Journey through the Psalms 4: God Restores Us

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken
away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing
praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks
forever!" (Psalm 30.11-12)

Much of the Psalms move from an ordered
world to a life of chaos, a new reality of disorientation. But God
comes through and restores us, creating a new orientation. (You can
recognize a psalm of new orientation because it often states the problem and the resolution.)

To fully appreciate the new orientation, we need to remember what it was like to be in captivity. Two weeks ago, I talked about Psalm 137,
where the Israelites were taken to Babylon as exiles. (FYI: Chronicles
ends with a statement about the end of the captivity and Ezra picks up
the story and tells about the return of some of the Israelites, and
their work of rebuilding the Temple; Nehemiah continues the story after
that with the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.)

It was perhaps during this time that Psalm 126 was written.

Find our way out of captivity …

Be God’s
… wherever you are, even in exile.

Be a witness to God’s power
… power to keep you while in exile; power to bring back from exile.

Choose restoration!
… Place your hope in God’s power to
restore. While all Israelites could have returned from Babylon, only about 50,000
did so. Many Israelites had grown accustomed
to life in Babylon and were content to stay. So when the opportunity
came to return they chose not to return.

Remember that we live in the “already/not yet” of God’s kingdom.
We have experienced God’s restoration (salvation), but we are also waiting for God’s complete restoration.

Keep planting (and hoping)!
God blesses faithful and persistent followers, in his time.
Remember that God does great things. I love the wording in the NKJV:
"He who continually
goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again
with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126.6). During
times of drought, planting seeds was accompanied with anxiety.
Perseverance pays in the long run. God will deliver and restore!

“Bring back our captivity … as streams …”: The Negev was the area to the far south of Israel; it was desert-like.
At times, there would be seasons of rain that leave pools of water and
rivers of flowing water. This area tended to be extremely dry until the
winter rains came and renewed their flow. This is a reminder of God’s
blessings!

Whatever you’re going through, know that you will again find joy. Be patient. God’s great harvest of joy is coming!

“Anything
God has ever done, He can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere,
He can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, He can do for
you.” (A.W. Tozer)

Be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 1.6)

Journey through the Psalms 3: How Long?

Today, Joleen and I traded places for the day. It’s the second time we’ve done a pulpit exchange, but the first in about 54 weeks. In my place, Joleen preached the sermon on Psalm 13: How Long?, an example of a personal lament. I encourage you to check that out!

We both repeated the sermons we had preached the previous week, although my second go around with Psalm 137 was a good bit different than the first one. Here was my basic outline …

Face the ordeal head on!
The Israelites felt rejected by God for giving them up to their enemies. And their grief was made worse by their tormentors. (I then talked about Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief before moving on to the next point.)

Resolve to remember!
But even though the people are in a foreign land, and they feel like they’ve been handed over to their enemies, still they choose to be loyal to God, to remember God – what he’s done, what he has promised that he will do! In Psalm 137, we see an unwavering resolve – to remember, to not forget.

Trust God to make things right!
Psalm 137 shows a strong passion, a trust that God will somehow make things right!

Moving On: What is the next faithful step?
What is the next step that you need to take in your personal walk with God? And what is the next step for you, as a congregation, in order to be faithful to God?

Journey Through the Psalms: How Long?

Psalm 13

A Personal Story of Disorientation
I want to share a little of my story this morning. While at seminary, my local  church affirmed my call and the leaders of the church in a formal setting affirmed my call. They would ask me different questions regarding ministry. One of their questions regarded marriage and ministry. And I chuckled on the inside at this question, at that time I was single and Randy and I had just seen each other for the second time (I won’t say it was a second date, because I refused to call our first luncheon meeting a date!) But at this second meeting, I had already broached the subject to check out his views of women in ministry, because if he wasn’t fully acceptant of the idea there was no need for us to have a third meeting. God was first in my life and I wouldn’t let anyone come before Him.

