July 31, 2020

Rare Specimen of Divine Power

Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
Ps 66:5

When the psalm tells us to "come and see what God has done," it's talking about taking note not of the wonders of creation in nature, but about how God has dealt with God's people. Calvin reminds us that the Bible (both Old & New Testaments) "calls upon us to descend into ourselves if we would discover the proofs of a present God," for the awesomeness toward people spoken of here is God's "evincing an extraordinary providence in their defense and preservation."

This notion of finding the information we need within ourselves is a common theme for Calvin, who spoke of it quite near the beginning of the Institutes [1.5.3], stating that "certain of the philosophers have not improperly called man [sic] a microcosm, as being a rare specimen of divine power, wisdom,

July 30, 2020

As Kindness Knows No Shame

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his Name; give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your Name.”
Ps 66:1-4

Today, I'm reminded of a beautiful old Stevie Wonder song. Here are the words:

As around the sun the earth knows she's revolving,
and the rosebuds know to bloom in early May, 
just as hate knows love's the cure 

July 29, 2020

A Stream Will Do

You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.
Psalm 65:9-13

This is one of the most beautiful passages in the entire psalter. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, a song of praise for God's providence. Verse 9 sets the tone in two parallel sections:
  1. Generally, the earth benefits from the visitation of God with water.
  2. Specifically, the people of earth benefit from the river of God.
And this is what draws my attention this morning. The "river of God"

July 28, 2020

Out into the Unknown

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. 
Ps 65:5

We commit sin, God responds with forgiveness and election and a sense of belonging (see Ps 65:3-4). And here in v. 5 God answers us with deliverance. God is a God of wholeness. And just as v 2 promised us that God's election was not for one nation alone, here we are reminded that the hope of God's deliverance extends to the far corners of the earth.

The psalms, though inseparable from the spirituality of a particular people, are also universal in their scope. They lead my eye from Abraham and Jacob and David to people yet unborn, assuring me that God's mighty deeds didn't stop at the end of the Book of Malachi, but continued on from the Gospel according to Matthew, to the Revelation to John, through today, and

July 27, 2020

Not on Our Merit

When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
Ps 65:3-4

Three things stand out in these two verses: the sinfulness of God's people, God's response, and our reaction.
  1. First, our iniquity, it seems, is not simply what we do, but what we get mixed up in—often without knowing it. "Deeds of iniquity overwhelm us." They are more than the sum of our actions, but are indeed part of the very condition in which we live. They're the very water we're drowning in.
  2. God's response, though, is twofold. First God forgives. And then God chooses. And it couldn't be more clear that God chooses based not

July 26, 2020

Hear My Voice

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless; they shoot suddenly and without fear.
Psalm 64:1-4

Calvin said that "the voice is heard in prayer, proportionally to the earnestness and ardor which we feel." This, in my opinion, is a very un-Calvinist thing for him to have said. For how can I make God's response to my prayer depend on the way I feel at the time I pray? The ideal, certainly, is that I pray from the bottom of my heart, as it were—to pray with complete and sincere feeling. But there are times in my life when it takes a great act of faith to pray at all, when the weakest, most doubtful voice is almost more than I can muster. Am I then to say, "God won't hear my prayer, because my faith this day is far from perfect"? or even "Now that I need God the most, God will hear my prayer the least"? No, weak faith is made stronger by prayer, and God perfects my imperfection, especially in the area of prayer. This is, in fact, scriptural.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray

July 25, 2020

July 26 Worship

This is the fifth installment of my Bible Study on Paul's Letter to the Romans. One of the main points contained in it is an attempt to help us better understand the magnificence of the concept of redemption. Here's the order of worship:
  • 00:00 Chimes
  • 00:29 Prélude: For the Beauty of the Earth
  • 03:00 Welcome
  • 03:25 Call to Worship: Isaiah 26.1b-4
  • 04:10 Opening Prayer
  • 04:22 First Scripture Reading: Romans 3.23-26
  • 05:06 Bible Study Part 1
  • 08:07 Movie Clip: The Parting of the Red Sea
  • 15:15 Bible Study Part 2
  • 17:22 Second Scripture Reading: Romans 3.27-31
  • 18:00 Bible Study Part 3
  • 19:25 Third Scripture Reading: Romans 1.15-16; 3.21-22
  • 19:54 Bible Study Part 4
  • 21:28 Pastoral Prayer
  • 22:56 Lord's Prayer
  • 23:28 Song: Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
  • 24:20 Words of Institution
  • 24:51 Communion Prayer
  • 25:32 Fraction
  • 26:03 Benediction
  • 26:16 Response: Go Now in Peace
It's best to view the video in full-screen mode.
Crossposted to chardon.church

A Veritable Shadow

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:8

The Hebrew verb דָּבְקָה in the first clause of this verse reminds me of a person-to-person defense in basketball. The soul in this case clings in a very active sense, such as basketball defenders do to the person with the ball or anybody who might end up with it. The soul is a veritable shadow of its object of devotion.

