Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Ever Rolling Stream

Since the hymn has six verses, the fifth one is not one that is always sung.  Somehow, it is that very verse that I have been singing the last few days.  It is an Isaac Watts hymn entitled, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."  Though written in 1719, the church is still singing it.  The fifth verse begins with the words, "Time, like an ever rolling stream..."  It is not hard to figure out why those words have stuck in my mind like glue.  A long time ago, I stepped into this ever rolling stream and for almost seven decades now, I have been carried forward by it.  The shore has always been there, but for some reason, I have remained surrounded and overwhelmed by the waters of the stream. 

Having been in retirement now for over six years, I find myself more conscious than ever about the time that is flowing around me.   I remember as a young man that time was really not something I thought too much about and while I do not sit around counting the minutes and hours, I am so aware of the precious nature of each day.  Each day is truly a gift.  One of the things I resolved to do when I entered this season of my life was to be more aware of the present moment.  To the degree that I have been successful, my life has been enriched and when I have failed, it has surely been diminished.

Time is a not an enemy to oppose, but a friend who gives valuable blessings.  Those lines Watts wrote about time cause us to sing, "Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away, they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day."  And it is true.  Some who waded through the waters of the stream are no longer with me.  They found their place on the shore.  I miss their presence and wonder why I have been blessed to go forward so long.  Each step forward is taken with thanksgiving as I remember I have not traveled alone and when it does come my time to go to the shore, the Savior will be there waiting for me.  Until then, I wade on with a grateful heart in this ever rolling stream.

Friday, December 30, 2016

One More Post Christmas Musing

This year was the first time I had heard of the Blue Christmas Service which the church is offering for those who find Christmas to be more tougher than joyous.  Hard times do not necessarily stay away from folks just because it is the Christmas season.  These hard and difficult moments can create scaring memories which seem to bring pain on each anniversary of the moment.  When I was seven years old, my father was buried on Christmas Eve.  No Christmas has passed through the decades of life that this painful memory is not remembered.  No matter how much joyous celebration is around, it never completely obscures the memory. 
Of course, I am not the only one who has such memories during the Christmas season.  It is good to see the church responding with sensitivity and care for those who find the Christmas season to be filled with a mixture of pain and joy.  The Blue Christmas ministry reminds me of other opportunities for the church to express special sensitivity for people whose experiences take them outside the normal response of a particular holiday.  For example, Father's Day and Mother's Day can be very painful for children who have lost one or both parents either because of death, divorce, or abandonment.  It is hard for such children to be in a church environment which gives them no room to deal with their own parental issues.  Also, on Mother's Day or Father's Day, there are Moms and Dads who desperately want to hear a child call them by that name, but it has never happened.
Caring for people is not always easy in the society of ours with such diverse needs, but how important it is that folks in pain do not fall through the cracks while everyone else is celebrating.  The special days will always have special meaning for us as they should.  The Blue Christmas Service speaks of a church stepping into a field of ministry where many people have been dwelling unnoticed.  May it give birth to other ministries for the ones who find their hurts amplified by the holiday.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Even More Post Christmas Musings

As one who grew up singing songs like "The Old Rugged Cross" and as one who has come to count as a favorite hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"  it just seems strange to see the cross decorated with Christmas lights.  It just does not feel right.  There is something about the sight that causes my sensibilities to flicker.  Yet, there it is, nonetheless.  A six foot cross planted in front of a church is no strange sight, but decorate it with red and green Christmas lights and it is something which does not fit together. 
One is a most sacred symbol; the other more a symbol which belongs to a secular culture promoting a commercial Christmas.  There was nothing pretty about the cross upon which Jesus died.  It depicts one of the world's most horrible scenes.  Like many others before and after Him, Jesus was hung on a cross to die a slow and terrible death.  But, unlike those others, His death spoke of God's undying love for each one of us.  It is hard to understand the kind of love made known to us from that horrid place so full of suffering and pain, but our inability to understand it does not diminish it in the least.  On that cross our Savior died, somehow taking upon Himself the consequences and punishments for all our sins so that we might receive something other than what we rightfully deserve.

Decorating that symbol which speaks of so much suffering on the part of Jesus simply seems a bit odd.  The old rugged cross speaks of the death of Jesus for me and you.  It became a necessity because of our disobedience and sin.  Jesus went through a hell of suffering to make a way for us to once again be right with our Father God.  It can stand alone.  It needs nothing else to cause men and women to be drawn toward it.  A Savior raised up to die is enough.  No red and green Christmas lights are needed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Still More Post Christmas Musings

Even with a great big and very bright heavenly star to guide them, the men from the East needed direction.  Finding Jesus who was wrapped in obscurity and poverty was apparently no easy task.  When they got close, they went to Jerusalem and asked King Herod, "Where is this child who has been born king of the Jews...?" (Matthew 2:2).  Maybe the men from the East assumed one they knew to be a king would surely be born in a place of prominence.  If so, they were surely wrong for Bethlehem was no Jerusalem and the animal stall was no hotel room.
Those traveling men were not the first to have difficulty finding the poor, nor are they the last.  Those of us who travel the journey of our life often need directions as well.  Not long ago while visiting another town noted for its upscale lifestyle, I drove through some of the communities which were not gated but could have been.  As I looked at million dollar homes on lakes and golf courses, I could not help but wonder if some of these pseudo rich, owned by the bank folks knew where the poor lived in their community.  I wondered if they ever saw them. And while their extravagance is not mine, there is enough in my own life to cause me to wonder how in touch I am with the fact that the world around me is filled with those living in a poverty I cannot comprehend.  And, perhaps, it is also a poverty I do not want to see.
Certainly, during the Christmas season it is fashionable and appropriate to lift the cover of obscurity from the poor of the community so they can be showered with the gifts of the seasonal "well-meaners," but then after a moment, they will be allowed to disappear again.  Unlike Jesus who seemed to attract the poor and the broken, there seems to be so little about our own lifestyle that invites the downtrodden of the world to seek us out as those who can surely be counted as one of the compassionate and caring ones of the world. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Post Christmas Musings

When I was pastor at the Vidalia United Methodist Church, a much younger preacher came to serve a church in one of the adjacent small towns.  Even though the congregation was nowhere near large in numbers, he planned a traditional three hour Good Friday service during that first year.  I remember asking him, "What will you do if no one comes?"  I also remember his answer, "I will read the scripture lessons and pray the prayers.  Some things are important enough you just do."  It has been over twenty five years and as is obvious, that young preacher left a lasting impression and taught me a lesson at the same time.
This year the calendar put Christmas Day on a Sunday.  As I noted the response of some to that uncomfortable dilemma, I remembered my old friend.  In response to Christmas being on Sunday, some churches made the decision to adjust schedules, have worship on Saturday, or not have any services at all.  The rationale is understandable.  "Everyone will want to spend time with family on Christmas morning," or, "No one is going to come so we might as well make the best of it."  While the message being sent to the church members is supposedly a family friendly message, I wonder if it might not also be a message that says, "We don't expect folks to say that the celebration of the Christ event is going to take precedence over all the other stuff of Christmas."  I fear it is the message of lowered expectation, the message of accommodation, the message of finding the easy way.
Maybe all of this speaks of being  old fashioned and out-of-date, but I would rather think it speaks of being out-of-step which is more where the church should be than where it often seems to be.  Jesus said, "...the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life..."  (Matthew 7:14)  The gospel has always been the message of sacrifice, the message of the hard way and there is always something sad about the message being compromised for the sake of expediency.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Post Christmas Musings

Sometimes random thoughts just pop up as if out of the blue.  It is a mental phenomena not always understood.  As I listened to some unwanted Christmas music on the car radio back in the early days of Advent, I found myself making some comparisons between Christmas and Easter.  As we all know, Easter is the chief celebration day on the Christian calendar.  If such celebrations were given a numerical value, Easter would be number one.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us, throw away the resurrection and the gospel is an empty thing.   After putting Easter firmly on the top of the totem poll, I would place Good Friday and the crucifixion just below it.  And then, Christmas would show up as a number three.
But, have you ever noticed that there is far more Christmas music than Easter music.  Check out that church hymnal.  Listen to the Christian radio stations announcing that Christmas music will begin on December I and imagine the same thing happening three weeks before Easter.  Not a chance!  By the time we get to Christmas, we are worn out, wishing it was over, but with Easter, there is truly holy space to anticipate it and then to relish the joy of the moment.  It is not just the secular community which does such a number on Christmas that its arrival is greeted more with relief than joy for the sacred community jumps on board that ship as well.  The church just cannot seem to do the waiting of Advent and chooses instead to jump pre-maturely into the celebration of Christmas.

