Monday, 26 August 2019

Psalm 71- God is our Refuge- How does God help us?

Today we are looking at Psalm 71. It is a Psalm asking for help from God. The one praying is someone who is constantly praising God and constantly declaring God’s good deeds. … Some think he is an elderly man. He asks God, 
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (v9); “even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation”(v18).

The psalmist is dealing with people he calls “the wicked”, “the unjust”, and the “cruel” (v4). He seems to have been dealing with trouble without much relief, which leads his enemies to say, 
“God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him” (v11).
 They see his suffering as evidence that God has abandoned him.

The Psalmist cries out to be defended against these people. The opening line is, 
“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge” (v1)
 (which would be a good breath prayer to repeat). … What does it mean to “take refuge” in God? It isn’t a word we use very often. There are some images that might help. … 
Refugees are looking for a country to take refuge in because their own country isn’t safe. 
Or, imagine visiting another country when there is an unexpected revolt and you take refuge in the Canadian embassy. 
 Or, imagine a child taking refuge behind the legs of their parent when they get scared. 
Or, imagine a victimized woman taking refuge in a women’s shelter to escape her abuser. … 
God is described as a rock of refuge; maybe imagine you are hiking and an angry moose starts chasing you and you scramble on top of a big bolder. 
He also describes God as a fortress- if there are armed rebel militia roaming the countryside, most of us would sleep more soundly behind high, thick walls of stone.

I think most of us can imagine a time when we would pray this Psalm. Maybe someone is attacking our reputation by spreading rumors. Maybe someone is bringing us to court without good cause. Maybe a business deal goes bad and someone you trusted takes advantage of you. Maybe we are dealing with a breakdown of a relationship and things get bitter and ugly. At some point in our lives we end up in conflict with other people. and sometimes we feel unusually mistreated by the other people. … So we pray for help.

How does God help us? 
I believe that God rescues us in ways that are appropriate for the kinds of people he wants us to be. Sometimes we can think of God’s helping us in an overly simplistic way, so if we are uncomfortable in some way we cry out to God for help. But, what if God’s goal is for us to become a more patient person? What if the true danger we face has to do with being an impatient and an angry person. Is it possible that that is more of a danger to our soul than whatever we are facing? And if that is true, then what does saving us actually look like? What if the best thing for our soul is for God to be present with us through the difficulty, rather than taking us out of the difficulty.

In Mark 4:35-41 we have a story about Jesus being asleep in the boat when a storm suddenly arises. The disciples wake Jesus up and he calms the storm, but he says something interesting- 
‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (Mk 4:40).
 What are we to make of that? Surely Jesus doesn’t have a problem with asking for help. WE are commanded all over the Bible to ask God for help.0 His problem seems to have to do with their fear. (Which seems a bit harsh.) He opposes fear against faith. To be afraid is to lack faith. And so the opposite would seem to be true- To trust God is to diminish fear. … What did Jesus want them to do? … It seems like he wanted them to trust God even in the storm. … So often we call on God to stop the storm, what if God is wanting us to trust Him through the storm. Maybe there is something to be gained by enduring the storm.

A certain amount of strain on our muscles strengthens our muscles. Concentration on difficult problems can make our minds stronger. Sometimes we pray for God to change our circumstances when what really needs to be changed is us. … Now I’m not saying all suffering works this way, but I think it often works this way. … I often go to the words of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said, 
“life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. (Or something close to that.)
 In the moment we often don’t understand what purpose there could be for the circumstances we are facing, but often we look back on our life and our circumstances seem to have meaning. Not always, but often.

There is a story about a very saintly man who lived outside a village. Many of the villagers would go out to him for advice and to ask him to pray for them. He was very revered as a holy man. … One day a teenage girl in the village became pregnant. When the girl was pressed by her angry parents to know who the father is she said it was the holy man. Furious, the parents spread this news to the other villagers and the old man became despised. The old man said nothing to defend his honour. Eventually, the young girl gave birth and the baby was taken by the parents and given to the old man. They were going to make him live with the consequences of what he had done. The old man lived ignored and despised by the villagers, while he raised the child. … 10 years later the girl reveals that the true father was actually a boy in the village, not the old man. The parents came to the man and apologetically received their grandchild back into their home. The old man didn’t speak words of condemnation, just as he never spoke words to defend himself.

God could have exposed that truth earlier. And in our simple way of praying that is what we would expect, but the old man was taught a deeper humility, as were the villagers who now had an even more profound respect for the saint who was willing to endure wrong done to him in such a Christ-like way. Sometimes the help we ask for isn’t the help we need.

