How Many Times Must I Forgive?

Love and MarriageMy wife makes incredible chicken salad. The ingredients are chicken, mayo, mustard, and unicorn tears. It’s delicious. One evening after having chicken salad for supper Christie gathered the leftovers, put them in the fridge, and said, “I’m going to eat this for lunch tomorrow. Is that ok.” “Of course,” I reply. The next day I come home early for lunch and notice there is a plastic bowl full of chicken salad in the fridge, and I think back to how delicious my wife’s chicken salad is. I take the bowl out of the fridge and proceed to eat all of the leftovers. My wife comes home, we exchange pleasantries, she opens the fridge, and then the conniption began. Christie looked at me with a soul-searing gaze. I returned a confused look followed by a gaping breath of, “I’m so sorry!” Sorry didn’t seem to help. Christie was angry. I then got angry because she was angry. We then had one of the arguments which, when looking back upon it, was completely ridiculous. The argument went from “Why did you eat the chicken salad,” to “You can’t remember anything,” to “Well, let’s just get a label maker and label everything in the fridge with the name and date of who can eat what when.” We went from chicken salad to label maker in 45 seconds. Have you had an argument like that? It took me way too long to realize that it wasn’t about the chicken salad at all, which is why asking for forgiveness for eating the chicken salad didn’t work. You see, the sin was that I wasn’t listening the day before, and not listening is a sure-fire way to communicate that you don’t care. Mistakes do happen. I did not eat the chicken salad with malicious intent, but instead of saying, “I’m sorry I ate the chicken salad,” I should have said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention to you yesterday.”

Forgiveness Sermon ImagePeter asks Jesus an important question—“If another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Let’s stay here in Peter’s request for a moment. Forgiveness is a refusal to hurt someone in the way they have hurt you. It does not mean everything is ok. It does not meant to forget what happened. It does not mean you condone the ongoing sin. It means you refuse to be like the person who hurt you. It means you refuse to have her or him have power over you. It means you are no longer held captive by violence or harm. In some cases forgiveness is not possible. In a sermon about loving your enemies in 2007, Dean of Duke University Chapel, Sam Wells, wrote,

“Notice when Jesus gives us a list of seven ways we should behave toward our enemies, forgiveness isn’t one of them. He says do good to them, bless them, pray for them, offer the other cheek, give to them, let them take from you, do not ask for restitution. But he doesn’t say “forgive.” Why not? I think the answer is, because he is talking about hatred and abuse and violence that is still going on. To forgive something that is still going on is a kind of category mistake. Jesus gives us plenty of ways to respond and engage while the hostile and cruel and destructive actions are still going on. But forgiveness has to wait until the activity is over. You can’t forgive something that is still going on, because that seems to be saying that what is going on is the whole story and therefore that it’s somehow ok (Sam Wells, “Love Your Enemies.” Sermon offered at the Duke University Chapel on November 4, 2007).

In cases of violence or abuse, the most loving thing is the sever the relationship in order to come to a place of forgiveness and peace. Yes, we are called to forgive, but our daily prayer is also, “Lead me not into temptation,” and sometimes maintaining a relationship becomes a temptation an abuser cannot resist.

Peter’s question is also poignant because most of the time we enact a selective blindness to the way in which the individual contributes to the conflict. Peter asks, “If another member sins against me.” In other words, he is assuming that it isn’t he who is doing the sinning. Conflict rarely happens in a vacuum. God came down into the garden and said to the man, “What have you done,” he turned and looked to the woman and said, “Look at what you made me do.” Peter assumes in the coming kingdom that he is the one who will be wronged as opposed to one who will need to say, “You know I love you,” for each time he denies Christ. “What am I supposed to do when someone wrongs me,” Peter asks, and I wonder if a better question might be, “When I sin against someone, how do I reconcile with them?”

sin“Should we forgive seven times?” Peter asks. It does remind us the dawn of Genesis. Seven represents Sabbath and rest and relative completion. Maybe more to the point, seven reminds us of The Jubilee. Deuteronomy 15 says, “Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debt. Every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor.” So, Peter’s suggestion of forgiveness seven times over makes good sense. As a Christian community we should be a walking, living, breathing sign of the year of the Jubilee. Every seven times seven years (now do you see where Jesus is going?) all tribal land is to be reclaimed. Not only is debt to be forgiven, but everything is to be restored. You might imagine that Jesus would reply, “Seven years is a good idea, but I am Jesus and really great at this so I recommend seven times seven years as commanded in the law.” You might even imagine Jesus saying, “Peter, in the coming kingdom there won’t be any sin; therefore there will be no need for forgiveness.” But Jesus does something quite unexpected. Jesus says 70 times seven.

DeuteronomyLet’s take a step back to Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 15 goes on to say, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor of your community.’” John 12 records a dinner party in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas replies, “Woman your fine anointment, brand new and expensive, should have been saved for the poor. Why has it been wasted? We could have raised maybe three-hundred silver pieces or more.” Jesus replies, “There will be poor always pathetically struggling, look at the good things you’ve got.” Ok, so that’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Scripture says, “Leave her alone, she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

The costly perfume is seemingly wasted. Forgiving someone 490 times. Feeding 5,000 people. Jesus is not a self-help guru. We taught us to forgive those who have trespassed against us not because is it good for blood pressure or it makes good business sense. Jesus came to reveal what the kingdom of God looks like. It is a place of abundance. It is a place of mercy. It is a place of perpetual forgiveness. How many times has God forgiven me? 490? I hope he’s not counting. I hope my wife isn’t counting. I hope my kids aren’t counting. I hope my parents and friends and colleagues aren’t counting.

