Sunday, July 31, 2016


I have always liked the word, "abundance."  It speaks of more than enough.  It calls to mind a harvest that is beyond expectations.  It is a word that calls attention to being blessed.  Perhaps, it is used most often during the Thanksgiving season as families gather around overflowing tables.  The Scripture also uses the word abundantly throughout its pages to speak of the blessings of God.  Jesus spoke of Himself as the giver of abundant life.  "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  (John 10:10)  What a good Word for those of us who are often tempted to settle for the mundane and call it average and ok in our spiritual life!

The 31st Psalm also uses the Word as it speaks of God.  In verse 19 the Scripture says,  "O how abundant is Your goodness that You have laid up for those who fear You, and accomplished for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of everyone."  And, these are not the words of a man who is looking back at God's deliverance, but a man who is in the throes of great troubles.  His body is suffering and his spirit is assailed by the attacks of those who only seek to do him harm.  Here he is in the midst of his prayer praising God for a goodness that is surely coming to him.

God does a lot of work for us in the abundant department.  He is never content with just getting us through some trouble by the skin of our teeth.  He is not working so that we will manage to know just enough spiritual power to hang in there.  Instead, with abundant blessings He come to us promising that no adversary shall prevail and no power shall overcome.  Anyone needing proof of God's ability to do the abundant work promised should read more of these Psalms, the gospel story, and stop by the empty tomb.   Indeed, God's goodness is not just good, it is abundantly good.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Words

Maybe it happened when my Mother started taking me as a young boy to the public library.  Or, maybe it happened in Mrs. Evans' high school English class .  As I look back I am not always sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became captivated with words.  I have spent my life writing and speaking words.  Words have been my tool.  Words have been the way I sought to be faithful to the divine call to preach the Word.  Words have been my means of expressing the things within me.  Sometimes the words come easy; sometimes not so easy.  I have been trying to create images with words long enough to know that when it happens it is more a thing of grace than skill.
When we read the Psalms there are often moments when we no longer seek to understand the meaning, or wonder about the thoughts being conveyed.  Instead there are those moments when the beauty of the words as they are put together just cause us to sit back in wonder.  Sometimes they create images that call us to simply experience the beauty and power of the words as they have been put together.  The 30th Psalm has several verses which call us to such wonder.  Verse 5 says, "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning."  And then there is verse 11 which says, "You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy."

Who among us has not longed for joy in the morning and dancing while going through darkness?  Who among us not longed for a new day, a new season, a new spirit?  Who among us has not longed to know the blessing of God's joy breaking in among us?  This is the blessing the Word promises so even if still in the night of mourning, get ready for joy is surely going to come.  It is God's promise.  Savor the promise until some morning your feet finally start dancing again!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pure Praise

All of us know that prayer has at least four basic elements:  1) praise, 2) confession 3) intercession 4)thanksgiving.  With enthusiasm we offer our praise through the church's hymns on Sunday morning, but in our personal moments of quiet prayer, it often seems to be the one element which gets the short end of the stick.  When we pray, we may begin with "Our Father," but what quickly follows are words like, "I need You to..."  Or, we may pray more pointed prayers and jump quickly to praying, "Lord, Let me tell You what You need to do."   What we must honestly admit is that most of our praying somehow seems to fall into the intercession category.
What makes the 29th Psalm such an interesting prayer is that there is only one of the four elements of prayer in it and that is praise.  From the first verse until the last it is pure praise.  There are no pleas for help, or deliverance, healing, or the destruction of enemies.  The whole prayer is one expression extolling the majesty and power of God.  Surely, God was blessed greatly when He first heard this prayer from his servant David.  And, surely David was blessed by devoting himself to such a moment of praising God.
If we wonder about such being true, all we need to do is to give it a try.  The next time we bend the knee, bow the head, and enter into a time of prayer, make praising God the business of the hour.  Do nothing but offer praise to Him from the depth of your heart.  Praise Him for His steadfast love, for His mercy, for His majestic acts, for His powerful life giving Spirit.  Praise Him.  Let every breath carry praise from within you into the spheres of heaven that it might fill His holy heart.  Forget about confession and asking and thanking.  Just offer praise and adoration to God.  Bless Him and be blessed through a moment of pure praise!

Thursday, July 28, 2016


All of us have had those moments of praying when it seemed that they never made it out of the room.  Certainly, we have offered those prayers we were sure no one, not even God, heard.  Others might sing, "God answers prayers in the morning...," but we would not likely not join in the singing, at least not with any conviction or enthusiasm.  We have been there.  But, we have also had those moments of praying when we were sure God was listening and caring and acting to help.  What we regarded as an answer to our prayer came speedily and in such a way there was no doubt God had provided the deliverance and help we needed.
However, what often happens after we take note of God's response to our prayers is something which borders on unthinkable.  We pray.  God responds.  And, we forget to say a simple, "Thank You."  Not so with the Psalmist.  In the early verses of the 28th Psalm, we hear him praying, "Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry out to You for help..." (vs. 3)   And then later there comes words of confidence and thanksgiving as he prays, "The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him."  (vs. 7)  Surely, we know our intercession is not complete until there is thanksgiving.

