Tagged ‘Psalms‘

The God Who Keeps Us

My life has been chaotic lately. I have too much on my plate. I struggle to juggle the various responsibilities of life and ministry. I’m just one guy trying to work, maintain a home, and spend time with family and friends, all the while writing, booking flights, answering email, preparing messages, and guiding a changing, growing ministry. It can feel a bit schizophrenic at times! Sometimes in the midst, my relationship with God gets pushed to the perimeter. I am, after all, only human. I begin to wonder if I am really where God wants me to be, or if I have somehow missed the path along the way. Is there something I should be doing differently? Perhaps you can relate.

This morning I read Psalm 121. It has been on my mind for several days now. As a child, I memorized verse one and two in the King James Version. It says this: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2, KJV). As I have been going about my work, those verses kept coming back to me. So this morning, I looked up the Psalm to see what the rest of the passage said. Likely a lesson would be waiting there for me.

Interestingly, the first two verses are the only verses in the Psalm that focus on my needs. The remainder of the Psalm focuses on who God is relative to my needs. Let me share the entire Psalm with you.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

(Psalm 121, ESV)

Did you see the shift? The focus turns to who God is. And the main thought the writer gives to us is that God is our keeper. If I were asked to list the main characteristics of God, I’m not sure if I would include “keeper” in the list. I would say he is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present. But “keeper” probably would not make my list. Yet this word is used six times in this short Psalm. That made me take notice, and I decided to dig a little deeper into the meaning.

The word for “keeper” in the Hebrew has the idea of protection, of guarding, or watching over something. It is used in other passages in regard to a shepherd as a keeper of the sheep. In this way, God is our keeper. He is our shepherd. He watches over us. He guards us. He protects us. He is a keeper of sheep. He is the one who protects the sheep from attack. He guides them to green pastures. He watches over them at night while they are sleeping. He makes sure they have all that they need.

Once I thought about God as a keeper of sheep, my mind went to Psalm 23, a psalm of David. This is what it says:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23, ESV)

We know many things about God. We are taught about him from our youngest days in Sunday School. But often we are disconnected between what we say we know about God, and applying that knowledge to our daily lives.

In North America, we strive for our goals and dreams. We are taught to work hard to achieve success. We may even have noble goals of serving God. It is good to work, but in our working let us remember that ultimately we are where we are because God purposes for us to be there. In those moments when you feel overwhelmed, God is still keeping you. This season of your life is merely a tick of the clock in the grand scale of eternity. It is a single stitch in the fabric of your entire life. Even when you do not realize it, God is always at work around you, keeping you exactly where you need to be. He guards you. He watches over you. He protects you. He guides you. He keeps you.

He keeps me, and that is enough. I can rest in his embrace. Take a deep breath. Let that thought saturate your day. Let his presence cover every moment of your chaotic world. He knows where you are going, and he is guarding you every step of the way. He understands your humanity. He embraces it. He embraces you.

In the midst of our busy lives, often it is difficult to look up from our needs to see our Keeper. The tendency is to focus on our needs instead of focusing on who God is. Wherever this finds you today, rest in the assurance that God is keeping you. He is guarding your way. He is watching over you. He sits by your bed at night, and watches you as you sleep. He is protecting you. He knows exactly where you are and where you are going.

My days are still full to the brim. I still feel pulled in ten different directions at the same time! But in the midst of the chaos, I am reminded that God is the God who keeps us. Rest in that comfort today.

This article was originally published in the April 2016 Newsletter.

He Remembers That We Are Dust

Do you ever have that moment when you wake up and a song is on your mind? This morning when I awoke, that was the case. It was a song by Kelly Willard. It was a popular chorus in the 80s. It is called the Cares Chorus. Here are the lyrics:

I cast all my cares upon You
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet
And any time I don’t know what to do
I will cast all my cares upon You

(Words and music by Kelly Willard, ©1978 Maranatha Praise, Inc.)

I thought it was odd that such an old song would pop into my mind. Then, before I could even get a cup of coffee poured, one of my own songs came to mind. It was the song “Stumble” from my last CD project. The chorus says this:

I am only human, not some hero of the faith
I’m merely an example of God’s mercy and his grace
I keep my eyes on Jesus when my gains become a loss
As I stumble to the cross

I sat down with my cup of coffee, and then another lyric came to mind. This time the lyric was from a song that is thousands of years old. It was written by David, one of my favorite song writers of all time. This is what he wrote:

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, ESV).

I think God was trying to say something to me through all of these lyrics. I think he simply wanted to remind me that it is okay to just be “Tim”. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain.

