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It Will Be Epic

daily reading plan

May 21, 2020 by Steven Lulich

Save us, O Lord our God!
Psalm 106:47

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It’s huge, it’s vibrant and colorful, it boasts an enormous cast, and it depicts one of the most foundational events God ever enacted: the exodus. God has brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty outstretched arm, and has brought them to His holy mountain, Sinai, where He delivered to them the Law, and instructed them to build the Ark of the Covenant. Depending on how one reckons the timeline presented in the book of Judges, some 200-400 years later King David brings the Ark of the Covenant to God’s holy city, Jerusalem. This marks the culmination of the Ark’s long and tumultuous journey. As the footstool of God, the Ark’s arrival in Jerusalem symbolizes the arrival of God Himself.  The excitement was through the roof!  There were sacrifices, there was dancing, there was singing and shouting, there were trumpets and other musical instruments, and there were blessings on the people (2 Sam. 6, 1 Chr. 15-16).  I think DeMille would have loved portraying this scene in film.

A Natural Occurrence, or a God Thing?

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May 20, 2020 by Tim O’Connor

“The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” (Psa 104:21)

Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God for the power and providential care He displays throughout creation. Its opening words are the basis of a contemporary worship song often sung at ECC, and its closing words are the basis for a song popular in my college days. It loosely parallels the days of creation in Genesis 1.

The poetic form of the Psalms often repeats the same idea in slightly altered words, as we see in Psalm 103:

Worshipping a Holy God

daily reading plan

May 19, 2020 by Bob Whitaker

Psalm 93-100 is a cluster of praise songs to God, Psalms that call the community together in worship.  The English roots for our word worship come from two words.  The first is weorth which means worthiness or honor.  The second is scipe which means to create.  Putting together those two words we might say that worship means to create honor or worthiness.

It is Good to Give Thanks: Reflection on Psalm 92:1

daily reading plan

May 18, 2020 by Dan Waugh

“Be good!” That’s probably the most common thing I yell at my kids as they’re running out the door to go hang with friends, go to baseball practice, ride their bike through the neighborhood, or anything else they may be up to. It’s more reflex than anything. But what do I mean when I say “be good”?

More importantly, what does the psalmist mean when he writes, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD”? Three ways it is good immediately come to mind.

First, it is good in that it is morally praiseworthy. In this, it is the opposite of evil. It is evil not to be grateful. One of God’s chief complaints against infant Israel was that they grumbled and complained against him instead of being thankful. Gratitude, on the other hand, is a command of God and is morally praiseworthy. It is good in this sense.

Second, it is good in that it’s fitting with our end, our telos. I have a hammer that I got from my dad (I think I may have ‘borrowed’ it decades ago and never returned it). It’s a good hammer – heavy, sturdy. It does what a hammer is designed to do, and it does it well. Saying it is good for us to give thanks means, in part, that it’s part of what we’re designed to do. We were created for God’s glory, and giving thanks brings God glory. 

Third, it is good for you; in other words, it’s healthy. When I see my kids eating cookies for breakfast, I might say “eat something good” (or I might join them). Similarly, being grateful and expressing gratitude is good for us – it enlivens, brightens, and restores. Like eating Ding Dongs for breakfast, Snickers for lunch and Pop-Tarts for dinner would leave you feeling pretty miserable (ask me, I know) and deprive you of crucial nutrients, so grumbling and complaining and focusing on the negative leaves us feeling miserable. This isn’t just theology or intuition; research is showing the positive health benefits that are physical, mental, and relational (see research by ECC/IU’s Joel Wong in this article, and this short, encouraging video).

Let me suggest a couple of things we can put into practice today. First, be vigilant in your prayers to include thanksgiving. Do it every time. Express your gratitude for the good things in your life you enjoy, and the hope and consolation we have in the next life because of the gift of Christ. Second, trace every good thing back to its source. Enjoy a pleasant walk? Don’t just say, “that was good.” Trace it back to its source, which is God. Enjoy a cup of coffee? Don’t just say, “good cup of joe.” Trace it back to its source and say, “thank you, God. Thank you for the simple pleasures. Thank you for sending rain on the farms that grow the beans. Thank you…” Tell someone else what you are thankful for, and ask them what they are grateful for. Let the gratitude snowball. We know complaints and negative talk can snowball into gripe sessions. Turn the tables and be grateful in communion with others. 

Remembering God’s Help in the Past Brings Comfort

daily reading plan

May 15, 2020 by Jennie Hession

I have always been a person who looks to the future. I’m always looking forward. And often find myself making plans for the next big adventure or project that I want to take on. In the past several years, I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts, learning about how we all have different orientations to time that affect how we perceive life and act in the world. To my surprise (just kidding), not everyone is future focused. Others are more focused on the past or the present. 

Hope for the Hopeless

daily reading plan

May 15, 2020 by Steven Lulich

You who have made me see many troubles and calamites
Will revive me again;
From the depths of the earth
You will bring me up again.”
Psalm 71:20

In my life, I don’t feel like I have personally known “many troubles and calamities,” but I know others who have. As a professor, I sometimes have the terrible and humbling privilege of being granted insight into my students’ personal lives. More often than I could wish, these young adults have already known significant hardships. Sometimes the “many troubles and calamities” are imposed externally, by forces outside of our control – troubles and calamities like earthquakes, tornados, viruses, car accidents, and wars. Sometimes they are self-inflicted through poor choices, despair, and a lack of hope for something better.

