Day 196 (July 15): Give thanks to God, His love endures, God lifts up the weak, He rebuilds Jerusalem, His power is absolute

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalm 136

Psalm 146-150

Questions & Observations

Q. (Psalm 136): This Psalm just says to me that God has always been, He always will be — and is above no other — and His hand is in everything.

A. Definitely a recurring theme.

O. (146): When I read this I think, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Our eyes play tricks on our mind all the time.  The powerful look in control, ahead of the “game,” but on God’s scale, the tables are turned: the oppressed, the lonely, the burdened are the winners.

O. (146:9): This verse is two-fold for me.  It says that I don’t need to worry about leveling the playing field, God will.  So don’t get bogged down about the fact that life isn’t fair and getting revenge.  On the side of “he frustrates the plans of the wicked” lets me know that I have wickedness inside me — much, much less than I used to — because I do get frustrated.  But, now I am learning to slow down, analyze a situation and think of what the best thing is to do.  When I do that and include God, my frustration goes away.

Q. (147:11): My 5-year old has swimmer’s ear.  When my husband told me that the doctor said she had an outer ear infection, I thought that would be better than an inner ear or middle ear, but it’s not!!!  Last night was my third night to be up with her, giving her more pain medicine when she needed it every few hours (don’t worry, I didn’t overdose her).  Last night when she was sobbing and saying, “my ear hurts” over and over again, I was crying out to God to take care of her pain.  It was a real forceful prayer like I was yelling at God.  She would quiet down and I thought, “wow, that worked.  Thank you.”  Then, she started up again.  I wasn’t happy with God.  Then, she finally went back to sleep.  I wondered if it was God or the medicine.  My vote was for ibuprofen.  And, I felt bad for thinking that.  I was talking to my bff about it and she said that I can’t forget to ask for anything, but remember it’s if it’s God’s will.  Then, what is the point of prayer?  My hubby said that was Satan entering into my thoughts.  The whole thing does confuse me.  But, what I did realize when talking to my bff is that my daughter felt a ton better today.  I only gave her ibuprofen twice today and didn’t have to back it up with acetaminophen.  So, I bring this up because this verse says, “those who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

A. Prayer can be frustrating! One of my professors wrote a book on it called Talking in the Dark, about praying when life doesn’t make sense (in big and small things).  One of the main prayers that I worry about us being too caught up in is asking God to take away all of our pain, as you did here, and I do for my girls as well, so you’re hardly alone there.  But, I wonder how often God desires us to see that pain is often His way of getting our attention — so says C.S. Lewis, who called it God’s megaphone — and that if we have a right knowledge of God, then pain can be endured.  There are several reasons for this.  The first is that if we see pain as only being temporary — especially the pain of death in every sense of the word — that makes it a lot more endurable.  In light of eternity, we can gain a lot of perspective on pain that lasts mere moments or hours, even if it seems like an eternity when we are going through it or being with someone who is.

Whenever I’m discussing pain with someone, I think of two biblical examples of how we should turn to God in the midst of trial.  Two of the holiest men who ever lived, Jesus and Paul, both went through periods of trial.  In Matthew 26, and the other gospels as well, Jesus pleads with God the Father for the “cup” (of suffering and sin) to pass from Him.  He knows what it will mean to endure the path of suffering, and it appears that the human part of Him was afraid.  But He resolved to do the will of His Father, and submitted Himself to the humiliation and torture of the cross.  In doing so, He freed all humanity from our own sin if we believe in Him.  The passion story unfolds over the course of about 18 brutal hours, and Jesus hung from the cross for 6 before He died.  Surely it was endless agony, but those six hours were used by God to change the course of human history.  And He did so using pain inflicted upon His own Son.  God truly can bring light out of our greatest darkness.

The other story comes from 2 Corinthians 12, in which Paul tells us about what he calls his “thorn,” some sort of what was most likely a physical ailment or other health problem that he had to endure.  The text tells us that he asked God three times to take it away, but God said no.  God told him — and this is the important thing — that His grace was sufficient for Paul (2 Cor 12:9).  Paul is therefore able to endure the physical pain with the knowledge that God’s grace is bigger than our suffering.  It didn’t make Paul’s pain go away, but it completely changed his perspective on it.  Perspective remains key when it comes to our pain.  We will never know a pain-free existence in this life — that is the nature of our world.  But if we gain a proper perspective on it, then we can see it as one of the many ways that God brings good into our world.

