshipful posture for us as God’s children; not only during the season of Advent, but for every season of the believer’s life in Christ.
Preparing this devotional has turned out to be more than I bargained for. I was given four pages of instructions on how to write it, including no less than 13 questions to ask myself, and get this – a written admonition not to overthink it! Thankfully, I was also encouraged to write in my own voice and in a way I’m most comfortable. The process has required prayer, and as you’ll see at the end, it’s also inspired a prayer.
In Psalm 149, I hear the psalmist asking me to sing a new song to the Lord. A new song of praise is needed, because this one should ring out like a battle cry. We are not offering ordinary praise for an ordinary god. This is me singing at the top of my lungs, jumping up and down, dancing like a maniac, shouting praise and glory to the King of kings! This is me, singing for joy on my bed!
When Andrew, my four-year-old was belting out lyrics to a praise song in the car the other day, he turned to me and said, "Mama, Jesus loves when I sing to Him." The lyrics to his song were not completely correct, his tone and pitch were far from perfect, but none of that mattered. God loves when we praise Him.
The Lord is our keeper
Chris and I are part of the Vickery Meadows gospel community. This group was formed around a desire to serve refugees in the area. A refugee is defined as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster”. Usually, a refugee enters a new country with very little possessions and, most of the time, they do not know the language or have an immediate opportunity to provide a livelihood for their family. There are a lot of practical needs of a refugee - learning a new language, getting a job, learning how to drive, providing food for one’s family, etc.
Recently I see fear everywhere. Fear of unknowns, Fear of heartbreak, fear of loss, fear of bad news. If I’m honest with myself, I’m scared too. Where will we live next? Will our jobs make us enough money? What if life doesn’t go as planned? What if I lose a family member? What if I lose my husband? I can get lost on a trail of unknowns and potential heartaches that are not tethered to the present reality. In these vulnerable and daunting moments, God asks us to look to Him not only for help, but also to inform us of our identity. “But God did not give us a spirit of fear but one of truth, love and self discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
My guess is that when you sit down to read Psalm 105 you likely get bored, especially if you are already familiar with the story line of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Unfortunately, this funny thing happens when we become too familiar with something: we eventually think of it as trite or cliché. We lose interest and find it hard to participate fully with whatever it is– this could range from a book or television show, to a spiritual discipline like prayer and scripture, to a job or career, or even familiar relationships with friends and family. We’ve all been there, grown tired, apathetic towards the familiar and well-acquainted, shrugged our shoulders and thought “I’m over it," deciding (whether we are aware of it or not) that it no longer deserves our attention or energy.
This psalm is about God delivering the Israelites from the throes of Egypt. But today, as recipients of the gospel of Jesus, we know that this salvation is much greater than that of deliverance from Egypt. It takes on a much bigger meaning for us now as we know that God, in Christ, has truly worked to bring salvation to the nations, and that includes us. So how much more can we sing, as children on this side of the promise?
Have you ever woken up from a dream in which someone said or did something hurtful to you and then proceeded to be frustrated with that person as you got ready that morning? If you went to that person and explained why you were upset it might make for a strange conversation. At some point you would have to recognize that your dream wasn't reality - even though it seemed very much like reality.