I think we might be satisfied to think of God as stationary, meaning the soul is inactive in its clinging. But God is ever on the move, creating new things, transforming old things, working for justice, making peace, challenging our

July 24, 2020

A Sign of Surrender

So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your Name.
Ps 63:4 

"In the lifting up of hands, allusion is made to praying and vowing; and [the psalmist] intimates, that besides giving thanks to God, [they] would acquire additional confidence in supplication, and be diligent in the exercise of it. Any experience we may have of the divine goodness, while it stirs us up to gratitude, should, at the same time, strengthen our hopes of the future, and lead us confidently to expect that God will perfect the grace which he has begun."
✶ John Calvin 

I like the way Calvin moves from the lifting up of hands to the perfection of the grace begun. To lift one's hands is a sign of surrender, a sign of giving, and an invitation to weakness—for the raising of one's arms can't help but

July 23, 2020

Thirst for God

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Ps 63:1

The imagery of Psalm 63:1 is so vivid that it really needs very little explanation. When I am thirsty, I can think of nothing but drinking water. The thirstier I am, the more desperate I am for it. But when I am not thirsty, when my body is nice and hydrated, I seldom spare a thought for water. And so this psalm is, more than anything else, about the fact that God is missing from the psalmist's life. Yet the Psalmist notes what's missing at the core of her or his being.

This, I think, is affirmation of two things:
  • First, that there are times in a believer's life when we do not feel God's presence. There's no need here to judge whether this is a good thing or not. It's a simple fact. There is no reason to beat

July 22, 2020

The Apologist's Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.
—C.S. Lewis (1964)

Dust in the Wind

Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.
Psalm 62:9-12
Today's portion of the psalms is intended to put things in perspective. At first glance, it seems little more than a precursor of Kansas' fatalistic song that said, "All we are is dust in the wind." But just as Kansas had a bit more to say on the subject, so does this psalm: 

Now, don't hang on, 
nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
It slips away, 

July 21, 2020

Dilated with Pride

How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be all slain; ye shall be as a bowed wall, or as a wall shaken.
Psalm 62:3

That was the Geneva Bible. The NRSV renders the above verse this way: 

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

This is very different from the Geneva Bible's translation, which I used at the top. I'm not talking about the difference between wall and fence, which is relatively minor, but about what the wall and/or fence and/or dam (which might be what the Hebrew actually means) stands for. In the NRSV, it's the victim, but in the Geneva Bible, it's the victimizer.

Here's how I would translate this verse:

How long will you continue your assault on a person? You shall all be killed, as a tottering wall, a dam about to give way.

The point is that, in the Hebrew, it's evident that the weak structure isn't the

July 20, 2020

Yet for God

Yet my soul keepeth silence unto God; of him cometh my salvation.
Psalm 62:1

I'm using the Geneva Bible today to render what I think is closer to the true meaning of Psalm 62:1. The NRSV begins, "For God alone..." but the Hebrew word translated here as "alone" (or "only") is actually "but" or "nevertheless" or "yet." The Psalmist, like Martha in the kitchen, is distracted by many things. We can almost picture, just before Psalm 62 opens, that she has been rebuked by the Lord, who shows her a better example: 

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
—Luke 10:41-42

Hence the sudden beginning, as though we're already in the middle of a thought. " [I am distracted by too many things,] yet for God, my soul will keep its peace—only God can be the source of my wholeness."

I hope to remember this today and in the future. When I am distracted or overwhelmed, it's never too late to start out a prayer with a But...

But it's for you that I will keep still, Lord. Only you can make me whole, and only you can see me to the end of my journey. So for you I will wait, lest I be tempted to come to my own end. I pray in the Name of Christ, who taught me to pray: Our Father...

