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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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Looking at a Psalm of Praise

The Psalms are a collection of songs that were to be used in public and group worship.  They can be divided into many kinds. For instance, there are psalms of lament, and psalms of wisdom, and psalms of confession. David wrote many of the them. Psalms of praise are very common throughout the collection.  In fact, praise in general, is a common element of many of the psalms, even in those that are songs of lament. So praise is important to the psalmists.

Praise is an expression of strong approval or admiration. It takes many forms, but among God’s people it usually appears as song. It can be done individually when a person praises God in solitary prayer, but it’s power is most recognizable when people do it musically together as a unified body. There are many examples throughout scripture of a song leader moving people toward unified group praise in the form of music. David does this with his poetry throughout the psalms.  Consider one of his more powerful psalms of praise: Psalm 103.

The very first verse of that song is deeply, spiritually, and theologically profound. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1)” The word “soul” is the Hebrew word, nephesh. It means the very life of a man, as well as the seat of his emotions, and appetites, and passions, and desires. David is asking his people to praise God – to show their admiration and approval of him – by devoting everything in them, including their lives, to that purpose. He then spends almost all of the rest of the song pointing out why God would be worthy of that praise.

The very first thing he mentions is that God is worthy because he forgives all of the wrong things we’ve done toward him, his creation, or his people (Psalms 103:2-3). Then once he’s done that, he heals us from our diseases, lifts us up from the pit, loves us, and provides us with good things (Psalms 103:3-5). David describes how his love for us is infinite (Psalm 103:11), and how he infinitely separates our sins from us (Psalm 103:12). Imagine that!  God expressed the attributes of David’s psalm in the physical form of his son, Jesus. That means that Jesus is the embodiment of David’s psalm of praise! 

Can you join David in that song?  What can you praise God for in your life?

Music, Emotion and the Content the Psalms

Music moves us in ways that other forms of expression can’t.  Music and song touch us emotionally and profoundly. It’s interesting that when we listen to pleasurable music, primitive portions of our brain that are largely responsible for mood and motivation become energized.  These systems in our brains are also intertwined and networked with the same kinds of pleasure systems that light up when we eat good food, enjoy intimacy, or obtain rewards. This means that music turns us on. This is why you find it in so much human culture. It feels good to us, and it engages our moods in ways that prose alone often doesn’t. Consider how love songs incite you to longing, sadness or anticipation.  Or how songs from your childhood elicit happiness, or flood your mind with waves of nostalgia. Consider how some music just makes you want to dance, sing, or shout.

Because humans are pretty smart, and because we know that music does these things, we tend to encode our emotions into our music. Consider this when you read through the psalms.  Although we can’t experience the emotions in the same full way that the original audiences of the psalmist did, perhaps we can get a glimpse of them by just being aware that the psalmist was trying to convey them through music. Look at Psalm 16 and notice the emotions that David expressed in his song.  He sings about his delight in the people of his land that are believers (Psalm 16:3), and how he is so disgusted with those who run after other Gods that he won’t even say their names with his own mouth (Psalm 16:4). You can almost feel the electricity in his chest as he sings about the gladness of his heart because of his trust for the Lord (Psalm 16:8-10).

In his final words for the song, he acknowledges how God makes known the path of life, how he finds joy in the pleasure of God’s presence, and how he anticipates everlasting pleasures by being near to God (Psalm 16:11).

Knowing that David set his words to public music gives us insight into how strong his faith was, and how it was moving him to express it.  How does your faith move you to express your love of God?

Are You Above the Law

Laws are necessary. In our broken world, without them, chaos and evil reign with an iron grip. In the absence of laws, the mightiest, or the cruelest, or the most evil person becomes the law. The world is a much darker place when that happens. But embedded in the law, and running all throughout it, is a  problem. It’s a problem that exists in all laws given to govern our behaviors, regardless of whether or not they come from God or from men. Laws only set the minimum standard, and when people meet the minimum standard, they feel holy and righteous. Often, they are neither.

To be holy or righteous requires a heart that desires not to meet the minimum, but to embrace as fully as possible the attributes of holiness and righteousness – to make them part of you at a very core level. Paul tells us that when we’re able incorporate those attributes spiritually, that we no longer even need laws, because we naturally engage pursuits of holiness and righteousness for which no laws are necessary (Galatians 5:16-25). We stop sinning because we are no longer interested in sin.  And in those moments when we do fall, our righteous and holy hearts drive us to make up for our failures. When we get to this level of maturity, we become like immovable rocks of good. We can truly be in the presence of God.