A gospel story which comes to mind is that story of the ten lepers who met Jesus on the road.  They asked not for healing.  Like many of us they simply cried out, "Jesus Master, have mercy on us."  (Luke 17:13)  We know how that story ends.  Those who did not ask for healing, but instead asked only for mercy found a wholeness never thought possible.  One returned with a grateful heart while the others went on their way like many of us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

One Thing

Like many before me who have turned to the 27th Psalm, I found myself stuck at verse 4.  "One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after..."  As I tried to pull myself loose and move on, I thought about Jesus telling a host who was too busy, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing..." (Luke 10:41-42)  And, I remembered, too, the would-be-disciple who turned away after hearing Jesus say, "You lack one thing..."  (Mark 10:21)  While it seems we often have trouble with the one thing mentality lifted up by the Word, the Psalmist appears to have it figured out.
The one thing for David was being in the presence of the Lord.  "One thing I thing I live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life..."  Presence.  Being in the presence of God.  This is the one thing of value to the man who prays this prayer.  Too often in our prayers, we get hung up on the things we want God to do, the things we want Him to give, or the spiritual blessings we seek to become a better Christian.  Confessing that God and God alone is not enough may be a hard thing for us to do, but it is where many of us as praying believers get stuck.
I remember to this day from my seminary days a professor of theology named Claude Thompson.  He came to class those two quarters with a sharp mind and a body being ravaged by cancer.  The second quarter he also came with a wheel chair.  But, he came.  He continued to come.  I know he laid down a foundation for good theology with his teaching, but mostly, I remember the things not in text books that I learned by just being in his presence those hours.  What I learned from being where he was while he was being faithful to God's call on his life was a blessing far beyond any I would have thought to ask.  Surely, such blessings in an even greater way come to us by seeking the Presence of God and nothing more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Hesed.  Hebrew,
    Not of convenience,
      or expediency,
    not today
       gone tomorrow.
But, always.  Forever.

Hesed.  Steadfast.
    No strings,
       no conditions,
     regardless of who,
      or what comes.
Just present.  Always.

Hesed.  God's love.
    Like a rock,
    or eternity,
Forever constant.  Amen.

(Psalm 26:3)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Just a Sinner

David could have spoken of himself in a lot of different ways.  Son of Jesse.  Shepherd.  Giant Slayer.  Friend.  Leader of men.  Father.  Husband.  King.  Power Broker. But, in the 25th Psalm he uses none of these titles.  What is interesting is that he identifies himself, or speaks of himself, as a sinner three separate times.  "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions..."  he prays. (vs. 7)   In another place we hear him praying, "..pardon my guilt, for it is great." (vs. 11)  And finally, he prays, "Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins."  (vs. 18)  David was not a perfect man, but at least in this moment of praying to God, he was a man who was seeking to be transparent, real, and honest before the God who was hearing his prayers.
It may seem a bit odd to many of this day and age to continually speak of oneself as a sinner.  The value in doing so can be found in those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  As each one speaks, he or she begins by saying, "I am John and I am an alcoholic."  The person speaking may be a bank president, doctor, nurse, or ditch digger, but in that moment reality demands speaking of oneself as an alcoholic.  To do so helps keeps each one in the real world that is their actual life.  It is really not any different for any of us who know both the name folks call us and the one we know ourselves to be.  We are sinners.  I am Bill and I am a sinner. 
To live within such a reality is not an exercise in personal debasement, but a step toward wholeness.  David knew his own brokenness.  Each of us knows ours.  We do not need someone else to call it out for us.  We know.  More importantly, God knows.  And there is something about our honesty about who we really are that opens our life to God's mercy and our own wholeness.  Speak the words.  "Lord, I am sinner.  Lord, I am a sinner."  Speak it until it finally strikes home in your soul and know the peace and mercy God gives to every one who is willing to come to terms with who he or she really is. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Two Questions

The 24th Psalm is built upon two questions.  The first is in verse 3 and reads, "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?"  The second question if found in verse 8 and asks, "Who is the King of glory?"  One question is about us and the other is about God.  There is no mystery here.  The questions are not rhetorical.  Each one is answered within the context of the Psalm.  The first question is answered with the words, "Those who have clean hands and pure hearts..."  and the second is answered as the Word says, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle."  (vs. 4, 8)
Most of the time it can be said with merit that our theological systems and statements make things more complicated than they really need to be.  Jesus had a way of cutting through all the bull of the prevailing theological systems which were really more like a code of law than pure theology.  In a theological world made too complicated by religious hierarchy's desire to control and dominate others, Jesus made it as simple as loving God and loving one another.  Those who had sold their souls to a religious system could not even begin to embrace such a simple understanding of how men and women should live in order to be righteous before God.
How God wants us to live is not a complicated thing and we are wise to temper personal judgments that exclude some people because they do not agree with us on every item in our theological basket.  This is not to say that what is important about our faith must be compromised, but to say that we need to let grace and mercy abound in those places where confusion seems to reign.  Better to be one who helps folks find the gate that leads to God than to be one that bars the way. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Praying the 23rd Psalm

