Psalm 1

Praying the Psalms | Letting the Psalms Pray You

In my adult life I’ve been advised on more than one occasion to ‘Pray the Psalms’. Usually there was no further instruction, and as I usually have quite a few questions I found myself flummoxed by this. Some of these same folks would also advise that I read a Proverb chapter a day as a way to ward off the possibility of temptation or sin, and I had some difficulty matching the two realities; Psalms, often laments, with Proverbs, often declarations of behavior.

Then I came to know the writings of Eugene Peterson. The humility which dominates Petersons’ writings began to reveal the Psalms to me in a completely unexpected way. No longer were the weapons for me to add to my arsenal in my attempt to keep God on my side, but rather they were revelations of myself through the cry of those who have gone before. The communion of saints if you will.

So, I’m starting out here to pray the Psalms. However, I will warn you that if you attempt this you will often find that the Psalms are really praying for you, around you, and over you. They reveal so much of our desires, hopes, fears, and obstacles and allow us to focus on God and his steadfast faithfulness.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of the mockers, but whose delights is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it’s fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

God I need a better understanding of what it means to be blessed. I think in terms of money, power, and prestige, and this confuses me when I read this because things don’t look the way I expect. Full confession; I often act selfish in that I choose what I want and my wife over others, even you; and this is sin for I miss the opportunity to live the way you have created me to live. And, I really struggle with not sitting in the seat of the mockers – it seems like when I focus on myself that I know so much more than anyone else.

I need your help to focus on your law; to love God and to love others. I forget this and go about looking for ways to make myself greater. I find myself often unwilling to slowly grow and I go back to defining fruit as those tangible things that appear for a moment to make me happy.

I confess a need to learn to wait and trust in you. To allow your truth; your love for all of us, to water and shape my life. Help me give birth to fruit that looks like care for people. Help me understand prosperity as you understand prosperity. To know that Jesus’ forgiveness of others is something that I too can extend to others is what I can look forward to as a reward for serving you.

Not so the wicked! They are like the chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

I see this. I know this. And yet I struggle. At times I could care less about the fact that those who are selfish expend all of their energy chasing one whim after another. Rather I want to see them struggle as I struggle. Your assurance that what we do from your law; love of you and love of others, will last. I pledge myself to that. You remind me that those things I do in and for myself will not allow me entrance to where you hold your eternal court. I commit myself to knowing and searching you. Keep me from the path of destruction which is fueled by selfishness and fear. Lead me in the path of righteousness which is found in service and in love.

Let’s Talk

To my kids first; I expect you to be the more giving person. You’ve seen so much, you care so much, and you are capable of so much in your life. Do not spend your early adulthood nursing resentment and anger towards your grownups for their refusal or inability to see things from your perspective. To my grownups; let’s make no mistake about it, we must be the more giving person. After all we have said and taught to our children over the last 20 plus years or more let’s not be willing to show a lack of restraint and inability to control our emotions when our kids refuse to see things from our perspective. For either side we prove the other side correct when we seek to control and manipulate as well as refusing to listen and engage with what we are being challenged by.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Some of you all are actually saying your children may not actually be Christians because they are voting for a democrat. Is your God that small? Is Jesus’ redemptive work so restricted that only those who are exactly like you are saved? Let’s be honest, this is a shame and blame method that Jesus would have nothing to do with and just might take a whip to us for employing it.

You kids aren’t off the hook here. Some of you are doubting that your parents are Christians because they refuse to acknowledge and address the grievances of their political party. Is your God that small? Is Jesus’ redemptive work so restricted that only those who are as inclusive as you can be saved? Let’s be honest, this is the same legalism as above; just employed from your perspective. It may have been the former prostitute standing at the cross with Jesus, but don’t forget that it was the Pharisee who buried him.

