Who is in charge here?

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Reading: Psalm 97
(Verses 1-7)
The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the L
ORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all peoples see his glory.
All who worship images are put to shame,
those who boast in idols—
worship him, all you gods!
(NIV).

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Petrie Island reflections — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
Who is in charge here? In any situation, that’s a legitimate question. There are always a variety of authorities in any given situation. A while back I watched Prince William and his family get off a plane in Victoria, BC. On the tarmac the royal family was first greeted by the Governor General, then by the Prime Minister of Canada, then the Lieutenant Governor of the British Columbia and finally, the Premier of the province. They were all lined up according to proper protocol. Yes, there are a variety of authorities all deserving respect. But this question remains. Who is in charge here?

The authorities of this world have jurisdiction over a certain geographic area or realm. Some authorities govern well and in others rule as despots who plunder the wealth of the nation. But Psalm 97 reminds us that there is one great authority who rules over all. The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.

The earth can be glad and the distant shores can rejoice because this King, this heaven-dwelling authority rules well. He does not plunder His faithful people and bring them to ruin. He reigns supreme from on high. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

We can rest assured that the LORD will do what is right. He is allied with goodness, mercy and truth. That’s why justice is the foundation of His throne. We should not fear His judgments because they are right and good. Yes, the authors of evil should be afraid, but if we have done right, we can count on the LORD as our defender. Now here is a proclamation that we all should heed. The heavens proclaim his righteousness and all peoples see his glory.

Response: LORD God, it is my prayer that all people will see your glory and bow before you, the magnificent King of Righteousness. Extend your reign I pray. Let the distant shores rejoice because you reign. Amen.

Your Turn: Is the Lord Jesus reigning over you and your home? Who has jurisdiction there?

The Value of Ascribing

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Reading: Psalm 96
(Verses 7-13)
Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the L
ORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the L
ORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the L
ORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The L
ORD reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness
(NIV).

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Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
When I think of the word, ascribe, I immediately picture a long, grey-bearded man with a quill pen in his hand scratching words onto a scroll. That’s a scribe. I suppose this scribe could be busy ascribing. I wonder just what he could be ascribing? Well, according to the author of Psalm 96, my imaginary scribe could be ascribing glory and strength to the LORD.

In all seriousness ascribing means crediting or attributing certain character qualities to a person. The LORD certainly is strong and glorious. Along with those attributes, we could also add the words loving, faithful, merciful, just and holy. The LORD is all those things and more. For all these character qualities the LORD is worthy of praise.

Sometimes I don’t see something until it smacks me in the face. I can be blind to that missing shirt hanging in the closet or across the back of a chair. It takes someone else, usually my wife, to point out what should be plainly obvious. In the same way I can be blind to the kind gestures of a friend or colleague. It takes someone else to point them out—to ascribe them—by drawing my attention to them.

Are you missing something? Have you become blind to the beautiful character qualities of your spouse, your children or your workmates? Maybe you need to do some ascribing? Before it’s too late, let them know the good qualities you see in their lives. You won’t regret speaking words of affirmation to the ones you love. As for the LORD, He will be honored if we carry through with the words of the psalmist: Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”

Response: LORD God, I want to see your glory and strength. I acknowledge your attributes. You are magnificent, holy, merciful and just. Thank you for your judgments. They are righteous. Amen.

Your Turn: Is there someone whose good character you need to ascribe or affirm?

Your Requests

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I will praise Him!

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Morning glories — photo by David Kitz

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory

    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the LORD grant all your requests.

(Psalm 20:1-5, NIV)

The Meditation of my Heart

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I will praise Him!

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Dew berry blossom — photo by David Kitz

But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;

    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth
and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

(Psalm 19:12-14, NIV)

Who are you singing to?

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Reading: Psalm 96
(Verses 1-6)
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the L
ORD, all the earth.
Sing to the L
ORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the L
ORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary
(NIV).

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Petrie Island on the Ottawa River — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
Who are you singing to? Let’s face it; most of us sing. We may not sing in a choir or in front of a crowd of thousands, but we sing. Maybe you sing in the shower. Maybe you just hum, whistle or sing a tune in your mind. Even though you may not fully vocalize your song, the music is still there bubbling beneath the surface.

