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. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A New Name

After a lifetime of reading the Word, I have heard myself being called both sinner and saint.  Sinner is the name given to me at birth and saint is the one which came to me later by grace through the cross.  As I have read the Word, I have also heard myself being referred to as a smelly sheep and a branch on the vine.  And, along with you and others I have heard Jesus speaking saying, "You are the light of the world,"  and "You are the salt of the earth."  (Matthew 5:13, 14)  But, the other day while reading the 39th Psalm, I found a new name.  It was one about which I had never thought.
In verse 12 of that chapter, the Word says, "For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears."  Think for a moment what it means to be a passing guest of the Lord.  A guest owns nothing, but is dependent on the hospitality of the host.  And so we travel through this life.  We think we own houses, cars, bank accounts, wardrobes, retirements, devices that give us the illusion of being in touch and in control.  The truth is we have nothing.  Naked we are born in this world and no matter how much we see ourselves carrying in our hands as we travel through this life, naked shall we go.  A passing guest is not even family, but an outsider and one who does not belong.

Of course, this is exactly where the word "alien" takes us.  Ephesians 3:12 tells us, "...remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."  Certainly, the New Testament says we are sons and daughter, heirs to the kingdom, and that we belong to God, but before all of this is transacted for us through grace and mercy, we are those who do not belong.  The alien status is only temporary. Grace changes it.  But, we are born to be a passing guest in this world which our lifestyle often proclaims we have forgotten.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Man I Am

Like Job I have fussed and fumed,
    cried and cursed,  
    felt forsaken and forgotten
By a God who watched silently
    offering no words,
    no sign of hearing.

Like David I must confess,
    and point at me,
    instead of You,
For it is not You who sinned
    but me, only me,
    my foolishness, not Yours.

Like Adam I can only claim
    what is mine to claim,
    choices and hurts,
Which warrant Your wrath,
    instead, You choose
    merciful forgiveness.

(Psalm 38)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fret Not

Jesus laid it out very well when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, " not worry about your life...Therefore, do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?'...So do not worry about tomorrow...(Matthew 6:25, 31, 34)  Risking redundancy, He told us three times that since God is trustworthy, there is no reason to worry.  According to Jesus, worry is about not trusting God to be faithful.  The heart cannot be consumed by God if it is consumed by worry.  These two opposites cannot dwell in the same place.
Another place where we hear a Word about worry is in the 37th Psalm.  Three times in the first 8 verse the Psalmist writes, "Do not not not fret."  (Verses 1, 7, 8)While the Psalmist correlates fretting with trusting, he also speaks of fretting as something which is caused when we look at the good fortune of the wicked instead of the goodness of God.  As the Word says, "do not fret over those who prosper in their ways...," we are pointed to the fact that we are allowing envy and jealousy to take root in our heart.  In other words, we fret and worry because our life is focused not on God, but on the people and the things around us which are surely out of our control.
Whenever we fret, or worry, or allow anxiety to prevail in our life because of others, our living is diminished and our relationship with God is compromised.  It keeps us from the present moment in our life and prevents us from receiving those things which speak of the blessings of God in our life.  God does not fret over the wicked.  Verse 13 of the Psalm says, "...but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He sees that their day is coming."  No need to fret.  God is still in control. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Wrestling Match

When I came to the 36th Psalm, I felt like I had been thrown into a wrestling match.  Finding a central message, or an over-riding Word seemed to be an impossibility.  The Psalm is like two Psalms with each being completely separate from the other.  The first four verses address the reality of wickedness in the hearts of people.  The wicked speak mischief and deceit.  They do not reject evil but listen to the persuasive voice of transgression.  And, then without any hint of transition from one thought to another, the rest of the Psalm extols the steadfast love of God.  It is precious, unfathomable, and mighty in its power to save.
After days and days of going back and back again to this Psalm, I began to see something not seen in my earlier endeavors to hear the Word of God in this passage.  In this Psalm which speaks so majestically of the steadfast love of God, we are enabled to see its wide breadth and its deep deepness as we begin to realize that not even the most wicked, the most stubborn, and  the most arrogant live beyond the boundaries of the love of God.  The wicked practice their wickedness under the umbrella of God's love.  His love is for them as surely as it is for the righteous.  The fact that the wicked fail to see does not change God's love for them.  As the Psalmist says, "O God, all people may take refuge in the shadow of Your wings."  (Verse 7)
No one understands this truth more clearly than the sinner who has heard and responded to the merciful and loving call of God which means that I should have understood this was part of the message at the very beginning.  We go by many names.  Some have to do with the years, or the country of birth, or the family into which we were born.  But, the one name common to all of us is sinner.  Thanks be to God for His precious, wide-reaching, and steadfast love. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Definition of Worship