Let’s talk for a minute about the donkey – the sticking point – in the room. Good old facts. Both groups say that the other refuses to acknowledge facts. Not true at all. The reality is that we each choose to give various weight to each of the facts that are brought forward. 2 + 2 does equal 4 but we’re not dealing with simple math. At best this is algebra. Algebra is a place where powers and parentheses carry the same weight, if not more, than the numbers; and yet they never looked like that to me. For this reason, I stink at algebra. For this reason, we stink in discussing and disagreeing about politics. We are not truthfully acknowledging the ways that we are weighting and valuing things. Let’s talk about a few of those things.

Abortion. Immigration. Healthcare. Non-discriminatory policies. Those are some of the numbers. Taxes. Retirement. Criminal justice reform. Labor reform. Those are some of the powers and the parentheses. Here’s the moment: some of you think the stuff in the first group should be in the second group. Others of you believe it should be the opposite, and you probably would argue that I left far too many out – or included too many.

Some of you who argue that we should always vote republican would not be so adamant if their party tax structure were different. Many that vociferously push democrat votes might not be so forceful if their platform wasn’t as pro-labor as it is.

If you’re still reading hang in there, we’re about to wreck this train. Remember the kingdom we’re called to live in is a kingdom that’s not of this world. In other words, it’s a kingdom not measured by might, accumulation, or intimidation. It’s a subversive kingdom. It’s a kingdom made up of service. A kingdom where the least are greatest and we value the humble more than the powerful. A kingdom where the right hand doesn’t know how much the left hand has given away. A kingdom where we wake up every day and have to subvert ourselves all over again, because in our idleness our selfish personhood is seeking to make it about us all over again. A kingdom where a candle signifies its ability and power.

So parents, if you look at your kids and all you see is a vote; you’re missing it. Kids, the same. Before you allow your absolute desire to be right to divide you all take a moment; serve together, worship together, and if you still want to duke it out; be silent together.

After all, it was a silent night that ushered our Savior into the world. Peace on earth, good will to all men.

Addendum

  1. Read David Platt’s Before You Vote. It’s a quick read and the opening essay which deals with Platt’s response to then-president Trump’s request to be publicly prayed for at the conclusion of one of his church services, and the subsequent firestorm that followed, is a wakeup call for how much we have to grow in grace towards others. Especially others who think and believe differently than we do. Given by Tim Harding. It’s a book that he has read and highly recommends. After reading it, I would certainly recommend investing the few hours into reading it for yourself. You won’t agree with everything, or maybe anything that Platt says, but you’ll have spent a few hours not fuming over your family member.
  • If you can’t apply the behaviors of 1 Corinthians 13 to your discussion, then we have a problem, and we should hit the pause button on political discussions in our personal lives. Especially if it is a family member that we are willing to treat without love for the sake of being correct. If we can’t do it with love, as a believer, especially with those close to us, then we must address ourselves. Given by David Lee, although I may have reworded it a little stronger. The gist of David’s statement was frustration with those who seem to think that there are certain conversations that can be held; devoid of love, and we still expect God to choose or reward our side or our viewpoint.
  • There are no apples to apples comparisons in politics, but many of you violated the firmly held beliefs and convictions of your parents and grandparents many years ago when you began to vote. I’ll not argue over the importance of any vote or election but there is yet to be an election in my lifetime that was not more important than all of the previous elections. Remember this when you think your children are betraying some sort of sacred trust. Given by Will Stewart. This is a direct reference to the fact that prior to Ronald Reagan the South was primarily Democrat. Many parents and grandparents felt their children were betraying a sacred trust by choosing to align themselves with the enemy. Politics really can be complicated.  

Today’s Carol

This should have originally posted on Sunday, December 20.

The song, O Holy Night, has at its birth one of the unique stories of Christmas. Originally a French hymn it was written to celebrate the renovation of an organ. The poem was written by a man who claimed to be an atheist, Placide Cappeau, a known poet in his hometown.

Later, while translating into English, the Unitarian minister; John S Dwight, decided to take some translating freedom and brought to the forefront a recurring theme of 1855.

The first set of lyrics is the literal English translation. The second set is John Dwights lively and convicting translation.

