"September 11, 2001, serves as a reminder of what happens when you try to organize a world on the assumption that religion and spirituality are merely private matters, and that what really matters is economics and politics instead. It wasn't just concrete floors, it was massive towers, that were smashed to pieces that day, by people driven by "religious" beliefs so powerful that the believers were ready to die for them. What should we say? That this merely shows how dangerous "religion" and "spirituality" really are? Or that we should have taken them into account all along?"
N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, p. 20.
And just like like that... summer was over.
Second grade and Kindergarten are knocking on the door and Mom and Dad are as desperate as ever. We are whispering the same prayers that I suppose every God-fearing Mommy and Daddy pray at the brith of their children and then again and again throughout life.
"God protect her." "God be near." "Please help us."
These are the real prayers. The true prayers. The kinds of prayers that filled the Temple on Passover or in the hushed silence of a Good Friday Apostle hidden in a room upstairs. We mean these prayers in big ways.
Coloring, after all, is serious business in Kindergarten.
I sometimes wonder if Joseph and Mary enjoyed summertime with the boy Jesus....
Staying up until way after the sun went down.
Campfires on Thursdays and Monday morning snuggles.
Perfecting cannonballs in the lake, special treats for no reason other than the fact that it is summer, and sleepy stories in a hammock.
The Evangelists don't tell us much about the boy Jesus other than that he showed up in the temple one day and taught everyone a thing or two about the Divine because, you know, he was about his Abba's business. I don't know why they don't tell us much about his boyhood but I do imagine the laugh of Jesus' 6 year old voice would shake you and me back into childhood if we could hear it right now.
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
– Walter Brueggmann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann p. 3-4.
“Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where a person is labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name. A place where dignity is conferred.”
– Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, 40.
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
– Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith, 139.
“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”
– Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God
*Here's an excerpt from tonight's Foundations Class at Redemption Church on Spending Time with God in Prayer.
"I find your lack of faith disturbing." – Darth Vader
"Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
Not theologians. Not missionaries. Not rabbis. Not church planters. Not millionaires. Not geniuses. Not famous. Not scholars. Not busy bodies. Not know-it-alls. Not power-hungry authorities. Not grumpy nit-picky religious folks.
Children. Let that sink in. “Become like Children.” Isn’t that what you always wanted anyway? To be a child. Isn’t that what you want today as a busy urban-dwelling resident of Seattle?
Childhood that includes finger paint, Superman ice cream, grubby sneakers, light sabers, bath time, and the joy of asking billions of questions.
When it comes to prayer, I’ve found that moving towards a place and posture of claiming my identity as Abba’s beloved child is when I say my most honest and perhaps my most effective prayers. As a child, I am needy. As a child, I am vulnerable. As a child, I am dependent. As a child, I sometimes throw a fit. As a child, I get really excited. As a child, I am trusting. As a child, I don't know it all. As I child, I can be taught. As a child, I can say that "I'm sorry" from my heart. As a child, I can say what I'm really thinking. As a child, I know where I belong and to Whom I belong.
When I embrace my childhood that I receive through the Spirit by the Lord Jesus, crying out to my "Abba!" (Gal. 4:6), I find that I’m not worried so much about getting my technical theological language just right. Sure, theology counts big time. But in those moments I just want my Abba. As Abba’s child, I really don't find myself doing all the talking, telling God what I want him to do for me.
As a child, I am there because I am at peace. I am there because I want a relationship. I am there because I know I'm genuinely liked. Yes, my Abba is quite fond of me and has moved heaven and earth to be with me. In this space and understanding, bland monochrome monologue fades out and creative, colorful dialogue, conversation, intentional presence and loving stillness happens. I think this is closer to the heart of what the Lord Jesus had in mind as he reconciled the world to God.
For he was born a son,
and led as a lamb,
slaughtered as a sheep,
and buried as a man,
and rose from the dead as God,
being God by his nature and a man.
He is all things.
He is law, in that he judges.
He is word, in that he teaches.
He is grace, in that he saves.
He is father, in that he begets.
He is son, in that he is begotten.
