Focusing on God’s magnificence

magnificentBy Joe LaGuardia

Psalm 90, penned by Moses according to the superscription, is a reflection on humanity’s fragility and God’s omniscience.  It challenges us to meditate on God’s magnificence, providence, and gift of time.

The first verse affirms that God is our dwelling place–a safe refuge for all generations.  But then the psalm quickly moves to a meditation about the frailty of humanity, the brief existence we all share, and the toil that consumes most of our days.

Whereas one day is as “a thousand years” in God’s sight, a person’s life may span seventy to eighty years and then “fades and withers.” Our days are but a dream.

Although Psalm 90 seems melancholy at best and depressing at worst, the poem is actually a reflection not to be taken as negative or morose, but as a re-focusing on God’s intimacy with us.  Yes, our lives are but a breath, but God pays attention to us anyway.  The hours of the day may pass by quickly, but God’s love still kisses us awake every morning with new life (v. 14).

The challenge is one not of resignation, but of focus.

Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not on our lack, but on God’s magnificence.

The creation theme that runs throughout the psalm reminds us of God’s majesty and power.  God’s careful attention to us brings with it awe, as well as a sense of discipline and testing (v. 7).

This is an attribute of God’s magnificence, an acknowledgement that the same God who created the heavens and the earth cares about us, cares so much in fact, that God is willing to keep us accountable to being holy and a righteous people.  What parent who cares for her child does not discipline that child and invest in the character and integrity with which that child approaches all of life?

God is so amazing, even God’s discipline inspires a sense of magnificence of who God is in our life, the world, and all of history and the cosmos.

Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not our limits, but on God’s providence.

According to vv. 5-6, God has the power to sweep away all our days.  With a divine thought or a command, God can end everything right here and right now.  What is to say that we don’t deserve it, with all of the messes we get ourselves into — from our inability to fight on behalf of justice for the oppressed, to form a comprehensive and intentional approach to ecological sustainability, to combating poverty and oppression that wreaks havoc on communities local and global, to our penchant for violence in the face of adversity or war?

Yet, God chooses (I think) to renew our days as grass is renewed in morning.  God gives us new life in which to flourish, to experience steadfast love and have a second chance.

Satisfy us, O Lord, in the morning with your steadfast love…” (Ps. 90:14)

Although we may blow our opportunity at joining God at work in the world over and over again (“For we are consumed by your anger!”), we have the ability to learn what the Spirit will have us to learn about our world and our neighbors (v. 12).  We have to be open to the lessons God has in store for us: “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not on our toil, but on God’s gift of time.

Sometimes we forget that work and toil are God’s punishment for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.  Although many of us enjoy our jobs, we still complain that working means spinning our wheels, trying to make ends meet, belaboring day after day to provide for our families, our retirement accounts, even our churches.

Yet, the emphasis of this psalm–from God’s point of view, and ours–is that of time.  Time is short, time is valuable.  Time is a gift, and we are to make the most of our time by responding to God, living for Him (v. 16a), and living in the power of the Spirit that we might prosper in both our mission for God and our ministry in life.

Let your work be made manifest to your servants…Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper the work of our hands.”

In closing, there are three major movements in Psalm 90: One, of God’s power and majesty; two, of our fragility; and, three, of the fact that as a people of God, we still have work to do and can do it joyfully.

It is about focus and intentionality, about acknowledging that God still cares deeply for us.  Let us, in the wake of Psalm 90, meditate on God’s magnificence, on God’s providence, and on God’s gift of time.

Pointing others to Christ

daisy-quiet-lifeBy Joe LaGuardia

We Christians are called to point other people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and draw attention to God’s glory instead of our own.

In a society that thrives on social networking, publicity, and instant communication, it is difficult to make these easy challenges a reality.

Instead of pointing people to Christ, we are too busy trying to stand up for Christ.  Instead of drawing attention to God’s glory, we build bigger schemes in drawing greater attention to ourselves.  Instead of glorifying God, we find new ways to be divisive or abrasive.

But the Bible is very clear on this issue.  Paul tells the Thessalonians, for instance, to “make it an ambition to lead a quiet life, working with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).  Peter gives similar advice: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the pagans . . . so that they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God on the day of God’s visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

As a pastor and author, I am acutely aware of how being a leader, preacher, and teacher in the community creates a tension with these commands.  I realized this when I had to set up a website for my book.

I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and I certainly was not in the habit of trying to market my writing or my book on a large scale, but I had to do it to try and get it into the hands of people who need it.  Also, I had an obligation to my co-author to try my hardest to push it.

The spotlight can be rewarding at times, but it has its burdens as well.  Sometimes I’d rather crawl in a hole with a good book to read rather than to share.