David sings that when we’re like that, we can dwell with God in his sanctuary or on his holy hill.  Check out Psalm 15:1-5. David shares that the person who can dwell with God is blameless in a general sense, and speaks truth at the very center of his being (Psalm 15:2). David is singing of a heart issue – a centeredness issue. His aim is above the law. Isaiah 29:13 shows us the reverse of David’s example. There, the prophet tells how God chastises his people whose hearts are far from him, and how their behavior is marked not by a true heart, but by adherence to rules taught by men.  In the rest of his psalm, David goes on to share many traits of a righteous person. It’s interesting to note that he isn’t sharing a list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, he’s sharing the character marks of someone committed to the well-being of others. Some of these traits appear to go beyond the written law. For instance, Psalm 15:5 seems to hint that the righteous person doesn’t lend money at interest to anyone. The law, however, allowed interest when lending to foreigners.

How, when, where, and with whom does your heart lead you to go beyond the law?

Living Our Values Everyday

What we value illuminates what we find important. Consider people who are serious automobile enthusiasts. Their cars are immaculate. They sacrifice hours upon daily hours in making sure that the paint job on them is perfect, or that a particular vehicle is washed impeccably, or that it shines on a display pedestal for everyone to see. Not only can one say that enthusiasts value their cars, one could even say they love their cars.  This is because they are committed to the care of those cars. I’ve even seen grown men and women caress a lifeless, but beautiful, piece of steel as if it were a pet or a lover.  You know a person’s values not by what he or she says they are, but by how they live their lives. Things that are important to a person demonstrate that person’s values. The more a person values something, the more he will sacrifice for, and enjoy, those things he values — just like the car enthusiast.

If a person says he values honesty, but cheats on his taxes, then he is not honest.  If a woman says she values modern art, but lets her children use her original Picasso as a play table, then she values her children’s  playspace more than she values modern art. If a family says they value Jesus, but refuse to live in community with his people, then they don’t value Jesus.  And when people say they value love, but don’t commit to the wellbeing of those closest to them, then they either do not value love, or they do not value the people closest to them.  This is a problem. The bible tells us how in the end times that the love of many shall grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and that this will have terrible social and cultural consequences (2 Timothy 3:1-4).

As a matter of interpersonal relationships, the apostle Paul placed the virtue (and the value) of love very high.  In fact, he placed it above both faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). This is because to love someone is to value them.  Paul wanted the body of Christ to grow at every level, and he knew that valuing love meant valuing others. He knew that for a community, or a family, or a friendship, or a marriage to function optimally, it would require a value for the people in those relationships. Such a commitment means attending daily to the needs of the people that you say you love.  It means attending to the physical needs, the emotional needs, the spiritual needs, and any other needs required for a person or a group to achieve and sustain true wellness.

How might someone measure your value for others? In what spiritual, emotional and physical ways do you display value for your loved ones?

Look Observe Verify Enjoy the Flight

It is always a good idea to be sure you understand what you’re getting into before you make a commitment. If you don’t, you may end up breaching the commitment, and then dealing with the fallout of failed promises. Or, perhaps worse, you may end up doing the right thing by honoring your commitment and then struggling against a sticky spider web of entanglements you never anticipated, licking wounds you never expected, and trying to unfasten locked doors that were once wide open.

Imagine a pilot getting ready for a flight.  He does a variety of flight checks. He walks around the aircraft and looks at all its major pieces. He tests them. He inspects them. He observes them carefully to verify their physical integrity, and then tallies his preflight checklist before even starting the plane up. This checklist is of very great importance. Once the plane leaves the runway and commits to flight, a small problem arising from that checklist which could have been corrected on the ground can become deadly in the sky — and not just to the occupants in the plane, but to anyone in the crash zone.

This sort of checklist is the kind of thing that you can (and should) apply to your own life.  Before establishing a committed relationship, whether as intimate life partners, or simple friends, or business associates, you should go through a checklist.  Number one on that checklist should be to make sure that your friend is equally yoked with you. A yoke is a wooden bar that binds two animals together so that they can combine their strength to pull a plow. Paul instructs the church at Corinth that believers should not be yoked intimately or significantly with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14).  To do so invites a conflict of values. Such a conflict can have serious consequences for your life, and can prevent you from doing those things God has called you to do. Worse yet, being unequally yoked can cause you to stray from the field altogether. Instead, test the spirits of those you wish to be in your circles to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1-6). If those spirits are not from God, then keep some distance.  Then, once you’ve established that connection, be sure that your potential relationships are marked by people who can improve your flight rather than crash your plane (Proverbs 12:26, Proverbs 13:20, and 1 Corinthians 15:33).