In the past few months, I’ve been dealing with many challenges behind the scenes. It may surprise you to know that many times I have found myself anxious, worried, or discouraged. I’ve had long conversations with God about it, and sometimes I find it difficult to hear him speaking back to me. I even get frustrated with him sometimes.

With social media, it is easy to give the impression that everything is exciting and positive in our lives. We are quick to share exciting news and hope that others will celebrate with us the victories in life. But we are often hesitant to share our struggles. I am as guilty of this as anyone. If we are not careful, we can be quick to share our spiritual victories, and slow to share our weaknesses. Yet our human weakness is the element that is common to all of us.

I think this morning God was saying to me, “Tim, it is okay to be human. I understand your weakness. I know the anxious thoughts that you have. I know the times you struggle to trust me. It is okay. I remember that you are dust. I’ll be God, and you can just be Tim. That’s alright with me.”

God understands that I am only human. He remembers that I am dust. This is a great encouragement to me. Though I long to respond as I know I should, many times I find my heart is anxious instead of trusting. I want to fix my situation. I want to make it work. If only I try harder. But rarely does this change anything. Instead, I need to surrender to his care.

I am grateful that I serve a God who understands my humanity. He understands it because he is the one who created me. He formed mankind from the dust of the earth. He breathed life into his creation. It is his breath that breathes in me. I am who I am because his hands formed me, and he never forgets this fact. He remembers that we are dust.

When I come before God, I can simply be his child. I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to respond correctly. I don’t have to be free from anxiety before coming to him. Instead, I come to him in my humanity. I come to him in my brokenness. I come to him with my concerns. I come to him as his child. When I do, he reaches down and sweeps me up into his arms. He cradles me on his lap, and wipes the smudge of dirt off my cheek with his hand. He pulls me close to himself and runs his fingers through my hair. I am his child. He is my Father. His embrace calms my fears. His voice speaks gently to me, reminding me that he is here. His unconditional love for me overwhelms my concerns.

This is why I love David’s song the most. I cling to the idea that God remembers that we are dust. I need that kind of God. Do you also? Perhaps as you read this, there is something going on in your life as well. You’ve been struggling. The enemy has been whispering in your ear, “You are a failure.” Your humanity is wearing you out. When you awoke this morning, it wasn’t a song lyric that was on your mind. Instead, it was the situation you are facing at work. It was the struggle you are having in your marriage. It was the situation with your health. It was the haunting voice of doubt. My friend, if that is you, it is okay. God understands your humanity. His grace is sufficient for our weakness. Today, let him sweep you up into his arms. Settle into his lap. Let him hold you. Let him run his fingers through your hair. Know that he is near. Take courage that he is God. He is in control. Take comfort knowing that you are his child, and that is enough.

Remember, he remembers that we are dust.

This article was originally published in the October 2015 Newsletter.

Sitting at the Feet of the Master

This article was originally published in the June 2013 Newsletter.

I was six years old when my parents brought home a tiny puppy for our family. It was a Norwegian Elkhound – German Shepherd mix. I loved that dog. He was a dog for the entire family but I viewed him as my own. For the next 14 years he was my companion and closest friend, my confidant when times were difficult, and my playmate when times were good. We kept him in the back yard of our house, next to the small barn, on a chain that gave him plenty of length to run. He was quick and smart and could kill birds even while on the chain. His name was Shawn.

I would take him for walks down our shady tree-lined street. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he would take me for a walk, constantly pulling on the leash, dragging me down the sidewalk as he bounded along, nose to the ground, sniffing and occasionally stopping to do his business. This pause would give me just a moment to catch my breath before he was hauling me along again. He loved to run.

It was rare that I would allow him to be off the chain without being on the leash. I simply had not trained him well enough. But whether he was on the chain or the leash, I would often kneel beside him and he would sit at my feet, his eyes watching my every movement. I loved to wrap my arms around him and occasionally he would lean in to lick my face. He loved to be near his master. I missed him dearly when I left for college and I will never forget when I returned home the following summer how he bounded at the sound of my voice as I shouted his name across the yard.

Occasionally he would get off his chain without being on the leash. He would trot to the end of the grass where the chain normally confined him, testing the limits. Then, realizing he was free, he would bolt. He would run to exhaustion. There was no way to catch up with him. I would shout his name as I ran after him but I could never catch up. I could only hope he would eventually find his way home. Thankfully, he always did. The longest he was gone was for a couple of days. He came back looking haggard but quickly settled in back at my feet. No matter how far he ran, I always welcomed him home.

