Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Song for the Climb- Devotion 10

PSALM 128 
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
  You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.
 The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
  May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!

The greatest misconception about the road of Christian discipleship is that it is dour and sour. Too many, including Christians, see God as the COSMIC KILLJOY who works overtime to make sure his followers don't have any fun.

Many stay away from Christ with the fear the following Him means giving up the 15 things you like to do and having to start doing the 15 things you hate doing. My old friend, Pastor Keith Pugh used to say, "I thought becoming a Christian meant you had to marry a girl that doesn't kiss, go to Africa and die of mosquito bites."

Now, we do have to be very careful here... we do not come to Christ to get an easy life. We don't come to Him under the guise of a commercial- "Party with Jesus".

But at the same time, there is NOTHING wrong about receiving all the benefits of following God. Reward and blessing IS an incentive to carrying on when the climb seems tough.

Some followers of Christ are too monastic- they think that turning down a time of rest, leisure, or joyful experiences is a mark of their commitment to the King. No doubt, our tendency is more likely to get worldly, lazy, and distracted- but we must dance and celebrate and enjoy the fruit of life when it is presented under the allowance and pleasure of the King Himself.

It is so interesting the timing of this Psalm.

Psalm 120- distress
Psalm 121- crying to God for help
Psalm 122- worship
Psalm 123- cries for mercy
Psalm 124- past struggles and hope in God
Psalm 125- staying steady in the storm
Psalm 126- bring back the blessings
Psalm 127- labor in the Lord

and now- Blessed- fruit- olive oil- full table- prosperity.


Recently, my family and I have been through a season of trial by fire. We have felt squeezed in every way imaginable- inward distress and outward pressures. There were times it seemed like God was distant and silent. Was He there? Did He care? It seemed like one trial on top of another. We were tired, depressed, and defeated. Our nerves were frayed and our home was filled with more conflict than comfort.

But we hung in there.

God does sustain- but rarely is it easy and, most of the time, victory is in doubt.

It has to feel like a fight or it really isn't a fight. Courage is only shown in the presence of fear. Strength is only gained in the strain against resistance.

In our case, it got darkest right before the dawn... and then I saw the ray of light. I sensed the winds shift. I felt the pressure lift- God had held us in the storm and we had made it... albeit by a sliver.

But this Psalm shines a great truth- God's sliver is a beautiful and bountiful blessing. The crumb of God's table is better than all of the world's best together. And one day, we will be seated at that table of His royal wedding feast- and we do not have the capacity to dream large enough in anticipation of that reality.

So for now... when a time of rest from the storms come your way.... CELEBRATE.
Take time to sip and soak in God's good gifts.

Our home had laughter last night. It doesn't mean that the daily duties and life concerns aren't there. But the Proverbs ring true:

Better to have little, with fear for the LORD, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil. Proverbs 15:16

"Taste and see that the Lord is good". Psalm 34:8

As I look into Psalm 128 I am reminded- God defines blessing and prosperity in different terms and categories than we often do.

It echoes a little bit of yesterday's devotion:

Blessing is wife and family, enjoying your day's provision, and living long enough to experience grandchildren in the peace and security of God's grace!

Some days the climb is a grind- but the last few days, I have danced on a flat, smooth, and beautiful path! It is easy to sing on those days!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Song for the Climb- Devotion 9

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. 
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward. 
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth. 
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

I have always loved this Psalm, but for years had a hard time reconciling the two stanzas.

On first glance, it seems to be about two different things that don't really gell together. But as you meditate on it- it makes sense in a variety of applications.

Working in vain is one of the great disappointments in life. To invest time and energy in a project only to see it 'vanish' in the wind builds a flood of frustration and stinging anguish. And it doesn't matter if the project is BIG or small.

Just think back to a time where you wrote a paper, or project (or blog post) and experienced a computer crash without saving it. See what I mean?

Are there relationships you spent your life cultivating only to see them vanish like vapor?

One of the most heartbreaking conversations I ever had was with a retired basketball coach. He was thought to be one of the finest men and expert coaches to ever work locally in the sport.

He spent 2 decades building a quality Jr. College program, even taking it to national prominence. It was a showpiece of the school.

This well respected coach retired- and the school soon after that, disbanded the entire program.

It hurt him for years. He told me that it was difficult to see all the recruiting trips, sleepless nights, fund raisers, and battles end up as a handful of sand.

Is it possible to keep singing in the aftermath of such a circumstance?

We have an entire book in the Bible around this theme- Solomon exclaims in Ecclesiastes that all of life under the sun is in vain.

The principle in the Psalm helps us.

All endeavors connected to the Lord in acknowledgement, worship, and sacrifice are NEVER in vain.