Love Others Very Earnestly: Love is a FrEakY Word

Love is a freaky word.  It represents a weird quirk of human language in that it occupies the status of both noun and verb. Love is both a thing, and an action. Consider the two following sentences:

She loved me immensely.

He blessed me immensely with his love.

In the first sentence, love is a verb, but in the second sentence it is a noun. In the first sentence it is an action of blessing, but in the second, it is the blessing. To love someone is to bless them. To be loved by someone is to receive a blessing from them. In either case, love is best measured by behavior and action.

In its noun form, it is a wonderful thing. Paul tells us that it is a kind thing, a patient thing; that it is a thing which doesn’t boast, or envy, or dishonor others. It isn’t marked by pride or selfishness, and it doesn’t become easily angered or keep track of mistakes (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). As a noun, it isn’t something that you can necessarily see with your eyes, or feel with your touch. Instead, you feel it in the bonds of relationships, and the melding of hearts and spirits when someone commits something about themselves to you.

As a verb, it means commitment. She loved me immensely, means that she was committed to my wellbeing in large and great ways. Commitment is always measured by action and steadfastness.  The person who truly loves you, loves you through trials, tribulations and celebrations. And it is this love that Peter tells us is a measure of – or a result of – our obedience to the truth. In fact, he tells us that our lives should be marked by a sincere and deep, earnest, or fervent love for one another (1 Peter 1:22). In other words, our commitment to one another should be intense.  How intense? John says that it should be so intense and sincere that we would be willing to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16-18). In what ways can you daily lay down your life for your spouse, your child, or your Christian brother or sister?

What the Bible means by Real Change

Transformation is an important concept all throughout the bible. Most people think about the word inadequately, which can make for a lesser understanding of the miracles that are worked in their lives. For instance, people might think of someone transforming a hardtop sedan into a convertible.  Or they might think of a person transforming a room by painting it and covering up the flaws. But this is not usually what is meant by transformation in the bible. The nature of the sedan is still the same, and it is still recognizable as its earlier form. The painted room is still the same room with the same capacity and the same flaws. The flaws are just covered up with paint.  When the bible talks about transformation, it is talking about real change.  It means that something will change from one kind of thing into something entirely different. Transformation is all-encompassing and permanent.  Transformation is a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, which does not turn back into a caterpillar. I have a friend who changed his riding lawn mower into a log splitter. He re-worked everything on that mower’s chassis.  And when he was done, he had transformed the machine permanently and unmistakably. The new machine was barely discernible from the old. Just consider the word’s roots: “trans,” meaning across or beyond, and “form,” meaning visible shape or configuration. Transform means to change something across or beyond forms.

And it is transformative change that the bible presents when God touches a person’s life.  There are many examples of people so moved by God’s power that they become completely different.  Peter, Paul, and all of the apostles. But also a demon possessed common man (Mark 5:1-20), and a dying thief who was transformed into a saint (Luke 23:32-43).

This same power that transformed them can also transform you.  Paul instructs us to be transformed by changing the way we think about God (Romans 12:2).  If you do that, then God will make you into something totally different than what you were before, and he won’t stop until you are perfect (Philippians 1:6).

The Importance of Real Purpose

Purpose is important.  It’s the reason for something’s existence. For example, a hammer exists to drive nails. A glass exists to bring a drink to one’s lips. It’s so important that the great Helen Keller once argued that joy is not derived from self-gratification, but from fidelity to a worthy purpose. Think about that quote in light of your own frustrations.  If you’re like most of the world, you’ve probably huffed, “what’s the purpose?” during a moment of annoyance when you didn’t understand what you were doing or why you were doing it. Just imagine trying to bring a drink to one’s lips with a hammer, or trying to drive a nail with a glass. It doesn’t usually work very well when you try to use something outside of its intended purpose.

Many of the woes that we experience in life are precisely because we are trying to live our lives outside of God’s purposes for it. And it’s probably safe to say that at some level we’ve falsely interpreted our purpose through a lens of self-gratification.  When we do that, we’re trying to drive a nail with a glass, or to drink from a hammer. Instead of asking ourselves what did God intend for my gifts and blessings, we often ask, “how can I use this gift or blessing to benefit myself even more?” But the truth is that in most cases, one’s greatest joy will come from living out one’s life in the way that God intended for it to be lived out.