It was difficult for us (for me) to find a ministry position in our church. There were few women ministers in our church. God finally opened a door for us to co-pastor a small struggling church just outside of Erie. We, fresh out of seminiary, went there confident that God was going to turn the situation around. But God didn’t. There were just a handful of members with a building debt. We were there about 11/2 years and they decided to close the church.

We were at a point of disorientation:
~We were personally financially in debt.
~We felt God was moving us from our denomination to another.
~Randy and I moved in with my mother. My mother got married while we were there.
~We were in a whirlwind. Our young married lives, our ministry turned upside down.

We visited many different churches. We visited with denominational leaders. We read up on denomination after denomination. We went to speak at different churches. We talked about planting a church in Omaha. We considered a church in the bayous of Louisiana. After about a 11/2 years we were appointed on a weekly basis to the Royer UMC outside of Williamsburg, by Tom Irvin. He appointed us before we ever officially committed to the UMC. It was that fall that we joined the church. We wanted to be sure that was were God was leading us. (If we would have been more familiar with UMC polity, we may not have waited because UMC policy makes sure that your sure and that they’re sure and everybody’s sure. And I say that because we had to wait two years after becoming members to begin the ordination process with the UMC.)

Now there is one thing that kept Randy and I going in the midst of this upheaval in our lives: we were sure of our call. We were sure that God wanted us in local church pastoral ministry. We were sure in our hearts and we had that confirmed time and time again by the body of Christ, by our pastors and church leaders.

That is one instance; one example of the type of disorientation we can experience in life. When things just don’t come together easily. The pieces just don’t fit. And we are left to grapple with them. Sometimes we wonder what God is up to. Sometimes when we don’t feel like God is giving us any direction, we try to figure things out ourselves. Sometimes we feel like there is an enemy triumphing in our lives.

Psalm 13: A Psalm of Disorientation
Psalms of Disorientation follow a typical form which is divided into two major parts, plea and praise. Psalm 13 follows this form closely.

Plea
3 Complaints
God
Self
Enemy

And these are three complaints that the Psalmist makes (in relation to God, self, and enemy). He the psalmist is very abrupt and pointed. He doesn’t take time to mellow his words. He doesn’t take time to reason. His words are from the gut (gut feelings).

He first accuses God of not looking at him; not seeing him; his face is turned from him. (OT if God sees, God takes action.) In this kind of psalm is common for the psalmist to fix the blame on God – you’re not doing what you are supposed to do God. You’re not taking care of me like you said you would. We covenanted together, and you’re not holding up your end of this relationship.

He then says he wrestles with his own thoughts. There is sorrow, pain, anguish, he’s confused and miserable – every day!

And he has some enemy that remains unnamed, that is triumphing over him.

3 Petitions
Look
Answer
Give light

There is no way of coping unless God acts.

These complaints are grounded in a relationship with God-a relationship that can withstand such honesty. A relationship that existed before this moment.

Verses 1-2 the psalmist pent up rage is released. And the rage is released toward one person, God. God is the only one being addressed.

This psalm teaches us it is okay to tell God how we feel. He can handle our emotions. He already knows how we feel. In the telling there is release. It is in the telling, that God can begin the healing.

3 Motivations
I will die
Enemy will say, “I have overcome.”
Foes will rejoice. – The psalmist is God’s partner, so if the partner is overcome; if foes rejoice over the partner, they do so to God.

Sometimes the motivation is bargaining. (if you do this I’ll do that.)

WAIT
The grand pause. The psalmist waits. We wait. There is no place to go. We wait for God’s response.

Praise
Assurance of being heard

3 Statements of Trust
I trust
My heart rejoices
I will sing (vow of payment)

3 References to God
your unfailing love
your salvation
to the Lord

During the waiting there is a change that takes place and we don’t know what caused that change. When the psalmist speaks, he is a different person. He is on his way to a new orientation. Remember we said that orientation is when we have our bearings straight. Things are as they are meant to be. They are stable. The psalmist is on his way to a new orientation, because he will have been changed by this experience. Because it is in these dark times of waiting that somehow we are changed. Our trust is deepened. Our relationship with God grows. Our praise becomes rooted in that ongoing relationship.