Q. (148): I don’t think ocean animals, trees, scurrying animals and most of the things mentioned here will praise God.

A. Not in song perhaps — though some animals do sing in their own way.  I think the writer is carrying the theme of worship to what we might call its next logical step: to have nature itself honor its Creator.  What would that look like?  I suspect what the writer is envisioning is that when the different parts of nature do what God desired them to do — birds sing, predators hunt, fire burns, etc. — then these things honor the God who made them.  But perhaps we might just want to say we don’t have to read every Psalm so literally.  By the way, the writer of the classic hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, composed by St. Francis of Assisi around 1225 AD, is based upon the words of Psalm 148, and if you read the lyrics, you might get some of the idea of what the psalmist was thinking about.  Read them here: http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/a/a100.html

Q. (150): OK, I’m just going to ask.  Where did the idea of praise and worship come from anyway?  Sorry if this seems pessimistic, I’ve been a little grumpy the last couple days.  But, I really am curious about it.

A. In the OT, worship and praise for God has its origins in people’s interactions with Him or being a witness to His actions.  Abraham praises God through his various trials and revealed different names of God in the midst of them — God is my provider for example, (Genesis 22:14).  He also built altars to God in the midst of journeys; places where he could focus on God and remember His presence, even if Abraham couldn’t see Him.  Moses and Miriam sing the first recorded worship of God in song (I think) in Exodus 15.  God has just brought them through the Red Sea, and crushed the army that is chasing them.  In that moment, they break into song, and sing the praises of the God who delivered them.  These names for God and writings and songs about His actions (probably in oral form at first, remember that) are probably among the first ways that people worshipped God.  But as time went by, and God continued to be faithful — in the lives of David and Solomon for example — the actions of God increased, so there was more to write about and focus on.  But notice that many of these Psalms, including some in today’s reading, all point back to the Exodus — the highest point in their history.  No matter how “old” the generations got, they looked back on those moments as being the origins of their people, and offered praise and sacrifices to God accordingly.  Worship, I believe, is simply the correct response when one becomes fully aware of whom God really is.  That would be where it originates with you and me.

Day 195 (July 14): The godly will enjoy the fruits of their labor, the godly are never defeated, the Lord’s love is unfailing and everlasting, don’t sleep until a house for the Lord is found, God chose Jerusalem, God is supreme

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalm 128-130

Psalm 132

Psalm 134-135

Questions & Observations

Q. (Psalms 128, 129): These two contrast in that 128 says that those who “fear” God will enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Whereas in 129, the author has been continuously persecuted for his beliefs, but never defeated.  So, as a Christian, you never know which life you will have, but regardless, God will be with you.  Would this be an accurate interpretation?

A. Those would be the extremes, but many Christians (notably those not in the West) live somewhere in between.  God can choose to bless them greatly, but there are still times of persecution where many are made to suffer.  The same can be true for any of us: God uses us for whatever He desires, but you have the last part right: He will neither leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5).

Q. (135:5): I am still curious about the Bible’s authors acknowledging other gods, usually saying that the Lord is better.  But, why even call them a god when they don’t actually exist?  If there were other gods, God would have had to create them because we learned in Genesis that the earth was nothing.

A. The Bible speaks clearly about the existence of other beings besides humans, which do not have bodies — that is they are spiritual beings — called angels.  We call the evil ones demons.  Not all of these angels are on the side of God.  It is possible (and the common Christian interpretation) that these evil or fallen angels give demonic power to other nations, and attempt to influence their leaders.  Watch for the interaction with one in Daniel 9 when we get there.  So it is very possible that we understand these beings to be the other “gods” worshipped by the nations, but that only God is supreme.  And you’re right: fallen angels are indeed created beings, which adds a wrinkle to our understanding of why God made them in the first place.  Of course, the same question could be asked of human beings.