So, what change do I think might come as a result of this post Christmas musing?  Actually, none.  Any hope of change on the part of the church seems impossible to consider given the way the church of our day seems so willing to take its marching orders from the secular community around it.    Common consensus gives legitimacy to all sorts of stuff which the written Word of scripture would never do.  Who knows?  Maybe, this is more lament than musing.  Or, maybe it is just regret that the secular society around the sacred community of the church is not being shaped and influenced by the powerful message given by the Holy Spirit to the church brought into being by the Christ. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Then, and Only Then

A baby born in Bethlehem,
     but first,
         sweating and stretching,
         strength given up to straining,
         silence broken by screaming,
Then, and only then,
      a baby's low cry,
      a mother's whispered love.

A Sonrise in the garden,
     but first,
         sweating and stretching,
         strength given up to straining,
         dying done in darkness,
Then, and only then,
      trumpets sounding,
      great victory won.

Christmas Day, 2016

Conceived inside imperfection
     was He.
Born into sin's possibilities
     was the plan.
All with a woman,
     as holy and flawed
     as Rahab and David,
     Peter and Paul,
     you and me.

Living midst Satan's evil
     did He.
Drawing the sinful heart
     ever closer.
Everything with purpose,
     cradle to cross,
     birth to death,
     a work of mercy
     now complete.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Nazareth, a small forgotten place,
    no patriarch graveyard there,
    no history changing battles,
    not even a well like Jacob's.
Just an ordinary "no good" place,
    a few common folks,
    an abundance of poverty,
    a stop in the road,
And nothing more.

Nazareth, a God-watched place,
    visited by a famous angel,
    the Power of the Most High,
    the very Son of God Himself.
Not forgotten, an extraordinary place,
    the spear point of salvation,
    favored from heaven,
    the beginning of our eternity,
And so much more.

(Luke 1:26)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Impossible Stuff

The Agent of the impossible,
    another name for the Spirit,
    check it out, if you doubt,
    once in the womb,
    once in the tomb,
    same Agent, different results.
One made Jesus human flesh,
     fragile and mortal.
One made Jesus resurrected,
     death's boasting done.
Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

This Power of the Most High,
    the name given by Gabriel,
    worked, but no one saw,
    once in the womb,
    once in the tomb,
    but secret no more.
One brought needed salvation
    to every sinful heart.
One brought eternal life,
    to every dying soul.
Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

(Luke 1:35)

Thursday, December 22, 2016


When You were there,
    like all of us have been,
    awash in the water of a womb,
        tiny and small,
        so vulnerable,
No host of angels hovering over You,
No band of warriors guarding You,
    just a mere woman,
    actually, just a girl,
Who protected You from harm,
    giving You room
    inside of her.

When You were there,
    like all of us have been,
    afloat in a sea of darkness,
        not seeing,
        not knowing
You were in the only place of safety,
No angry words, no foes, no harm,
     because of a mother,
     the Father's provision,
The one place nothing could reach,
    but, only for a moment,
    the cross still coming.

(Luke 1:31)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Twice Mary pondered,
    maybe more,
    but, at least twice.
    Once when the angel came
    again, when the shepherds came.
So, pondering is what she did,
     at the pointed intersection
     of sacred and profane.

'Tis always a risky place
    to stand,
    this holy crossroad,
    the sound of God's voice,
    the cry of human need.
Much to ponder there,
    everything changes,
    nothing stays the same.

With heart still pondering
    she went,
    needed to see
    the spoken sign,
    something impossible.
What pondering started,
    faith finished,
    a thing hoped for, now seen.

(Luke 1:29)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Strange Sign

Have you ever seen a sign?
    Not a road sign,
    not a billboard,
Not made with human hands.
    One sent from God,
    sometimes strange,
    yet, often ordinary.
Sign crafted by God,
    a puff of a cloud,
    a worm eaten bush,
    marriage to a whore,
    buying land at Anathoth.
Strange, but ordinary,
    also, often missed.

Two signs came to Mary,
    one full of holy mystery,
    an angel named Gabriel.
A second, quite ordinary,
    as simple as time,
    six months, it says,
    then, the angel came.
The sign in the hill country,
    an old woman,
    wrinkled and worn out,
    expectant joy,
    swollen belly.
Strange, but a promise,
    what God says will be.

(Luke 1:26, 36, 38)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Setting His Mind

When God sets His mind
      to do a thing,
Some will always say,
So, don't be afraid,
      with an open mind,
      a searching heart,
ask around and see.

When God sets His mind
     and begins to move,
He looks toward folks,
     He figures can help.
Just ordinary souls,
     sometimes doubters,
     sometimes skeptics,
folks like you and me.

When God sets His mind,
     He calls, not coerces.
The old and worn out,
      like Zechariah.
The very young,
      "it can't be Mary,"
      "no way, Joseph"
regular folks everyone.

(Luke 1:18, 34; Matthew 1:19)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Impossible, You Say

From glory to Galilee,
   so went the angel Gabriel,
   looking for Nazareth,
   the young girl, Mary.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

From heaven to earth,
   sent by the Father,
   announcing holy work,
   the greatest work of all.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

From God to man,
   the child was born,
   that all might believe,
   and never die.
Impossible, you say.
   Not really.

(Luke 1:37)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Voice

What if you were "the voice"
     as John was "the voice?"
Would you speak the Word
     with such boldness,
     with such courage,
     with such authority?
Would your word be like his?
      Selfless, single minded,
      no thought for self,
Willing to disappear and die,
      so that others see Him?

Or, like so many other voices,
     the pretenders and imitators,
Would yours be a watered down word,
     full of self,
     empty of God,
     mostly about "me?"
Would people's ears be tickled,
     your skills praised,
     your head growing?
To whom would your voice point,
     the speaker or the Savior?
     (John 1:23)                                                                                                                                                                  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Standing Among Us

There, but not yet,
    talked about, but hidden,
    visible, but not seen.
Anticipated, expected
     by the man at the River,
     always looking out there,
Figuring soon He would come.

Making the way ready,
    a way not yet walked,
    only purposed by God.
A long time in the making,
    the man at the River
    caught up in the vision,
Knowing soon and not later.

Proclaiming the not yet One,
     though unseen and coming,
     already standing among us.
Still no one sees Him,
      His voice still silent,
      His power still leashed,
But, surely here and coming.

(John 1:26)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Keep Flowin'

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
Needy souls are coming,
Some with broken bodies,
More with broken hearts.
Beaten down by life,
Stained with sin,
Looking for healing, all.

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
A heavy load you bear,
So many have come,
More are still to come.
Seeking God's gifts,
Mercy and forgiveness,
Getting washed clean, all.

Keep flowin' River Jordan.
If your waters dried,
Ceased to fill your banks,
Needy souls become dying souls.
Your waters may be low and dirty,
But God uses every ounce,
Ridding hearts of sin, all.

(John 1:28)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Baptizer

No newspapers,
No internet,
Just people talking,
Changed hearts talking,
Skeptical minds talking,
Talking about one man,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No cars and trucks,
No public transportation,
Just people walking,
Some casually curious,
Some serious seekers,
All wanting to see
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No baptismal fonts,
No heated indoor pools,
Just dirty river water,
Hardly deep,
But deep enough
For washing sins away,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

No heavenly angels,
No resounding trumpets,
Just God at work,
Announcing something new,
The Lamb of God has come.
Pointing everyone to Him,
The Baptizer at the Jordan.