He is sheep, in that he suffers.
He is human, in that he is buried.
He is God, in that he is raised up.
This is Jesus the Christ,
to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Excerpt from The Reckless Love of God
Jesus, you have no idea how bad I’ve been.
Yes I do. In fact, I expected worse out of you than you expected out of yourself.
Jesus, what if I don’t ever get any better?
I’ll always love you.
Jesus, what if I do it again?
We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I’ve got a plan.
Jesus, what if I just give up on you?
I’ll never quit on you.
Jesus, how do you expect me to forgive ______ when they’ve been so hurtful to me?
Just give them what you get from me. Grace. Just charge it to my account.
Jesus, but what about how insensitive they’ve been to me?
Charge that to my account too.
Jesus, I’m tired.
I’ll be your rest.
Jesus, are you mad at me?
You’re the apple of my eye. My beloved.
Jesus, what do you want me to do for you?
Don’t be so quick to work for me. Everybody wants to work for me. I want you to know me and live in my love and acceptance of you.
Jesus, what if I fall asleep when I pray?
I’m happy you feel comfortable in my presence. Rest well. I’ll see you when you wake up.
Jesus, what if I don’t understand all of the Bible?
I am the Word of the word.
Jesus, I don’t know where I belong.
You belong with me.
Jesus, what if I’m lazy?
You’re not lazy. You’re just distracted. We can change that.
Jesus, I’m mad.
I’ll take your anger.
Jesus, I’m disappointed.
Keep looking at me.
Jesus, I’m sad.
I know. I see you right there. Want to talk to me about it?
Jesus, I’m drunk.
You’re my friend.
Jesus, I stole.
I’ll take care of it.
Jesus, I’m lustful.
Give me your heart.
Jesus, I hate myself.
My love for you will drown your hate of you.
Jesus, they told me I could lose my salvation. Is that true?
If you could lose it, don’t you think you would’ve lost it by now? I don't drop anything. Especially my people. You're safe.
Me and A.D.D.
I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) at the age of eight, and I took Ritalin all the way until my junior year of college. It is not uncommon for me to sometimes joke about my ADD nowadays. However, growing up, it wasn’t something that I was keen to letting anyone know about—though it was fairly obvious to my classmates and teachers that I was more interested in anything (SQUIRREL!) than my actual school work. I had no idea that at the age of 37, I would be drawing from this part of my life in very practical ways to serve the people of Redemption Church here in Seattle. What a great God we serve and wonderful people we get to share life with!
What do Attention Deficit Disorders have to do with Jesus and pastoring? Well, recently one member in our congregation reached out to talk to me about his child who has been diagnosed with ADHD. In particular, he asked,
How do you get a child to believe that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:4), when they believe they have a 'deficit' and a ‘disorder?’
That question hit me like a ton of bricks! It was something I’d wrestled with my whole life! I took some time to reflect, jot my thoughts down, pray, and then respond. Since then, I’ve been in touch with the Dad and asked him if he’d mind if I shared a couple of these thoughts, in light of my experience with a similar diagnosis, and he responded with a green light! So, here are some of my thoughts on A.D.D. and being a Child of God.
Acknowledging My Limitations
First, I responded by saying that a Christian counselor would probably give a much more informed answer than I could, since they are better trained to think through all of the theology and psychology involving a situation like this one. Having acknowledged my limitations, I proceeded to help in the best way I could.
I Have A ‘Disorder'
I spoke of my self-hatred that came along as a byproduct of ADD. I believed that something was very wrong with me, and thus I rejected myself, and a deep sense of self-hatred went down into my heart. Additionally, when my ADD did affect a regular routine in life such as forgetting where my house keys were, my dad would sometimes ask, “Did you remember to take your Ritalin today?” He didn’t do this to shame me or embarrass me—not once. The man was and still is my hero. He championed grace and love in ways that I’ll always strain to grasp. He was genuinely trying to help me grow. However, words like “deficit” and “disorder” towered over me in those moments and all I could hear from my Dad was, “Geez, Alex… can’t you just get it together?” Thus, unknowingly and unintentionally, this compounded the fracture for me and wasn’t as helpful as it could have been. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? Perhaps there were other ways of reminding me that wouldn’t have resulted in so much shame.