Psalm 96 urges us to sing that song to the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 

I believe it’s in our nature to sing. Music is after all a universal activity enjoyed by people of every race and culture. This universality begs a question: Who put that love for music and song within us?

For believers the answer is obvious. God put music in our hearts and God puts songs on our lips. We sing because we are and because God is. Music is so foundational—so fundamental to our being—that it’s hard to imagine our world without it. When we break forth in song we are doing what God designed us to do. You were designed to sing, just as you were designed to bring glory to God through the work of your hands or the fruit of your body. So let your voice bring honor, praise and glory to God. Sing out your worship with joy.

Psalm 96 is also a call for newness in worship. Why does God want a new song? Could it be because His mercy and love for us are continually renewed? In the midst of national tragedy, Jeremiah reminded us of this truth. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Just as the changing seasons bring renewal to the earth and its vegetation, so too new songs of praise bring renewal to our worship. So whether you hum, whistle, or belt out songs in the choir, let your song ascend to the LORD. You are singing for Him and to Him.

Response: LORD God, I want to praise you. Give me news songs and new melodies to sing your praise. Your goodness and love abounds. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you enjoy singing? Do you like both old and new worship songs?

Hardening of the Heart

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Reading: Psalm 95
(Verses 7-11)
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest’”
(NIV).

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Clyde River, Lanark, Ontario — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
Long before we knew about the medical condition known as hardening of the arteries, there existed another condition called hardening of the heart. Hardening of the heart is not a deadly medical condition; it’s a deadly spiritual condition. Those who suffer from hardening of the heart have a hard time hearing God, and when they do hear God, they tend to stop their ears, or they do their best to pretend that God hasn’t spoken.

Although we can safely say that this condition has existed since the human species stepped out of Eden, the first reported case of hardening of the heart occurred about 3,500 years ago. In the Book of Exodus we read that Pharaoh developed a severe case of hardening of the heart. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said (Exodus 8:15).

Time and again as the ten plagues ravaged Egypt, we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart and he would not let the people of Israel go. In several instances we read that the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But let’s be clear about this condition. Heart hardening only happens with the willing participation of the individual. Don’t go about blaming God for your hard heart. Hearts harden due to our willful disregard of God’s Spirit and His laws.

Neither should we presume that heart hardening only happens with a certain type of person. We are all prone to develop this spiritual malady. Our ancestry or genetic makeup offers no protection. The Egyptian Pharaoh developed a heart, but ultimately the Israelites—the people that the LORD pried free from Pharaoh also developed the same condition. That’s why the psalmist issues this warning: Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,  where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.”

The key to avoiding a hard heart is hearing and heeding the voice of God. It’s just that simple.

Response: LORD, give me ears that hear your voice gently speaking to me. Give me a heart that is quick to obey. I want a tender heart that reflects your love for me and for others. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Your Turn: Does a hard heart toward others result in a hard heart toward God? What are your thoughts?

The Whole World in His Hands

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Reading: Psalm 95
(Verses 1-7)
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the L
ORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care
(NIV).

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Ottawa River sunset — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
I can’t read this opening portion of Psalm 95 without the folk spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” springing to mind. The psalmist makes this declaration: In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. In other words, He’s got the whole world in His hands.  

There is something deeply reassuring about that thought. The great loving God, the Creator of the universe, has the whole world in His hands. But more specifically, our heavenly Father has you and me in His hands. If we grasp this biblical truth, it has broad personal implications.

Early this morning, I met with a weekly gathering of men to pray and study God’s word. One of the co-leaders of the group is going through a great personal tragedy. His young, vibrant wife is dying of pancreatic cancer. Unless the Lord miraculously intervenes, his school-age son and daughter will soon be without a mother. At the close of our meeting we placed our hands on this husband and father and prayed. The LORD has the whole world in his hands including this young family.

Do we understand the LORD’s purposes in all this? No. We would be fools to think we do. We can content ourselves in knowing that these great matters—these matters of life and death are in God’s hands. They are loving hands—hands that in the person of Jesus were scarred and pierced by nails. I’ll be content to be held in those hands.