(John 1:28)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

True Light

Shine, True Light.
   Bring your rays to bear
   on darkened places,
   emptied of reason,
   filled with fear.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
    Penetrate the darkness
    that seems too deep,
    hearts past hoping,
    life with no dreams.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
   Light up the deep recesses
   of the darkest hell,
   where evil reigns,
   goodness forgotten.
Shine, shine, shine.

Shine, True Light.
    Go to the blackest hole,
    showing forth glory,
    touching sinful hearts,
    mercy for the needy,
Shine, shine, shine.

(John 1:9)  

Monday, December 12, 2016


I used to say,
   faith is like
   sitting in a chair.
Before sitting,
   the question,
   "Will it hold me up?
The matter is decided
    in the sitting,
    or the falling.

Some say, "Just believe,"
   it matters not,
   but is it true?
They say "in anything,"
   human ingenuity,
   or a pocket full.
Try it and see,
    expect little,
    never more.

The Word says
   believe in Jesus,
   One sent from God.
Forget the chair,
   One to count on,
   no one better.
No worry here,
   turn loose,
   no falling.

(John 1:7)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sent from God

A scary thing it is
to be sent by anyone,
    especially God.
Going not for self or gain,
but for Him, His purposes,
     a heavy weight indeed.

With hands off the controls,
you get in and go,
      wherever, whenever.
Not always knowing why,
only His bidding in front,
      an uncertain way for sure.

A journey of twists and turns,
mostly surprising and unexpected,
      just hanging on.
Only God knows what's ahead
a thing most kept to Himself,
      just sent and signed on to go.

(John 1:6)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Center Stage

For a moment he stands
    on the biggest center stage
    under the brightest spotlight,
    a place for him, but not for him.
Standing, waiting, watching.

Another act off stage waiting,
     a greater than any Character coming,
     coming soon, but not just yet,
     what's left is still to be done.
Standing, waiting, watching.

The Director watches the stage,
     closes the curtain on the old,
     raises it on the new,
     the cue given
     the One waiting comes forth.
Standing, waiting, watching.

(Mark 1:2-3)

Friday, December 9, 2016


Here, but, not here.
   Coming soon, not today,
   maybe tomorrow,
   and if not,
   then the next day,
   or maybe the next.
But, surely soon.

Not then, but when.
    Not if, but surely,
    the hour unknown,
    but known by Him,
    the One who sends,
    and waits.
Soon will come soon.

Delaying, but coming.
    Those waiting wonder,
     even guess,
     still in the dark,
     waiting on that day
     when the Light shines,
On that day, but not today.

(Mark 1:7)


Thursday, December 8, 2016

At the River

Quietly he stood,
words of the Baptizer
still hanging in the air.
Thinking, deciding, wondering
about walking into the river,
yet, still he stood.

What the prophet asked
was actually unnecessary.
No one like him
needed waters of baptism,
already a Jew, and
already one of God's chosen.

Only those who wanted
what he already had
needed the cleansing waters.
Unlike them, righteous,
needing nothing more
than birth to prove it.

Still, he paused wondering
about the prophet's words.
God's doing something new,
"Repent, be ready!" he cried.
So down he walked,
water rising up over him.

(Mark 1:5)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


An unwelcome guest
in today's sacred spaces,
too smelly,
    camel hair clothing,
    locust breath,
    matted dried honey.
No pew companion for me.

An unwelcome preacher
in today's high pulpits,
too radical,
    wild eyed fanatic,
    Bible thumper,
    calling out sinners.
No word from God for me.

An unwelcome messenger
in today's religious circles,
too unsophisticated,
    nothing held back,
    in your face,
    up close and personal.
No man of God for me.

An unwelcome servant
in a very long line,
too God focused,
    out of step,
    one message,
    faithful to call.
A front man for Jesus.

(Mark 1:6)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Only Grace

Under the water
    the sunlight fades,
    darkness rises up,
    cold and murky.
    Bouncing on toes,
    flailing, kicking,
    now suspended,
    stretched out.
None of me
    holding me up,
only the water.

Under the water
    earth slips away,
    kingdom draws near,
    first dimly,
    now more clearly
    Holy mystery all around,
    old going, new coming,
    sins forgiven, washed away.
God at work,
    not about me,
just His grace.

   (Mark 1:5)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Under the Water

Under the water,
     but not for good,
     just long enough
     to wash sin away.
Downstream they go,
     never seen again,
     so far, forgotten.
Undeserved, but grace given.

Turning away,
    not just a bit,
    but completely,
    never to turn again.
With face set in stone,
    the old behind,
    the new coming,
Faith now a living choice.

Shaking it off,
    but only the water,
    not the change,
    a new heart now.
In Christ transformed,
    now set apart
    to live like Him.
Not for a moment, but eternity.

(Mark 1:4)

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Name him after his father
    they said in the Temple,
    but a name sent by an angel
    from the heavens prevailed.
John would be his name.

Call him prophet or messiah
    they said at the river,
    but one who lived before
    had already given the name,
the voice in the wilderness.

"Great among those born of women"
    said Jesus outside of Nain,
    first known as childhood playmate,
    later faithful servant,
messenger of God.

(Luke 1:59-63, John 1:19-23, Luke 7:28)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Your Time

Time we measure
    in minutes and hours,
    days and weeks.
Still, never content,
     our here and now
     defined by "when" and "if,"
Making watching impossible.

Time You measure
     in ways unknown,
     uncounted moments.
Like an everflowing stream
     You watch,
      paying attention,
Calling us to do the same.

Our measured time,
     like Yours, unnumbered,
     will one day end.
Gathered by eternity,
     and us with it,
     ready or not,
You will come!

(Mark 1:3)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Come Quickly

Lord, it's dark 'round here,
     pitch black,
     can't see my hand,
     before my face.
Lord, it's really, really dark,
     what's out there
      makes me afraid.
Are You out there?

Lord, there's no way out,
       trapped, overcome,
       not going to make it,
       giving up,
Lord, forever feeling let down,
       needed You,
       and still do.
Are You coming, Lord?

Lord, nothing's like before,
       nothing left now
       but blind faith,
       un-defendable hope.
Lord, like You said,
       going to wait,
       staying ready, but
Please, Lord, come quickly.

(Mark 13:32-37)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Always the Same

They say, this land
    beneath our feet
    was once, long ago
    the very ocean floor.
Home to Creek and Cherokee,
    roamed by conquering conquistadores,
    settled by cast out English folks,
    served as bloody battlefields,
    filled food laden tables,
    provided final resting places,
Never the same, always changing.

Another says, heaven and earth
    will indeed pass away
    and nothing will be as it was
Except for the Word of God
    which spoke creation into being,
    led Abraham on a great journey,
    changed the world on Mt. Sinai,
    proclaimed a Kingdom not yet seen,
    and told us again and again, "Fear not!"
Always the same, never changing.

(Mark 13:31)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Sign seekers seldom see,
     always hurrying,
     nowhere, but fast,
     eyes set out yonder
     instead of here.
Looking past the unfolding,
     not for buds on trees,
     but for ripened fruit.
     And so they miss
The signs that are abounding.

Sign searchers seldom find,
      never big enough,
      too mundane,
      talking more
      than listening.
Filled with ego seeking,
       always asking,
       "What's in it for me?"
        And so they go past
The signs that are abounding.

Sign see-ers seldom forget,
       not just about me,
       but mostly about Him,
       focused on the now
       always with thanksgiving.
Captivated by wonder,
       seeing the unseen,
       hearing things not spoken.
       And so they see
The signs that are abounding.