Q. (135:13): Many of the Bible’s stories seem so amazing to me.  It’s crazy that so many people follow God.  The Bible has done a great job of carrying the stories to written form and they are still read by millions today.  It’s pretty spectacular that the Bible is still regarded as such an important book.  A charge: carry it on to the next generation.  Make sure the little ones know what it is and that truth comes from it.

A. That is certainly an important charge, especially in an increasing post-Christian world, that thinks it knows the Bible, but in truth knows very little about it.  Would that this were not true for many Christians!  Sometimes its not just the next generation that needs to know about the Bible, but the current one.

Day 194 (July 13): Songs for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem: deliver me from those who deceive, God is always watching and helping, Jews are feeling the pressure from mockers, keep the wicked away, their days may be hard but the rewards are plentiful

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalm 120-121

Psalm 123

Psalm 125

Psalm 126

Questions & Observations

Q. These Psalms are for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.  Why are they going there?

A. They are making a pilgrimage to the holy city in order to worship God and, most likely, participate in one of the three annual festival/holy days (from Exodus 23:14-17 and 34:18-23): Pesach/ Passover, Sukkot/ Feast of Booths, and Shavuot/ Feast of Weeks.  Since Jerusalem would have been higher than the surrounding countryside, it would have required walking up the steep roads to enter the city, and it would have been treated as a formal path of pilgrimage.

Q. (Psalm 120): Any idea who wrote this or what it’s about?

A. Nope, I won’t be much help.  My notes indicate that the places described in verse 5 are in what is now Saudi Arabia, far from the Jewish nation, so this writer had quite a ways to go to reach the holy city.  Because of this distance, he likely feels very isolated and surrounded by “barbarians” who don’t know God.

Q. (121): I think many times people think they have the hard end of the relationship with God because they struggle to keep His commandments.  But, it always feels so ironic that God is doing so much work by always being there, watching over us.  He really is our servant.

A. In a manner of speaking.  God is beyond generous with each of us, but let there be no doubt that while God often “serves” us, it is only that we might turn from our sins and walk more closely with Him.  We should have no illusions about who is in charge, and it is not us.

Q. (123): It sounds like these pilgrims have had enough of taking ridicule from nonbelievers.  They are looking to God to rescue them?

A. As we get closer to the destruction of Judah, the pressure on the people will continue to mount, and the presence of foreigners who mock them for their faith will continue to grow.  The words have been a great comfort to Jews for more than 2300 years, as the people have been conquered, scattered, and persecuted by people of other faiths (including Christians, sadly) for our entire modern history.  God is certainly laying groundwork here to help His chosen people remain faithful, even after centuries of persecution.

Day 192 (July 11): Our God is real, their idols are made by humans, the Lord blesses and never forgets his followers, God is my protector, He cares for the godly, rejoice in all He offers and has given

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalms 115-118

Questions & Observations

Q. (Psalm 116:1-2, 115:10): I often wonder why we pray to God and praise Him so much.  Why does He seek praise, or does He?  Why are we told in scripture to do so?  I am sure there are a lot of reasons.  One I think of is to keep our eyes on God.  We should want to thank God in prayer for all of our blessings.  Here in 116:2, it says that He bends down to hear what we say.  The Creator of the Earth and all of its complexities eagerly has time for us.  That means that He does care and it is worth our time.  Also, in 115:10, we are told that God is our helper and our shield.  That’s a pretty good armor!  But, does God desire praise?  I know I do when I feel I’ve done a good job or just need a pat on the back or a little reassurance.

A. The parent metaphor is an apt one here.  Do I “require” the praise of my little girls?  Do I require them to say, “You are such a great Daddy!”  No!  No (healthy) parent does that!  But does it bring delight to my heart to hear the love of my daughters?  You bet it does.  As a strong proponent of free will, I believe that God does not force us to love Him, but is honored most when we make the CHOICE to love Him.

Worship of God is never for His benefit (God needs nothing for us, He is a complete entity and Triune community unto Himself), but always for ours.  Worship is one of the key ways that we as people can see the “true” way things are, as we see things being told to us in these Psalms.  Worship, like prayer, is never about changing God, but rather using the truth that God is in charge and we are not to change us.

