When you enter some of the greatest cities in the world, you can encounter famous gates such as the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin), the Jaffa Gate (Jerusalem), and the gates at Downing Street (London). Whether the gates were built for defensive or ceremonial purposes, they all represent the difference between being outside or inside certain areas of the city. Some are open; some are closed to all but a few.
The gates into the presence of God are always open. The familiar song of Psalm 100 is an invitation for the Israelites to enter into the presence of God through the temple gates. They were told to “shout for joy” and “come before him with joyful songs” (v. 1). Shouting for joy was an appropriate expression when greeting a monarch in the ancient world. All the earth was to sing joyfully about God! The reason for this joyful noise was that God had given them their identity (v. 3). They entered the gates with praise and thanksgiving because of God’s goodness and His steadfast and enduring love which continues through all generations (vv. 4-5). Even when they forgot their identity and wandered away from Him, God remained faithful and still invited them to enter His presence. The gates into God’s presence are still open, inviting us to come and worship.
“We’re cutting your job.” A decade ago those words sent me reeling when the company I worked for eliminated my position. At the time, I felt shattered, partly because my identity was so intertwined with my role as editor. Recently I felt a similar sadness when I heard that my freelance job was ending. But this time I didn’t feel rocked at my foundation, because over the years I have seen God’s faithfulness and how He can turn my mourning to joy.
Though we live in a fallen world where we experience pain and disappointment, the Lord can move us from despair to rejoicing, as we see in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Jesus (Isa. 61:3). The Lord gives us hope when we feel hopeless; He helps us to forgive when we think we can’t; He teaches us that our identity is in Him and not in what we do. He gives us courage to face an unknown future. When we wear the rags of “ashes,” He gently gives us a coat of praise.
When we face loss, we shouldn’t run from the sadness, but neither do we want to become bitter or hardened. When we think about God’s faithfulness over the years, we know that He’s willing and able to turn our grief to dancing once again—to give us sufficient grace in this life and full joy in heaven.
The historic riverwalk area of Savannah, Georgia, is paved with mismatched cobblestones. Local residents say that centuries ago the stones provided ballast for ships as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. When cargo was loaded in Georgia, the ballast stones were no longer needed, so they were used to pave the streets near the docks. Those stones had accomplished their primary job—stabilizing the ship through dangerous waters.
The days in which we live can feel as turbulent as the high seas. Like sailing ships of old, we need stability to help us navigate our way through the storms of life. David faced danger as well, and he celebrated the character of God for providing him with stability after he had endured a desperate time. He declared, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). David’s experience was one of conflict, personal failure, and family strife, yet God gave him a place to stand. So David sang “a hymn of praise to our God” (v.3).
In times of difficulty, we too can look to our powerful God for the stability only He brings. His faithful care inspires us to say with David, “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us” (v.5).
The glory of the Roman Empire offered an expansive backdrop for the birth of Jesus. In 27 bc Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus, ended 200 years of civil war and began to replace rundown neighborhoods with monuments, temples, arenas, and government complexes. According to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, they were “the most beautiful buildings the world has ever seen.”…
Psalm 100 is like a work of art that helps us celebrate our unseen God. While the focus of our worship is beyond view, His people make Him known.
Imagine the artist with brush and palette working the colorful words of this psalm onto a canvas. What emerges before our eyes is a world—“all the earth”—shouting for joy to the Lord (v. 1). Joy. Because it is the delight of our God to redeem us from death. “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus endured the cross (Heb. 12:2 nkjv).
As our eyes move across the canvas we see an all-world choir of countless members singing “with gladness” and “joyful songs” (Ps. 100:2). Our heavenly Father’s heart is pleased when His people worship Him for who He is and what He has done.
Then we see images of ourselves, fashioned from dust in the hands of our Creator, and led like sheep into green pasture (v. 3). We, His people, have a loving Shepherd.
Finally, we see God’s great and glorious dwelling place—and the gates through which His rescued people enter His unseen presence, while giving Him thanks and praise (v. 4).
What a picture, inspired by our God. Our good, loving, and faithful God. No wonder it will take forever to enjoy His greatness!
Before Stig Kernell died, he told the local funeral home that he didn’t want a traditional obituary. Instead, the Swedish man instructed them to publish only three words noting his passing: “I am dead.” When Mr. Kernell died at age 92, that’s exactly what appeared. The audacity and simplicity of his unusual death notice captured the attention of newspapers around the world. In a strange twist, the international curiosity about the man with the three-word obituary caused more attention to his death than he intended.
When Jesus was crucified, the Lord’s obituary could have read, “He is dead.” But after 3 days, it would have been changed to front-page news saying, “He is risen!” Much of the New Testament is devoted to proclaiming and explaining the results of Christ’s resurrection. “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:34-37).
The three-word obituary of Jesus, “He is dead,” has been transformed into an eternal anthem of praise to our Savior. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
An article in the Surgical Technology International journal says that looking down at a smart phone with your head bent forward is the equivalent of having a 60-pound weight on your neck. When we consider that millions of people around the world spend an average of 2-4 hours daily reading and texting, the resulting damage to neck and spine becomes a growing health concern.
It is also easy to become spiritually bowed down by the burdens of life. How often we find ourselves discouraged by the problems we face and the needs of those we love. The psalmist understood this weight of concern yet saw hope as he wrote about “the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—[who] remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous” (Ps. 146:6-8).
When we consider God’s care, His great power, and His loving heart, we can begin to look up and praise Him. We can walk through each day knowing that “the Lord reigns forever . . . for all generations” (v. 10).
He lifts us up when we are bowed down. Praise the Lord!
After Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan scored a goal against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, he and his teammates did a coordinated dance step. When Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored a few minutes later, he did a running front flip. “Soccer celebrations are so appealing because they reveal players’ personalities, values, and passions,” says Clint Mathis, who scored for the US at the 2002 World Cup.
In Psalm 150, the psalmist invites “everything that has breath” to celebrate and praise the Lord in many different ways. He suggests that we use trumpets and harps, stringed instruments and pipes, cymbals and dancing. He encourages us to creatively and passionately celebrate, honor, and adore the Lord. Because the Lord is great and has performed mighty acts on behalf of His people, He is worthy of all praise. These outward expressions of praise will come from an inner wellspring overflowing with gratitude to God. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” the psalmist declares (150:6).
Though we may celebrate the Lord in different ways (I’m not encouraging back flips in our worship services), our praise to God always needs to be expressive and meaningful. When we think about the Lord’s character and His mighty acts toward us, we cannot help but celebrate Him through our praise and worship.
C. S. Lewis and his older brother, Warren (Warnie), endured several terms at Wynyard, an English boarding school for boys. The headmaster was a cruel man who made life unbearable for everyone there. Decades later, Warnie wrote in his understated dry wit, “I am now sixty-four and a bit, and have never yet been in a situation in which I have not had the consolation of reflecting that at any rate I was better off than I was at Wynyard.” Most of us can recall a similar dark and difficult time in our lives and be grateful that we’re better off now than we were then.
Psalm 40:1-5 records a low point of David’s life when he cried out to the Lord who rescued him. God brought him up from “the slimy pit” and “the mud and mire” and set his feet on a rock (v. 2). “He put a new song in my mouth,” David says, “a hymn of praise to our God” (v. 3).
But deliverance from depression and despair are seldom one-time events. Psalm 40 continues with David’s renewed plea for God’s mercy, lovingkindness, and truth to deliver him from his own sin and the threats of his enemies (vv. 11-14).
Along with David, we can say at every low point, “I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer” (v. 17).