I am not the only person who has this kind of stress and conflicted feelings.  In fact, many Christians I know would rather live a quiet life than be so public with their actions.  Social media does not help the cause, that’s for sure.

Peter does not leave us hanging when we wonder how it is that we are to “live honorably” and try our hardest to draw people’s attention to God.  In fact, his first letter to the early Christian church spells out exactly how to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

First, Peter tells us that we are born again and are to reflect the values and principles of Father God.  We spend so much time talking about being born again, however, we forget what it is that we are born into.

Peter states that we are born into the holiness of God (1 Peter 1:13-16).  This requires self-discipline and hope in Christ against steep odds.  It requires that we desire not the lusts and power of this world, but the humility and power of the cross.

Peter also encourages readers to be a “servant of God” first, and a good citizen of the community second (1 Peter 2:13-17).  Christians sometimes forget that we can glorify God by obeying the law and honoring those who are in leadership over us.

Although the Bible reminds us that all human institutions and governments are, well, human, God still expects us to lead lives of righteousness within the framework in which God has called us.  No matter if we are under the umbrella of capitalism, socialism, communism, or whatever -ism, we can still serve Christ and serve others.  If we are drawing people to God, it really doesn’t make a difference what political system we live in.

Living honorably also means being a good employee, child, parent, grandparent, and friend.   We are not to retaliate in face of persecution; nor are we to give people a hard time or a coarse word.  Instead, we are to “love one another, have a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

When we are divisive, attention-seeking, self-centered, and try to get our way, we work against one of the most basic commands the Bible teaches all believers.  We are, like Christ, to follow the way of the cross and point people to God’s heart instead of our own egos.

Simplicity: Ingalls Style

The other day, my daughter was wearing the only ankle-length skirt she owns.  I love that skirt. Whenever she wears it, I call her Laura Ingalls.  You know–the Laura Ingalls from the 1970s TV show, “The Little House on the Prairie”?

The last time I called her Laura Ingalls, it hit me: She has no clue who Laura Ingalls is.  In fact, my daughter has not watched a single episode of that fantastic program.  She’s never met Pa and Ma Ingalls, never reviled Nellie Oleson, never imagined tumbling down a field of grass with little Mary.  What a tragedy.

On the contrary, I probably watched too much “Little House” when I was growing up.  My mother was practically addicted to it.  Her dream was to buy a cottage just like the one the Ingalls called home.   She longed to live where the family could tell stories and enjoy a hot pot of stew fresh from the pot-bellied stove.

(Ironically, my mom got her wish when my parents moved into an old, circa 1920s cabin in the Poconos several years ago.  My mother found out that country living is not all fun and games; especially last week, when the pipes froze and broke.)

I’m quite convinced that the appeal of “Little House” for all of us, including Mother, was not necessarily the home or the characters (though that helped), but was what the show portrayed in the first place: the simple life at its finest.

Walnut Grove had no frills (just the occasional drama) and few big-city choices.  Everyone had a good job and faithful neighbors.  Around high noon, the town stopped for lunch; boys and girls took naps under huge oak trees with some book of poetry or Shakespeare slung over their eyes.

Even I have been bemused by the type of simplicity “Little House” boasted: I can’t tell you how many times I suggested to my wife that we should use candles instead of lights at night during Lent.

Simplicity does get lost in translation for many Christians in this fast-paced, consumer-saturated world.  It is an important spiritual discipline in which we scale back on the technology, drama, and materialism that entangle us like a web.

The basis for simplicity goes back to Jesus, of course, when he told the rich young ruler to go and sell all that the ruler had.  Jesus’ ministry was one that required few resources, for he was always on the move ready to go wherever His father led him.

When he dispatched his disciples, Jesus told them to pack light.  In the earliest church, many believers gave away most of what they owned to those in need.  If you had two coats in the closet, you gave one to a friend.

Even the Old Testament speaks of the benefits of simplicity: “Thus says the Lord: By waiting and calm, you shall be saved.  In quiet and trust lies your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

Several years after Jesus ministered on earth, several Christians took this command seriously and headed out to the wilderness to live simple lives.  These aristocrats-turned-priests worked, prayed, and worshiped with very little funding.

They became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and they lived by the Latin phrase, “Fuge, tace, et quiesce,” which means, “live in solitude, silence, and inner peace.”

Simplicity helped them see God through the fog of prestige and wealth.  It improved their prayer life, and it challenged their very faith in God.

Perhaps our spiritual practice of simplicity won’t look anything like that of Walnut Grove or the Desert Ancestors, but it might behoove us to at least get in the spirit of what it means to live humbly, crave simplicity, and pursue fellowship with friends and family around a pot of stew more often.