July 19, 2020

July 19 Worship

Today's worship video includes the fourth installment of my Bible Study on Romans. Part of it covers a passage we looked at last week, and then continues on to the end of the eighth chapter. Last week I used Harry Potter as an example. This week, I refer to a documentary film called Searching for Sugar Man, as well as the life and ministry of Corrie ten Boom. After the Bible Study, I've included the song O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines, with scenes from the Edmund Pettis Bridge (in memory of John Lewis). The words are included, but the tune is the more commonly used Jerusalem, not the unfortunate tune the Chalice Hymnal uses for this hymn.

As always, it's best to view the video in full-screen mode. And have some bread and wine (or the equivalent in your household) on hand to participate in communion. I've also asked the congregations to light a candle (or light a small lamp) to help remind us that the Holy Spirit is present, and that that same Spirit unites us all from house to house.

Here's the order of worship:
  • 00:00 Chimes
  • 00:24 Prélude: When Morning Gilds the Skies
  • 02:55 Welcome
  • 03:30 Call to Worship: Psalm 145.1, 3, 17-18
  • 04:00 Opening Prayer
  • 04:36 First Scripture Passage: Romans 8.28-30
  • 05:03 Bible Study, Part 1
  • 11:58 Second Scripture Passage: Romans 8.31-39
  • 13:06 Bible Study, Part 2
  • 15:48 Song: O Day of Peace
  • 18:31 Communion Prayer
  • 19:31 Lord's Prayer
  • 19:59 Fraction/Institution
  • 20:52 Benediction
  • 21:29 Response: Go Now in Peace

Crossposted to Pilgrim Worship.

My Song as I Journey

Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
Psalm 61:4

Israel came to know God while they were still a pilgrim people. Long before there was a temple of wood and stone, there was a tabernacle—a tent that could be carried from place to place—in which God was said to dwell. Longing for God was expressed, then, as dwelling in God's tent, even while the pilgrim was on the move. The faithful felt as secure and happy there as a baby bird under the shadow of its parents' wings.

Christians, too, are a pilgrim people, and know the tabernacle not as a tent, but as a body—the body of Christ, the church. No song captures the connection between the Hebrew discovery—and the Christian experience—

July 18, 2020

John Lewis (1940-2020)

John Lewis receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom
from President Barack Obama
I woke up to this morning to the news that Representative John Lewis had died during the night. An Alabama native, Lewis met Rosa Parks at the age of 17 and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the age of 18. Rep. Lewis marched for civil rights with Dr. King, bearing threats, imprisonment, attacks by police dogs, and beatings—most famously on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where his skull was fractured by a mounted police officer when he stopped with the other marchers to pray. In 1987 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives out of Atlanta. At the time of his death he was the dean of the Georgia delegation.

As I meditate on his life, I remember these words from the committal liturgy that I always read at the graveside:
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit. They rest from their labors and their works follow them.
Rep. Lewis, your works have followed you into the arms of the God you loved and served. May they now lead us to finish what you so nobly started.

(Guess what books I'll be re-reading in the days to come.)

Confront the World

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
—Psalm 61:1-3

There's a well-known passage in Exodus (ch. 33) where Moses encounters God on a mountaintop. Moses asks to see God's glory, but of course this was not possible—no one can survive the sight of God's full glory. And so God hides Moses in the cleft of the rock, keeping him safe until Moses is permitted just to glimpse God's back. Even then, Moses is visibly transformed, and the people are afraid of his appearance when he descends the mountain.

Contrast this to the opening of Psalm 61, where we find a desperate believer who feels very far from God. It is clear that this person feels the threat of

July 17, 2020

Out of Bowshot

You have made your people suffer hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us reel. You have set up a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it out of bowshot.
Psalm 60:3-4

These two verses are a bit odd, but I think I can make sense of them. In the garden, Jesus prayed that God would "let this cup pass from" him, referring to the agony of the crucifixion. The idea that our difficulties are a lot that has been given to us like a cup of wine, then, is not unheard of, even to those who have never studied Hebrew idioms. But here it is expressed in a psalm which refers to the difficulties God either lets us suffer or sends our way: they are like a cup of wine that makes us "tremble"—which is a better translation of תַּרְעֵלָה (tremor or tremulous) than "reel" in my opinion. I wonder if Bonhoeffer wasn't thinking of Psalm 60 when he penned these beautiful

July 16, 2020

Steadfast Love in the Morning

I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
Psalm 59:16

Verses 16 and 17 are a further demonstration of why Psalm 59:9 is incorrectly translated in most modern versions of the psalms. Verse 9 refers to "his strength"—note the ending on the Hebrew word: עֻזּוֹ. While v. 16 has a different ending, indicating "your strength": עֻזֶּךָ, in v. 17, there's yet another ending, rendering it "my strength": עֻזִּי. 