(Mark 13:28-29)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


After You, the angels.
    What a sight it will be.
    Like those shepherds,
    we will surely be afraid.
But, like those men of old,
    we will surely rise,
    to offer shouts of praise,
    to declare undying adoration.

After the angels, the gathering.
    Not a gathering of the robed,
    the rich and well-to-do,
    but folks like me and you.
Folks from heaven and earth,
    though gone, now present,
    voices joining ours
    in joyous unbounded celebration.

After the gathering, the fulfillment.
    All the prayers not answered,
    will surely come to pass,
    even "on earth as it is in heaven."
 And all the promises ever made,
    those hoped for in the heart,
    now seen and known so clearly.

(Mark 13:27)

Monday, November 28, 2016

To Come Again

They looked up
   long, long ago,
   amazed, perplexed,
   wanting Him to stay.
Still He went up,
   lost in the clouds,
   leaving a promise
   to come again.

Others joined them,
   not as long ago,
   sure they knew
   it was time.
Still He delayed
   remaining away
   waiting for the time
   to come again.

And so do we
   watch and wait,
   but only with hope,
   longing for His face.
In the clouds He said,
   upward our face,
   because He promised
   to come again.

(Mark 13:26)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

As in the Beginning

Not just dark,
    but real darkness.
The "can't see your face "
    kind of darkness,
    darkness that is deep,
    darkness that is thick.
Impenetrateable darkness.

Not just cloudy,
     or overly hazy.
The "never seen anything like it"
      kind of day,
      or is it night,
      maybe just chaos.
Catastrophic chaos.

Not just chaos,
      but absolute and total.
The "not going to make it"
       kind of chaos,
       no hopeful stars,
       no smiling moon.
Complete nothingness.

Not just now,
        but as in the beginning.
The "never been before"
        kind of beginning,
        out of darkness,
        out of chaos.
Jesus comes again.

(Mark 13:24-25)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent 2016

Tomorrow begins the Advent season.   Though it will be an unnoticed transition, Advent marks the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar.   Advent goes unnoticed because everyone has their eyes on Christmas, but also because it is a season which centers around preparation for the Christ-event of Bethlehem instead of the Christ-event itself.  The secular community around us has no time for a season of getting ready.  It is always about the now, about not having to wait for anything, and about keeping everyone from any discomfort.  Thus, Advent is counter culture for those who observe it find themselves being taken in a different direction.

The Advent scripture lessons are not about Mary and Joseph, shepherds in the fields, and men from the East coming to worship the babe in the manger.  Instead, the lessons of Advent remind us that the One who has come will come again.  The next coming of Jesus is spoken of as a historical fact not yet realized.  The lessons remind us to live as if that day is today, or tomorrow.  The lessons of Advent also put on center stage John the Baptist, a wild-eyed preacher from the Jordan River, who preaches a single minded message of getting ready for Jesus who is coming.  Repentance is the response for which he calls and repentance means acknowledging something is fundamentally wrong within the heart.   It is no wonder that today's secular culture has no room for Advent and is impatient with a church community that seeks to observe it.

One of the ways I seek to stand in the stream of this Advent tradition is to offer a daily blog posting centering around some of the Advent lessons from the Word.  Tomorrow I will begin again offering a daily Advent reflection.  Anyone who would like to read more is invited to look back at other Advent meditations from the last several years.  Those who have been readers in other years will find this year's offerings to be a bit different.  Though different this time around, my desire is to once again offer a word based on the scripture that might speak to hearts and minds of those who share this journey of faith. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Being Thankful

Being thankful seems easy enough, but sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances which make it more difficult.  We have often heard and we have seen it on billboards at this time of the year that there is always something for which to be thankful.  No matter how bad it seems, these seasonal words tell us to be thankful.  At times it sounds like the guy telling someone in an inescapable pit to look for the silver lining which is, of course, in every cloud.  Or, so they say.  Sometimes the people who tell us to look for the silver lining, or to be thankful in the worst of circumstances are folks who do not want to see how bad things can really be. 
The world with the clouds which always have silver linings is not the world where some folks live.  Some folks live in a world empty of silver lined clouds and the darkness seems so deep that it appears impossible to make it.  If you have never been in that world, then there is something for which to be thankful.  If you have, then you know that the hardest time to find something for which to be thankful is not after going through the darkness, but while you are caught up in it.  The view after the darkness has passed is always different than the view from inside the darkness.
The Word of God speaks of " thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (Ephesians 5:20)  Be patient with those who read those words and loudly say, "Oh, really?  You have to be kidding!"  The view of the world which enables us to always live with a grateful heart is not something we just fall into because we have said "yes" to Christ.  It is the world of those who have endured many bouts where gratitude was overcome by the darkness.  It is the world of those who have learned that God is not going anywhere when we are pushing Him away.  It is the world of those who do not try to deny the deep darkness in which we often find ourselves, but have learned that even in it, God is at work to bring us through.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bearing Burdens

The Word tells us to bear one another's burdens. (Galatians 6:2)   Never an easy thing for most of us to do.  Many of us have enough of our own.  We have such heavy ones on our own shoulders, breaking our own heart, that we cannot really conceive of adding one being carried by another.  We only have so much energy and when all we have is taken in the course of managing the struggles of our own life, it often becomes too much effort to take on those belonging to a friend.  It is not that we are people who do not care, but people who are overwhelmed by the things life is throwing at us. 
But, then, those who bear heavy burdens understand the need people have for burden bearers in their lives.  More than others, they understand that a person burdened with some of the hard things of life cannot make it alone.  Thus, out of their own struggles, the heavily burdened are often given eyes to see those bearing heavy burdens around them.  Surely, we all know they are there.  Even when we do not see them, or their burdens, we know they are ever present with us.  Maybe all we can give in the moment of seeing is a kind word, or some expression of encouragement, or a quietly breathed word of prayer in their behalf. 
Too many times in our search for the grandiose act of compassion, the act that is going to be life changing and unforgettable, we let the ordinary moments pass without offering a word that would identify us as one willing to bear another's burden, even if for just a moment.  In most cases, a moment is enough.  Knowing someone is out there who acknowledges the struggle and who is willing to offer even a little can make a difference which is unthinkable to everyone except the one who bears the burden. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"The Veil is Thin"

"Watch closely today.  The veil is thin."   It was not a cryptic, coded note, but a word I immediately recognized as a reminder that today is All Saints Day.  Is it true that there are moments when those of us on earth are given a hint or glimpses of the glories of heaven?  Is it true that there are some places so saturated with the power of prayer that God is more likely to make Himself known within these earthly confines?  Is it true that there are times when it seems like we do indeed have some kind of mysterious communion with those saints in glory even though we still abide here in this world?  Is it true that glimpses of glory are only a breath away?
There is a part of me which shouts "yes" to each of these questions.  And, more than any other day of celebration on the church calendar, All Saints Day brings me to such a conclusion.  Over the years I have come to experience worship on All Saints Sunday as one of the more powerful Sundays of the year.  Always, we would call the names of those who had departed our earthly fellowship in the past year to become a part of that great cloud of heavenly witnesses and then gather around the Table for the holy meal.  In those moments it was like we were at one end a table that was of this earth, but which also faded away at the other end where the saints gathered.  Connected is what I always experienced on those Sundays when it seemed more than ever that the veil was thin.