Forgiveness is a sign of what it means to be in the Church. The Church exists in the tension of the pain of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. I would love to say in the church there is no need for forgiveness because no one wrongs anyone. But there is pain. There is still hurt. There are severed relationships. Forgiveness means you refuse to perpetuate pain, to answer evil for evil. You refuse to allow the person who has wronged you to maintain any power over you. It is also the difficult work of looking in the mirror to see that there is still pain and anger and hurt that we ourselves have committed. Forgiveness is that Holy Saturday place in which the pain of Good Friday and the freedom of Easter Sunday are held in tension. Forgiveness does not erase pain, but it does mean we are no longer controlled by it?

What does it mean for God to forgive us? It does not mean all things are forgotten. It does not mean the chalkboard is wiped clean. That’s a fine image for Bible School. God is not a washing machine. God does not have amnesia. God offers you a new identity. Forgiveness means that you are no longer bound by the pain you’ve experienced. You are no longer known only by the messes you’ve made. Your identity is not only about the trust that’s been broken. You are a child of God. God will tell you 490 times. God will tell you ever day if he has to. That’s the kingdom. Amen and amen.

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The Tale of Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson slide2Several years ago I had the blessing of hosting our Louisiana Conference Cambodia missionaries for a district potluck dinner. I wanted to greet them using a native greeting in order to make them feel comfortable in the states. We gather everyone together and after thanking everyone for their attendance I place my hands together and bow to them saying, “Namaste.” They look back at me with a completely blank expression. A reasonable person would move on and begin the evening’s program, unfortunately I left my reason at the potluck table somewhere near the fried chicken. I bowed again toward the Chan’s and said “Namaste,” slower and louder as if they hadn’t heard me the first time. You know, because that’s not offensive. Again they replied with a blank stare. At this point a normal person would have just moved on ignoring the situation’s awkwardness . . . but I’m not normal. A third time I bowed lower and spoke louder than before. With a third silent response I finally asked, “Don’t your people use that word?” I said, “Your people.” May God forgive me . . . Marylin Chan said, “No. I am not familiar with that greeting.” I replied, “It means, ‘The Christ in me bows to the Christ in you.” She said, “Sounds like a wonderful greeting.” I finally move on with the purpose of the meeting after knowing well and good that I am embarrassing our guests and myself. After the meeting I went back to my office to discover that “Namaste” is Hindu Sanskrit. It’s not Cambodian, nor is it Buddhist (the dominant faith tradition). It was like going to Canada and greeting everyone with an “Hola, y’all.” Epic fail.

Mockinbird sermon slideOver the last few weeks we’ve been hearing the truth of the Gospel through the words and actions of the characters of this powerful novel. Our first week we heard the parable of Boo Radley—discovering our divine, mysterious neighbor in which we allowed the question, “Who is Boo Radley,” to inform our question, “Who is God?” Instead of allowing Boo to remain a myth, the children decided to seek him out in order to see his face. Instead of allowing God to remain the protagonist of ancient stories, we too are called to seek God out in order to recognize the Prevenient Grace with which God has already blessed us. The next week we heard the parable of Atticus Finch, a story which calls us to be filled with Christian courage, to fight the good fight for the kingdom of God, understanding the difference between the hero who glorifies himself and the saint who celebrates the work God is doing in the world. Last week we heard the parable of raising Jem and Scout, wrestling with how to be compassionate parents, being creative with our discipline in order to mentor children of faith. Today we come to the climax of the story, the difficult parable of Tom Robinson, how compassion overcomes difference.

one_in_christIn order to come to a place of compassion which overcomes difference we first need honesty. We need to understand with honesty and integrity that diversity does exist. Paul writes in Galatians, “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. We are all one in Christ.” This does not point us to a gray society. There is still Jew, and there is still Greek, but there is no longer Jew or Greek; rather there is no longer “us vs. them.” On the surface, saying that we should be colorblind sounds like a good idea, except the sin of colorblindness is conformity to a culture of grey. Culture simply is what we make of the world. God offers the raw ingredients, and what we “cook up” and share with the people around our table is our culture. To say that we are colorblind would be to forget the pentatonic scale of the negro spiritual (Amazing Grace, Wade in the Water). To be colorblind would be to forget that every time you count, you use Arabic numerals. To be colorblind would be to forget that our language is a mixture of French faux-pas, Danish coleslaw, the Japanese business tycoon. It is not that our table setting should be grey; rather all colors are invited to the table. It is not that there is no longer Jew or there is no longer Greek, but there is no longer “Jew or Greek.”

lookLast year I had the opportunity to gather in England with scholars from several different countries to share papers with each other. One of the participants was Jaspar Peters, an African American senior at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. One night we were sitting in a pub solving the world’s problems and he mentioned that people looked differently at him in north England than they did in Denver. He said, “Here, their gaze has a lack of suspicion.” I had not noticed because I was consumed with staying the overwhelming urge to say “Namaste” to everyone. “Their eyes lacked suspicion.” Now, later in the evening a woman did ask to feel his dreadlocks, so it’s not a perfect world. I’m not suggesting that England has a better or worse history with racism than does the United States, but it was so very interesting to talk with Jaspar about that realization.