Q. (116:3): What is going on here?

A. The writer was facing death, and uses the metaphor of being “snared” in the ropes of a personified death, as an animal in a trap.

Q. (118:24): Amen!  This should wake me up every morning!

A. The church I grew up in started every service with it.  You could do a lot worse than this verse.

Day 191 (July 10): Thank God for always being there to rescue, the wise will see the ways of the Lord, the godly will be honored and infuriate the wicked, God revives those who are suffering

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalms 107, 111-114

 

Questions & Observations

O. (Psalm 107:1-7): God has such grace and mercy.  No matter how far away from God one has strayed, he will always welcome them back and give them a place to reside.  What a gift we have in Him!

O. (111:10): Great verse.  I have been feeling wiser.  Reading the Bible in it’s entirety is the best decision I have ever made.  I have wanted to do it for so long and started several times.  What could be more important in life than knowing God’s textbook.  It should be the foundation for who we are and how we live!  I always said — because I hadn’t found time to read the Bible — that as long as I love everyone and act accordingly, I would “make it.”  But, I can see that I was naïve!  There is a ton more of knowledge available that is helping me know more of what my life is about.  I wish everyone could make the time!

O. (112:1): Several years ago, we were gearing up for our daughter to attend Kindergarten.  Although we lived in the best school district in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, we wanted our daughter to not just be exposed to Christianity, but to live it, to be it.  What a great decision that was!  I cringe at the thought of my kids not being allowed to pray or not taught the virtues of the Bible.  If there is any bullying going on at school, it is immediately dealt with.  In my daughter’s Second Grade class, I have witnessed kids talking through hurt feelings with love and respect.  These kids are so compassionate.  I left my daughter’s birthday party in tears.  Each child said a prayer out loud for her.  Classical Christian schools rock!  They make it very clear that God should be the center of our lives.  I know by talking about this that some may think I’m a know-it-all or inconsiderate because private schools are so expensive.  In society’s standards, we can’t afford it.  Many things have been put on hold because our children’s education comes first.  I’m just saying, check it out!  And, there are scholarships available.  (Sorry for those of you who are reading this and have no children.)

Q. (112:3): I’m holding out for the riches.  Really, God, I will be generous!  I do believe that if you follow what God wants you to do that you will have just what you need to be very happy.

A. There’s one of those old “conversations with God” that get used in sermons a lot that I have that I think sums up my thoughts on your question: I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.  He said, “He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.”

O. (112:4): I love these three virtues — generosity, compassion and righteousness.  If your life isn’t great by society’s standards, I think it’s awesome that a light can shine if you are a believer of God.  I think those three things can help you stay happy by giving of yourself.

Q. (112:7): As I have said in the above observation that our budget is tight.  We moved a year ago, my husband started his own business which can be stressful, you know this if you have ever done it, our daughter’s school bill doubled with the change of school and we have another child starting, so our school bill will be quadrupling from two years ago.  But, the more we trust in God, the less we are concerned about it.  It’s scary that it feels good.  I guess money is the fear that we are trying to hand over to God.  But, there are more fears like my in-laws are dealing with: many of their friends are fatally ill.  I’m sure that makes them look at their own vitality.  There are fears about our children being safe.  Just pray and hand those worries over to God!

A. (Just as a quick note, when I’m discussing fear in my response, I’m not talking about fear in the sense of reverence for God, and a right understanding of who He is, as in Proverbs 1:7, among other references.  I would use the word reverence myself.  That’s not the type of fear I’m going to be discussing).  Now then: fear (anxiety, cowardice, etc.) though sometimes a powerful motivator, is ultimately a fruitless emotion.  And fear is not of God.  If you think about it (and as 1 John 4:18 notes), the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.  Fear is the very antithesis of what God calls us to.  We are called to see the example of His love for us on the cross, and trust Him with the rest.  The more we trust Him, the less we will fear.  Now that doesn’t mean that fear will just, poof, disappear.  We will continue to struggle with fear and sin our whole lives, even as we grow closer to God.  But as we see the work of God in the Bible and in our lives, we will see that God calls us to have a spirit of boldness and trust, not a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).  One of the most common commands in scripture (especially when encountering God or an angelic being) is, “do not fear”.  Trust in God, and learn from Christ what it means to live a bold life for Him.