"Lord, I cannot help but wonder about myself.  Why is it that I must be made to lie down in green pastures?  Why must I be led into the still waters?  And, why must I be led in paths of righteousness?  Why is it that I cannot make the sensible choices for myself?  Why must I be made and led?  Why is it necessary?  Why is it that I cannot do the thing which makes sense without You making me and leading me?  What is there about me that requires me to live so dependent on You to put me in the right places?  Why can I not get there on my own? 
Am I really so much like a sheep?  Dependent on a shepherd to get me what I need.  Do I not pay attention to where I am?  Am I so blinded by taking the next bite that I pay no attention to the places my feet are taking me?  Am I living so aimlessly that I have no sense of danger lurking around me?  Am I really so vulnerable  to preying powers that mean me harm?  Am I really so guided by the herd instinct that I cannot make the good choices for myself?   Am I really like those smelly sheep who live so unmindful of the world around them?
But, Lord, the most important question is this:  Are You really the Good Shepherd?  Are You really looking out for my best interest?  Are You really working constantly to keep the good in my life?  Are You the One I can count on for provision, security, and safety?  Are You who You say You are?
I know the answer to the first question about myself.  I know I am prone to make wrong choices and be led to places dangerous to my soul.  And, I know, too, the answer to the second question.  The One about You.  You are dependable.  You are One upon Whom I can count and depend.  As sure as I know I am as needy as those sheep so do I know You are going to be there for me, and I thank You."

Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Cross

It is impossible to read the opening words of the 22nd Psalm without remembering that these words were spoken from the cross by Jesus.  "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"  (Mt. 27:46)  It was not a mumbled word, but one, according to Matthew, which was shouted out with a loud voice.  Religious tradition around the cross has made these words one of the seven last words Jesus spoke from the cross.  Jesus was dying.  The end was pressing hard upon Him.  But, it was not the death which caused Jesus to sense separation from the Father, but the weight of my sin and your sin, the weight of the sin of the world, upon Him which caused such despair and agony in His soul. 
As we find ourselves caught up in those moments of hearing Him quote these opening words of the 22nd Psalm, we cannot help but wonder if he silently remembered the rest of those words and spoke them in His heart.  Surely, there are other parts of that Psalm which have powerful meaning for the moment of crucifixion.  Verses 14-18 are some of those verses which take us to the cross centuries before it was raised on Calvary.  We do know that Jesus was well acquainted with the inspired sacred
Word of the Hebrew tradition which included the Psalms.  He made reference to those teachings and called them to mind many times as He was teaching.
What Jesus did in that hour of darkness is not an uncommon thing for any person who walks this life and is overcome by its darkness.  When we have no place to go, we turn to the Sacred Pages.  When there is no voice but the voice of hopelessness, we listen and pray to hear the living Word speak to us.  When we need to find our way forward, we look for the Word to guide us.  When we find ourselves unable to move, we do what Jesus did, we remember the Word, we repeat the Word, and we let the Word do its mysterious work in our broken and waiting hearts. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Knowing Self

While we look at ourselves every day at least once, or twice, and perhaps, even more, it still remains a hard task for most of us to see ourselves as we really are.  Like the mirror in the Snow White tale, we only want it to tell us what we want to see.  Of course, we do not need a mirror to see the images of self that we carry around with us.  We do not need a mirror to see the person who has it all together, or the person who is self-reliant, or the person who is ambitious, or lazy, or brilliant.  Ah, yes, we see ourselves in all sorts of ways.  Some of them tell the lie of the mirror and some of them are brutally honest.
In the 21st Psalm we are enabled to see how David sees himself.  In some ways it is a surprising self image for a King.  According to the Psalm, who David sees is not so much about himself as it is about God.  In the words of the Psalm we read such phrases as, "You have given his heart's desire...You meet him with rich blessings...You set a crown of fine gold on his head...You gave life...His glory is great through Your help...You make him glad with the joy of Your presence..."  Instead of looking at his wealth or his status or his power among men, David looks to God and understands that all his life is dependent not on these things, but on the Almighty God who blesses him.
How much better life is lived when we are able to acknowledge that we are nothing without the blessings of the Father God.  How much better life is lived when we realize that life is not about what we have achieved, how much we have accumulated, or how many people look in awe at us, but about the blessings and the mercy of God.   We live too much as if our next breath is something we can guarantee when, in fact, God is the One who grants the blessing of breath.  How we see ourselves is certainly different when we live as one who knows it is all about God and not about self.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


When I was a teenager growing up in a small south Georgia town, church and school formed the nucleus of my social life.  One of the church functions attended weekly was Methodist Youth Fellowship, better known as MYF.  Each Sunday night gathering ended with all of us standing in a circle, holding hands, and saying the MYF benediction:  "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace."  I am not sure I knew at the time I was quoting Numbers 6:24-26.  Reading the 20th Psalm has caused me to remember those days and to realize that what we called a benediction was really more a blessing.  As we said those words we were blessing each other.
We often receive blessings.  When a sneeze is heard, someone will inevitably say, "Bless you."  And, so very often a stranger handling a check out counter will say as we go, "Have a blessed day."  Our response to receiving the blessing is often, "And, you as well."  But, blessings are not just heard in the secular world, we hear, receive, and give them in our shared sacred experiences as well.  Blessings are surely Biblical.  Within its pages we read blessings and we read about people being blessed.