All endeavors NOT connected to the Lord in acknowledgement, worship, and sacrifice are ALWAYS in vain.

Let's look at these two scenarios in both a negative light and a positive light.


The Psalmist says that without Him, all efforts and achievements are ultimately worth nothing. Jesus says it is like a man building a house on sand. Even if we have great talent. Even if we work to high standards of excellence. Even if we receive the acclamation of the world.

Eventually the crash will happen- and it is swift and sudden.

Look at selected verses of  Psalm 37 and pay attention to what it says:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb. 
For the evildoers shall be cut off, In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 

 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him, 
 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming. 
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree. 
 But he passed away,  and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

One of the big issues of people who live a life accepting all of God's gifts without gratitude, humility, or obedience are actually throwing it right back into God's face. The greatest insult is a rejection of God's Son- which I believe is the 'unpardonable sin' in Mark 3 and Matthew 12.


  • Frantic work without productivity, joy, or peace. 
  • Anxiousness- it can all be taken away.
  • Selfishness- you think that you earned it and deserve it
  • Improper priorities- the sacrifice or worthwhile things for worthless pursuits.
  • Ruined relationships.
  • No impact for the kingdom of God.



PSALM 37 AGAIN.......

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
  Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
 For the Lord upholds the righteous.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
  though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing. those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

NOW.. Here is where the 2nd stanza of this Psalm 127 comes in.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warriorare the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the manwho fills his quiver with them!He shall not be put to shamewhen he speaks with his enemies in the gate.


  • Work with productivity, joy, AND peace. 
  • Peace-- He gives and takes away for our good and His glory
  • UN-Selfishness- It is His and I can share
  • Proper priorities- I love people more than things
  • Restored relationships.
  • Huge impact for the kingdom of God.


Of course, we all know the difference in idealism and sin tarnished reality. But I have seen godly men endure life with a song BECAUSE they devoted themselves to their marriages and their children as a direct response to God's presence and grace.

May we all have the courage to forsake worthless pursuits that can disappear in a microwave moment and invest in those things that really matter.

If we do that- we have more songs to sing on our journey upward and onward!

That is why my life song is this verse....I Corinthians 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Song for the Climb- Devotion 8

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

I have 3 football state championship rings on my desk. They gather dust, are often a conversation piece, and represent seasons where it just all fell right. Right mix of players, right match-up of opponents, good fortunes with injuries, weather, calls, and funny bounces of the ball.

But it is good to point back to those times- it helps. Not only were these grand memories, these were times of celebration and prosperity. Tangible victories.

But these are fleeting things as well. I coached 7 years before experiencing the first one. I worked and waited 5 years before the next one. It's been 9 years since the last one. A lot of close misses along the way. And some seasons where it was a grind.

Psalm 126 is an interesting tool for those who walk the path of long term discipleship. Past victories soothe us and propel us to find that time of celebration again.

Every state championship brought on that same idea- this is awesome... I want to do it again! And the enjoyment makes the desire to experience it again greater.

I think that a fire burning in our belly is a secret to youth and vitality.

I am always reminded of G.K. Chesterton:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. 
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, 
“Do it again” to the sun: and every evening,
“Do it again” to the moon. 

It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. 

The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

—”The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter 4 in Orthodoxy.

So As we climb today.. never forget the past days of true victory, hope, and celebration. Days of singing and dancing! Days where the goodness of God was so good we tasted it. We smelled it!

So that in the dark days we remember that times were good.

And we know God does not change.

So we know that the dry streams will flow again.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Song for the Climb- Devotion 7

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
 Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!

“If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. . . . The world will be yours and everything in it, what's more, you'll be a man, my son.” RUDYARD KIPLING  "IF"

 The opening of this Psalm is so interesting to me. If you think about the climb to Jerusalem, there were so many unknowns. For a Biblical Hebrew to travel that path everything posed a life changing hazard. A sprained ankle, or robbers, or severe weather, or illness all meant that the journey might not end well.

As they are walking precipitously, with the mountains in full view, the goal also becomes a symbol. A symbol of security and strength.

How do we act when all chaos breaks out?

Notice two different Biblical dispositions:

I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Ephesians 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

How steady are you?

If there is a lost virtue in our culture today, it seems to be what the Fathers called 'fortitude'.

Here is how C.S. Lewis defined it:

Fortitude includes both kinds of courage—the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.  
So how can we 'keep our wits', while everything else seems to be spiraling out of control?

I think it is developed, over time, as we continue to sing and continue to climb. You learn that trials fester in a hurry and flash a bright fire of panic- but they do not last.