Christ is the prime example for us that suffering may be redeemed and transformed for good. … It is an ancient tradition to look at the Psalms through the lens of Jesus. The Early Church often saw the Psalms as the prayers of Christ. Tertullian, an early Christian who lived between 155-220 AD, wrote, 
“almost all the psalms that prophesy of the person of Christ, represent the Son as conversing with the Father- that is, represent Christ [as speaking] to God” (Against Praxeas II).
 They read the Psalms through the filter of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels, Christ is often facing unjust resistance and persecution. In our reading today we see Jesus being criticized for healing on the Sabbath. … We can Imagine Jesus praying 
“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge … Rescue me from the hand of the wicked” (v1, 4).
 No doubt many of his enemies who looked at him hanging on the cross thought, “God has forsaken him” (v11). And no doubt the Early Church couldn’t hear verses 20 and 21 without thinking of Jesus- 
“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”.
 How could the church read that and not think of the resurrection? It is for this reason that this Psalm is often assigned for Holy Tuesday of Holy Week. 

Jesus understood that there was more at stake than his immediate comfort. That’s not a reason to stop praying. Rather that is a reason to keep on praying, because in situations like that we are the ones that need to be transformed and sometimes that is even harder than changing our difficult circumstances. Ultimately, God cares about what kind of people we are becoming. … He does care about our suffering, but like any good parent, He would rather be with us, encouraging us through hard times that help us grow, rather than merely rescuing us from those opportunities. 
May God rescue us from all that would prevent us from becoming holy. AMEN

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Psalm 80- Lament

Today we are looking at the Psalms again. We are looking at Psalm 80 this morning. It is called a Psalm of lament. It is a Psalm where the people are making a complaint to God.

It is a bold song to sing. The prescript says, “to the choirmaster” so this Psalm was probably a song. And the name of the tune might also be given- “according to lilies”. I’m not sure how many laments we sing to God anymore- maybe during Lent. I love how the Psalms are so open and honest towards God. I think that is evidence of good prayer- honesty before God. … Have you ever just wanted to call out to God, “why is this happening to me?” The Psalms show an amazing honesty with God. … Out of a sense of piety, we might be less inclined to pray that way, but the Psalms teach us to be honest in our prayer- even if we are complaining to God.

The Psalm opens with a description of God who they are lamenting to. … Sometimes it is helpful to remind ourselves who we are praying to, so we will often say “loving Father”, or “God of compassion”. … It helps us to focus. … They call God the Shepherd of Israel, who leads Israel like a flock of sheep, and who is enthroned upon the cherubim. The Ark of the Covenant is described as a golden box that is topped with two cherubim. The people were said to experience a manifestation of God’s presence above the winged cherubim, so it acted like a throne in their eyes (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kng 19:15; Ps 99:1). The presence of God surrounded the Ark- It led the people through the wilderness. It was with them in battle, and when the Temple was built the presence of the Ark was evidence of the presence of God in the Temple. Like a shepherd leading a flock, God’s presence and protection was powerful through the Ark.

The Psalm also speaks about the relationship God has with His people. The image of a vine is used to describe the people, which is pretty common in the prophetic writings (Jer 2:21, 6:9, 8:13; Hos 10:1, 14:5-7, Is 27:2-6; Ez 15; 17; 19:10-14; Gen 49:22). It is described as being brought out of Egypt. The ground was cleared to plant it in the Promised Land, and it prospered there. It filled the land. … This is the main story of Israel’s identity- as rescued by God from slavery in Egypt, and established in the Promised Land.

They cry out for help, not on the basis of anything they have done, but on the basis of what God has done. God went through all the trouble of planting this vine, and now the gardener has broken down the wall that protected it, so that people pass by and eat the grapes and wild animals destroy it. … The Psalm cries out to God saying, “God, are you going to let this be done to your vine that you have tended with such care?”

It is interesting to look at the Prophet Isaiah who takes this same theme of the vineyard, but responds from God’s point of view. Let me read it for you, Isaiah 5:1-7-
… My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.He dug it and cleared it of stones,  and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it,  and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem  and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
In Isaiah, God is saying that He was looking for fruit from the vine he tended so carefully, but it didn’t produce good fruit. Why should He place a vine like that under special protection? If it is going to yield wild grapes instead of good grapes, then perhaps the vine should be returned to the wild, instead of being protected by walls and lovingly cared for. The fruit God is looking for from his people are justice and righteousness, but instead his people produced bloodshed and the outcry of the oppressed. If they weren’t going to act like his special chosen people, then He was going to remove His special protection.