Still in the Image of God!
Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God and yet having words like “disorder” attached to you can be so frustrating! As a Pastor, I highly value the medical community and I believe they are another unbelievable grace of God given to serve his world. However, a doctor’s diagnosis in no way removes the image of God from a person, the love of God for a person, or the plan of God over person’s life. The image of God is stamped onto every single human being. Sin and its effects did not knock us down a rung to the animal kingdom in which the image of God is not found. Rather, we are still fearfully and wonderfully made by our loving Creator, though we are born into a broken world.
Small Words and BIG Words
Additionally, like all of God’s children, we each have some things about us that we’d change immediately about ourselves if we could. Some would be taller. Some would weigh less. Some would be more athletic. Some would have a higher IQ. Some would be married and have kids. Some would live in other places on the earth, and on it goes. Part of the good news of the gospel is that though these things are often with us our entire lives, our God loves us and has sent the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and comfort us even with the things that frustrate us about ourselves.
Having ADHD is simply one word, a smaller word, a man-made word, that human beings use to describe something biological about us. However, we’re not bound simply to use words of biology. We’re also blessed with Bible words—God’s words, theological words. The Bible uses words like “Child,” “Son/Daughter,” “Image-bearer,” “beloved,” “chosen,” and “cherished” to speak about our identity. These are the BIG words, the TRUEST words, the FIRST words, and the STRONGEST words about us, to us, and over us.
Throughout life, we all battle with our identity, don’t we?
"Am I O.K.?"
"They call me ‘________.’"
“Am I enough?”
“Have I measured up?”
As Christian moms and dads it is imperative that we remind both our children and ourselves daily that
Above everything else I am/you are a child of God come what may.
A Few Bullet Point Takeaways:
Acknowledge your limitations especially in the areas in which you may not have as much training as someone like a licensed therapist.
However, don’t allow your limitations to keep you from speaking boldly and creatively as you seek to apply God’s Word to a person’s life.
Never use A.D.D. (or anything else!) to shame your child. Shame is to have no place in a child’s life.
Lead out always with God’s Words of loving affirmation as the First Word that as you speak about man’s words regarding a ‘deficit’ or ‘disorder.’
It never hurts to remind a child that it won’t always be this way.
Mother’s Day is not in Scripture but rather was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and it was recognized as a holiday in 1914 in the United States. Long before 1914, Moses commanded the people of God are to “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12).
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I plan to be honoring my wonderful mother, Bevy, and my beautiful bride, Jana, of 13 years who partners with me in the raising of our two precious children. I have tremendous respect for the role that mothers occupy in this world. As a kid, I didn’t know what I had being raised by Bevy. Now, as a 37 year old, I can see that I was graced in more ways than I’ll ever know. With Jana, that blessing is multiplied again. Grace upon grace.
"An excellent wife, who can find?” asked King Lemuel (Prov. 31:10). An excellent woman, an excellent friend, and an excellent mother really is a treasure.
As a pastor preparing to preach on this special day, I’m very conscious of the fact that not everyone shares in the same joy that I have when thinking about Mother’s Day. There are all kinds of women in our church here in Seattle that feel very differently about this day and to roll past my sisters without stopping to listen, to think, and to pray for them betrays the very fact that they’re my family in Christ.
I want to encourage my brothers and sisters and others who, like me, will be ministering on Sunday to stay mindful that not everyone is jumping up and down to celebrate. This doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate. It simply means that in our celebrating, we’re also thinking of one another and that is a beautiful expression of the gospel.
have never married and are without children,
are single mothers,
have gone through miscarriage,
had terrible childhoods and no longer speak to their mothers.
For some ladies, Mother’s Day is a trigger that digs up deep pain and our God has a close eye on each moment, memory, and heartache (Psalm 56:8; 1 Peter 5:7). The Holy Spirit is the Great Comforter (John 14:26) and would have us "comfort one another” (2 Cor. 1:4). Paul tells us that we are to “Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
As we head toward Sunday, may we keep our eyes on Jesus and seek to bless one another... be it with flowers or tears.