A few weeks ago I talked about how the problem with the adults of Maycomb is that they have defined everyone and everything. Atticus Finch says in his closing arguments of Tom Robinson’s case, “The witnesses of the State, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not be to trusted around our women . . . which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and not to a particular race of men.”

The parable of Tom Robinson is a sad one. He was an innocent man who was wrongly convicted. He left the courtroom losing his freedom and losing his hope. As he was leaving, Atticus told him that they had a real chance on appeal. Even though they did not win the case, the seeds had been planted. But Tom had lost his hope. While in prison he tried to escape and was killed while running. In response to the news, Dill, Jem and Scout’s summer time friend said, “I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown. There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.” Jem replied, “You got it backwards, Dill. Clowns are sad, it’s folks that laugh at them.” Dill answerd, “Well, I’m gonna be a new kind of clown. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at them.”

There is certainly more to talk about. We could talk about the relationship between race and poverty, the fact that not all black people are rich and not all white people are poor, and if you think the sentence is backwards then the point has already been made. We could talk about the racial tension happening in Ferguson, Missouri and how it could happen anywhere, and does. We could talk about how one of my colleagues was asked, “What would you like us to do if a black family comes to worship?”

There are a lot of things to talk about, but today I only ask that when we gather around the table, we come to a place where we are honest about our failures. It is a place where we are valued not by our paycheck or the color of our skin, but a place where we are counted as children of God. We gather around an open table, meaning that you don’t have to be a member of our church or The United Methodist Church, but it is open for those who are in need of forgiveness and grace and the conviction of the Holy Spirit to grow in love with God, a love that will transform your soul and the world itself. This table brings us close to God, a God who walked around in our skin to redeem the skin we’re in. It’s a table which brings us close to Christ, whose body was broken and raised so that we, who are broken people, might be raised to abundant life. It’s a table in which the Holy Spirit fills us with grace and leads us into the hurting places of the world. It is a place where we, who are many, become one because there is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free. There is no male and female, but we are one in Christ Jesus. This does not mean that there is no Jew, or there is no Greek. There is Jew. There is Greek. There is black. There is white. But the dividing wall that is between us crumbles under the weight of the cross and a resurrected savior. On this day and the days to come, may we be filled with compassion, which overcomes our differences. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Parable of Raising Jem and Scout: Compassionate Parenting

Jem & Scout slideI received the “Dad of the Year” award this week. When I bring my girls to school we are often early, so we spend five minutes or so parked in the car pool line each morning. When the car is stopped I allow the girls to unbuckle and move about the minivan, but the deal is, when the car is moving the girls have to be in their seat. Wednesday morning the girls were being particularly cantankerous and they refused to sit in their seat while the car pool line was moving. Three times I said, “Get in your seat. Please sit down. Get back to your seat.” My vocal pleadings were getting nowhere, so I did what any reasonable father would do . . . I tapped the break. The girls went flying across the minivan. Annaleigh scraped her knee on something in the backseat and started to cry. So we get to the front of the line and I open the van door. The girls get out upset, crying, with just a hint of blood upon the knee, and I say, “Have a great day. I love you. Do well.” Epic Fail.

Being a parent is a sobering responsibility.

Image: FILE PHOTO:  50th Anniversary Edition Of The 1962 Film Classic - To Kill A Mockingbird Is ReleasedAtticus Finch is an amazing character, not only for his courage, but because of the way he is a father to Jem and Scout. Now, I’ve read parenting books and baby books and it seems the more you read you either become confused or depressed. You’re confused because this book says you should be doing this and the other book says that what that book says is wrong or antiquated or what have you. I can also remember coming home one day not long after Isabelle was born and Christie was in tears because one book basically said that our bedtime routine made us terrible parents. So, today’s message isn’t a parenting seminar; however scripture expressed through the scenes of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” gives us some really great wisdom.

First, our story offers the importance of holy habits. Early in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we hear of some family habits. Every day Jem and Scout meet Atticus at the end of the street at the end of the work day to walk home together. They eat together as a family. Atticus reads to Scout every evening before bed. There’s a definite rhythm to the day and to the year. Scout recounts this at the end of the book saying:

                  It was daytime and the neighborhood was busy. Miss Stephanie Crawford crossed the street to tell the latest to Miss Rachel. Miss Maudie bent over her azaleas. It was summertime, and two children scampered down the sidewalk toward a man approaching in the distance. The man waved, and the children raced each other to him. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention. It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive. Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.


The rhythm of life. The heartbeat of time. What are the things that we do together as a family? What are the life markers our children will remember? Will they remember the family playing games together or will they remember that mom and dad were busy all of the time? Will they remember getting ready for church every Sunday, or will they remember that Sunday is a day to distance yourself from the world, even the one who created the world? Children remember habits. Earlier this week I wrote about how lovely it would be if Jesus had kids because there may have been a more complete blueprint of what raising Christian children looks like. Jesus didn’t say, “You’ve heard it said that children wait until Sunday night to do their weekend homework, but I say unto you Children should do their homework Saturday morning,” or something like that.