Day 190 (July 9): Proclaim God and all of His creation, proclaim who He is and the wonders He has done, a review of Israel in Egypt, the Israelites still strayed from God despite all of His guidance and aid

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalms 105-106

Questions & Observations

O. (Psalm 105:1-4): I love the beginning of this Psalm.  This was written for the Israelites, but I think we could apply the first two verses to our lives, but more of as a collective charge.  We have talked way back to where we should use discretion when proclaiming God.  If you shout out today how wondrous God is, chances are you’ll get some weird looks.  (If you have enough confidence to shout His praises, more power to you.  Go for it.  I would stop to listen!) But, if you testify in the right place at the right time, it can work.  Or, if this could be more a collective charge where this first two verses are addressing Christians as a whole to have God on our mind, act godly and proclaim Him whenever possible, we can apply it to today.  Verses 3 and 4 are right on!  The more I search for God and request His thoughts, the easier my life is.

O. (105:7): We have read a lot about that.  Those folks should have woken up after all the destruction God did and then rebuilding.

O. (105:8-45): The rest of this Psalm is about how God never faltered on His covenant with Abraham.  Despite all the anger and humiliation God had to endure, He still put up with them.  He kept the covenant.

Q. (106): This Psalm takes us, and the original authors of this passage, way back through lots of generations — 700 or so years worth.  But, they tell it like it just happened yesterday.  And now, we are reading it 2700 years later (I think my estimations are correct).  It’s just amazing how God and the Bible have lasted through all of these years!  Just an off-the-wall curious question: I would assume that the Bible is the oldest book of any religion.  Any idea how far other religions date back?

A. When it comes to monotheism, you would be correct, the OT is the “oldest” major religious text.  But there’s a reason: both of the other major monotheistic religions both spring from Judaism — Christianity (circa 30 AD) and Islam (622 AD).  But the oldest still practiced religion is Hinduism, which is a polytheistic (many gods) and pantheistic (everything is god) religion, the primary faith of the Indian sub-continent.  Though there is no official “founder” for Hinduism as Judaism associates with Abraham, an ancient form of the religion in the Indus river valley can be basically traced back nearly 5000 years (to circa 3000 BC), so it gets the title of “oldest still practiced religion.”  Among their sacred texts are what are called the Four Vedas (truths), and though it is generally accepted that their final composition/editing occurred around 600 BC, they are much older than that, and probably date to an older period than the OT.

Now you can make the argument that forms of spirit worship, the worship of nature, and other such forms of what we would call “paganism” can go back many more thousands of years to primitive mankind even tens of thousands of years ago, but there is no “direct” line from these religious positions to a modern form.

 

Major Monotheistic Religions:

Judaism (circa 2000 BC)

Zoroastrianism (circa 600 BC)

Christianity (circa 30 AD)

Islam (622 AD)

Sikhism (1469 AD)

Mormonism (1820s AD)

Baha’i (1844 AD)

 

Major Polytheistic Religions:

Hinduism (circa 3000 BC)

Shintoism (800 AD)

 

Major Agnostic Religions/Philosophies

Jainism (circa 900 BC)

Buddhism (circa 500 BC)

Daoism (also spelled Taoism, 400 BC)

Confucianism (circa 400 BC)

Day 187 (July 6): Joyful are His followers, a charge for the kings, the wicked are successful but they will feel God’s wrath, God created us, He knows us, a cry for God’s care, those who find shelter in God find rest

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalms 1-2, 10, 33, 71, 91

Questions & Observations

O. (Psalms 1:1-3): If you think about things that kind of irritate you, bring you down and you just can’t shake them, where do those thoughts stem from?  I hadn’t thought about this until just now.  Whatever those thoughts are, they do not include God.  But, when I am focused on God, I am always happy.  When I listen to our local Christian music station, 88.3 FM, I am welling with happiness.  So, set your eyes on God and you will find happiness!

O. (1:4-6): What a comfort to know that God is always watching over us, as long as we are on His path.

Q. (2:7): We talked before about the anointed kings being like God’s sons.  The people are encouraged to follow the king’s orders and the kings are charged with being wise and making good decisions.  Why does God link the kings directly to Him?