As interesting a diversion as these endings are, I don't really want to talk about that this morning. I just wanted to show how valuable it can be to look at the Bible in its original language. What inspires me this morning is morning itself. The psalter portion appointed for the day I was born* says that "weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning" [Ps. 30:5b], and that pretty much describes what's happening in Psalm 59:16. The

July 15, 2020

He Is Strong

O my [sic] strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.
Psalm 59:9

This is a very strange verse. At some point, modern translations seem to have agreed that "strength" must refer to God, and that the pronoun should be the first person singular. But the Geneva Bible (and the KJV after it) thought otherwise. Calvin himself preferred this translation: I will entrust his strength to thee... And, indeed, the Hebrew should not be rendered as modern translations seem to prefer, for it speaks of "his strength" not "my strength."*

The reason, as Calvin sees it, is that the psalmist in Psalm 59 is speaking of threat, and in this case, the threat is from Saul. This interpretation seems clear enough, but there's a problem: Verse 9 is the only place where the

July 14, 2020

Ça Ira

Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Today is the 231st anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the beginning of the French Revolution. One of the most famous revolutionary songs (first sung a few months after the Storming of the Bastille) was Ça Ira, which means "it'll be fine." This title and sentiment have American roots, because "ça ira" is what Benjamin Franklin—the American commissioner in Paris—used to tell the French when they'd how the American Revolution was going.

This particular rendition of Ça Ira is sung by Edith Piaf.

We Have Other Gods

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge people fairly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.
—Psalm 58:1-2

We no longer hear much about Asherah and Baal, Osiris and Isis, Marduk and Ishtar. There's just not that much of a temptation for modern day believers in the God of Israel to kneel before them. We have other gods, though: greed, power, money, lust, capitalism, militarism. But because we don't acknowledge them as gods, we don't realize that we worship them.

But make no mistake—it is by their hand that war, injustice, and oppression is meted out on earth. The ancients at least called their gods gods. We're

July 13, 2020

Gratitude and Praise

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
  Psalm 57:9 

There is, I suppose, more than one way to thank God among the peoples and to praise God among the nations. In my setting, the most obvious way is to make known to people who may not be persons of faith that I am a disciple, and that I attribute the good in my life to God.

In some (many?) settings, this might, in fact, be counterproductive. To talk about God in a society in which people calling themselves Christians advocate racism and bigotry might close more ears than it opens. And so gratitude and praise might better be expressed through sharing with others

July 12, 2020

July 12 Worship

My study on Romans continues with a look at Romans 8:26-30. To better understand the verses 29-30, I bring Harry Potter into the mix. Here's the order:
  • 00:00 Chimes
  • 00:23 Prélude: Hedwig's Theme
  • 01:34 Welcome
  • 02:10 Call to Worship: Psalm 105:4-7
  • 02:32 Opening Prayer
  • 03:12 Scripture Reading: Romans 8:26-30
  • 04:11 Bookshelf Tour
  • 16:26 Bible Study
  • 27:34 Song: My Love Is Always Here
  • 30:38 Prayer/Epiclesis
  • 32:13 Lord's Prayer
  • 32:40 Fraction/Institution
  • 33:26 Benediction
  • 33:54 Response: Go Now in Peace
As always, it's best to watch the video in full-screen mode.

To Be Awake at Sunrise

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.
Psalm 57:7-8

To be awake at sunrise and sing the psalms not only arouses the soul, but welcomes the day in a way that nothing else can, for, as Calvin put it, "one who is really awake to the exercise of praising God... will be unremitting in every part of the duty."

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of thee, let my first impulse be to worship thee, let my first speech be thy Name, let my first action be to kneel before thee in prayer. Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of thee. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day. Amen.
—John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer

July 11, 2020

A Language Redeemed

A lot of—maybe most—people used to think of Afrikaans as the language of Apartheid. Perhaps some still do. There's nothing about the language that makes it inherently evil, obviously. It, like English, is simply a West Germanic language with lots of borrowing from outside. Despite all the borrowing, however, it and the Dutch language are still mutually intelligible... and few people think of Dutch as a language of oppression, even though both Dutch and Afrikaans sound quite guttural to English-speaking ears.

So a language whose vocabulary has been utilized to enforce brutality can also be used to express feelings such as love and tenderness. And if a language can be used to separate people according to ethnicity, it can also be used to unite people of different backgrounds. So please watch this video of South Africa's Stellenbosch University Choir—unable to rehearse or

Be Exalted

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
Ps 57:5

I'll take my cue from Bishop Andrewes this morning. Though he's not the only one who connects this phrase—repeated again later in Psalm 57—with the ascension of Christ, I think his prayer (below) does so most eloquently. 

