Give Ear

“Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing” ( Psalm 5:1 NRSV).

When someone listens, really listens to you, they “give ear” to you. They “give heed” to you.

Isn’t it remarkable that God will listen to us in that way?

Sometimes my prayers are made of words. Sometimes my prayers are made of sighs. Sometimes my prayers are made of a word here, a sigh there.

Isn’t it remarkable that God will listen, really listen to us whether our prayers are made of words, sighs, or both?

Thank you, loving Father, for giving ear. Thank you for giving heed. How many times have you listened to my words? How many times have you listened to my sighs? Thank you.

Wrestling with Psalms

Reading a psalm is a part of my morning prayer liturgy. Some days the reading is refreshing. Other days it is soothing. And then there are those rare days when the reading is upsetting, troubling, or even downright disturbing.

Yesterday was one of those days. I wrestled with the reading all day long. I was upset, troubled, and disturbed. The last thing I did last night before falling asleep was to share with God my thoughts about the reading.

Though I have read that particular psalm repeatedly, I do not recall ever being so disturbed by it. Perhaps my being surrounded by so much death and disease recently was the reason for my reaction.

Bottom line, I am thankful to have had this day-long conversation with God even though I can’t say it was a pleasant experience. And I’m thankful for a God who is so patient with me as to listen to my heart and my words.

Giving Back

“What can I give back to the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” Psalm 116:12 CEB

Finding this question in the middle of my Psalm of the day made it impossible for me to quickly read and move on with my day.

While I realize I can never repay God for all God has done; at the same time, I hope I never stop asking this question.

It seems the natural reaction to an awareness of all the goodness God has done is to ponder how to give back.

So if I stop asking this question, perhaps I need to seriously consider whether I have lost my awareness of how good God has been.

God has been so good. What can I give back?

Confession

Some days the last thing reading the Psalms brings me is comfort.

So. Much. Violence.

Sometimes I am tempted to stop reading altogether.

But I read on.

Then come those days when I recognize I have violence in my own heart.

And on those days, I find comfort in the Psalms.

Dreams

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Psalm 126:1-4

Jewish pilgrims making their way to the temple sang “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 120-134) to prepare for worship. Psalm 126 was a psalm of ascent celebrating renewal after a season of barrenness. They had been through a difficult time, whether from famine, assault, plague, or captivity; but now it was time to dream again. This song recalled God’s faithfulness to bring them through the time of trial and encouraged the pilgrims to dream again about what the future could look like.

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev” was the poetic vision statement of their dreams for the future.

Remember how Martin Luther King cast a vision for the future in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

Like the ancient pilgrims and other visionaries, churches need to dream. Lafayette needs to recall, even celebrate God’s faithfulness in leading us during difficult times. We need to dream about what the future could look like with God leading us and doing great things among us.

Do you have a dream?

I encourage you to dream. Maybe you will dream in creative, poetic language like the psalmist. Maybe you will dream in hopeful word pictures like Dr. King. Whatever your style, I urge you to cast a vision of what your church can look like in the years to come.

Maybe starting with these words will help stimulate your creativity—

Restore our church’s fortunes, Lord, like….

I have a dream that at our church….

May God’s faithfulness inspire creative dreaming as you seek God’s vision for what your church can look like in the years to come.

To God be the glory!

And enjoy your grandchildren!

Psalm 128

A Pilgrim Song

1-2 All you who fear God, how blessed you are! how happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!

3-4 Your wife will bear children as a vine bears grapes,
your household lush as a vineyard,
The children around your table
as fresh and promising as young olive shoots.
Stand in awe of God’s Yes.
Oh, how he blesses the one who fears God!

5-6 Enjoy the good life in Jerusalem
every day of your life.
And enjoy your grandchildren.
Peace to Israel!

The Prayer of my Heart

Psalm 127

A Pilgrim Song of Solomon

1-2 If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?

3-5 Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

In God Alone

“My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

Psalm 62:1-2

God my Father,
Thank You for this eternal life I am living.
Thank you for this time of rest I am enjoying.

God my fortress,
Thank You for giving me stability.
Thank you for giving me security.

God my rock,
Let me rest and let me live for You.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN



“It gots to be….”