These closing scriptures are mixed in verb tense, for the psalmist is not yet out of this dark place. But he has the assurance that God will bring him out. He promises to sing in the future, because “God has been good to me.” He has been faithful in the past; so I believe he will be faithful to me in the present; therefore, I will sing in the future.

Conclusion
We don’t know how long it took the Psalmist to progress through these steps. Many of us may be at different places along this psalm. We may be at the point of weariness, where we need to cry out to God for help. We may be in a place of waiting. We may be in the midst of trouble, standing confident, knowing that God is going to act in our situation. Wherever you are today, pray to God, make your requests known to God. And if you are in need of prayer, if you find yourself crying out "How long?" come for prayer today, so that the body may help carry you through this difficult time.

Journey through the Psalms 2: Psalm 137

Last week, we began a series from the Psalms, one of my favorite
sections of Scripture. In the Psalms, we learn about the spiritual life
from these incredible conversations with God. BTW, the Psalms are
commonly referred to as the Psalms of David. It’s true that David was
the most prolific writer of the Psalms, but only about half of the
Psalms are attributed to him; the others are believed to have been
written by a number of other writers.

We began this series by talking about "psalms of orientation," where
God is known and reliable. We looked at Psalm 19, and mentioned some
other examples, too. But I’m glad that not all the Psalms are like
Psalm 19 where everything is in order, because life is not like that,
is it?

While it’s certainly good to know that that there is a firm
foundation upon which we can build our lives, it’s also good to observe
the lives of the faithful when their world came crashing down. And we
see that in the "psalms of disorientation" (or, "psalms of darkness").

Psalms of Disorientation
The Psalmists don’t hold anything back in their language. That’s
especially true in psalms of disorientation. Among these types of
psalms, there are personal laments (13, 35, 86) and communal laments
(74, 79, 137).

I love what Walter Brueggemann says about these kinds of psalms in his book, The Message of the Psalms

  • “I think that serious religious use of lament psalms has been
    minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to
    acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that
    acknowledgment of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith, as though
    the very speech around it conceded too much about God’s ‘loss of
    control.’”
  • “The use of the ‘psalms of darkness’ … for the trusting community …
    is an act of bold faith … a transformed faith … because it insists that
    the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended
    way. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or
    inappropriate. Everything properly begins in the conversation of the
    heart. … everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought
    to speech must be address to God, who is the final reference for all of
    life.”
  • “Life is transformed. Now life is understood to be a pilgrimage or
    process through the darkness that belongs properly to humanness. … in
    such deathly places as presented in these psalms new life is given by
    God.”

There is a certain order found in most psalms of disorientation …

Plea

  • Address to God
  • Complaint
  • Petition
  • Motivation
  • Imprecation

Praise

  • Assurance of being heard
  • Payment of vows
  • Doxology and praise
  • The action that led to praise

As I said, that’s the normal order in many psalms of disorientation, but the psalm we’re looking at today (Psalm 137, a
community lament) follows a pattern of its own. Derek Kidner calls it
“an impassioned protest, beyond all ignoring or toning down."

Read Psalm 137.
This is one of the few psalms with a specific historical reference. It
comes out of the exiled community in Babylon after the destruction of
587 bc.

In the opening scene (vv. 1-3), there is a sense of
abandonment and grief, which is compounded by torment (the Israelites
were forced to sing and dance of their Jewishness). It’s an attempt to
humiliate them and rob them of their identity.

The second scene (vv. 4-6) shows an unwavering resolve, a resolve to not forget who they are and where they came from.

The final scene (vv. 7-9) shows a strong passion and faithful tenacity, although it’s not exactly a noble prayer!

Brueggemann says this Psalm “asks about our capacity to endure, to
maintain identity, to embrace a calling in situation of sell-out.” It
shows a “faithful tenacity.”

