Psalm 150 – Praise God (It’s Not an Option)

3 04 2013

praise god

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 

Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!- Psalm 150 (NRSV)

I have to admit lately praise (for God or anything else) has not come from me easily.  There are a number of reasons for that, but I can’t genuinely rationalize any of them.  If the Apostle Paul could claim to thank God regardless if he were hungry or fed, free or imprisoned, then I can at least take a moment and thank God and praise Him simply because He is, no matter what temporary misery I might be experiencing.

I’ve been focusing on my own circumstances and forgetting that God is beyond my circumstances, which can lead to a pretty dismal existence.

Circumstances are temporary, but God is permanent.

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“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NRSV)

Today might look dismal, but God has good plans for me just as He did for the Israelites when they were exiled to Babylon.   I just might be in a place where I can’t see God’s plans.  Or maybe He is keeping them a secret from me, so that I don’t go and ruin them in my own ignorance and ineptitude.

I love the book of Ecclesiastes, because Solomon was a guy who had it all, or was as close to having it all (as far as material wealth goes) as anyone could ever be.  I remember a wealthy friend of mine (who was also very much an agnostic, at least at that time) who commented that, “Money can only buy one the kind of misery he likes the best.”   I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to put his theory to the test, especially these days, but his sentiments echo Solomon’s as well:

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God;  for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NRSV) 

Happiness is fleeting, but there is real joy in God that is far deeper and way beyond our trials and difficulties.  A big part of faith is trusting that God is fulfilling His good plans for us, even when we are despondent of the future and are having a really hard time holding on to hope.

Praise God

Lord, I pray that by Your grace, You would give me the voice and the heart to sing Your praise, in good times and in bad times.

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Vanity and Knowledge vs. Innocence and Humility

13 03 2013

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“I, the Teacher,when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

 What is crooked cannot be made straight,  and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (NRSV)

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“He (Jesus) called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4 (NRSV)

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  At first it seems rather depressing and despondent, but I can see and feel where Solomon’s coming from.  When I was growing up my family always had high standards, and the pursuit of education was especially prized.  Failure and mediocrity were not tolerated.
Because I had unusual gifts, my parents placed higher expectations on me (at least academically) than on my older sisters.  I didn’t always appreciate the dog-and-pony show that accompanied my precocious reading ability- “Oh, show Mrs. so-and-so how well you read the dictionary!,” got old very quickly.   I got tired of hearing how I should help my sisters (the same ones who would beat me up and take my stuff the minute there were no adults around) with their homework because they struggled with spelling and writing.
I got noblesse oblige and self denial pounded into my head as a child, and I didn’t like it.  I felt as if I were expected to show up on stage 24/7, give what I didn’t have, and then give some more.  I did, too, partially out of fear of my parents’ wrath, and partially out of the fear of hellfire, because not fully utilizing one’s gifts was a Grave Sin.  I kept up that impossible pace until my early 30’s when my physical health crashed.  Me- the unwilling, doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
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This is how “normal” kids see the world.
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This is how I saw the world when I was a kid.
Nobody understood how completely terrified I was of virtually everything- especially of being deemed inadequate and unworthy.  I spent my entire childhood being the geeky little nearsighted poor kid with the bad clothes who everyone used as a punching bag.  I was bound determined not to spend my adult life being the rest of the world’s doormat and sick joke.  But behind my carefully cultivated professional façade of impenetrability and capability, the little geeky kid was looking around the corner for the next beating. Nobody understood that my mind is always going a million miles an hour and that it drains every ounce of energy I have when I am around people- just to filter out the noise around me.  I don’t read body language well at all, and what comes naturally and subconsciously for most people is an acquired and conscious skill for me.  I can interpret and (usually) send the proper non-verbal signals when I interact with other people, but it is an energy draining and somewhat “artificial” process.
I have, and can acquire the necessary technical knowledge I need to function, but I am a poor navigator when it comes to relationships and the complexities of dealing with other people.
IgnoranceIsBliss
I don’t know what “normal” is.  I know that I’m not normal and most of the rest of the world is. One thing that I wish that people would understand about “abnormal” people like me is that usually when a person is given an exemplary gift in one area, that person is likely to have a profound deficit in another.  I am more than aware of my deficits, and they are limiting and severe.  I may know a lot of things, yes, but in my knowledge I know all too well just how inadequate and unworthy I am.
Some of the happiest people in the world are small children and those with cognitive deficiencies, which is telling. They haven’t been burnt enough by the world and the malice of others to become cynical and jaded and wary.  Ignorance may just be bliss in certain circumstances.
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The quest for the knowledge of good and evil led humanity to the first sin: wanting to be as God. (see Genesis 3)  The problem with that is that humanity, while made in the image of God, is not God.  We are finite and limited both in our physical presence and in the knowledge we my attain.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (NRSV)

I can’t help but to think of all my atheist and agnostic friends who say things to me such as, “Don’t you know anything about science?  Why do you believe creation stories that involve some guy in the sky and a chick and a dude and a snake?”

God, I trust.  The Bible, I trust.  Science is valuable but…the only problem I have with putting faith in science is that our knowledge is limited and fallible.  Science does not have all the answers, and sometimes what is taken as scientific fact today is disproven tomorrow.

One has to have a lot of faith to believe that something arose from nothing for no reason at all.  I don’t see how creation was possible without some sort of sentient Force or Designer behind it.  For me it is far less a leap of faith to believe in a Creator God than in random chance.

Faith is a gift of God. It is purely of God to be able to surrender to Jesus and follow Him, especially when the rest of the world thinks you’re touched in the head for doing so.