A post on Why and How to Go to Church may seem like a silly thing to write on. However, after serving as a pastor over the last ten years, I’ve seen that it’s the simple things that matter. Just as Jesus emphasized the power of faith even as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20, Luke 17:6), a simple thing like a lack of church participation will grow into stagnated disciples. Stagnated disciples result in churches being less effective in their communities, because the focus is skewed away from the glory of God and our enjoyment of Him.
So, here’s a few things on going to church.
Actually Go to Church
I know the word “commitment” scares us. However, we are all committed to certain people, places, and practices. Who and what you’re committed to reveals your priorities and values. When it comes to worshiping with the whole church on Sundays, those who faithfully, regularly, and consistently participate do so because they’ve likely met Jesus.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Christians are to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Interestingly, he points out that some folks in the early church fell into the “habit” of the neglecting corporate worship. One thing we know about habits is that they are hard to break. What's even more frustrating about unwanted habits is that we know that they became habits by willful, intentional repetition. The Scriptures clearly admonish us not to fall into the habit of skipping out on gathering with the family of God but to make it a regular part of life.
Go to Church with a Purpose
Notice that part of coming together is to “encourage” each other because there’s coming a “Day” that will end all Sundays. Christians worship a God that rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the day that he returns will be the last “Day” as we know it. Can you imagine if this past Sunday was the last Sunday you’d ever gather with the church? Some may roll their eyes at this question, but it’s a real question because of a real promise. You see, every Sunday when we leave corporate worship we all head back to a tough world with real pain, real sin, real questions, real frustrations, real doubts, and so on. We need all the encouragement we can get from one another. So, one of the major reasons for going to church is not for ourselves only but to build one another up, to point out the wins, to pray for each other, and to remind one another of our God who loves us, is with us, and will return for us.
Go to Grow
As followers of Jesus, we go in order that we might grow. Paul reminds us that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:1). This is done as we gather with other brothers and sisters around the preached Word of God and the sacraments of communion and baptism. We grow as we pray with and for one another. We grow as we confess our sins. We grow as we worship. We go to church because we cannot grow alone. There’s a common statement here in Seattle (and in many other places) that is utterly foreign to the Bible, and indeed to many persecuted Christians all over the globe today, that says “I can grow in my faith without being committed to the church.” There’s so many things wrong with this kind of thinking, but for the sake of brevity—that is simply self-righteousness at its peak. As you thumb through the pages of the New Testament, you won’t find any lone rangers seeking God devoid of the church. God himself dwells in community (i.e. Trinity), he created human beings to be in community, and he’s rigged the whole Christian faith to be one in which we are interdependent upon each other. Yes, God meets with us privately in Bible study and prayer, but this is not to come at the expense of the “Body of Christ.” Paul tells us that the church is like a human body in which every part is needed. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21).
Is church frustrating sometimes? Yes. That’s because it is a gathering of sinners in need of the grace of God. Remember coming in from recess in school when everyone’s dirty, sweaty, thirsty, and dying to get to the water fountains? There’s pushing, shoving, name calling, and waiting our turn that tests our limits. Church can feel like that. Everyone is coming for a drink of water and we can be quite selfish about getting our needs met first and foremost. However, God says that we’re family and that we need each other and should put others interests ahead of our own (Phil. 2:3).
3 Practical Things on Going to Church:
1) Prepare on Saturday
Many simply pop up out of bed on Sunday morning and scramble to get to church without being too late. However, Jesus gave his life for your soul. So, think it through. Go to bed earlier. Pray with your family for a moment the night before about getting good rest and that God would meet you on Sunday morning. Pray for the Sunday School teachers and Kids workers, pray for your pastor, and pray for your time in what I grew up calling “Big Church,” aka the “Worship Service.”
2) Be on Time
Every day of the week we are expected to be on time to jobs, appointments, practices, and so on. Rather than scramble in while the first song is going, be there a few minutes early to get kids checked in, settle in, and talk to a few folks.