This realization, of course, leads many people to ask, “what is my purpose?” Everyone’s purpose is a bit different, but for the follower of Christ, all of those purposes should fit tidily within a few categories.   A true purpose glorifies God. A true purpose expresses the gospel. A true purpose benefits the body of Christ. Solomon sums it up by arguing that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). If that is so, then your purpose is to love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).  To begin the journey of discovering your purpose, take an inventory of the roles that God has placed you in, then take an inventory of your talents, gifts, and blessings. Ask yourself how those roles, talents, gifts and blessings can be employed to meet the expectations of those scriptures.

How a True Christian is Like Mike Hosey’s Luggage

When we are trying to determine if something is genuine, real, or true, we look for certain hallmarks that are unique to the thing we are testing. For instance, before I could get a passport, the government required that I prove that I was really me – the genuine, real, and true Mike Hosey.  I had to provide a birth certificate and a number of other identifiers that only I should possess. The birth certificate also had to have certain identifiers. It had to be original, or it had to be a copy with the raised and recognized seal of my birth state issued by an official authority.

Being able to tell when something is real and genuine is very important.  Consider an air travel hack I use. When I’m traveling by airplane, I always mark my bags in conspicuous ways so that when I’m in the baggage claim area, I know which ones are mine — even if they are the same brand, style, type and color as someone else’s.  Mine will have a unique duct taped pattern easily visible on prominent faces of the baggage. It’s unmistakable that they belong to me. In fact, it so unmistakable that I recognize them instantly. And so will just about anyone who knows me. Because we don’t live in some horrific dystopian science fiction world inhabited by both humans and uber-realistic humanoid robots that are indistinguishable from your neighbors, it’s not particularly difficult to determine who is a real person. A real person is any human being with flaws, problems, hurts, hang-ups and issues. Even “fake” people are real people. The only requirement for being a real person is to be a real human.

Identifying a real Christian can be a bit dicier, though. People, afterall, are very good at faking things.  But here are some duct taped traits that should apply to all real Christians so that they are easily identifiable from a variety of angles: If you are a true Christian, you should be working continually on your submission to Jesus as your Lord. This should be evident in how you strive to do those things that please him (Matthew 28:19-20), and avoid those things that sadden him (Matthew 23:23-28, Matthew 23:37-39). You should be committed to fellow Christians (John 13:35). And you should display the Fruits of the Spirit, while starving to death those desires that don’t come from God (Matthew 5:22-24). If you attend to these things genuinely, then others will see the genuine article in you, and you will confirm your growth toward Godliness (2 Peter 1:5-10).

A Real God in Your Real Life

We like for things in our life to be real.  When we buy a couch, we want it to be genuine leather not fake leather.  When we buy a diamond ring, we want the ring to be an actual diamond, and not cubic zirconia.   And when we are looking for friends, we want them to be real, honest, authentic people. Our desire for something to be real is so strong that it even extends to pain.  When we experience pain, we want it to be from a real source, and not an imaginary one. Afterall, it’s hard to treat “imaginary” pain. This is no different when we are looking for God. We want him to be real, genuine, and authentic.  But this is difficult because we usually test real things with multiple senses. If you’re thirsty in the desert, you might see water on the horizon. But that’s only one sense. Your sight may be a mirage. Until you can see it, taste it, feel it and hear it, it could be a simple perception issue.  So how do we know that God is real? We can’t see him, touch him, or feel him. Or can we?

Throughout the years, I’ve been astounded at how intricate the Bible is.  As a source outside of myself, it testified to something bigger and more honest than me. Major concepts in the Old Testament are exquisitely interlinked with truths in the New. The more I read the Bible, the more real I perceived God to be. I kept finding him among its pages over and over again. Then I began to find the God of those pages in the pages of my life.

Real evidence for his realness was in my very being. When I did something wrong, a pang told me so. If I lied, or lusted, or hated, or stole, the pang messed with my gut, and with my mind.  A standard was being applied inside of me that could have only been established from a source outside of me: a real God had written a code of conduct on my heart that applied to me and to everyone else.

As my relationship with him increased, I began to see him in my own history.  Things in life that I thought were bad, he had been using for my good. I understood why he made me live in one place instead of another, and why he directed my steps to one career instead of another. I began to see him in my marriage, and in my relationships, and in my failures, and in my victories. He was a real God who was active in the realities of my life.