One of the places we read blessings is in this 20th Psalm.  Read it as one praying it.  Then start inserting a name in each line and a new powerful way of praying blessings over someone comes to life.  As this is done we might hear ourselves praying and blessing, "(insert name), may the Lord bless you in the day of trouble, (insert name) may the name of the God of Jacob protect you..."  There are more ways to pray than we will ever know.  Who knows?  Praying blessing prayers over someone in need may be needed even as much as our prayers of intercession.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Great Word

The 19th Psalm is one of those which could easily be used for several days of meditation.  It soars heavenward in its earlier verses and takes us down to earth as it moves on toward the end.  As it talks about the heavens telling about the glory of God, verses three and four give us powerful images of how it is done.  "There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth..."  All of us have at times felt completely unable to articulate with words our own experience of God, His glory, and majesty and, perhaps, in those moments of praise which transcend our speaking, the best praise is offered.  If such is true, then we join with creation in a powerful silent offering of praise to God.
And, as we move deeper into the verses of the Psalm, we come to those verses beginning with verse 7 which speak not of the power of creation, but the power of the Word of God which is given for our day to day living.  This Word God speaks to us, "revives the soul, makes wise the simple, brings joy to the heart, offers inner enlightenment, and endures forever."  It is easy to see how these Words could be useful in guiding us as we pray the Psalm.  Praying for these fruits produced by the Word of the Lord would be time well spent for all of us.
Finally, there at the end is that Word we have heard spoken many times by preachers and teachers who have dared to lead others into a time of hearing and understanding the Word of God.  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my salvation."  It is indeed an appropriate prayer for any preacher and any one who sits in the pew as they wait for their preacher to speak.  Pray that the words which come from the pulpit are acceptable not to those who sit in pews, but to God.  If they are acceptable to God, then there should be no problems for us.

Monday, July 18, 2016

I Love You

It matters not how many years we have lived in a marriage relationship, it matters not how well we know each other because of all those shared years and experiences, it matters not how many children surround us, it is still an important thing to actually say  "I love you" to the person to whom we are married. Not matter how many times we heard it yesterday, it is good to hear it today.  Most people would agree that there is something special missing in a marriage when those simple words are seldom, or perhaps, never said.  Knowing we are loved does not take the place of hearing those three words.
It is strange that those three key words in a relationship are often missing in our relationship with God.  When was the last time you just sat or knelt before the Father God and said over and over again, "Lord, I love you."  Have you ever wondered if what is assumed in our relationship with Him needs to be said?  Do you think He might take delight in hearing us say, "Lord, I love you."  In the first words of the 18th Psalm, David prays, "I love you, O Lord..."  Simple and profound. We often sing songs with the congregation of the people of God about our love for Him, but not nearly enough do we simply stay before Him intentionally expressing that we love Him.
The Psalms have always reminded us that there are many doors through which we can walk to experience the holy as we pray.  Try this one today.  Come before God for no other reason except to speak of your love for Him.  Bring no petitions.  Bring no instructions.  Bring no burdens.  Just be with Him allowing the words, "Lord, I love you" to soak into your soul and His heart.  Bless the Lord.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Comfort Food

While I do not profess to be a world traveler well acquainted with all the customs and idioms of various parts foreign to here, I do know a bit about the South since I have lived in it all my life.  Whenever folks start talking about eating, someone somewhere along the line is going to mention "comfort food."  What is "comfort food?"  It seems to vary from person to person, but it is the kind of food which touches more than just the digestive track.  It may be the original "soul food," the food that brings to mind days gone by, memories of how it used to be, and even those loved ones who might have gathered around the table with us.  For some it might be a bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich.  For another it might be fried chicken and mashed potatoes covered with gravy. 
Some foods do bring a kind of comfort hard to define.  What I discovered in reading the 17th Psalm today is that it also speaks of "comfort food" although in this situation, it should more likely be called "soul food."  The 8th verse of this chapter reads, "Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wing."  A daily devotional guide often uses these lines as a kind of refrain in the nighttime portion of the reading.  It has come to be a comfort to read those words again and again at night before going to sleep.  At its core, it has become one of the evening prayers prayed to the Father as I move into the mysterious, refreshing, renewing hours of sleep.
Maybe you found a prayer like one in Psalm 17:8 which carries you from the conscious world into the depths of that world where the conscious part of us is taken off the throne.  Asleep we are vulnerable to people who might break in to do us harm, but more likely what is true is that we are vulnerable to some of the unresolved struggles and issues of our living.  Even as Joseph found some of his unresolved stuff getting worked out in his sleep, so it may be with us from time to time.  In those moments it is comforting to know that we are guarded and protected by the Father God.  Even as we sleep, He is with us, watching over us, caring for us, protecting us, and loving us. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