Letting go of the past
"Alongside Babylon’s rivers we sat on the banks; we cried and cried, remembering the good old days in Zion." (Psalm 137.1, The Message)

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book, On Death and Dying, identified five stages that a dying patient experiences when informed of their terminal prognosis:

  1. Denial (this isn’t happening to me!)
  2. Anger (why is this happening to me?)
  3. Bargaining (I promise I’ll be a better person if…)
  4. Depression (I don’t care anymore)
  5. Acceptance (I’m ready for whatever comes)

When we embrace reality, that’s when we can do whatever it takes. We
must let go of the past, and claim God’s frontiers in our Valley and
beyond!

But we must also realize that everyone progresses through the stages
at different paces, so we need to show grace to one another. And we
must help each other at each stage of the journey.

Following God in a strange land
We are strangers and
pilgrims! Repeatedly, the Bible compares life on earth to temporarily
living in a foreign country. This world is not our home! We’re just
passing through. To describe our brief stay on earth, the Bible uses
terms like: alien, pilgrim, foreigner, stranger, visitor, and traveler.

"I’m a stranger in these parts; give me clear directions." (Psalm 119.19, The Message)

How do you sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?
It may
be tough, but it’s not impossible. It takes passion and an unwavering
resolve to honor God (not stubbornness about one’s own preferences).

When
I think of people in the Scriptures who had to leave something behind
to embrace the future God planned, I think of people like Abraham. But
most of the people I think of, unfortunately, were forced to leave
against their will: Joseph, Jacob, and Jonah.

And I especially think of Moses and the Israelites. After several
generations of living in Egypt, the time finally came for them to leave
Egypt. It was a bold, radical step of faith. They were scared to death,
but somehow they mustered enough courage to venture out into the
unknown.

When they got to the edge of the wilderness and were surrounded by
an army on one side and a sea on the other, they regretted leaving.
They longed for the familiar place they knew!

Instead of going back, however (which was not an option anyway),
they crossed the Red Sea, but out there in the wilderness they failed
to trust and follow God by not entering the land God promised them.

Sending the spies
Before Moses and the Israelites entered
the promised land, they sent out a group of spies to check out the
land. The whole team saw how incredible the land was, but the majority
of them focused on the risks and challenges instead of God’s power to
deliver.

But two of them, Joshua and Caleb, were men of faith. They not only
saw the greatness of the land and the formidableness of the enemy, but
they also sensed that God was able to lead them into the future with
victory.

Unfortunately, Joshua and Caleb were not able to convince the
Israelites to act with faith on God’s promise. As result, they wandered
in the wilderness for 40 years. It was a whole generation later before
God’s people were able to act with faith.

What about us? What about now?
Will we act with faith? Will we enter the place God is leading us? Will we be like Joshua and Caleb?

I don’t know what the future holds for us, but whatever it is, I
hope we will act with faith, a passion to honor God, and a courage that
equals that of Joshua and Caleb’s.

We’re sending out our own group of "spies," to spy out God’s
frontiers. It’s scary. Some are holding onto the past; its all we’ve
known. It’s relatively safe and comfortable here. But what does God
have for us? Where is God leading us? That’s where we must go!

As for me, I’m going to follow God, wherever he leads. If that means
crossing the Jordan, I want to cross the Jordan, and I hope you follow
God, too. The alternative, it seems to me, is to die here in the
wilderness!

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24.14)

Journey Through the Psalms: A Well-Ordered World

Psalm 19

Getting Real
Our young people today long for authenticity. If you are around them much you hear them voice, they want things to be real. When I pastored in Williamsburg, we began a time-release program for high school students and it was named, “Get Real.” It was a time for real life people to share how they lived out a real commitment to Christ in the real world.