From the Psalm’s perspective, they seem to accept what’s happening as being a consequence of their behaviour. There doesn’t seem to be a protest that what they are suffering is unjust. … But they still lament. What else can you do when everything is going sideways? God’s people still turn to God, even if it’s to complain. Sometimes we feel the consequences of our bad decisions, but that doesn’t mean we have to like living through those consequences. We can lament those consequences, even if they are deserved. We can also cry out to God for the end of those consequences. (And I’m not saying everything bad that happens to us is a consequence of our sin. Sometimes we feel the consequence of other peoples’ sin, for example)

Using the Early church’s way of reading, and considering how the Church seems to have lost favor in our culture, we might ask if that is the withdrawing of God’s protection over the church in the West. We might cry out to God that the Church is no longer favoured in places of power. Government meetings are less inclined to begin with prayer- in fact, public prayer in those places might be considered immoral or offensive. The news seems much more interested in what churches and their leaders are doing wrong than in what they are doing right. The universities, which often began as a part of a monastery, can now feel anti-religious. … There was a time when the church seemed to have a protected place in western culture. We might lament over the vine being mistreated and the wall being left broken. … Then, looking To Isaiah, we might ask if we are living in a consequence of the decisions of the church of the recent past. … Answering that side of the equation would require intense humility and prayer.

There is still faith here in this Psalm- there is still hope in a future ... Sometimes we have to calm down and trust in what God has made and trust that God knows how to tend it into the future. In his letter to the Philippians Paul says, 
“I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
 Paul is confident that whatever struggles we are facing it is not evidence that God has given up on us. God will complete what He has started.

As we continue to read with the eyes of the Early Church we see the Messiah. … The Psalm refers to “the son” (v15) and “the man of your right hand” (v17) and “the son of man” (v17). These are references to the king, but they soon took on a Messianic meaning. A text called the Targum was a paraphrase of the Scriptures from the 1st century (something like The Message Bible) and in this Psalm it refers to the “king messiah”. … This reference to a king is often invoked as a way of asking God to remember the promise made to David and his ancestors. … You can imagine what the Early church saw in these verses. To them, they were speaking about Jesus, the “Son” of God, who ascended to the “Right hand” of the Father, and who often called himself “the Son of Man”. And no doubt, the one referred to at the beginning of the Psalm as the “Shepherd of Israel” is seen as the one who walked among the people and said, 
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).

The presence of Jesus in this Psalm of lament says to the church that God is in the thick of it with us. When we feel like things are all going wrong, that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. God is right there with us. Pain and suffering is not evidence of God’s absence. … It is as if while God’s people are lamenting, we look at the pew beside us to find Jesus lamenting right along with us, saying, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” … We will experience suffering in this life- and it might be a consequence of our own bad decisions- but even so, we are not alone in that suffering.



A question that this Psalm might lead us to is ‘why does is seem like God doesn’t answer our prayers?” In verse 4 we read, “O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?” I feel like it is important to say that whatever we mean by “anger” when it comes to God it isn’t human anger. It might mean the experience of God being opposed to something that is against God’s goodness. If you are doing something evil, then you are in opposition to God’s goodness, and that experience might be described as experiencing God’s anger. 
Remember, also, that when we read the Psalms we are overhearing prayers. Some have said we should be careful about drawing theological conclusions from the Psalms because sometimes we are reading the emotion of an individual who is approaching God. We are reading a particular emotional and prayerful perspective that might not be concerned for answering theological questions.  

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Psalm 50- Sacrifice and judgement

I wanted to spend some time focusing on the Psalms in the next few weeks.

The assigned readings for each Sunday always give us a reading from the Psalms. We often leave them out to shorten the service a bit. I’m not sure that is a good enough reason to leave them out. Regardless, (maybe out of guilt for neglecting them) I figured we could focus on the Psalms for the next while.

Of course. the Psalms are very connected to King David. David was said to be a musician and is first introduced into the King’s court as a musician. But, not all the Psalms are written by David. For example, today’s Psalm 50 is a “Psalm of Asaph” who was a priest at the time of King David.

We know that Jesus knew the Psalms intimately. Some Psalms are so associated with Jesus we can’t imagine them apart from him. For example, when we hear the words, 
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
 we think of Jesus on the cross. But Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. Other lines from that Psalm that we read on Good Friday are, 
“All who see me mock me… My hands and feet have been pierced… they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
 It’s hard not to forever connect that Psalm to Jesus and his crucifixion.

The followers of Jesus continued this love for the Psalms carried over into the New Testament. The Psalms are the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. … So, it’s not surprising that the Early Church spent a lot of time with the Psalms. In the Psalms they saw a very symbolic world to explore. In the Psalms, the Early Church saw the "king" and the "Lord's anointed" as referring not only to David, but to Jesus. In the Psalms, they overheard the prayers of Jesus. "Israel" is the Church.    