In the Night

Things happen in the night.  Good things.  Spiritual things.  I was reminded of this as I read the 7th verse of the 16th Psalm.  It says, "I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me."  As I read I figure the counsel comes in the daylight and, as is more obvious, the instruction at night.  In a way it points us back to the familiar words of the 1st Psalm which says, ",,,and on His law they meditate day and night."  The night was a time for the dreamers of the Bible to receive divine guidance and revelation.  God does not sleep when we climb into bed.
Actually, my experience tells me that sometimes when I sleep, He wakes me up.  Most of us have been waken suddenly in the night knowing that we needed to get up and pray.   Of course, rolling over is an option, but to do it too often is to run the risk of no longer being awaken to do some important business for God.  There have also been those times when I have prayed before going to sleep, "Lord, if there is something about which You want me to pray, wake me up."  If you have never prayed such a bedtime prayer, try it, but keep your bedroom slippers close.  Being with the Lord in prayer in the middle of the night can bless us with memorable blessings of presence.  The house is quiet and there are no distracting noises.  And being waken by the Spirit from our sleep often means that our minds are empty as well which creates a great environment for listening to what God is saying.
I always keep a stenographer pad inside my Bible for my encounters with the Word and the One who inspired it.  Call me old fashioned.  I want no gadget to tempt me to wander off somewhere else.  Armed with the inspired Word, an empty notebook page, and a pen and I am ready for an unexpected middle of the night encounter with God.  Never be hesitant to get up and follow what seems to be the leading of the Spirit.  God may be waiting in the next room.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Praying the 15th Psalm

"Lord, I do want to dwell where You dwell.  I want to abide in Your spacious expansive eternal tent that You have pitched on the holy hill of heaven.  Lord, I feel like I have been on my way there for a long time.  If I get there and You do welcome me, I will be the most unfit, the most sinful one You have granted entering mercy.  I pray for such mercy on that day, Lord, for more than others, I will not ever get in sight of Your holy dwelling place without it.
I would like to say I haven't been so bad, but You would know the words as a lie.  And I would like to say I have tried to be good.  I would like to ask You to look at those things I haven't done which I should not have done and those things I should have done that I have done.  I would like to be able to speak of what makes me blameless and right in Your sight, but I know not how.  I don't want to sound like the rich young ruler who met you on the road one day and was so blinded by his view of his own goodness that he would not allow himself to see who he was in Your sight.  I wish there was more to offer of myself than this worn out body, frayed spirit, and tainted soul.  I wish there was more to offer You than the brokenness of a life not lived as well as You intended for it to be lived.
Lord, in Your mercy look upon me.  Look upon me as one who pleads not for mercy according to anything I have done or not done, but as one who knows my only hope is the mercy and love of the cross.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, continue to pray for me to come and continue to offer mercy that I might one day finish the journey in faith."

Thursday, July 14, 2016


The 14th Psalm begins with the words of fools.  "There is no God,"  they say.  It set me to wondering what God must think about me when He looks down from heaven to the place where I walk my journey.   When I look back and see myself in my memory, I often want to apply that word to myself.  While I have not been one to speak and say, "There is no God," there have been many times that my actions have been those of a man who surely does not believe God exists.  Some of those remembered moments are the times I turned ministry into some kind of competition instead of a life of service, the times my priorities got misplaced and sent me off on roads built with self-centeredness, and the times my worship was focused too much on things than the God who provides the things.  In those moments God must have surely looked upon me and thought, "Fool!"  If He did not, He should have.
But, what is past is past and what is present is now.  Little can I do about the past when compared to my options about the present and the future.  Choosing wrong roads yesterday is no excuse or reason for choosing them today.  Surely, if there is any wisdom in the world it is found in living smarter, living more sensibly, living more faithfully than yesterday. The Psalmist does not say that God looks down from heaven to see who lives as a fool, but to see who it is that is wise and is expressing that wisdom by going after God.  (Ps. 142)
I would like to be seen in that crowd.  I would like for God to look toward the place where He has put me and see one who is seeking Him.  I would like for Him to look at me and speak to angels beside Him saying, "There is a wise man."  I would like to think after receiving so much mercy and so many "start overs" that I am a wiser man and not as prone to living with the kind of foolishness which seems so evident in my memories of myself.  Maybe there is hope for this one who like the song says, "is prone to wander...prone to leave the God I love."   Ah, there is hope, but not because of my intentions, but because of God's continued mercy and grace.  Count me as one who needs mercy and grace abundantly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Praying the 13th Psalm

"Lord, when is long long enough?  Do You know how long I have waited?  Do You know how long I have pleaded for just some sign that You are looking my way?  Do you know, Lord?  It seems like it has been longer than forever.  It seems like this time of trouble has no beginning and no end; yet, still I am searching the heavens for You.  Lord, please come quickly lest the trouble overcome me and all that is held as precious is lost.
Surely, You know, Lord, how I wait for You to answer.  Even in the midst of the moment when there is no sign of Your presence, I turn my eyes toward heaven waiting for a word that speaks to me of mercy.  Surely, You are not choosing to be silent.  Surely, You are speaking; yet, my heart is somehow unable to hear.  Give light to my eyes.  Consider my plight.  Increase my patience, my sense of sureity in Your goodness, and my faithfulness that Your healing power will prevail.
Even in this day when my heart seems empty of Your presence and full of Your silence do I trust in You.  I can do no other.  I could not live a day without trust in You and Your goodness.  I trust You now, Lord.  I trust You to prevail.  Even when everything around me speaks of You being overcome do I trust in You.  Come, Lord.  Come and put singing words in my heart again.  Come, Lord, and give me a song of trust to sing.  Come."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Help Me

