Tag Archive: Psalm


What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, now our mouths…

Taste and see that the Lord is good

In one of his most important works, the 20th century German theologian Karl Barth wrote of the “strange new world within the bible.”  He suggested that we should not read the bible like we read the daily newspapers or the New York Times bestsellers.  Yes, the bible is only a book, but yet it so much more.  The bible contains the words of God, words that tell of God’s love.  The bible reveals God’s heart, a heart that is most visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When we read scripture we often think, “How pleasant.  How lovely.  How uplifting.” And the Bible certainly is!  Jesus speaks of rest, redemption, forgiveness – the very things we need so desperately in our world.  But then we read further and think, “How demanding!  Is Jesus serious?”  Jesus says wonderfully comforting things like, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  And then he immediately adds in the next sentence, “Sell all your possessions, and give to the needy” (Lk. 12:33).  Jesus comforts the tired and weary, and then demands cross-bearing of all disciples.  Jesus offers rest and then calls us to action.  The words of Jesus are so sweet, and yet after further digestion they seem bitter, daunting, and challenging.

A view of Patmos from the cave where tradition says John wrote Revelation

John, writing the book of Revelation from the island of Patmos has a similar response to the words offered to him by an angel.  He writes, “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour” (Rev. 10:9-10).

Why might the words of scripture, even the words we cling to in tough moments, seem unsettling over time?  Perhaps the change comes when we realize that the bible doesn’t simply say back to us the things we think we know.  So often, we fashion its words in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to us – sweet to us, we might say.  But then we realize that the strange world of the bible doesn’t simply echo back to us our own prejudices, biases, and presuppositions.  The bible provides us new words, new meanings, and a new way of speaking and living.

Like John, we take in the words of scripture, chewing on them, digesting them, allowing them to transform our lives.  And then, as Barth wrote, “The spirit of God will and must break forth from quiet hearts into the world outside, that it may be manifest, visible, and comprehensible…The Holy Spirit makes a new heaven and new earth and, therefore, new [wo]men, new families, new relationships, new politics.”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  – Psalm 34:8

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I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.

Journey to the center of the world

In a recent class my professor raised the  question: “Where is the center of the world?”  He also asked, “Which way is north or south?  Where is the east and west?”  I admit, these are probably not questions that keep many people up at night, or questions that some feel deserve their own book.  But the questions are fascinating and worthy of an answer.  They speak about the heart of God.

There was a time long ago when the only known world was the land that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.  People believed that the Nile River in Egypt was the center of the world.  In fact, those same people believed that the world was tilted in the direction in which the Nile flowed.  (If you’re not up to speed on your world geography the Nile flows south to north, from the equator to the Mediterranean Sea.)  For these people, “up” or “north” was what we now call “south.”  The center of the world and the perception of the cardinal directions were different than how we view them today.

Still others in the early Middle Ages argued that the earth – where humanity, flora, and fauna reside – was the center of all that God created.  Many proponents of this view cited scripture that they believed supported their case.  They pointed to Psalm 104:5: “The Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”  It wasn’t until years later during the 17th and 18th centuries that Galileo and other scientists proved that the sun, and not the earth, is the center of the universe.

Other people have located the center of the world based on the Genesis story.  They say that the center of the world is in Eden, where God created the world out of nothing.  This understanding would mark the center of the world not in Egypt, but in modern day Iran and Iraq.

Where is the center of the world?

For many of us it seems that the center of the world is…well…how do we say this politely?  The center of most people’s world is…well…themselves.  The very heart of the universe is “I.”  We say, “I am the center of the world.  Life revolves around me.” The world and its waters, people, and resources orbit according to my own needs.  How can we use the earth to benefit us?  How can people act so that I am best served?  Or, if I am not to be served at least I should not be disturbed?  We are the center of our own worlds.  Which way is north?  Well, that depends on where I am standing!  We worship the unholy Trinity of Me, Myself, and I.

Might God have a different view?

Many folks know the words of Psalm 23 as intimately as a journalist knows the rules of grammar.  Over the years many have taken time to digest, memorize, and recite the famous words of Psalm 23.  But have you ever stopped to count the words of the psalm?  If not, I’ll spare you the task.  A friend once pointed out to me that there are 119 words in Psalm 23 (depending on your translation).  The very middle word of Psalm 23 is…thou.  In verse 4, “for thou art with me.”  Thou.  God.  Our Creator.  Our Redeemer.  God.  God is the center of Psalm 23.  God is the very center of the universe.  God is at the heart of all that is.  What if our lives reflected this?  What if our lives revolved not around what we want or think we need, but around the God who is our shepherd, who leads us and goes with us?  What if our words and actions centered on Christ’s life and ministry of love and mercy?  May the Spirit of God refocus and recenter our hearts and minds on the holy Trinity, one God in three persons, the very heart of all this is seen and unseen.

Psalm 46 — “Be still, and know that I am God.”

We love the Psalms.  They’re a source of comfort in times of trouble, and a source of praise in moments of joy.  Many Christians know they can turn to the “middle” of their Bible and finds words that express their deepest emotions.  Psalm 46 is no different.  The music of Psalm 46  begins begins with a familiar refrain, one of serenity and comfort.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1).  But then we turn to verse 2?  What about the trembling mountains and roaring waters?  How do we put these two verses together?  How do they make sense together?

If we’re honest, we oftentimes diminish verse 1 and emphasize verse 2.  We may say, “God, I know you’re good, but my world is really shaking right now!”  Or, we may not even acknowledge verse 1 and go straight to verse 2 and say, “God, things are crazy here!  The mountains are really moving, the water is rushing!”  How then, do we reclaim the Lord’s goodness in the midst of trouble?  How do we remember that the Lord is our rock in the midst of stormy seas?

Fortunately, verse 10 provides part of the answer.  If we wish to know that God is our refuge in the midst of choppy waters we must “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Our society tells us that whenever we face a challenge, dilemma, or problem we must go find the answer.  We must “do” something about it.  But maybe, in the midst of turmoil the answers is not something we “do” or “find.”  Maybe the thing we must “do” is to “be still, and know that I am God.”  If we’re still, if we focus on God, we are reminded that there is One who makes the wars to cease, who brings peace, and who calms the waters.  Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  In times in which we feel we must “do,” or solve a problem, perhaps it’s best to take a moment to stop and remember that we are in the hands of a God who is more merciful, loving, and gracious than we could ever imagine.  While troubles bring chaos and noise, we recall that “for God alone my soul waits in silence” (Ps. 62:1).  Instead of a joyful noise, perhaps we are called at times to make a joyful silence.

Lectionary, July 26

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Psalm 14

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:1-21

Lectionary, May 10

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

United Methodist Lectionary Scripture for Sunday, April 19, 2009

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Prayer Focuses
1. Those who have suffered tragic loses
2. Those facing difficult decisions
3. Church food ministries around the world

Thought to ponder
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”  — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Germany from 1906-1945. He was a theologian, spiritual writer, a Lutheran Pastor who played a central role in the struggle against Nazism.

Links of Interest
Hoops turn fears into friendship
Youth fast today to change tomorrow

Lectionary, April 19

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31

Lectionary, March 22

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

Lectionary, March 15

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for use in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this week:

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

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