The Redeemer has broken every bond

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those whom iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

   People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

Truly he taught us to love one another;

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;

Let all within us praise his holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

An avowed unbeliever in God and a lover of music who knew Gods love for all of mankind, came together to pen these words;

His love is love and his gospel is peace

Enjoy this wonderful hymn and check out more amazing facts about this well enveloped carol at Hymnary.org.

A Daily Christmas

In just a few short days Christmas, the day, the holiday, will be here. Gifts will be open and discarded. Items will be broken, unwanted, and returned. We will discuss Christmas ‘being over’ and comment on whether or not we should sing carols in church this Sunday.

Christmas as the celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth is just getting started. The celebration of his ongoing presence, his desire to have a relationship with us, and his service to others is just the beginning. The expectation of Christmas can fill our hearts and inspire us year round.

It is my prayer that in the hustle of this time of year that you have been reminded that gifts are wonderful, but God has come to live with man. I pray that you will experience happiness, bit more than momentary happiness that you will Wake each day with the sense of Gods abiding and presence.

I pray that as gifts are given and received that a sense of wonder – a realization that God is at work – would begin to slip into your life and as December 25 comes and goes that the wonder of each day would seem like it’s Christmas has come to stay.

What Expectation Looks Like

From Day 1 of writing these thoughts and devotions the scenes that we will look at today have been ever present in my mind. Two older people, their lives seemingly behind them, and yet they are hanging out in the Temple.

Life, hope, and mercy are the themes on their mind. I often find my mind clogged with self righteous judgments of others. Clogged with complaints about how every one else is doing it wrong.

The overarching theme from Simeon and Anna is that God has something special prepared. There is more to come. This more, this expectation, is revealed in the person of the child Jesus. They aren’t hanging around wishing for the ‘good old days’ – they are waiting to prophesy.

How would my life look if I got up with the intent that today might be a day of prophecy? How would I speak to others if I truly believed they were made in the image of God? What might my speech sound like if I really believed that I shouldn’t prevent the youngest of children from approaching Jesus?

Our lives are either marked by expectation of Gods ability or they are marked by self dependence. Christmas is about the reality and hope of Gods presence.

Time and Energy

What matters? What lasts? What defines us? These are questions that to some extent we have all probably asked ourselves at some time or another. Our answers are varied. They are, however, revealed in the actions and choices that we make.

Every generation, every subgroup of each generation will all attempt to answer the above questions. We have a strong fallacy though in that we often attempt to answer those types of questions in light of our current circumstances. Several hundred years before Jesus’ birth a prophet summed it up in this way; do justice (act fairly), love mercy (care for others), and walk in humility before God.

Jesus’ way of answering that question can be found in a few different places and he sums it up with this phrase; love God completely, and love your neighbor as yourself. The word love there is not describing an emotion that is independent of everything else, but rather a pattern of behavior that reveals what we value. Embrace God; his presence, his goodness and his authority. Embrace your neighbor; their intrinsic value, their reflection of Gods image, and our need for each and every one of them.

This was the lifestyle of the mysterious Magi. More than one man had lent themselves to a belief in a God who was able to order the planets and stars. They were willing to bet their life on this. More than one man believed in their love for fellow man that they were willing to risk life and luxury for the opportunity to welcome a new baby to the world.

May we be such people.

Wonder and Time

Babies are an incredible gift from God. Their smiles and interactions with us endear them to most people they encounter. They are also weak and in need of constant care and attention. Whatever you may know of them I can promise you this; babies are a lot of work.

You do not get a break from them. They do not all of a sudden become able to care for themselves, nor do they take regular scheduled breaks from their demands and needs of life. They constantly need to be fed, comforted, reassured, and of course; the diaper changing can seem never ending.

Jesus was this kind of baby. The kind of baby that cried when he was hungry. The kind of baby that needed reassurance and comfort. The kind of baby that wanted his mother sometimes and his father sometimes. The kind of baby that probably was reassured and comforted when he walked outside, but was fussy while sitting inside.