3) Stay for the Whole Service
This may sound silly, but it’s necessary. Here at Redemption, we put some serious time and energy into our liturgy, which literally means “work of the people.” We believe that the entire worship service is vital for our growth as a church family. Thus, to leave right after the sermon and skip communion, giving, prayer, worship through song, and the benediction indicates that our consumerism has crept in and is in need of repentance. So slow down, and make some space, because the God who loves you wants to commune with you.
***My friend Virginia Spotts edited this post for me. Hit her up!
Can you be saved from your sins and receive eternal life on your deathbed? Does it even count?
We sometimes hear about “deathbed conversions,” in which someone repents of sins and confesses faith in Christ in the final moments before their death. Some might question whether such a “last-minute” conversion is legitimate being that the person has supposedly lived a life of sin and is now asking for a “free pass” to heaven. Does God actually save people like that?
What happens when someone repents of their sins on their deathbed, and they don’t get to live out a life of repentance, take communion, be baptized, join the church, or live a life for the glory of God? What happens to that person?
THE DYING THIEF
To find an answer to these questions, we can look at the example of “the guy on the cross” next to Jesus on Good Friday.
When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified alongside of him (Matt. 27:28; Mark 15:27-28, 32; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). Luke’s Gospel is the only one that tells us about one criminal crying out for salvation:
In his last dying moment, Jesus promised the one repentant thief that he would be with him that day "in paradise."
How do we know this man underwent a real change, a real conversion, and was given a new heart there on his cross? We can actually look at what Luke records him saying there next to Jesus as evidence that on his cross, Jesus gave the dying thief a new heart.
Let's look at what the thief says in his rebuke of the other criminal scoffing at Jesus:
“DO YOU NOT FEAR GOD?”
Most people in their dying moments are reflecting on their life, relationships and this is accompanied oftentimes by thoughts of fear and God. This man had is in utter agony experiencing death at the hands of men. However, he was not merely looking at men, he sensed the presence of God in Jesus.
"OUR DUE REWARD"
In his rebuke of the mocking thief, the now redeemed man confesses that their punishment is "just." They had broken the law and this was their punishment. He was aware of his moral failure. He knew his own sin.
“THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG”
We also observe that the man testified from his cross that Jesus did not deserve a criminal’s death, for he had done "nothing wrong!" In making this statement, the criminal was acknowledging that Jesus was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15) and that his punishment was unjust.
“JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.”
He acknowledged that Jesus is King of God's Kingdom, but he took it a bit further and made a request of Jesus. He asked Jesus to "remember him." The people of God often use the word "remember" throughout the Old Testament in prayer to God. Interestingly, when it the word "remember" is used it is always in the context of petitioning the God that they know will act on their behalf! The man was asking Jesus for more than to think of him–he's asking for Jesus to act on his behalf! That's exactly what Jesus is accomplishing on his cross! Acting on behalf of his people – bearing our sins and taking them away.
So, can someone be saved from their sin and be given eternal life on their deathbed? Yes!
The grace of God is so vast and amazing that if the thief on the cross and the Apostle Paul were to ever bump into each other in heaven, and the question they were asked, "What did you do to get in here?" Both could reply, "Nothing. Jesus remembered me. Jesus acted on my behalf." That, my friends, is grace and grace alone.
This past Sunday I was installed officially as Pastor of Preaching and Theology here at Redemption Church in Seattle, Washington. Jana and I are overwhelmed with joy over where God has placed us and what he has called and empowered us to do by his Holy Spirit and for his glory.
I became a Christian at the age of 15 and within the first 90 days of knowing Jesus I was convinced that I was called by God to serve him vocationally for as long as he would have me do so. It’s hard to believe that was 21 years ago! Over the last two decades I’ve gotten married --and happily staying that way! 😃, started a family, finished almost 3 post-graduate degrees, planted a church, written a couple of books, served as a pastor in other places, and most certainly, I’ve partied the whole time.
There’s a few of the highlights but there’s a bunch of lowlights, too. My story, like yours, isn’t flawless and I’ve had the wind knocked out of me in some ways that has, by grace, shaped me into the man I am today.