A. Ok, first things first.  Generally, one of the ways that these ancient cultures thought about royalty is that their leaders were anointed by God (or whatever other gods there were in their society), and were therefore given the title of “son” of God/god.  This is only a cultural title, and does not generally apply to actual genealogy.  Now, having said that, this Psalm is something else entirely.  Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm, one that describes actions or characteristics of the Messiah, God’s anointed or chosen, ruler, and here we see the ruler described as an earthly king.  So in this case, the writer really is referring to a father/son type relationship between God and this Messianic ruler, which the Jews of this era would have been expecting.

One of the “offices” or “titles” that the Messiah will hold (that is, and office anointed by God) is that of king (the others are priest and prophet, so watch for Messianic descriptions of these offices as well).  He is God’s chosen ruler, the one whom the government will be on His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).  He, the whole of God and the best of our humanity, will be the true ruler in the Kingdom of God.

Q. (2:16-17): This psalm and many others speaks so confidently about God’s power, yet they also speak of their reservations about God not being sovereign and failing to help ones who are suffering.

A. I think they are being true to their thoughts: they know God to be all-powerful, and trust in Him, but see that their reality is a lot more “gray” then they would like.  It, to me, is the writer’s attempt to reconcile the truth of God with what they see.

Q. This is a random thought: it seems like in Bible times, people who were following God, or any false god, made lots of time in their day to worship.  I would say a good majority of Sunday Christians just worship on Sunday and maybe say prayers before they eat dinner.  In contrast, some religions in other countries worship at set times during the day and may seem more devoted than the when-we-make-time-for-it religion. But, I’m wondering if God maybe might approve of someone’s faith in Him when they worship on their own time and don’t feel forced to attend.

A. As we have discussed with the issues that got the Jews in trouble in this era, God is after our hearts first and foremost.  So we’ve got to get rid of this idea that we are being “forced” to do anything with our relationship with God.  If you feel like you have to force yourself to be part of religious ritual, then frankly, I would say that’s a problem with you!  It should be our desire to make God the priority in our lives.  From the 10 Commandments on, however, we see that God only requires one day a week from us (the Sabbath—however we choose to interpret it).  What we give from there is, strictly speaking, up to us.  (And I would say the same applies to tithing — 10% required, more than that optional and at our discretion).  Our relationship with God should never feel forced: we would be very concerned about a person if they were asking, “how much time do I have to spend with my kids or my spouse?”  That would tell me there’s a major problem with the relationship, and it would be the same concern I would have if that’s the way they treated their relationship with God.

Now having said that, there’s a flip side to this that does need to be addressed.  I think that the record of scripture teaches clearly that giving God more of our time, talent, or treasure does NOT make Him love us more, but it may change us in the process (note the difference between the two!)  Being devoted to God more hours in a given day will not cause God to bless us more, but it might bring us into closer relationship with Him.

Q. (Psalm 71): It seems that a lot of Psalm writers are worried about God forsaking them.  The writers almost threaten God to not leave them.  Why?

A. Very likely some of these Psalms are written in the midst of terrible things happening to the people of Judah (like watching a foreign power march through and destroy Israel).  The truly insightful Jew is willing to acknowledge that God is all they are really holding onto in the end, so if He “leaves,” then you know you are out of luck.

Q. (Psalm 71:20): Would you say that some “hardship” is sometimes just part of the plan?  I know that the big picture is just to keep trusting in God and He’ll take care of you.

A. Sure.  God does not guarantee us a smooth ride in life, but we believe that He is faithful.  If we ignore His warnings though, we are in danger of being forced to deal with the consequences of our actions.  The choice to sin always bears poisonous fruit, but often we cannot tell whom it will affect.

O. (Psalm 91:4): What a picture of protection!  What a great image of God watching His sheep.  I was thinking about how Jesus, God and the Spirit work for us.  I have always thought of Jesus working for us by saving us from our sins as he was nailed to the cross.  But, His influence didn’t stop there.  Jesus was always trying to reach more people to share the word of God and give them heaven’s salvation.  We are supposed to be like Jesus, reaching out to and protecting those who don’t know Him.