I first thought about heaven when I was seven.  Some men in uniform came to our home to tell my family that my father would not be coming home.  With us in the morning, he was gone to the heavenly place in the evening.  The two places are not that far away.  I love the way All Saints Day encourages me to call the names of the saints.  I love the way it causes me to remember with thanksgiving the eternal provision of God.  I love the way it gives me a hope that cannot be quenched.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Silence

"For God alone my soul waits in silence..."  (Psalm 62:1, 5)  Waiting in silence is a hard thing for all of us.  Not even the prospect that God is going to be at the other end of the silence makes it any easier.  When we start listing the things that cause us to fear, silence may not be the first thing which comes to mind, but as we linger thinking beyond our first response, we find that it is closer to the top of the list than we would have thought at first.  Being in silence is like removing the facades and the masks we wear to protect our self from our inner self.  Yet, if we are serious about our life with God, if we are serious about caring for the only part of us created for eternity, we will seek the silence and welcome it when it is finally experienced.
Sometimes we must find our silence midst the chaos and confusion of the noise around us.  Running to the desert or to some quiet hermitage is not an option for us.  If there is going to be silence in our life, we have some responsibilities to be intentional about experiencing it.  Turning off some of the noise makers is surely one thing, but turning up our inner senses which have been dulled for so long is still another.  Some seek the silence to relieve stress, others to clear the mental cobwebs, but as those who trust in God, our soul purpose is to engage Him living within in us even as Jesus promised would happen. 
The Psalmist seems more concerned about the life and welfare of the soul than most 21st century believers do today.   Feeling good is what has been substituted for nurturing and caring for the soul.  Feeling good is about emotions, it is about the external which is always temporal.  The soul is where the inner life is experienced, it is where God chooses to dwell through His Spirit, it is that part of our human existence which was created to live eternally with our Creator God in the heavenly place.  We have no more important believer work to do than finding the silence of God where our soul can be nurtured and shaped.  From that work all others works can come in their proper order.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


I have spent a lifetime trying to create images with the spoken word and the written word.  Some might use paint or photography as their medium of creating images, but mine has always been words.  It has been my hope that the words offered would create images which would engage the experience, the creativity, and the imagination of the ones who were listening.  And while I might have some particular image in mind as I speak, it goes without saying that the listeners may see something completely different due to the unique filters which each one of us brings to any given moment.
As I read the first few verses of the 61st Psalm, I found myself fascinated with the images the writer created with his words.  ",,,from the ends of the earth...the rock that is higher than refuge...a strong tower against the enemy...Your tent...the shelter of Your wings..."  Here are inspired words that help us to see things about God in new and different ways.  And, the amazing thing is that the image brought to mind by these words is not likely to be exactly like the one brought to mind by someone else.  Truly, this speaks of the way the inspired Word of God is living, powerful, and something that probes not just the intellect, but the heart as well.
Consider sitting with one of these images for awhile.  Let the chosen image become a point of meditation.  Ask questions such as:  1)  What picture does the image bring to mind, 2) What does the image tell us about God, 3)  How does the image speak to the needs of my own spiritual life.  Of course, there are many questions which might be useful in opening windows to see the wide scope of these images, but these few might help prime the pump.  When our hearts are opened to the Holy Spirit who inspired the Words, glorious views of the Kingdom are brought into view.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A History Lesson

A history lesson forgotten again and again is the truth that God is involved in the ongoing life and destiny of nations.  Particularly, in these days when the presidential leadership of our country is being decided, it seems that our political future is more determined by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent rather than the glacier like influence of the God of creation.  The scripture is clear that God uses nations and their leaders for His purposes.  And, sometimes neither the nations nor the leaders worshipped Him or recognized His authority.  While God may not act as quickly as an election day bringing change the next day, He is still slowly and steadily moving the nations of the world toward that day when, "(His) kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven."
The 60th Psalm reminds us of this truth, a truth which is prevalent throughout the pages of scripture.  Our history is His history.  Our nation is His nation.  Our future is His future.  This is true of us and true of each one who claims citizenship in a land different than our own.  The Word of God tells us, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is it, and those who live in it."  (Psalm 24:1)  Nations rise and fall; they come and go.  Biblical history as well as secular world history declares this truth.  While nations come and go, the world remains in the care and control of the Creator.
No nation is invincible.  Every nation is vulnerable to the destructive fruit of its own egotism.  No nation has within the seeds of eternity, only the seeds of mortality.  Everything changes except for the God who brought the ever changing creation into existence and who is steadily moving it toward the fulfillment of the Creator's purpose.  While some may dismiss these ramblings as the words of a pessimist, it is simply an acknowledgement that nations cannot stand when the unchangeable core values of the Kingdom of God are laid aside for the ever changing core values of common consensus. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Praying the 59th Psalm

"Lord, this Psalm makes me remember some conflicts and battles within Your church.  Remembering brings a sense of shame.  Regret.  I always saw myself as knowing the right way forward and figured myself on Your side.  Those who opposed me and my way forward  were on another side.  Lord, I'm ashamed to confess this to You after all these years. Maybe some of those struggles were important enough to take a stand, but I fear many of them were about lesser things, trivial things, things that were insignificant in terms of Your Kingdom moving forward.

The Psalmist obviously had those in his life who stood against him, who meant to do him harm. He had every reason to fight against them.  They plotted against him.  They stirred the pot of strife and conflict. (Psalm 59:3)  They called out aloud for all to hear their sharp words which came from a spirit never satisfied.  (Psalm 59:7, 14)  Yet, instead of launching his own attack against these adversaries, he put them in Your keeping.  Instead of engaging adversaries, he turned them over to You, trusting You to handle them. 

What brings about shame are memories of being so focused on my anger that all I did was spend my time plotting against them.  It became a consuming thing that drowned all my energy, my time, and my life.  The Psalmist speaks of another way.  The way I forgot was the way of trusting You to bring about the right I only perceived myself to know.  In my trouble I should have been focused more on You and less on them--even less on me.  Forgive me, Lord.  In Your mercy, Lord, forgive me.  Amen."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Precise and Polite

Most of the time our prayers are precise and polite.  We choose our words carefully.  We use a language reserved only for the sacred quiet moments of our life.  We pray in such a manner that our English teacher would give us an "A."  And, if this has any truth in our private and personal praying, it is even more true of our public praying when our prayers are heard not only by God but other folks as well.  Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do..." (Matthew 6:7)  Heaping up empty phrases is another way of speaking about prayers filled mostly with precise and polite language.
Perhaps, those most susceptible to this prayer warning are those preachers who pray regularly before the congregation, or folks who pray at public events which seem to require a politically correct prayer to get started.  While the 58th Psalm may raise some difficult questions, it is first and foremost an honest and heart felt prayer.  Imagine someone praying publicly, "Lord, break the teeth of our enemies, let them vanish like water that runs away...let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime."  (Psalm 58:6-8)  Nothing politically correct here.  Nothing polite.  Nothing here but raw unfiltered emotions from the heart.  If the 58th Psalm teaches us nothing else, it gives us permission to be as real and as honest as we need to be in our praying.
On our way toward being shaped into the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, God does not need us to play pretend with Him.  He is big enough, and always has been,  to handle any outburst of anger, any bout of disappointment, or any season of doubt.  The prayer of the Psalmist assures us we can express hot raw emotions instead of pious religious platitudes and still be heard and loved by God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ask Now

When I was a child the oft asked question by the grown-up community was, "What do you want to be when you grow up?'  My first answer to the question was farmer.  Later it became meteorologist.  All that changed one night in the Alamo Methodist parsonage when God spoke words that re-directed the course of the years.  I had plans, but He had plans.  I am grateful that at an age when most of us are prone to make the stupid choices that I said "yes" to what I understood then to be part of His purpose for my life.  The childhood question had changed to "What are you going to do with your life?"
The question heard as a teenage was a more serious question.  We are each given a life to live by our Creator God.  We are entrusted with a certain number of years.  The number is unknown to us.  It should not be such a stretch for us to realize that the One who gives them has a purpose for those who are using them.  The Word in the 2nd verse of the 57th Psalm certainly affirms this as it says, "I cry to God Most High who fulfills His purpose for me."  It is a Word which reminds us a more quoted verse of scripture from Jeremiah which causes us to hear God saying, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."  (Jeremiah 29:11) 
Is this purpose revealed to us once and no more?  Does it always relate to the big picture of our life?  Actually, it is something which is constantly being revealed to us.  There was no way a teenage boy kneeling by his bed long years ago could know what God purposed for his life decades later.  There is no way we can know today what He holds for us in the tomorrow of our future.  The question of purpose, the question, "God, what do you want to do with my life today?" is one that we are served well to ask each day.  Think about it a minute.  Be humbled by it.  Be thankful for it.  God has a purpose for each one of us in this very day.  Too many times we miss knowing and fulfilling it because we do not ask.  So, ask.  Ask now. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tears in a Bottle