I thought about these memories of Shawn recently when I found myself in a similar position.

I use a software program called Covenant Eyes to give me accountability for what I look at online. The program is excellent. It does not stop me from surfing the web or looking up anything on the internet. But every month it sends an email to my accountability buddy listing all the sites I have visited and flagging anything that is even remotely impure to the top of the list. It keeps me accountable for what I look at online. I want to live a pure life before God. This software helps me to do that. I highly recommend the program. It’s like having a friend looking over your shoulder the entire time you are online. I’ve used it for years to great success and am an accountability buddy for many friends.

The other day, for some reason, my laptop started acting strangely. My internet connection seemed to be on and off. Some pages would load, others would not. Some programs just locked up. It was a mess. I tried rebooting the router. I tried restoring the operating system to a previous restore point. I tried everything I could think of. As a last resort, I knew I needed to try uninstalling the Covenant Eyes software to see if that was causing the issues. So for the first time in a very long time, I got the uninstall code from the Covenant Eyes website, which then notified my accountability buddy that I initiated the code. Then I uninstalled the software and ran a test to see if the software was causing the problem. The computer worked like new. There was clearly a glitch with the software.

I tried installing a fresh copy of the software but the original problems came back with force. So I uninstalled the package a second time and sat for a moment trying to figure out what to do.

In that moment, in that tiny moment, I realized the chain had just slipped off my collar. Without the software, I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would know the difference. I took the first tentative steps toward the end of the security I had lived in for the past 10 years. I began to think, “I could go to such-and-such site. It is not that bad but it would probably flag on a report. Since I don’t have the software installed, why not just go to that site and see what’s out there?”

I took a few steps in the worst possible direction feeling the rush of freedom flooding over me. Adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I wanted to RUN! Everything within me shouted, “RUN!” I hesitated, considering the options, and stopped dead in my tracks.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to the man I used to be. I couldn’t run away like I used to. But I am ashamed that I even took the first few steps. And the fact that I deeply wanted to run was like a kick in the gut to me. I felt like a failure and I could hear my enemy mocking me, taunting me, laughing at my miserable state.

Thankfully, in the moment when I wanted to run wild, I heard my Master’s voice booming out my name. I stopped and turned and looked him directly in the eyes. I saw the love he has for me, the time we spend together, the richness of relationship I enjoy with him, and I knew I did not want to run away from him. I’ve changed through the years. I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God. And I’m just not willing to give all of that up for the sake of a run around the neighborhood. It is just not worth it!

I ran back to my Master and sat back down at his feet, looking up into his kind face. He reached down, wrapped his thick arms around me and held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart beating next to mine. It was love, just pure love. It was where I was meant to be, just sitting at my Master’s feet, relishing the relationship I have with God.

Friend, where are you at in your personal relationship with God? Do you love him with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength? God longs for that kind of relationship with you. Do you have that kind of love relationship with him? I hope you do, because at some point, that relationship may be the one thing that keeps you from straying from the path God intended for you. This is another reason why love matters.

It will be the moment you feel tempted to say negative things about someone or even about yourself, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment pride begins to creep in from some experience of success, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment you are tempted to give up hope, wondering why God hasn’t healed, and the voice in your heart will say “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” The richness of relationship with God will be the determining factor. The reminder of how good it feels to sit at his feet and look longingly into his face will keep you from going where you do not need to go. For some of you, it will be the moment, like me, when you are tempted down a path of impurity, and God will say to you, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.”

But what if, like me, there have been times when you actually ran wild and ran hard? Yes, I said, “like me.” There have been times in my past when I chose to run wild. But my friend, no matter how far you may run, God will always welcome you back. God will never condemn you for turning back to him, for returning to his feet. Yes, there are consequences, many times very difficult consequences, for our sin. But when we turn and run back to him, he is quick to forgive.

Consider these verses:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).

God understands my tendency to want to run away from him, but he also gives me a desire to run back to him instead. I’m grateful that he doesn’t sneer at me when I am tempted to run away, but instead lovingly speaks my name, calling me back to himself. And I love the way he embraces me when the enemy tries to make me feel like a failure. This, my friend, is why love matters. This is why you need a real relationship with him, for just these kinds of moments.

My dog Shawn died on my twentieth birthday. I went to my room, buried my face in a pillow, and cried like a child. I still miss that dog. But many years ago that mixed-breed dog taught me lessons that help me understand my relationship with God today.

It is better to sit at the feet of your Master than to run where you don’t belong.