I would categorize the Psalms as real. They are written by real people in real-life situations and the writers do not mince words-they tell it like it is. Another word I would use to describe the Psalms is raw or uncut. No one went back over the Psalms and said “Oh, this is not appropriate for conversation with God” or “This is not suitable for the Bible.” It’s in there. First passed by oral tradition and now in our printed text. It is God’s Word.

We are going to look at five different Psalms over the next five weeks. These Psalms are representative of the three major categories that Walter Brueggemann has identified in his study of the Psalms. These categories are Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation. These categories are pretty much what they sound like. In brief, Orientation is when one is oriented, stable, sure of one’s faith. Disorientation is when our equilibrium is off; things don’t go the way we think they should go. And a New Orientation follows times of Disorientation. We again become sure of things.

There are different types of Orientation Psalms: Songs of Creation, Songs of Torah (Torah is the first five books of the OT), Wisdom Psalms, Songs of Retribution, and Occasions of Well-being. We will look at one Psalm of Orientation and I chose Psalm 19, because it is a combination: verses 1-6 are a Song of Creation and verses 7-11 (or 14) are a Song of Torah.

Being an Orientation Psalm, throughout this Psalm there is an expression of confidence; faith issues are settled. God is reliable and trustworthy. The community has decided to trust this God. As in the sermon title, everything is well-ordered. There is no threat, no trouble, no surprises. Everything is as God intended.

Creation
This is first demonstrated in creation. Think of Genesis 1, when God created the world: he created and it was good; the next day, he created and it was good. After creation, everything was just as God intended. Everything was perfect and in harmony. The psalmist sees creation as still perfect. Creation is so wondrous that even though it cannot speak, it’s mere existence and beauty proclaims the glory of its Creator. And the psalmist sees reliability demonstrated in nature, specifically in the sun. Everyday the sun bursts forth, as if it was hidden in a tent overnight. The sun comes forth in the morning and it runs its course, from one end of the heavens, it makes its circuit to the other.

This is a certainty. We can be sure that each day the sun will appear. Each morning it will become daylight. Each evening it will become night and that means it will become dark; the sun will disappear for a number of hours, but only to return when it is the next day. Day in and day out, we can be sure that this will happen.

Torah
The next thing that brings certainty is Torah, God’s Word. Six different words are used for God’s Word in this Psalm: law, statutes, precepts, commands, fear, and ordinances. And in every sense God’s Word is good. Six different adjectives describe God’s Word: perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure. And each has a role in our lives:
Reviving the soul (life)
Making wise the simple
Giving joy to the heart
Giving light to the eyes
Enduring forever
Altogether righteous

The last, ‘altogether righteous’ sums up all the rest. And the psalmist adds weight by likening its worth and desirability to fine gold and sweet honey – treasures for which humans strive. None is more precious than Torah, God’s Word.

Macro to micro
Two of the first theological terms I learned in seminary were General revelation and Special revelation. Creation is general revelation. It is the glory of God revealed in the universe. But Torah, the Word of God, draws close. It is special revelation. Even the word for God is different in the Hebrew: verse 2 uses a general word and verses 7-9 & 14 use the word Yahweh, translated Lord in the NIV. God as Lord is a more intimate name. It reveals God as the covenantal God (the God who is in relationship with his people), the God of redemption (the God who is active in the lives of his people; the God who saves).

The Psalmist Response: Prayer of Forgiveness
After looking at the vastness of creation, Torah says that there is place for humankind amidst this great universal scheme of things.

The last three verses are the psalmist response. As God draws near and is revealed as Lord, the God who saves, the psalmist response is a prayer of forgiveness.

Verse 12: Only God can discern our errors. “Forgive my hidden faults” – the faults or sins that we do and we are not even aware of. These God is aware of. And the psalmist asks forgiveness for those things he is not even aware.

Verse 13: Moves to the sins he is aware of, willful sins. This is doing things that he knows he should not do. He prays, “may they not rule over me.”

Verse 14: Goes on to ask God to allow not only the words spoken, but things unspoken, his thoughts, be pleasing in the sight of God.