The first time I can remembering hollering out for help was the summer of my sixth year.  We were living at Panama City, Florida and were at the beach.  I waded out in the water and suddenly my feet could no longer find the bottom.  Not being a swimmer, I started kicking and slapping at the water as I went up and down in a moment of panic.  An older cousin who was visiting came to my rescue, grabbed hold of me, and got me to a place where feet and sand once again touched.  I would have surely been overcome by the water and the fear which took reason away.
The first words of the 12th Psalm record David's cry for help.  While he was not in the water facing the prospect of drowning, he was surely caught up in some moment when he knew he was not going to make it.  Something about his life had grabbed him, taking such control that he felt helpless to save himself.  It was not a moment when someone could reason with him for reason had been taken away by his fear.  What he needed was the strong intervening action of someone other than himself, but no one was present who could help him so in his desperation he cried out, "Help me, Lord!"
Perhaps, those simple words are the first real prayer that most of us prayed.  One moment we were reciting the comforting rhyming words of some bedtime prayer only to come to some moment filled with things beyond our control which caused those words to leap spontaneously from our heart.  Life brings those times to us.  To lose control of our life and to realize that no other man or woman is going to be able to help us is a frightening place to stand.  Were it not for God those moments of terror would take our life away from us.  Even in this very hour of life, we can raise our voice with the voice of David and cry out, Help me, Lord," and know a peace and rest which calms our very soul.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Like Lot

Like Lot we flee
      to the refuge
And then from fear
      flee once more,
Not to the high places
      above, safe and secure,
But to promising places
      that give nothing.

Like Lot we fear
      to hope, to trust
In the Lord on high
      and choose other choices,
Hiding in darkness
       thinking no one can see.
Forgetting completely
       the gaze of One who sees.

Like Lot God calls
       us to His refuge,
To His safe high places
        away from danger,
And carrying nothing
        we go and live,
Or, holding on,
         we stay and die.

(Psalm 11)                        

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Ultimate Constant

Out somewhere beyond the wilderness, Moses led his flock until he came to the mountain of God.  There he saw the burning bush and heard the voice of the Lord.  After calling out his name, the Lord said to the keeper of sheep, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt, I have heard their cry,...and I have come down to deliver them."  (Exodus 3:7-8)  We remember the story, but sometimes forget it was 430 years in the making. (Exodus 12:40)  One can only wonder what took God so long to act.  Surely, some of those enslaved Hebrews who died as slaves must have wondered exactly the same thing before their eyes closed the final time.

Those two questions at the front end of the 10th Psalm caused me to think of this story from Exodus.  "Why, O Lord, do You stand far off?  Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?"  (Psalm 10:1)  The questions also bring to mind more present stories where it seemed that God was gone while I struggled in times of trouble.  Most of us have walked in that overwhelming time of trouble when it seemed so dark that there was no light visible ahead of us to guide and re-direct.  Like the Psalmist there have been those awful moments when we felt alone and separated so far from God that He seemed more like a distant uncaring stranger than a loving heavenly Father.

I must not only confess to the experience of such times, but also confess to what keeps me feeling even more lost in the darkness.  Maybe hindsight provides insight, but in the moment of trouble "rhyme and reason" provides no sense of God's presence.  What I must also confess is that in such times, I focus too much on the trouble and not enough on the Deliverer.  In the 16th verse of that 10th Psalm, the Word points to such  as it says, "The Lord is King forever and ever."  Trouble is always temporal.  The Lord is the Ultimate Constant of the creation and all of eternity.  The Holy One may seem to be in hiding, but is even more present in our darkness than the North Star is present in the darkness above us. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016


How long is forever?
    Longer than going
        to the moon or Mars?
     Longer than the sands
        of the moving seas?
Yet, still not as long
      as grace and mercy.

How long is forever?
      Broader than horizon
          bound blue skies?
      Deeper than star-lit
          shades of dark?
Yet, still not as long
       as grace and mercy.

How long is forever?
       Big enough for you,
           me and everyone?
       Big enough to hold
            God's glory?
Yet, still not as long
       as grace and mercy.

(Psalm 9)

Friday, July 8, 2016

God's View

As we come to the 8th Psalm, we find ourselves arriving at a very familiar passage; yet, one which also sends our very spirit soaring skyward toward heaven.  It's language in describing God is indeed awesome.  "O Lord our God, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!"  (Ps. 8:1)  And the language which speaks of God's view of us is totally unthinkable.  "What is man that Thou art mindful of him...You have made him a little lower than the angels..." (Ps. 8:4-5)  These are amazing words that bend our minds as we attempt to comprehend them.

In a book recently read  entitled, "Moving Mountains," the author, John Eldredge, writes that as we pray it is imperative that we understand who hears our prayers as well as who we are as we pray.  The 8th Psalm is certainly a good place to begin as we start searching out these imperatives of prayer.  It is, perhaps, an easier thing for us to see God exalted in glory, One who is majestic and loving, and full of grace and mercy.  But, considering ourselves as those worthy in the eyes of God to approach Him in prayer is still another.  We may not like to think about it, or admit how evil our heart, even our own heart can be, but we know it is, nonetheless true.  Yet, still we read this 8th Psalm and see extraordinary view that God sees as He sees each one of us.