John Wesley StatueThis is a whole other sermon, but scripture doesn’t tell us everything we want to know, like how long my son should be out on the weekends or should my daughter play soccer or the piano. Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we want to know, but it does tell us everything we need to know. Scripture does tell us that we are to love God and love neighbor, we are to walk humbly, we are to eat with sinners, turn the other cheek, wash each other’s feet . . . when we start with what Jesus actually called us to do and allow these holy habits of love and service guide who we are, we will be able to handle life’s variables.

In addition to the importance of forming good habits, our story provides guidance when good habits are broken. Every night Scout and Atticus read together, and this gave Scout the ability to read since the day she was born, as she remembers it. When Scout enters the first grade, her teacher, Miss Caroline tells her that her father is to never read to her again because it’s the teacher’s job to teach a child how to read. Needless to say, Scout is quite upset. I would imagine that some parents would march right up to the school and schedule a meeting with the teacher and the principal. That’s not always the best way to handle conflict. I remember my sister one day in 5th grade science class. The teacher had complained to the students about their poor grades. She said that she was taking time away from her family to grade these papers and the least they could do is study. My sister promptly stood up and said, “Excuse me, m’am. You chose the profession.” We did have a meeting with the principal, but it wasn’t one that we had scheduled. Atticus sat with Scout on the front porch and said, “Do you know what a compromise is? It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent. Now, here’s the way it works. You concede the necessity of going to school, and we’ll keep on reading the same every night just as we always have. Is that a bargain?”

conflictHow do we handle conflict? Remember, our children will handle conflict in the same way they’ve seen conflict resolved. Imagine there are a parent and a child in a room with a large balloon. Then imagine that the balloon pops. The parent/child relationship is such that the child will almost always run to the parent when something out of the ordinary happens. The variable of the situation lies in how the parent treats the child. On one extreme you have the parent who says, “Get over it,” and on the other extreme you have the parent who says, “You will never have to face another balloon ever again. Most of the time the child will mirror or mimic what they experience and see in the parent. Children are like little mirrors, which reflect both a parent’s greatest features and greatest failures. The other day, Cecilia stuck her hand out and said, “Enough!” I thought to myself, “That’s rather forceful, where did she learn that . . . oh . . .” In terms of tension some like to talk it out, others like to meditate and think about what they are feeling, just please know that however it is that you are programed to deal with tension, the children are watching. Now, it’s not perfect. Sometimes I look at my own children and think, “We’ve talked about this!” But the nut doesn’t fall as far from the tree as we sometimes would like to believe.

Holy habits are important. Modeling a healthy way of dealing with tension is important. It’s also important to get creative with discipline. Halfway through the novel, Scout gets in a skirmish with a boy who called Atticus an ugly word. When Uncle Jack hears Scout repeat said word, he whips her several times. The conversation went like this:

“You’re real nice, Uncle Jack, an’ I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don’t understand children much. Well, in the first place you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it—you just lit right into me. When Jem and I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine too, and in the second place you told me never to use words like that except in extreme provocation, and Francis provocated me enough to knock his block off.”

There was a family in which dad and daughter did not get along. One day the daughter broke the rules in a grand and unexpected way. Mom intervened with a creative punishment. Instead of spanking her within an inch of her life, she grounded her for the entire semester. Now she could still go to the movies, hang out with friends, and go to parties, but . . . she had to bring her father with her. If she wanted to go to the movies, Dad had to sit with her. If she wanted to go to dinner with her friends, Dad had to be there. If she wanted to go to the after dance party, Dad had to stand by her. Is there anything worse for a high schooler than to go to a party with her father? Well, the lesson was learned with an interesting side effect. The daughter learned a deep respect for the rules and she regained a new and powerful relationship with her father.

bible doesn't saySpare the rod, spoil the child? Not in the Bible, at least, it’s a harmful paraphrase of Proverbs 13:24 which says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Now I am not going to say to you, “I do not spank my children, and you shouldn’t either.” First of all, it’s condescending. Second of all, it would be a lie. What this verse means is that our children need rules and consequences. Otherwise we leave them in a perpetual guessing game. Is this ok? Is that ok? Our discipline needs to be creative. Spanking a child because she hit someone is at best confusing. Is spanking ok? I think if someone is going at an outlet with a fork in his hand, swatting his hand and his bottom in one fail swoop is a good idea. Now I’m not telling you to spank your children. Neither am I telling you not to spank your children. I’m saying as Christians we are to be creative in the way we discipline our children.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I feel that it would be helpful as parents that when we are called upon to discipline our children we should keep in mind that when Jesus saw children, he saw the kingdom of heaven. How does that affect the way we handle discipline?

Finally, our story communicates the importance of eating together. Every day the Finch family gathers for a meal. There is almost no more important act that we can do as a Christian community. Eating together as a family seems to be a dying art in our culture because families are going in one hundred different directions. Habits, or the Means of Grace, give us our identity, and the chief of these habits, or as John Wesley put it, the Grand Channel, is communion—eating together. Gathering around a table with our friends, our enemies, with all of those who call Christ, Lord, is our identity as children of God. Eating together as a family and as members of Christ’s family provides for us a moment of connection, reflection, and most importantly, God’s grace.

perfect parentWho is the perfect parent? It’s not I, nor would I imagine it being you. Parenting is the definition of “on the job training.” Scripture through the lens of the powerful characters of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” call us to instill honest habits and habitual honesty. They beckon us to resolve conflict in a holy and Christian way. They challenge us to be creative in our discipline. It commands us to eat together in Christian communion. Let the children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Three-Sided Ice Bucket . . . or is it Four?