This is hard for us to comprehend and for that reason we generally avoid these types of discussions. However, when we think of the Expectation that the birth of Jesus brought there is much for us to learn when it comes to considering Jesus as a baby.

Did he touch something hot? Probably. Was this because he didn’t listen to his mother or is it a result of the inquisitive and learning nature that God has placed within us?

Did he fall from a tree: stub his toe and fall while running over uneven ground; drop something that was too heavy for him and break it? Probably. Probably. Probably. We know that these are possibilities because these are things that babies do. They do them because as they grow into the world they begin to examine the world and experience it for themselves.

As we begin to imagine Jesus examining the world from the perspective of a baby I want us to think of two things that will challenge us in our Expectation of Christmas.

I want us to think of the wonder that he felt the first time he grabbed a handful of dirt. Think of the delight in his eyes the first time he saw Joseph light a candle in a dark room. Imagine his laughter when his feet touched the water of the creek that he bathed in with his family. These things are not hard to do because we have all seen babies and small children experience these and many more magical moments. Wonder is at the core of all of them. Wonder at what they feel and experience, what they see and hear, and the magic that seems to circle around them. God has created us to experience this world with the same such wonder. It is why we are born to develop and not fully settled in our experiences and realities.

You are created for wonder. To embrace and enjoy what surrounds us. To marvel at others; their experiences and passions, and their abilities. To marvel at ourselves; our experiences, passions and abilities.

The second challenge is how we think and feel about time. I don’t know if there is a faster slow experience than watching a child grow up. As a parent of two adult children I can attest to how long it takes them to so quickly become adults. A phrase that I’ve read; the days are long and the years are fast, sums up well the reality of children.

The world demanded change. The world seems to seethe with the necessity of instancy, and yet God grew, as a child. The shepherds went and worshipped – and then went back to their flocks. The ladies and family who probably assisted Mary and Joseph on this night would have smiled and cooed over the precious baby – and then returned home to the pressing needs of their own family. Yet, God had appeared. The world is being made right. The Kingdom of God was present and coming.

Wherever you are and whatever your reality as you await this Christmas, be it with dread or with joy, these two realities can become yours. Allow yourself opportunities for wonder. Step outside if you are able, and watch the night sky. If you are not able, some of that same wonder can still be transmitted through electronic screens as you watch nature in the glory in which God created all things. Let go of some of your time. Don’t schedule yourself into oblivion. Stop demanding that the world come to fit at your table and fully embrace the moments and time that God has gifted us with in allowing us to live in this world he has created.

Christmas is coming.

Intentional Thoughts

A Starry Night

Take a piece of dark paper/wall board/poster board/ etc. Attach this to a wall or some other well-traveled place in your house. Cut out white stars and place near this spot along with a pen. As the days pass take time to write things of thanksgiving, instances of joy or happiness, or even concerns that we have. After pasting these to the board this will help serve as a reminder of events in our lives.

Mary’s Intentional Thoughts

Christmas now looms just 11 days away. However you may plan to celebrate and whatever your thoughts are this Christmas let’s try to imagine Mary and Joseph for a moment.  Out of place, adapting to and learning the reality of the other person so prominent in your life and into this confusion comes a baby. What an opportunity to love!

And then the shepherds. It’s more than likely that there were several people at Jesus’ birth. In the communities of those days everything was shared and the needs of this young woman would have been a priority for many, especially those whom had carried and born children themselves. Those people were expected. What was not expected was men coming down from the hills outside of town to visit and bless this child.

Luke seems to be retelling this story from Mary’s perspective and the phrase he uses should cause us to pause today; But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. She was intentional in her memory and it caused her to keep these memories in a way that would influence later actions. This is the same type of thing you would do if you realized that every day at the same time you were blocked by a train on the tracks. You might consider a different route to take or an alternate time to travel. Mary is literally allowing her life to be changed by what she is viewing happening around her as she watches these men and others react to the birth of Jesus.