How do we describe our emotions at the revelations of Psalm 8?  What words spring forth from our hearts?  Surely, confession is one word for we are sinners.  Surely, thanksgiving is another for we are seen by God not through the darkness of our sin, but through the light of His grace.  And surely, peace is still another word for indeed His name is the most majestic name in all the earth. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Word Seldom Prayed

The first time I was in a fight was in grammar school.  It was on the playground at recess.  Back then fights at school were viewed and handled differently than today.  As I remember that playground brawl, it started with words being hurled in the air.  Tempers flared and two boys who had been playing together faced off.  We moved in a circle until one of us lunged at the other and then wrapped around each other, we wrestled to the ground rolling over and over until the clean clothes of the morning were black with playground dirt.  And, then, it was over.  A few more threatening words were thrown  and two boys went back to the rest of recess.
Now, I have never had a physical altercation as an adult.  But, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I must confess to participating in more than just a few verbal ones.  They were ugly moments of saying things that sought to hurt another and give me the upper hand.  Some of them even happened at  church meetings when I began to think of someone as an adversary rather than a brother or sister. While I make no attempt to justify the battles, I do know that most of the time fighting is our first response to the presence of one perceived as an adversary or antagonist.
The Psalmist David presents us with a different alternative in the 7th Psalm.  Not only does he acknowledge that his own actions may be the reason for being attacked (Ps. 7:3-5), but he also asks for the Lord to intervene and sort things out either by rising against his enemies or trampling him into the ground if he is wrong.  In the midst of our own conflicts with others, who among is ready to pray, "... judge me, O Lord, according to my righteous and according to the integrity that is in me." (Ps. 7:8)  Such a prayer would certainly take us to a different place than trying to sic God on those who oppose us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hanging On

When we pray most of us want more than just an awareness that we have been heard by our Father God.  In other words, we pray with our own end-of-game in view.  We pray either telling God or knowing how this thing about which we pray is supposed to end.  When we pray for someone to be healed, the disease goes away.  When we pray about a broken relationship, the other person comes to their senses and asks for forgiveness.  When we pray for a new job, the phone is supposed to start ringing.  And, if God does not seem to be responding as we deem appropriate, we either figure He is not going to get involved, or we have not really prayed effectively.
Seldom is it enough for us to know God has heard us.  We want Him to act on what He has heard from us.  Then, and only then, has He done enough.  The 6th Psalm records the prayer of one suffering and struggling through a serious illness.  " bones are shaking with soul also is struck with terror...I am weary with my moaning..." (Ps. 6:2-3, 6)  At the end of his desperate prayer we hear the suffering one as he comes to the place of praying, "The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my supplication, the Lord accepts my prayers."  (Ps. 6:8-9) There is nothing here to suggest the weight of suffering and illness has been lifted.  The only certain thing is that the one who prayed knows he has been heard by God.
Is being heard enough?  Is knowing that God knows enough?  Can we live with the kind of trust which does not require action we deem to be the right action in order to continue believing and depending on God?  Is God doing what we want God to do more important to us than God doing what He wants to do with us?  Are we going to hang on with God regardless of how He chooses to respond to our prayers?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Different Direction

This morning's reading of the 5th Psalm took me in an unexpected direction.  Actually, anytime we seek to read and pray the Scripture, we should not be surprised at such a thing happening.  This approach to the Scripture is based on a spiritual discipline known as Lectio Divina.  Its beginnings are associated with Benedictine of the 6th century.  It involves a slow and deliberate reading of the Word followed by meditation and prayer.  It is not a spiritual discipline designed to provide information about the Bible, instead its purpose is to help us experience the Bible as the Living Word.
It is not a moment for praying as we often think of praying.  An important part of the discipline is the listening part.  As we focus on one part of a passage instead of the whole, we are likely to sense or hear a Word we would miss if we were not focused so specifically.  And so, this morning as I delved into the 5th Psalm, I found myself being called to pray for those whose prayers are not yet answered.  "Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.  Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to You I pray." (Ps. 5:1)  As I heard this word and realized how it resonated in my own heart, it came to me that there are so many around me who are crying out with sighs and groans to deep to be heard.  There are many who seek some response and, yet, hear only the silence.  Their prayers are the prayers of the desperate. 
I am not sure it ever occurred to me before this morning to pray for those who are praying with deep desperation and sense no relief, no help, no comfort, and no answers.  And, yet, like me and you, still, they pray.  To pray for these is such a special opportunity and ministry.  These who are struggling in their prayers are not hard to find.  They are closer than we might think.  If there is trouble seeing, ask the Father to give eyes to see.