Han Solo
Have you seen the “Ice Bucket Challenge?” If you’ve spent more than five minutes on Facebook you’ve probably already been tagged and challenged. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a short video challenging others to either donate $100 to the ALS Association or donate only $25 and make up the difference by dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. It’s pretty genius. Contributions to ALS research have quadrupled this quarter according to some sources. I think I might start a new campaign. You have to contribute $100 to The Well or donate only $25 and listen to “Han Solo Wouldn’t Say ‘I Love You'” (my worst sermon ever, deliver in 2007. Actually the debate on what’s my worst sermon is a weekly challenge. You never know when you’ll crown a new winner).

Not everyone agrees that the Ice Bucket Challenge is a good thing. Some disagree with the kind of research the ALS Association is doing. Others living in drought-striken areas are calling attention to the amount of water wasted in the videos. Still others call the campaign a shallow example of our narcissistic, selfie-obsessed culture.

Even though my uncle succumbed to ALS, and the disease sucks–every bit of it sucks (pardon my language, though this is the censored version); this article isn’t about ALS or the Ice Bucket Challenge or the wasted water or selfies.

ice bucketAm I supposed to be “for” the Ice Bucket Challenge or am I supposed to be “against” it? Sound silly? Good! Having to “pick a side” is exhausting. In our Post-Post Modern culture the individual is the canon of truth and if something doesn’t measure up, it’s wrong. We can certainly talk about being Pro or Anti fill in the blank, but what I want you to think about today is this: A dualistic world is too simple for a Triune God.

There are never only two options, and if someone is telling you there are only two sides, you must meet their advice with swift and immediate suspicion. Because God exists in three persons there are at least three lenses through which we see truth. There is my experience, there is your experience, and there is that which is independent of both you and me. Shoot, I would go so far as to say there are four ways of understanding what truly is: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When Caiaphas asks Jesus, “Are you the Messiah,” Jesus offers a different answer in each Gospel. That doesn’t mean scripture is wrong; rather truth is greater than what my two eyeballs can perceive.

A dualistic world is too simple for a Triune God. So, if you get tagged for the ALS challenge, get creative! If water is a concern then donate to the ALS Society and Advent Conspiracy. If you disagree with the means of ALS research, then donate to pension for ALS nurses and care givers. Consider yourself challenged! If you refuse, then I will hand-deliver “Han Solo Wouldn’t Say I Love You,” and you will regret every minute of it.

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Beautiful Feet–Romans 10:5-15

Beautiful Feet“Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I might amend that to say, “Beautiful are the feet which fit in last year’s school shoes.” You might think that scripture would say, “Beautiful is the face,” or “Beautiful is the voice,” but no, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Feet are important. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, footwear contributed $354 Billion to the American Economy in 2012. Footwear is a lucrative business, and I think it’s a fair statement to say that the industry is built on the promise shoes offer. Shoes promise to make you jump higher, run faster, stand taller, walk without pain, make an outfit, work harder, etc. The good news these beautiful feet offer also make a promise—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Not “might be,” or “could be,” or if they never screw up there is a possibility of salvation—it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Saved from what? Fair question. Paul doesn’t say . . . well, sort of. If “Confess Jesus Christ as your savior and you shall be saved,” is enough for you, then I say, “Amen!” You have my blessing to stop reading, but I need more. What are we talking about? What is Confession? What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord? Saved from what?
righteous“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that the person who does these things will live by them.’” Paul is quoting Leviticus 18:5 as he sets up his argument between “righteousness from the law” and “righteousness from faith.” “Righteousness” means, “Ongoing relationship or connection with God.” Sometimes we think of righteousness as never messing up or being holy or being right all the time. You are one of the righteous when you have an ongoing and consistent connection with God. Usually good choices, a sense of peace, deep and abiding friendships, these things can flow from loving God and neighbor, but they aren’t the prerequisite. It’s not that you do these good things which counts you as righteous; rather your connection with God gives birth to good things.
lawPaul sets up an argument about “righteousness from the law” and “righteousness from faith.” These are not mutually exclusive. It is not about following one or the other. Paul is not throwing out the law, in fact to argue “righteousness from faith,” he quotes the law—Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Romans 10:5-8 are quotes from Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 30, respectively. So when Paul is talking about righteousness from faith as opposed to the law, he’s quoting from the law. That should be our first clue that the goal is not to throw away the law—Paul’s using it! On one side we have “righteousness from the law” or having a connection with God through the law—the person who does these things will live by them. On the other side we have “righteousness from faith,” or relationship with God through faith. What’s the difference?
tiger stadiumFootball season is so close I can taste it. One way to look at this is to imagine a football field. The Law is the boundary line. It shows us what is out-of-bounds, so to speak. You don’t have much of a game if there isn’t an end zone or yard markers. Faith, on the other hand, is what happens within the boundaries. Faith is the actual game. Having a connection with football through the law would be like painting the white lines on the field. It’s a great meditative practice, but at the end of the day the score is still zero to zero. Bringing the football across the goal line is what actually has value. Now, every metaphor has its limits, but follow me… The point is the game. Professional wide receivers can run a ten-yard out route without looking at the lines on the field. At some point, you get so good at playing you no longer need lines. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” Paul says via Deut. 30.
If I were to say, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” what goes through your mind? How about “Four score and seven years ago?” How about “I have a dream?” There are some images in our culture so vivid that only a word or a phrase is needed. When Paul writes, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” the community would have remembered Moses standing before the crowd in Deuteronomy, saying to them, “Here is the will of God. Here is the law. If you follow it, it will be a blessing to you. If you turn from it, it will become a curse to you.” By the time Paul is writing, the Jewish community knew that the Law had become a curse because they had turned away from it. This gave rise to the Pharisees who zealously following the law in order to reverse the curse, so to speak, but reversing the curse is not something humanity is able to achieve. When Paul says, “Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord,” it goes beyond what the mouth says. Paul is talking about the recognition that it is through Christ and not zealously following the law, that we are reconciled. Paul is not pointing us to confession as much as Paul is pointing us to Jesus. Some take this more literally, saying, “You have to say that Jesus is Lord,” but that is akin to painting the lines on the field. The point isn’t the confession; as much as living the realization that Jesus is Lord.