"Lord, You know better than anyone about my tossing and turning at nights.  It just seems like sleep has become a stranger to the dark hours which go on and on each night.  I have actually prayed asking You for the blessing of peaceful and restful sleep, but somehow it still does not come.  Some nights like tonight I just get up and wander around the house.  Tonight as I struggle through till morning comes, I want to thank You for this Word which says that my tossing is recorded and my tears are collected in a bottle. (Psalm 56:  )  I needed to hear this Word, Lord.  It makes me feel once again that I just might make it.
I guess more than relief from the trouble and the circumstances which are a part of my life is my need to know You know, to know that You care, and that You are working in the midst of the chaos to bring some good in my life.  I know Your Word gives me this assurance over and over and I have given it in Your name to many sufferers You have brought into my life, but it is good to hear it once more.  My head knows it, but my heart has trouble sometimes accepting it.  I guess that is where I have been lately and I thank You for this Word which came tonight in a surprising way.
About that bottle, Lord.  Not sure what David had in mind when he first offered this prayer to You.  Guess it was a bit different than what I see around me, but still it gives me an image of confined and limited space.  So, while it seems to me that the tears and tossing has no end, could not possibly be contained in anything, it is good to see a single bottle which helps me put it in a different perspective.  You know and it will finally come to an end.  A bottle can only hold so much.  Maybe now I can sleep.  Thanks again, Lord, for a good Word in the night."

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Hard Place

The 55th Psalm brought me to a hard place.  It brought me to a place of remembering times of disappointment caused by friends I thought were in my corner.  Life is sure to bring moments of disappointment, but being let down by people you figured you could count on is a bitter pill to swallow.  Sometimes it is so bitter and the scar runs so deep that the moment takes root and festers in the soul for years and years before it gets handled.  Of course, some unfortunately never get handled.  As the Word of God brought some of those memories to mind, I was forced to ask if forgiveness had really be allowed to do its work in my heart, or was something lingering other than just a memory.
The Psalm speaks not just of anguish caused by another, but the anguish caused by the betrayal of one who was a friend.  Verses 13-14 reveals this to us as it says, "It is not enemies who taunt me--I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me--I could hide from them.  But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng."   A little later in the Psalm, more details are offered, "My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me."  (vs. 20)  Disappointment and betrayal leads to anger and resentment.  Anger and resentment kept in the heart does serious damage to the soul and our relationship to God whom we have betrayed and disappointed more times than can be remembered.
Soul work is not always done in the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  Actually, most of it gets done in settings far more mundane.  Whenever and wherever we are brought to an awareness by the Holy Spirit that some past damage to a relationship still causes us grief and ill will toward another, it is time for some soul work.  This is why the Spirit works in us to bring it to mind.  It may be that our look inward look will enable us to know that we have rightly handled a difficult moment, but it may also reveal to us that we need to ask God for help in handling something we have allowed to linger too long.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"All About Me" Prayers

A reading on prayer told me to begin prayer with a time of praise to God.  After praising God, the writing directed me to spend some time in thanksgiving and after the thanksgiving, there should be a time of intercession for those in need.  When all this is completed, the time remaining could be spent in praying for personal needs.  Of course, we understand that this pattern for prayer keeps us from turning our prayer time into something which resembles a Christian list of wants and wishes.  Also, implied within these prayer instructions was the idea that if any part of prayer should be short-changed, let it be the part that focuses on personal needs.
But, it is also true that each one of us has personal needs peculiar to our own living.  What is needed is not a prayer pattern that makes us guilty for prayers about me, but one that helps us maintain balance between the "me prayers" of our life and the other kinds of praying.  The 54th Psalm is an example of prayer that could be characterized as one that is "all about me"  It begins with "Save me, O God, by Your mercy, and vindicate me by Your might.  Hear my prayer, O God, give ear to the words of my mouth."  (Psalms 54:1-2)  And as the rest of the prayer is read, it is obvious that this prayer is one of those "all about me" prayers.

While a prayer life that consists of nothing but "all about me" prayers would be unhealthy spiritually, such prayers are not to be avoided anymore than we would avoid sharing with a good friend the difficulties and troubles of our life.  Certainly, God delights in hearing prayers that speak of our compassion for our neighbors, but He is also a Father who is interested in the struggles that we own as we pray.  When Jesus taught us to pray "Our Father,"  He opened the door for us to enter into an intimate relationship where personal needs are shared naturally and without any fear or hesitation.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I Want to Say

I want to say
    I never said
    there is no God,
And maybe not.
     But a time or two
     when left alone
I said the unimaginable
     declared Him uncaring
     and cursed His name.

I want to say
     I've not seen
     an ego driven fool.
Maybe not, but
      now and again
      there is reflected
In the mirror
      the real me and
      a willful heart.

I want to say
     God looks down,
     sees a wise soul.
And maybe so,
     just not now,
     but sometimes,
When living says
      my only hope,
      seeking His face.

  (Psalm 53) 

Friday, October 21, 2016

On the Wheel

"It's on the wheel" is a saying often used and heard around these parts.  The meaning is rather obvious.  "What goes around comes around" is another way of expressing it.  The full of energy young person who has no time for the unsteady slow movement of the elderly may one day find that youthful energy has been replaced by the weakness of a body grown ancient.  Those who have no compassion for the sick may one day find themselves in need of someone's compassion.  Those who carelessly step on others to get to the top will likely find themselves being stepped on by the uncaring ambition of another.  "It's on the wheel" is another way of saying that people often get what they deserve.
The 52nd Psalm announces a surprise for those who figure they have life by the tail.  To those who think they are secure and untouchable, the Word says, "But God will break you down forever, He will snatch and tear you from your tent; He will uproot you from the land of the living."  (Psalm 52:5)  When we choose to take refuge in our abundant riches and seek refuge in them instead of God, we may end up being surprised at how it all ends for us.  I have never known anyone who when dying ask that their bank accounts be emptied and the money placed on the bed with them.  Instead, they chose the family they loved.  Instead of seeking a last minute stock market report, they took comfort in the Word and the prayers of those who cared for them.
There is nothing wrong with wealth.  If we are using the internet, we must consider ourselves one of the world's wealthy.  If we have enough food that we throw some of it away, we must consider ourselves one of the world's wealthy.  There is nothing sinful about living with wealth, but we must also be sure that we understand we immediately become very poor when we trust in it instead of God.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


The 51st Psalm is about sin.  Oh, there are other themes which might be put before this one and most folks would make such a choice because no one really wants to talk about, confess, or deal with sin.  As far as the secular culture around us is concerned, sin does not exist.  Unfortunately, some sacred communities seem to agree.  However, sin is what prompted David to pray this prayer.  We know David's sin.  Actually, what started out as lust snowballed into a list of sins that must have delighted the Devil.  What started out as a sin experienced in the inner chamber of the heart led to taking the life of a soldier whose loyalty to David could not be compromised.
Sin can be a blatant as breaking all of the Ten Commandments or as subtle as spiritual entitlement.   David was, perhaps, guilty of both.  Of course, if such was the case, he is not alone.  We have all done things which we knew beforehand would be displeasing to God, but still it was full steam ahead.  Blatant sin is something we understand.  And, of course, it is also true that we often live as if we are entitled to a kind of favor from God which makes us "the exception to the rule," or the one whose spiritual life merits better circumstances than those in which we find ourselves.   Have we never told God that we deserve better than what He was giving or providing?  Have we never felt that our sacrificial service to God at least merited a thank you, or some special recognition?  Spiritual entitlement may be not be as obvious to us, but probing the heart will no doubt bring us to a place of confessing this as well.
Regardless of how we do it, or define it, sin is a terrible thing.  David fully understood this truth.  He knew his only hope for forgiveness was mercy.  He greatly feared the consequences of his sin.  Sin always has them and what David feared most of all was being cast away from the presence of God and being forsaken by the Holy Spirit.  No matter what some say nothing has changed through the centuries.  Sin still separates us from God and mercy is our only hope.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Praying the 50th Psalm

"Mighty God, who calls the earth to life and who speaks to the heavens above it,  You have chosen to establish a holy covenant with the flawed and sinful ones like me.  Forgive me, Lord, for calling mine what I know is Yours.  I see the land around me, the few cows that graze on a single hill, the animals from the woods, and the birds flying in the air and I have called them mine.  I have spent a lifetime gathering things, Lord.  Things that make me feel good.  Things that make me think I am a success.  Things that make me think I am in control.  Help me, Lord, not to hold too tightly.

