Tag Archives: Psalm 1

When Trouble Unexpectedly Blows In

In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.
2 Chronicles 28:22 (NIV)

Just a few weeks ago a tornado descended on the small community where Wendy and I live. That day there were some 27 tornadoes that ripped through Iowa. The tornado here in Pella hit a local manufacturing company, wreaking havoc on multiple plants and turning cars in the parking lot into a pile scrap metal. Since it happened in the middle of the workday, it seems to me a miracle that no one was killed. Only a handful of people were injured, and none seriously.

In the weeks that have followed, it’s been fascinating to watch the community mobilize. The business that took the brunt of the damage is already in the process of rebuilding. Churches and charities are working with those in need. In a time of unexpected trouble, I can see the strength and faith of our community and its people. We’ll be alright.

Along my journey I’ve observed that times of trouble and unexpected tragedy are windows into Spirit. When trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descend like a tornado and blow through our lives, our response reveals what kind of spiritual foundation lies beneath the surface of our lives. It makes known how deep our spiritual roots descend into Life’s soil.

In today’s chapter, the story of King Ahaz reads like a spiritual tragedy. Not only does Ahaz not follow God, but he seems willing to follow any god, any time, any where. He goes from god-to-god sacrificing and paying tribute. When trouble hits Ahaz reaches out to Assyria for help, only to be double-crossed. Ahaz dishonors some of the articles of Solomon’s temple to try to buy his way out of trouble. It doesn’t work. When defeated by Damascus, Ahaz worships their gods in hopes that it will help. It doesn’t.

Ahaz is so willing to believe anything that his troubles reveal that he believes nothing. He has no spiritual roots. He has no foundation. His life was one of constantly grasping for anything only to be left with nothing. He was such a tragic failure, that the people of Judah refuse to entomb Ahaz’s dead body with the other kings.

I’m reminded this morning of how James put it: “the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown about and tossed by the wind.” I’m also reminded of how the Psalmist contrasted the righteous and the wicked in the lyric of Psalm 1. The righteous are described as strong trees with deep roots that continually produce good fruit and don’t wither in trouble. The wicked, however, are like dust blown helplessly in the wind.

On this life journey, I believe almost every one of us will experience trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descending into our lives like a tornado. In that moment, I find out what kind of spiritual roots I’ve developed. If my roots go deep then I will weather the storm, get back to work, and come through the experience even stronger. If I have no spiritual roots then I think I’m going to be more like Ahaz, blown about, grasping for something, anything to hold onto.

(Thanks to everyone who reached out to make sure Wendy and I were alright. We live on the opposite side of town from where the tornado struck and were not in harms way.)

A Forest of Lessons

source: Google Earth
source: Google Earth

The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree!
Daniel 4:20-22 (NIV)

One of the things that I am going to greatly miss here at VW Manor is our mighty oak tree which, we believe, has likely stood sentinel over this property since around the time the Dutch settlers put down their roots in the neighborhood. Each time I drive into the driveway I must be careful to skirt my way around the massive trunk. Its branches have given us shade from the heat of the summer sun. It has wordlessly whispered to my soul regarding permanence, strength, fidelity and my own relative transience.

God has a thing for trees. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Psalm 1 kicks off that monster volume of lyrics by describing the blessed person as a “tree, planted by rivers of water, which bears fruit in its season, whose leaf doe not wither.” The book of Revelation describes, at the end of all things, the Tree of Life in the middle of a restored Eden.

This morning I am also mindful of the oak trees that once stood scattered around the yard of our lake house. Spindly and thin, they nonetheless offered a small forest’s worth of shade over the house and guarded those who traversed the hill down to the water’s edge. Over the course of a few summers, one-by-one, each one of them quickly withered and died. Their dead, bare branches stretched out but provided no shade. One by one we cut them down. It called to mind Jesus’ words:

[My Father, the gardener] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty, prosperous, fruitful tree. Yet, he discovered that what takes years to grow can wither very quickly.

Today, I am asking myself, “What kind of tree am I?”

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 1

Blessed is the man 
    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked 
or stand in the way of sinners 
    or sit in the seat of mockers. 
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, 
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, 
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
    Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 NIV)

If you’ve ever had a bout of insomnia (I have occasional stretches myself), you’ve likely found yourself watching television in the wee hours when you’ll find infomercials for various multi-disc musical compilations such as “Soft Rock of the 70s.”

Our journey into the Psalms might well begin like a cheesy early morning infomercial complete with perky and beautiful middle-aged couple or elderly has-been musicians who are uber-excited about the hits of ancient Hebrew worship. That’s because you can consider Psalms as a book of lyrics to a giant musical compilation. These were the greatest worship hits of ancient Israel. The cool thing is, not only did the producers put together this compilation book of lyrics (c. 300 B.C.), they took great pains to arrange the song lyrics in very specific order so that that entire collection is a work of instructional art in and of itself. The compilation is a single work of art made up of 150 works of lyrical/poetic art.

The first two songs (Psalms 1 and 2) were chosen as introduction to the entire book. They have no title, but act as a lyric overture to the entire compilation. Take notice of the bookends. The first line of Psalm 1 and the last line of Psalm 2 start with “Blessed is….” The message being that those who journey through this compilation, those who delight in God’s Message (Psalm 1:1-2) and take refuge God (Psalm 2:12) will be blessed.

Today, I’m excited about creativity. I’m grateful that Creator God inspires musicians, poets and writers. I’m knocked out by the artistic detail of those who compiled the Psalms and creatively assembled this volume in such a way that it added layers of depth and meaning to the compilation itself, extending the metaphorical value of the individual songs themselves.

The deeper I journey into God’s Message, the more layers of meaning I peel away, the more I’m blown away at how limitless it is.