Knowing this, let’s heed the psalmist’s call. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

Response: LORD God, you know all things. We were created for your purpose. Help us to live our lives in service to you. We are the flock under your care. Please extend your hand of mercy and blessing to those we know who are suffering or grieving. Amen.

Your Turn: Does knowing your life is in God’s hands bring you reassurance?

The Unfailing Love of the LORD

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Reading: Psalm 94
(Verses 16-23)
Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the L
ORD had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, L
ORD, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—
a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
The wicked band together against the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
But the L
ORD has become my fortress,
and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
He will repay them for their sins
and destroy them for their wickedness;
the L
ORD our God will destroy them (NIV).

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Early morning calm, Petrie Island Park — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
Here is a question that is well worth asking at election time, or really at any time during the life of a nation: Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?

Whatever your political persuasion, this is a question that has relevance. Corruption isn’t a problem that is unique to just one party. It transcends the political spectrum. Corruption and poorly designed laws or policies can bring misery to millions. According to the psalmist, it has happened in the past and as long as we live in a fallen world, it will continue into the future.

If we fix our eyes on the problems of this world, we can soon find ourselves in despair. Like the psalmist, in times of worry, we need to turn to the LORD. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

That’s the good news of the gospel. In times of anxiety we have someone to turn to. His name is Jesus. He was familiar with suffering and adversity. In Psalm 55 we read, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22). The apostle Peter reiterates the same thought: Cast all your anxiety on him [God] because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

In times of trouble the unfailing love of the LORD will sustain you. In times of loss His consolation will bring you joy. That’s the promise of Psalm 94. It’s a promise that’s worth clinging to in good times and bad, and yes, even in election years.

Response: LORD God, I am so glad that first and foremost I live under your Kingdom rule. You are my King. I find unfailing love and consolation in knowing you. Guide the leaders of our land into paths of righteousness, wisdom and truth. Amen.

Your Turn: Are you facing adversity now? Are others supporting you in prayer?

Do You Like Discipline?

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Reading: Psalm 94
(Verses 8-15)
Take notice, you senseless ones among the people;
you fools, when will you become wise?
Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?
Does he who formed the eye not see?
Does he who disciplines nations not punish?
Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
 The L
ORD knows all human plans;
he knows that they are futile.
Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD,
the one you teach from your law;
you grant them relief from days of trouble,
till a pit is dug for the wicked.
For the L
ORD will not reject his people;
he will never forsake his inheritance.
Judgment will again be founded on righteousness,
and all the upright in heart will follow it
(NIV).

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Early morning on Petrie Island — photo by David Kitz

Reflection
Do I like discipline? Hardly. Do I like self-discipline? Not really. Discipline sounds difficult or unpleasant. Self-discipline and self-denial are twin brothers. I don’t like either of them. They are two tough customers that demand that I change, but I don’t like change. My flesh—my stubborn sinful nature—resists change.

On the other hand, do I like the fruits of self-discipline? Absolutely. Self-discipline pays huge dividends. In any field of endeavor, in due time self-discipline will bring rewards. Athletes succeed because of self-discipline. Fortunes are accumulated through self-discipline. But those same fortunes can be frittered away through a lack of discipline. Strength of character does not develop naturally; it develops through adversity and self-discipline.

Discipline comes in two forms, internally or externally. Both are needed if we are to become people of the cross.  Son though he was, he [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9). If Jesus learned obedience through the discipline of suffering, should we not expect to experience the same?

Here in Psalm 94 we learn that the LORD disciplines nations. The following admonition reminds us of the vital role that discipline plays in the life of the believer: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all (Hebrews 12:5-8).

Response: LORD God, I confess that I need your discipline. I want to become like your Son, Jesus. Help me to learn from the difficult experiences of life. I want to live my life as your obedient child. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you appreciate God’s discipline? Are you enjoying the fruit of self-discipline?

More Precious than Pure Gold

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I will praise Him!

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Golden sunset — photo by David Kitz

The law of the LORD is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

(Psalm 19:7-11, NIV)