The exaltation mentioned here isn't my exaltation. It is heaven's exaltation of that which is far beyond the heavens... or else it is God's exaltation of the divine Self. I cannot properly exalt that which is already so far above the only world I know.

But in the ascension of Christ, something happened. The Word-Made-Flesh

July 10, 2020

Hiding in God

In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.
Ps 57:1

I'll let Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) take the wheel today. Kuyper was not only an influential Reformed theologian, but also served as prime minister of the Netherlands for four years in the early 20th century. This little passage is from To Be Near unto God (1918, translated from the Dutch by J.H. de Vries):
Hiding with God is not dwelling in his tent, or knowing the secret grace of the hidden walk. Hiding never indicates a fixed condition, but always something transient. We seek shelter from a thunderstorm, in order presently, when the sun shines again, to step out from our hiding-place, and continue on our way. Little chickens hide with the mother hen, when a water-rat is around; but when it is gone, they run out again. And the soul

July 9, 2020

My Tears in Your Bottle

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?
Ps 56:8

People are uncomfortable with pain. The average person will attempt to minister to those who are experiencing it at the moment—though some are better at it than others—but few want to relive it with you... unless they're being paid to listen to your problems. And so most of us, when pain is past, keep the memories of it to ourselves. But even if our friends don't want to talk about it or change the subject when it arises, God remembers with us. And just as we haven't forgotten the sleepless nights and the tears shed, neither has God. Both our best times and our worst are alive in the One who

July 8, 2020

Circle of Life

Well this is certainly worth a listen. It's the United States Navy Band performing two songs from Circle of Life.

Have Mercy

Robert Palmer (1949-2003)
Be merciful unto me, O God, for man would swallow me up: he fighteth continually and vexeth me.
Psalm 56:1

It's often frustrating how wordplay in one language is impossible to render in another. The opening of Psalm 56 is a great example. 

On close inspection, this psalm is fascinating. Or at least its first verse is. The fascination lies with the translation of the Hebrew word שְׁאָפַנִי, which some modern translations render as tramples me, but which the Geneva Bible translated conditionally as would swallow me up (the KJV mimicked the Geneva Bible in this). Geneva more literally translates the Hebrew, so I am using it this morning.

One of the odder pieces of evidence that the old translation was the correct one lies in the word לֹחֵם, which the NRSV appears to omit completely, using only one verb—oppress—in the final clause, while the Hebrew uses two. לֹחֵם refers to fighting, but its more literal meaning is closer to devouring, since

July 7, 2020

A Prayer for Softened Hearts

MATTHEW 13:3-8, 18-23 AND EPHESIANS 1:13-14
Listen to what Jesus said: 

A sower went out to sow. And as they sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirtyfold.
How shall we respond if we do not know what this means?
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what

Cast Your Burden

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
Ps 55:22

This is a lovely verse, and it's one that John Calvin in his commentary on Psalm 55 paid a great deal of attention to. Unfortunately, it's not good attention, because he's apparently quite upset about the traditional translation. But seriously, he really just needs to simmer down.

Calvin insists that it's wrong to translate the first part of this verse as Cast your burden on the Lord, because the Hebrew word יהבע isn't burden, but giving or gift. Of course he has a point. יהבע isn't really burden. But it's not really giving, either. It's actually what's given, or lot. And by lot, I don't necessarily mean the kind of lots that get cast (but wouldn't that have been

July 6, 2020

I Am Distraught

Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, 'O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness...

I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.'
Ps 55:1-8

In commenting on this psalm, Calvin seems sure "that these are the words of a man driven to the borders of desperation." And so it is in the context of the desperation only a refugee can understand that we might interpret Psalm 55. Reading David's prayer that wished for the wings of a dove so that he could fly to safety, I can't help but picture wanderers in the desert for whom some kind soul has left a store of water, but which the wicked have emptied spitefully into the sand. I try to describe the motivation of the person who

July 5, 2020

Time to Go?