Help me, too, Lord, to live in a way that honors You.  In difficult circumstances when there seems to be nothing but trouble all around me, help me to live with a grateful heart.  Give me eyes to see something other than just my troubles.  Help me to see how You are at work in my life so that I might speak real words of gratitude and not just the platitudes of gratitude.  If I cannot get where I need to be, where You want me to be in the present moment, then, Lord, help me to be moving in the right direction.

Lord, I am grateful for Your help and Your forgiveness.  I know I am not who I have been called to be; yet, You have been faithful to give me mercy, not just once, but again and again.   I know nothing else to say or offer except my deep gratitude.  I would be lost without the way You have led me along through my life and these recent days.  It seems that all I know to do when praying is to say, "Lord, have mercy," and You have and You do.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank You.  Amen."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Come and Go

Yesterday as before
    I walked with others
    to this place of stones,
       leaving loved ones,
       carrying away memories,
And so we come and go.

Today among them I stand
    wondering if they knew
    how finite, how fragile
       was this life called theirs.
        No sign of wealth or race,
And so they come and go.

Tomorrow I join them
     remembered for a moment
     but soon forgotten.
        A body at rest
        a soul stirring for eternity,
And so I come and so I go.

(Psalm 49)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Marching to Zion

It is amazing that the church is still singing the hymns of Isaac Watts.  In 1707 believers started singing, "Come, ye that love the Lord, and let your joys be known; join in a song of sweet accord, join in a song of sweet accord, and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.  We're  marching to Zion, beautiful,  beautiful, Zion.  We're marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God."  I always have enjoyed singing this old hymn with the congregation of God's gathered people.  It is one of those songs which has a way of filling the room with a vision of something hoped for, but still not seen.
Of course, to read the references to Zion in the 48th Psalm brings to mind the mountain fortress David used and then the temple area built by Solomon in Jerusalem.  Both are spoken of as Zion.  But, over the centuries the term has not only been used to speak of a literal geographic place, but the habitation of the all powerful and ever present God of the scripture.  The physical Zion has its spiritual counterpart as the spiritual, invisible, but ever present City of God.  It is this vision of Zion which fills the believers heart as the Isaac Watts' hymn is sung and the feet start feel like marching.
We live in this world which is filled with physical spaces which are seen, but there are also those moments when it seems that the physical has its spiritual counterpart which is separated by the thinnest of veils.  Those whose hearts are attuned to God may see visions of heaven as did some of the prophets, some may heart whispers of divine voices, and some may sense that they have been ushered into the presence of the gathered crowd of heavenly witnesses.  And sometimes as we stand in the midst of all that is mundane, there is no other explanation except to declare that glory has  broken into our earthly existence.  The image of Zion points us toward a life where expectations of such abound in the heart of the expectant and faithful believer. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wear Ear Plugs

If you are a unexcited and reserved Presbyterian who regards clapping in the sanctuary as an abomination, or, if you are a empty-of-emotion Methodist who likes worship to be so quiet you can hear the deep snoring around you, or, if you are an unbendable wet-all-over Baptist who does not want anything to ever change, or, if you are one of those "I'm against everything that ain't old" Pentecostals who is uninterested in new ways to praise God,--if you are anyone of these, then you will need some ear plugs when you read the 47th Psalm. 
The 47th Psalm is a noisy and rambunctious piece of holy scripture.  It begins with "Clap your hands, all you people" only to be followed by "shout to God with loud songs of joy."   Already it is getting out of hand for those of who call ourselves Methodists!  But, there is more.  Verses 6-7 read, "Sing praises to God, sing praises, sing praises to our King, sing praises...sing praises with a psalm."  Sounds like a lot singing for those whose worship is musically limited!   Finally, the clincher comes with verse 5 which says, "God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet."   Must be true that heaven is a noisy place full of praises that would overwhelm human ears.
This Psalm is truly a Psalm of praise.  It is one that exalts God and anyone who truly reads it is left with no alternative but to join in the spirit of praise which leaps from its verses.  Like a mountain waterfall that noisily spills over the precipice and cascades down a sheer wall into a waiting tumultuous pool, so does the praise of God spill out of this Psalm into the heart of anyone who comes to it with a spirit of praise and worship.  But, be warned.  Either join in the stream of praise, or go buy yourself some ear plugs for there is nothing which can be done to stop the praise that is ongoing to this mighty God revealed to us in the Word.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

From the Fifth Grade

Mrs. Shoemaker was my fifth grade teacher at Wacona Elementary in Waycross, Ga. long years ago.  Like every other fourth grader, I wanted to be promoted and assigned to her class.  She did more than teach us the 3 R's.  We learned to play real music with a plastic flutophone.  Every day we practiced until our group rendering of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" sounded good enough to record.  And she taught us poetry.  As a class we mastered stanzas of poetry and used them for our first experience in choral reading.  Even back then there was something powerful let loose when a group of voices were raised to offer a spoken choral reading.
As powerful as it is, the 46th Psalm is even more powerful when read aloud by the gathered congregation.  However, such is hardly done anymore and when it is done in the form of a responsive reading, or litany, everyone seems more interested in getting it finished than experiencing the power of the Word being proclaimed by the worshipping host of people.  In my United Methodist tradition, people talk about wanting a Biblically based church, but no one wants to read it, or even listen to it being read during the worship hour.  Give us plenty of singing, a good measure of preaching, but keep the reading of the Word to a minimum.
Ah, but read this powerful 46th Psalm and imagine what it would sound like to have it read enthusiastically by a gathered group of 20, or 50, or a hundred, or more.  Even now while alone read those words aloud slowly and hear them as they come back from across the room to you.  Feel the power of the Words.  Know the power of the Spirit coming alive within them.  Allow yourself to long to be surrounded by lovers of God who are eager to let loose their tongues to lift up these Words of scripture with one great voice.  Be overwhelmed, be overcome, be filled, and be overjoyed with praise to this God who is our constant refuge and strength even when the earth beneath us has shaken us to the core of our being.   

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Surprising Word

After reading the 45th Psalm over and over for a period of four or  more days, I came to the conclusion that it clearly did not belong in the book of Psalms, or even the Bible.  It is hard to convince yourself that is a prayer like other Psalms since it begins with "I address my verses to the king."  Some might do a stretched interpretation which makes the king, Yahweh, but at this point, it is too much a stretch for me.  It even has the heading, "An Ode for a Royal Wedding" which bring back memories of high school English.