So often I am unintentional in my habits and lifestyle choices. I bounce around in areas of gratefulness and can quickly become sidetracked in remembering spiritual and life lessons that I have learned. Today’s opportunity for a family will help in these days leading into Christmas and even into the new year.

Embracing Brokenness

Cold. Dark.  Lonely. Regular. Expected. Normal. Think of your life and think of tasks that you perform regularly. Maybe you dread them. Maybe you enjoy them. What you do not expect is to be visited by angels.

Why do we not expect angels? Should we expect messengers from Heaven? In the circles that I have normally moved around in we have a little bit of an unhealthy relationship with angels. We either ignore them or we seek to venerate them by trying to fully define their roles and their possibilities. To some degree this is due to the fact that we have a tendency to seek to control God so therefore it must be that we control his creatures as well.

In Luke’s Gospel however we view this theme developing that God can work and does work, miraculously. Free from the abilities and expectations of everyone who is present. Free from the systems and methods of power that have been adopted and coerced upon us.

Zechariah meets an angel. Mary meets an angel. Joseph meets an angel. Now we are headed towards the night of the birth when a group of shepherds meet a group of angels.

As we simply read through the story we find ourselves realizing that the shepherds seemed to have a different experience than the others. They were notified by the angels after the birth of Jesus. All of the others were told of a promise that was yet to come, theirs had already come to pass.

There is more happening here though than simple linear time. The shepherds, just like the others mentioned above, had to decide whether or not they would act on what they were told. Could there really be a baby born in a stable that could change the world? Can there be peace on earth?

What do you think? Can there be peace on earth? Is there peace on earth? Often when we use these phrases we excuse them by giving them some other definition of meaning that allows us to excuse what does not seem or feel like peace to us.

God comes in humility but God is always proclaimed. Jesus himself said that our worship of him was truest and most possible when we serve in humility. Then he says in those moments of service that we meet him.

Would if the obstacle to peace on earth in my life is my pursuit of things that promote and celebrate me instead of worshipping in humility at stable troughs?

A Family Challenge

It’s Monday with all the busyness of the holiday season. Here is a simple thing that your family can do over the next two weeks as you approach Christmas by using the Christmas cards that your family receives as an opportunity to bless others.

When your family is together, take a few moments and allow family members to pick cards and take turns praying for the families represented on the cards. If you place your cards in a basket this is a simple task and can be done at the dinner table. If, however, your cards are used as decorations throughout the house you may have to pick a room or different area each time that you do this. If you have smaller children then your prayers might be the most interesting thing that your family does this Christmas.

Luke 2

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

a world-changing announcement

It’s caroling Sunday again. The formation and use of the word Noel has an interesting and complicated history. Originally the word means to be born and then through some double usage and similar words it now is used to mean the Christmas season or Christmas carol. More info Here

Thousands of years before God had told Abram that through him a kingdom would arise and through that kingdom the entire world would be blessed. This carol encapsulates that story. The shepherds; who are Jews are the genetic descendants of Abram. The wise men who eventually arrive are the spiritual descendants of Abram.

A birth announcement that had been foretold that changed the world. In Jesus we are one. We are the children of faith and now we sing Noel; the King is born.

Lyrics from Hymnary

1 The first Noel the angel did say 
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; 
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, 
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. 

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, 
born is the King of Israel. 

2 They looked up and saw a star 
shining in the east, beyond them far; 
and to the earth it gave great light, 
and so it continued both day and night. [Refrain]

3 And by the light of that same star 
three Wise Men came from country far; 
to seek for a king was their intent, 
and to follow the star wherever it went. [Refrain]

4 This star drew nigh to the northwest, 
o’er Bethlehem it took its rest; 
and there it did both stop and stay, 
right over the place where Jesus lay. [Refrain]

5 Then entered in those Wise Men three, 
full reverently upon the knee, 
and offered there, in his presence, 
their gold and myrrh and frankincense. [Refrain]

The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989

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