It is not surprising that a Psalm would cause me to think of hymns or songs.  Some of the hymns as well as some of the contemporary music of our day have words from the Psalms within them. The 35th Psalm causes us to think of our hymn book, not because of the words, but because of the literary structure.  Even as many songs have several verses and a chorus that is common to all of them, so does this particular Psalm.  While the words vary some, verses 9, 13, and 28 are like the  chorus of the verses of the hymn proclaimed throughout the whole of this Psalm.
At first glance it seems that the words of the chorus verses are from a man trying to bargain with God.  When verse 9 says, "Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord...,"  or when verse 18 says, "Then I will thank You in the great congregation...," or when verse 28 says, "Then my tongue shall tell of Your righteousness...," it might be heard as what the Psalmist will do if the Lord acts.  We know the drill.  "God, You do this for me and I will do something for You."  However, a closer reading of the whole passage brings into clarity that the Psalmist is instead declaring what he will do in response to the Lord taking action.  It is not the pleas of a man trying to make a bargain that we hear, but the promise of a man who is responding to the work of God in the world. 
There is a sense in which this is a definition of worship.  True worship is not about the performance of the musician, or the preaching of the preacher, but our response to what God has done and is doing in our midst, or in our lives.  Response is an essential part of any real worship, and, unfortunately, it is the one part lacking in today's worship experience.  Feeling good when we leave worship is not the end result of worship.  What worship is about is responding to what God has done.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Memory of a Boy Preacher

My reading in the 34th Psalm today brought back a time when I was a boy preacher trying to become a man.  I was in the middle of seminary and at a point in my life when it was time to appear before the Conference Board of Ministry of the United Methodist Church.   It was another step on the journey which started a few years earlier with a call to preach.  Back then candidates for ministry were not required to submit a recorded sermon for scrutiny to the Board.  We only had to submit a manuscript for reading.  The 34th Psalm reminded me of the text assigned for the sermon.  It was Colossians 1:13-14, a Word which reads, "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

It was the Psalmist's use of the word "rescue" which brought this old memory back into the present moment.  Verses 17 and 19 read, "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles....Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all."  Being rescued is a good thing.  To be rescued means that we are caught up in a trouble too great from which to deliver ourselves.  We see people being rescued from floods.  We see people being rescued from perilous mountain peaks.  We see people being rescued from all kinds of tragedies which threaten to take away life.  In those situations no one is going to shun the ones who come to rescue.

My old preaching text from way back long ago reminded me again that I need rescuing from the power of darkness.  There is something about me which causes me to think that the wrong way is the right way and I am too eager to choose it even when it is obviously something which speaks of disobedience to the will of God.  Before I heard that call to preach, I realized how lost I was without God.  I needed someone to rescue me.  But, the truth is I have never gotten beyond the need for God to rescue me from the consequences of my wrong choices.  Like you, I am thankful He continues to hang in there with me offering both a mercy and a forgiveness that is beyond anything I could ever hope to receive. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Great Nation

Politicians and administrative handlers of government tell us that the key to a nation's greatness is found in the external things which can be seen and managed by more money and better programs.  The linchpin of the politician's view is more money for weapons.  The nation with the biggest and most deadly stick is sure to be the one which prevails.  Somehow, it seems these folks have forgotten a Word from the 33rd Psalm which says, "A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save."  (Psalm 33:16-17)  Most likely the politicians never heard the Word and if they did, they would surely declare it to be unrealistic and not workable.
And then there are those keepers of religion who know both the fallacy of the political view and the correct way forward to greatness as a nation.  Their way is rooted in the idea that social programs define the way forward.   Giving very little attention to a theology about the transforming power of a salvation gospel, they instead preach a message that men and women are changed by programs of social activism that attack issues such as poverty, inequality, and racism.  And while there is nothing bad about tending to these issues, the sin of the human heart is largely ignored.  Psalm 33:10 says, "The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing, he frustrates the plans of the people."  Well intended social programs and legislated change is always the short term solution to a problem that is not really external, but something of the heart.

The Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament provide a clear testimony that God is the Watcher of the nations, ours included.  The Word tells us this Watcher loves  faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.  (vs. 4-5)  He looks for those who revere Him, who hope in His love, and who depend on Him for deliverance. (vs. 18-19)  Our stockpile of weapons and books full of programs count as nothing to this God of the nations who makes great those who know Him as the Lord. (vs.  12)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Offensive Thing

Sin is offensive to God.  Sin is an affront to His holy presence.  Our sin is the one thing which can separate up from God and the loving mercy He desires to continually bestow upon each one of us.  Through our sin we create a breech in the flow of God's love that is un-repairable by human hands.  Only the power of the cross can overcome the destructive, separating results of our choice to sin against God. 
Our contemporary secular culture has created a god in its own image which largely allows it to bypass the issue of sin as it is defined in the Scripture.  This god of our creating is one who wants and approves of what we want for ourselves.  He is the one who declares self-justification as commandment number one.  According to culture what is wrong is determined by the one who commits the sin and not the One who so vehemently abhors it.  Sin is determined not by holy scripture, but by human experience and reason.  Instead of a divine absolute to guide, there is the common consensus of the majority.  The way so pervasive in our day is a deadly way that may provide a temporary solution to the problem of sin, but never to the point of removing the unsettling uneasiness of a heart still troubled at its core by unresolved guilt and fear of brokenness. 

The 32nd Psalm does not sweep sin under the rug, but declares that it is only handled rightly when there is openness, transparency, confession, and honesty.  The blessed are those whose sin is not explained away, but forgiven.  As verses 3 and 4 points out, nothing is gained by being silent and living as if our sin does not exist.  Only in acknowledging and confessing it before God do we put ourselves in a place where our sin and all its consequences can truly be handled.  The way advocated by contemporary culture is a lie.  On the other hand, the cross takes us to a place where our sin is handled and our guilt no longer has any hold on our life.