I suppose I could have gone to a commentary for insight since I did not seem to be receiving any on my own, but searching a commentary is not the same as searching the scripture for what the Word of God is saying to me today.  Just before throwing the 45th Psalm into the trash of un-explainable, it came to me that there is a Word here about our attitude toward leaders, and just maybe our attitude toward those around us whose lives seem filled to overflowing with material blessings not possessed by the average person who knows life as a day-to-day struggle.  Jesus spoke of giving to Caesar his due and Paul reminds us to be submissive to governing authorities.  (Matthew 22:21)  (Romans 13:1) 

Most of the time we are too quick to speak ill of those who govern us and in some cases those who govern us give us good reason for our negative attitudes.  And just maybe the difference becomes so sharp that we start regarding some as our political enemy for whom we desire only the worst of things.  Such an attitude is hard to reconcile with Jesus telling us to love and pray for our enemies.  Before we do either, we must truly desire good things for those who lead us.  The Psalmist joins Jesus in pointing us in such a direction.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Basis

David may be high on the "man of faith" totem pole, but he is never so high that his feet lose contact with the clay upon which he stood and with which his feet were made.  One verse of the 44th Psalm sends my mind to the more familiar 51st.  In the last verse of the 44th Psalm we hear him praying to God, "Redeem us for he sake of Your steadfast love."  As he prays heavy with an awareness of his sin in the 51st Psalm, we hear, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy..."  Unlike many of today's sinners seeking forgiveness, David is not one who pleads the case of his own goodness, or asks for exemptions, or has any sense of entitlement.
Instead, he asks for redemption on the basis of the steadfast love of God.  In this 44th Psalm he does ramble around a bit in the land of trying to convince God he has not sinned ( vs. 17-18, 20), but he finally comes to this place of casting himself not upon his perceived notion of personal goodness, but upon the constant and steadfast love of a God he knows is consistently full of mercy.  David and many others who simply saw the Lord and cried out for mercy point us in the right direction.

The mercy of God is our hope.  Our goodness is no hope, only an illusion.  As David asked to be seen according to the steadfast love of God, so do we ask only to be seen as one who stands before the cross declaring it our only hope.  The cross certainly speaks of the steadfast love of God, but it is also a signal of the mercy of God.  Once we sin, we are made whole only because of the blood of Christ on the cross.  Our ideas about personal goodness, our declaration of good deeds, and our record of sacrifice count for nothing alongside of our sin.  The only thing which can finally deliver us is something outside of ourselves and that is the shed blood of the Son of God on the cross called Calvary.  The only place to kneel and ask for mercy and forgiveness is the cross.  There is no other saving option.  Only the mercy afforded to us at the cross where Jesus died can save us. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Real Question

If the 43rd Psalm sounds familiar, there is a good reason.  The final verse which begins with "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?"  and the additional ones about hoping in God can be found exactly alike in verses 5 and 11 of the 42nd Psalm.  Although not exactly literal, the same kind of repeating language can be found in the 9th verse of Psalm 42 and the 2nd verse of Psalm 43.  More than separate Psalms, they seem like one Psalm that some literary editor decided to break in order to make two.  Once this strong connection is seen, it is impossible to read them without asking, "Why?"
While going to a commentary and reading the insight of a proven Biblical scholar might shed some light on the question, it is not really a strong enough issue for me to pull a weighty theological volume from the shelf.  And besides, there is another more important truth in place as I reflect on the Psalm.  What is important is not literary, but spiritual.  What is important is hearing what resonates in my own heart as the spoken Word of God.  The "why" question is noted, but I can also lay it aside for the moment as I search for he Word which my own soul needs.
Sometimes I struggle to acknowledge both the presence and the needs of my own soul.  In many ways this Psalm is a prayer in which the one praying is searching out the deep recesses of the inner being where the Spirit of God Himself dwells along with that part of the human creation which was indeed created in His image.  There is, therefore, a mysterious part of my created being which both reflects and bears the presence of God.  The soul given to me as a gift in the very beginning has the capacity to glorify God as well as to bring divine glory into the life of this unworthy and flawed man.  Perhaps, the real question is not the 'why" question that speaks to literary issues, but the question, "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" when God in His glory chooses to dwell within me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Soul Longing

While no one would dare argue that the 23rd Psalm is the most well-known and most quoted Psalm in the Bible, I often think the first few verses of the 42nd Psalm would come in a not too distant second.  It is a Psalm about spiritual longing.  "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, O God.  My soul thirst for God, for the living God."  (Psalm 42:1-2)  We can understand something about the desire of longing.  A hungry person longs for food.  A thirsty one longs for a drink of water.  A lover longs for the one whose presence brings great joy.  But, still this physical longing that we experience is a poor comparison to the kind of longing put forth by the writer of the Psalm.
There is something within us is which in being created by God can never be satisfied apart from knowing His presence.  While we spend great amounts of our money and time caring for the physical part of our life, it is really made of temporary stuff that will desert us in old age and most assuredly in death.  The body is made only for the earth, but the soul within us from the moment of conception will survive even death.  It is our God given means of knowing our Creator while inside this temporary physical body, and, finally, when the body is done, it is will become our means of sharing eternity with Him.  The soul longs not for more stuff, but more of the presence of God.
Unfortunately, most of us suffer from soul neglect.  We live as if it is an incidental and unnecessary part of our life when in fact soul nurturing is the essence of life.  The soul is nurtured only through its life with the God who brought it into being.  Jesus once said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell."  (Matthew 10:28)  The soul.  It is important.  It connects us to God at conception; sustains us in our life; and delivers us in death.

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Alternate Translation

An alternate translation of  "Happy are those who consider the poor..." reads "Happy are those who consider the weak..."  (Psalm 41:1)  In light of the rest of the Psalm, the word "weak" seems the more appropriate translation choice.  It is verse 3 which brings me to this conclusion as it says, "The Lord sustains them on their sickbed, in their infirmities You heal all their infirmities."  While it is true that the scripture calls for protection of the poor and while it is also true that Jesus focused much of his energy on this group of people, the concern of the Psalmist seems directed toward the physically weak and broken.
The world around us is filled with these people.  Unfortunately, for many of those who populate the strong and healthy community, the weak and broken are an invisible group.  The healthy strong are often in too big a hurry to get where they are going to be able to see the slower broken members of their community and when they do see them, it is with a dismissive attitude which expresses the belief that "it is them and not me."   Or, maybe it is true that we race by the sick and infirmed because we cannot live with the reality of how fragile and precarious life is for all of us whether we are strong or weak.
And so, the Word says to us, "Happy (Blessed) are those who consider the broken..."  Pausing to share in the pain of our brothers and sisters not only give us a much needed perspective on our life, but we often find that those who seem so weak have so much to offer in terms of seeing the things which are truly important.  The weak may have bodies that are broken, but their spirits can speak to us of courage and their faith can truly point us toward God who is for all of us our only hope.  The person who does not run the other way when faced with the broken weakness of humanity can only become stronger for the many battles which are surely ahead.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Miry Bog

Whenever I read the 40th Psalm, I always remember the witness of a professor and Dean at Asbury College.  In those days we were required to attend chapel three mornings a week and there were attendance checkers in the balcony to make sure all the assigned seats were filled.  When this particular professor shared a personal witness and said, "The Lord lifted me out of the miry bog and planted my feet upon a rock,"  I did not know at the time he was quoting the 2nd verse of this Psalm.  It would be much later that I would come across this verse and remember that he was the one from whom I first heard it. 
Even though he was a Dean of a college and I was but a mere student, we had something in common.  We were both delivered by the power of Christ in our lives.  We both walked in the miry bog for a time in our lives and thought it to be how people were supposed to live.  And no matter how far we rise from our beginnings, no matter how much power others give to us, no matter how much of the world's goods we possess, we are never more than just a step away from the miry bog.  The only ones who fail to understand how close faithful life is lived to the miry bog are those who are still in it, or who have become prideful, self-sufficient, and too full of themselves.
Sometimes it has seemed that the rock upon which I been enabled to stand is such a small rock.  Sometimes it has seemed as slippery as a flat rock in a creek bed.  But, what I have come to learn over years of slipping in sin and being picked up again by grace is that is it not really such a small rock.  Actually, it is not a rock, but the Rock.  As the song goes, "On Christ the solid Rock I stand."  We only can fall when we look more at our agility and skill at walking than the Rock underneath our feet.