The Psalm here says it so well- God is so committed to justice and the security of His children that He will destroy the destroyers. We just have to stay steady and patient. Justice delayed in NOT justice denied.

The more we learn to wait- the more we become strong in the waiting. The more we trust in His strength, the more we acquire His strength.

I am quick to share many of my faults- but here God has given me a strength. He has given me a calm demeanor that has served me well in the fires of life.

The nature of my job puts me in the midst of conflict. Teacher, student, parent issues can create quite a spark and intense fire. I have been on the phone with people blistering me with criticism and anger and I have been in meetings where it looked like two parties may come to blows with each other.

My calm in the midst of chaos helps to diffuse the emotions and then begins the process to find common ground.

What have I learned from years of practicing this:

1) People vent, but in the venting there is an addition of drama that MOST people later correct when the emotion subsides.

2) If you take the venting without reacting, most people will settle down more quickly than if you bow up and fight fire with fire.

3) Really listen to the complaint and try to see their point of view.

4) In your measured response, try to communicate a sense of understanding their position and empathize with their emotions. Sometimes I say, "If I understood the situation as you see it, I would feel the same way." At that point you can begin to sort through the details.

5) Be willing to own up to mistakes and admit wrongdoing. There have been times I have looked a parent in the eye and said, 'Mr. Smith, I am sorry. I did not handle this well at all' and if I am sincere, it is amazing how quickly it disarms even the angriest of people.

Now, all of this sounds good- a list of what to do- but not much help as to how to do it.

The winning edge is in this Psalm. God is my refuge, my help, my strength. He is more secure and steady than even Mount Zion.

Because I KNOW that he is good and in control... I NEVER have to push the panic button.

There is a dark side to this Psalm. The evil doers will be destroyed. We don't wish it- we don't rejoice when it happens- but trust God's promise here... It will happen.

It may not happen for days, weeks, months, or years... but there is sudden destruction for those who continually do evil, especially those who are hostile to God's people.

And peace can reign in that quiet confidence in God's authority and power. This becomes a great fortress of security and builds fortitude within.

Walk upward today in peace and strength my friend!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Song for the Climb- Devotion 6

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us; 
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us; 
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

 Have you ever had the privilege to look back and see proof that the Lord had come to your rescue?

Psalm 124 is a look back at a terrible conflict where it looked like all hope was lost, but the Lord showed up and gave the gracious victory.


People rose up against those who had chosen to live by faith. These were angry people and the circumstances posed great peril. The images used by the Psalmist conjures up being swallowed alive, a sudden sweeping flood, facing the teeth of an enraged predator, in a snare set by a trapper- the conflict is planned and the destruction appears as if it will be swift and sure.

Have I been there? Interesting question....... I think a mistake I tend to make in my self-absorbed journey is to think of this too much as my personal journey, when the major gist of this Psalm is the rescue of a Nation or a group.

The Psalms of Ascent seem to be a story of an upward journey of a group of Pilgrims. We add to our number as we climb.

Psalm 120-  I called in my distress
Psalm 121- I lift my eyes up
Psalm 122- " I was glad when they said Let us go to the house of the Lord"- "Our feet"
Psalm 123- "Have mercy on us"

So, I ask again have I been there? Well I should be- If the attack is not on me, it is definitely on the church. When I read or see the venom that can be unleashed towards the people of God, I need to know that unless God rescues US, we have no hope to survive in a world that is hostile to all that we are about.

The blood of the martyrs still flows fresh around the globe. I do not walk this path alone, I am part of the universal Church of Christ and had the Lord not been on our side, we would have been crushed a long time ago.


This is a corporate song...."Let Israel now say"- we too belong to spiritual Israel and their enemies will hate me as well.


We think that we don't deserve to be rescued. But even if we give up on ourselves, He NEVER gives up on us.


This Psalm is distinctive in the way it says that our help is in the NAME of the Lord. It is His name on the line and it is to His glory that we survive.


If God has done this in the past, will He not continue to do it in the future?
Why then should I ever fear?

I think some of issues in my life are magnified because of my natural inclinations to shrink away from people and try to walk the path alone. The current culture helps me in this problem because it is so easy to hide in communication technology.

The old analogy is still true- take a log out of a fire and set it off by itself and it will burn out quickly. Keep it in a bundle and it will burn bright. We need to be more bundled in our struggles and in our victories.

You can't truly be bundled via twitter or facebook- you need old fashioned time together in the flesh with open, vulnerable, transparent, authentic conversations.

The enemy doesn't give up- God doesn't give up- so I never need to give up.

Lord, help me to sing my song in a way that others will walk with me. I need them and they need me.

HEBREWS 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.