The Heat of the Sun/Torah
One closing story, to tie the two parts of this Psalm together. At the first of Summer, really in the Spring, when it first warms up. The air may still be cool, but the sun comes out, shining brightly. I love to be out in the sun and just feel the heat of the sun. It’s like my body just soaks it up; like somehow it penetrates my whole being. It’s like it blankets my entire body. And it feels wonderful. That’s one of my favorite things to experience at the first of summer.

Now, the sun hasn’t felt that pleasant to me in the past weeks, when we have had upper 80s temperatures with a heat index in the 100s. Precautionary statements are put out warning people of heat stroke. Telling us to drink lots of liquids and do our more active activities in the early or late part of the day. And this psalmist would have known the sun of the desert.

Compare this with Torah, the Word of God. The Word of God is a beautiful gift, given to us to reveal God, given to us to show us God’s will, to guide us to what is right. But God’s Word penetrates the soul. God’s Word can reveal our hidden sins. It is a "double-edge sword." As extreme heat can purify silver, so the Word of God will purify our lives.

As we prepare for Communion, a regular part of our Communion liturgy is the Confession and Pardon. This is according to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11.27-32, specifically verse 28 reads:

"A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup."

We will pause for an extended time following the general prayer of confession, so that you may silently pray a more specific prayer of confession. You may include in that prayer words from the final three verses of Psalm 19.

Journey through the Psalms 1: Psalm 19

Today, we begin a series from one of my favorite sections of Scripture, the Psalms. Although we will only be able to scratch the surface, I hope we all will get a sense of the depth of the spirituality in the Psalms. The Psalms are replete with passionate conversations between people of faith and God. They teach us that there is always hope, even in the midst of darkness.

One of the resources we (this is one of those occasional series Joleen and I collaborate on) are using for this series in Walter Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms. Brueggemann says the Psalms "are a voice of the gospel, God’s good word addressed to God’s faithful people.” He also says, “The Psalms are profoundly subversive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter.”

There are various ways of looking at the Psalms. Each method helps us consider different things, and see the Psalms in different ways. For this series, we’ll talk about the Psalms using the categories Brueggemann suggests …

Orientation > Disorientation > New Orientation
(Songs of creation > Songs of disarray > Songs of surprising new life)

There are two movements here …

Orientation > Disorientation
This movement represents, not just a changed situation, but an awareness of the changed situation, accompanied by a rush of (negative) emotions.

Disorientation > New Orientation
This movement takes place when a surprising new awareness of hope arises, which is a gift from God. The thanksgiving Psalms fit in this category.

So, as we "journey through the Psalms," we’ll consider some examples of different types of Psalms:

  • A Well-Ordered World (Psalm 19)
  • In a Strange Land (Psalm 137)
  • How Long? (Psalm 13)
  • God is on Our Side (Psalm 124)
  • The Lord is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)

FYI, Joleen and I will switch places in two weeks. She will deliver the message on Psalm 13, "How Long?" and I will go to her churches to deliver the message on Psalm 137, "In a Strange Land."

Psalms of Orientation
In the Psalms of orientation, God is known to be reliable and trustworthy. God is the firm foundation upon which everything else is built. God is the internal compass that gives one the sense that somehow everything is going to be alright.

Examples of psalms of orientation:
Creation – 8, 33, 104, 145
Torah – 1, 15, 24, 119
Wisdom – 14, 37
Retribution – 112
Well-being – 131, 133

In Psalm 19, there’s a movement from the big picture (i.e. macrocosm) all the way down to the extremely personal condition/situation (i.e microcosm). It’s a movement from the universe to the individual, honing in and focusing on the deepest, hidden matters of the heart.

Psalm 19.1-6The Praise of God in Creation (General Revelation)
Interestingly, God is named only once in this opening section, using a general name (El), "god."