They also saw the Psalms as having a therapeutic value- they brought healing to the soul when one engaged them seriously. They were a mirror that reflects the inner movements of the soul- your anger, your desire for revenge, your feeling of abandonment, your joy, your sin, your forgiveness. During the Reformation John Calvin called the Psalms 
“‘an anatomy of all the parts of the soul'; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror".
 The Psalms show you these parts of yourself and help you to bring them to God for healing. 

The Church thought the Psalms were so important that the Second Nicene Council in 787AD declared that all bishops would have the Psalter memorized so that they could examine the prayer lives of their clergy.

The Psalms have been a very important part of the church for a very long time.

That’s some information about the Psalms in general, and now I’d like to turn to our Psalm. Psalm 50 describes a court case. God calls the heavens and the earth to attention as witnesses. God’s patience with human sin has ended. God’s perfection shines forth to bring judgement. Before him is a devouring fire and around him is a raging storm (which make us think of Mt. Sinai). This is the God of the Covenant, the perfect Creator, who is coming to make a judgement on his people.

God says he wants his “faithful ones”, who made a covenant with him, and who offer sacrifices to him, to be gathered to him for judgement. … As we read this we should see ourselves being called before him. We too, are inheritors of the Covenant. We have a baptismal covenant that we are accountable to, and we are also accountable to the universal moral code that is woven into reality, which many in the Early Church believed was accessible through one's conscience to a greater or lesser degree. To break a covenant has consequences, as does breaking the moral code- for individuals and societies.

God introduces His issue by saying, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt-offerings are continually before me.” He is essentially saying, “you are very diligent in offering sacrifices”. God points to something deeper going on.

Human beings have been offering sacrifices for a very long time. I think until a couple thousand years ago it was pretty much a universal human practice. In many places it continued until very recently. Humans sacrificed animals, even other humans, as a part of encountering spiritual powers. It was sometimes believed that the divine beings were being fed, or were being given a pleasurable experience, through the sacrifice. In some way the sacrifice caused the divine power to act favorably towards the one making the sacrifice. And we see this within the Bible as well, which had a heavy emphasis on sacrifice. Those temple sacrifices ended when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, just 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

… But, what does God say in our Psalm regarding sacrifice? (And this is 1000 years before Jesus, so sacrifice was still a big part of the worshiping life of the people of Israel). What does God say? 
 “I will not accept a bull from your house, / or goats from your folds. / For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. / I know all the birds of the air, / and all that moves in the field is mine. / ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, / for the world and all that is in it is mine. / Do I eat the flesh of bulls, / or drink the blood of goats?”
God is basically saying that all the animals belong to Him anyway, and besides that, God doesn’t eat or drink flesh and blood. … This is a pretty shocking statement to say to a society that is deeply committed to the practice of animal sacrifice.

There are other places we read this in the Bible.

The prophet Micah (6:6-8) says, 
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The prophet Isaiah (1:11, 13, 16-17) echoes this, 
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. … bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. … Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Our Psalm tells us to 
“offer to God a Sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High” and to order your way rightly (50:14, 23). … All of these passages are moving from an outward kind of sacrifice to an inward kind of sacrifice. The danger of a ritual is that we can just go through the motions. We can offer the sacrifice and be thinking about something else. We can rattle off the Lord’s Prayer without hearing the words. We can receive the Eucharist, but not be mindful of the moment and what it signifies. … This is not necessarily saying that the ritual is bad or pointless. We are being asked to be mindful of the significance of what these acts point to. Jesus says, "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit" (Lk 12:35). Be attentive to what the ritual is pointing to, rather than letting your mind wander, or you might miss the Master who has come to meet you in that moment. 

The ritual is pointless if we are not being inwardly attentive and transformed. The passages tell us that there is a moral code that we are to live out- 
“do justice, … love kindness,… walk humbly”  “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” “offer a Sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows” and order your way rightly. 
These are calls to be holy people- And that requires sacrifice- we have to sacrifice our ego to walk humbly. We have to sacrifice our comfort to walk among the oppressed. It is a sacrifice to choose kindness when you are a powerful person. It is a sacrifice to keep your vow when it would be convenient to back out of an agreement. It requires sacrifice to say "no" to your impulses and immediate desires so that you can order your life properly. … Sacrifice is necessary and important. We are to pick up our cross and follow Christ, not to do exactly what he did- his was a more profound sacrifice, but if we are to be his people, surely we are called to be people of sacrifice too. The ritual stuff is the easy part- that is important, but it’s pretty meaningless if we don’t engage what it signifies with the whole of our being.