Boyd County, Kentucky was formed in 1860 from parts of Greenup, Carter, and Lawrence Counties. Remember those names, because they might prove important to the point being made in this post. Anyway, in front of the county courthouse in Catlettsburg is this statue of a "judge" named John Milton Elliott. Further research reveals that, yes, Elliott (a native of Virginia who was reared in Morgan—now Elliott—County, Kentucky) was a judge serving Bath County at the time he was assassinated by a deranged man for allegedly denying justice to a widow. Before that he had been a U.S. representative from Floyd County. He went on to serve in the Kentucky legislature as a representative from Floyd County, but was expelled in 1861.

Why, you ask?

Well, because of treason. He had given aid and comfort to an enemy, namely

July 5 Worship

My Bible Study on Romans continues with a look at Romans 8:14-25. As always, it's best to view the video in full screen mode. Here's the order of worship:
  • 00:00 Chimes
  • 00:27 Prélude: America the Beautiful
  • 03:53 Welcome
  • 04:23 Call to Worship: Psalm 130:5, 7
  • 04:38 Opening Prayer: Hope of the World
  • 05:24 Scripture Passage: Romans 8:14-25
  • 07:26 Bible Study on Romans, Part 2
  • 14:14 Prayer for Our Country
  • 15:24 Communion Prayer
  • 16:02 Lord's Prayer
  • 16:28 Institution
  • 17:05 Fraction
  • 17:42 Benediction
  • 18:16 Response: Go Now in Peace

So Filled with Gratitude

But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your Name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Ps 54:4-7

Let me paraphrase something Calvin said about today's passage from the psalms:

Most people make promises to God when they're experiencing a crisis. But as soon as the crisis is past, they forget all about God's goodness, and relapse into their old ways. But David worships God in freedom—he's not responding to affliction, nor is he being bullied by anyone. This is completely different from the hypocrite whose cringing prayers are the product of coërcion. So this passage teaches us that we shouldn't bother coming into God's presence if we do

July 4, 2020

Happy 4th of July

Every night before they go to bed, the Kentucky All-State Choir, gathered annually in Louisville, sings The Star-Spangled Banner from the balconies of all 18 floors of their hotel. May your Fourth be as glorious as this rendition of our national anthem.

The Saints' Last Asylum

Save me, O God, by your Name, and vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them.
—Psalm 54:1-3

Psalm 54 was written at a time when David had been betrayed by one he trusted. In his case, the betrayal might well have resulted in death. In most of our cases, the danger is more emotional and spiritual, the real damage being the destruction of trust. Regarding the first part of this psalm, Calvin's viewpoint is traditional, but I like the way he explains it:

Though all help must ultimately come from God, there are ordinary methods by which he generally extends it. When these fail, and every earthly stay is removed, he must then take the work into his own hands. It was in such a situation that David here fled to the saints’ last asylum, and sought to be saved by a miracle of divine power. 

There are really no ordinary methods by which trust can be restored after the

July 3, 2020

No, Not One

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, those evildoers, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
There they shall be in great terror, in terror such as has not been. For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
—Psalm 53

The story is told in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky—usually in the first person—of walking down a road with two churches situated across from each other. Inside, as the Baptists sang, Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown, the Campbellites (Disciples of Christ) across the street sang, No, Not One. This is the story I always think of when I read today's passage.

Psalm 53 isn't pleasant reading. But it's revealing. On the surface it seems to be about atheism. But what it reveals is that those who oppress God's

July 2, 2020

Nurtured by God

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
—Psalm 52:8

Maybe it's not a very big deal, but when the psalmist says, "I am like a green olive tree," they don't mean a green olive as opposed to a black olive. Nor do they mean a young olive tree. The Hebrew simply refers to an olive tree in full leaf. Olive trees that get too much water have yellowish leaves and olive trees that get too little water lose their leaves. So the olive referred to in Psalm 52:8 is simply a well-watered tree.

I suppose there are several ways that I can look at this verse, but my mind immediately attaches itself to the fact that the olive tree is green—that is, it's

July 1, 2020

Happy Anniversary

On this day in 1950, Chardon Christian Church and the First Congregational Church united to form Pilgrim Christian Church. We cannot celebrate this day in person, but here is one of the hymns that I was planning to use in worship on this day. It's no. 357 in the Chalice Hymnal.

Sacrifice of Praise

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
—Psalm 51:16-17

Ritual supports faith. Sometimes it's very important. I can't remain on a spiritual high 100% of the time. Ritual exists to show me that my faith is not exclusively my own. It is shared by and within a tradition. Even when "I'm just not feeling it," it's still there, being supported by a community, never out of reach, performing the same rituals, speaking the same words.

But the psalms and the prophets remind me that ritual is a resting place, but not a permanent home. The point of ritual is what's behind it, what it stands