ConfessionNow, the lines are needed. Confession is needed. Daily confession is needed. For many, there comes a time when you hit your knees, look up to the heavens and say, “Lord, what I’m doing ain’t working.” If that is where you are, I pray that you offer me the opportunity to bless the water and pour it over your head and say, “You are forgiven. Get up, you beautiful child of God. But at a certain point, your Christian journey is such that you don’t need the lines anymore, your action, your attitude, your very presence expresses that Jesus is Lord. It is Jesus who reverses the curse not my righteousness. If you want to be Methodist about it, it’s called Sanctification. It’s part of the process of salvation. Justification is when the master looks at the Prodigal and says, “Welcome home.” Sanctification is the power of the Holy Spirit to keep you in the master’s house.
passoverThose who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Saved from what? That’s a great question. This would have been a grand opportunity for Paul to lay out his doctrine of Hell, but he didn’t. So, what are we talking about? Hang on to your seat! Verse 13—“Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,” refers to Joel 2:32, which is talking about The Day of the Lord. Joel says, “I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those who the Lord calls.” This for Joel is referencing Ezekiel 32 which reads, “Mortal, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him . . . I will drench the land with your flowing blood up to the mountains, and the watercourses will be filled with you. When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon shall not give its light,” which remembers Exodus 10 and the plague of darkness which is the plague that leads into the death of the first born and the Passover. So when Paul says that those who call upon the Lord will be saved, they will be saved from darkness, from death, from being forgotten, from endless bondage for it was the death of the first born and the blood of the lamb which caused the angel of death to pass over the Ancient Israelites, leading them into freedom. So who is the Lord to whom we call out? You see, Paul isn’t necessarily talking about the after life; rather he is trying to show the people that the Lord is not the Law. The Lord is Christ Jesus.
feetHow will they know? Who will tell them? Often these few verses are used to legitimize evangelism. I want to go on record in saying that I have no problem with spreading the Gospel. Please hear me! Paul is referring to Israel. How will Israel know that Christ is the Lord? Masterfully, Paul has been using the law as a means to point to Christ this whole time. So when he asks, “How will they know?” It’s been there from the beginning. When he says, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” he’s not talking about bring the gospel to the Amazon, again a fruitful mission, just not what Paul is talking about. “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” is an answer to the question because it is a reference to the messiah from Isaiah 52-55. Jesus is from God. Jesus is the way. Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns…” See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high . . . surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; struck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed . . . Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat! Incline you ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live. I will make with you and everlasting covenant (55:1, 3).
Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. The feet which were pierced and the feet which walked out of the tomb so that we might be saved, so that we might find abundant life. Go and live as if you believe it to be true. May you find abundant life today. Amen and amen.

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The Sad Clown

sunflowers“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things” (Doctor Who, Season 5, Episode 10).

The Doctor flew his TARDIS to meet Vincent Van Gogh. After battling demons, figurative and real, the doctor invited the saddened and depressed Van Gogh to fly to the future with him in order to see just how important was his life. Standing in the British National Gallery Vincent wept as he sees his “Sunflowers” under the soft, white light of importance while the curator says, “Not only was he the most important artist in the world, he was one of the most important people in the world.” Vincent is overcome with an emotional flood, which a struggling soul rarely feels in the apathetic nothingness of depression. They fly back to to 1889 Arles, France thinking that knowing of his greatness, Vincent’s self-demise would have been stayed. The Doctor and his companion, Amy, return to the National Gallery where they learn that Vincent’s fate was unchanged.

Vincent“How can this be?” Amy asks the Doctor. I often find grand theological themes in Doctor Who, namely the nature of salvation in terms of time, identity, and ethics, but the message is a bit different this time. The Doctor sometimes talks about “fixed points” in time, unchangeable events impossible to alter. I’m not saying that John Calvin would lean in this direction, but if he did, Wesley would have leaned an equal measure in the opposite direction. That’s another article. In this case, the story is less about what can or cannot be changed as it is a humbling reflection on the depth of depression, and how we, the living, are to hold one another in times of unexplainable tragedy.

harpoI usually don’t get emotional when tragedy strikes celebrities, but hearing that Robin Williams has died due to an apparent suicide gave me pause. The art of comedy is just as mystifying and life giving as is composition
or oil painting or athleticism or poetry. I would argue that answering “Why do we laugh?” is a harder question to answer than most, which is why one of the few pictures hanging on my office wall is that of Harpo Marx. There’s something essential and mysterious about laughter and its cause.