We can be very good at the act of worship, but let's not miss what the worship is pointing us towards. There are consequences for empty worship and ignoring the moral code. There are consequences to a inattentive life- it is to be sleeping when the Master arrives. … True worship is pointing us towards holiness- which is friendship with God and harmony with God’s way of ordering the world. AMEN

Monday, 5 August 2019

Gratitude- Psalm 107

The Bible is filled with calls for gratitude. Our Psalm reading from Psalm 107 instructs us: 
“give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever”.
 This kind of call is all through the Bible. It is so common it is easy to ignore as being uninterestingly common.

Just to give a few examples, Psalm 100 says, 
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, / And into His courts with praise. / Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.”
 In the New Testament, Paul instructs Christians, 
“In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
 In the letter to the Ephesians we read, 
“Be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
 And again in the letter to the Philippians 
“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
 There are thank offerings outlined in Leviticus (7:11-15). And the celebration we are in the middle of is the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word for “thanks”.

The instruction to be thankful is so common, it is sometimes easy to ignore. It is like the paper the words are printed on. The paper is so common as the background you don’t notice it. We skim over those pieces looking for more unusual and interesting pieces.

Sometimes, though, we ignore those pieces because we don’t feel particularly thankful. For many of us, when we are instructed to be thankful, our minds are filled with the memory of difficult experiences. We think about the death of someone close to us. We think about a chronic illness. We think about a painful relationship, or abuse we have suffered. … Or maybe it is something less personal that we think about. Maybe we think about all the awful things that happen all over the world- in distant countries- floods, famines, diseases, war…. How can we be thankful when all these awful things these seem to mark our lives? Even if our own personal lives go well, it can feel like a betrayal of our solidarity with the suffering of others to be thankful when so many others are suffering. ….

Against the harsh reality of life, whispers the constant instruction of the Bible “give thanks”. And the Bible is not naïve about suffering. … Who dares think that Jesus or Paul are naïve about suffering? In Acts 16 Paul and Silas are in prison and still they are singing hymns and praising God. Paul knew suffering. In his second letter to the Corinthians he outlines what he has suffered, 
“Five times I received at the hands of [my people] the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:24-28).
 That is not a man who is naïve about suffering. And yet, he is constant in his Instruction concerning giving thanks. How does Paul have this ability to be thankful in the midst of suffering? It is because Paul sought "the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [He] Set [his] mind[] on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col 3:1-2). His focus was on the eternal.  The Bible takes suffering very seriously, and yet suffering doesn’t stop the thanksgiving of the saints.     

We are tempted to focus on the pain. And I don’t want to minimize that pain at all, but consider how much good there is. The suffering is an interruption in a constant flow of blessing. Walk outside and look at the beauty of sky, the clouds, and the birds in the trees. Consider the gift of the air filling your lungs- and if you aren’t thankful for that try holding your breath for a few minutes. Consider the intricate beauty of a flower. Consider the food you eat, and where it came from, and how many people have organized themselves to provide it for you. Consider the people you have in your life who speak kind words to you. Consider the parts of your body that function well- your sight, your hearing, the movement of your hands, your voice. … Consider how many accidents you have avoided- How many sicknesses you have recovered from. … Suffering has a way of grabbing our attention with such force that we become blinded to everything else around us. All the good that has been given us is muted.

Musician and author David Crowder has said, 
“When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it. … Every second is an opportunity to praise. There is a choosing to be made. A choosing at each moment. This is the Praise Habit. Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it. That is what we were made for.”

Crowder calls it the “Praise Habit”- it is the choice to be thankful for the good in one’s life. … There is even research concerning this. Those researching in the field of Positive Psychology have “shown that people who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are habitually ungrateful; they are less depressed, more satisfied with their lives, have more self-acceptance and have a greater sense of purpose in life. They are also more generous.” (Rupert Sheldrake, “Science and Spiritual Practices”).

(That part about generosity might say something about the fear in the rich man in our Gospel reading, who felt the need to build bigger barns to protect himself from the future.)

Psalm 107 reminds us to be thankful for what God has done for us and who God is. God is steadfast in His love. We might not understand why we are dealing with the circumstances we are, but we can trust that God is good. After all is said and done, God means good for us in the end. As Paul says, 
“we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).
 Through faith, we hang onto that. God will bring about good. Just as God used the cross to bring about resurrection and salvation, so our suffering can be redeemed. The darkness can become the soil out of which grows hope for the future. … Whatever the end is, it will out-do whatever we have suffered- It has to, or God is not good. Our suffering must be healed. Our sin is forgiven, as we call out to God. For all this, we "give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever."  
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