God’s Creation is truly amazing, isn’t it? I like the statement made by a Sports Illustrated writer. He was frustrated with the huge egos of star athletes, when he wrote the following …

“It may help to remember that you are a human being. And as uniquely gifted as you are, there are over six billion other uniquely gifted humans on earth. Add to this the fact that earth is only one of nine planets orbiting the sun, and the sun is only one of several billion stars in the Milky Way, and remember that the Milky Way is only one of thirty galaxies in its local galaxy cluster, and this cluster is only one of the many inconceivably vast vergo super clusters, and that the inconceivably vast vergo super cluster is scarcely anything at all, just an infinitesimal dust mite in an ever expanding universe.” (Steve Rushing, Sports Illustrated)

Psalm 19.7-11The Praise of God in Torah (Scripture) (Special Revelation)
In the previous section, God was named once in a less personal way ("god"); in the remainder of the Psalm, God is named seven times, using his revealed name, "Yahweh."

A Well-Ordered World
In this Psalm we see the well-ordered world that God created. Life, too, is well-ordered because God has spoken to us and given us his Word. It is a well-ordered world because God created it that way from the beginning. And he gave us his Word so that we could know how best to live.

Psalm 19.12-14Response to Revelation
What is our response to God’s amazing revelation? When we truly encounter God, we recognize our own sinfulness (think about Isaiah’s encounter with God is Isaiah 6). Here the Psalmist’s response was a desire to be found "pleasing" or "acceptable" to God. This term is often found in sacrificial contexts. Upon encountering God, we desire to offer our lives to God as "living sacrifices"!

May the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be pleasing to the Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Transformation Wrap-up

I just re-read my posts from Asbury and re-lived part of the experience. I continue to be grateful to God for the incredible experience.

One of the things you may have noticed is the lack of time and energy I had to spend writing (which accounts for some typos). It’s true that this week was busier than most of our weeks at Asbury, but the truth is, we couldn’t get enough. God truly met us in a powerful way.

The Scotts were great teachers and leaders, and they made our time together more than an academic experience; it truly was a time of worship and transformation.

First, Friday’s final morning session was wonderful. As I said, we planned to honor them when it was my turn to lead a review of an article. That went very well. We presented them with a basket of written blessings from each of us as well as a framed, group photo where we all signed the matting around the photo. Then we gathered around them and prayed for them. I think most, if not all of us, prayed for them individually.

Even though that took about a half-hour, I still got to lead the review of Jim Collins’ “Level 5 Leadership,” a great article, BTW.

Every day, after a student led devotion or an article review, Jim would have that student have another student to come up and pray for him or her (a personal request, NOT a ministry request — that’s hard for us ministers!). Thankfully I was prepared, though. I said, “One of my core values is lifelong learning, so I’d like for Dick (you may recall my talking about the 78 year-old guy earlier) to pray for me, that I would continue on the journey and ultimately finish well.”

The day, and the week, ended with a wonderful celebration of holy communion. Just prior to that, though, as we gathered in a circle, the Scotts went around the circle and shared briefly something they liked about each of us. That was powerful (I really need to take the time to write down what I remember Jim sharing about me, and what Molly shared about Joleen).

As we left Asbury after lunch, Joleen and I finally had some time to begin processing what took place in the previous few days. It was a good time of reflection. One thing that we realize is that God visited us. He blessed us with a great group of people to spend the week with. In fact, one of the highlights of the week was simply our prayer times as we gathered around one another, laid hands on one another, and prayed. Our times of fellowship around restaurant tables was meaningful as well. Many of these people we’ll see again in various classes, and we intend to stay in contact with the Scotts, as well.

I am also grateful for my Weselyan heritage. I left with the sense that I want to be more Wesleyan than ever before.

One last thing: the Scotts are writing a book about 10 decisions the UMC needs to make in order to experience transformation (actually, the decisions apply to every denomination). Our class got to be the main focus group for the book, and a few of us, including Joleen and myself, will be readers, who will have the opportunity to read and offer feedback and input before the book is published. I am excited about that, and what the book can (or should!) do for United Methodism!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your prayers along the way! Feel free to post your comments below.