I wish I were laughing more. It’s sad news, and there’s so much of it–the seemingly senseless murder of Michael Brown (which I fear will quickly be forgotten), the desperate mountain-top existence of refugees escaping violence in Iraq, the burrows and bombs of Israel and Palestine, and the tension and hate close to home which we’d prefer to hide away.

JesusMaybe more than ever we are in need of the sad clown. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to the musical, Godspell. Jesus appears in white-face and oversized shoes, but is deeply grieved over the brokenness of the world. After all, “Joy,” is what we call the peace of God that continues within us during times of tragedy. It’s not happiness, nor is it void of pain. Jesus said to the crowd, “Blessed are you when you are reviled. Leap for joy for great is your reward in heaven.” Maybe he had Psalm 30:5 in mind–“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Or is it “Joy comes with the mourning.” I forget…

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Omnificence–Psalm 139

Psalm 139If I place an opened cookie jar on the table in the middle of my three daughters, I’m pretty sure I know what is going to happen. Isabelle will negotiate an agreement to obtain a cookie. Annaleigh will bat her eyes and ask through pouted lips, “Daddy, can I have a cookie?” Cecilia will impatiently wait until her sisters get the cookie, and then she will take it from them. If I place unprotected cookies in the center of the table I know what’s going to happen. Does that mean I can tell the future? I don’t think so, but it does mean that I know my daughters better than they know themselves.

know thyself
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me,” begins Psalm 139. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and the good news is that God still bothers to be our God. “Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, You know it completely.” Some would ask, “Then what’s the point?” Indeed. What is the point of singing “How Great is Our God.” I’m assuming today isn’t the first time you’ve heard it, and if it was I pray that it was a blessing to you. “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” A few days ago I read Madeline to my girls during bed, bath, and beyond. We all know the story. That doesn’t mean we only read it once. God knows the words that are on your tongue and in your heart, and we are called to share them. God is not a manager who is interested in the daily report. God is fundamentally interested in you. Saying “I love you” to my wife is not a conveyance of information; rather it is an investment in relationship. God knows what is on our heart, and the good news is that God will take the time to listen anyway.
“You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” How purposefully mundane is that? I would expect that God would take notice of when we saved the company or reinvented public education or solved world hunger and certainly God smiles because of the big stuff, but God is also there when we first open our eyes in the morning and when we close them at night. When we can find God in those moments between breaths we begin to grasp at the awesomeness of God.

These first six verses remind us of God’s unlimited knowledge, and the next six verses reveals God’s unlimited presence. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol you are there.” It is easy to miss the scandal of presence the poet suggests. After God offered the Law to Moses and the Ancient Israelites he commanded that they built a tent or tabernacle so that God could travel with them. Later after the kingdom was established, Solomon built a Temple in which God could live. When the Temple was in Jerusalem, God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. You would bring your sacrifice to the Temple. You would bring your offering to the Temple. You would go to God, in essence. The poet, here, doesn’t mention the Temple. He specifically mentions God being outside of the Temple. We like walls. We like boundaries and borders. It helps us define who we are and who we are not.

Borders do have a purpose and are important, but they can be taken too far. Do we really believe that God can be in both Israel and Gaza? Do we really believe that God is in both Russia and Ukraine? Do we have faith that God is traveling with immigrant children forced to find a better way? It is a complex issue, and there will be great politicking and posturing. Will not be able to solve Israeli/Palestinia and Russian/Ukrainian and North and South American border disputes in the context of this worship service today, but what I want to say is this. Can we with the Psalmist also proclaim the scandal of God’s unbound presence? If I make my bed on this side of the wall or that side of the wall, on neither side can I run from God’s presence, and that should give us pause when tension escalates to violence.

God is omniscient, unbound by human intellect. God is also omnipresent, unbound by the walls we build, whether the walls surround nations or buildings or they are the walls into which we put each other or the walls we build around our own heart. If I ascend to heaven, when I’m enjoying the best of times, you are there. When I make my bed in Sheol, when I have hit rock bottom, you are there. When my soul leaps for joy you are there. When my heart breaks your heart breaks as well. Where can I go to flee from your presence?

Unbinding LazarusA God who is all-knowing and always present is one thing, but the next few verses reveal that the very essence of God resides in our own fingertips. “For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The more you learn about a painter the more you are able to recognize the fingerprints of his or her own work. The more you know about a musician the more you are able to hear their identity in their music. As we grow in faith we begin to see the face of Christ in each other. You are wonderfully made. Do you believe that? If you are wonderfully made then so is your neighbor, so is the person who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, so is the person at work that you can’t stand, so is your enemy. My how the world would be different if we just meditated on that one verse. We don’t always follow the master’s design, but we all have the capacity to change the world.

God is omniscient, which means that God knows you better than you know yourself. God is omnipresent, which means there are no human-made borders in the kingdom of God. God is omnificent, which means God has unlimited creativity, and it is God’s omnificence which continues to work on you by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is not finished with us, and how thankful I am for that. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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On the Sixth Day, God Created Borders

Chain-link fenceAnd on the sixth day, God looked upon Creation and said, “Let us create borders and divide up the land.” Wait . . . that’s not what it says. Now, I’m not looking to have an immigration reform debate or a discussion on the importance of border control. I know enough to know that I don’t know enough.