Monday, July 4, 2016

In His Keeping

Long before I knew I could die every night, I learned from my Mother that prayer many adults like me claim as their first prayer.  "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."  And then there was list of "God bless..." followed by a concluding "Amen."  Some modern day parents are appalled at a prayer that brings death into a child's bedroom.  My Mother never intended to frighten me.  Neither she nor the prayer kept me awake at night trembling under my blanket.  What it did was teach me early that I was safe in the Lord's keeping.
When I got to that last verse of the 4th Psalm, my mind went immediately to that memory of the first prayer.  In that verse the Word says, "I will both lie down and sleep in peace for You, O Lord, make me lie down in safety." When we lie down and sleep our awareness of consciousness disappears.  In those hours of sleep it is as if we do not exist.  When a gas pain in the chest causes us to think of a heart attack, we suddenly are caused to entertain the possibility that waking up is not guaranteed.  Sleep may be a gentle thing as the poet suggests,  but for some it can be a frightful thing to enter.
The Psalmist knew he could sleep with peace in this land of no conscious control because God was in control.  Knowing God is with us, watching over us, keeping us while we sleep gives us confidence in that moment of turning lose of life.  Whether we are awake or asleep, whether we wake up or do not wake up, there is nothing to fear.  God is our Keeper in the hours of the day as well as in the dark hours of the night.  In His keeping we do indeed dwell safely.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Lord's Shield

To read and pray the Psalms requires more of my attention than just a casual reading.  It is more of a moment of my spirit intersecting with the Holy Spirit than seems to occur when my intent and purpose is mere reading.  Today as I came to the 3rd Psalm, I see that the Psalmist's view of the work of the Lord transcends mine.  To read and pray inside the Spirit's inspired Word is like having someone open a never before opened window through which I can get a never before seen glimpse of God.
It happened for me as I came to the 3rd verse of the 3rd Psalm.  As David considers his foes and hears close-at-hand voices saying, "It is hopeless," he responds by praying, "But You, O Lord, are a shield around me."  Now David knew about shields.  He was a warrior King who had prevailed against a giant Philistine and threatening armies.  A warrior's shield only provided protection from a frontal attack.  However, David's vision of the Lord's protection enabled him to see a shield that went around him protecting him on every side.  It was not one of David's choice shields which he envisioned in his prayer, but one belonging to the Lord.  No wonder David finished his prayer with the words, "I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around." (Ps.  3:6)  He knew he was safe.
So are we.  We are safe, not because of our security systems, but because of God.  When in trouble and in need of deliverance, most of us look too much at the source of our trouble and not enough at the Source of our safety.  The Holy One in whom David trusted for his sense of security and well-being is still trustworthy.  He is still able to put a shield around us enabling us to be one of those who is protected on every side.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Laughing God

All of us have seen quite a few artistic renderings of Jesus.  Perhaps, the serene Jesus with flowing hair and beard created by Warner Sallman is the most recognizable one.  Few churches do not have a least one of this portrayal of Christ hanging on some wall.  But, there are also those of Jesus with different skin colors, messed up hair, and even one of Him laughing.  While some might say "sacrilege" at such a rendering,  Jesus surely laughed on earth as He did in heaven.
The 2nd Psalm reads, "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision."  (Psalms 2:4)  "Them" are those who live with intentions to undo the plan of God and to upend the ones whose purpose is to accomplish the divine plan.  Those who seek to undo and upend what God is about may live with the illusion that victory is in their grasp even though reality declares their defeat is sure.  No wonder God laughs.  One of the great hymns of the church is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  In the places where I grew up, the 3rd verse of most four verse hymns was omitted.  So, we seldom sang Martin Luther's words which would have us singing, "And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.  The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him."
Of course, the great reformer's hymn creates all kinds of problems for those who think the world is only filled with roses and sugar, but that is an issue for another day.  No matter what evil is concocted, God always has the last word.  The cross surely bears witness to this truth.  Surely, Pilate who signed the execution order and the Jewish authorities who conspired against Jesus were not laughing on Sunday morning when they heard the reports of the empty tomb.  But, then, maybe, just maybe the one laughing was God.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Gush On

Like many who have gone before me, the first Bible passage I memorized as a boy was the 23rd Psalm.  And, if the 23rd Psalm was the first, the 1st Psalm was the second.  Of course, the version I learned back then was the King James Version which began with the words, "Blessed is the man..."  The New Revised Standard Version which I read today seems the lesser for modifying the translation to read, "Happy are those..."  While I recognize what prompted the changed translation, this is one passage where the learning of long ago is very much locked in.
However, in a recent reading, I found myself stopped by the image of "trees planted by streams of water."  (Ps. 1:3)  There are plenty of those in plain view down at the branch, or stream, which provides a natural boundary on the east side of the farm.  There among the trees stand two towering white bark sycamore trees.  Taller than almost all the trees around them, I stand in awe at their beauty and longevity.  They have watched me work below them on my tractor.  They have watched men before me plow the field with mules and others before them clear the land.  For many decades they have strained upward all the while producing smaller versions of themselves in the woods below.  By that steam of water they show no sign of withering, only maturity and fruitfulness.
It is obvious enough from the Word of God and the image it creates in this Psalm that the Holy Spirit is holding up a model by which the faithful are called to live.  But, none of us can do it alone.  As the sycamore trees depend on the water of the branch, so do we depend on the One who provides the water for our souls.  In John 4:14 we hear Jesus saying to a woman at Jacob's Well, "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."  Gush on, Holy Spirit.