Pastor Vince began a series today on the Holy Spirit. In his message he drew on the image of the temple, of waters and of fire. He noted the power of the Holy Ghost come in the form of fire to transform the Apostles at Pentecost, and the with tongues of fire on their heads had their own tongues empowered to speak languages they had never studied. The fire of the Spirit figuratively set them “on fire” for the Lord, and became His instruments.
All Christians baptised in water and the fire have that same mission and power to change the world and to seek and save the lost. I love that the symbolism of the Spirit is repeated in the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 104. We find wind and flame as in Acts 2, and waters as in Ezekiel 42. “How many are your works, Lord! (Psalm 104:24,” the works of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we too are His craftsmanship (Ephesians 2: 10) and in the power of His Spirit we too can be “flames of fire” – His servants.
Psalm 104 (NIV)
1 Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. 4 He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. 6 You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; 8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. 9 You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work. 14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts. 16 The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17 There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers. 18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. 20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. 21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. 22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. 23 Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening.
24 How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27 All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— 32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. 35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.
The Twenty-third Psalm is one of the most familiar passages from the entire Bible. It speaks of David’s reliance on the care and protection from God, no matter what the circumstances. It reads:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 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 your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of theLord forever.”
It has been a comfort to countless Jews, Christians, and yes indeed others since it was first written. I remember it as a regular reading in my Boy Scout days as part of morning devotions. It is just so full of promise for a coming day.
My wife Dianne held on to this Psalm as well. The following is one of her posts from just a couple of months before her passing:
“This week has been hard and tiring. Over the weekend i developed an allergic reaction to a new steroid i was trying for pain. I became hyperglaecemic and borderline dehydrated even though i couldnt stop drinking. With blood sugar over 18 points, dizzyness and loss of bowel control things looked to be setting themselves up for a hospital admission. However, we attended an emergency gp appointment at 8.30am and the young locum was a blessing, he reassured us and gave clear guidance so we could monitor from home. After a total of 72 hours awake and feeling agitated and ill, i finally slept. I took the rest of the week to recover slowly, but today i was able to go out for a cup of tea for the first time in about 10 weeks. That made me feel very blessed. Even in our greatest trials, God is there to aid and bless throughout. ‘Though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for thou art with me.'”
She had planned of reflecting on this Psalm in her final days, but as the trials and “valleys” worked out she fell into a coma. I therefore recited and sang it to her (using Kieth Green’s arrangement) as I sat by her bedside. It was in a very real sense “the valley of death.” But – The Lord was with her, and with me. Surely goodness and mercy will continue to follow me all of the days of the rest of my life – for he has been a comfort for me every day so far!
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Psalm 18: 1-2).”
This brief passage says so much! God is a focus of our love and affection, but he is so much more. He is our strength giver (in fact The strong One for us). He is a rock on which we can find refuge. A rock or strong physical feature offers sanctuary. He is a refuge or hiding place in times of trial or trouble. He is a shield – again a form of defense. He is the ultimate stronghold.
The world may throw at us what it may, but it is God who is greater!
Dianne saw this. Her entry for 26 January reads,
“Had a visit from Pastor Vince and Lisa. Lovely to see them and spend time praying with them. I appreciate all of my friends who support us and lift me up in prayer. However ill I may become or feel, much as I face the reality that I may die soon, I am constantly aware that my God is able to completely heal me. I live accepting death and [yet] believing for full health.”
She made God her rock and strength.
The Reformer Martin Luther penned these words which are fitting:
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
One of the most vivid metaphors of the scriptures is found in the opening verses of Psalm 42.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (vs 1 – 2)?”
I love this imagery. I can picture the thirsty deer having run long and hard through the wilderness coming upon the refreshing waters. We too, in our wilderness existence, face the harrying of life. While maybe not actual predators which need to outrun, or dense thickets which we must navigate to find our sustenance, but the cares and concerns of life often leave us in need of refreshment. The Psalmist paints this as a picture for us as well, as our soul seek out God’s fulfillment of our needs, as the deer finds water.
The Psalm continues with the clear statement that his (and our) soul(s) thirst for God. How well this fits in with Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman at the well,
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (from the well) will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water (John 4: 13-15).”
God provides an everlasting water, an ultimate fulfillment in our lives. Jesus further elaborates on this in John 7,
“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”(When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory) [verses 37 -39].”
I pray that I may always have a heart that seeks after God. I hope in His promises to fulfill my needs, and long for His grace to provide. “As the deer pants for the water . . . .”
Psalm 117 is the shortest of the tehillim or praises. In the Christian Bible it is the shortest chapter, and centre most chapter in the scriptures. Despite its brevity, it is a powerful statement calling the entire world, and not just Israel, to praise the Creator.
In the NIV version it is worded, “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever Praise the Lord [Hallelujah].”
In two short verses, we are called to praise Him, and to recognise His love for us. It further emphasises his unwavering care and concern for us, even when we are less that perfect in our fidelity. To such a God praise should be unreserved. Hallelujah!
The Psalm of David (Psalm 23) often noted for its opening line “The Lord is my shepherd,” is one of the most quoted passages of the Bible. It is used at funerals, and in times of trial, and it reassures us of God’s loving kindness. It reads,
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths 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 your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Life is not always easy. We face trials and dangers. The imagery of the psalm draws upon David’s own experience as a shepherd, caring for the flocks of his father, Jesse. He had himself had to take up the rod and the staff to defend the sheep. In fact, 1 Samuel 17:36 tells us he killed a lion and a bear in his role as shepherd.
Yet here he trusts not in his own power or skill, but places himself in the role of sheep. Totally defenseless, and dependent of the care of his keep and preserver. But not just protection in times of trial are alluded to. David acknowledges that his Shepherd provides all good things to those He cares for. Note green pastures and still waters are there.
David then strays (as sheep do) from the metaphor to note anointing and tables prepared even in the midst of enemies. In fact that goodness and love are there for us, no matter what the surrounding circumstances might suggest. And better still, there is a promise for a place for us in the Lord and Shepherd’s house forever.
How encouraging is that?
The Gospels pick up David’s theme when Jesus said,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10: 11-18).”
Jesus the Good Shepherd offers all of the comforts of Psalm 23. He was willing to, and did lay down His life for the sheep. And when He had done this, He as in the Psalm, went to prepare a place in the house of the Lord forever,
“My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am (John 14: 2-3).” Beside still waters, and so much more!