Return of the King

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May 13, 2020 by Tim O’Connor

“…the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:24)

Last week, I reflected on Psalm 31, which Christ quoted in his dying words, and our need to prepare for the inevitable occasions when our faith and hope is tested, and our usual support systems seem to break down, or vanish altogether. For an image, think of the looks on the faces of Frodo and his companions in the Return of the King, at the desperate moment when the forces of Mordor overwhelmed them, with no relief in sight. Although we need to confront the reality of the fight we are in, it’s also not healthy to always dwell on the bleakest experiences of life. Psalm 68 gives us a necessary counterpoint: a stirring exaltation as God leads the victorious nation of Israel, carrying the ark of the covenant, in a procession to Mount Sinai:

Better than Life

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May 12, 2020 by Bob Whitaker

In Psalm 63 David makes a dramatic statement.  “Your love is better than life.”  When David writes this Psalm he is living in the desert of Judah.  He might be fleeing from King Saul or more likely he is running for his life because of a revolution within his own household – Absalom.  In either case the most primal instinct of human nature is to preserve one’s life and this is precisely what David is attempting to accomplish.  In light of that condition he pauses to consider something that is an even greater priority than human life.  During these difficult circumstances he expresses his praise to God in several ways.

Absolute vs. Relative Harm

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May 11, by Dan Waugh

When my boys were younger we would wrestle a lot. They’d jump on me or punch me in the arm and I’d say something like “a fly, a fly just landed on me,” or “a gnat just bit me.” It was my way of saying, “Do your best, you can’t really hurt big ole dad.” (I don’t wrestle with them now – a wise man once said, “Better to let them think they can beat you than to wrestle them and remove all doubt,” or something like that.)

Psalm 56 reminds me a bit of this taunting.  Throughout the psalm, we hear the complaint of all that David’s enemies are doing to him. They trample on him, they pursue, they attack, they twist his words, they plan his ruin, they conspire, they hope to take his life. David admits he is, at times afraid, saying “When I am afraid…”

Yet, David boldly asks twice, “What can flesh/men man do to me?” Well David, they can trample you, pursue and attack you, twist your words, plan your ruin, conspire, and try to kill!

David’s confidence is bound up in his relationship with God. When he’s afraid, he trusts God and can declare, “I will not be afraid.” David’s fearlessness is rooted in three truths braided together. First, a consistent theme of the Psalms is the absolute sovereignty of God. He is the King of Kings, Sovereign over the nations. So Psalm 47:2-3 (also Psalm 10:16, 76:7-9, and 113 for other examples):

For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, 

a great king over all the earth.

He subdued peoples under us, 

and nations under our feet.

No plan formed against God’s people will prosper unless God allows it.

Second, and related, God was on his side. In verse nine he writes (maybe sings), “This I know, that God is for me.” So, “If God is for us,” asks Paul, “who can be against us!” (Romans 8:31). His enemy’s plans will not come to fruition – God will deliver David and cast down his enemies in wrath.

This brings us to truth three. Even if David’s enemies do their worst and bring David down, it’s a gnat’s bite, an annoying fly, nothing more. To be perfectly honest, this may be a case where a biblical author wrote more than they truly understood. In verse thirteen the author writes,

“For you have delivered my soul from death,

  yes, my feet from falling,

  that I may walk before God

  in the light of life.

It is very likely that here, in Psalm 56, being delivered from death meant rescued from being killed physically. But, this side of the resurrection, we understand that being resurrected from death has a more final, more ultimate meaning. Oh, we’ll die physically of something someday (the first death), but those who’ve been born again (the first resurrection) will be delivered from death in the final resurrection (the second resurrection) and live forever – the second death (eternal death) will not hurt us. This ultimate hope was not unknown to the men who penned the psalms. Take Psalm 71:20-21 as an example:

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities

will revive me again;

from the depths of the earth

you will bring me up again.

You will increase my greatness

and comfort me again.

David says in verse eight, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” They are recorded, and they will be made right in eternity. Sufferings and miseries of this life are not ultimate, life at God’s right hand is. And mortal men cannot threaten this – it is out of their reach.

What David wrote about his enemies still applies to us today. Out eternal life is out of the reach of men who’d seek our harm, a disease that strikes our health, moth or rust that destroy earthly treasure. So, we can say, “What can flesh do to me?” and answer, “Nothing ultimately.”

It reminds me of John Donne’s sonnet, “Death, be not Proud”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

We Have Heard with Our Ears

daily reading plan

May 8, 2020 by Aaron Brown

I find it easy to judge the Israelites. Don’t you? I think about the beautiful and bloody story of God making his covenant with Abram to the binding of Isaac. I think about Jacob wrestling with God and how God saved Jacob and his sons from famine by the hands of his son Joseph.  The Book of Genesis is full of times when those Patriarchs encountered our God. The covenant was passed down generation to generation. In an amazingly awesome display of God’s power in the plagues of Egypt, the Israelites regain their freedom by simply walking away from their oppressors with their gold. Even after the pillars of cloud and fire lead them day and night and the pillar of cloud protects them as the Egyptian army pursues and the sea opens an escape on dry land, the Israelites grumble. God feeds them manna from heaven and quails and even provides water gushing from a rock, they whine.  “Why did you bring us out to the desert to die? We could have been back in Egypt eating leeks and garlic.” How can the Israelites whine? After not only the amazing stories of their fathers, but their own encounters with God, they bemoan their situation with, it seems, very little appreciation and thankfulness.