To be installed as a pastor is a tremendous honor and there’s a whole lot of things I could say about the office of pastor and I plan to do so in the future. For now, I just wanted to say that I’m humbled and more thankful, rested, and excited about Jesus and his work here at Redemption Church than ever before! Serving alongside Pastors Drew and Ben is a lot of fun. Seriously. And we’re eager to see God continue to do great things amongst as we focus on Enjoying Jesus, Loving People, and Making Disciples.
Jana and I so deeply appreciate the people in our lives who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and stood by us along the way. You are the ones who make a sunny winter Tuesday afternoon in Seattle really special.
Much love, everyone!
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook." But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."
The largest book in the Bible is the Psalms. You would be hard–pressed to find a book throughout the Scriptures that speaks more clearly to what it means to be a human being than the Psalms. This worship book is packed with an incredible breadth of emotion that oftentimes comes across as shocking to those who think that prayer and worship is all roses. The writers of the Psalms face real circumstances in the real world that try our patience, our stamina, and our faith; they speak out of their own lived experiences in a Godward direction. The people of God have benefitted for thousands of years because of the raw, vulnerable places to which the writers give poetic expression.
A Book of Books
The Psalms are broken in major sections, or books. The section breaks are:
- Book I Ps. 1-41,
- Book II Ps. 42-72,
- Book III Ps. 73-89,
- Book IV Ps. 90-106,
- Book V Ps. 107-150)
Authors and Timeline
Contrary to what many assume, David is not the only person to pen the Psalms. Rather, there are many other writers that contribute such as Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Ethan, and Heman. Additionally, there are many who bear no author’s name whatsoever. It would do us well to be reminded that the Psalms are not the result of one generation of writers but many, many generations went into this enormous "project." Scholars tell us that it took approximately 1,000 years for the Psalms to be penned throughout Old Testament history.
Just like in your local music store (Sonic Boom!), the music is arranged by genre, so also the Psalms have seven genres into which they fall.
They are psalms of
- royal kingship
- imprecatory cursing
Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Bruggemann points out something that I’ve found very helpful over the years and now it makes more sense than ever. He helps readers see that the Psalms basically depict three experiences we face as human beings in relation to God and he describes them as psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.*
Psalms of orientation speak of things like creation, wisdom, and the favor of God. An example would be Psalm 8 -
Here we see David totally oriented toward God. He's thinking clearly and full of worship and wonder at God in light of his creation. He not only knows who the maker is, he knows the maker himself... and his maker knows him, too. He is at peace in this beautiful world knowing that he’s not just part of creation in general, but that he uniquely belongs to God. He’s humbled in light of this reality and worship pours from his mouth. David is genuinely impressed with God. Have you ever felt that way? Where were you? On a retreat? In your living room? Last Christmas? Yesterday? 5 years ago? How did you feel then? Here in Seattle, I run the Discovery Park loop trail a few times a week (weather permitting). Every time I come out of the forrest and get to the bluff, I'm stunned, totally in awe of what God has created and usually say something to God about what he's made.
"The sand is fantastic!"
"The mountains are peeking out behind the clouds."
"The black sail boat on the choppy slate-grey water is just perfect!"
Unfortunately, remaining oriented toward God is not our only experience as Christians. (Oh, one day it will be!) Rather, not unlike the saints of the Old Testament, we go through sometimes extended seasons of feeling totally disoriented in our relationship with God, ourselves, and the world around us.
During times of disorientation we get a better grip on what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. To believe in spite of not feeling or experiencing the powerful presence of God gives the word “faith” a bit more grit, doesn't it? It is in the seasons of disorientation that life just doesn’t make sense. Things have fallen apart at work or at home or in a relationship and we're left in a thick fog, full of questions and doubts.
Psalms of disorientation are both corporately and privately sung in the Old Testament. These honest words of anger, hurt,, depression, despair, and deep questioning of God permeate the psalm. An example would be Psalm 13 –
Feeling disoriented can go on for hours, days, weeks, months, and for some, even years.