For years Mary had abused drugs. It began with alcohol. Then she began smoking marijuana. In no time she was smoking crack cocaine. But her drug of choice was heroin. After being scared of the needle that first time, she lived for it.  Eventually, she would die for it. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Mary and I sat in my office talking about life. I shared some of my struggles. She shared hers.  As we sat and talked about life, she eventually opened up about what was really on her mind. She recounted the years of shooting heroin. She recounted weeks living in a “shooting gallery” where addicts gathered to satisfy their cravings. She told details about her first time to sell her body for a fix, and mentioned the hundreds of times that followed.

Mary wiped tears from her eyes as she told me she had HIV/AIDS. Since she was dying, she needed to talk to someone about her soul. She needed someone to listen. So she sat in my office and she talked.

She talked, and I listened, trying to be fully present in the moment. She talked some more, and I listened, trying to care about her as a person rather than be entertained by the lurid details of her story.

She talked and I listened. But I confess, at some point I was ready for her to finish dumping her feelings so I could tell her of God’s love. I had good news for her. Good news of God’s grace.

And that’s when the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Mary surprised me by telling me of her desire to repent. Unfortunately, her idea of repentance–of coming back to God–seemed warped.  She did not talk of God’s love. She never mentioned God’s grace. She didn’t say a word about God’s desire to forgive.

“It gots to be the Church of Christ!” Mary said with conviction.

“It gots to be!” she repeated twice for emphasis.

Sadness filled my heart as I processed her words. Here was a woman who desperately needed God’s grace, but instead trusted in her membership in the right church. In that conversation and dozens that followed, I tried to tell her of God’s grace. She always responded, “It gots to be!”

I would love to tell you how she finally came to the end of herself and reached out to God, trusting in God’s grace. But, honestly,  that’s not how the story ends.

Mary’s “repentance” consisted of renewed acknowledgement of her identity in “the one true church,” as she said. She never stopped shooting heroin. I frequently saw fresh needle tracks on her arms. I always suspected the prostitution continued, though she never did admit it. Her repentance was never expressed in a broken heart or behavior change.

Her idea of  “repentance” was simply to say, “It gots to be the Church of Christ!”

Mary died a very proud member of the Church of Christ.

Mary was not the first person to ever have this misunderstanding of repentance. She won’t be the last. But I still think of her every time I read John the Baptist’s call to repentance in Luke 3:7-14.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Have you ever confused repentance with being “children of Abraham?”  Have you ever cried out, “It gots to be the Church of Christ!” like Mary? Perhaps we need to ponder the words of John. If God can raise children of Abraham out of stones, I think God can raise “the Church of Christ” out of stones, too.

“The sacrifices of God are  a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.”
Psalm 51:17

What are we telling the kids?

“O God, we have heard it with our own ears—our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day, in days long ago: You drove out the pagan nations by your power and gave all the land to our ancestors. You crushed their enemies and set our ancestors free. They did not conquer the land with their swords; it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory. It was your right hand and strong arm and the blinding light from your face that helped them, for you loved them” (Psalm 44:1-3  NLT).

The psalmists had heard it. All the people had heard it. They had heard it with their own ears. They had heard it all their lives. They had heard it from their ancestors. It had been passed down from generation to generation.

This really connects with us, right? We really need to tell it to the kids. We need to pass it down. We need to make sure future generations know it.

It.

It?

So what exactly is it?

For many of us today the it we have heard from our ancestors is very different from the it passed down to the psalmist.

For many of us today the it we want to pass down to our children is very different from the it the psalmists would tell their children.

For many of us…
The it we tell our children is what we have done.
The it we tell our children is how we have done what we have done.
The it we tell our children is that they should do what we have done the way way we have done what we have done.

But for the psalmists…
The it they heard from their ancestors was about what God had done.
The it they heard from their ancestors was about how God had done what God had done.
The it they would tell their children was that God could be trusted.

Are we telling it to the kids?

What is it we are telling the kids?

I often hear people talk about the kids have rejected God. Before we reach that conclusion, we better take a long hard look at what they have rejected. Could it be that what they have rejected has more to do with us and our ways and less to do with God and God’s ways? And could it be that what is sorely needed right now is a generation that will tell the kids not about themselves and their ways, but about God and God’s ways.

What are we telling the kids?