What I do know is that my wife and I love our three daughters. What kind of hardship, what kind of violence, what kind of difficulty would cause me to look them in the eye and send them away to seek a better life away from home? Dear God, it breaks my heart to think of it.

As I read the news it seems like I’m reading the same story, and the story is this: “On which side of the wall do I belong?” Yes we are in the midst of a border crisis. Those trying to escape mortar fire in Gaza and Israel would say the same. Is the eastern Ukranian border part of Russia or isn’t it? How much blood needs to be shed over the lines we draw in the sand?

wall 2

I know it’s not as simple as that. The walls we build are erected with the brick and mortar of culture, time, ethnicity, wealth, value . . . But that won’t stop my prayers for all to see the profound truth of Galatians 3:28–that in Christ we are uniquely one. Like voices in a choir we each have the beautiful distinction as a child of God, but all voices are directed to the Lamb. It is not a grey world of lukewarmness, but a vibrant tapestry in which each strand is honored and woven into God’s masterwork.

Our Psalm for Psunday, Psalm 139 says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (verse 14). Do you believe that to be true about you? Do you believe that to be true of your neighbor? How about your enemy?

Dear God I’m not perfect, and the walls around my heart can be high. May God offer us grace so that Christ may be proclaimed . . .

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Psummer of Psalms Day 37

Psalm 107
Morning: Psalm 106

A Confession of Israel’s Sins

1 Praise the Lord!
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
3 Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times.

4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favour to your people;
help me when you deliver them;
5 that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory in your heritage.

6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
7 Our ancestors, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wonderful works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
so that he might make known his mighty power.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry;
he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10 So he saved them from the hand of the foe,
and delivered them from the hand of the enemy.
11 The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
12 Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.

13 But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
14 But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
15 he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

16 They were jealous of Moses in the camp,
and of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord.
17 The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
and covered the faction of Abiram.
18 Fire also broke out in their company;
the flame burned up the wicked.

19 They made a calf at Horeb
and worshipped a cast image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Saviour,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
26 Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 and would disperse their descendants among the nations,
scattering them over the lands.

28 Then they attached themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
29 they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
30 Then Phinehas stood up and interceded,
and the plague was stopped.
31 And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness
from generation to generation for ever.

32 They angered the Lord at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account;
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke words that were rash.

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
38 they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
and the land was polluted with blood.
39 Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and prostituted themselves in their doings.

40 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
41 he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes,
and were brought low through their iniquity.
44 Nevertheless, he regarded their distress
when he heard their cry.
45 For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
46 He caused them to be pitied
by all who held them captive.

47 Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

48 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
And let all the people say, ‘Amen.’
Praise the Lord!

Mid-Day: Psalm 107

Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Many Troubles

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
7 he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
prisoners in misery and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labour;
they fell down, with no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
and broke their bonds asunder.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze,
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
20 he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
37 they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Evening: Psalm 108

Praise and Prayer for Victory

A Song. A Psalm of David.
1 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
2 Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
3 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples,
and I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4 For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
and let your glory be over all the earth.
6 Give victory with your right hand, and answer me,
so that those whom you love may be rescued.

7 God has promised in his sanctuary:
‘With exultation I will divide up Shechem,
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
8 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my sceptre.
9 Moab is my wash-basin;
on Edom I hurl my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.’

10 Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
11 Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
12 O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
13 With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

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Psummer of Psalms Day 36

Psalm 103Morning: Psalm 103

Thanksgiving for God’s Goodness

Of David.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Mid-Day: Psalm 104

God the Creator and Provider

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Evening: Psalm 105

God’s Faithfulness to Israel

1 O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wonderful works.
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually.
5 Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgements he has uttered,
6 O offspring of his servant Abraham,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

7 He is the Lord our God;
his judgements are in all the earth.
8 He is mindful of his covenant for ever,
of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance.’

12 When they were few in number,
of little account, and strangers in it,
13 wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
14 he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
15 saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.’

16 When he summoned famine against the land,
and broke every staff of bread,
17 he had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 His feet were hurt with fetters,
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the Lord kept testing him.
20 The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21 He made him lord of his house,
and ruler of all his possessions,
22 to instruct his officials at his pleasure,
and to teach his elders wisdom.

23 Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
24 And the Lord made his people very fruitful,
and made them stronger than their foes,
25 whose hearts he then turned to hate his people,
to deal craftily with his servants.

26 He sent his servant Moses,
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
27 They performed his signs among them,
and miracles in the land of Ham.
28 He sent darkness, and made the land dark;
they rebelled against his words.
29 He turned their waters into blood,
and caused their fish to die.
30 Their land swarmed with frogs,
even in the chambers of their kings.
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies,
and gnats throughout their country.
32 He gave them hail for rain,
and lightning that flashed through their land.
33 He struck their vines and fig trees,
and shattered the trees of their country.
34 He spoke, and the locusts came,
and young locusts without number;
35 they devoured all the vegetation in their land,
and ate up the fruit of their ground.
36 He struck down all the firstborn in their land,
the first issue of all their strength.

37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed,
for dread of them had fallen upon it.
39 He spread a cloud for a covering,
and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quails,
and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise,
and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
44 He gave them the lands of the nations,
and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
45 that they might keep his statutes
and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord!

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