Before moving on to reorientation, let’s sit in this fog one more second. What has caused disorientation in your life? When did God stop making sense to you? When did your faith start to wither up? Disorientation can happen in valleys or on mountaintops. Did tragedy strike your life and thus faith went through a whirlwind? Or did you succeed at something and forgot all about God? Are you expressing yourself to God in heartfelt, honest prayer? Or are you tempted to smother your true feelings because you think God is disinterested or annoyed by your complaints? Did you buy into that “fake it until you make it” nonsense that flies in pithy evangelicalism? Does anybody know that you’re feeling disoriented? How are you coping with it? Take it to somebody today who you love and can be trusted that will listen patiently and pray diligently for your soul.
Thanks be to God that for the believer, disorientation is never the final word! Rather, over and over again we see Psalms of reorientation. These are where the psalmist has experienced God as his Rescuer! Listen to the words of Psalm 73 –
Can you feel the joy in his soul as he emerges from the fog and has clarity again? His heart and mind are filled with praise and gratitude that God came through! God made a way! Just when things got their darkest, God’s grace burst onto the scene in brilliant light! Have you ever been there? What was that experience like for you? Who did you celebrate with? What kind of images come to mind? What kind of language would you use to describe your experience of being reoriented?
Perhaps today you feel oriented around who God is and what he has done. Maybe today is another day for you to walk in faith feeling fairly disoriented. Today might be the day that God reorients your perspective and heart around his ferocious love for you. Whatever the case may be perhaps a look into the Psalms may be just what you need.
*Bruggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Facets)
Loads of pastors post their favorite reads that they engaged throughout the year. So here’s my top 9.
(1) Night, Elie Weisel
(2) The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, Vanhoozer & Strachan (eds.)
(3) Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson
(4) Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
(5) The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, Courtney Martin
(6) The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buechner
(8) Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are, Léonce Crump Jr.
(9) Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, Frederick Buechner
Here’s an excerpt from the New Believer’s Guide explaining the heart of God’s covenant with his people.
God didn’t draft a contract with Abram or with you. God entered a covenant, saying, “I’m committed to your good no matter how many times you fail, how many times you break my heart. I will lovingly abide with you through unmet expectations. I will bleed for this.” And he did. That’s God’s heart toward his children. The cross of Jesus communicates that not only is God disinterested in a contract, the very idea of a works-based relationship repulses him. He is totally committed in covenantal love. Contracts are easy. Covenants are more involved. Contracts make sense to the average person. Covenants aren’t always understood, especially by unbelievers. Contracts don’t involve your soul. Covenants do. God has made a covenant with his children.
As I have said before, you are not God’s employee. You are not God’s hired hand. God is not a CEO who never makes his way down the assembly line to get to know the people who were hired to work day after day. The banner that flies over your life is love. You are God’s child. You are God’s chosen. You are God’s elect son or daughter. Believe this: All the water in all the oceans could never extinguish the fire of God’s love for you.
If you don’t understand your true identity as being deeply loved by God and bound in his covenant, you’ll be bound for an unbelievably long road called “your Christian faith.”
In the Old Testament, God's people understood him to be their Savior and Lord. The same is true in the New Testament. Jesus's dominion expands far beyond the borders of Israel, As he is declared to be the Lord and Savior of the entire world! To titles Savior and Lord are quite provocative. One of the titles test to ruffle our feathers mildly and the other feels like we're getting our feathers plucked out! Some come out when they hear that they need a Savior are immediately offended because they believe they are sufficient in and of themselves. Others actually love the idea of a Savior! In fact, this is why we have superheroes. And the typical Superman moment, a building is on fire and the man of steel–with perfect teeth–fly then, rescues the woman in distress, and gets her to the ground safe and sound. The savior is praised and flies off to save someone else; the woman goes home, back to life as usual, thankful for Superman.
But Jesus isn't Superman. In Christianity, Jesus not only saves us, but remains with us and takes on the role of being our Lord for every moment of every day starting with the present moment and extending throughout all eternity. Lordship implies that someone else is in charge, leading, and in total control.